Archive for the 'psychological' Category


Exhibition: ‘DELETE: Selection and Censorship in Photojournalism’ at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG)

Exhibition dates: 8th June – 25th November 2018


Hanns-Jörg Anders (b. 1942) 'Unrests in Northern Ireland (Londonderry)' 1969


Hanns-Jörg Anders (b. 1942)
Unrests in Northern Ireland (Londonderry)
Gelatin silver print
26.5 x 38.7 cm
© Hanns-Jörg Anders – Red. Stern



Bearing witness – in private, in public, through creative judgement, editing and the selection process

“Bearing witness is a term that, used in psychology, refers to sharing our experiences with others, most notably in the communication to others of traumatic experiences. Bearing witness is a valuable way to process an experience, to obtain empathy and support, to lighten our emotional load via sharing it with the witness, and to obtain catharsis. Most people bear witness daily, and not only in reaction to traumatic events. We bear witness to one another through our writing, through art, and by verbally simply sharing with others.

In legal terms, witness is derived from a root meaning “to bear in mind;” “to remember;” “to be careful.” A witness in this light can be defined as one who has knowledge of something by recollection and experience, and who can tell about it accurately. By this definition, we are all witnesses for one another, whether or not by choice. Some instances of bearing witness, whether legally or psychologically, do not require the permission of the witness. At other times, the witness is a willing and active participant.

Art is a wonderful avenue for us to bear witness…”

Dr Kristi Pikiewicz. “The Power and Strength of Bearing Witness: A witness assures us that our stories are heard, contained, and transcend time,” on the Psychology Today website, December 3, 2013 [Online] Cited 16 November 2018

Many thankx to 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.


The exhibition DELETE at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG) explores the production conditions under which photojournalists work and the selection processes their photographs go through before journals and magazines print them. How do publishers, editors, authors, and graphic designers influence the photographers’ work and the expressive force of their pictures? What requirements do the commissioned reports have to fulfil? What mechanisms determine which photos are shown and which never see the light of day? What then ends up being remembered, and what is forgotten? Guided by these questions, the MKG takes a look at four reportages from 1968 to 1983. On view are some 60 reportage photographs, four photo-spreads from the magazines, Stern, Playboy, Kristall, and Der Bote für die evangelische Frau, and four interview films which the photographers made for the exhibition. By comparing and contrasting the published photo-spreads with the original contact sheets as well as with the pictures selected by the photographers for the museum collection, and based on the photographers’ own accounts, viewers can discover the background behind the selection process, how journalists work, and what scope photographers are given to exercise their own creative judgement. The historical works by Thomas Hoepker, Ryūichi Hirokawa, Günter Hildenhagen, and Hanns-Jörg Anders are supplemented by a contemporary art film by Sirah Foighel Brutmann and Eitan Efrat that illuminates the selectivity of memory from an artistic perspective.

The exhibition DELETE is part of the 7th Triennial of Photography Hamburg, which is taking place from 8 June until 25 November 2018 under the motto Breaking Point.


Hanns-Jörg Anders (b. 1942) 'from a Reportage about Unrests in Northern Ireland' 1969


Hanns-Jörg Anders (b. 1942)
from a Reportage about Unrests in Northern Ireland
Gelatin silver print
59.3 x 40.6 cm
© Hanns-Jörg Anders – Red. Stern


Hanns-Jörg Anders (b. 1942) 'from a Reportage about Unrests in Northern Ireland' 1969


Hanns-Jörg Anders (b. 1942)
from a Reportage about Unrests in Northern Ireland
Gelatin silver print
58.9 x 40.7 cm
© Hanns-Jörg Anders – Red. Stern


Hanns-Jörg Anders (b. 1942) 'from a Reportage about Unrests in Northern Ireland' 1969


Hanns-Jörg Anders (b. 1942)
from a Reportage about Unrests in Northern Ireland
Gelatin silver print
40.1 x 27.4 cm
© Hanns-Jörg Anders – Red. Stern


Hanns-Jörg Anders (b. 1942) 'from a Reportage about Unrests in Northern Ireland' 1969


Hanns-Jörg Anders (b. 1942)
from a Reportage about Unrests in Northern Ireland
Gelatin silver print
41 x 59.9 cm
© Hanns-Jörg Anders – Red. Stern


Thomas Hoepker (b. 1936) 'Main Road in Montgomery, Alabama' 1963


Thomas Hoepker (b. 1936)
Main Road in Montgomery, Alabama
Gelatin silver print
36.7 x 48.8 cm
© Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos



“It was 1963 and I was on the staff of Kristall magazine in Germany when the editor asked me if I would be interested in taking a road trip across America with a writer friend of mine. I said, “Of course, but what do you want us to report on?” He simply answered, “show us the United States outside of the big cities and the well-known tourist spots. Show us what it’s like to live there for ordinary people.”

“This was a typical assignment in that period. It was still post-war Germany; people had not traveled widely, television was in its infancy and the magazine’s readers simply wanted to see and read about foreign countries. So we rented a car and drove it from New York to Los Angeles and back, looking at Middle America. The trip took us three months. My pictures were later printed in Kristall, covering twenty-five pages in five consecutive issues.”

Thomas Hoepker USA. 1963. Coast to Coast


Thomas Hoepker (b. 1936) 'Billboard for Swift's Turkeys, Houston, Texas' 1963


Thomas Hoepker (b. 1936)
Billboard for Swift’s Turkeys, Houston, Texas (USA. Houston, Texas. 1963. A turkey billboard at a used tire dealership)
Gelatin silver print
38 x 48.6 cm
© Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos


Thomas Hoepker (b. 1936) 'Freedom Fighter' 1963


Thomas Hoepker (b. 1936)
Freedom Fighter (USA. San Francisco. An old lady rides on a float with the American flag during a Fourth of July parade in downtown)
Gelatin silver print
83.5 x 62 cm
© Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos


Thomas Hoepker (b. 1936) 'An Accident in Harlem, New York' 1963


Thomas Hoepker (b. 1936)
An Accident in Harlem, New York
Gelatin silver print
38 x 49 cm
© Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos


Thomas Hoepker (b. 1936) 'Mother and Children in a Rural Settlement in Florida' 1963


Thomas Hoepker (b. 1936)
Mother and Children in a Rural Settlement in Florida
Gelatin silver print
48.4 x 35.2 cm
© Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos


Thomas Hoepker (b. 1936) 'Slums in Montgomery, Alabama' 1963


Thomas Hoepker (b. 1936)
Slums in Montgomery, Alabama
Gelatin silver print
48.6 x 33.4 cm
© Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos


Ryūichi Hirokawa (b. 1943) 'The Israelis are coming' 1982


Ryūichi Hirokawa (b. 1943)
The Israelis are coming
Gelatin silver print
© Ryūichi Hirokawa


Ryūichi Hirokawa (b. 1943) 'Three Survivors of the Schatila Massacre' 1982


Ryūichi Hirokawa (b. 1943)
Three Survivors of the Schatila Massacre
Gelatin silver print
20 x 30 cm
© Ryūichi Hirokawa



Sabra and Shatila massacre

The Sabra and Shatila massacre (also known as the Sabra and Chatila massacre) was the killing of between 460 and 3,500 civilians, mostly Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites, by a militia close to the Kataeb Party, also called Phalange, a predominantly Christian Lebanese right-wing party in the Sabra neighbourhood and the adjacent Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon. From approximately 18.00 on 16 September to 08.00 on 18 September 1982, a widespread massacre was carried out by the militia under the eyes of their Israeli allies. The Phalanges, allies to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), were ordered by the IDF to clear out Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters from Sabra and Shatila, as part of the IDF manoeuvring into West Beirut. The IDF received reports of some of the Phalanges atrocities in Sabra and Shatila but failed to stop them.

The massacre was presented as retaliation for the assassination of newly elected Lebanese president Bachir Gemayel, the leader of the Lebanese Kataeb Party. It was wrongly assumed by the Phalangists that Palestinian militants had carried out the assassination. In June 1982, the Israel Defense Forces had invaded Lebanon with the intention of rooting out the PLO. By mid-1982, under the supervision of the Multinational Force, the PLO withdrew from Lebanon following weeks of battles in West Beirut and shortly before the massacre took place. Various forces – Israeli, Phalangists and possibly also the South Lebanon Army (SLA) – were in the vicinity of Sabra and Shatila at the time of the slaughter, taking advantage of the fact that the Multinational Force had removed barracks and mines that had encircled Beirut’s predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods and kept the Israelis at bay during the Beirut siege. The Israeli advance over West Beirut in the wake of the PLO withdrawal, which enabled the Phalangist raid, was considered a violation of the ceasefire agreement between the various forces. The Israeli Army surrounded Sabra and Shatila and stationed troops at the exits of the area to prevent camp residents from leaving and, at the Phalangists’ request, fired illuminating flares at night.

According to Alain Menargues, the direct perpetrators of the killings were the “Young Men”, a gang recruited by Elie Hobeika, a prominent figure in the Phalanges, the Lebanese Forces intelligence chief and liaison officer with Mossad, from men who had been expelled from the Lebanese Forces for insubordination or criminal activities. The killings are widely believed to have taken place under Hobeika’s direct orders. Hobeika’s family and fiancée had been murdered by Palestinian militiamen, and their Lebanese allies, at the Damour massacre of 1976, itself a response to the 1976 Karantina massacre of Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims at the hands of Christian militants. Hobeika later became a long-serving Member of the Parliament of Lebanon and served in several ministerial roles. Other Phalangist commanders involved were Joseph Edde from South Lebanon, Dib Anasta, head of the Phalangist Military Police, Michael Zouein, and Maroun Mischalani from East Beirut. In all 300-400 militiamen were involved, including some from Sa’ad Haddad’s South Lebanon Army.

In 1983, a commission chaired by Seán MacBride, the assistant to the UN Secretary General and President of United Nations General Assembly at the time, concluded that Israel, as the camp’s occupying power, bore responsibility for the violence. The commission also concluded that the massacre was a form of genocide.

In 1983, the Israeli Kahan Commission, appointed to investigate the incident, found that Israeli military personnel, aware that a massacre was in progress, had failed to take serious steps to stop it. The commission deemed Israel indirectly responsible, and Ariel Sharon, then Defense Minister, bore personal responsibility “for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge”, forcing him to resign.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Ryūichi Hirokawa (b. 1943) 'Israeli Troops are Reaching Western Beirut' 1982


Ryūichi Hirokawa (b. 1943)
Israeli Troops are Reaching Western Beirut
Gelatin silver print
20.1 x 30 cm
© Ryūichi Hirokawa


Ryūichi Hirokawa (b. 1943) 'After the Schatila Massacre: Corpse of an Old Man with Walking Cane' 1982


Ryūichi Hirokawa (b. 1943)
After the Schatila Massacre: Corpse of an Old Man with Walking Cane
Gelatin silver print
29.5 x 20.4 cm
© Ryūichi Hirokawa


Ryūichi Hirokawa (b. 1943) from a 'Reportage about the Schatila Massacre' 1982


Ryūichi Hirokawa (b. 1943)
from a Reportage about the Schatila Massacre
19.8 x 29.5 cm
© Ryūichi Hirokawa


Ryūichi Hirokawa (b. 1943) 'After the Schatila Massacre: Survivor with a Photo of a Relative' 1982


Ryūichi Hirokawa (b. 1943)
After the Schatila Massacre: Survivor with a Photo of a Relative
29.3 x 19.6 cm
© Ryūichi Hirokawa



The four historical reportages deal with such diverse themes as the situation of blacks in the USA around 1963, the escalation of the conflict in Northern Ireland in 1969, the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut in 1982, and the relationship of a disabled homosexual couple in a care facility from 1976 to 1999. These topics have lost nothing of their pertinence today – we need only think of the continuing racial conflicts in the USA, the renewed concerns about Northern Ireland with the prospect of the Brexit, or the treatment of the physically and mentally disabled. The exhibition does not aim to delve in depth into the complex historical incidents pictured, however, but rather to shed light on the power structures that determine what we remember about them. According to Michel Foucault, it is the limitations of the speakable that establish and define the discourse on what a society remembers and what is forgotten. The focus of the exhibition is thus on the mechanisms and processes of image selection and exclusion, with the aim of sensitising viewers to just how selective the contents of media reporting really are.


Thomas Hoepker (b. 1936) presents an epoch-making photo report on the USA, which he put together in the autumn of 1963 for the magazine Kristall. Several of his photos show black children growing up in poverty and desolation. Hoepker thus addresses racial segregation, one of the most pressing social problems facing the USA, and yet hardly any space was devoted to this issue in the photo-spreads printed across a total of 56 pages in six issues of Kristall during the year 1964. Although in the interview Hoepker describes selecting photos for the magazine as a collaborative effort between the author, photographer, and picture editors, the editor-in-chief always had the last word. The reportage photos that Hoepker handed over to MKG reflect his consuming interest in the situation of blacks in America. This discrepancy illustrates how events and situations may be evaluated very differently by photographers and editorial departments, and shows that photographers, although working on commission, view themselves as independent authors with their own agenda.

Thomas Hoepker taught himself photography and worked from 1960 alternately freelance and as a staff photographer for magazines, from 1962 for Kristall and from 1964 for Stern. He produced television documentaries in the 1970s. From 1978 to 1981, he was editor-in-chief of Geo magazine and from 1986 to 1989 art director at Stern. Hoepker has been a member of Magnum Photos since 1989.


Hanns-Jörg Anders (b. 1942) documented for Stern magazine the escalation of violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland in 1969. He was working as a staff photographer for the magazine and largely left the selection of images for the report up to the picture editors. Anders’s colleague Gilles Caron took the rolls of film he had shot to Paris and sent them from there to the magazine in Hamburg. By the time Anders returned from his trip, the picture editors at Stern had already selected three photos for publication. The report focused on the street fighting in Belfast and Londonderry, showing demonstrators throwing stones, smoke, and heavily armed policemen – visuals that have dominated media coverage from the Prague Spring to the G20 summit. The photos in which Anders documented the social consequences of the civil war were passed over. Among them was the image We Want Peace, which Anders only discovered while subsequently reviewing his contact sheets, submitting it that same year to the World Press Photo Award contest. The picture shows a man wearing a gas mask leaning against a dark wall which is emblazoned with large white letters spelling “We Want Peace.” The photo won the award and is today an iconic image expressing the despair of people caught up in civil wars. In the interview film, Anders looks back on photojournalists’ work process in the days of analogue photography and the pre-eminence of the picture editors. As the exposed film was often not developed until it reached the editorial departments, photographers had no way of reviewing their own shots on site and thus no say in the selection of motifs for publication.

Hanns-Jörg Anders did commercial training and began working as a self-taught photographer in 1967. He was hired by Stern in 1968 and traveled the world doing reports for the magazine until retiring in 2002.


The Japanese journalist Ryūichi Hirokawa (b. 1943) photographed the scenes of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut on his own initiative, bringing to light the murder of hundreds of Palestinian refugees during the Lebanese Civil War. Hirokawa portrayed desperate survivors but mainly focused his lens on the numerous corpses strewn across the streets. He confronts the viewer with shocking images of the maimed faces and bodies of the victims. His report thus raises a question that still remains unanswered today: What role should be given in media coverage to photos that are meant to shock, and what should or must one be willing to expose viewers to? Hirokawa attaches great importance to retaining control over his images. He therefore decided against selling these photos to the Associated Press agency so that he could choose for himself how they would be used and published. Hirokawa’s Israel-critical photos were published in Yomiuri Shimbun, one of the most widely read Japanese daily papers at the time, in the magazine Shagaku, and in the Japanese Playboy.

Ryūichi Hirokawa was active in the Japanese student movement and uses the camera to express his political convictions. In 1967, he worked in an Israeli kibbutz and conceived a book about destroyed Palestinian villages, which was published in Japan in 1970. After returning to Japan, Hirokawa was a staff member in the Japanese office of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).


Günter Hildenhagen (b. 1935) has been active as a freelance photojournalist since the mid-1960s, taking photos at hospitals, care facilities, and charitable organisations. He concentrates on portraits of individuals and images showing people relating to one another on equal terms. In 1976, the Wittekindshof, a care facility for the physically and mentally disabled, hired Hildenhagen and the journalist Maria Urbanczyk to portray the institute. Among the residents of the home, the photographer’s attention was drawn especially to a deaf Iranian named Mehri and his partner Karlheinz, who suffered from spastic paralysis. The two men had been living at the Wittekindshof since their youth and had become friends in the late 1950s, and ultimately also lovers. Hildenhagen was fascinated by how the friends had found their own form of communication, which remained incomprehensible to outsiders. He put these strengths and the personal story of his subjects at the centre of his reportage, thus going far beyond what his contemporaries were generally willing to acknowledge about disabled people, their abilities, their needs, and their sexuality. Unable to find a magazine willing to publish his story, Hildenhagen chose the exhibition format as a way to present his pictorial account to the public.

Günter Hildenhagen apprenticed with Pan Walther and then studied photography with Otto Steinert. He has been working as a freelance photojournalist since 1965. Hildenhagen started specialising in social issues early on, working for charitable organisations such as Diakonie and the German Caritas association.


The artist duo Sirah Foighel Brutmann (b. 1983) and Eitan Efrat (b. 1983) explore in their film Printed Matter (2011) the archive of the press photographer André Brutmann (1947-2002), who worked in Israel and Palestine from the early 1980s until 2002. On the basis of contact sheets and negatives that are placed one after the other on a light table, the viewer learns in chronological order of the events of the years 1982 to 2002. The material gives us an in-depth look at the day-to-day work of a photojournalist. The documented events range from politicians’ speeches, to fashion shows, to the battles of the first and second Intifadas in Israel (1987-1993, 2000-2005) and the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. In the film, André Brutmann’s partner Hanna Foighel comments on the contact sheets, which are repeatedly interrupted by pictures of family life. Political history is thus interwoven with the private realm. The film presents the photographer as a chronicler of the times but at the same time questions the notion of the photojournalist as a neutral observer, underlining how he is wrapped up in both his own private life and the events of the day.

Sirah Foighel Brutmann and Eitan Efrat collaborate on audiovisual projects. They deal in their works with the spatial and temporal aspects of reading images. Printed Matter, too, addresses in this way the relationship between spectators and history as well as the time-bound nature of narratives and memories.

Text from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg website


Günter Hildenhagen (b. 1935) 'Friends Mehri and Karlheinz at Wittekindshof Bad Oeynhausen' 1976


Günter Hildenhagen (b. 1935)
Friends Mehri and Karlheinz at Wittekindshof Bad Oeynhausen
Gelatin silver print
48.3 x 60.3 cm
© Günter Hildenhagen


Sirah Foighel Brutmann (b. 1983) and Eitan Efrat (b. 1983) 'Printed Matter' 2011


Sirah Foighel Brutmann (b. 1983) and Eitan Efrat (b. 1983)
Printed Matter
30 min, 16mm / HD video / Videostill
© Sirah Foighel Brutmann/Eitan Efrat


Sirah Foighel Brutmann (b. 1983) and Eitan Efrat (b. 1983) 'Printed Matter' 2011


Sirah Foighel Brutmann (b. 1983) and Eitan Efrat (b. 1983)
Printed Matter
30 min, 16mm / HD video / Videostill
© Sirah Foighel Brutmann/Eitan Efrat



Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Steintorplatz, 20099 Hamburg

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 10 am – 6 pm
Thursday 10 am – 9 pm
Closed Mondays

Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg website


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Exhibition: ‘Black Mist Burnt Country’ at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Exhibition dates: 24th August – 18th November 2018

Curator: JD Mittmann

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following post may contain images and voices of people who have died.



Rosemary Laing. 'One Dozen Considerations - Emu Totem I' 2013


Rosemary Laing (b. 1959)
One Dozen Considerations – Emu Totem I
C type photograph
49 x 76 cm
© Rosemary Laing



The empty yet altered landscape takes on different moods with Rosemary Laing’s, One Dozen Considerations Totem 1 – Emu (2013) monument marking the site of an weapon’s test with a British flag flying behind it. Both look like conqueror’s claims to territory, powerful images of the attempts to colonise Indigenous space, to write a colonial history through markers of significance, to write out the Indigenous voice but at the same time to appropriate Indigenous ideas and language. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)



Field of thunder ~ big devil spirit ~ colonial fireworks


late 15th century: from Old French atome, via Latin from Greek atomos ‘indivisible’, based on a- ‘not’ + temnein ‘to cut’.



something that is not properly understood; a mystery



from French sécrétion or Latin secretio(n- ) ‘separation’, from secret- ‘moved apart’, from the verb secernere



late 17th century: from de- (expressing reversal) + a shortened form of consecrate



the enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community, or establishment


Lest we forget what was bequeathed the land, Traditional Owners and servicemen by the British and Australian governments. Death, disease, displacement from Country and radioactivity so they can never return. Literally sickening. Shame, shame and more shame.


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



There was also a lot of tearing down of Aboriginal sites according to what I’ve heard and just sort of this blinkered vision, and I think it’s a horrible education to learn that’s the way Aboriginal in those areas were perceived… and then you look at the ramifications of the health of both the people and the land and how that has been totally compromised…

Whether it came to treatment of Aboriginal people or whether it came to treatment of the environment. Hopefully [the exhibition will] engender something that people will fight, fight for their rights and fight for their land.

Waanyi artist Judy Watson



Jessie Boylan. 'Yami Lester at Walatinna Station, South Australia' 2006


Jessie Boylan (b. 1986)
Yami Lester at Walatinna Station, South Australia
Digital inkjet print
85 x 85 cm
© Jessie Boylan



Yami Lester, Walatinna Station, South Australia, 2006 – In 1953, Yami, a Yankunytjatjara man, was ten years old, living at Wallatinna Station when Totem One went off, it was part of a series of atmospheric atomic bombs that the British and Australian governments were testing during the 50’s and 60’s at Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia and the Monte Bello Islands off the West Australian coast. He was blinded not long after the fallout. (Jessie Boylan)



Yami Lester (Boylan)
Yunkunytjatjara man Yami Lester talks about the mysterious poisonous ‘black mist’ that badly affected Aboriginal area after the Totem 1 atomic test in 1952



At Maralinga, the tests caused adverse effects on both the local people and military personnel, but in many cases it was difficult to determine the extent to which people had been affected. But for Yankunytjatjara Elder Tjamu Yami Lester it was devastating. He was blinded at 10 years old as a result of the ‘black mist’ that descended onto his country.

He died last year at the age of 75.

Much of his life was spent fighting for people affected by nuclear testing, subsequently becoming the public face of a tireless campaign. He led the push for the 1984 Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, which resulted in a clean-up of the testing ground and compensation for the Anangu people. While reparations can never repair the damage inflicted upon Yami Lester, his people and country, his remarkable legacy lives on.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018


Blak Douglas. 'Tjarutja Tragedy' 2016


Blak Douglas (b. 1970)
Tjarutja Tragedy
Synthetic polymer on canvas
100 x 200 cm
© Blak Douglas



The burnt, barren trees in Blak Douglas’s Tjarutja Tragedy are bent, leaning to one side with their branches split in two representing the letter Y.

“That’s because I’m asking why did this happened to us people?”

The Dunghutti artist’s work captures a land destroyed by atomic testing in Australia and speaks to the deep displacement of its Traditional Owners.

“I wanted to create a piece that really encapsulated the return of blackfellas to their country when your country has been blasted. It’s metaphoric for a lot of blackfellas… [And] effectively it’s a metaphor for the continent en masse, and how much of us can’t return to our tribal homelands including myself.”

“Whole peoples were dispossessed from their country and this was done complicity on behalf of the British government and the Australian people really had no say in it.” …

Blak Douglas says his own work was inspired by Mr Lester’s spirited crusade [see above].

“I remember seeing images of him and I googled Maralinga on YouTube a long time ago and I saw Uncle Yami as he was blinded as result of the atomic tests,” he said.

“I’ve dedicated this painting to that mob and I’m proud of that and I’m sure that Uncle Yami, or that mob there when I meet them in due time, will be embracing of it.”

He says Maralinga was one of the “worst atrocities any blackfella has suffered.”

“To blow bombs like that on country and to name them gammin white names or code names that’s just the epitome of colonial fireworks,” he says.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018



Blak Douglas
Sydney-based artist Blak Douglas talks about his painting ‘Tjarutja Tragedy’ which is part of the exhibition Black Mist Burnt Country


Paul Ogier. 'One Tree (former emu field atom test site)' 2010


Paul Ogier (b. 1974, New Zealand)
One Tree (former emu field atom test site)
Carbon pigment on rag paper
94 x 117 cm
© Paul Ogier



An award-winning national touring exhibition of artworks by over 30 Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, commemorating the British atomic tests in Australia in the 1950s, opens today at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Black Mist Burnt Country features artworks from the past seven decades, selected from public and private collections, including works by Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Pam Debenham, Toni Robertson, Rosemary Laing, Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown, Judy Watson, Hilda Moodoo and Yvonne Edwards.

Developed by the Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre, Black Mist Burnt Country revisits the history of the British atomic test program at Maralinga, Emu Field and Montebello Islands and examines the impact on people and land, as well as its on-going legacies.

It presents works across the mediums of painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, new media and music, while exploring the varied perspectives and creative approaches of artists from post-Second World War modernists to contemporary artists.

A variety of interactive elements enable visitors to gain insights into the social, political and environmental dimensions, while placing the Australian atomic tests in the context of the nuclear arms race and its present-day realities.

Margo Neale, Head of the National Museum’s Indigenous Knowledge Centre and Advisor to the Director, said, ‘This potent exhibition by a cast of great artists broaches a number of thresholds in the telling of Australian history through art, and the role of museums in bringing these relatively little-known stories to life. These visual stories penetrate the heart while revealing little-known truths of human consequence about a tragic event in our shared history.’

Burrinja exhibition curator JD Mittmann said, ‘It is surprising how few people are aware that atomic bombs were exploded in Australia, and how little they know about the dislocation of Aboriginal people, the exposure of Australian servicemen and the contamination of the land. This exhibition offers some remarkable insights into a chapter of our history that has long-lasting consequences, while it poses some important questions in relation to contemporary nuclear issues’.

The project has been produced by Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre, Upwey, Victoria and has been on tour nationally since September 2016, when it marked the 60th anniversary of the first British test at Maralinga. The project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia program and developed through the Exhibition Development Fund of National Exhibition Touring Support (NETS) Victoria. The project has also received financial assistance from the Gordon Darling Foundation.

Black Mist Burnt Country received the 2017 Museums Australia Victoria Archival Survival Award (Small Museums) and a Highly Commended at the Museums Australia National Conference (Touring and Temporary Exhibitions).

Press release from the National Museum of Australia


Karen Standke. 'Road to Maralinga II' 2007


Karen Standke (b. 1973, Germany)
Road to Maralinga II
Oil on canvas
112 x 85 cm
© Karen Standke


Kate Shaw. 'Charcoal, UK: Maralinga' 2012


Kate Shaw (b. 1969)
Charcoal, UK: Maralinga
Acrylic and resin on board
120 x 240 cm
© Kate Shaw


Adam Norton. 'Prohibited Area' 2010


Adam Norton (1964, England)
Prohibited Area
Acrylic paint on board, wooden poles and bolts
240 x 122x 7 cm
© Adam Norton



Adam Norton
Sydney-based artist Adam Norton talks about his work Prohibited Area, which is part of a series of reproduced signs he encountered in “nuclear badlands”.


'Maralinga Prohibited Area sign on Emu/Nawa Road' 1974


Maralinga Prohibited Area sign on Emu/Nawa Road
National Archives of Australia NAA: A6457, P042



British nuclear tests at Maralinga

Historical context

On 3 October 1952, the United Kingdom tested its first nuclear weapon, named “Hurricane”, at the Monte Bello Islands off the coast of Western Australia. A year later the first nuclear test on the Australian mainland was Totem 1 (9.1 kilotonnes of TNT (38 TJ)) at Emu Field in the Great Victoria Desert, South Australia, on 15 October 1953. Totem 2 (7.1 kilotonnes of TNT (30 TJ)) followed two weeks later on 27 October. The Supply Minister, Howard Beale, stated in 1955 that “England has the know how; we have the open spaces, much technical skill and a great willingness to help the Motherland. Between us we should help to build the defences of the free world, and make historic advances in harnessing the forces of nature.”

The British government formally requested a permanent test facility on 30 October 1953. Due to concerns about nuclear fallout from the previous tests at Emu Field and the site’s inadequate infrastructure and water supply, the recently surveyed Maralinga site was selected for this purpose. The new site was announced in May 1955. It was developed as a joint, co-funded facility between the British and Australian governments.

Prior to selection, the Maralinga site was inhabited by the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal people, for whom it had a great spiritual significance. Many were relocated to a new settlement at Yalata, and attempts were made to curtail access to the Maralinga site. These were often unsuccessful. (My emphasis) …

A Department of Veterans’ Affairs study concluded that “Overall, the doses received by Australian participants were small. … Only 2% of participants received more than the current Australian annual dose limit for occupationally exposed persons (20 mSv).” However, such findings are contested. Australian servicemen were ordered to: repeatedly fly through the mushroom clouds from atomic explosions, without protection; and to march into ground zero immediately after bomb detonation. Airborne drifts of radioactive material resulted in “radioactive rain” being dropped on Brisbane and Queensland country areas. A 1999 study for the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association found that 30 per cent of involved veterans had died, mostly in their fifties, from cancers.

Successive Australian governments failed to compensate servicemen who contracted cancers following exposure to radiation at Maralinga. However, after a British decision in 1988 to compensate its own servicemen, the Australian Government negotiated compensation for several Australian servicemen suffering from two specific conditions, leukaemia (except lymphatic leukaemia) and the rare blood disorder multiple myeloma.

One author suggests that the resettlement and denial of aboriginal access to their homelands “contributed significantly to the social disintegration which characterises the community to this day. Petrol sniffing, juvenile crime, alcoholism and chronic friction between residents and the South Australian police have become facts of life.” In 1994, the Australian Government reached a compensation settlement with Maralinga Tjarutja, which resulted in the payment of $13.5 million in settlement of all claims in relation to the nuclear testing. (My emphasis)


Media coverage

According to Liz Tynan from James Cook University, the Maralinga tests were a striking example of what can happen when the popular media are unable to report on activities that the government may be trying to hide. Maralinga was an example of extreme secrecy, but by the late 1970s there was a marked change in how the Australian media covered the British nuclear tests. Some resourceful investigative journalists emerged, whistle-blowers such as Avon Hudson [see photograph below] spoke out and political scrutiny became more intense. The investigative journalist Brian Toohey ran a series of stories in the Australian Financial Review in October 1978, based in part on a leaked Cabinet submission.

In June 1993, New Scientist journalist Ian Anderson wrote an article entitled “Britain’s dirty deeds at Maralinga” and several related articles. They are a detailed analysis of the legacy of Vixen B and the Australian government’s prolonged negotiations with the United Kingdom on cleaning up Maralinga and sharing the cost of “safe-sealing” waste plutonium. Previously, much of this highly toxic nuclear waste had simply been lightly bulldozed into the soil rather than buried in deep, secure, purpose-built, concrete bunkers. In 1993, Anderson won two Michael Daley Awards for his Maralinga articles.

Maralinga: Australia’s Nuclear Waste Cover-up is a book by Alan Parkinson about the clean-up following the British nuclear tests at Maralinga, published in 2007. Parkinson, a nuclear engineer, explains that the clean-up of Maralinga in the late 1990s was compromised by cost-cutting and simply involved dumping hazardous radioactive debris in shallow holes in the ground. Parkinson states that “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land.”

Text from the Wikipedia website



Australian Atomic Confessions

Sacrificial Lambs on the High Alter of Science

Australian servicemen and nomadic Aboriginals reveal the devastating effects of atomic weapons testing carried out in Australia by the British during the 1950s. For the first time, members of the Royal Australian Army, Air Force and Navy describe former top secret aspects of those tests. With the use of rare archival film and photographs, as well as eye witness accounts, Australian Atomic Confessions chronicles the hidden history and exposes previously hidden Government cover-ups. The consequences of nuclear testing imposed on the Australian people and land are not just skeletons of the past. Sydneys’ new nuclear reactor continues to pose a threat to the environment and civilians, and the problem of removing and disposing of the old nuclear reactor remains an unanswered question. Prominent Aboriginal Elders also warn that an imminent catastrophe may occur in Central Australia as a result of two uranium mines. Australian Atomic Confessions is a chilling expose of nuclear testing and its damaging legacy, one that continues to this day.


Jessie Boylan. 'Portrait of a whistleblower: Avon Hudson was a leading aircraftman for the RAAF during the nuclear tests in Maralinga' 2011-2015


Jessie Boylan (b. 1986)
Portrait of a whistleblower: Avon Hudson was a leading aircraftman for the RAAF during the nuclear tests in Maralinga
Image: Burrinja Cultural Centre



This series chronicles Avon Hudson’s life, from early years growing up in regional South Australia, to service in the Royal Australian Air Force as a Leading Aircraftman, through the experience of British atomic bomb tests, to his “whistle blower” act of revealing Maralinga’s deadly legacy.

What Avon knew, and was prepared to tell publically about Maralinga, contributed to the establishment of the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia (1984-85). His motivation was to put a halt to government plans to return Maralinga to its traditional owners, pending a full clean-up of land still contaminated by radioactive debris.

The story of nuclear testing is unknown to most Australians. Between 1952 and 1963, after a decision made by Prime Minister Menzies alone, nine atomic bombs were exploded and hundreds of ‘minor’ experiments were conducted at the British-run testing ranges at Emu and Maralinga in South Australia. Three bombs were also exploded at Monte Bello Islands in Western Australia.

The impacts of these experiments continue to play out in the ill health and changed lives of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, who were exposed to or involved in the tests, over multiple generations. The tests have also left a deep-future legacy of environmental contamination.

It is a portrait of someone with a photographic memory, capable of grasping and articulating every detail of the atomic age as he experienced it.

It depicts a committed citizen and serviceman, husband and father, always an advocate and an activist, who in civilian life became a Wakefield councillor for over 20 years. It shows a practical man – mechanic, wood-turner and furniture maker; and portrays a nature-enthusiast and an educator on environmental and social issues.

It is also a portrait of someone who has invariably lived by his convictions – as that’s what whistleblowers do. Since the 1970s, Avon has campaigned for recognition of nuclear veterans and civilian personnel. As his co-authored book “Beyond Belief” records, “His life has been deeply affected by a sense of injustice and by the callousness of successive Australian and British governments ignoring the plight of those caught up in ‘the grand game’.”

This series is a recognition and celebration of the significant role Avon has played South Australia’s unfolding atomic history. His life as an activist seems to belong to the present, as the future of nuclear science and technology is considered anew.

Text from the Jessie Boylan website (with permission)


Boylan is a photomedia artist who explores issues relating to human impacts on the land and communities in relation to environmental and social devastation – nuclear testing, mining and war. Through her work Boylan’s has expressed ideas of history and place in relation to contemporary Australian identity, community and activism. She recently completed her MFA on the topic of photography, the campsite and the anti-nuclear movement in Australia.

Jessie Boylan is a key member of the Atomic Photographers Guild, an international group who aim to render visible all aspects of the nuclear age. She won first place in Images of Justice at Adelaide University 2015 and has been a finalist for the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award in 2007, 2009 & 2012, the Spirit of Youth Award in 2009, the Head On Alternative Portrait Awards, ACP, Sydney in 2009 & 2010. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)


Craig McDonald. 'Maralinga Test Dummy' 2010



Hugh Ramage. 'Taranaki' 2014


Hugh Ramage (b. New Zealand 1958, emigrated to Sydney in 1978)
Oil on canvas
42 x 37 cm
© Hugh Ramage


Taranaki test site-and cleanup-area


Taranaki test site-and cleanup-area
(image source: Google Earth)



Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown
Pitjantjatjara artist Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown talks about his country and the effects the atomic tests had on it


Jonathan Brown was removed from his parents at Ooldea and grew up with foster parents in Melbourne and Sydney. At a later stage of his life he located his parents at Yalata and learnt about the atomic tests, the removal of his people from their traditional lands and the destruction of country. Jonathan first came to recognition as artist when he worked with Lin Onus for the 1990 exhibition Balance at the Queensland Art Gallery. His later paintings were heavily influenced by the experiences of the Pitjantjatjara / Anangu which became the focus of his work. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga before the Atomic Test' 1994


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga before the Atomic Test
Ochres, sand and kapok on linen
227 x 205 cm
Yarra Ranges McLeod Gift Collection



Much of the exhibition centres on the story of artist Jonathan Kumintjara Brown who was removed from his family at Ooldea Mission, located on the transcontinental railway near Watson about 250 kilometres west of Ceduna.

Three of his works feature in the exhibition, and grainy textures bring his pieces to life. One in particular, Black Rain, powerfully illustrates the destruction of country through a black sky punctured by white thick stripes of rain and cloud.

“He did it with such a great sense of power and visual impact,” says Burrinja Executive Director Ross Farnell.

“He would depict the landscape and then basically throw a whole heap of ochre, sand and glue over the top of it and then just obliterate most of the painting and then go that’s Maralinga after the test, ‘that’s what happened to my country’,” Mr Farnell told NITV News.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018


Jonathan’s story

One of the central stories of Black Mist Burnt Country is the story of artist Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. Jonathan was removed from his parents at Ooldea mission station at very early age and grew up with in a foster family in Melbourne and Sydney. At a later stage of his life he located his parents at Yalata and went back to be reunited with them.

The return to his people was traumatic. Neither could he speak Pitjantjatjara, nor did he know he had a brother. He learned about the removal of his people from their country and the destruction of country through atomic testing.

Fabian Peel, who worked as a nurse in the community at the time and is now director of Tullawon Health Clinic in Yalata, took Jonathan around the country. He remembers: “It was very painful. Jonathan cried all the way.”

Jonathan went on to make several paintings depicting the impacts of the nuclear testing program on Anangu and the land, some of which will be included in the exhibition.

Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga' 1992


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Acrylic, sand and lizard skeleton on linen
Ebes Collection
© the artist estate
Photograph: Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga' (detail) 1992


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga (detail)
Acrylic, sand and lizard skeleton on linen
Ebes Collection
© the artist estate


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga Atomic Test Dust Storm and Old Sites Significance' 1996


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga Atomic Test Dust Storm and Old Sites Significance
Synthetic polymer paint, natural ochres and sand on canvas
122 x 92 cm
© the artist estate


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Frogmen' 1996


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Synthetic polymer paint, natural ochre and sand on canvas
122 x 92 cm
© the artist estate


Kate Downhill. 'Operation Hurricane' 2013


Kate Downhill (b. 1955 England, emigrated to Australia 2009)
Operation Hurricane
Acrylic on dress fabric laid on canvas
101 x 76 cm
© Kate Downhill



Kate studied graphic design at Newcastle-upon-Tyne College of Art and worked in London during the 1970s as an illustrator and layout artist in various publishing houses. In the 1980s she studied painting at Exeter College of Art, graduating with a BA in Fine Art and Literature and concentrated on her purely abstract paintings in the tradition of the St. Ives School of painters with whom she trained. In the mid 1990s her working style changed dramatically and abstraction became a background element in new works where a variety of figurative styles and painting techniques were used within the same image. Since then she has worked to combine both painterly and graphic imagery to narrative effect. A life-long interest in textiles, quilting and the language of stitching is also evident in her work.

Since emigrating to Australia Kate has been concentrating on a series of paintings whose theme is the fragmentary and personal nature of memory and the process of memorialisation, as with the paintings she presents in this exhibition. Here she is using the naive imagery of rural community quilting to bring together varied scraps of information and family anecdotes about the British Australian nuclear tests. Kate’s father was a seismologist for the Atomic Weapons Research Institute and he was closely involved in the development and testing of the H Bomb during the 1950s. Her work here is a deeply personal response to historical events. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)



Kate Downhill
Kate Downhill talks about her father’s involvement in the British atomic test program as a seismologist and explains her painting’s reference to quilting.


Tjariya Stanley. 'Puyu - Black Mist' 2015


Tjariya Stanley
Puyu – Black Mist
Acrylic on canvas
© Margo Birnberg and the artist


Hilda Moodoo and Jeffrey Quema. 'Destruction II' 2002


Hilda Moodoo (b. 1952) and Jeffrey Quema (1947-2009)
Destruction II
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
101 x 122 cm
Santos Fund for Aboriginal Art 2002, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Courtesy of the artists



Hilda Moodoo painting began at Oak Valley in December 2001 when Victorian Yorta Yorta artist Lance Atkinson spent two months in the community teaching the technical skills for painting on canvas. Hilda Moodoo and Kunmanara Queama’s collaborative paintings Destruction I and II were included in the resulting Desert Oaks exhibition at the Adelaide Festival Centre in March 2002 and are now in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. The Desert Oaks project was a deliberate expression of identity and an opportunity to pass on knowledge through painting. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

Queama, a Pitjantjatjara man, was born at Ooldea, on the eastern edge of the Nullabor Plain. With the dispersal of residents after the closure of the United Aborigines Mission (UAM) at Ooldea in 1952, he was sent to the Lutheran mission school at Koonibba, near Ceduna. He worked for many years on land conservation and management boards, and lobbied tirelessly for the return of the Maralinga-Tjarutja lands to the traditional owners. In 1984 the lands were been returned, and he and his wife Hilda Moodoo among others founded Oak Valley community, 150 kilometres northwest of Maralinga. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)


Arthur Boyd. 'Jonah on the Shoalhaven Outside the City' 1976


Arthur Boyd (1920-1999)
Jonah on the Shoalhaven Outside the City
Oil on canvas
Bundanon Trust Collection
© Bundanon Trust



In Arthur Boyd’s Jonah on the Shoalhaven – Outside the City (1976), the iconic cloud sits on the horizon, almost like a puff of dust rising off the white sand. Boyd had been conscripted into the army and became a pacifist. For him, the threat of nuclear destruction sits in the backdrop, no less menacing than Nolan’s apocalyptic response two decades earlier. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)


Sidney Nolan. 'Central Desert Atomic Test' 1952-57


Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)
Central Desert Atomic Test
Oil on canvas



Nolan’s landscape sits harsh and red under a blue sky and the mushroom cloud of the bomb. Nolan was living in London at the time but news of the tests started appearing in the media. The cloud and dust were added to one of Nolan’s desert paintings as an act of protest over the events taken place back in Australia and the addition turns a rugged landscape into an image that seethes with anger at the act of destruction. In Nolan’s landscape, the bomb looms large. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)


Toni Robertson. 'The Royal Nuclear Show - 6' 1981


Toni Robertson (b. 1953)
The Royal Nuclear Show – 6
Screen print on paper (set of 6 screenprints)
Prints, screenprints, printed in colour inks, each from four hand-cut and three photo-stencils
Flinders University Art Museum Collection
Image courtesy of National Gallery of Australia, Canberra



Toni Robertson studied fine arts at the University of Sydney in the 1970s and was a founding member of the influential Earthworks Poster Collective (1971-80) at the University’s Tin Sheds. Robertson’s work has appeared in many group exhibitions in the 1970s and 1980s, and along with Chips Mackinolty and others she is recognised as a leading figure in Australian political printmaking. Her work is held in many public collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian War Memorial, Artbank and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney as well as tertiary, state library and union collections. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)


Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty. 'Daddy, what did YOU do in the Nuclear War?' 1977


Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty
Toni Robertson
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | born 1953
Chips Mackinolty
Morwell, Victoria, Australia | born 1954
Earthworks Poster Collective
commenced 1971 – 1980 | poster design studio (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
Daddy, what did YOU do in the Nuclear War?
Prints, posters, screenprint, printed in colour inks, from multiple stencils
Printed image 73.4 h x 48.2 w cm
Sheet 76.2 h x 50.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Given in memory of Mitch Johnson 1988
© Toni Robertson



The political poster movement in Australia was at its height in the 1970s, supporting anti-war, anti-uranium, pro-land rights and pro-feminist causes. Members of the Earthworks Poster Collective, opposed to the egotism of individual artistic fame, worked from the Tin Sheds (University of Sydney Art Workshop). In Daddy what did you do in the nuclear war? Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty appropriated a British recruiting poster from the First World War, adapting the children’s bodies to reflect the genetic consequences of radiation.

Christine Dixon


Victorian-born artist Chips Mackinolty was involved in the campaigns against the war in Vietnam by producing protest posters. He was a key figure in the radical poster movement and was introduced to screen printing in Goulburn Street, Sydney. During the 1970s posters became an art form artists using the cheap posters as a political tool. The Earthworks Poster Collective, established in 1971, was the most active and well-known of these groups. Earthworks operated from the Sydney University Art Workshop, commonly known as the Tin Sheds, finally demolished in 2007. Mackinolty used sharp, flat colours and increasingly professional techniques to produce posters such as “For the man who said life wasn’t meant to be easy – make life impossible.” The poster is a multi-imaged send-up of former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. It was posted up at night around Sydney, helping to politicise a generation. His work is held in major national and international institutions. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)


Pam Debenham. 'No nukes in the Pacific' 1984


Pam Debenham
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia | born 1955
Tin Sheds Posters
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | commenced 1984 (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
No nukes in the Pacific
Prints, posters, screenprint, printed in colour inks, from multiple stencils
Printed image 88.0 h x 62.0 w cm
Sheet 91.0 h x 65.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, purchased 1990

Pam Debenham. 'No Nukes No Tests' 1984


Pam Debenham
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia | born 1955
Tin Sheds Posters
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | commenced 1984 (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
No Nukes No Tests
Screenprint on paper
© Pam Debenham
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


Adam Norton. 'Prohibited Area' 2010


Adam Norton (b. 1964, England)
Prohibited Area
Acrylic paint on board, wooden poles and bolts,
240 x 122x 7 cm
© Adam Norton



National Museum of Australia
Lawson Crescent
Acton Peninsula, Canberra

Opening hours:
Daily 9am-5pm

Black Mist Burnt Country website

National Museum of Australia website


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Text: Marcus Bunyan. ‘Death and the image’ 2018

November 2018


This text was written in 2017 for a special issue of the international magazine Text on the subject ‘Writing Trauma’. While the text was accepted, the peer-reviewers wanted heavy revisions, including reordering the piece and editing out my personal stories. At the time, I was going into hospital for an operation on my hand and such revisions were impossible to undertake.

Now, over a year later, I have reread the text… and I have amended and extended it, but otherwise I am going to leave it as I wrote it in the first place. I like the way I write and I like my personal stories. While it is a long read the writing addresses an important subject with, I hope, some interesting insights along the way.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 8,137

Download Death and the image (4.3Mb pdf)




This text investigates how the act of photography visually writes trauma. Through an analysis of the context of images of death by artists such as Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, and Walker Evans the paper ponders how the camera captures human beings ante-mortem, at the death point, post-mortem and vita ad mortem.

It seeks to understand that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present. How does the act and performance of photography depict the trauma of death, this double death (for the photograph is a memento mori and/or the person in the photograph may already know that they are going to die).

“The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal” the pronouncement of the perfect paradox (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.”


Trauma, photography, death, art, memento mori, war, execution, memory, victim, representation, Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, Walker Evans, ante-mortem, point of death, death point, post-mortem, punctum, empathy, vita ad mortem, life after death.



Death and the image



“Photography, because it stops the flow of life, is always flirting with death…”

John Berger1


“On the most fundamental level there are transitions from continuous to discontinuous or from discontinuous to continuous. We are discontinuous beings, individuals who perish in isolation in the midst of an incomprehensible adventure, but we yearn for our lost continuity. We find the state of affairs that binds us to our random and ephemeral individuality hard to bear. Along with our tormenting desire that this evanescent thing should last, there stands our obsession with a primal continuity linking us with everything that is.”

Georges Bataille2



German Gen. Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution


“German General Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade. The General was convicted and sentenced to death by an American military tribunal. Aversa, Italy.” Blomgren, December 1, 1945. 111-SC-225295. National Archives Identifier: 531326



Trial and Execution of General Anton Dostler

The still photograph (above) can be seen being taken by the flash from a still camera that occurs at 5.16 secs in the YouTube film. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.




One of life’s recurrent themes is mortality. As Bataille notes, we are discontinuous beings: we live, we breathe, and we die. Photography’s recurrent theme is also mortality. In a ghostly evocation, the medium possesses an odour of death that sticks in the throat. So how then does photography visually write the trauma of death – over time, through space, in different contexts, with multiple narratives and different points of view?

As a first point of reference, we need to define trauma. Trauma can be an injury to living tissue; a disordered psychic or behavioural state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury; an emotional upset and an agent, force or mechanism that causes all or any of these conditions.3 Atkinson and Richardson note that the work of theorists such as Nicolas Abraham, Maria Torok, Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, Dominick LaCapra, and Cathy Caruth in broad terms view trauma,

“… as the delayed manifestation of a psychic wound sustained during an experience that has happened too quickly to allow registration and processing of the event at the time of its occurrence. To study trauma in literary or cultural terms, then, is to be concerned with the tension between what is known and what is not known, and with the impact and dynamics of the woundedness and machinations of trauma – not only its purely physical instantiation, but in all its reverberations. This is what brings the study of trauma to the uncertainty of truth, the impossibility of bearing absolute witness to catastrophe, the multiplicity of historical narratives.”4

Constitutive of trauma and its affects is the “piercing of the psychic shield” which protects a fragile subjectivity leaving in its wake shattered individuals, communities and even whole nations.5 Further, Michalinos Zembylas citing Kaplan (2005) notes that “an important distinction that needs to be made here is one’s positioning and context of encountering trauma,”6 between being a primary or secondary witness. Personally, I believe that a testimony (a formal written or spoken statement that something is true) in the first instance… becomes a testament (something that serves as a sign or evidence of a specified fact) in the second.

When looking death in the face, we can state that death is a trauma not only for the physical body and the psyche of the person involved (the direct trauma victim), but also for the witness of the event, be they a primary witness – one who actually witnesses the traumatic event – or a secondary witness, a person “who has no personal connection to the victim but may encounter trauma through other sources such as the media and oral or written accounts of a catastrophe.”7

These secondary encounters can never be the actual experience of trauma but, acting through language (be it oral, written or visual), they may embody sensations that stimulate feelings and thoughts in the secondary observer. A social construction of a testament may produce an empathetic engagement in viewers as “secondary witnesses.”8 Through an understanding of spectatorship, experience, aesthetic effects, narrative strategies and temporal shifts in the polyvocal nature of language we can begin to understand how the affect of secondary traumatisation – on memory, history and the body – can break down the subject-object dichotomy, can break down the realist norms of representation to produce “a mode of cognition involving sensuous, somatic and tactile forms of perception.”9 Here language (the photograph in this case, reinforced by the title of the photograph) stands in for that which is absent, but it is not in opposition to an intensity of feeling. The language of the photograph can intensify the affect of the image, especially if the photograph becomes transcendent, embodied, in the vitality and “aliveness” of the viewer.10

This mimetic experience “promotes a critical and self-reflexive empathy” and knowledge in the secondary witness that LaCapra observes is a “virtual, not vicarious, experience … in which emotional response comes with respect for the other and the realization that the experience of the other is not one’s own.”11 Essentially, this is a social concept, a social construction of reality, a matrix-like view of the world that draws on relational and contextual dimensions for understanding trauma. This concept requires careful consideration of issues related to history, culture, race, gender, ideology, beliefs, agency and power.

“From a social constructionist and narrative perspective, people reconstruct their selves through the stories they tell about their past and the meaning they ascribe to the present in anticipation of the future. They shape their stories through active and creative interpretation of their lives and are in turn shaped by these stories. However, the self is not only a product of narratives. People are purposeful and moral beings, having the power and agency to change scripts, discourses and ideologies…”12

Here we can ask, what are the machinations of the image in the affective dynamics of photographs of trauma and how are they situated in a certain relation to trauma? What do photographs actually do that give rise to a way of thinking and feeling about trauma?

Although no representation can fully describe the first hand experience of trauma because of the partial nature of language – its gaps, elisions and impossibilities of speech13 – it is because of these very gaps that new spaces of interpretation can open up. Rather than just representing the perceived reality of trauma (this happened, at this time, in this location – an ordering of reality), images have the unique ability to transcend their indexical relationship to the real, pointing and touching (as if with the index finger) to the relationality of trauma as it touches human emotion. With its ability to police and regulate it subject, the implicit violence of photography is a predatory means of taking possession of both its victim (the subject) and its viewer.

Anna Gibbs has stated that we live, “in a more or less continuous state of mediatized emergency and traumatic aftermath, desensitized by the onslaught of images … to the affect we ought to feel.”14 I strongly disagree. I would argue that the traumatic numbing15 and supposed “death of experience”16 allegedly present in the world of image circulation, translation, and accumulation only occurs if the witness lets it be so.

Personally, I believe that something in the image is transferred to the witness pre-cognition – intuitively, imaginatively – which can then be interpreted cognitively and relationally with regard to history and memory, art and culture, politics and experience through an orthogonal movement through time and space. As viewers and interpreters, we are not fixed at a particular point in time and space, nor do we observe from one particular point of view. Our existential engagement provides a space to close the gap between affect and enunciation.

“Facts can vibrate; they can give of colors, sounds, smells, images. To talk of these facts with no recognition of this is to lack any awareness of the act of enunciation, of the gaps between language and experience and the unpredictable ways that sparks can break out of language, leap across the gap and ignite the tinderbox of traumatic memory.”17



Surfing Pinterest (a photo sharing website) recently, I absentmindedly clicked on an abstract image of three hanging black shapes from the pantheon of image tiles that presented itself to me. Up popped this horrific image of three Afro-Americans who had been lynched in the Southern United States in the 1920s. I was shocked and dismayed. I had such a strong emotional reaction to the image. But more than that, my feelings and memories of the bigotry that I had faced as a young gay man growing up in the 1970s swelled in my consciousness. This story is a example of how exposure to an image can bring to the surface unresolved aspects of being ‘Other’, of being different, and being persecuted for that difference. I thought about the lives of these people that had led them to that point, their families, their histories and the terror that they must have experienced on that day. You cannot begin to understand that, but you can have empathy and anger against the systems of racism and bigotry that exist in the world.

Then the cognitive part of my brain linked the image to a report I had only just seen a few days before on lynching, which told of the thousands of Afro-Americans who had been killed between 1882 and 1968.18 Mentally, I then linked this to a Facebook posting which put forward the analogy that the current killing of Afro-Americans by police in the United States was akin to a contemporary and publicly endorsed and enforced form of lynching. Finally, in my head I heard Billie Holiday singing that famous song Strange Fruit, “a dark and profound song about the lynching of African Americans in the Southern United States during the Jim Crow Era, “strange fruit,” as they hang from trees, rotting in the sun, blowing in the wind, and becoming food for crows upon being burned.”19 I watched the video of Billie Holiday singing this song on YouTube.20 Every time I think of this image I have these associations of animate thought intrinsic to the original experience,21 where the micro and macro conditions of production work to “embody and register trauma,”22 a communicable language of sensation and affect, time and time again.



Billie Holiday – Strange fruit



These chains of affect, the nexus between affect / feeling / emotion / cognition, are a form of synaesthesia where facts, emotions, feelings, memories, sounds and images vibrate against each other as an active and continuous engagement of the self with the world in which one lives. In a human being who is un/consciously aware, these real and mediated experiences may encourage a sensory intensification that elicits thought and empathic vision in the materiality of embodied experience, something (the punctum?) that takes us out of our selves into a higher register of being.

As part of this system of impressions, of an instantaneous, affective response triggered by an image,23 photographs force us to engage visually and involuntarily. “Impressions that force us to look, encounters which force us to interpret, expressions which force us to think.”24 Encounters which force us to comprehend. The conjunction of affect and critical awareness “constitute the basis of an empathy grounded … on a feeling for another that entails an encounter with something irreducible and different, often inaccessible.”25 This combination of affective and intellectual operations – about forcing oneself to look (and that process of looking/surrendering) but never forgetting your ‘point of view’, your memory, history and identity, is when empathy becomes that process of surrender, “but also the catch that transforms your perception.”26 How is this “catch” enunciated in photographs? I now want to look at a few images that explicate these phenomena.


Ante-mortem: present but absent


With the invention of photography in the late 1830s, the photograph as memento mori allows the spectator to observe death not at first hand, but through the representation of the image “taken from life.” Photographs provide a verification of reality through their apparent verisimilitude, while being woven into narratives – oral, textual, intertextual, spatial and temporal – that frame the event in multiple ways.

“Photographs … have come to stand in for reality … despite the fact that it is relatively easy to manipulate their meaning. As a result of their ability to project reality, images, and particularly those that depict death and destruction, are seen as potentially powerful pieces of documentary evidence…”27

Photographs are embedded in “a context of the cultural circumstances at the time, and therefore exist rarely in isolation or without meaning”28 and can be seen as having a denotative level (what they physically represent) and a connotative level (the meanings attached to that representation).29 Photography quickly changed how death was displayed because it introduced a “reality” and immediacy of representation that was democratic, personal and everyday.30


Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April 1865


Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Lewis Paine
26th April 1865
Albumen silver print from a Collodion glass plate negative



An example of the personal, everyday and documentary nature of photography can be seen in the photograph taken by Alexander Gardner in April 1865. This portrait is of Lewis Thornton Powell (aka Lewis Payne or Paine) who was one of the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln which occurred the same month. The photograph has a background of dark metal, and was taken on one of the ironclads U.S.S. Montauk or Saugus, where the conspirators were for a time confined. The reality is Paine was executed in July 1865 just eight short weeks after this photograph was taken, so in effect (and in the affect on us of this knowledge), he is (already) a dead man walking. This is a double death – that death buried in the very act of taking any photograph, La petite mort or “the little death,” an idiom and euphemism for the orgasm of the photographic time freeze; and the fact that we know that he was going to die, those short weeks later.

The photograph forms the central panel of a three-panel Renaissance-like altarpiece, the form in which the three photographs are usually displayed. The left and right hand photographs were taken within minutes of each other, with the camera in the same position, whereas in the centre photograph the camera has been lowered to show more of the body, and the image has been cropped at the top. In the central plate the figure of Paine has been raised up in the frame – almost prematurely brought back to life by his placement. The centre image is the only one where Paine stares directly at the camera. He surveys the viewer with a gaze I find enigmatic.


Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April, 1865


Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Three photographs of Lewis Paine
26th April, 1865
Albumen silver prints from a Collodion glass plate negative



This is a very modern face, a very contemporary face. His hair is similar to Justin Beiber’s. Who brushed his hair across for this picture, and would it normally be this long, or has it just been ignored because of his fate? He still has good muscle tone – has he been exercising in his ironclad cell? And finally, his clothing – are they navy issue, as his top appears to have been given to him, perhaps the coarse, navy blue wool of the Northern states. If we were to place this image within the metaphysical school of photography which peaked with Paul Caponigro and Minor White we could say: Hovering above his head, has his spirit already begun to leave his body?

One reading of his gaze is that he is interested in what the photographer is doing – almost the gaze of an apprentice wanting to apply these skills in the future. Given his fate is he insane because of his interest? Another reading could be that he is looking out to the future in the hope of finding that he will be judged in another way. And another is the immediacy of his gaze – it is a gaze that is happening now!

The other thing that I find mysterious is the distance of the photographer from the subject. Was it fear or the presence of the guards that stopped Gardner getting any closer, or are there deck fittings we cannot see that prevented his approach. Imagine being Paine, having a photographer point a damn great view camera at you, documenting your countenance for prosperity. What was going on in Paine’s mind – what is his perspective on this performance by the photographer? And what brought Paine to this place?

Michel Foucault calls the methods and techniques by which human beings constitute themselves, “technologies of the self.” Foucault argued that we as subjects are perpetually engaged in processes whereby we define and produce our own ethical self-understanding. According to Foucault, technologies of the self are the forms of knowledge and strategies that “permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of immortality.”31 As we look into his eyes he knows that we know he is going to die, has already died but the intensity of that knowledge is brought into present time. In this instant, what Paine emanates is a form of i-mortality.

Roland Barthes in his seminal work Camera Lucida observes in Section 39:

“He is dead and he is going to die… The photograph is handsome, as is the boy: that is the studium. But the punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: this will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose, the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence.”32

This is Barthes anterior future, a moment where truth is interpreted in the mind of the photographer, not out there but in here (your head and your heart), where past, present and future coalesce into a single point in time: his death and our death connected through his gaze, and the knowledge of our joint discontinuity. In this moment in time, what we are doing is making a list about the human condition when we talk about something that is remarkable. Language can never fully describe the human condition, much as it may try… and this is why this photograph is remarkable, because it is ineffable, unknowable. The photograph inhabits you; it haunts you like few others, because it is a memoriam to a young man and his present death. Here he is present but absent at one and the same time.

As such, this is an image as triple death – the death of the photograph (past time / memento mori / remembrance of death), the death of the person in the photograph and also a third death, the knowledge that Paine is going to die. Death, like life, can be cyclical. This is the catch that transforms your perception, in Barthes terms the punctum of the image, in which the wounding, personally touching detail (past pose, future death) establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.

“The punctum (a Latin word derived from the Greek word for trauma [my emphasis]) … inspires an intensely private meaning, one that is suddenly, unexpectedly recognized and consequently remembered (it “shoots out of [the photograph] like an arrow and pierces me”); it ‘escapes’ language (like Lacan’s real); it is not easily communicable through/with language. The punctum is ‘historical’ as an experience of the irrefutable indexicality of the photograph (its contingency upon a referent). The punctum is a detail or “partial object” that attracts and holds the viewer’s (the Spectator’s) gaze; it pricks or wounds the observer.”33

This trauma, prick or wound that lifts the viewer out of themselves, out of their everyday existence, “points to those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognizable symbolic system. This kind of meaning is unique to the response of the individual viewer of the image.”34 This punctum also accounts for the importance of emotion and subjectivity in interacting with photographs; memory of that photograph displaces it from its moment of origin.35 Photography enacts the trauma of death even while being enacted upon.

Now we can read Eduardo Cadava’s comments on Walter Benjamin’s analysis of the photograph:

“As Benjamin suggests … the photograph, like the souvenir, is the corpse of an experience. A photograph therefore speaks as death, as the trace of what passes into history. I, the photograph, the spaced out limit between life and death, I, the photograph, am death. Yet, speaking as death, the photograph can be neither death nor itself. At once dead and alive, it opens the possibility of our being in time.”36



Photography then, can be seen as death taken away from itself.

Through the oscillation between studium (historical, social or cultural meanings extracted via semiotic analysis) and punctum (those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognisable symbolic system) the traumatic photograph of death, death’s afterimage, transcends the initial shock inducing signifier leading to a more extended form of engagement that addresses the duration of trauma in memory – through the images elisions, slippages, and conceptual, political and historical complexities. Our negotiation with imaging and imagining, therefore, takes place within ever-expanding contexts of meaning – some relating to the past and some to the present – which impact future interpretations.

I believe that these negotiations are, firstly, linked to what Deleuze calls the encountered sign, a “sign that is felt, rather than recognized, or perceived through cognition.”37 A feeling that is a catalyst for critical enquiry or deep thought. “For Deleuze, affect or emotion is a more effective trigger for profound thought because of the way in which it grasps us, forcing us to engage involuntarily…”38 Secondly, I believe that these negotiations are linked to what Barthes calls the images “third meaning.”

“In Barthes’ view, the image’s third meaning compels viewers after they encounter and deplete both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions. Barthes argued that the third meaning is difficult to locate, because it is not situated structurally or in a certain place of the image. It is similarly difficult to describe, because it involves what he called the image’s obtuseness, its accent or anaphoric side.”39

Again, we have this idea of the catch, accent, or punctum that grasps us and takes us out of ourselves, that modulates the images “voice” (which is how the image takes on an already provided meaning upon its initial appearance), a voice which then also “helps us to understand both the image’s third meaning and the role of contingency in visual memory.”40


Death point



“Ah, wretched as I am … to dwell not among the living, not among the dead.”

Sophocles, ‘Antigone’41



Commentators such as Barbie Zelizer observe that images, especially about-to-die images, easily “reduce complex issues and circumstances to memorable but simplistic visual frames.”42 The image,

“… depicts for its onlookers a moment in an event’s unfolding to which they attend while knowing where that unfolding leads. This means that visual work often involves catching the sequencing of events or issues midstream, strategically freezing it at its potentially strongest moment of meaningful representation.”43

Other writers such as Susan Sontag note that these images have the potential to stir public emotions, simply because they freeze a moment in time and can be looked at again and again… but at the same time the repeated viewing of images of atrocity can have a numbing effect.44 The pain and fear evidenced in the photograph as seen in the victim’s eyes (for example in the photograph of the shooting of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy), expands the literal / informational side and its symbolic dimensions (chivalry, love, devotion, hope – Camelot!) into a Barthes’ third space. While Kennedy is a victim twice over (the victim of the assassin and the camera) in a guttural interpretation of the image he is to remain a victim for eternity in the contingency of the future, as long as we continue to look at this photograph.

For me, this is sad and painful photograph. I remember the day it happened. I was ten years old at the time. It’s one of those events that you will remember for the rest of your life – where you were, who you were with – like the moon landings or 9/11. I was in a car outside a small newsagent when the news came on the radio. Robert F. Kennedy had been shot: first aural, then visual on the black and white TV that night, then textual in the newspapers and then visual again with this photograph, then associative. The pain of the loss of those heady days of hope lessens not.


Boris Yaro (American, born 1938) 'LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING' June 5, 1968


Boris Yaro (American, born 1938)
LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy Lies Gravely Wounded on the floor at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after midnight today, moments after he was shot during a celebration of his victory in yesterday’s California primary election
June 5, 1968
Gelatin silver print
17.2 x 21.1 cm (6 3/4 x 8 5/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2010


While photographs of the actual moment of death are rare I have been able to find around ten images that capture this vital moment, a freezing of reality at the point of death, the death point: that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present.

However, I would argue that in the contextual language of the photograph, there is no singular death point. I would propose the idea of an extended period of time and space embedded in the spatio-temporal matrix of the image, so that there is no single point, no singular resolution to the traumatic moment of death – either for the person involved, nor the witness or viewer.

Setting aside the concept that the image could have been staged, in Robert Capa’s famous photograph Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936 (below), there is something about this image where space or some basic element is being democratised at the moment of death – or maybe in the choice to struggle with death. In an ontological sense of becoming, perhaps it is this that becomes the pure representation of time. In contrapunto, there is an anonymous image of a German soldier at the point of death on the steppes of Russia that is totally unknown. Why has one become famous and the other not?

Has it to do with the fame of the photographer, the pose of the person, or the agency of photography itself, where one photograph regarding the pain of others is too damning a legacy and of too plain a purpose to bare contemplating, while the other – with its masked face, outflung arm and falling, quasi-religious nature – has become possibly the most famous of war photographs through its proliferation in newspapers and magazines.

Whatever the merits of each image, these death point photographs are noteworthy for what is not said: the violence that is being perpetrated on the victim every time a person looks, and looks again, at the photograph. The writing of trauma by photography never ends, is always and forever infinite.


Robert Capa (1913-1954) 'Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936' 1936


Robert Capa (1913-1954)
Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936
Gelatin silver print
Photograph by Robert Capa © Cornell Capa / Magnum


Anonymous photographer. 'Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front' c. 1942


Anonymous photographer
Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front
c. 1942
akg-images / Interfoto AKG138118

Caption: A German soldier pays the ultimate price of war. German casualties were less than those of the Red Army, but the steady attrition suffered by the Wehrmacht began to undermine its effectiveness.46


Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942


Anonymous photographer
Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942
Rare Historical Photos website 2013

Caption: A Soviet spy laughs at his executioner in a picture taken in Rukajärvi, in East Karelia, in November 1942. It has been thought within the Finnish Defence Forces that the decision to withhold pictures of the fate of Russian POWs and spies may also have been prompted by concerns that pro-Soviet elements in Finnish society could have used the images for propaganda purposes. This picture was declassified by the Ministry of Defense of Finland in 2006, with the description: Unknown Soviet intelligence officer before being shot, Finland, 1942.

It’s a pretty amazing picture. To capture the last few moments of life. He knows he will die in a few seconds, in a forest in the snow. And there he will bleed out and be forgotten. His life, his experience, has come to an end. What else could he do but smile? That smile was his final defiance. Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.47




Here we might ask, is it possible, through the use of encountered signs, “voice”, punctum, catch or accent, to extend the unreal time of death?

Personally, I believe it is and I would argue for a sense of a Buddhist “no-time”. A transcendent time embedded into the fabric of the image. In Walker Evans’ terms an “unconscious phenomenon” that culminates in amazing accidents of composition, where things constantly rub up against each other “in the desire to create a type of friction that tests the boundaries of representation.”48 An example of this spatio-temporal dimensionality, third meaning or Thirdspace, can be seen in the interplay between the still image and film footage of the execution of German General Anton Dostler by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade December 1, 1945. By examining the film we see a flash of light at 5.16 secs, which is the still photograph at the top of this text being taken by the flash of a camera. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

The fluidity of Barthes’ third meaning, where the image’s obtuseness compels viewers, has obvious links to Edward Soja’s conceptualisation of “Thirdspace”, which emerged from the spatial trialectics established by Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space and Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia. Soja defines Thirdspace as, “an-Other way of understanding and acting to change the spatiality of human life, a distinct mode of critical spatial awareness that is appropriate to the new scope and significance being brought about in the rebalanced trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality.”49 In this amorphous space, “everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history.”50

A further example of the presence of a third meaning in a still photograph can be seen in the image by an unknown photographer Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans (1944, below). Caught like a rabbit in headlights, the flash illuminates the collaborator kneeling, bound, and masked but it is not quick enough to freeze the explosion of wood, the dynamic breaking of the rope or the slight movement of the hands. The body seems to float on a bed of leaves. The cheap, dirty shoes and striped trousers leading up to the material that covers the victim’s face. Is that his hair, or a hat or another hood over his head? Although we know the what, why, and where of the photograph – an encounter with both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions – the placing of the image, its accent and obtuseness is much more difficult to understand. The photograph and its protagonist seem to exist beyond time and space, the anonymous man surrounded by a death bed of leaves, bursting the bonds that wrapped him and held him tight. Like the mystery of Man Ray’s L’Enigme d’Isidore Ducasse (1920), the photograph has disturbed the trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality, destroying the imploring label, “Do not disturb.”


Unknown photographer. 'Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944'


Unknown photographer
Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944
Silver gelatin photograph
U.S. Army Signal Corps
National Archives Identifier (NAID)



Post-mortem: absent but present



Letherolfsvile Oct 29 AD 1859

This is the likeness of Catherine Christ

When I am dead and in my grave

And when my bones are rotten

Remember me

When this you see

Or I shall be forgotten

The grass is green The rose is red

here is my name when I am dead 51



This short poem written on a piece of paper hidden underneath an image in a daguerreotype case implores us to remember the person – a plea to the future to remember them – through a composite narrative of portrait and text. Through the creative addition of text, the language of photographs can be supplemented which adds to the functionality of the photograph as an effective memory object.52 But what if the scene of the text (the photograph) contains an absence, no depiction of the person who has died? What happens to the writing of trauma in images of the dead then?

If we acknowledge that a photograph of a person always prefigures its subjects passing then what we are doing “in reality” is deferring the death of an/other onto the foreseen death of ourselves. In this process, we must remember that every photograph is a construct, a performative act by the photographer. What the photographer chooses to record is an act of will, whether ethical or not. Photographers have the presence of mind to attend to a certain manufacture of history. When viewing this instant narrative the viewer must acknowledge a loss of a sense of time:

“This lost sense could manifest as reliving a traumatic episode as if it is taking place in the present … In the context of trauma… a loss of sense of time deprives one of the ability of remembering and telling one’s narrative in a chronological order.”53


Emmet Gowin (b. 1941) 'Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia' 1972


Emmet Gowin (b. 1941)
Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Emmet and Edith Gowin
© Edith and Emmet Gowin and courtesy of Pace MacGill Gallery, New York



One way that artist’s upset this chronological order is by playing with the fragmentary nature of time, space and memory – of present absence/absent presence. In Emmet Gowin’s accidentally double-exposed negative, Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia, 1972 (above), the photograph combines “a funerary image of his wife’s grandmother, Rennie Booher, with the surface of a Neolithic monumental stone he had photographed in England a few days earlier.” Floating through eternity, encased in ancient rock that nourishes her spirit, Gowin’s photograph acts as a kind of testament of absent but present, neither here not there. This loss of sense of space and time can be deeply disturbing (like trauma) as it questions one’s physical presence in the world, but it can also have a transcendental dimension as both time and space are inextricably bound to the very specific conditions of the material world. Photographs like the one of Booher have the potential to draw together what would otherwise seem to be incompatible. To form what Jacob Bronowsi calls a “hidden likeness”, one that transcends time and space, one that is reactivated with every looking.

“The poem or the discovery exists in two moments of vision: the moment of appreciation as much as that of creation; for the appreciator must see the movement, wake to the echo which was started in the creation of the work. In the moment of appreciation we live again the moment when the creator saw and held the hidden likeness. When a simile takes us aback and persuades us together, when we find a juxtaposition in a picture both odd and intriguing, when a theory is at once fresh and convincing, we do not merely nod over someone else’s work. We re-enact the creative act, and we ourselves make the discovery again…”54

An important fact about the nature of trauma is the compulsion of the human psyche to repeat traumatic events over and over again. The reproducibility of photographs and the ability to look at them again and again – their machine-like repeatability, their citationality or iterability to use Derrida’s signature term – feeds into this repetitive “death instinct” (Thanatos). However, Bronowsi’s “hidden likeness” (also the name of one of Emmet Gowin’s exhibitions and a form of punctum) is perhaps a liminal moment, one that may upset the death instinct. These liminal moments may occupy a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. By disrupting the threshold – between life and death, between past, present and future time – they are requisite of the ghost (the soul) in the machine (the camera).

As Derrida observes, building on the work of Barthes,

“It belongs to it without belonging to it and is unlocatable in it; it never inscribes itself in the homogenous objectivity of the framed space but instead inhabits, or rather haunts it: “it is the addition [supplement]: it is what I add to the photograph and what is none the less already there.” … Neither life nor death, it is the haunting of the one by the other … Ghosts: the concept of the other in the same, the punctum in the studium, the dead other alive in me.”57



In this scenario, perhaps the act of writing trauma through death in the image becomes the true act of learning, and the interpretation of that act becomes an act of creation rather than one of rote memorialisation. These are images that require contemplation, time, analysis, and sensation, where the subject of the photograph is transformed “from somebody merely seen to someone really felt,” which is, as Batchen says, “an emotional exchange transacted in the heart.”58

This emotional exchange can take many forms. It can be triggered when the dead body is only metaphorically represented in the image, when the physicality of death has been transmuted. For example, photographs such as Walker Evan’s Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama (1936, below), or the documentary image Place where the corpse was found (1901-8, below) by the French photographer Alphonse Bertillon, propose a re-imaging and re-imagining of the life of the person. They do so through an un/ambiguous photographic context, that is, through the marking of place in the photograph. In the latter case, this marking of a life is represented by two pieces of wood lying on the ground and two pieces of wood propped at 45 degrees against the wall. As though this is all that is left of the existence of Mademoiselle Mercier in a street (Rue de l’Yvette) that still exists in Paris to this day. A photograph of pieces of wood and an empty space.


Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Child's grave, Hale County, Alabama' 1936


Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama
Silver gelatin print
7 3/8 x 9 7/16″ (18.7 x 23.9 cm)
© 2016 Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914) 'Place where the corpse was found' 1st November 1902


Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Place where the corpse was found
1st November 1902
From Album of Paris Crime Scenes
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 24.3 x 31 cm (9 9/16 x 12 3/16 in.)
Page: 23 x 29 cm (9 1/16 x 11 7/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2001



Other photographs picture the place of death nearly a century later in order to commemorate the traumatic death of “deserters” at the hands of a firing squad during the First World War. These are some of the most traumatic photographs of death I have seen, for they require me to imagine the mise en scène that was enacted at dawn almost 100 years ago, in the very place where these photographs were later “shot” at dawn.

The artist, Chloe Dewe Mathews, realised that “I was placing my tripod around the same spot where the firing squad had stood and looking directly at the place where the victim was placed.” It was, she says, “a solitary and sombre undertaking,” an undertaking (with that name’s etymological link to the word undertaker) which the viewer is invited to partake of, a re-imaging of those traumatic events that requires an active imagining, and thinking, in the neo-spectator. It is this duration of trauma in cultural memory which calls for an active negotiation in ways of seeing, a re-negotiation which can produce an empathic vision that “changes the terms of our engagement” with the image.


Chloe Dewe Mathews. 'Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais' 2013


Chloe Dewe Mathews (b. 1982)
Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais
Eleven British soldiers were executed here between 1915-18
From the series Shot at Dawn
© Chloe Dewe Mathews



Vita ad mortem: life after death



“… the life of spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself.”

George Wilhelm Frederich Hegel61



The absence/presence contained within all photographs speaks to the ultimate affect: that of la petite mort – the “little death” – the sensation of orgasm as likened to death, a short period of melancholy or transcendence as a result of the expenditure of the “life force.” While Barthes metaphorically used the concept to describe the feeling one should get when experiencing any great literature, it can also be used when some undesired thing has happened to a person and has affected them so much that “a part of them dies inside.”

A photograph can also contain this melancholy transcendence, a catastrophe that has already occurred.

“Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe… This punctum, more or less blurred beneath the abundance and the disparity of contemporary photographs, is vividly legible in historical photographs: there is always a defeat of Time in them: that is dead and that is going to die… At the limit, there is no need to represent a body [in photographs] in order for me to experience this vertigo of time defeated.”63

Barthes’ concept of an extended punctum may be useful here, when he states, “I now know that there exists another punctum (another ‘stigmatum’) than the ‘detail’. This new punctum, which is no longer of form but of intensity, is Time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme (‘that-has-been’), its pure representation.”64

Here Barthes is proposing a punctum of intensity; a punctum as lacerating “detail”; and/or “the vertigo of time defeated.” This “temporal hallucination” embedded and embodied in the photograph – the temporality of the “will-have-been”, they are dead (today), they are already dead (yesterday), Barthes’ anterior future – represents a symbolically mediated subject bound up in three extases of time (past, present, and future).65

The subject becomes lost in the language of the photograph, the intersection of Lacan’s the Imaginary (in which the human subject creates fantasy images of both himself and his ideal object of desire), the Symbolic (the social world of linguistic communication and inter-subjective relations), and the Real (defined as what escapes the Symbolic, the Real can be neither spoken nor written, it is impossible, but is ceaselessly writing itself). These concepts serve to situate subjectivity within a system of perception and a dialogue with the external world.

According to Lori Wike, the experience of punctum and the structure of iterability can be aligned to Lacan’s concept of the death drive (or death instinct) present in the Symbolic order, in which the signifier “materializes the agency of death.”66 This may account for the role of the photographic punctum as trauma, in which the punctum opens up “a kind of subtle beyond” where “a blind field is created (is divined)…”67 As Barthes notes, “Photography is a kind of primitive theater, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead.”68 Further, we can say that, “unlike the symbolic, which is constituted in terms of oppositions such as “presence” and “absence”, there is no absence in the real,” for the real is undifferentiated, “it is without fissure.”

“The symbolic introduces “a cut in the real,” in the process of signification: “it is the world of words that creates the world of things.” Thus the real emerges as that which is outside language: “it is that which resists symbolization absolutely.” The real is impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality.”69

The “mark” of photography is eviscerated in the intensity of the real, a traumatic loss of time that confronts us with our own mortality and the knowledge that we will not be remembered. This is where images of death can take us once the initial affective connection is established – to a noumenal space where in the play of representation, the point of origin becomes ungraspable (Lacan’s différance).70

“In French, différance simultaneously contains within its neo-graphism the activities of differing and deferring, a distancing acted out temporally as well as spatially.”71 Where the moment (the time freeze of the shutter) turns in, on and around its own fulcrum, where there is always difference at the point of origin. For all of its instantaneous nature, in photography there is always a perverse moment of displacement and deferral. In its history, “a perverse complicity of continuity and resemblance with its supposed opposite, discontinuity and difference”72 … the latter only existing in a reciprocal relationship to the former.

The circle is closing and we return to where we started.



Human beings in their longing for lost continuity are mirrored by their photographs which transition from continuous to discontinuous and back again. While we yearn for our lost continuity, we must acknowledge that death is an unedited event, one that we cannot look back on. There is no following event to blank out that moment… and the dead are always dying. But what images of death in photography do is this: they allow us to approach the noumenal, that state of being of which we can have knowledge of, but can never know. We can approach, touch, feel, analyse, and have empathy for traumatic events in the representation of an unknowable reality. The photograph has the ability to go beyond the symbolic, to approach the impossible, the real.

The photograph may proffer a ‘releasement toward things’,73 a coexistence between a conscious and unconscious way of perceiving which sustains the mystery of the object confusing the distinction between real time and sensual time, between inside and outside, input and output becoming neither here nor there. As Martin Jolly notes, citing John Thompson, “… images of death can be seen a form of “mediated, non-reciprocal intimacy, stretched across time and space” in which we are increasingly unconstrained by our location or our time.”74 Further, John Thompson observes, “While lived experience remains fundamental, it is increasingly supplemented by, and in some respects displaced by, mediated experience, which assumes a greater and greater role in the project of self-formation.”75

In the sense that the photograph becomes la petite mort, the little death, it embodies our desire for the soul to become eternal in the form of this mediated experience… the displacement of the soul via the ghost in the machine, the soul remembered throughout time in the traumatic trace of the photograph. Death in the language of photography is always postponed and deferred: into the physicality of the photograph; into cultural memory; into the gaze (of the photographer, the camera and the viewer); and into the body of the observer. Here, a relationship exists between an impossible reality (an encounter with an “outside” which is unknowable) and a floating referent in an image that is both formative and transformative. And in that relationship, as Donna Haraway observes, “Relationship is multiform, at stake, unfinished, consequential.”76

The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal”77 the pronouncement of the perfect paradox78 (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.

© Dr Marcus Bunyan 2018

Word count: 8,137




“Empirically acknowledged as tragic, the photographic print was really just that when, at the turn of the century, it became the instrument of the three great authorities over life and death (the law, the army, medicine). This is when it demonstrated its power to reveal the unfolding of a destiny from the word go. As deus ex machina [god from the machine or, providential intervention], it was to become just as ruthless for the criminal, the soldier or the invalid, the conjunction between the immediate and the fatal only becoming more solid, inevitably, with the progress of representation.”

Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, p. 43.


“Written with her trademark flair and force, Sontag’s book [On Photography] inaugurated a wave of criticism, much of it influenced by Foucaultian theory, that underscored the instrumentality and implicit violence of photography, its ability to police and regulate it subjects, especially those lacking social and political power: the poor, presumed “deviants” or “criminals,” and workers. As Sontag herself acknowledged, however, photography is not only a predatory means of taking possession, but also a mode of conferring value; it can potentially be put to counter-hegemonic uses, used to see and frame in ways that affirm and legitimate, rather than strictly contain and control, the presence of culturally disenfranchised persons.”

Entin, Joseph. “Milton Rogovin’s Approach: Photography, Class, and the Aesthetics of Making Space (2008),” on the ASX website July 12, 2010 [Online] Cited 27/10/2018


Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne) '[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]' c. 1863


Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne)
[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]
c. 1863
Albumen print from collodion glass negative
17.9 x 24.2 cm (7 1/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)' 1934


Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)
Silver gelatin print


Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)' 1939, printed c. 1970s


Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)
1939, printed c. 1970s
Silver gelatin print



One of my early heroes in photography was Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Many Mexican photographs tell such stories based on the mythology of the country: there are elements of the absurd, surrealism, macabre, revolution, political and socio-economic issues, also of death, violence, beauty, youth, sexuality and religion to name but a few – a search for national identity that is balanced in the photographs of Bravo by a sense of inner peace and redemption. This potent mix of issues and emotions is what makes Mexican photography so powerful and substantive. In the “presence” (or present, the awareness of the here and now) of Mexican photography there is a definite calligraphy of the body in space in most of the work. This handwriting is idiosyncratic and emotive; it draws the viewer into an intimate narrative embrace. Two famous photographs by Bravo illustrate some of these themes (Apollonian/Dionysian; utopian/dystopian). When placed together they seem to have a strange attraction one to the other.


Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942


Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942




Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’, in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 1-21

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson (eds) 2013 Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Barthes, Roland 1981 Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography New York: Hill and Wang

Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press

Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography paperback 1999 Massachusetts: MIT Press

Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press

Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International

Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography

Bronowski, Jacob 1958 Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row

Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd.

Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 84-114

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, 110-111

Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller, 1972 in English

Edwards, Janis L. 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Communication Quarterly vol. 60 issue 5, 681-197

Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’ in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 16-49

Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 129-147

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 125-142

Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan

Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederich 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row

Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter

Jolly, Martyn 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’, in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 71-87

Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ in GENDERS no. 7 Spring, 22-31

Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter” in Yale French Studies no. 48 French Freud: Structural Studies in Psychoanalysis Yale University Press, 39-72

Martin, Luther H and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) 1988 Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press

Maxwell, Anne and Josephine Croci (eds) 2015 Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing

O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website

Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change Annandale NSW: Pluto Press Australia, 78-97

Randell, Karen and Sean Redmond (eds) 2008 The war body on screen, New York: Continuum

Rastas, David and Maria Schlachter 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art

Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town

Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 80-103

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Staines, Deborah (ed) 2007 Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website

Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press

Virilio, Paul 1994 The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster

Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, 1-28

Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

Zembylas, Michalinos 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education New York: Palgrave Macmillan




[1] Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International, 122

[2] Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company, 15

[3] Anonymous 2016 Definition of Trauma by Mirriam-Webster, at (accessed 8 November 2016)

[4] Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 5

[5] Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 82

[6] Michalinos Zembylas 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 4

[7] Ibid., 4

[8] Rutherford Op. cit., 87

[9] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 49, 93

[10] Rutherford Op. cit., 94

[11] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 9

[12] Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town, at (accessed 8 November 2016)

[13] Rutherford Op. cit., 85

[14] Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

[15] “Perhaps rather than numbness, what we actually feel is our own helplessness or impotence, and the shame of helplessness, which robs us of agency. Helplessness is what Tomkins calls an affect complex, and within it distress is the dominant affect, although there may be admixtures in it of fear, anger and shame… Helplessness immobilises, and this is what induces the shame which, as a reduction of interest, makes us lower our gaze and look away.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 139-140

[16] “To suffer is one thing; another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more – and more. Images transfix. Images anaesthetize…”

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 20

“Are we making too much of images? Are we lured by our own voyeurism and iconophilia, numbed as we are by the democracy of the spectacle? Or, on the contrary, do images open the eyes of our conscience? In other words do images merely entertain and anaesthetize us or do they shame us and awake our conscience?”

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) in L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, at (accessed 8 November 2016)

[17] Rutherford Op. cit., 89

[18] Anonymous 2016 ‘Lynching in the United States’, at (accessed 11 November 2016)

[19] Anonymous 2016 ‘Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday’, at (accessed 11 November 2016)

[20] ‘Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit’, at (accessed 11 November 2016)

[21] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 55, 95

[22] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 4 quoted in Rutherford, 95

[23] Ibid., 11

[24] Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller (1972 in English) 7, in Bennett 161

[25] Bennett Op. cit., 10

[26] Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change 94-95, in Bennett, 10

[27] Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 55

[28] Ibid., 56

[29] Ibid., 56

[30] Randell, Karen and Redmond, Sean (eds) 2008 The war body on screen New York: Continuum, cited in Hanusch, 30

[31] Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’, in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 18

[32] Barthes, Roland 1980 La Chambre Claire (Camera Lucida) (1981 in English) New York: Hill and Wang Section 39, 94

[33] Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter at (accessed 12 November 2016)

[34] Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website 12 March, at (accessed 11 November 2016)

[35] “For memory is always in a state of ruin; to remember something is already to have ruined it, to have displaced it from its moment of origin. Memory is caught in a conundrum – the passing of time that makes memory possible and necessary is also what makes memory fade and die.”

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 78

[36] Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 110 in Batchen 172

[37] Bennett Op. cit., 7

[38] Ibid., 7

[39] Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory, at (accessed 13 November 2016)

[40] Ibid.,

[41] Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone, lines 850-52 Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd., 91

[42] Edwards, Janis L 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Taylor Francis Online at (accessed 13 November 2016)

[43] Zelizer Op. cit.,

[44] Sontag Op. cit., 18 cited in F Hanusch 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 105

[45] See ‘Robert Capa: The Falling Soldier’, The Met website, at (accessed 13 November 2016)

[46] Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster, 23

[47] Anonymous photographer 2013 ‘Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942’, Rare Historical Photos website 29 December, at (accessed 13 November 2016)

[48] Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography October 7, 5 at (accessed 13 November 2016)

[49] Soja, Edward W. 1996 Thirdspace Malden (Mass.): Blackwell, 57

[50] Ibid., 57

[51] Batchen Op. cit., 47

[52] Ibid., 48

[53] Rastas, David 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art, at (accessed 19 November 2016)

[54] Bronowski, Jacob 1958, Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row, 31

[55] Anonymous 2015. ‘Hidden Likeness: Photographer Emmet Gowin at the Morgan’, The Morgan Library & Museum website May 22 through September 20, 2015 (accessed 08 May 2018)

[56] See Turner, Victor 1966 The Ritual Process: Structure and Antistructure Chicago: Aldine. For a definition of liminality see Anonymous ‘Liminality’, Wikipedia website (accessed 08 May 2018)

[57] Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (paperback 1999) Massachusetts: MIT Press, 194

[58] Batchen Forget Me Not, 94

[59] O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website 29 June, at (accessed 25 November 2016)

[60] Bennett 2005 Empathic Vision 69

[61] Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederich 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 10

[62] Anonymous 2016 ‘La petite mort’ Wikipedia website at (accessed 25 November 2016)

[63] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[64] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[65] See Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ in In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, at (accessed 25 November 2016)

[66] Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter’’ in Yale French Studies, no. 48, 53 quoted in Wike 2000

[67] Barthes Camera Lucida, 57-58 quoted in Wike 2000

[68] Barthes Camera Lucida, 31-32 quoted in Wike 2000

[69] Anonymous 2016, ‘The Real’, Wikipedia website at (accessed 25 November 2016)

[70] “Derrida sees differences as elemental oppositions working in all languages, systems of distinct signs, and codes, where terms don’t have absolute meanings but instead draw meaning from reciprocal determination with other terms… Différance is the systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences, of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other… the a of différance also recalls that spacing is temporization, the detour and postponement by means of which intuition, perception, consummation – in a word, the relationship to the present, the reference to a present reality, to a being – are always deferred.”

Anonymous 2016 ‘Différance’ atérance (accessed 25 November 2016

[71] Batchen Burning with Desire 179. Information on photography and differance 178-179.

[72] Batchen Burning with Desire 186

[73] “We stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery… Releasement towards things and openness to the mystery belong together. They grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way…”

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row, 55-56

[74] Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press, 208 quoted in M Jolly 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’ in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 84

[75] Thompson 233 quoted in Jolly 2015

[76] Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 122, at (accessed 26 November 2016)

[77] Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ GENDERS no 7 Spring, 26

[78] You are dead but also alive, the dissolution of the distinction between objective and subjective realities, “the image is an interface connecting inner and outer, past and future, affect and cognition.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect And The Images From Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130




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Exhibition: ‘L’envol’ (‘Flight’) at La maison rouge, Paris

Exhibition dates: 16th June – 28th October 2018


Georges Méliès (1861-1938) 'Le voyage dans la lune. Le clair de terre - (10e tableau)' 1902


Georges Méliès (1861-1938)
Le voyage dans la lune. Le clair de terre – (10e tableau)
A Trip to the Moon
Courtesy Collection La Cinémathèque française



Another fantastic, esoteric exhibition that will resonant with a lot of human beings. The curators of L’envol (Flight) “have imagined an exhibition that examines mankind’s dream of flying – though without any reference to those who have actually made this dream come true.”

Man has long wanted to fly even though even though men are not birds. But we can, each in our own way, imagine what it is like to fly; we can dream about flying; we can meditate on flying; we can partake in shamanic rituals where our spirit becomes a bird (Carlos Castaneda); we can fly during orgasmic sex as we are taken out of our own body (la petite mort); we can loose ourselves ecstatically during a dance party when we commune with the cosmic beyond; or we can make films such as Alan Parker’s outstanding film Birdy where the protagonist “imagines himself flying like a bird around his room, throughout the house and outside in the neighbourhood.”

Many and varied are the ways human beings examine the melancholy and fantastical desire to fly.

In my own contemporary work, I investigate the moral and ethical reasons why a human being would want to fly the very latest piece of technology, a fighter plane, only to kill, bomb and maim. The reason to fly such war machines, to be as one with the latest technology, the speed, the thrill of flying – to fight for freedom, democracy, to bomb, to kill; and the moral and ethical choices that human beings make, to undertake one action over another.

Again, the melancholy and the fantastical, perhaps flight as a means of escape from the realities of the everyday, much as a child I often imagined being a bird and flying away, never to come back. So this exhibition has special resonance with me. What an incredible collection of ideas, feelings, dreams and fantastical creations these magnificent inventors have released into the universe, in order to defy a literal and promote a metaphysical gravity (love).


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



Love is metaphysical gravity

Buckminster Fuller



Henry Darger (American, 1892-1973) 'Young Rebonna Dorthereans Blengins - Catherine Isles, Female, One Whip-Lash-Tail' 1920-30


Henry Darger (American, 1892-1973)
Young Rebonna Dorthereans Blengins – Catherine Isles, Female, One Whip-Lash-Tail
Pencil and watercolour on paper
© Kiyoko Lerner, Adagp, 2018
Courtesy Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris


Henry Darger (American, 1892-1973) 'Human headed Blengins of Calverine Island Catherine Isles' 1920-30


Henry Darger (American, 1892-1973)
Human headed Blengins of Calverine Island Catherine Isles
Pencil and watercolour on paper



Henry Joseph Darger Jr. (c. April 12, 1892-April 13, 1973) was a reclusive American writer and artist who worked as a hospital custodian in Chicago, Illinois. He has become famous for his posthumously discovered 15,145-page, single-spaced fantasy manuscript called The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, along with several hundred drawings and watercolor paintings illustrating the story.

The visual subject matter of his work ranges from idyllic scenes in Edwardian interiors and tranquil flowered landscapes populated by children and fantastic creatures, to scenes of horrific terror and carnage depicting young children being tortured and massacred. Much of his artwork is mixed media with collage elements. Darger’s artwork has become one of the most celebrated examples of outsider art. …

In the Realms of the Unreal is a 15,145-page work bound in fifteen immense, densely typed volumes (with three of them consisting of several hundred illustrations, scroll-like watercolor paintings on paper derived from magazines and colouring books) created over six decades. Darger illustrated his stories using a technique of traced images cut from magazines and catalogues, arranged in large panoramic landscapes and painted in watercolours, some as large as 30 feet wide and painted on both sides. He wrote himself into the narrative as the children’s protector.

The largest part of the book, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, follows the adventures of the daughters of Robert Vivian, seven princesses of the Christian nation of Abbieannia who assist a daring rebellion against the child slavery imposed by John Manley and the Glandelinians. Children take up arms in their own defense and are often slain in battle or viciously tortured by the Glandelinian overlords. The elaborate mythology includes the setting of a large planet, around which Earth orbits as a moon (where most people are Christian and mostly Catholic), and a species called the “Blengigomeneans” (or Blengins for short), gigantic winged beings with curved horns who occasionally take human or part-human form, even disguising themselves as children. They are usually benevolent, but some Blengins are extremely suspicious of all humans, due to Glandelinian atrocities.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Charles August Albert Dellschau. 'Untitled' 1921


Charles August Albert Dellschau (American, 1830-1923)
Courtesy Collection abcd / Bruno Decharme



Charles August Albert Dellschau (4 June 1830 Brandenburg, Prussia-20 April 1923 Houston, Texas) was one of America’s earliest known visionary artists, who created drawings, collages and watercolours of airplanes and airships and bound them in 12 known large scrapbooks that were discovered decades after his death. …

After his death, Dellschau’s home remained in the hands of his descendants. His notebooks of paintings and drawings, as well as his diaries were left virtually untouched for half a century until the late 1960s. Following a fire, the house was cleared and at least 12 of the notebooks were placed on the sidewalk to be discarded. Fred Washington, a local antiques and used furniture dealer, spotted the books, and for $100 bought them from the trash collector. The books sat undisturbed in Washington’s store under a pile of discarded carpet for over a year. In 1968, Mary Jane Victor, an art student at the University of St. Thomas in Houston stumbled upon the notebooks, and persuaded Washington to lend some of them to the university for a display on the story of flight. She also brought them to the attention of art patron and collector Dominique de Menil. Mrs. de Menil purchased four of the notebooks for $1,500. Of the remaining books, seven were purchased Peter (Pete) G. Navarro, a Houston commercial artist and UFO researcher. After studying them, Navarro sold four of the notebooks to the Witte Museum in San Antonio, and the San Antonio Museum of Art. One notebook ultimately ended in the private abcd (art brut connaissance & diffusion) collection in Paris belonging to Bruno Decharme, a French filmmaker and art collector. The rest of the notebooks ended up in private hands. Some were dismantled and single pages were sold. In 2016, a double sided page dated 1919, sold for $22,500 at Christie’s.

Dellschau’s earliest known work is a diary dated 1899, and the last is an 80-page book dated 1921-1922, giving his career as an artist a 21-year span. His work was in large part a record of the activities of the “Sonora Aero Club,” of which he was a purported member. Dellschau’s writings describe the club as a secret group of flight enthusiasts who met in Sonora, California in the mid-19th century. According to Dellschau, one of the club members discovered a formula for an anti-gravity fuel called “NB Gas.” The club mission was to design and build the first navigable aircraft using the NB Gas for lift and propulsion. Dellschau called these flying machines Aeros. Dellschau never claimed to be a pilot or a designer of any of the airships; he identifies himself only as a draftsman for the Sonora Aero Club. His collages incorporate newspaper clippings (called “press blooms”) of then-current news articles about aeronautical advances and disasters.

Despite exhaustive research, including searches of census records, voting rosters, and death records, nothing has been found to substantiate the existence of this group except for a few gravestones in the Columbia Cemetery where several of the surnames are found. It is speculated that, like the voluminous “Realms of the Unreal” notebooks by outsider artist Henry Darger (1882-1973), the Sonora Aero Club is a fiction by Dellschau.

Text from the Wikipedia website



L’envol is the final exhibition at La maison rouge, which will close its doors for the last time on October 28, 2018. Antoine de Galbert has invited Barbara Safarova, Aline Vidal and Bruno Decharme as co-curators. Together, these specialists in art brut and contemporary art have imagined an exhibition that examines mankind’s dream of flying – though without any reference to those who have actually made this dream come true. As always at La maison rouge, the curators have considered the subject matter independently of “categories” to bring together works of art brut, modern, contemporary, ethnographic and folk art. A walk through the various themes reveals a succession of some 200 works, including installations, films, documents, paintings, drawings and sculptures.

In the beginning there was Dedalus, that inspired inventor who dreamed of escaping into the skies, taking his son Icarus with him. Harnessed to wings made from feathers and wax, they rose into the heavens, intoxicated with their flight, borne aloft into the atmosphere. We all know what happened next. Icarus ventured too near the sun, his wings melted and he hurtled into the sea to die. From legend to reality, the sky has always been a dangerous playground for mankind. This is no small undertaking by the 130 artists in Lenvol, as they endeavour to challenge the laws of gravity, break free of Earth’s magnetic field, launch themselves into the unknown or experience the gaseous envelope of the atmosphere between two periods of turbulence. Some are hedonists, others are activists, intent on saving mankind as the world heads for destruction, whether by building flying shelters or constructing utopias. The sky offers ample territory for experiment, shared between the extravagant artists who are convinced of their ability to overcome gravity and the gods that live there, and the conceptualists designing utopias – more poet than scientist.


Defying gravity

The dream of flying may be as old as mankind – and the sky may have lost some of its mystery thanks to progress in aviation – but men are not birds, all the same. Clothing oneself in feathers is not enough. We are earthly creatures, and the body alone will always struggle to leave the ground. We can never achieve this freedom nor expand the scope of our action without the will to surpass ourselves.

Devoid of wings, dancers soar upwards, defying the laws of gravity with no fear of falling or exhaustion (Loie Fuller, Nijinsky, Cuningham, etc.) Rodchenko, a photographer for the Russian propaganda machine, uses daring, low-angle shots to make his athletes appear to take off in flight, idealising the body to further the needs of the revolution whose heroes were held aloft.

Lucien Pelen seeks anti-matter as he attempts to merge his body with the atmosphere. Arms outstretched, he launches himself into the air and, for a split second, achieves the ecstasy of flight before coming brutally back down to earth. Such is this fragile balance at the boundaries of possibility.

When Gustav Messmer attached springs to his shoes so he could bounce rather than walk, or fitted a bicycle with enormous bat-like wings, did he realise how precarious these inventions were? To hell with scepticism! Surely it takes some degree of madness to invent your own freedom?

Or engage in excesses like Rebecca Horn who, in search of new ways to experience the space around her, shrouds her ailing body in feather fans then seeks the limits of its extension, stretching these articulated wings as far as they will go before the mechanism gives way.


To infinity and beyond

The weight of the world gives artists cause to wander in the shadow of earthly paradises. Fréderic Pardo, a psychedelic star, uses tempera, an ancient technique, to produce spaced-out paintings while high on LSD. He floats alongside magic carpets (Urs Lüthi), ridden by souls from an Arabian Nights dream. We discover a limitless space filled with superheroes, Batman and witches straddling broomsticks; a world teeming with chimera and fairies.

The sky seethes with mystery. Shamans, accustomed to travelling between worlds, converse with spirits and collect information while improbable creatures, part angel, part human, bump and bowl along (Henry Darger’s Blengins side by side with Moebius’s Arzach, Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern’s hybrids and Kiki Smith’s bird-women).


Engineering the impossible

Tatlin’s sculpture, more fine art than flying machine, seeks to rediscover an age-old, mythical experience. Letatlin is a melding of art, technique and utopia; an attempt at a personal dream. The year is 1929 and the Great Depression has spared no-one. Heads are hot with the desire to escape, minds filled with fantasies of infinity. “We must learn to fly through the air just as we learned to swim in the water or ride a bicycle,” Tatlin declared.

Some forty years later, Belgian artist Panamarenko appears to have taken him at his word. Obsessed with the freedom of flight, he makes sophisticated yet poetic constructions, bristling with bellows and motors. However crazy or technically unfeasible they may be, the artist never tires of convincing us they will lift him off the ground.

These are beautiful machines, created by the engineers of the impossible and of no purpose whatsoever – except for the dreams they inspire. Snuggling into Fabio Mauri’s Luna inspires a feeling of weightlessness with the senses immersed in a light, fluffy environment. Stationed on the deck of his Spacecraft, inspired as much by the Mercury project as Henry David Thoreau’s cabin in the woods, Stéphane Thidet combines musical arrangements with conversations between astronauts in an electroacoustic performance.

They shut themselves away in their own worlds, all the better to escape to another place, experience the extraordinary and relive childhood fantasies, but with adult toys. Roman Signer, for example, plays with explosives and sets off conflagrations that are both fascinating and illusory. After all, what is the point of smashing everyday objects to smithereens? Of starting up a helicopter in an inflatable pool when it will probably destroy everything around? What is the point of risking danger, other than to try and become one with the inventor of the world and reproduce the forces of nature.


Indoor aviators

Some of these dream merchants are inspired by an intercelestial mission. They are the off-the-wall artists, incomprehensible to the rational world, imbued with a different logic and convinced that flight can be achieved with contraptions made from bits and bobs. Theirs is a world free from explosions or falls, bolstered by belief and the quest for the absolute. Hans-Jörg Georgi, for one, is driven by the need to save humanity from inevitable destruction. His studio is crammed with the aeroplanes he painstakingly builds, day after day, from cardboard boxes stuck together with glue.

Karl Hans Janke is another master of the art of spaceship building, having produced an astonishing 4,500 drawings describing hundreds of technical innovations. Charles Dellschau is further testament to this obsessive dream of flying. He was a member of the Sonora Aero Club, a secret group of mid-nineteenth-century flight enthusiasts whose self-appointed mission was to build the world’s first navigable aircraft.

These are crazy escapades, guided only by the imagination and ultimately less dangerous, and just as exhilarating, as those undertaken by reality’s utopians. Adolf Wölfli chose to rise above it all, deliriously determined to embrace Creation, Space and Eternity. His associations of opposite perspectives produce apparently real and contradictory visions that are dizzying to behold.

Aviation’s spectacular progress has in no way diminished the dreams of these magnificent inventors. Two irreconcilable worlds continue to share the skies. And why shouldn’t artists seek inspiration from other suns? Despite his fall, Icarus is a hero for all eternity.

Excerpt from the exhibition catalogue, introduction by Aline Vidal.



Fabio Mauri


Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled' c. 1940


Anonymous photographer
c. 1940
Black and white photograph
Courtesy Collection abcd / Bruno Decharme


Alexandre Rodchenko (1891-1956) 'A leap' 1934


Alexandre Rodchenko (1891-1956)
A leap
Black and white photograph
Courtesy Collection Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum



Photographs made from above or below or at odd angles are all around us today – in magazine and television ads, for example – but for Rodchenko and his contemporaries they were a fresh discovery. To Rodchenko they represented freedom and modernity because they invited people to see and think about familiar things in new ways. (Text from the MoMA website)

Photography was important to Rodchenko in the 1920s in his attempt to find new media more appropriate to his goal of serving the revolution. He first viewed it as a source of preexisting imagery, using it in montages of pictures and text, but later he began to take pictures himself and evolved an aesthetic of unconventional angles, abruptly cropped compositions, and stark contrasts of light and shadow. His work in both photomontage and photography ultimately made an important contribution to European photography in the 1920s. (Text from The Art Story website)


Eikoh Hosoe (Japan, b. 1933) 'Kamaitachi 17' 1965


Eikoh Hosoe (Japan, b. 1933)
Kamaitachi 17
Black and white photograph
© Eikoh Hosoe. Courtesy galerie Jean-Kenta Gauthier, Paris



Eikoh Hosoe’s groundbreaking Kamaitachi was originally released in 1969 as a limited-edition photobook of 1,000 copies. A collaboration with Tatsumi Hijikata, the founder of ankoku butoh dance, it documents their visit to a farming village in northern Japan and an improvisational performance made with local villagers, inspired by the legend of kamaitachi, a weasel-like demon who haunts rice fields and slashes people with a sickle. Hosoe photographed Hijikata’s spontaneous interactions with the landscape and the people they encountered. A seductive combination of performance and photography, the two artists enact an personal and symbolic investigation of Japanese society during a time of massive upheaval. (Text from the Aperture website)


Emery Blagdon (1907-1986) 'Untitled' Nd


Emery Blagdon (1907-1986)
Courtesy Collection abcd / Bruno Decharme



From the late 1950s until his death in 1986, Emery Blagdon created a constantly changing installation of paintings and sculptures in a small building on his Nebraska farm. He believed in the power of “earth energies” and in his own ability to channel such forces in a space that, through constant adjusting and aesthetic power, could alleviate pain and illness.

Blagdon used found materials like hay baling wire, magnets, and remnant paints from farm sales, but he also sought out special ingredients like salts and other “earth elements” through a nearby pharmacy. He called the individual pieces his “pretties,” but collectively they comprised The Healing Machine. Blagdon worked on his Healing Machine for more than three decades, tending, tinkering with, and reorganising its components every day and, in his own words, “according to the phases of the moon.” He believed it was a functional machine in which energies were drawn upward from the building’s earthen floor into the space, where they could bounce around and remain dynamic.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Lucien Pelen. 'Chair n°2' (detail) 2005


Lucien Pelen
Chair n°2 (detail)
Black and white photograph
Lucien Pelen / Courtesy Galerie Aline Vidal


Jacques-Henri Lartigue (1894-1986) 'L'envol de Bichonnade' 1905


Jacques-Henri Lartigue (1894-1986)
L’envol de Bichonnade (The flight of Bichonnade or Bichonnade leaping)
Paris 1905
Gelatin silver print


Yves Klein. 'Leap into the Void' 1960


Yves Klein (1928-1962)
Leap into the Void
Black and white argentic print
© Succession Yves Klein c/o Adagp, Paris
© Photo Collaboration Harry Shunk and Janos Kender
© J. Paul Getty Trust. The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles



As in his carefully choreographed paintings in which he used nude female models dipped in blue paint as paintbrushes, Klein’s photomontage paradoxically creates the impression of freedom and abandon through a highly contrived process. In October 1960, Klein hired the photographers Harry Shunk and Jean Kender to make a series of pictures re-creating a jump from a second-floor window that the artist claimed to have executed earlier in the year. This second leap was made from a rooftop in the Paris suburb of Fontenay-aux-Roses. On the street below, a group of the artist’s friends from held a tarpaulin to catch him as he fell. Two negatives – one showing Klein leaping, the other the surrounding scene (without the tarp) – were then printed together to create a seamless “documentary” photograph. To complete the illusion that he was capable of flight, Klein distributed a fake broadsheet at Parisian newsstands commemorating the event. It was in this mass-produced form that the artist’s seminal gesture was communicated to the public and also notably to the Vienna Actionists.

Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website


Philippe Thomassin. 'Flight Time 5h34'' 1989-1991


Philippe Thomassin
Flight Time 5h34′
Courtesy collection Antoine de Galbert
Photo: Célia Pernot
© Philippe Thomassin


Rebecca Horn (German, b. 1944) 'The little Mermaid' 1990


Rebecca Horn (German, b. 1944)
The little Mermaid
Courtesy collection Antoine de Galbert
Photo: Célia Pernot
© Rebecca Horn



Rebecca Horn (born 24 March 1944, Michelstadt, Hesse) is a German visual artist, who is best known for her installation art, film directing, and her body modifications such as Einhorn (Unicorn), a body-suit with a very large horn projecting vertically from the headpiece. She directed the films Der Eintänzer (1978), La ferdinanda: Sonate für eine Medici-Villa (1982) and Buster’s Bedroom (1990). Horn presently lives and works in Paris and Berlin.


Panamarenko (Belgian, b. 1940) 'Japanese Flying Pak 3' 2001


Panamarenko (Belgian, b. 1940)
Japanese Flying Pak 3
Courtesy Galerie Jamar, Anvers
Photo: Wim Van Eesbeek
© Panamarenko



Panamarenko (pseudonym of Henri Van Herwegen, born in Antwerp, 5 February 1940) is a prominent assemblagist in Belgian sculpture. Famous for his work with aeroplanes as theme; none of which are able nor constructed to actually leave the ground.

Panamarenko studied at the academy of Antwerp. Before 1968, his art was inspired by pop-art, but early on he became interested in aeroplanes and human powered flight. This interest is also reflected in his name, which supposedly is an acronym for “Pan American Airlines and Company”.

Starting in 1970, he developed his first models of imaginary vehicles, aeroplanes, balloons or helicopters, in original and surprising appearances. Many of his sculptures are modern variants of the myth of Icarus. The question of whether his creations can actually fly is part of their mystery and appeal. (Text from the Wikipedia website)


Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. 'How Can One Change Oneself' 2010


Ilya and Emilia Kabakov
How Can One Change Oneself
Courtesy of the artist et Galleria Continua, San Gimignano/Beijing/Les Moulins/ Habana
© Ilya et Emilia Kabakov



The Kabakovs are amongst the most celebrated artists of their generation, widely known for their large-scale installations and use of fictional personas. Critiquing the conventions of art history and drawing upon the visual culture of the former Soviet Union – from dreary communal apartments to propaganda art and its highly optimistic depictions of Soviet life – their work addresses universal ideas of utopia and fantasy; hope and fear. …

The Kabakovs are best known for their ‘total’ installations, a type of immersive artwork that they pioneered. A ‘total installation’ completely immerses the viewer in a dramatic environment. They transform the gallery spaces they are displayed in, creating a new reality for the viewer to enter and experience. They often explore dark themes like power and control, oppression and destruction. Over their career, the Kabakovs have created almost two hundred total installations.

“Ilya’s world and work are based and built on fantasy and on the history of art. I, on the other hand, very early in life, somehow learned to combine both reality and fantasy and to live in both. My fantasy world is always close to and coexists with reality. Our life is very much based on this combination: I am trying to make reality seem like the realisation of fantasy, or, maybe, a continuation of fantasy, where there is no place for real, everyday situations and problems. Our life consists of our work, dreams and discussions.”

Emilia Kabakov, 2017

Text from the Tate website


Moebius. 'Arzach' 1977


Heavy Metal Magazine, April 1977, Vol. I, No. 1



The first of Moebius’ Arzach comic series. Arzach made his debut in the first issue of Heavy Metal Magazine April – Vol. 1 No. 1. Arzach is seen flying atop his trusty pterodactyl in a strange world. Spotting a beautiful naked woman through a rounded window, Arzach is determined to win her heart, but what awaits him is utterly unexpected.


Sethembile Msezane (South Africa, b. 1991) 'Chapungu - The Day Rhodes Fell' 2015


Sethembile Msezane (South Africa, b. 1991)
Chapungu – The Day Rhodes Fell [University of Cape Town, South Africa]
Coloured photograph
Courtesy private collection
© Sethembile Msezane



Sethembile Msezane was born in 1991 in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. She lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa. Using interdisciplinary practice encompassing performance, photography, film, sculpture and drawing, Msezane creates commanding works heavy with spiritual and political symbolism. The artist explores issues around spirituality, commemoration and African knowledge systems. She processes her dreams as a medium through a lens of the plurality of existence across space and time, asking questions about the remembrance of ancestry. Part of her work has examined the processes of myth-making which are used to construct history, calling attention to the absence of the black female body in both the narratives and physical spaces of historical commemoration. (Text from the Tyburn Gallery website)


“The Rhodes Must Fall protests had been going on for a month, kickstarted by an activist smearing his statue with excrement. During a lecture, students were asked whether they were for or against. Most said “for”, that it was a painful reminder of our colonial past, but one student – with a piece of paper that said “#procolonialism” on her chest – called protesters neanderthals, and said, “If you’re against the statue you’re against enlightenment and education, and you shouldn’t be at university.”

I knew it was only a matter of time before the statue fell, but at 11am on 9 April my supervisor said: “It’s coming down today.” I’d prepared my costume for the occasion and rushed to get ready. A friend helped me transport my plinth and wings. I arrived just before 2pm and was up on the plinth by quarter past. It was a little nerve-racking to be so high up because I was wearing high heels.

I looked at people’s phones and sunglasses, trying to see the reflection of the statue coming down. I saw the shadow move and thought, “This is the moment.” That’s when I lifted my wings.

I was up there for four hours. I would hold up my wings for about two minutes, take a 10-minute break and then put them up again. My legs hurt, but I didn’t realise how sore my arms were until I came down – they were shaking. My feet were blue, I was sunburnt; I had heat stroke and blurry vision from looking directly into the sun. I went home, had a shower and went straight to sleep. I felt like we were beginning to question this idealistic “rainbow nation”.”

I first saw the picture the next day on Facebook. When someone told me it was all over the global news, I was surprised.”

Sethembile Msezane. “Sethembile Msezane performs at the fall of the Cecil Rhodes statue, 9 April 2015,” on The Guardian website, Sat 16 May 2015


Agnès Geoffray (French, b. 1973) 'Suspendue' 2016


Agnès Geoffray (French, b. 1973)
Black and white photograph
Courtesy of the artist
© Agnès Geoffray



Largely inspired by The Defaming Portrait and by the hung man’s figure, the series Les Suspendus uses assemblage and montage to rephrase a new reality, which combines two images in a series of several diptychs. Agnès Geoffray interrogates the fictional power of imagery through her own staging and through assembled images. She accomplishes this by presenting multiple associations to the idea of suspension as a frozen moment between falling and ascension, collapsing and rising. Geoffray creates a gap and confusion between preexisting images and her own, which makes the resulting image appear as if it is part of an archive. Geoffray multiplies the references, axes of meaning of the text and genres of her work through still life, archive and stage settings to create a space, which plays with the unlimited possibilities of interpretation. The images convey the relic of the gestures and the violence connected to them, like a memory or a future memory of disorders and disasters.


Urs Lüthi (Swiss, born 1947) 'Selfportrait (flying carpet)' 1976


Urs Lüthi (Swiss, born 1947)
Selfportrait (flying carpet)
Black and white photograph
Courtesy private collection
© Urs Lüthi, Pro Litteris


Urs Lüthi (born 1947, Kriens) is a Swiss conceptual artist who attended the School of Applied Arts in Zurich. Noted for using his body and alter ego as the subject of his artworks, he has worked in photography, sculpture, performance, silk-screen, video and painting.


Fabio Mauri (Italian, 1926-2009) 'Macchina per fissare acquerelli [Machine for fixing watercolours]' 2007


Fabio Mauri (Italian, 1926-2009)
Macchina per fissare acquerelli [Machine for fixing watercolours]
Courtesy succession de Fabio Mauri et Hauser & Wirth, Zürich
Photo: Sandro Mele
© Fabio Mauri, Adagp, 2018



Several important themes can be found in Mauri’s work, all shaped into his works of art: the Screen, the Prototypes, the Projections, the Photography as Painting, the substantial Identity of Expressive Structures, the lasting relationship between Thought and World and between Thought as World. Mauri’s work, as complex as an history essay, becomes his autobiography, compact and uniform in its development and multifaceted in the attention to the contemporary world: an analysis where the fate of the individual and history co-exist.


François Burland (Swiss, b. 1958) 'Fusée Soviet Union' 2013


François Burland (Swiss, b. 1958)
Fusée Soviet Union
Photo: Romain Mader et Nadja Kilchhofer
© François Borland, Atomik Magic Circus



La maison rouge
Fondation antoine de galbert
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Paris France
Phone: +33 (0) 1 40 01 08 81

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Exhibition: ‘Black Light: Secret traditions in art since the 1950s’ at Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona

La llum negra. Tradicions secretes en l’art des dels anys cinquanta

Exhibition dates: 16th May – 21st October 2018

Curator: Enrique Juncosa

Artists: Carlos Amorales / Kenneth Anger / Antony Balch / Jordan Belson / Wallace Berman / Forrest Bess / Joseph Beuys / William S. Burroughs / Marjorie Cameron / Francesco Clemente / Bruce Conner / Aleister Crowley / René Daumal / Gino de Dominicis / Louise Despont / Nicolás Echevarría / Robert Frank / João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva / Brion Gysin / Jonathan Hammer / Frieda Harris / Derek Jarman / Jess / Alejandro Jodorowsky / Joan Jonas / Carl Gustav Jung / Matías Krahn / Wolfgang Laib / LeonKa / Goshka Macuga / Agnes Martin / Chris Martin / Henri Michaux / Grant Morrison / Tania Mouraud / Barnett Newman / Joan Ponç / Genesis P-Orridge / Sun Ra / Harry Smith / Rudolf Steiner / Philip Taaffe / Antoni Tàpies / Fred Tomaselli / Suzanne Treister / Vaccaro – Brookner / Ulla von Brandenburg / Terry Winters / Zush




Leon Ka – La llum negra – Mural

The mural at the entrance of the exhibition Black Light created by the artist Leon Ka, represents some of the symbols of ocultism, magic, and the mysticism of spirituality.



I love these eclectic exhibitions on unusual topics. Having studied a little Georges Gurdjieff, Carl Jung, Robert Johnson, Joseph Campbell and Carlos Castaneda to name just a few, I immersed myself in their spiritual, psychedelic and counterculture world. I had scarification done on my arm in 1992 which was one of the most spiritual rights of passage I have ever experienced in my life (see photograph below).

To be different, to explore that difference in art, is to violate the taboo of control – of adherence to the norm – that emotion which controls how we think, feel, act and create. As Georges Bataille observes,

“”The taboo is there in order to be violated.” This proposition is not the wager it looks like at first but an accurate statement of an inevitable connection between conflicting emotions. When a negative emotion has the upper hand we must obey the taboo. When a positive emotion is in the ascendant we violate it. Such a violation will not deny or suppress the contrary emotion, but justify it and arouse it.”1

An “understanding of the text [writing, art, music, etc.] as ‘social space’,” say Barthes, “activates a broad intertextuality and a productive plurality of meanings and signifying/interpretive gestures that escape the reduction of knowledge to fixed, monological re-presentations, or presences.” What he is saying here is that there is no singular unity… for unity is variable and relative. Further, according to Kurt Thumlert (citing Lentricchia, 1998), “a transgressive textuality can also become a mode of agential resistance capable of fragmenting and releasing the subject, and thereby producing a zone of invisibility where knowledge/power is no longer able ‘find its target’.”2

In other words, transgression of the taboo allows the artist (in this case) to release himself from the logic of control and where power cannot get its hooks into him. In order to do this during the production of art, the artist must understand that representations are presentations which entail,

“the use of the codes and conventions of the available cultural forms of presentation. Such forms restrict and shape what can be said by and/or about any aspect of reality in a given place in a given society at a given time, but if that seems like a limitation on saying, it is also what makes saying possible at all. Cultural forms set the wider terms of limitation and possibility for the (re)presentation of particularities and we have to understand how the latter are caught in the former in order to understand why such-and-such gets (re)presented in the way it does. Without understanding the way images function in terms of, say, narrative, genre or spectacle, we don’t really understand why they turn out the way they do.”3

The exhibition Black Light investigates how artists subvert these codes and conventions of representation and violate their taboo through emotions (whether positive or negative) present in the creative process. This transgressive spirit allows far seeing artists to become the seers of their day, playing with the dis/order of time, space and cultural (re)presentation. As a form of alchemy, all art partakes of this investigation into the past, present and future of life, our discontinuous existence as creatures who live and die, and the world that surrounds us, both physically and spiritually.


Many thankx to the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


  1. Bataille, Georges. Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo. New York: Walker and Company, 1962, pp. 64-65.
  2. Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 10/08/2006 No longer available.
  3. Dyer, Richard. The Matter of Images: Essays on Representations. London: Routledge, 1993, pp. 2-3.



Marcus Bunyan. 'Marcus (after scarification)' 1992


Marcus Bunyan (b. 1958)
Marcus (after scarification)
Gelatin silver print
© Marcus Bunyan




Black Light. Discover the occult side of contemporary art

The occult, spirituality, psychedelia and esotericism come to the CCCB with the exhibition Black Light. An unusual look at the art of the past 50 years that has been strongly influenced by secret traditions.



Joan Jonas
Reanimation (extract)



Henri Michaux (24 May 1899-19 October 1984)



Henri Michaux (French, 24 May 1899-19 October 1984) was a highly idiosyncratic Belgian-born poet, writer, and painter who wrote in French. He later took French citizenship. Michaux is best known for his esoteric books written in a highly accessible style. His body of work includes poetry, travelogues, and art criticism. Michaux travelled widely, tried his hand at several careers, and experimented with psychedelic drugs, especially LSD and mescaline, which resulted in two of his most intriguing works, Miserable Miracle and The Major Ordeals of the Mind and the Countless Minor Ones.



Kenneth Anger
Lucifer Rising (Original track by Acqua Lazúli)



For more information about this film please see the Lucifer Rising Wikipedia entry

Kenneth Anger (born Kenneth Wilbur Anglemyer; February 3, 1927) is an American underground experimental filmmaker, actor and author. Working exclusively in short films, he has produced almost forty works since 1937, nine of which have been grouped together as the “Magick Lantern Cycle”. His films variously merge surrealism with homoeroticism and the occult, and have been described as containing “elements of erotica, documentary, psychodrama, and spectacle”. Anger himself has been described as “one of America’s first openly gay filmmakers, and certainly the first whose work addressed homosexuality in an undisguised, self-implicating manner”, and his “role in rendering gay culture visible within American cinema, commercial or otherwise, is impossible to overestimate”, with several being released prior to the legalisation of homosexuality in the United States. He has also focused upon occult themes in many of his films, being fascinated by the English gnostic mage and poet Aleister Crowley, and is an adherent of Thelema, the religion Crowley founded. (Text from the Wikipedia website)


Barnett Newman (1905-1970) 'Untitled' 1946


Barnett Newman (1905-1970)
Oil on canvas
76.5 x 61.1 cm
© IVAM, Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Generalitat Valenciana


Antoni Tàpies. 'Book covers' 1987


Antoni Tàpies
Book covers
Paintings on old book covers
60 x 78.5 cm
Private collection, Barcelona
© Heirs of Antoni Tàpies / Vegap, Madrid


Leon Ka. 'Creatio: Lux, Crux' 2015


Leon Ka
Creatio: Lux, Crux
Door of the cultural association Magia Roja, Barcelona



Black light is about the influence that various secret traditions have had on contemporary art from the nineteen-fifties to the present day. It presents some 350 works by such artists as Antoni Tàpies, Agnes Martin, Henri Michaux, Joseph Beuys, Ulla von Brandenburg, William S. Burroughs, Joan Jonas, Jordan Belson, Goshka Macuga, Kenneth Anger, Rudolf Steiner, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Francesco Clemente and Zush.

Black light brings together, in more or less chronological order, paintings, drawings, audiovisuals, sculptures, photographs, installations, books, music, engravings and documents by artists largely from North America, where secret traditions have historically enjoyed greater acceptance. There are works by creators who are considered fundamental to the history of art, such as Antoni Tàpies, Barnett Newman and Agnes Martin, alongside less-known figures of the counterculture of the sixties and seventies. The show also presents young artists to reflect the renewed interest in these traditions.

The work of all of them goes to show the relevance and continuity of these habitually overlooked trends, in many cases regarding art as a possible means to a higher cognitive level, as an instrument of connection with a more profound reality, or as a form of knowledge in itself. These ideas are contrary, for example, to a purely formalistic understanding of abstraction. Specifically, the exhibition also explores the influence of esoteric ideas on areas of popular culture, such as comics, jazz, cinema and alternative rock.


Henri Michaux. 'Untitled' 1983


Henri Michaux
Oil on linen paper
24 x 33 cm
© Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co. Photography: Fabrice Gibert


Marjorie Cameron. 'West Angel' Nd


Marjorie Cameron (American, 1922-1995)
West Angel
Graphite, ink and gold paint on paper
60.3 x 93.3 cm
© Courtesy Nicole Klagsbrun and Cameron Parsons Foundation



Marjorie Cameron Parsons Kimmel (April 23, 1922-June 24, 1995), who professionally used the mononym Cameron, was an American artist, poet, actress, and occultist. A follower of Thelema, the new religious movement established by the English occultist Aleister Crowley, she was married to rocket pioneer and fellow Thelemite Jack Parsons.

Read her entry on the Wikipedia website


Aleister Crowley. 'Snow-Peak beyond Foothills, Libra I8 September-October' 1934


Aleister Crowley
Snow-Peak beyond Foothills, Libra I8 September-October
Pen and wash on paper
45 x 50 cm
© Ordo Templi Orientis


Unknown photographer. 'Aleister Crowley as Magus, Liber ABA' 1912


Unknown photographer
Aleister Crowley as Magus, Liber ABA
Originally published in The Equinox volume 1, issue 10 (1913)


Wolfgang Laib. 'Passageway' 2013


Wolfgang Laib (Germany, b. 1950)
Brass ships, rice, wood and steel
6 3/4 x 99 x 12 inches
© Wolfgang Laib



Wolfgang Laib (born 25 March 1950 in Metzingen) is a German artist, predominantly known as a sculptor. He lives and works in a small village in southern Germany, maintaining studios in New York and South India.

His work has been exhibited worldwide in many of the most important galleries and museums. He represented Germany in the 1982 Venice Biennale and was included with his works in the Documenta 7 in 1982 and then in the Documenta 8 in 1987. In 2015 he received the Praemium Imperiale for sculpture in Tokyo, Japan.

He became worldknown for his “Milkstones”, a pure geometry of white marble made complete with milk, as well as his vibrant installations of pollen. In 2013 The Museum of Modern Art in New York City presented his largest pollen piece – 7 m x 8 m – in the central atrium of the museum.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Brion Gysin. 'Dreamachine' 1960-1976


Brion Gysin (British, 1916-1986)
Cylinder. Painted and cut hard paper, Altuglas, electric bulb and motor
120.5 cm x 29.5 cm
© Galerie de France. Paris, Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle



Brion Gysin (19 January 1916-13 July 1986) was a painter, writer, sound poet, and performance artist born in Taplow, Buckinghamshire.

He is best known for his discovery of the cut-up technique, used by his friend, the novelist William S. Burroughs. With the engineer Ian Sommerville he invented the Dreamachine, a flicker device designed as an art object to be viewed with the eyes closed. It was in painting and drawing, however, that Gysin devoted his greatest efforts, creating calligraphic works inspired by the cursive Japanese “grass” script and Arabic script. Burroughs later stated that “Brion Gysin was the only man I ever respected.” …

The Dreamachine (or Dream Machine) is a stroboscopic flicker device that produces visual stimuli. Artist Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs’ “systems adviser” Ian Sommerville created the Dreamachine after reading William Grey Walter’ book, The Living Brain.

In its original form, a Dreamachine is made from a cylinder with slits cut in the sides. The cylinder is placed on a record turntable and rotated at 78 or 45 revolutions per minute. A light bulb is suspended in the centre of the cylinder and the rotation speed allows the light to come out from the holes at a constant frequency of between 8 and 13 pulses per second. This frequency range corresponds to alpha waves, electrical oscillations normally present in the human brain while relaxing. In 1996, the Los Angeles Times deemed the Dreamachine “the most interesting object” in Burroughs’ major visual retrospective Ports of Entry at LACMA. The Dreamachine is the subject of the National Film Board of Canada 2008 feature documentary film FLicKeR by Nik Sheehan.

A Dreamachine is “viewed” with the eyes closed: the pulsating light stimulates the optic nerve and thus alters the brain’s electrical oscillations. Users experience increasingly bright, complex patterns of colour behind their closed eyelids (a similar effect may be experienced when travelling as a passenger in a car or bus; close your eyes as the vehicle passes through flickering shadows cast by roadside trees, or under a close-set line of streetlights or tunnel striplights). The patterns become shapes and symbols, swirling around, until the user feels surrounded by colours. It is claimed that by using a Dreamachine one may enter a hypnagogic state. This experience may sometimes be quite intense, but to escape from it, one needs only to open one’s eyes. The Dreamachine may be dangerous for persons with photosensitive epilepsy or other nervous disorders. It is thought that one out of 10,000 adults will experience a seizure while viewing the device; about twice as many children will have a similar ill effect.

Text from the Wikipedia website



An approach without prejudice to art and esoteric beliefs

Esoteric traditions can be traced back to the very origins of civilisation, having served at different times to structure philosophical, linguistic, scientific or spiritual ideas. Despite their importance for the development of twentieth-century art, they tend to be ignored or disparaged these days due to the dominance of rationalistic thinking and the difficulty of talking about these subjects in clear, direct language.

In recent years, however, many artists have taken a renewed interest in subjects such as alchemy, secret societies, theosophy and anthroposophy, the esoteric strands in major religions, oriental philosophies, magic, psychedelia and drug-use, universal symbols and myths, the Fourth Way formulated by the Armenian mystic Georges Gurdjieff, etc., generating an interest in these fields that had not existed since the counterculture of the sixties and seventies.

According to the writer Enrique Juncosa, curator of this exhibition, this interest “may be due to the fact that we are, once again, living in a restless and unsatisfied world, worried about new colonial wars, fundamentalist terrorism, serious ecological crisis and nationalist populism, just as in the sixties and seventies people feared an imminent and devastating nuclear catastrophe. Furthermore, much of today’s mainstream art is actually rather boring due to its complete lack of mystery and negation of any kind of poetisation or interpretation of our experience of it.”

For the essayist Gary Lachman, author of the text “Occultism in Art. A Brief Introduction for the Uninitiated” in the exhibition catalogue, “in recent years, the art world seems to have become aware of the importance of occultism […]. Admitting the influence of Hermeticism on the Renaissance, or of theosophy on early abstract art, to mention just two examples, helps to re-situate occult forces as an undeniable part of human experience and rescue them from the marginal position to which they had been exiled for a few centuries.”


Terry Winters. 'Bubble Diagram' 2005


Terry Winters (American, b. 1949)
Bubble Diagram
Oil on linen
215.9 x 279.4 cm
© Mattew Marks Gallery



Terry Winters (born 1949, Brooklyn, NY) is an American painter, draughtsman, and printmaker whose nuanced approach to the process of painting has addressed evolving concepts of spatiality and expanded the concerns of abstract art. His attention to the process of painting and investigations into systems and spatial fields explores both non-narrative abstraction and the physicality of modernism. In Winters’ work, abstract processes give way to forms with real word agency that recall mathematical concepts and cybernetics, as well as natural and scientific worlds.


Fred Tomaselli. 'Untitled [Datura Leaves]' 1999


Fred Tomaselli (American, b. 1956)
Untitled [Datura Leaves]
Leaves, pills, acrylic and resin on wood panel
182.88 x 137.16 cm
© Collection Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman NY, Courtesy the FLAG Art Foundation



Fred Tomaselli (born in Santa Monica, California, in 1956) is an American artist. He is best known for his highly detailed paintings on wood panels, combining an array of unorthodox materials suspended in a thick layer of clear, epoxy resin.

Tomaselli’s paintings include medicinal herbs, prescription pills and hallucinogenic plants alongside images cut from books and magazines: flowers, birds, butterflies, arms, legs and noses, which are combined into dazzling patterns that spread over the surface of the painting like a beautiful virus or growth. He uses an explosion of colour and combines it with a basis in art history. His style usually involves collage, painting, and/or glazing. He seals the collages in resin after gluing them down and going over them with different varnishes.

“I want people to get lost in the work. I want to seduce people into it and I want people to escape inside the world of the work. In that way the work is pre-Modernist. I throw all of my obsessions and loves into the work, and I try not to be too embarrassed about any of it. I love nature, I love gardening, I love watching birds, and all of that gets into the work. I just try to be true to who I am and make the work I want to see. I don’t have a radical agenda.”

Tomaselli sees his paintings and their compendium of data as windows into a surreal, hallucinatory universe. “It is my ultimate aim”, he says, “to seduce and transport the viewer in to space of these pictures while simultaneously revealing the mechanics of that seduction.” Tomaselli has also incorporated allegorical figures into his work – in Untitled (Expulsion) (2000), for example, he borrows the Adam and Eve figures from Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (1426-27), and in Field Guides (2003) he creates his own version of the grim reaper. His figures are described anatomically so that their organs and veins are exposed in the manner of a scientific drawing. He writes that his “inquiry into utopia/dystopia – framed by artifice but motivated by the desire for the real – has turned out to be the primary subject of my work”.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Philip Taaffe. 'Rose Triangle' 2008


Philip Taaffe (American, b. 1955)
Rose Triangle
Mixed media on canvas
178 x 178 cm
© Collection Raymond Foye, New York



About the exhibition

In the fifties, US filmmakers Harry Smith and Jordan Belson made animated films that were precursors of the psychedelia and counterculture of the following two decades. Also at this time, painters associated with abstract expressionism in the US (such as Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt and Agnes Martin) and European Informalists, such as the Catalans associated with Dau al Set (including Antoni Tàpies and Joan Ponç), became interested in the writings of Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, oriental philosophies, the great myths and primitive shamanic rites. The cult US filmmaker Kenneth Anger made films that are still considered radical, influenced by the ideas of the well-known English occultist Aleister Crowley, who was also influential in the world of rock. And Forrest Bess, a self-taught, isolated artist, an unusual figure in the American art of the last century, painted symbolic, visionary images of the universal collective subconscious.

In the sixties and seventies, the emergence of counterculture and the hippy movement was accompanied by an upsurge in interest in esoteric matters and alternative spirituality. US writer William S. Burroughs and French artist and writer Brion Gysin, both interested in occultism and mysticism, developed the cut-up method to write texts using collage, actions which, like the origin of art itself, they considered magic. The American musician Sun Ra, one of the jazz world’s most idiosyncratic figures (he claims he was born on Saturn), set up the secret society Thmei Research in Chicago, and was interested in the writings of Armenian philosopher and master mystic Georges Gurdjieff, and the Ukrainian Madame Blavatsky, creator of the esoteric current known as theosophy. Sun Ra’s compositions, with a big band that performed in strange colourful clothing, were highly radical, embracing improvisation and chaos. In Europe, the German artist Joseph Beuys was inspired by the writings and activities of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, as a model to explain his ideas. Beuys called for a return to spirituality and defended art as a vehicle for healing and social change. The French artist Tania Mouraud, interested in introspection and philosophy, with a strong analytical vein, creates installations that are spaces for meditation, and the Catalan artist Zush, in Ibiza, discovers psychedelia and draws fantastic beings connected by vibrant energies.

The eighties and nineties saw the consolidation of a large number of artists who saw artistic practice as something that can facilitate a higher cognitive level. Several American abstract painters, like Terry Winters, Philip Taaffe and Fred Tomaselli, became interested in spiritual themes. Winters, for example, who took scientific images as his inspiration, based a large series of paintings on knot theory, a mathematical concept that might be seen as an emblem of the hermetic. Taaffe, meanwhile, used ornamental forms from different cultures, combining them in complex configurations of an ecstatic nature, and Tomaselli produced compositions using all kinds of drugs in a reference to psychedelia. In Europe, the German sculptor Wolfgang Laib, interested in Zen Buddhism and Taoism, creates sculptures and installations with symbolic images, like stairs and boats, suggesting ascension, travel and inner transformation, while the Italian Gino de Dominicis, who claimed to believe in extra-terrestrials and was obsessed by Sumerian culture and mythology, creates invisible sculptures. The paintings by Italian Francesco Clemente, a representative of the Transavanguardia movement, feature images of an apparently hermetic nature, creating a singular narrative of spiritual symbolism. The Chilean-French artist Alejandro Jodorowsky explores esoteric ideas in his extraordinary films of great visual imagination and also creates highly celebrated comics. In the nineties, several alternative rock bands such as Psychic TV (led by the English musician, poet and artist Genesis P-Orridge) were also interested in occultism and magic.


The origin of the title “Black Light”

The title “Black light” refers to a concept of Sufism, the esoteric branch of Islam that teaches a path of connection with divinity leading via inner vision and mystic experience. Sufism, which regards reality as light in differing degrees of intensity, speaks of a whole system of inner visions of colours that mark the spiritual progress of initiates until they become “men and women of light”. The intention is to achieve a state of supra-consciousness that is announced symbolically by this black light.

Press release from the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona website


Chris Martin. 'If You Don't See It Ask For It' 2016


Chris Martin
If You Don’t See It Ask For It
Acrylic and glitter on canvas
195.6 x 152.4 x 4.4 cm
© Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Photography: Brian Forrest


Genesis P-Orridge. 'Burns Forever Thee Light' 1986


Genesis P-Orridge (British, b. 1950)
Burns Forever Thee Light
Hair, Indian corn, wax, saliva, semen, blood, acrylic paint, flourescent tape, pages from Man Myth & Magic, Polaroids, c-prints, paint pen
20 x 25 inches
© Courtesy of the artist and INVISIBLE-EXPORTS



Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (born Neil Andrew Megson; 22 February 1950) is an English singer-songwriter, musician, poet, performance artist, and occultist. After rising to notability as the founder of the COUM Transmissions artistic collective and then fronting the industrial band Throbbing Gristle, P-Orridge was a founding member of Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth occult group, and fronted the experimental band Psychic TV. P-Orridge identifies as third gender.[a]

Born in Manchester, P-Orridge developed an early interest in art, occultism, and the avant-garde while at Solihull School. After dropping out of studies at the University of Hull, he moved into a counter-cultural commune in London and adopted Genesis P-Orridge as a nom-de-guerre. On returning to Hull, P-Orridge founded COUM Transmissions with Cosey Fanni Tutti, and in 1973 he relocated to London. COUM’s confrontational performance work, dealing with such subjects as sex work, pornography, serial killers, and occultism, represented a concerted attempt to challenge societal norms and attracted the attention of the national press. COUM’s 1976 Prostitution show at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts was particularly vilified by tabloids, gaining them the moniker of the “wreckers of civilization.” P-Orridge’s band, Throbbing Gristle, grew out of COUM, and were active from 1975 to 1981 as pioneers in the industrial music genre. In 1981, P-Orridge co-founded Psychic TV, an experimental band that from 1988 onward came under the increasing influence of acid house.

In 1981, P-Orridge co-founded Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, an informal occult order influenced by chaos magic and experimental music. P-Orridge was often seen as the group’s leader, but rejected that position, and left the group in 1991. Amid the Satanic ritual abuse hysteria, a 1992 Channel 4 documentary accused P-Orridge of sexually abusing children, resulting in a police investigation. P-Orridge was subsequently cleared and Channel 4 retracted their allegation. P-Orridge left the United Kingdom as a result of the incident and settled in New York City. There, P-Orridge married Jacqueline Mary Breyer, later known as Lady Jaye, in 1995, and together they embarked on the Pandrogeny Project, an attempt to unite as a “pandrogyne”, or single entity, through the use of surgical body modification to physically resemble one another. P-Orridge continued with this project of body modification after Lady Jaye’s 2007 death. Although involved in reunions of both Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV in the 2000s, P-Orridge retired from music to focus on other artistic mediums in 2009. P-Orridge is credited on over 200 releases.

A controversial figure with an anti-establishment stance, P-Orridge has been heavily criticised by the British press and politicians. P-Orridge has been cited as an icon within the avant-garde art scene, accrued a cult following, and been given the moniker of the “Godperson of Industrial Music”.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Harry Smith. 'Untitled, October 19, 1951' 1951


Harry Smith
Untitled, October 19, 1951
Ink, watercolour, and tempera on paper
86.36 x 69.85 cm
Collection Raymond Foye, New York


Agnes Martin. 'Untitled, No. 7' 1997


Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
Untitled, No. 7
Acrylic and graphite on canvas
152.4 x 152.4 cm
Collection “la Caixa”. Art Contemporani
© Vegap



Agnes Bernice Martin (March 22, 1912-December 16, 2004), born in Canada, was an American abstract painter. Her work has been defined as an “essay in discretion on inward-ness and silence”. Although she is often considered or referred to as a minimalist, Martin considered herself an abstract expressionist. She was awarded a National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1998. …

Martin praised Mark Rothko for having “reached zero so that nothing could stand in the way of truth”. Following his example Martin also pared down to the most reductive elements to encourage a perception of perfection and to emphasise transcendent reality. Her signature style was defined by an emphasis upon line, grids, and fields of extremely subtle colour. Particularly in her breakthrough years of the early 1960s, she created 6 × 6 foot square canvases that were covered in dense, minute and softly delineated graphite grids. In the 1966 exhibition Systemic Painting at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Martin’s grids were therefore celebrated as examples of Minimalist art and were hung among works by artists including Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman, and Donald Judd. While minimalist in form, however, these paintings were quite different in spirit from those of her other minimalist counterparts, retaining small flaws and unmistakable traces of the artist’s hand; she shied away from intellectualism, favouring the personal and spiritual. Her paintings, statements, and influential writings often reflected an interest in Eastern philosophy, especially Taoist. Because of her work’s added spiritual dimension, which became more and more dominant after 1967, she preferred to be classified as an abstract expressionist.

Martin worked only in black, white, and brown before moving to New Mexico. The last painting before she abandoned her career, and left New York in 1967, Trumpet, marked a departure in that the single rectangle evolved into an overall grid of rectangles. In this painting the rectangles were drawn in pencil over uneven washes of gray translucent paint. In 1973, she returned to art making, and produced a portfolio of 30 serigraphs, On a Clear Day. During her time in Taos, she introduced light pastel washes to her grids, colours that shimmered in the changing light. Later, Martin reduced the scale of her signature 72 × 72 square paintings to 60 × 60 inches and shifted her work to use bands of ethereal colour. Another departure was a modification, if not a refinement, of the grid structure, which Martin has used since the late 1950s. In Untitled No. 4 (1994), for example, one viewed the gentle striations of pencil line and primary colour washes of diluted acrylic paint blended with gesso. The lines, which encompassed this painting, were not measured by a ruler, but rather intuitively marked by the artist. In the 1990s, symmetry would often give way to varying widths of horizontal bands.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Matías Krahn Uribe. 'Panamor' 2016


Matías Krahn Uribe (b. Santiago de Chile, 1972)
Canvas and cotton
225 x 225 cm
© Matías Krahn Uribe



Matías Krahn (b. Santiago de Chile, 1972) Catalan painter born in Chile who lives and works in Barcelona.

His colourful works are a reflection of the world that surrounds him, of a concrete circumstance and environment, but also of the most intimate and subjective. Interested in the balance between the exterior and the interior, it orders the space and the figures it contains. His work, influenced by surrealism, is the mirror of the psyche and the unconscious that expresses itself in infinite forms and tonalities.


Francesco Clemente. 'Tarot cards: the High Priestess' 2009-2011


Francesco Clemente (Italy, b. 1952)
Tarot cards: the High Priestess
Water colour, gouache, ink, colour pencil
48.2 x 25.4 cm
© Courtesy of the artist



Francesco Clemente (born 23 March 1952) is an Italian contemporary artist. He has lived at various times in Italy, in India, and in New York City. Some of his work is influenced by the traditional art and culture of India. He has worked in various artistic media including drawing, fresco, graphics, mosaic, oils and sculpture. He was among the principal figures in the Italian Transavanguardia movement of the 1980s, which was characterised by a rejection of Formalism and conceptual art and a return to figurative art and Symbolism.



Black Light – Secret traditions in art since the 1950s: occultism, magic, esotericism and mysticism

This exhibition analyses the influence that different secret traditions have had on art since the 1950s and today. These are traditions that can be traced back to the very origins of civilisation and that have served at various times to structure philosophical, linguistic, scientific and spiritual ideas.

Despite the importance that these ideas had for the development of 20th century art – being fundamental in the work of key figures of modernity such as Piet Mondrian, Vasili Kandinski, Arnold Schönberg, William Butler Yeats and Fernando Pessoa – it is a tradition that has often been ignored in our time because of the dominant influence of rationalist orthodox thoughts, which are often ignored in our times.

Today, however, many contemporary artists re-explore these themes and are interested in issues as diverse as alchemy, secret societies, theosophy and anthroposophy; the esoteric currents of the great religions; oriental philosophies and magic; psychedelia and the ingestion of drugs; universal symbols and myths; the so-called fourth way of the Armenian mystic Georges Gurdjieff, etc., and, in so doing, generate a renewed interest in these issues that did not exist since the years of counterculture in the 1970s. Authors such as Mircea Eliade, historian of religions and novelist; Carl Gustav Jung, psychologist; Henry Corbin, specialist in Sufism, the esoteric current of Islam; Gershom Scholem, specialist in Kabbalah, the esoteric current of Judaism; and Rudolf Steiner, the founding philosopher of anthroposophy, have now found numerous new readers.

The exhibition will present, more or less chronologically, paintings, drawings, films, sculptures, photographs, installations, books, music and documents by artists as varied as Harry Smith, Jordan Belson, Barnett Newman, Agnes Martin, Ad Reinhardt, Antoni Tàpies, Joan Ponç, Henri Michaux, René Daumal, Forrest Bess, Kenneth Anger, Alejandro Jodor. The work of all of them demonstrates the relevance and continuity of these usually ignored traditions, and in many cases understands art as a possible way to reach a higher cognitive level or as a form of knowledge in itself.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue with texts by specialists such as Cristina Ricupero, Gary Lachman, Erik Davies and Enrique Juncosa. The proposal will also investigate and reveal occult traditions and their current context in the cultural production of our country.

Text from the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona website


Irrationality from rationality

Vincenç Villatoro, director of the CCCB, has justified the presence of this exhibition in a centre that defends rational culture, alluding to the fact that much of the artistic production can not be understood without its connection to non-rationalistic traditions: mystical, esoteric, hermetic … and points out that although in the second half of the twentieth century the hegemonic thought was the scientist, there was a sensitive part of society that came to other traditions, especially to give meaning to its life. Villatoro warns the visitor that the exhibition La llum negra is not an encyclopedia on hidden traditions, but neither is it intended to be a defence, nor a refutation. But the exhibition points out that for many creators, art is a way to access a deeper reality, which is difficult to access in other ways. Thus, secret tradition and art are complemented.

Gustau Nerín


Forrest Bess. 'Homage to Ryder' 1951


Forrest Bess (1911-1977)
Homage to Ryder
Oil on canvas
20.8 × 30.5 cm
© Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Gift of Mary and Earle Ludgin Collection



Forrest Bess (October 5, 1911-November 10, 1977) was an American painter and eccentric visionary. He was discovered and promoted by the art dealer Betty Parsons. Throughout his career, Bess admired the work of Albert Pinkham Ryder and Arthur Dove, but the best of his paintings stand alone as truly original works of art. …

He worked as a commercial fisherman, but painted in his spare time. He experienced visions or dreams, which he set down in his paintings. It was during this time he began to exhibit his works, earning one-person shows at museums in San Antonio and Houston. During his most creative period, 1949 through 1967, Betty Parsons arranged six solo exhibitions at her New York City gallery.

Bess was never comfortable for very long around other people, although he hosted frequent visitors to his home and studio at Chinquapin: artists, reporters, and some patrons made the trip to the spit of land on which Bess’s shack stood. He did forge lasting relationships with a few friends and neighbors, and maintained years-long friendships and correspondence with Meyer Schapiro and with Betty Parsons. But ultimately Bess preferred solitude, and his prolific activities as an artist, highlighted by limited notoriety and success, alternated with longs spells of loneliness, depression, and an ever-increasing obsession with his own anatomical manifesto.

In the 1950s, he also began a lifelong correspondence with art professor and author Meyer Schapiro and sexologist John Money. In these and other letters (which were donated to the Smithsonian Archives of American Art), Bess makes it clear that his paintings were only part of a grander theory, based on alchemy, the philosophy of Carl Jung, and the rituals of Australian aborigines, which proposed that becoming a hermaphrodite was the key to immortality. He was never able to win any converts to his theories or validation from the many doctors and psychologists with whom he corresponded. In his own home town of Bay City, he was considered something of a small-town eccentric.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Rudolf Steiner. 'Untitled (Blackboard drawing from a lecture held by Rudolf Steiner on 20. 03. 1920)'


Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)
Untitled (Blackboard drawing from a lecture held by Rudolf Steiner on 20. 03. 1920)
Chalk on paper
87 x 124 cm
Rudolf Steiner Archiv, Dornach



Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (27 (or 25) February 1861-30 March 1925) was an Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect and esotericist. Steiner gained initial recognition at the end of the nineteenth century as a literary critic and published philosophical works including The Philosophy of Freedom. At the beginning of the twentieth century he founded an esoteric spiritual movement, anthroposophy, with roots in German idealist philosophy and theosophy; other influences include Goethean science and Rosicrucianism.

In the first, more philosophically oriented phase of this movement, Steiner attempted to find a synthesis between science and spirituality. His philosophical work of these years, which he termed “spiritual science”, sought to apply the clarity of thinking characteristic of Western philosophy to spiritual questions, differentiating this approach from what he considered to be vaguer approaches to mysticism. In a second phase, beginning around 1907, he began working collaboratively in a variety of artistic media, including drama, the movement arts (developing a new artistic form, eurythmy) and architecture, culminating in the building of the Goetheanum, a cultural centre to house all the arts. In the third phase of his work, beginning after World War I, Steiner worked to establish various practical endeavours, including Waldorf education, biodynamic agriculture, and anthroposophical medicine.

Steiner advocated a form of ethical individualism, to which he later brought a more explicitly spiritual approach. He based his epistemology on Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s world view, in which “Thinking… is no more and no less an organ of perception than the eye or ear. Just as the eye perceives colours and the ear sounds, so thinking perceives ideas.” A consistent thread that runs from his earliest philosophical phase through his later spiritual orientation is the goal of demonstrating that there are no essential limits to human knowledge.

Text from the Wikipedia website


The blackboard drawings are the instructions of a new design language that the artist wants to develop. Steiner believes in the development of a supersensible consciousness, a big change for the future of humanity. He gives many lectures in which he details his research on the concept of transmission and its influence on the social. Whether true or not, artists such as Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky and others are interested in the complex graphics of Steiner and his research. Mondrian will even write: “Art is a way of development of mankind.” (Text from the Culture Box website translated from French)


Adaptive image from the exhibition 'Black light'

Adaptive image from the exhibition 'Black light'


Adaptive images from the exhibition Black Light: Secret traditions in art since the 1950s at the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona



Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona
Montalegre, 5 – 08001 Barcelona
Phone: 93 306 41 00

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 11.00 – 20.00

Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona website


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Exhibition: ‘Face to Face: Portraits of Artists’ at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 26th June – 14th October 2018


Arnold Newman (American, 1918-2006) 'Isamu Noguchi' c. 1941-1945


Arnold Newman (American, 1918-2006)
Isamu Noguchi
c. 1941-1945
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 7/16 × 9 1/2 inches
Sheet: 7 15/16 × 10 inches, mount (primary): 9 × 11 inches
Mount (secondary): 16 15/16 × 13 7/8 inches
Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of R. Sturgis and Marion B. F. Ingersoll, 1945



Isamu Noguchi (野口 勇 Noguchi Isamu, November 17, 1904-December 30, 1988) was a Japanese American artist and landscape architect whose artistic career spanned six decades, from the 1920s onward. Known for his sculpture and public works, Noguchi also designed stage sets for various Martha Graham productions, and several mass-produced lamps and furniture pieces, some of which are still manufactured and sold.

In 1947, Noguchi began a collaboration with the Herman Miller company, when he joined with George Nelson, Paul László and Charles Eames to produce a catalog containing what is often considered to be the most influential body of modern furniture ever produced, including the iconic Noguchi table which remains in production today. His work lives on around the world and at the Noguchi Museum in New York City. …

Upon his return to New York, Noguchi took a new studio in Greenwich Village. Throughout the 1940s, Noguchi’s sculpture drew from the ongoing surrealist movement; these works include not only various mixed-media constructions and landscape reliefs, but lunars – self-illuminating reliefs – and a series of biomorphic sculptures made of interlocking slabs. The most famous of these assembled-slab works, Kouros, was first shown in a September 1946 exhibition, helping to cement his place in the New York art scene.

Text from the Wikipedia website



No much to see here. A couple of interesting images but other than that the images are stylised and static, offering little insight into the “public personas of their creative subjects.” I have added biographical information to the posting to add some context to the photographs.


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


Billie Holiday with her pit bull. Jacob Lawrence in his Coast Guard uniform. Georgia O’Keeffe with her Model A Ford. See how photographers helped craft the public personas of their creative subjects in this stunning collection of rare photographs from the Museum’s collection. The exhibition features works by Dorothy Norman, Man Ray, Richard Avedon, Alice O’Malley, and many others who captured some of the most fascinating artists and performers of the past 150 years.



Arnold Newman (American, 1918-2006) 'Jacob Lawrence' 1944


Arnold Newman (American, 1918-2006)
Jacob Lawrence
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 9 1/2 × 4 inches
Sheet: 16 9/16 × 13 11/16 inches
Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of R. Sturgis and Marion B. F. Ingersoll, 1945



Jacob Lawrence (September 7, 1917-June 9, 2000) was an African-American painter known for his portrayal of African-American life. As well as a painter, storyteller, and interpreter, he was an educator. Lawrence referred to his style as “dynamic cubism”, though by his own account the primary influence was not so much French art as the shapes and colours of Harlem. He brought the African-American experience to life using blacks and browns juxtaposed with vivid colours. He also taught and spent 15 years as a professor at the University of Washington.

Lawrence is among the best-known 20th-century African-American painters. He was 25 years old when he gained national recognition with his 60-panel Migration Series, painted on cardboard. The series depicted the Great Migration of African-Americans from the rural South to the urban North. A part of this series was featured in a 1941 issue of Fortune. The collection is now held by two museums: the odd-numbered paintings are on exhibit in the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and the even-numbered are on display at MoMA in New York. Lawrence’s works are in the permanent collections of numerous museums, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the Phillips Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and Reynolda House Museum of American Art. He is widely known for his modernist illustrations of everyday life as well as epic narratives of African American history and historical figures

Text from the Wikipedia website


Arnold Newman (1918-2006) 'Milton Avery' 1944


Arnold Newman (1918-2006)
Milton Avery
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 7 11/16 × 9 11/16 inches
Mount: 16 15/16 × 14 inches
Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of R. Sturgis and Marion B. F. Ingersoll, 1945



Milton Clark Avery (March 7, 1885-January 3, 1965) was an American modern painter. Born in Altmar, New York, he moved to Connecticut in 1898 and later to New York City. According to painter Mark Rothko,

“What was Avery’s repertoire? His living room, Central Park, his wife Sally, his daughter March, the beaches and mountains where they summered; cows, fish heads, the flight of birds; his friends and whatever world strayed through his studio: a domestic, unheroic cast. But from these there have been fashioned great canvases, that far from the casual and transitory implications of the subjects, have always a gripping lyricism, and often achieve the permanence and monumentality of Egypt.”

Art critic Hilton Kramer said, “He was, without question, our greatest colourist… Among his European contemporaries, only Matisse – to whose art he owed much, of course – produced a greater achievement in this respect.”

Text from the Wikipedia website


Arnold Abner Newman (3 March 1918-June 6, 2006) was an American photographer, noted for his “environmental portraits” of artists and politicians. He was also known for his carefully composed abstract still life images. …

Newman found his vision in the empathy he felt for artists and their work. Although he photographed many personalities – Marlene Dietrich, John F. Kennedy, Harry S. Truman, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Ronald Reagan, Mickey Mantle, and Audrey Hepburn – he maintained that even if the subject is not known, or is already forgotten, the photograph itself must still excite and interest the viewer.

Newman is often credited with being the first photographer to use so-called environmental portraiture, in which the photographer places the subject in a carefully controlled setting to capture the essence of the individual’s life and work. Newman normally captured his subjects in their most familiar surroundings with representative visual elements showing their professions and personalities. A musician for instance might be photographed in their recording studio or on stage, a Senator or other politician in their office or a representative building. Using a large-format camera and tripod, he worked to record every detail of a scene.

“I didn’t just want to make a photograph with some things in the background,” Newman told American Photo magazine in an interview. “The surroundings had to add to the composition and the understanding of the person. No matter who the subject was, it had to be an interesting photograph. Just to simply do a portrait of a famous person doesn’t mean a thing.”

Text from the Wikipedia website



This summer, the Philadelphia Museum of Art presents a unique selection of photographic portraits of artists, from the French painter Henri Matisse to American writer Eudora Welty and the great jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald as well as many other figures in the world of the visual, literary, performing arts. Ranging in date from the late nineteenth century to the present, the compelling images in Face to Face reveal the expressive ways in which artists have used photography not only to portray their subjects but also to promote or shape their own celebrity. Many of the photographs in this exhibition represent artists whose work can be seen in Modern Times: American Art 1910-1950, on view concurrently at the Museum. Among these are portraits of Berenice Abbott, George Biddle, Arthur B. Carles, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Alfred Stieglitz.

Of special note are several groups of pictures of artists, such as Marcel Duchamp, Thomas Eakins, Frida Kahlo, O’Keeffe and Stieglitz, who skilfully crafted their public personae through photography. Stieglitz and O’Keeffe realised the power of photographs to shape their public reputation, and over time were the subjects of many portraits. By contrast, most of the images of Kahlo in the Museum’s collection are from a single session with her art dealer and friend Julien Levy, who produced what appears to be a collaborative and intimate exploration of her artistic identity. Another photograph from this same session, recently discovered, shows Levy’s future wife, Muriel Streeter, wearing some of Kahlo’s clothes, adding another dimension to this intriguing series.

Consisting of over one hundred works, the exhibition is centred around two groups of portraits by Arnold Newman and Carl Van Vechten that are foundational to the Museum’s photography collection. Newman’s portraits were featured in the Museum’s inaugural photography exhibition in 1945, titled Artists Look Like This. Among the subjects depicted are such well-known figures as cartoonist Saul Steinberg and painter Piet Mondrian, as well as illustrator Peggy Bacon and painter Robert Gwathmey. The sitters captured by Van Vechten – a novelist and artistic patron who photographed those he knew well – include Ella Fitzgerald and Zora Neale Hurston, Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters. Writer James Baldwin, sculptor Richmond Barthé and painter Aaron Douglas are also highlights of this group.

Peter Barberie, The Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center, said: “We are delighted to share these portraits of some of the most creative people of the past century and to take this opportunity to explore an important aspect of our collection.”

Press release from the Philadelphia Museum of Art website


Carl Van Vechten (American, 1880-1964) 'Zora Neale Hurston' April 3, 1935


Carl Van Vechten (American, 1880-1964)
Zora Neale Hurston
April 3, 1935
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 9 5/8 × 7 1/8 inches
Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of John Mark Lutz, 1965



Zora Neale Hurston (January 7, 1891-January 28, 1960) was an influential author of African-American literature and anthropologist, who portrayed racial struggles in the early 20th century American South, and published research on Haitian voodoo. Of Hurston’s four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays, and essays, her most popular is the 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama, and moved to Eatonville, Florida, with her family in 1894. Eatonville would become the setting for many of her stories and is now the site of the Zora! Festival, held each year in Hurston’s honor. In her early career, Hurston conducted anthropological and ethnographic research while attending Barnard College. While in New York she became a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Her short satires, drawing from the African-American experience and racial division, were published in anthologies such as The New Negro and Fire!! After moving back to Florida, Hurston published her literary anthropology on African-American folklore in North Florida, Mules and Men (1935) and her first three novels: Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1934); Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937); and Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939). Also published during this time was Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (1938), documenting her research on rituals in Jamaica and Haiti.

Hurston’s works touched on the African-American experience and her struggles as an African-American woman. Her novels went relatively unrecognised by the literary world for decades, but interest revived after author Alice Walker published “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” in the March 1975 issue of Ms. Magazine. Hurston’s manuscript Every Tongue Got to Confess (2001), a collection of folktales gathered in the 1920s, was published posthumously after being discovered in the Smithsonian archives. Her nonfiction book Barracoon was published posthumously in 2018.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Carl Van Vechten (American, 1880-1964) 'Ella Fitzgerald' January 19, 1940


Carl Van Vechten (American, 1880-1964)
Ella Fitzgerald
January 19, 1940
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 9 15/16 × 7 15/16 inches
Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of John Mark Lutz, 1965



Carl Van Vechten (June 17, 1880-December 21, 1964) was an American writer and artistic photographer who was a patron of the Harlem Renaissance and the literary executor of Gertrude Stein. He gained fame as a writer, and notoriety as well, for his novel Nigger Heaven. In his later years, he took up photography and took many portraits of notable people. Although he was married to women for most of his adult life, Van Vechten engaged in numerous homosexual affairs over his lifetime.

By the start of the 1930s and at age 50, Van Vechten was finished with writing and took up photography, using his apartment at 150 West 55th Street as a studio, where he photographed many notable persons. (Text from the Wikipedia website)


Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'Georgia O'Keeffe - After Return from New Mexico' 1929


Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Georgia O’Keeffe – After Return from New Mexico
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet/Mount: 3 1/16 × 4 11/16 inches
Mount (secondary): 13 1/2 × 10 11/16 inches
125th Anniversary Acquisition
The Alfred Stieglitz Collection, purchased with the gift (by exchange) of Dr. and Mrs. Paul Todd Makler, the Lynne and Harold Honickman Fund for Photography, the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, and the Lola Downin Peck Fund, with funds contributed by Mr. and Mrs. John J. F. Sherrerd, Lynne and Harold Honickman, John J. Medveckis, and M. Todd Cooke, and gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, 1997


Peter A. Juley & Son (American) 'Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo with Lucile and Arnold Blanch at Coyoacán' c. 1930


Peter A. Juley & Son (American)
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo with Lucile and Arnold Blanch at Coyoacán
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches
Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of Carl Zigrosser, 1975



Peter A. Juley & Son collection at The Smithsonian

The Juleys photographed the work of turn-of-the-century painters such as Childe Hassam, Thomas Eakins, and Albert Pinkham Ryder; ash can school artists such as Robert Henri and John Sloan; the avant-garde group associated with Alfred Stieglitz; regionalists of the 1930 and 1940s such as Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood; abstract expressionists such as Hans Hoffman and Robert Motherwell; and sculptors such as Daniel Chester French and William Zorach.

The Juley collection also holds some 4,700 photographic portraits of artists. These images capture some of the best-known artists of the twentieth century, including Thomas Hart Benton, Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, Frida Kahlo, Jacob Lawrence, Barnett Newman, Diego Rivera, and Grant Wood. Many of the portraits depict artists at work in their studios or at home with their families and offer glimpses into the artistic and social climate of the period.

Group photography by the Juley firm records the histories of the National Academy of Design and Art Students League and documents important summer art colonies at Provincetown, Massachusetts; Woodstock, New York; Old Lyme, Connecticut; and Ogunquit, Maine. In addition to the negatives produced by the Juley’s, the firm also acquired valuable negatives from other fine arts photographers, including Myra Albert, A. B. Bogart, George C. Cox, Walter Russell, A. E. Sproul, and De Witt Ward, to broaden its holdings.

Text from The Smithsonian Institution website


Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'George Biddle Painting a Portrait of Man Ray' 1941


Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
George Biddle Painting a Portrait of Man Ray
Gelatin silver print
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Gift of C. K. Williams, II, 2003
© Man Ray Trust / Arts Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris



George Biddle (January 24, 1885-November 6, 1973) was an American painter, muralist and lithographer, best known for his social realism and combat art. A childhood friend of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he played a major role in establishing the Federal Art Project (1935-43), which employed artists under the Works Progress Administration. …

Some factors that contributed to Biddle’s artwork are the many art movements that he was involved in. Biddle was involved in “French Impressionism; the American Ashcan School; the School of Paris and Cubism during those early and exciting days when it first exploded on the world; Regionalism, the Mexican Mural Movement, and the New Deal Subsidy of Art”. He also was involved in the “post war currents of contemporary art”. Many of his works of art were contemporary. Another factor that contributed to Biddle’s artwork were his friendships with many great “painters, sculptors, and critics of the past generation and his life-long activity in behalf of fellow artists”. He borrowed many of the other artists’ styles and turned them into his own by using different techniques and images to get a different effect. Biddle believed that everyone’s life should be influenced by every “fact with which one comes in contact, until one ceases to grow or is, actually dead”. This is the reason why Biddle became such a successful American artist; he had his own style, and expressed real actual events.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Irving Penn (American, 1917-2009) 'Elsa Schiaparelli' 1948 (negative), c. 1948 (print)


Irving Penn (American, 1917-2009)
Elsa Schiaparelli
1948 (negative), c. 1948 (print)
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 10 1/8 × 8 1/8 inches
Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of the artist, 2005



Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was an Italian fashion designer. Along with Coco Chanel, her greatest rival, she is regarded as one of the most prominent figures in fashion between the two World Wars. Starting with knitwear, Schiaparelli’s designs were heavily influenced by Surrealists like her collaborators Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau. Her clients included the heiress Daisy Fellowes and actress Mae West. Schiaparelli did not adapt to the changes in fashion following World War II and her couture house closed in 1954. (Text from the Wikipedia website)


Sonia Katchian (American, born Lebanon, 1947) 'Muhammed Ali' 1974


Sonia Katchian (American, born Lebanon, 1947)
Muhammed Ali
Gelatin silver print
Image: 11 7/8 x 8 inches
Sheet: 13 15/16 x 11 inches
Philadelphia Museum of Art: 125th Anniversary Acquisition. The Lynne and Harold Honickman Gift of the Julien Levy Collection, 2001



Sonia Katchian immigrated to the U.S. from Beirut, Lebanon, where she was born to Armenian parents. She is a Barnard College graduate. A New Yorker for 23 years, she was the first woman photographer hired by The N.Y. Post, was affiliated with Black Star photo agency, and was a founding member of the Soho Photo Gallery. She worked for W. Eugene Smith. In 1982 she established Photo Shuttle: Japan, moving her photo business to Tokyo, where she shuttled between NY and Tokyo for 12 years. She is currently based outside Chapel Hill, NC, where she produces fine-art portfolios, consults and shoots documentary and commercial projects – both still and video.


Dorothy Norman (American, 1905-1997) 'John Cage' 1970s


Dorothy Norman (American, 1905-1997)
John Cage
Gelatin silver print
2 15/16 × 2 3/4 inches (7.4 × 7 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art
From the Collection of Dorothy Norman, 1984



Dorothy Norman (28 March 1905-12 April 1997) was an American photographer, writer, editor, arts patron and advocate for social change. …

Norman never worked as a professional photographer, instead capturing images of friends, loved ones and prominent figures in the arts and in politics. People she photographed include Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Thomas Mann (with his wife Katia, or Katy), John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, Bernard Berenson, Albert Einstein, Theodore Dreiser, Elia Kazan, Lewis Mumford and Sherwood Anderson. She also photographed special sites, special trees, special harbours, special churches and buildings. She detailed the interior of An American Place, Stieglitz’s last gallery. She created an extended portrait study of Stieglitz (he returned the favour by creating a similar study of Norman).

Norman’s photographic work is noted for its clarity of vision, masterful mix of light and shading, and professional-quality printing techniques. Norman chose provocative aphorisms by contemporary and historical writers, male and female, and from various cultures, to accompany the thematic groups of photographs in sections of MoMA’s world-touring exhibition The Family of Man for its curator Edward Steichen, a long-term associate of Alfred Stieglitz.

Text from the Wikipedia website


John Milton Cage Jr. (September 5, 1912 – August 12, 1992) was an American composer and music theorist. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde. Critics have lauded him as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. He was also instrumental in the development of modern dance, mostly through his association with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also Cage’s romantic partner for most of their lives.

Cage is perhaps best known for his 1952 composition 4’33”, which is performed in the absence of deliberate sound; musicians who present the work do nothing aside from being present for the duration specified by the title. The content of the composition is not “four minutes and 33 seconds of silence,” as is often assumed, but rather the sounds of the environment heard by the audience during performance. The work’s challenge to assumed definitions about musicianship and musical experience made it a popular and controversial topic both in musicology and the broader aesthetics of art and performance. Cage was also a pioneer of the prepared piano (a piano with its sound altered by objects placed between or on its strings or hammers), for which he wrote numerous dance-related works and a few concert pieces. The best known of these is Sonatas and Interludes (1946-48).

Text from the Wikipedia website


Henry Horenstein (American, b. 1947) 'Mother Maybelle Carter, Lone Star Ranch, Reeds Ferry, NH' 1973


Henry Horenstein (American, b. 1947)
Mother Maybelle Carter, Lone Star Ranch, Reeds Ferry, NH
Gelatin silver print
9 × 5 15/16 inches (22.9 × 15.1 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Purchased with funds contributed in memory of Judith Taylor, 2013



Henry Horenstein (born 1947, New Bedford, Massachusetts) is an American artist/photographer. He studied history at the University of Chicago and earned his BFA and MFA at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he is now professor of photography. He has worked as a professional photographer, teacher, and author since the early 1970s. A student of photographers/teachers Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, and Minor White, Horenstein is the author of over 30 books, including a series of instructional textbooks that have been used by hundreds of thousands of photography students over the past 40 years.

“Mother” Maybelle Carter (born Maybelle Addington; May 10, 1909-October 23, 1978) was an American country musician. She is best known as a member of the historic Carter Family act in the 1920s and 1930s and also as a member of Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters. (Texts from the Wikipedia website)



Philadelphia Museum of Art
26th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19130

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday: 10am – 5pm

Philadelphia Museum of Art website


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Exhibition: ‘Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 2nd May – 14th October 2018

Curators: Simon Baker, Senior Curator, International Art (Photography) and Shoair Mavlian, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern, with Emmanuelle de l’Ecotais, Curator for Photographs



Pierre Dubreuil. 'Interpretation of Picasso, The Railway' 1911


Pierre Dubreuil (1872-1944)
Interpretation Picasso, The Railway
Gelatin silver print on paper
238 x 194 mm
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Musée National d’Art Moderne / Centre de Création Industrielle
Purchased, 1987



An interesting premise –

“a premise is an assumption that something is true. In logic, an argument requires a set of (at least) two declarative sentences (or “propositions”) known as the premises or premisses along with another declarative sentence (or “proposition”) known as the conclusion” (Wikipedia)

– that the stories (the declarative sentences) of abstract art and abstract photography are intertwined (the conclusion). The two premises and one conclusion forms the basic argumentative structure of the exhibition.

Unfortunately in this exhibition, the abstract art and abstract photographs (declarations), seem to add up to less than the sum of its parts (conclusion).

Why is this so?

The reason these two bedfellows sit so uncomfortably together is that they are of a completely different order, one to the other.

Take painting for example. There is that ultimate linkage between brain, eye and hand as the artist “reaches out” into the unknown, and conjures an abstract representation from his imagination. This has a quality beyond my recognition. The closest that photography gets to this intuition is the cameraless Photogram, as the artist paints with light, from his imagination, onto the paper surface, the physical presence of the print.

Conversely, we grapple with the dual nature of photography, its relation to reality, to the real, and its interpretation of that reality through a physical, mechanical process – light entering a camera (metal, glass, digital chips, plastic film) to be developed in chemicals or on the computer, stored as a physical piece of paper or in binary code – but then we LOOK and FEEL what else a photograph can be. What it is, and what else it can be.

Initially, to take a photograph is to recognise something physical in the world which can then be abstracted. Here is a tree, a Platonic ideal, now here is the bark of the tree, or cracks in dried mud, or Aaron Siskind’s Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation in which, in our imagination, the body is no longer human. This archaeology of photography is a learnt behaviour (from the world, from abstract paintings) where ones learns to turn over the truth to something else, a recognition of something else. Where one digs a clod of earth, inspects it, and then turns it over to see what else it can be.

We can look at something in the world just for what it is and take a photograph of it, but then we can look at the same object for what else it can be (for example, Man Ray’s image Dust Breeding (1920), which is actually dust motes on the top of Duchamp’s Large Glass). Photographers love these possibilities within the physicality of the medium, its processes and outcomes. Photographers love changing scale, perspective, distortion using their intuition to perhaps uncover spiritual truths. Here I are not talking about making doodles – whoopee look what I can make as a photographer! it’s important because I can do it and show it and I said it’s important because I am an artist! the problem with lots of contemporary photography – it is something entirely different. It is the integrity of the emotional and intellectual process.

Not a reaching out through the arm and hand, but an unearthing (a reaching in?) of the possibilities of what else photography can be (other than a recording process). As Stieglitz understood in his Equivalents, and so Minor White espoused through his art and in one of his three canons:

When the image mirrors the man
And the man mirrors the subject
Something might take over

And that revelation is something completely different from the revelation of abstract art.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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


For the first time, Tate Modern tells the intertwined stories of photography and abstract art. The birth of abstract art and the invention of photography were both defining moments in modern visual culture, but these two stories are often told separately.

Shape of Light is the first major exhibition to explore the relationship between the two, spanning the century from the 1910s to the present day. It brings to life the innovation and originality of photographers over this period, and shows how they responded and contributed to the development of abstraction.

Key photographs are brought together from pioneers including Man Ray and Alfred Stieglitz, major contemporary artists such as Barbara Kasten and Thomas Ruff, right up to exciting new work by Antony Cairns, Maya Rochat and Daisuke Yokota, made especially for the exhibition.



“Despite its roll call of stellar names, the show’s adrenaline soon slumps. A rhythm sets in, as each gallery offers perhaps a single non photographic work and dozens of medium format black and white abstracts arranged on an allied theme: extreme close ups, engineered structures, worms’ and birds’ eye views, moving light, the human body, urban fabric.

Individually each photograph is quite wonderful, but they echo each other so closely in their authors’ attraction to diagonal arrangements, rich surface textures, dramatic shadows, odd perspectives and close cropping, that the same ‘point’ is being made a dozen times with little to distinguish between the variants. …

By the present day, abstract photography has given in to its already Ouroboros-like tendencies, and swallowed itself whole, offering abstract photographs about the process of photography, and the action of light on its materials. This is a gesture I relished in Wolfgang Tillmans’s show in the same space this time last year, when it was broken up by a plethora of other ideas and perspectives on photography. Here it feels like another level of earnest self-absorption with a century-long backstory.”

Hettie Judah. ‘By halfway round I actually felt faint’ on the iNews website May 5th 2018 [Online] Cited 14/07/2018




Tate Curator, Simon Baker, meets Caroline von Courten from leading photography Magazine, Foam. Together they explore the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern.





Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) 'Workshop' c. 1914-5


Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957)
c. 1914-5
Purchased 1974
© Wyndham Lewis and the estate of Mrs G A Wyndham Lewis by kind permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (a registered charity)


Paul Strand. 'Abstraction Bowls, Twin Lakes, Connecticut' 1916


Paul Strand (1890-1976)
Abstraction Bowls, Twin Lakes, Connecticut
Silver gelatin print


Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966) 'Vortograph' 1917


Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966)
Gelatin silver print on paper
283 x 214 mm
Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum NY
© The Universal Order


Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018


Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing László Moholy-Nagy’s K VII at centre. Photo: © Tate / Andrew Dunkley.


László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'K VII' 1922


László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Oil paint and graphite on canvas
Frame: 1308 x 1512 x 80 mm
Purchased 1961



The ‘K’ in the title of K VII stands for the German word Konstruktion (‘construction’), and the painting’s ordered, geometrical forms are typical of Moholy-Nagy’s technocratic Utopianism. The year after it was painted, he was appointed to teach the one year-preliminary course at the recently founded Bauhaus in Weimar. Moholy-Nagy’s appointment signalled a major shift in the school’s philosophy away from its earlier crafts ethos towards a closer alignment with the demands of modern industry, and a programme of simple design and unadorned functionalism.

Gallery label, April 2012


Man Ray. 'Rayograph' 1922


Man Ray (1890-1976)
Gelatin silver print on paper
Private Collection
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018


El Lissitzky (1890-1941) 'Proun in Material (Proun 83)' 1924


El Lissitzky (1890-1941)
Proun in Material (Proun 83)
Gelatin silver print on paper
140 x 102 mm
© Imogen Cunningham Trust. All rights reserved


László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photogram' c. 1925


László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print on paper
Photo: Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham


Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) 'Swinging' 1925


Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Oil paint on board
705 x 502 mm


Edward Steichen. 'Bird in Space' [L'Oiseau dans l'espace] 1926


Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Bird in Space [L’Oiseau dans l’espace]
Gelatin silver print on paper
253 x 202 mm
Bequest of Constantin Brancusi, 1957
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Musée National d’Art Moderne / Centre de Création Industrielle


Shape of Light, exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018


Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing at centre, Constantin Brancusi’s bronze and stone sculpture Maiastra (1911). Photo: © Tate / Andrew Dunkley.


Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) 'Triangles' 1928


Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976)
1928, printed 1947-60
Gelatin silver print on paper
119 x 93 mm
Pierre Brahm
© Imogen Cunningham Trust. All rights reserved


Joan Miró (1893-1983) 'Painting' 1927


Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Tempera and oil paint on canvas
972 x 1302 mm
© Succession Miro/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018


Man Ray (1890-1976) 'Anatomies' 1930


Man Ray (1890-1976)
Photo: © Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016


Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956) 'Radio Station Power' 1929


Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956)
Radio Station Power
Gelatin silver print on paper
Lent by Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham
© A. Rodchenko and V. Stepanova Archive. DACS, RAO 2018


László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Xanti Schawinsky on the balcony of the Bauhaus' 1929


László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Xanti Schawinsky on the balcony of the Bauhaus
Gelatin silver print on paper


Luo Bonian (1911-2002) 'Untitled' 1930s


Luo Bonian (1911-2002)
Gelatin silver print on paper
Courtesy The Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing
© Luo Bonian


Marta Hoepffner (1912–2000) 'Homage to de Falla' 1937


Marta Hoepffner (1912–2000)
Homage to de Falla
Gelatin silver print on paper
387 x 278 mm
Stadtmuseum Hofheim am Taunus
© Estate Marta Hoepffner


Nathan Lerner (1913-1997) 'Light Tapestry' 1939


Nathan Lerner (1913-1997)
Light Tapestry
Gelatin silver print on paper
401 x 504 mm
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Gift of Mrs Kiyoko Lerner, 2014
Photo: Nathan Lerner/© ARS, NY and DACS, London


Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998) 'Construction' 1938


Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998)
Gelatin silver print on paper
286 x 388 mm
Accepted under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government from Massimo Prelz Oltramonti and allocated to Tate 2015


Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998) 'Photo n.145' 1940, printed 1970s


Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998)
Photo n.145
1940, printed 1970s
Gelatin silver print on paper
310 x 280 mm
Accepted under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government from Massimo Prelz Oltramonti and allocated to Tate 2015


Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998) 'Photo n.152' 1940, printed 1970s


Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998)
Photo n.152
1940, printed 1970s
Gelatin silver print on paper
320 x 298 mm
Accepted under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government from Massimo Prelz Oltramonti and allocated to Tate 2015



A major new exhibition at Tate Modern will reveal the intertwined stories of photography and abstract art. Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art will be the first show of this scale to explore photography in relation to the development of abstraction, from the early experiments of the 1910s to the digital innovations of the 21st century. Featuring over 300 works by more than 100 artists, the exhibition will explore the history of abstract photography side-by-side with iconic paintings and sculptures.

Shape of Light will place moments of radical innovation in photography within the wider context of abstract art, such as Alvin Langdon Coburn’s pioneering ‘vortographs’ from 1917. This relationship between media will be explored through the juxtaposition of works by painters and photographers, such as cubist works by George Braque and Pierre Dubreuil or the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Otto Steinert’s ‘luminograms’. Abstractions from the human body associated with surrealism will include André Kertesz’s Distorsions, Imogen Cunningham’s Triangles and Bill Brandt’s Baie des Anges, Frances 1958, exhibited together with a major painting by Joan Miró. Elsewhere the focus will be on artists whose practice spans diverse media, such as László Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray.

The exhibition will also acknowledge the impact of MoMA’s landmark photography exhibition of 1960, The Sense of Abstraction. Installation photographs of this pioneering show will be displayed with some of the works originally featured in the exhibition, including important works by Edward Weston, Aaron Siskind and a series by Man Ray that has not been exhibited since the MoMA show, 58 years ago.

The connections between breakthroughs in photography and new techniques in painting will be examined, with rooms devoted to Op Art and Kinetic Art from the 1960s, featuring striking paintings by Bridget Riley and installations of key photographic works from the era by artists including Floris Neussis and Gottfried Jaeger. Rooms will also be dedicated to the minimal and conceptual practices of the 1970s and 80s. The exhibition will culminate in a series of new works by contemporary artists, Tony Cairns, Maya Rochat and Daisuke Yokota, exploring photography and abstraction today.

Shape of Light is curated by Simon Baker, Senior Curator, International Art (Photography) and Shoair Mavlian, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern, with Emmanuelle de l’Ecotais, Curator for Photographs, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Modern


Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) 'Number 23' 1948


Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)
Number 23
Enamel on gesso on paper
575 x 784 mm
Tate: Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery (purchased out of funds provided by Mr and Mrs H.J. Heinz II and H.J. Heinz Co. Ltd) 1960
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2018


Otto Steinert (1915-1978) 'Composition of Forms' 1949


Otto Steinert (1915-1978)
Composition of Forms
Gelatin silver print on paper
290 x 227 mm
Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham


Guy Bourdin (1928-1991) 'Untitled' 1952


Guy Bourdin (1928-1991)
Gelatin silver print on paper
277 x 164 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2015
© The Guy Bourdin Estate


Guy Bourdin (1928-1991) 'Untitled' 1952


Guy Bourdin (1928-1991)
Gelatin silver print on paper
232 x 169 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2015
© The Guy Bourdin Estate


Guy Bourdin (1928-1991) 'Untitled' c. 1950s


Guy Bourdin (1928-1991)
c. 1950s
Gelatin silver print on paper
239 x 179 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2015
© The Guy Bourdin Estate



Untitled c.1950s is a black and white photograph by the French photographer Guy Bourdin. The entirety of the frame is taken up by a close-up of peeling paint. The paint sections fragment the image into uneven geometric shapes, which are interrupted by a strip of the dark surface beneath that winds from the top to the bottom of the frame. There is little sense of scale or contextual detail, resulting in a near-abstract composition.

Bourdin is best known for his experimental colour fashion photography produced while working for French Vogue between 1955 and 1977. This photograph belongs to an earlier period of experimentation, before he began to use colour and work in fashion. Taken outside the studio, it shows Bourdin’s sensitivity to the natural world and his attempt to transform the everyday into abstract compositions, bridging the gap between surrealism and subjective photography. Bourdin’s early work was heavily influenced by surrealism, as well as by pioneers of photography as a fine art such as Edward Weston, Paul Strand and Bill Brandt. His surrealist aesthetic can be attributed to his close relationship with Man Ray, who wrote the foreword to the catalogue for Bourdin’s first solo exhibition of black and white photographs at Galerie 29, Paris, in 1952.

This and other early works in Tate’s collection (such as Untitled (Sotteville, Normandy) c. 1950s, Tate P81205, and Solange 1957, Tate P81216) are typical of Subjektive Fotografie (‘subjective photography’), a tendency in the medium in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Led by the German photographer and teacher Otto Steinert, who organised three exhibitions under the title Subjektive Fotografie in 1951, 1954 and 1958, the movement advocated artistic self-expression – in the form of the artist’s creative approach to composition, processing and developing – above factual representation. Subjektive Fotografie’s emphasis on, and encouragement of, individual perspectives invited both the photographer and the viewer to interpret and reflect on the world through images. Bourdin’s interest in this can be seen in his early use of texture and abstraction, evident in close-up studies of cracked paint peeling off an external wall or a piece of torn fabric. These still lives were often dark in subject matter and tone, highlighting Bourdin’s interest in surrealist compositions and the intersection between death and sexuality. The works made use of the photographer’s urban environment, with deep black and high contrast printing techniques employed to create a sombre mood.

This approach was also important for Bourdin’s early portraiture, which anticipated his subsequent work in fashion. The subject of his portraits – often Solange Gèze, to whom the artist was married from 1961 until her death in 1971 – is usually framed subtly, rarely appearing in the centre or as the main focus of the image. In these works the figure is secondary, showing how Bourdin let the natural or urban environment frame the subject and integrate the body into its immediate surroundings. Bourdin was meticulous about the creative process from start to finish, sketching out images on paper and then recreating them in the landscape, using the natural environment as a stage set for his work.

Shoair Mavlian
August 2014


Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018


Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing Jackson Pollock’s Number 23 at left. Photo: © Tate / Sepharina Neville.


Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018


Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing Nathan Lerner’s Light Tapestry top left, and Otto Steinert’s Luminogram II centre right. Photo: © Tate / Sepharina Neville.


Otto Steinert (1915-1978) 'Luminogram II' 1952


Otto Steinert (1915-1978)
Luminogram II
Gelatin silver print on paper
302 x 401 mm
Jack Kirkland Collection Nottingham
© Estate Otto Steinert, Museum Folkwang, Essen


Brett Weston. 'Mud Cracks' 1955


Brett Weston (1911-1993)
Mud Cracks
Silver gelatin print
203 x 254 mm
Lent by the Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of Christian Keesee Collection 2013
© The Brett Weston Archive/CORBIS


Peter Keetman (1916-2005) 'Steel Pipes, Maximilian Smelter' 1958


Peter Keetman (1916-2005)
Steel Pipes, Maximilian Smelter
Gelatin silver print on paper
508 x 427 mm
F.C. Gundlach Foundation


Man Ray (1890-1976) 'Unconcerned Photograph' 1959


Man Ray (1890-1976)
Unconcerned Photograph
Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018


Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé (b. 1926) 'Jazzmen' 1961


Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé (b. 1926)
Printed papers on canvas
2170 x 1770 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 2000
© Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé



The Jazzmen is a section of what Jacques Villeglé termed affiches lacérées, posters torn down from the walls of Paris. These particular ones were taken on 10 December 1961. Following his established practice, Villeglé removed the section from a billboard and, having mounted it on canvas, presented it as a work of art. In ‘Des Réalités collectives’ of 1958 (‘Collective Realities’, reprinted in 1960: Les Nouveaux Réalistes, pp. 259-60) he acknowledged that he occasionally tore the surface of the posters himself, although he subsequently restricted interventions to repairs during the mounting process. The large blue and green advertisements for Radinola (at the top right and lower left) provide the main visible surface for The Jazzmen. These establish a compositional unity for the accumulated layers. Overlaid are fragmentary music posters and fly-posters, some dated to September 1961, including the images of the red guitarists that lend the work its title. The artist’s records give the source as rue de Tolbiac, a thoroughfare in the 13th arrondissement in south-east Paris. Villeglé usually uses the street as his title, but has suggested (interview with the author, February 2000) that the title The Jazzmen may have been invented for the work’s inclusion in the exhibition L’Art du jazz (Musée Galliera, Paris 1967).

Villeglé worked together with Raymond Hains (b. 1926) in presenting torn posters as works of art. They collaborated on such works as Ach Alma Manetro, 1949 (Musée nationale d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris), in which typography dominates the composition. They first showed their affiches lacérées in May 1957 at the Galerie Colette Allendy, Paris, in a joint exhibition named Loi du 29 juillet 1881 ou le lyrisme à la sauvette (The Law of 29 July 1881 or Lyricism through Salvage) in reference to the law forbidding fly-posting. Villeglé sees a social complexity in the developments in the style, typography and subject of the source posters. He also considers the processes of the overlaying and the pealing of the posters by passers-by to be a manifestation of a liberated art of the street. Both aspects are implicitly political. As Villeglé points out, anonymity differentiates the torn posters from the collages of the Cubists or of the German artist Kurt Schwitters. In ‘Des Réalités collectives’ Villeglé wrote: ‘To collages, which originate in the interplay of many possible attitudes, the affiches lacérées, as a spontaneous manifestation, oppose their immediate vivacity’. He saw the results as extending the conceptual basis of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, whereby an object selected by an artist is declared as art. However, this reduction of the artist’s traditional role brought an end to Villeglé’s collaboration with Hains, who held more orthodox views of creative invention.

In 1960 Villeglé, Hains and François Dufrêne (1930-82), who also used torn posters, joined the Nouveaux Réalistes group gathered by the critic Pierre Restany (b.1930). Distinguished by the use of very disparate materials and techniques, the Nouveaux Réalistes – who also included Arman (b.1928), Yves Klein (1928-62) and Jean Tinguely (1925-91) – were united by what Villeglé has called their ‘distance from the act of painting’ as characterised by the dominant abstraction of the period (interview February 2000). In this way, Klein’s monochrome paintings (see Tate T01513) and Villeglé’s affiches lacérées conform to the group’s joint declaration of 27 October 1960: ‘The Nouveaux Réalistes have become aware of their collective singularity. Nouveau Réalisme = new perceptual approaches to reality.’ The Jazzmen, of the following year, embodies Villeglé’s understanding of his ‘singularity’ as a conduit for anonymous public expression.

Matthew Gale
June 2000


Edward Ruscha (b.1937) 'Gilmore Drive-In Theater - 6201 W. Third St.' 1967, printed 2013


Edward Ruscha (b.1937)
Gilmore Drive-In Theater – 6201 W. Third St.
1967, printed 2013
Gelatin silver prints on paper
356 x 279 mm
Courtesy Ed Ruscha and Gagosian Gallery
© Ed Ruscha


Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018


Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London. Photo: © Tate / Andrew Dunkley.


Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018


Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing Gregorio Vardanega’s Circular Chromatic Spaces 1967. Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris. Photo: © Tate / Andrew Dunkley.


John Divola. '74V11' 1974


John Divola (b. 1949)
Silver gelatin print
Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham
© John Divola


Barbara Kasten (b.1936) 'Photogenic Painting, Untitled 74/13' (ID187) 1974


Barbara Kasten (b.1936)
Photogenic Painting, Untitled 74/13 (ID187)
Salted paper print
558 x 762 mm
Courtesy the artist, Thomas Dane Gallery and Bortolami Gallery, New York
© Barbara Kasten


James Welling (b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1986


James Welling (b. 1951)
C-print on paper
254 x 203 mm
Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham
© James Welling. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London/Hong Kong and Maureen Paley, London


Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018


Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing Sigmar Polke’s Untitled (Uranium Green) 1992. Hans Georg Näder © The Estate of Sigmar Polke / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn and DACS London, 2018. Photo: © Tate / Seraphina Neville.


Sigmar Polke. 'Untitled (Uranium Green)' 1992


Sigmar Polke (1941-1910)
Untitled (Uranium Green) (detail)
10 Photographs, C-print on paper
Image, each: 610 x 508 mm
The Estate of Sigmar Polke / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2017
Photo: Adam Reich/The Estate of Sigmar Polke / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn and DACS London, 2018


Daisuke Yokota (b. 1983) 'Untitled' 2014


Daisuke Yokota (b. 1983)
from Abstracts series
© Daisuke Yokota
Courtesy of the artist and Jean-Kenta Gauthier Gallery



Process is at the core of Yokota’s photographs. For his black-and-white work, such as the series Linger or Site/Cloud, Yokota sifts through an archive of more than 10 years of photographs in his Tokyo apartment. When he finds something that speaks to him – a nude figure, a chair, a building, a grove of trees – he makes a digital image of it, develops it, and rephotographs the image up to 15 times, until it becomes increasingly degraded. He develops the film in ways that are intentionally “incorrect,” allowing light to leak in, or singeing the negatives, using boiling water, or acetic acid. The purported subject fades, and shadows, textures, spots and other sorts of visual noise emerge. For his recent colour work, trippy, sensual abstractions, the process is similar, except that it is cameraless; he doesn’t start with a preexisting image. “I wanted to focus on the emulsion, on the different textures, more than on a subject being photographed,” says Yokota.

Daisuke Yokota
By Jean Dykstra


Antony Cairns (b. 1980) 'LDN5_051' 2017


Antony Cairns (b. 1980)
Courtesy of the artist
© Antony Cairns


Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018


Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing the installation A Rock Is A River, 2018 by the aritst Maya Rochat. Courtesy Lily Robert and VITRINE, London | Basel © Maya Rochat. Photo: © Tate / Sepharina Neville.


Maya Rochat (b.1985) 'A Rock is a River (META CARROTS)' 2017


Maya Rochat (b.1985)
A Rock is a River (META CARROTS)
Courtesy Lily Robert
© Maya Rochat


Maya Rochat (b.1985) 'A Rock is a River (META RIVER)' 2017


Maya Rochat (b.1985)
A Rock is a River (META RIVER)
Courtesy Lily Robert
© Maya Rochat



Tate Modern
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
Sunday – Thursday 10.00 – 18.00
Friday – Saturday 10.00 – 22.00

Tate Modern website


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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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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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