Archive for the 'psychological' Category

28
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Luces y Sombras: Images of Mexico | Photographs from the Bank of America Collection’ at the Tacoma Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 15th October 2022 – 5th February 2023

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'Mr. Municipal President' (Señor presidente municipal) 1947

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Mr. Municipal President (Señor presidente municipal)
1947 (negative); printed before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 3/8 x 9 1/8 inches (18.7 x 23.1cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

 

After last week’s long piece of writing something more succinct this week…

Luces y Sombras translates as Lights and Shadows. The exhibition reflects many themes: the landscape, urban life, fantasy and, especially among younger generations, gender and invented situations infused with symbolism. It begins with works by photographers active at the conclusion of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), notably Manuel Álvarez Bravo, considered Mexico’s first truly modern photographer. It also includes visiting artists such as the Americans Paul Strand and Edward Weston.

Later works by such figures as Manuel Carrillo, Mariana Yampolsky, and Graciela Iturbide reveal the ongoing emphasis by Mexican photographers on everyday life and Mexico’s Indigenous communities. Recent generations of photographers have found new purpose in documenting how ways of life in Mexico continue to be changed by urbanisation, migration, and the pervasive influence of popular Western culture and mass media.” (Exhibition text from the TAM)

It is interesting to hear British photographer Chris Killip’s thoughts on Mexico through a foreign lens. This quote from an upcoming posting on Killip’s work:

He says he stayed [in Newcastle] because he liked it, and that he might never have left had the Harvard job not come along – but he was also inspired by the Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka, who came to visit him early on and “talked about the importance of being in one place, to get under the surface of things”. He was also interested in how differently Paul Strand and Manuel Alvarez Bravo photographed Mexico, he says, despite Strand’s sympathetic, card-carrying Communist credentials.

“Strand beautifies poverty and simplifies the Mexican people into ‘the poor Mexicans, but isn’t this wonderful visually’,” he says. “But Alvarez Bravo was Mexican, his pictures are very complicated because he was able to accept ambiguities and contradictions, which Strand couldn’t… I think because I lived in Newcastle for so long I was able to accept ambiguities and not worry about them, just accept them and show them. I wanted to be there and be more accepting.”1

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As I have said in a previous posting on Mexican photography there is something so essential and grounded, so darkly soulful about Mexican photography. They never pull their punches, not just interested in the beauty of people and place but also the rituals, traditions and politics of Mexican society.

As ever, it is the work of Mexican artist Manuel Álvarez Bravo that steals my heart. His work exudes the spirit of the country through its sensitivity and connection to the earth from which he was born. The light and form in Bravo La Siesta de los Peregrinos; the light and form in Retrato de lo Eterno (1935, below). I have studied his work quite closely. He is the blessed one. Through his music, he captures the light and life of Mexico, the spirit of the eternal, “the sunlight [as] a discreet veil that turns the shadows into velvet.” His work is the art of the People.

Further,

“One of my early heroes in photography was Manuel Alvarez Bravo whom I rate as one of the best photographers that has ever lived, up there with Atget and Sudek. His photograph Parabola optica (Optical Parable, 1931, below) lays the foundation for an inherent language of Mexican photography: that of a parable, a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson. 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.

Unlike most Australian documentary photography where there is an observational distance present in the photographs – a physical space between the camera/photographer and the subject – Mexican documentary photography is imbued with a revolutionary spirit and validated by the investment of the photographer in the subject itself, as though the image is the country is the photographer. There is an essence and energy to the Mexican photographs that seems to turn narrative on its head, unlike the closed loop present in the tradition of Australian story telling. The intimate, swirling narratives of Mexican photography could almost be termed lyrical socio-realist.”2

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What is a revelation to me in this posting is work by two Mexican photographers who I have never heard of before and I should have because they are very good: Manuel Carrillo and Flor Garduño. Carillo joined the Club Fotográfico de México at the age of 49. As James McArdle observes the politics of Carrillo’s photographic work is anchored to his own cultural identity as a Mexican by birth and his time spent in America.

“He quickly found his voice by making images of everyday life throughout Mexico, celebrating local culture and the human spirit. His work is an extension of Mexicanidad, a movement begun in the 1920s to forge a Mexican national identity free of foreign influence… His interest in indigenous cultures and his use of bright sunlight to create compositions with dramatic shadows and bold geometric forms has roots in the photographic work of Edward Weston and Paul Strand, American modernist photographers active in Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s. Rather than idealising, aestheticising, or moralising, Carrillo portrays Mexico from the perspective of an affectionate observer, transforming ordinary moments into expressions of quiet eloquence.”3

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A certain paradox can be noted here: the wish for a Mexican identity free of foreign influence and photographs forged in the American modernist tradition. Interesting. It doesn’t stop the visceral photographs being very “Mexican” for all that.

“Garduño’s photographs create a bridge between the present and the past by portraying natural elements such as water, trees, earth, animals, and atmosphere. Garduño worked for the Department of Public Education in her native Mexico, traveling to rural areas to work with indigenous communities. From this she developed her style and got to know what she has referred to as the “profound truth” of the countryside in the Americas. Her work was also influenced by artists Kati Horna, who worked in a surrealistic vein, and Manuel Álvarez Bravo, who attended carefully to the tonal qualities of his photographs. Garduño similarly uses compositional and darkroom techniques to achieve moody, evocative images.”4

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In the work of Mexican photographers – Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Graciela Iturbide, Manuel Carrillo and Flor Garduño – you can palpably feel the essentialness of the Mexican people and begin to understand their connection to the land from which they come. Much as in the work of Chris Killip in England with his embeddedness5 with the people of North Yorkshire … there is an honesty, integrity and openness to their work which, in the case of Mexican photography, has continuous strands (like a river) running through it: that is, a synthesis of aesthetics, politics, land and spirit. Their work is of the people for the people offering a “profound truth” about the nature of their existence in the countryside in the Americas.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

1/ Diane Smyth. “Now Then: Chris Killip and the Making of In Flagrante, on the British Journal of Photography website 6 June 2017 [Online] Cited 26/01/2023

2/ Marcus Bunyan. “Photography in Mexico: Selected Works from the Collections of SFMOMA and Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser,” on the Art Blart website 4th July 2012 [Online] Cited 28/01/2023

3/ Anonymous. “Manuel Carrillo: Mexican Modernist,” on the New Mexico Museum of Art website Nd [Online] Cited 28/01/2023

4/ Anonymous. “Get to know the work of Flor Garduño,” on the Getty Twitter website Oct 6, 2021 [Online] Cited 28/01/2023

5/ Embeddedness: an exchange that takes place within and is regulated by society rather than being located in a social vacuum.

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Many thankx to the Tacoma Art Museum, Mark I. Chester and Steven Miller for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'In the Temple of Red Tiger' (En el templo del tigre rojo) 1949

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
In the Temple of Red Tiger (En el templo del tigre rojo)
1949 (negative); print before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image overall: 9 3/4 × 6 3/4 in. (24.8 x 17.1cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'Portrait of the Eternal' (Retrato de lo eterno) 1935

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Portrait of the Eternal (Retrato de lo eterno)
1935 (negative); print before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 5/8 × 7 3/8in. (24.4 x 18.7cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'The Daydream' (El ensueño) 1931

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
The Daydream (El ensueño)
1931 (negative); print before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 1/4 × 7 in. (23.5 x 17.8cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'Optic Parable' (Parábola óptica) 1931

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Optic Parable (Parábola óptica)
1931 (negative); print before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 1/4 × 7 in. (23.5 x 17.8cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'The Big Fish Eats the Little Ones' (El pez grande se come a los chicos) 1932

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
The Big Fish Eats the Little Ones (El pez grande se come a los chicos)
1932 (negative); print before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 × 7 in. (22.9 x 17.8cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

 

Graciela Iturbide on Manuel Álvarez Bravo 

Graciela Iturbide, Hasselblad Award Winner in 2008, talks about her friend and teacher Manuel Álvarez Bravo who received the Hasselblad Award in 1984.

 

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

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
The Good Reputation, Sleeping (La buena fama, durmiendo)
1938 (negative); print before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 3/8 × 9 5/8 in. (18.7 x 24.4cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'The Maria' (La María) 1972

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
The Maria (La María)
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 × 9 1/4 in. (17.8 x 23.5 cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'Las lavanderas sobreentendidas / The Washerwomen Implied' 1932

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
The Washerwomen Implied (Las lavanderas sobreentendidas)
1932 (negative); print before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 1/2 × 6 in. (24.1 x 15.2cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'The Obstacles' (Los obstáculos) 1929

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
The Obstacles (Los obstáculos)
1929 (negative); print before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 1/4 × 9 1/4 in. (18.4 x 23.5cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'Frida Kahlo with Globe' (Frida Kahlo con globo) c. 1930s

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Frida Kahlo with Globe (Frida Kahlo con globo)
c. 1930s (negative); print before 1992
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 3/8 × 7 1/4 in. (23.8 x 18.4cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'The Daughter of the Dancers' (La hija de los danzantes) 1933

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
The Daughter of the Dancers (La hija de los danzantes)
1933
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 × 6 1/2 in. (22.9 x 16.5cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

 

More than 100 photographs spanning more than 85 years of Mexican culture and history are coming to Tacoma Art Museum in the exhibition Luces y Sombras: Images of Mexico I Photographs from the Bank of America Collection.

Luces y Sombras reflects a broad span of Mexico’s modern history, beginning with work by photographers active in the 1920s, not long after the conclusion of the Mexican Revolution. A struggle for political power that began with the overthrow in 1911 of Mexico’s authoritarian president, Porfirio Díaz, became the catalyst for a popular uprising of campesinos, agrarian indigenous and mestizo (mixed race) people who fought for agrarian and social reform. Revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata’s rallying cry, “Tierra y Libertad” (Land and Liberty), not only galvanised the hundreds of thousands of campesinos who joined the revolt but in its wake, came to represent the affirmation of rural people, whose lives were inextricably tied to the land.

Many images in this exhibition manifest the cultural values that came to the fore in the decades following the Revolution, when politicians and intellectuals alike endeavoured to reconstruct and, indeed, re-envision their nation. In the cultural sphere, Mexico’s new leadership sought to purge the nation of the European influence favoured by the Díaz regime. Nationalist ideals and a broad-based exploration of Mexicanidad (the quality of being Mexican) were accompanied by a new reverence for Mexico’s indigenous roots and for everyday men and women. Photographs made throughout the last century of indigenous and mestizo people reflect not only the survival of indigenous communities and traditions, but also the realities of poverty and social marginalisation that persist for a large lower class up to the present day.

Luces y Sombras reflects many other themes embraced by photographers in Mexico, both native and foreign-born – the landscape, urban life and, especially among younger generations, gender and invented situations infused with symbolism. The inclusion of such foreign photographers as Paul Strand, Elliott Erwitt, Aaron Siskind, Danny Lyon, and Nan Goldin speaks to another key component of the history of photography in Mexico – the significance of a nation seen through foreign eyes.

In gathering work by such a diversity of voices, Luces y Sombras provides vivid testimony to the character of life in a nation in the throes of reinvention, modernisation and continued change over the course of the last century.

Text from the TAM website

 

Ana Casas Broda (Mexican born Spain, b. 1965) 'Milk III (2)' (Leche III (2)) 2010

 

Ana Casas Broda (Mexican born Spain, b. 1965)
Milk III (2) (Leche III (2))
2010
from the series Kinderwunsch (The Desire to Have Children)(El deseo de tener hijos)
Inkjet print on cotton paper
Image Overall: 23 5/8 × 35 1/2 in. (60 x 90.2cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Mendicant girl – close up, Guanajuato, Guanajuato' (Sin título (Pordiocerita – close up, Guanajuato, Guanajuato)) 1930

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Mendicant girl – close up, Guanajuato, Guanajuato (Sin título (Pordiocerita – close up, Guanajuato, Guanajuato))
1930
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 1/2 × 9 1/4 in. (19.1 x 23.5cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Man inside store, contrasted, baskets on the wall, Zacapoaxtla, Pueblo)' (Sin título (Hombre dentro tienda, contrastada, canastas, pared, Zacapoaxtla, Pueblo)) 1975

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Man inside store, contrasted, baskets on the wall, Zacapoaxtla, Pueblo) (Sin título (Hombre dentro tienda, contrastada, canastas, pared, Zacapoaxtla, Pueblo))
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 3/4 × 10 in. (19.7 x 25.4cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

 

Manuel Carrillo worked in Mexico in the middle of the 20th century, a time in Mexico that witnessed great political changes and social transformations and a moment in the country’s history when it was establishing its strong cultural identity.

Carrillo’s work, along with the well-known Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Tina Modotti and the American photographer Edward Weston, among others, was a contributing force as to how Mexico saw itself and how the rest of the world came to perceive that complex country. A bit of the understanding and empathy for the daily life of the Mexican people seen in Carrillo’s work would be of great help in how Mexico is perceived today.

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Seller of ropes and belts, Oaxaca, Oaxaca)' (Sin título (Vendedor reatas y cinturónes, Oaxaca, Oaxaca)) Nd

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Seller of ropes and belts, Oaxaca, Oaxaca) (Sin título (Vendedor reatas y cinturónes, Oaxaca, Oaxaca))
Nd
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 3/8 × 9 5/8 in. (18.7 x 24.4cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Shawl in the air, Oaxaca, Oaxaca)' (Sin título (Rebozo al aire, Oaxaca, Oaxaca)) 1958

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Shawl in the air, Oaxaca, Oaxaca) (Sin título (Rebozo al aire, Oaxaca, Oaxaca))
1958
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 1/2 × 8 5/8 in. (24.1 x 21.9cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Dog on grave, cemetery, Dolores, Mexico City)' (Sin título (Perro sobre tumba, panteon, Dolores, México D.F.) 1930

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Dog on grave, cemetery, Dolores, Mexico City) (Sin título (Perro sobre tumba, panteon, Dolores, México D.F.)
1930
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 8 × 10 3/4 in. (20.3 x 27.3cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

 

Mexican photographer Manuel Carrillo (1906-1989) turned to the camera fairly late in life, joining the Club Fotográfico de México at the age of 49. He quickly found his voice by making images of everyday life throughout Mexico, celebrating local culture and the human spirit. His work is an extension of Mexicanidad, a movement begun in the 1920s to forge a Mexican national identity free of foreign influence. Stylistically, however, Carrillo was inspired by Mexican artists trained abroad and international artists who converged on Mexico during that fertile period. His interest in indigenous cultures and his use of bright sunlight to create compositions with dramatic shadows and bold geometric forms has roots in the photographic work of Edward Weston and Paul Strand, American modernist photographers active in Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s. Rather than idealising, aestheticising, or moralising, Carrillo portrays Mexico from the perspective of an affectionate observer, transforming ordinary moments into expressions of quiet eloquence.

Anonymous. “Manuel Carrillo: Mexican Modernist,” on the New Mexico Museum of Art website Nd [Online] Cited 28/01/2023

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Sick woman on bench, San Miguel Allende)' (Sin título (Enferma en banca, San Miguel Allende)) 1970

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Sick woman on bench, San Miguel Allende) (Sin título (Enferma en banca, San Miguel Allende))
1970
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 8 × 10 3/4 in. (20.3 x 27.3cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Camila from above, two faces – close up), Mexico City' (Sin título (Camila desde arriba, dos cars – close up), México D.F.)) 1961

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Camila from above, two faces – close up), Mexico City (Sin título (Camila desde arriba, dos cars – close up), México D.F.))
1961
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 3/4 × 7 in. (19.7 x 17.8cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

 

By contrast, one might consider the mobility of framing in the work of Mexican Manuel Carrillo (b. 1906) who died on this date in 1989. The influence of American Modernist photographers and artists of his time, and of his better-known compatriot and contemporary Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1902-2002), is evident in this extreme point of view.

The aerial angle presents the tops of subjects’ heads, but with sufficient offset to allow a reading of the faces; the curiosity of the young boy and the protectiveness of the mother, both enclosed within a continuous ribbon of cloth and embraced by the square camera frame. The top-down view gives privileged entrée into that intense maternal relationship, encompassed by the geometry of the tiled background that contrasts with the cloth, set at an angle that enhances the figures’ complementary emotional impulses.

Aside from aesthetics, the politics of Carrillo’s photographic work is anchored to his own cultural identity as a Mexican by birth and as an American through his crossing into that country at the age of 16, when in 1922 he left Mexico for New York, becoming an Arthur Murray waltz and tango champion. When in 1930 he returned to Mexico City, he remained until his retirement. Taking up photography in 1955, he joined, at age 49, the Club Fotografico de Mexico and the Photographic Society of America, and within 5 years held his first international exhibition titled, Mi Pueblo (“My People”) in 1960 at the Chicago Public Library. Like influential writers, photographers, and artists, such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Carrillo identified with Mexicanidad, a nationalist and anti-colonial cultural movement that emerged in the 1920s after Mexico’s Revolution. He was inducted as an honorary citizen of EL Paso, Texas in 1980 by the Photographic Society of America.

James McArdle. “January 20: Angle,” on the On This Date in Photography website 20/01/2018 [Online] Cited 31/12/2022

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Cross, human shadow, Tepeapulco, Mexico)' (Sin título (Cruz, sombra humana, Tepeapulco, México)) 1973

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Cross, human shadow, Tepeapulco, Mexico) (Sin título (Cruz, sombra humana, Tepeapulco, México))
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 × 7 in. (22.9 x 17.8cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Old lady, alley, pyramidal shadows, Guanajuato)' (Sin título (Viejita, callejón, sombras piramidales, Guanajuato)) Nd

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Old lady, alley, pyramidal shadows, Guanajuato) (Sin título (Viejita, callejón, sombras piramidales, Guanajuato))
Nd
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 × 7 in. (22.9 x 17.8cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Toluca pulque bar (Drunken Barrels)), Toluca, Mexico)' (Sin título (Pulquería de Toluca Barriles beodos)), Toluca, México)) 1970

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Toluca pulque bar (Drunken Barrels)), Toluca, Mexico) (Sin título (Pulquería de Toluca Barriles beodos)), Toluca, México))
1970
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 3/4 × 9 3/4 in. (19.7 x 24.8cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

 

The photographs in Luces y Sombras span the post-Revolutionary era of the 1920s up until the present day. With work by 28 photographers, both Mexican and other nationalities, this exhibition provides vivid testimony to the character of life in a nation in the throes of reinvention, modernisation and continued change, over the course of the last century. …

Luces y Sombras reflects a wide range of modern Mexican history, beginning with the works of photographers active in the 1920s, shortly after the conclusion of the Mexican Revolution. A struggle for political power that began with the 1911 overthrow of Mexico’s authoritarian President Porfirio Díaz and became a catalyst for a popular uprising of peasants, agrarian Indians, and mestizos (of mixed race) who fought for land and social reform. The rallying cry of peasant leader Emiliano Zapata, “Land and Liberty,” not only galvanised the hundreds of thousands of peasants who joined the revolt, but became the affirmation of the rural people, whose lives were inextricably linked to the earth.

Many images in this exhibition manifest the cultural values ​​that emerged in the decades after the Revolution, as politicians and intellectuals strove to rebuild, and indeed, disimagine their nation. In the cultural sphere, Mexico’s new leadership sought to purge the nation of the European influence favored by the Díaz regime. Nationalist ideals and a broad exploration of mexicanidad (the quality of being Mexican), were accompanied by a new reverence for Mexico’s indigenous roots and for ordinary men and women. The photographs taken throughout the last century of indigenous and mestizo peoples reflect not only the survival of indigenous communities and traditions, but also the reality of poverty and social marginalisation that persist for a large lower class to this day.

Luces y Sombras translates as Lights and Shadows. The exhibition reflects many themes: the landscape, urban life, fantasy and, especially among younger generations, gender and invented situations infused with symbolism. It begins with works by photographers active at the conclusion of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), notably Manuel Álvarez Bravo, considered Mexico’s first truly modern photographer. It also includes visiting artists such as the Americans Paul Strand and Edward Weston.

Later works by such figures as Manuel Carrillo, Mariana Yampolsky, and Graciela Iturbide reveal the ongoing emphasis by Mexican photographers on everyday life and Mexico’s Indigenous communities. Recent generations of photographers have found new purpose in documenting how ways of life in Mexico continue to be changed by urbanisation, migration, and the pervasive influence of popular Western culture and mass media. Alongside these images, photographs by artists such as Alejandra Laviada, Karina Juárez, and Humberto Ríos explore contemporary issues or convey the artist’s personal reactions to the world around them.

This exhibition and gallery texts have been provided by the Bank of America Art in our Communities® program.

 

Luces y Sombras refleja una amplia gama de la historia moderna de México, comenzado con las obras de fotógrafos activos en la década de 1920, poco después de la conclusión de la Revolución Mexicana. Una lucha por el poder político que comenzó con el derrocamiento en 1911 del presidente autoritario de México, Porfirio Díaz, y que se convirtió en catalizador de un levantamiento popular de campesinos, indígenas agrarios y mestizos (de raza mixta) que lucharon por la reforma agraria y social. El grito de guerra del líder campesino Emiliano Zapata, “Tierra y Libertad“, no solo galvanizó a los cientos de miles de campesinos que se unieron a la revuelta, sino que se convirtió en la afirmación de la gente rural, cuyas vidas estaban inextricablemente vinculadas a la tierra.

Muchas imágenes en esta exposición manifiestan los valores culturales que surgieron en las décadas posteriores a la Revolución, cuando políticos e intelectuales se esforzaron por reconstruir, y de hecho, desimaginar su nación. En la esfera cultural, el nuevo liderazgo de México busco purgar la nación de la influencia europea favorecida por el régimen de Díaz. Los ideales nacionalistas y una amplia exploración de la mexicanidad (la cualidad de ser mexicano), fueron acompañados por una nueva reverencia por las raíces indígenas de México y por los hombres y mujeres comunes. Las fotografías realizadas a lo largo del último siglo de los pueblos indígenas y mestizos refleja no solo la supervivencia de las comunidades y tradiciones indígenas, sino también la realidad de la pobreza y marginación social que persisten para una gran clase baja hasta el presente día.

Luces y Sombras refleja muchos otros temas abarcados por los fotógrafos en México, tanto nativos como extranjeros: el paisaje, la vida urbana y, especialmente entre las generaciones mas jóvenes, el género y situaciones inventadas infundidas de simbolismo. La inclusión de fotógrafos extranjeros como Paul Strand, Elliot Erwitt, Aaron Siskind, Danny Lyon y Nan Goldin habla de otro componente clave de la historia de la fotografía en México: el significado de una nación vista a travéz de ojos extranjeros.

Al recopilar las obras de una diversidad de voces, Luces y Sombras brinda un testimonio vívido del carácter de la vida en una nación en pleno proceso de invención, modernización y cambio continuo a lo largo del siglo pasado.

Esta exhibición y los textos de esta galería fueron brindados por el programa Bank of America Art in our Communities®.

 

Mexico Through a Foreign Lens

Mexico became a magnet for American artists and photographers in the post-Revolutionary era, an idealistic period when artists, musicians, writers and other intellectuals sought to forge a cohesive nationalist identity through the arts. This cultural renaissance, led by such celebrated figures as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, if not for the country’s sheer exoticism to foreigners, endowed Mexico with an allure similar to that of Paris for earlier generations of artists.

Mexico held great appeal for figures such as Edward Weston and his partner, the Italian Tina Modotti, who arrived in Mexico City in 1923 in search of bohemian freedom and new creative possibilities. During his few years in Mexico, Weston transformed his artistic vision, articulating a modernist aesthetic that veered away from the picturesque, soft-focus style of photography prevalent at the turn of the century, in favour of an approach that emphasised sharp resolution and form. the details, or as he once wrote, “the quintessence of the thing itself.” Both photographers had a lasting impact in Mexico – Weston by promoting an aesthetic that decisively influenced the course of modern photography, and Modotti, as a pioneering photographer and model of the socially and politically engaged artist.

Another key early figure in Mexico is Paul Strand, who took a deeply humanistic approach in photographing indigenous people and their environments while traveling around the country in the 1930s. This exhibition also contains work by American photographers active in the 1950s and 1960s. Mexico remained a destination for artists and free spirits in these years, including members of the Beat Generation, counter-culture writers and musicians active at mid-century who found in Mexico ample opportunity for both creative inspiration and debauchery. Such photographers who are now considered leading figures of this era, including Elliott Erwitt, Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan and Danny Lyon, spent extended time in Mexico and created significant bodies of work.

 

México a travéz de una lente extranjera

México se convirtió en un imán para los artistas y fotógrafos americanos en la era posrevolucionaria, un período idealista en el que artistas, músicos, escritores y otros intelectuales buscaron forjar una identidad nacionalista cohesiva a través de las artes. Este renacimiento cultural, liderado por figuras tan célebres como Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo – sino fuera por el exotismo del país para los extranjeros – dotó a México un atractivo similar al de París para los artistas de generaciones anteriores.

México tuvo un gran atractivo para figuras como Edward Weston y su compañera, la italiana Tina Modotti, que llegaron a la Ciudad de México en 1923 en busca de libertad bohemia y nuevas posibilidades creativas. Durante sus pocos años en México, Weston transformó su visión artística, articulando una estética modernista que se apartó del estilo pintoresco de enfoque suave de la fotografía que prevalecía a principios del siglo, en favor de un enfoque que enfatizaba la forma y la resolución nítida de los detalles, o como escribió una vez, “la quintaesencia de la cosa misma.” Ambos fotógrafos tuvieron un impacto duradero en México – Weston al promover una estética que influyó decisivamente en el curso de la fotografía moderna, y Modotti, como una fotógrafa pionera y modelo del artista social y políticamente comprometido.

Otra figura clave en México es Paul Strand, quien adoptó un enfoque profundamente humanista al fotografiar a los indígenas y sus entornos mientras viajaba por el país en la década de 1930. Esta exposición también contiene las obras de fotógrafos americanos activos en las décadas de 1950 y 1960. México siguió siendo un destino para artistas y espíritus libres en estos años, incluidos los miembros de Beat Generation, escritores de contracultura y músicos activos a mediados de siglo que encontraron en México una gran oportunidad tanto de inspiración creativa. Tales fotógrafos que ahora se consideran figuras destacadas de esta era como Elliott Erwitt, Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan y Danny Lyon, pasaron mucho tiempo en México y crearon importantes obras.

 

Contemporary Voices

Photography made in Mexico over the last twenty years or so encompasses distinct tendencies. There exists, on the one hand, the continued vitality of an aesthetic that can be traced as far back as the 1920s, favouring sharp-focus black-and-white photography and a preoccupation with recording everyday life. But especially since the 1980s, photographers have approached the medium with a sense of freedom, embracing forms of image that radically depart from long-established modes. This kind of experimentation with the medium, although a lesser recognised aspect of photography in Mexico, is not new. As early as the 1920s, smaller numbers of photographers created images with unconventional approaches, whether through darkroom manipulation, photomontage or constructing scenes for the camera. Younger generations have extended this spirit of experimentation, deploying the medium in conceptual projects and elaborately staging images to craft pointed statements about race, gender and political issues. As a result, the current photography scene in Mexico is remarkably diverse. Its practitioners respect the medium’s remarkable history in their country while illuminating timely subject matter and devising new modes of working with the camera and with digital means.

This exhibition contains the work of younger photographers whose work examines the complex construction of identity in the millennial era, whether with Ana Casas Broda’s idiosyncratic explorations of childhood, or portrayals of gender by Luis Arturo Aguirre, Nelson Morales and Roberto Tondopó. Photographs by Alejandra Laviada and Humberto Ríos reflect another mode in contemporary photography: to stage scenes, whether with individuals or with objects, for the camera – often a means of evoking dreams, the subconscious and psychological states.

 

Voces contemporáneas

La fotografía realizada en México durante los últimos veinte años abarca distintas tendencias. Por un lado, existe le vitalidad continúa de una estética que se remonta a la década de 1920, favoreciendo la fotografía en blanco y negro con enfoque nítido y la preocupación por la grabación de la vida cotidiana. Pero especialmente desde la década de 1980, los fotógrafos se ha acercado al medio con un sentido de libertad, abrazando formas de imagen que se alejan radicalmente de los modos establecidos desde hace mucho tiempo. Este tipo de experimentación con el medio, aunque es un aspecto menos reconocido de la fotografía en México, no es nuevo. Ya en la década de 1920, un número menor de fotógrafos crearon imágenes con enfoques no convencionales, ya sea a través de la manipulación en el cuarto oscuro, el fotomontaje o la construcción de escenas para la cámara. Las generaciones más jóvenes han ampliado este espíritu de experimentación, desplegando el medio en proyectos conceptuales y elaborando imágenes para hacer declaraciones puntuales sobre cuestiones de raza, género y problemas políticos. Como resultado, la escena fotográfica actual en México es notablemente diversa. Sus profesionales respetan la extraordinaria historia del medio en su país al tiempo que ilustran temas oportunos y diseñan nuevos modos de trabajar con la cámara y con medios digitales.

Esta exposición contiene las obras de fotógrafos mas jóvenes, que examina la compleja construcción de la identidad en la era del milenio, ya sea con las idiosincrásicas exploraciones de la infancia de Ana Casas Broda, o representaciones del género de Luis Arturo Aguirre, Nelson Morales y Roberto Tondopó. Las fotografías de Alejandra Laviada y Humberto Ríos reflejan otro modo en la fotografía contemporánea: crear escenas, ya sea con individuos o con objetos, para la cámara, a menudo un medio de evocar sueños, estados subconscientes y psicológicos.

Before the Conquest, all art was of the people, and popular art has never ceased to exist in Mexico. The art called popular is fugitive in character, with less of the impersonal and intellectual characteristics of the schools. It is the work of talent nourished by personal experience and that of the community – rather than being taken from the experiences of painters in other times and other cultures. ~ Manuel Álvarez Bravo

.
The perspective of Mexicanidad, the quality of being Mexican, sought to remove colonial influences from Mexican art. After the Mexican Revolution of 1910–1920, artists and intellectuals came together to forge a new Mexican culture, one that placed new value on Mexico’s indigenous, working-class and agrarian roots as a repudiation of dictator Porfirio Díaz’s focus on wealthy, powerful and often white individuals. Known as the Mexican Cultural Renaissance, this movement gave rise to art that defined a new sense of Mexican identity. Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Latin America’s best-known photographer, made visually sophisticated photographs with a formally complex approach often including symbolic elements. He didn’t identify as such, but many viewers have seen surrealist aspects in his work. His work often looks at Mexico’s traditional cultures as they experience significant and rapid change.

Artists active in the decades after the Mexican Revolution, examined what it meant to be Mexican, without the colonial, European focus of the dictatorship. Manuel Carrillo documented street scenes, workers and children with empathy and care, seeking to record a cultural identity with attention to form and composition. Graciela Iturbide makes documentary photographs that are rich with metaphor and grace, finding spirituality and beauty in traditions and everyday life.

Antes de la Conquista, todo el arte era popular. El arte nunca ha dejado de existir en México. El arte llamado popular es de carácter fugitivo, con menos de las características impersonales e intelectuales de las escuelas. Son obras de talento alimentado por la experiencia personal y la de la comunidad – en lugar de ser tomado de las experiencias de los pintores en otros tiempos y otras culturas. ~ Manuel Álvarez Bravo

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La perspectiva de la mexicanidad, la cualidad de ser mexicano, buscaba eliminar las influencias coloniales del arte mexicano. Después de la revolución mexicana de 1910-1920, los artistas e intelectuales se unieron creando una nueva cultura mexicana dieron un nuevo valor a las raíces indígenas, de la clase trabajadora y agrarias de México como un repudio al enfoque del dictador Porfirio Díaz en los individuos ricos, poderosos y a menudo blancos. Este movimiento, conocido como el Renacimiento Cultural Mexicano, dio lugar a un arte que le atribuyó un nuevo sentido a la identidad mexicana. Manuel Álvarez Bravo, el fotógrafo mas conocido de América Latina, hizo fotografías visualmente sofisticadas con un enfoque formalmente complejo que a menudo incluye elementos simbólicos. No se identificó como tal, pero muchos espectadores han visto elementos surrealistas en sus obras. Estas a menudo analizan las culturas tradicionales de México a medida que experimentan un cambio significativo y rápido.

Artistas activos en las décadas posteriores a la Revolución Mexicana, examinaron lo que significaba ser mexicano, sin el enfoque colonial y europeo de la dictadura. Manuel Carrillo documentó escenas callejeras, trabajadores y niños con empatía y cuidado, buscando registrar una identidad cultural con atención a la forma y composición. Graciela Iturbide hace fotografías documentales que son ricas en metáfora y gracia, encontrando espiritualidad y belleza en las tradiciones y en la vida cotidiana.

Exhibition text from the TAM

 

Elliott Erwitt (American born France, b. 1928) 'Guanajuato, Mexico' 1957

 

Elliott Erwitt (American born France, b. 1928)
Guanajuato, Mexico
1957
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 8 1/2 × 13 1/2 in. (21.6 x 34.3cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b.1957) 'Cloud, Mexico' (Nube, México) 1982

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b.1957)
Cloud, Mexico (Nube, México)
1982
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 13 × 17 in. (33 x 43.2cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957) 'Tree of Life, Mexico' (Arbol de la vida, México) 1982

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957)
Tree of Life, Mexico (Arbol de la vida, México)
1982
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 13 × 17 in. (33 x 43.2cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

 

Garduño’s photographs create a bridge between the present and the past by portraying natural elements such as water, trees, earth, animals, and atmosphere. Garduño worked for the Department of Public Education in her native Mexico, traveling to rural areas to work with indigenous communities. From this she developed her style and got to know what she has referred to as the “profound truth” of the countryside in the Americas. Her work was also influenced by artists Kati Horna, who worked in a surrealistic vein, and Manuel Álvarez Bravo, who attended carefully to the tonal qualities of his photographs. Garduño similarly uses compositional and darkroom techniques to achieve moody, evocative images.

Anonymous. “Get to know the work of Flor Garduño,” on the Getty Twitter website Oct 6, 2021 [Online] Cited 28/01/2023

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957) 'Zinacantec Wedding, Mexico' (Matrimonio Zinacanteco, México) 1987

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957)
Zinacantec Wedding, Mexico (Matrimonio Zinacanteco, México)
1987
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 17 5/8 × 13 1/2 in. (44.8 x 34.3cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

 

 

Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico

The photographs of Graciela Iturbide not only bear witness to Mexican society but express an intense personal and poetic lyricism about her native country. One of the most influential photographers active in Latin America today, Iturbide captures everyday life and its cultures, rituals, and religions, while also raising questions about paradoxes and social injustice in Mexican society. Her photographs tell a visual story of Mexico since the late 1970s – a country in constant transition, defined by the coexistence of the historical and modern as a result of the culture’s rich amalgamation of cultures. For Iturbide, photography is a way of life and a way of seeing and understanding Mexico and its beauty, challenges, and contradictions.

In the summer of 2018, Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs, and members of the exhibition team visited Graciela Iturbide at her home and studio in Mexico City. In this documentary, produced by the MFA, the artist discusses the different series and themes explored in this exhibition, as well as her creative process.

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942) 'Cemetery, Juchitán, Oaxaca' (Cementerio, Juchitán, Oaxaca) 1992

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942)
Cemetery, Juchitán, Oaxaca (Cementerio, Juchitán, Oaxaca)
1992
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 12 1/4 × 8 3/4 in. (31.1 x 22.2cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942) 'Los Pollos, Juchitán, México' (Chickens, Juchitán, Mexico) 1979

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942)
The Chickens, Juchitán, México (Los pollos, Juchitán, México)
1979 (negative); print c. 1992
Image Overall: 11 3/4 × 7 3/4 in. (29.8 x 19.7cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942) 'Sponge Vendor, Oaxaca' (Vendedora de zacate, Oaxaca) 1974

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942)
Sponge Vendor, Oaxaca (Vendedora de zacate, Oaxaca)
1974 (negative); print 1992
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 18 1/8 × 12 1/2 in. (46 x 31.8cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942) 'The Sacrifice, La Mixteca, Oaxaca' (El sacrificio, la Mixteca, Oaxaca) 1992

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942)
The Sacrifice, La Mixteca, Oaxaca (El sacrificio, la Mixteca, Oaxaca)
1992
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 16 7/8 × 12 1/4 in. (42.9 x 31.1cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942) 'Angel Woman, Sonora Desert, Mexico' (Mujer ángel, desierto de Sonora, México) 1979

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942)
Angel Woman, Sonora Desert, Mexico (Mujer ángel, desierto de Sonora, México)
1979 (negative); printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 1/2 × 13 in. (24.1 x 33cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Kenro Izu (Japanese, b. 1949) 'Tajín #13' 1987

 

Kenro Izu (Japanese, b. 1949)
Tajín #13
1987 (negative and print)
From the series Sacred Places
Platinum palladium print
Image Overall: 7 3/4 × 9 3/4 in. (19.7 x 24.8cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Alejandra Laviada (Mexican, b. 1980) 'Stacking' (Apilado) 2007

 

Alejandra Laviada (Mexican, b. 1980)
Stacking (Apilado)
2007
From the series Juarez 56
Pigment print on lustre paper
24 x 20 inches (60.9 x 50.8cm)
Bank of America Collection
© 2022 Alejandra Laviada

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942) 'Truck in Nueva Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, Mexico' (Camión en nuevas casas grandes, Chihuahua, México) 1975

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Truck in Nueva Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, Mexico (Camión en nuevas casas grandes, Chihuahua, México)
1975 (negative and print)
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 8 × 12 in. (20.3 x 30.5cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Church, Cuapiaxtla, Mexico' (Iglesia, Cuapiaxtla, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Church, Cuapiaxtla, Mexico (Iglesia, Cuapiaxtla, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
from The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 6 1/4 × 4 7/8 in. (15.9 x 12.4cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Woman, Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico' (Mujer, Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Woman, Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico (Mujer, Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
from The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 6 3/8 × 5 in. ( 16.2 x 12.7cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Women of Santa Ana, Michoacán, Mexico' (Mujeres de Santa Ana, Michoacán, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Women of Santa Ana, Michoacán, Mexico (Mujeres de Santa Ana, Michoacán, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 5 5/8 × 6 1/8 in. (14.3 x 15.6cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Woman and Baby, Hidalgo, Mexico' (Mujer y bebe, Hidalgo, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Woman and Baby, Hidalgo, Mexico (Mujer y bebe, Hidalgo, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
from The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 5 1/2 × 6 1/2 in. (14 x 16.5cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Near Saltillo, Mexico' (Cerca de Saltillo, Mexico) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Near Saltillo, Mexico (Cerca de Saltillo, Mexico)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 5 3/8 × 6 3/4 in. (13.7 x 17.1cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Young Woman and Boy, Toluca de Lerdo, Mexico' (Mujer joven y niño, Toluca de Lerdo, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Young Woman and Boy, Toluca de Lerdo, Mexico (Mujer joven y niño, Toluca de Lerdo, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
from The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 5 1/2 × 6 1/2 in. (14 x 16.5 cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Men of Santa Ana, Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán' (Hombres de Santa Ana, Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacá) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Men of Santa Ana, Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán (Hombres de Santa Ana, Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacá)
1933 (negative); print 1967
from The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 6 7/8 × 5 1/4 in. (17.5 x 13.3cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'White Plaza, Puebla, Mexico' (Plaza blanca, Puebla, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
White Plaza, Puebla, Mexico (Plaza blanca, Puebla, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
from The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 5 1/2 × 6 1/2 in. (14 x 16.5cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Boy, Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico' (Niño, Uruapan, Michoacán, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Boy, Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico (Niño, Uruapan, Michoacán, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 10 × 7 7/8 in. (25.4 x 20cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand. 'Man - Tenancingo' 1933 

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Man, Tenancingo de Degollado, Mexico (Hombre, Tenancingo de Degollado, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 6 3/8 × 5 in. (16.2 x 12.7cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Boy, Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico (Niño, Uruapan, Michoacán, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 6 1/2 × 5 1/4 in. (16.5 x 13.3cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Virgin San Felipe, Oaxaca, Mexico' (Virgen San Felipe, Oaxaca, Mexico) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Virgin San Felipe, Oaxaca, Mexico (Virgen San Felipe, Oaxaca, Mexico)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 10 1/4 × 7 7/8 in. (26 x 20cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Cristo, Oaxaca, Mexico' (Cristo, Oaxaca, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Cristo, Oaxaca, Mexico (Cristo, Oaxaca, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 11 × 8 1/2 in. (27.9 x 21.6cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Church Gateway, Hidalgo, Mexico' (Puerta de iglesia, Hidalgo, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Church Gateway, Hidalgo, Mexico (Puerta de iglesia, Hidalgo, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 10 1/2 × 8 1/4 in. (26.7 x 21cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand. 'Cristo with Thorns - Huexotla' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Cristo with Thorns, Huexotla, Mexico (Cristo con espinas, Huexotla, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 10 1/8 × 7 7/8 in. (25.7 x 20cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Andrés Juárez Troncoso (Mexicano, b. 1972) 'The Virgin of the Heights' (La virge n de las alturas) 2016

 

Andrés Juárez Troncoso (Mexicano, b. 1972)
The Virgin of the Heights (La virge n de las alturas)
2016
From the series The Spotless Others
Digital print
Image Overall: 20 1/8 × 29 1/2 in. (51.1 x 74.9cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Pyramid of the Sun, Mexico' (Pirámide del Sol, México) 1923

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Pyramid of the Sun, Mexico (Pirámide del Sol, México)
1923
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 1/2 × 9 3/8 in. (19.1 x 23.8cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, b. 1925) 'Stable' (Caballeriza) 1982

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, b. 1925)
Stable (Caballeriza)
1982 (negative); print c. 1992
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 13 × 17 3/4 in. (33 x 45.1cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, b. 1925) 'Caress, San Simón de la Laguna' (Caricia, San Simón de la Laguna) 1989

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, b. 1925)
Caress, San Simón de la Laguna (Caricia, San Simón de la Laguna)
1989
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 × 12 1/4 in. (22.9 x 31.1cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, b. 1925) 'Head Cover, Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca' (Huipil de tapar, Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca) 1989

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, b. 1925)
Head Cover, Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca (Huipil de tapar, Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca)
1989
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 13 1/2 × 13/12 in. (34.3 x 34.3cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

 

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14
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Exhibition dates: 16th October 2022 – 16th January 2023

 

'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' book cover

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

 

Visible Man / Invisible photographer

Only five of Black American Gordon Parks’ photographs of controversial young activist Stokely Carmichael were published in Life magazine in May 1967 in a photo essay with text by Parks titled “Whip of Black Power” out of the 700 photographs that he had actually taken for the assignment. This exhibition dives into these unseen photographs.

“”Whip of Black Power” recounts Parks’s travels with Carmichael from fall 1966 to spring 1967. While the Life essay contained only five photographs, this exhibition presents 53 of Parks’s images from those critical months, a time that coincided with larger social shifts within the civil rights movement and a rising resistance to the Vietnam War. Parks challenged the disparaging view of Carmichael in the mass media, presenting him as a multifaceted and honourable character.”1

“…Parks’s text and photo essay for Life conveyed the nuanced range of Carmichael as a person – not only his anger at America’s deeply rooted racism, but his self-effacing humour, his private moments with family, and his own feelings of dismay that the justice he and the movement sought would not be attained in his lifetime – all part of a “truth,” as Parks described, “the kind that comes through looking and listening.”2

As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the charismatic Carmichael had “issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash.” “For once, black people are going to use the word they want to use – not just the words whites want to hear. And they will do this no matter how often the press tries to stop the use of the slogan by equating it with racism or separatism.” (Stokely Carmichael) The call for Black Power was consistently misunderstood and misrepresented in the press. “What Carmichael was advocating in his call for Black Power was not revolution but the goal of self-determination: “The goal of black self-determination and black self-identity – Black Power,” Carmichael and Hamilton wrote, “is full participation in the decision-making processes affecting the lives of black people, and recognition of the virtues in themselves as black people.”3

What Parks’ photographs accomplish is to put a human face to Stokely Carmichael the revolutionary firebrand and the culture of black protest, process and progress in which he is embedded, “presenting the complexities and tensions in the ongoing struggle for civil rights and highlighting photography’s capacity to present a powerful statement against hate and fear.”4 Parks’ photographs confront “the inequalities and brutalities of our society” whilst “thrusting forth its images of hope, human fraternity, and individual self-realization.”5 Here, living, a valuable and fruitful life whilst discovering an authentic personal identity, and fighting for personal and collective freedom was the objective.

Black people have their own history, traditions and rituals that form a cohesive and complex culture which is the source of a full sense of identity. “As a photographer – through his studies of crime and gang violence to his profiles of black nationalism – Parks illuminated the diversity and richness of black life while also exposing the absurd, systemic injustice that defined the United States. Alongside his photographs, Parks’s writing encourages us to see the complexity of black life, which though demeaned by white racist institutions and behaviors is not reducible to some uniform Black experience. Rather, his own political perspective, which is decidedly more liberal than the black political figures he chose as subjects, is a testament to the diverse strivings, political positions, and discrete prerogatives that have defined black political life during and after Jim Crow.”6

The quest for a viable identity is a universal human challenge which is not dependent on colour, race or religion. As the Black American writer Ralph Ellison observes when quoted in an article by Anne Seidlitz, “black and white culture were inextricably linked, with almost every facet of American life influenced and impacted by the African-American presence – including music, language, dance, folk mythology, clothing styles and sports. Moreover, he [Ellision] felt that the task of the writer is to “tell us about the unity of American experience beyond all considerations of class, of race, of religion.”7

This is what I am hammering on about here: whilst the civil rights movement and the call for Black Power promoted a new politics of black autonomy and militancy which embodied a new politics of black self-assertion and meaningful self-determination, everything is linked together… nothing can be seen other than within a nexus of networked links which inform and affect each other. In this sense Parks’ text and images, together, present a multi-dimensional profile of this charismatic leader, this complex character – as a portrait of his perseverance, gentleness, frustration, despair, joy, anger, laughter, enthusiasm, energy, and passion – sketching the musical and rhythmic character of Stokely Carmichael embedded within the history of interconnected moments, in the contexts of the times, seen through multiple openings in the space / time continuum as the camera lens opens and closes. Parks photographs “put the viewer exactly at the moment of capture letting us be there at the scene.” And they make Stokely Carmichael visible, then and now. At the time the photographer was nearly invisible.

“Now, it’s interesting to note that when I [Lisa Volpe] would share the photos with those men and women captured in them [Parks’ photographs], they all had a very similar reaction. Each one of them remembered the scene. They remembered that meeting, or that lecture, they remembered what was being discussed and how they felt. They really had perfect recall for pretty much everything within the frame … but what was interesting was that they were all shocked to see the photographs. Not a single person I talked to remembered Gordon Parks ever being in the room. Now… when he was on assignment he truly became a fly on the wall in order to get the most truthful images possible. And yes, even speaking to these ladies [in the photograph Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles (1966,below)], they did not even notice Gordon Parks probably three feet in front of them taking their photo.”8

As the recognition of Parks as a photographer has risen over the last 10 years (see the many exhibition postings on Art Blart below), with specialist exhibitions like this that analyse and promote previously hidden aspects and bodies of his work, now at last the invisible photographer stands before us, his portrait of Stokely Carmichael finally revealed in all its subtlety and complexity, intuition and com/passion. In this exhibition for example, all Parks’ negatives on the Life contact sheets were in the wrong order, and / or where from different roll of negatives on the same contact sheet (see video below).9 Through research and the reordering of the negatives we can finally see and feel what images Parks thought were important to the story that he wanted to tell about this man and his crusade (A crusader is a person who works hard or campaigns forcefully for a cause). And through this enunciation of his vision, we the viewer may come to better know what an insightful and compassionate photographer Gordon Parks was… as he now stands before us in the evident presence and generosity of his photographs.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

1/ Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston website

2/ Text from the press release from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

3/ Cedric Johnson. “Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics,” in Lisa Volpe. Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power. Steidl / The Gordon Parks Foundation / The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2022, p. 28-34

4/ Gordon Parks Introduction wall text

5/ Anne Seidlitz. “Ralph Ellison: An American Journey,” on the PBS American Masters website 19/02/2002 [Online] Cited 30/12/2022

6/ Cedric Johnson, Op cit.,

7/ Anne Seidlitz, Op cit.,

8/ Text from the video of Lisa Volpe, curator of photography, discussing acclaimed photographer Gordon Parks and offering an overview of the exhibition. Lecture | Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power on the YouTube website 8th January 2023 [Online] Cited 14/01/2022

9/ Ibid.,

 

Postings about Gordon Parks on Art Blart

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

 

In 1967, Life magazine published photographer Gordon Parks’ groundbreaking images and profile of Stokely Carmichael, the young and controversial civil-rights leader who, as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash. On the road with Carmichael and the SNCC that fall and into the spring of 1967, Parks took more than 700 photographs as Carmichael addressed Vietnam War protesters outside the U.N. building in New York, with Martin Luther King, Jr.; spoke with supporters in a Los Angeles living room; went door to door in Alabama registering Black citizens to vote; and officiated at his sister’s wedding in the Bronx. In his finely drawn sketch of a charismatic leader and his movement, Parks, then the first Black staff member at Life, reveals his own advocacy of Black Power and its message of self-determination.

 

 

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston exhibition walk through

 

 

Lecture | Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power

Lisa Volpe, curator of photography, discusses acclaimed photographer Gordon Parks and offers an overview of the exhibition, which captures the civil-rights movement and activist Stokely Carmichael in the 1960s.

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Installation views of the exhibition Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

"'What Their Cry Means to Me' – A Negro's Own Evaluation" 'Life', May 31, 1963

 

“‘What Their Cry Means to Me’ – A Negro’s Own Evaluation”
Life, May 31, 1963
Text and photographs by Gordon Parks

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1963

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1963
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

"'I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized'" 'Life', March 5, 1965

 

“‘I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized'”
Life, March 5, 1965
Text by Gordon Parks
Photographs by Ted Russell, Bob Gomel, Henri Dauman, and Greg Harris

 

Gordon Parks 'Born Black' 1971

 

Gordon Parks, Born Black, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1971.

 

Gordon Parks. 'Muhammad Ali' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Muhammad Ali
1966
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The MFAH exhibition centres on Gordon Parks’s five iconic images of controversial young activist Stokely Carmichael, published in Life magazine in May 1967. Organised with the Gordon Parks Foundation, the show presents dozens more photographs from Parks’s series that have never before been published or exhibited

Fifty-five years ago today, Life magazine published photographer Gordon Parks’s groundbreaking images and profile of Stokely Carmichael, the young and controversial civil-rights leader who, as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash. On the road with Carmichael and the SNCC that fall and into the spring of 1967, Parks took more than 700 photographs as Carmichael addressed Vietnam War protesters outside the U.N. building in New York, with Martin Luther King, Jr.; spoke with supporters in a Los Angeles living room; went door to door in Alabama registering Black citizens to vote; and officiated at his sister’s wedding in the Bronx. In Parks’s finely drawn sketch of a charismatic leader and his movement, Parks, the first Black staff member at Life, reveals his own advocacy of Black Power and its message of self-determination.

On view only at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (October 16, 2022, to January 16, 2023), the exhibition Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power will present the five images from Parks’s 1967 Life article, in the context of nearly 50 additional photographs and contact sheets that have never before been published or exhibited, as well as footage of Carmichael’s speeches and interviews.

“Extending the Museum’s commitment to photography from the civil-rights era, and following our presentation of the exhibition Soul of a Nation in 2020, which included Gordon Parks’s famous 1942 American Gothic, I am very pleased that we are able to present Parks’s landmark project for Life magazine, in collaboration with the Gordon Parks Foundation,” commented Gary Tinterow, Director and Margaret Alkek Williams Chair of the MFAH. “Parks is well known as one of America’s most important 20th-century photographers; this exhibition will further illuminate his accomplishments as a writer and journalist, as well.”

Commented Lisa Volpe, exhibition curator and MFAH curator of photography, “Gordon Parks’s portrayal of Stokely Carmichael illustrates Parks’s unmatched talent in producing illuminating and sensitive profiles. Through dynamic photographs and a personal text, he sketches both his subject and the complexities and tensions inherent in the ongoing struggle for civil rights. It is as relevant to our current moment as it was to Life‘s readers in 1967. I am grateful to the Gordon Parks Foundation for the opportunity to present these never-before-seen works and to celebrate Parks’s legacy.”

 

Exhibition Background

Parks met Stokely Carmichael (later, Kwame Ture) in September 1966, as Carmichael’s rallying cry for “Black Power” was grabbing national attention. Parks was a prominent contributor to Life magazine, photographing and writing essays that chronicled, with his characteristic humanity, Benedictine monks and Black Muslims; a Harlem family and a teenage gang member. Carmichael, then 25 and a recent graduate with a philosophy degree from Howard University, was consistently in the news, whether publishing his own writing in the New York Review of Books or being profiled in Esquire and Look magazines.

As chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Carmichael was the figure most identified with the call for Black Power, and was routinely depicted as a representative of anger and separatism. But Parks’s text and photo essay for Life, “Whip of Black Power,” conveyed the nuanced range of Carmichael as a person – not only his anger at America’s deeply rooted racism, but his self-effacing humour, his private moments with family, and his own feelings of dismay that the justice he and the movement sought would not be attained in his lifetime – all part of a “truth,” as Parks described, “the kind that comes through looking and listening.”

 

Exhibition Organisation and Catalogue

This exhibition is organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in collaboration with the Gordon Parks Foundation.

The accompanying catalogue, Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power, published by Steidl, explores Parks’s groundbreaking presentation of Carmichael, and provides detailed analysis of Parks’s images and accompanying text. The book is the latest instalment in a series that highlights Parks’s bodies of work throughout his career, published by the Gordon Parks Foundation and Steidl. Essays by Lisa Volpe, MFAH associate curator of photography, and Cedric Johnson, professor of African American studies and political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, shed critical new light on the subject: Volpe explores Parks’s nuanced understanding of the movement and its image, and Johnson frames Black Power within the heightened social and political moment of the late 1960s. Carmichael’s September 1966 essay in the New York Review of Books, “What We Want,” is reproduced in the book.

 

Gordon Parks

Parks (1912-2006) was one of the 20th century’s preeminent American photographers. Beginning in the 1940s and through the early 2000s, he created work that focused on social justice, race relations, the civil-rights movement, and the African American experience. Born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks won a Julius Rosenwald Fund fellowship in 1942, and went on to create groundbreaking work for the Farm Security Administration and magazines such as Ebony, Vogue, and Life, where he was staff photographer for more than two decades. Beyond his work in photography, Parks was a respected film director, composer, memoirist, novelist, and poet.

 

Stokely Carmichael

Carmichael (1941-1998) was born in Trinidad; he moved to New York City’s Harlem neighbourhood when he was 11 and became a naturalised U.S. citizen two years later. An effortless orator, a brilliant student, and a captivating leader, Carmichael found his calling as an activist. While an undergraduate at Howard University, he joined the Freedom Riders on several trips. After graduation, he was a field organiser for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and became national chairman in 1966. Carmichael heralded a new chapter in the civil-rights movement when he called for Black Power. In 1969 he moved to Conakry, Guinea, where, having adopted the name Kwame Ture, he dedicated his work to Pan-Africanism and liberation movements worldwide.

 

The Gordon Parks Foundation

The Foundation permanently preserves the work of Gordon Parks; makes it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and digital media; and supports artistic and educational activities that advance what Parks described as “the common search for a better life and a better world.”

Press release from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

 

Gordon Parks Interprets Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” | UNIQLO ARTSPEAKS

A prelude to the Civil Rights movement. Naeem Douglas, a content producer on the Creative Team (at MoMA), finds contemporary resonance in a selection of photographs – including 1952’s “Emerging Man, Harlem, New York” – that Gordon Parks created to celebrate Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.”

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Stokely Carmichael, Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Stokely Carmichael, Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael on the road in Lowndes County, Alabama, 1966

In defiance of the governing party’s symbol – a white rooster with the phrase “White supremacy for the right” above it – Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) chose a black panther as its symbol, an animal that becomes ferocious when cornered.

Carmichael proudly wore his Black Panther sweatshirt when he was working in Lowndes County. Taken from a low angle, Parks’s portrait presents Carmichael as a heroic figure, fighting for the rights emblazoned on his shirt: freedom and justice.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Watts Community Alert Patrol flyer at SNCC's Atlanta headquarters' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Watts Community Alert Patrol flyer at SNCC’s Atlanta headquarters
1966
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee pamphlet' 1966

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee pamphlet
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Atlanta, Georgia' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Atlanta, Georgia
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael at his desk at SNCC’s Atlanta headquarters, 1966

In his profile of Carmichael, Parks aimed to combat the mass media’s one-sided depictions of the civil rights leader by capturing his complex character and emotions. At SNCC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, Parks documented Carmichael in a moment of weary frustration. A portrait of Malcolm X, photographs of Lowndes County residents, and SNCC pamphlets hang above the modest desk. Carefully composed, Parks’s photo guides viewers to a more holistic understanding of Carmichael. The view of the slumped leader with images above him also recalls scenes of religious pilgrims at an altar, deep in thought and prayer.

Label text from the exhibition

 

 

Gordon Parks Introduction wall text

In fall 1966 the American photographer and writer Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was contracted by Life magazine to profile 25-year-old Stokely Carmichael, one of the most maligned and misunderstood men in America.

Carmichael, the newly elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”), issued the first public call for Black Power on June 16, 1966, in Greenwood, Mississippi. This robust vision for a Black, self-determined future combined Black unity for social and political advancement, the breaking of psychological barriers to self-love, and self-defence when necessary. Yet, media organisations dissected and defined Black Power for white audiences with various levels of prejudice and fear, and Carmichael was cast as a figure of racial violence – a distortion of his character and his message.

“Whip of Black Power,” recounts Parks’s travels with Carmichael from fall 1966 to spring 1967. While the Life essay contained only five photographs, this exhibition presents 53 of Parks’s images from those critical months, a time that coincided with larger social shifts within the civil rights movement and a rising resistance to the Vietnam War. Parks challenged the disparaging view of Carmichael in the mass media, presenting him as a multifaceted and honourable character.

Produced more than 40 years ago, Gordon Parks’s revealing profile on Stokely Carmichael is as relevant to our current moment as it was in 1967, presenting the complexities and tensions in the ongoing struggle for civil rights and highlighting photography’s capacity to present a powerful statement against hate and fear.

Unless otherwise noted, all works are by Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) and are courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael (bottom) speaking to SNCC members and staff of The Movement, including Terry Cannon (top right, wearing glasses) and Bobbi Ricca (top right), San Francisco' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael (bottom) speaking to SNCC members and staff of ‘The Movement’, including Terry Cannon (top right, wearing glasses) and Bobbi Ricca (top right), San Francisco
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking to SNCC members and staff of The Movement, San Francisco' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking to SNCC members and staff of ‘The Movement’, San Francisco
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee poster, 1966

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee poster
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael with Charles V. Hamilton reading a profile of Stokely in the January 1, 1967, issue of Esquire, Oxford, Pennsylvania' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael with Charles V. Hamilton reading a profile of Stokely in the January 1, 1967, issue of Esquire, Oxford, Pennsylvania
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

“We were in the home of [Carmichael’s] friend and adviser Charles V. Hamilton, chairman of the political science department, located near Oxford, PA,” Parks noted in his Life essay. Parks captured Carmichael and Hamilton writing and editing portions of the book, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, published in October 1967. The text was one of many attempts to clarify the meaning of Black Power for a larger audience. Parks’s images from one writing session show the authors alternating between moments of intense concentration and overwhelming joy.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Watts Community Alert Patrol providing transportation for the Watts rally, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Watts Community Alert Patrol providing transportation for the Watts rally, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The Community Alert Patrol (CAP) was formed in the aftermath of the 1965 Watts Uprising. Ron Wilkins, whose car is pictured in the background, noted, “CAP volunteers constituted the first community organisation in the U.S. whose members put their lives on the line to police the police in an effort to end law enforcement’s campaign of terror against Black people.” Fearing police interference, CAP members drove Stokely Carmichael and Gordon Parks to the Watts rally in 1966.

Label text from the exhibition

 

 

Gordon Parks Section Panels

Lowndes County, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia

Although 80 percent of Lowndes County was Black, by 1965, not one Black resident was registered to vote. That year, Carmichael created the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), a political party formed of Black residents with candidates and an agenda drawn from the community. Carmichael was certain, “If we can break Lowndes County, the rest of Alabama will fall into line.” The young leader set a dizzying schedule throughout the end of 1966 and start of 1967, travelling between Lowndes and SNCC events across the nation. Gordon Parks documented his efforts along the way, revealing Carmichael’s adaptability and charisma.

 

Watts, California

The Watts Uprising took place in August 1965 in a Black neighbourhood of South Central Los Angeles. It began with the arrest of a local man, Marquette Frye, by a highway patrol officer and ended with 4,000 arrests, 1,000 injuries, and 34 deaths. Carmichael spoke to thousands of residents one year later at the Watts rally. In a speech that resonates today, Carmichael declared, “We have to have community alert patrols, not to patrol our neighbourhoods, but to patrol the policeman.” Gordon Parks recorded the jubilant reactions of the community in words and pictures and opened his Life photo-essay by describing the energetic scene.

 

Across the Country

At a press conference following his election as chairman in May 1966, Carmichael found the white press members vehemently opposed to SNCC’s call for Black Power. He recalled, “[It was] as though they were stuck in 1960 with the student sit-ins and we were speaking in unknown tongues… [They] missed that the new direction was simply a necessary response to current political realities.” To clarify the position, Carmichael wrote persuasive articles, oversaw hundreds of press releases, agreed to dozens of interviews, and spoke across the country. Despite these efforts, Black Power was consistently misunderstood and misrepresented in the press. Carmichael noted the only fair assessment was Gordon Parks’s Life photo-essay.

 

New York, New York

On April 15, 1967, outside the United Nations headquarters, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harry Belafonte, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Stokely Carmichael, and others addressed a massive crowd at the Spring Mobilization against the War in Vietnam. Carmichael’s rousing speech at the anti–Vietnam War demonstration inspired Parks to write, “[Carmichael] was on fire, spitting his heat into the crowd.” Parks’s photographs from the event similarly depict Carmichael as a fiery figure, leaning toward his audience, his gaze direct and burning, his open coat thrashing the air like licking flames.

 

Houston, Texas

Just days after Gordon Parks’s photo-essay “Whip of Black Power” was printed in Life magazine, Stokely Carmichael visited Houston. He delivered speeches at the University of Houston (UH) and at Texas Southern University (TSU). “We will define ourselves as we see fit. We will use the term that will gather momentum for our movement,” Carmichael said, addressing public critiques of Black Power. The speeches were part of a SNCC nationwide campus tour. Yet, Carmichael’s appearance in Houston was auspiciously timed. Spring 1967 was a time of heightened social unrest in the city, and local universities were hubs of civil rights activism.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Black Panther Party pamphlet 1966

 

Black Panther Party pamphlet
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Watts, California' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Watts, California
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Members of the US Organization, including James Doss-Tayari (left), Tommy Jaquette-Mfikiri (behind Carmichael), and Ken Seaton-Msemaji (right), walking with Carmichael to the Watts rally, Los Angeles, 1966.

Parks had little control over the final pictures and captions chosen by Life‘s editors. However, his role as both a writer and photographer allowed him more influence than most. With knowledge gained through experience, Parks carefully crafted a statement in words and pictures that was less vulnerable to the editing process. The largest of only five images published in Life, this photo was like many others in the press at the time, presenting Carmichael as cocky and determined. Yet, the vast majority of Parks’s other images captured him in tender and humanising moments, bringing out the full character of this public figure.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Crowd at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Crowd at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Los Angeles, California' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Los Angeles, California
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael addresses the Watts crowd from a truck bed, Los Angeles 1966

In the essay, Parks quotes Carmichael, “Black Power means black people coming together to form a political force either electing representatives or forcing their representatives to speak their needs. It’s an economic and physical bloc that can exercise its strength in the black community instead of letting the job go to the Democratic or Republican parties or a white-controlled black man set up as a puppet to represent black people. Black Power doesn’t mean anti-white, violence, separatism, or any other racist things the press says it means. It’s saying. ‘Look, buddy, we’re not laying a vote on you unless you lay so many schools, hospitals, playground and jobs on us.'”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Members of civil rights organisations across Southern California came together to present a panel of speakers at the Watts rally in November 1966, culminating in a keynote speech from Stokely Carmichael. Parks was struck by the intensity of those gathered and chose to focus on the energy of the crowd both in his Life essay and in his numerous photographs from the day. In this photograph, members of the cultural nationalist organisation “Us” react to Carmichael’s fiery speech. Their yellow sweatshirts bearing the image of Malcolm X were a reminder to unite in brotherhood.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael leaving the Watts rally in a Community Alert Patrol car, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael leaving the Watts rally in a Community Alert Patrol car, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Parks wrote in his essay, “On the way out [of the Watts rally], groups of boys and girls rushed the car. Stokely waved at them. … ‘People think I’m militant. Wait until those kids grow up! There are young cats around here that make me look like a dove of peace.'”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael continuing the campaign for voter registration in Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael continuing the campaign for voter registration in Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Parks shadowed Carmichael as he went door to door to register voters in Lowndes County, marveling at the young activist’s ability to “adjust to any environment,” and noting how Carmichael changed his manner of dress and speech to put his audience at ease. While Carmichael’s tireless efforts recommended him for the role of chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he always felt more suited for community organising. He revealed to Parks that he was “anxious to return” to field work and resigned from leadership in May 1967, just days before Parks’s photo-essay was published in Life.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Contact sheet of Carmichael in Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Contact sheet of Carmichael in Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

This contact sheet shows nine of Gordon Parks’s photographs of Stokely Carmichael walking at daybreak through Lowndes County. Each image bears a striking resemblance to the opening photograph of the 1948 Life photo-essay “Country Doctor,” by W. Eugene Smith. In that famous image, Dr. Ernest Ceriani walks through a field at dawn to reach a sick patient. Here, Parks harnessed the temperamental skies, rural setting, and lone figure to intentionally echo Smith’s image. By doing so, Parks cast Carmichael, like the Country Doctor, as a selfless local hero, working for the benefit of others.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Bronx, New York' 1967

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Bronx, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Mary Charles Carmichael serving her children Lynette and Stokely at Lynette’s wedding dinner in the Bronx, 1966

Weddings were a frequent subject in Life‘s photographs. Parks knowingly exposed several rolls of film at Carmichael’s sister’s wedding in December 1966. The variety, amount, and quality of the images would have encouraged the editors to add one of the photos to the final printed essay. Parks knew that showing Carmichael as part of this conservative tradition would contradict the popular impression of him as an anarchist and outsider.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking at a private home, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking at a private home, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

In “Whip of Black Power,” Parks wrote, “In the four months that I traveled with him I marvelled at his ability to adjust to any environment. Dressed in overalls, he tramped the backlands of Lowndes County, Alabama, urging Negroes, in a Southern-honey drawl, to register and vote. The next week, wearing a tight dark suit and Italian boots, he was in Harlem lining up ‘cats’ for the cause… A fortnight later, jumping from campuses to intellectual salons, where he was equally damned and lionised, he spoke with eloquence and ease about his cause, quoting Sartre, Camus and Thoreau.”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael at a SNCC gathering, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael at a SNCC gathering, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics

Cedric Johnson

Gordon Parks’s 1967 Life magazine article on Stokely Carmichael, “Whip of Black Power,” still radiates more than a half century since its publication. It is an invaluable artifact of black political life during the sixties, but so much more. In images and words, Parks depicted the warmth and generous spirit of Carmichael, the youthful civil rights activist morphing into celebrity. In hindsight, the essay also effectively captures Carmichael in political twilight, at the height of his political relevance. Parks’s essay portends the triumphs and new social contradictions set in motion by Black Power militancy. Within a few years of Parks’s Life article, Carmichael would go into exile, taking up residence in the Guinean capital of Conakry, and rather than stoking revolution on American soil, the Black Power slogan he popularized would produce broad, unprecedented black political and economic integration into American society.

Stokely Standiford Churchill Carmichael was born on June 29, 1941, in Port of Spain, Trinidad. His early years were spent among a large extended family on the island, and at age eleven he joined his parents in New York City. Carmichael’s father, Adolphus, was a master carpenter who also worked as a taxi driver and at various odd jobs. Carmichael often said his father died of hard work, suffering a heart attack in his forties. Carmichael’s mother, Mabel, a native of Montserrat, supported the family through domestic work and as a passenger ship stewardess. She remained a dominant influence for Carmichael. “This little dynamo of a woman,” he wrote, “was the stable moral presence, the fixed center around which the domestic life of this migrant African family revolved. … We children quickly learned to see her as tireless, omnipresent, and all-seeing, the ever vigilant enforcer of order and family standards, whose displeasure was to be avoided at all costs.”1 Carmichael was, for a time, the sole black member of the Morris Park Dukes, a youth gang in the mostly Jewish and Italian Tremont section of the Bronx, and he was also among the most promising students admitted to the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Acclaimed science fiction writer and fellow Bronx Science alumnus Samuel R. Delany, who met Carmichael in freshman gym class, recalled him as someone who “had always been quick with banter and repartee with the gym teacher, who’d alternated between enjoying it and being frustrated by it.”2 When the two students once spent detention together, Carmichael held court with the teacher assigned to supervise them and managed to soften him up to the point of laughter. Carmichael’s capacity to win people over with humor and charisma would serve him well when he dove deeper into political life in his twenties.

As a boy in Trinidad, Carmichael had expressed a precocious interest in politics, and his friendship with Gene Dennis, Jr., a classmate at Bronx Science and a red-diaper baby [a child of parents who were members of the United States Communist Party (CPUSA) or were close to the party or sympathetic to its aims], further politicized the young Carmichael, introducing him to the world of the New York left and acquaintances such as socialist and civil rights strategist Bayard Rustin [American, 1912-1987, an African American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights]. Although he was initially skeptical and at times dismissive of desegregation protests, Carmichael was eventually drawn to the gathering southern movement, and after he witnessed the heroism of lunch counter protesters in 1960, as he described it, “something happened to me. Suddenly I was burning.”3 The next year, while a freshman at Howard University, he traveled as a Freedom Rider to Mississippi, where he was arrested and detained at the notorious Parchman Farm prison for forty-nine days [Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP), also known as Parchman Farm, is a maximum-security prison farm located in unincorporated Sunflower County, Mississippi, in the Mississippi Delta region]. During his time at Howard, Carmichael spent three summers working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”), organizing voter registration drives, and in 1966, after graduating, he became chairman of the organization. Concurrent with his new leadership position, Carmichael’s political development tracked the transition from the southern campaigns against Jim Crow to the increasingly militant protests of late-sixties urban rebellions and anti-Vietnam mobilizations.

In “Whip of Black Power,” Parks summed up Carmichael’s charismatic manner and the new politics of black autonomy and militancy: “Cool, outwardly imperturbable, Stokely gives the impression he would stroll through Dixie in broad daylight using the Confederate flag for a handkerchief.”4 Parks’s images present Carmichael in all his glory. Youthful, confident, hip, and exuberant, Carmichael embodied a new politics of black self-assertion. His words were sharp, witty, and playful, yet deadly serious in their indictment of American racism and imperialism. But Parks also sensed naivete and disingenuous motives in the new black militancy, later writing that many younger activists seemed “obsessed with a hunger for danger.”5

 

The Origins of Black Power

By the time Parks’s photo essay was published in Life, Carmichael was widely seen as the progenitor of Black Power. The slogan had emerged from the ranks of SNCC activists, propelled in part by longer-standing, simmering tensions over strategy and tactics, interracialism, and the promise of liberal democracy, which sharpened as the movement produced historic victories in the form of national civil rights legislation. Even in the aftermath of historic reform, white vigilante retaliation against the southern movement tested the resolve of SNCC cadre, with some increasingly embracing black political autonomy and armed self-defense, in stark contrast to the interracialist and nonviolent commitments of the organization’s founding.

After the March 1965 murder of Viola Liuzzo, a white NAACP member who had traveled from Michigan to join the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, SNCC activists began organizing in Lowndes County, Alabama. At the time, the county was 86 percent black but had no black registered voters, reflecting the pervasive disfranchisement through the cotton counties of the Black Belt on the eve of the Voting Rights Act. Carmichael and other SNCC activists formed the Lowndes County Freedom Organization to register voters and elect the area’s first black political candidates. Members adopted the image of a pouncing black panther as the organization’s logo.6 One of the more striking pictures in Parks’s 1967 article is of Carmichael staring plaintively on a gravel road in Lowndes, smartly dressed, his hands in his back pockets, his sweatshirt emblazoned with the panther symbol.

Carmichael came to head SNCC through a contentious process. In early 1966, John Lewis, a soft-spoken Alabama native, was reelected as chairman, but at the end of a late-night meeting and after many staff members had gone home, Lewis’s election was overturned by the remaining attendees, and Carmichael was installed. As historian Clayborne Carson and others have noted, Carmichael made a choice in the ensuing months between, on one hand, continuing the grounded political work SNCC had conducted in places like Lowndes, and on the other, “becoming preoccupied with rhetorical appeals for the unification of black people on the basis of separatist ideals.”7 This development would be tragic for SNCC, which, along with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), proceeded to expel white members. Carmichael and some SNCC members embraced more militant posturing and drifted further away from the local organizing campaigns that had won real victories for black southerners, and what resulted was the precipitous decline and political irrelevance of the organization.

Some SNCC members used the slogan “Black Power for Black People” during the Alabama voting rights campaigns of 1965. In Harlem, leaders including Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and tenant organizer Jesse Gray had also used the phrase “Black Power,” as had Richard Wright, who published a travelogue of his time in newly independent Ghana with that title.8 It was SNCC activist Willie Ricks, however, who began using the phrase in speeches throughout the South, often asking from the podium, “What do you want?” to audiences, who shouted back, “Black Power!”

The slogan reached national consciousness amid the 1966 Meredith March Against Fear. In June 1966, James Meredith, who had integrated the University of Mississippi, set out on a lone march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, through the staunchly segregationist Delta counties. He was shot in ambush on the second day of his journey and had to be hospitalized. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as the younger, more militant CORE and SNCC, decided to continue the march on Meredith’s behalf. During an overnight stop in Greenwood, Mississippi, Carmichael used the chant Ricks had developed, sparking excitement from the crowd, consternation from the civil rights establishment, and hysteria from the white press. In the wake of the Meredith March, Black Power militancy reoriented black political life, igniting public debate, new mobilizations and local campaigns, and heightened scrutiny of the established leadership, strategies, and goals that had defined the postwar civil rights movement.

The demand for Black Power, intended to build real power for the most dispossessed working-class denizens of black southern towns and northern ghettos, had many unintended consequences. Black poverty would be cut in half in the years after major civil rights reforms, and the ranks of the black middle class would expand greatly through antipoverty measures, access to higher education, and public employment, but real, meaningful self-determination for those trapped at the bottom of the nation’s socioeconomic ladder would remain elusive.

 

Seeing Black Political Life with Gordon Parks

Representation of the growing Black Power movement in the popular press was key to both its successes and its failures. Although Parks was among several photographers whose images of the movement throughout its evolution influenced its perception, his position as a black photographer working for a publication targeted at a predominantly white audience placed him in a unique position. He was among America’s greatest twentieth-century intellectuals, a designation denied to him by the yoke of Jim Crow that dominated that century. As a photographer – through his studies of crime and gang violence to his profiles of black nationalism – Parks illuminated the diversity and richness of black life while also exposing the absurd, systemic injustice that defined the United States. Alongside his photographs, Parks’s writing encourages us to see the complexity of black life, which though demeaned by white racist institutions and behaviors is not reducible to some uniform Black experience. Rather, his own political perspective, which is decidedly more liberal than the black political figures he chose as subjects, is a testament to the diverse strivings, political positions, and discrete prerogatives that have defined black political life during and after Jim Crow. His voice, especially in the context of his work on black nationalism, adds a critical-sympathetic view of this political alternative to the postwar civil rights movement.

In his writings on black nationalism – ranging from his 1963 Life article on the Nation of Islam, “‘What Their Cry Means to Me,'” to his 1967 essay on Carmichael – we find Parks, like many black people at the time, cautious, curious, and not always in full agreement, but certainly inspired by the example of these black nationalist figures and movements. As Parks said of Malcolm X in the wake of his murder, “He was brilliant, ambitious and honest. And he was fearless. He said what most of us black folk were afraid to say publicly.”9 In many ways, Parks’s politics were undoubtedly closer to those of the vast majority of black people living through the end of Jim Crow. His commitment to work for a mainstream magazine was criticized by his black peers, at a time when many were touting black cultural autonomy and the formation of separate institutions. His choice to use the Life magazine platform reflected the liberal democratic spirit of the civil rights movement and prefigured the unprecedented integration of black actors, writers, musicians, and producers into the culture industry in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

Parks’s work remains sympathetic to black nationalism, however, in as much as he provides an antidote to the slander, fear mongering, and “black domination” narratives that defined mainstream press coverage, such as The Hate That Hate Produced, the 1959 CBS documentary co-produced by Mike Wallace and black journalist Louis Lomax. Parks’s photographs and essays during the sixties reflect the optimism and surging sense of political efficacy coursing through black life at the time, as well as lurking social and political contradictions.

In his exchanges with Carmichael, we find Parks reflective and at times skeptical. In an especially poignant, self-effacing conclusion to his 1967 “Whip of Black Power” article, Parks momentarily compares Carmichael’s position on the Vietnam War to that of his own son, David, who was serving as an Army tank gunner. Carmichael had expressed the increasingly popular view in black communities that Vietnam was not their war. “Our stake will come from the struggle against white supremacy here at home,” Carmichael said. “I’d rather die fighting here tomorrow than live 20 years fighting over there. Why should I go help the white man kill other dark people while he’s still killing us here at home?”10 Parks’s son David had been awarded the Purple Heart medal for bravery in combat, but in the face of Carmichael’s sharp criticism, Parks now “wondered which boy was giving himself to a better cause.”11 “There was no immediate answer,” he concluded. “But in the face of death, which was so possible for both of them, I think Stokely would surely be more certain of why he was about to die.”12

 

The Meaning of Black Power

The same year “Whip of Black Power” was published, Carmichael and political scientist Charles V. Hamilton published Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, an attempt to operationalize the political slogan. They rejected reactionary claims that Black Power meant “racism in reverse” and “black supremacy.” Although Carmichael’s public rhetoric constantly evoked a coming revolution, the actual definition of Black Power he and Hamilton provided was something tamer, the pursuit of black empowerment in the mold of urban ethnic politics. “The goal of black self-determination and black self-identity – Black Power,” Carmichael and Hamilton wrote, “is full participation in the decision-making processes affecting the lives of black people, and recognition of the virtues in themselves as black people.” Black Power, they continue, meant that “in Lowndes County, Alabama, a black sheriff can end police brutality. A black tax assessor and tax collector and county board of revenue can lay, collect, and channel tax monies for the building of better roads and schools serving black people.”13

National legislation and demographic changes made the pursuit of this black ethnic politics touted by Carmichael and Hamilton possible in various locales from northern urban centers to the majority-black rural counties of the southern Black Belt. The Black Power slogan emerged from the internal debates over strategy and organizing approaches within SNCC as members sought to empower black southerners who had endured a long winter of disfranchisement and dispossession. The national popularity of Black Power, however, was propelled by the political possibilities created by the victories of the Second Reconstruction, the restoration of black suffrage rights and passage of anti-discrimination and antipoverty legislation under the Johnson administration. In terms of urban investments, the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act and, later, the Model Cities program channeled federal grants to local jurisdictions, and these policy initiatives had the longer-term effect of cultivating and empowering a post-segregation generation of black urban political leadership.14 In addition, the demography of many American cities was changing rapidly due to suburbanization, and as whites vacated old-ethnic enclaves in the urban core, many cities became majority or near-majority black.

Black Power as employed by Carmichael and Hamilton advanced two political myths that remain prevalent and dangerous into our own times – that interracial coalitions are ineffective and doomed to failure, and that black unity is a necessary part of black political life. Both notions are predicated on the false assumption that political interests are synonymous with racial affinity. Surely, practical black solidarity was central to the local boycotts, lunch counter sit-ins, and other demonstrations that would defeat Jim Crow, but the political triumphs of the postwar civil rights movement were always interracial in composition, with Americans of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and classes contributing to the movement as donors, volunteers, legal counsel, activists, trainers, participants, lobbyists, legislators, and supporters. And both of those anti-interracialist notions run counter to the basic majoritarian premise of liberal democratic society, where broad coalitions and mass pressure have been fundamental to whatever real social justice has ever been accomplished in the United States.

While Carmichael would leave the United States for West Africa and become the leading spokesperson for the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party after the death of its founder, deposed Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah, many of his SNCC comrades would enter institutional politics in the United States. John Lewis would go on to become a long-serving congressman from Georgia, Eleanor Holmes Norton was the District of Columbia’s nonvoting delegate in Congress, and Marion Barry would win multiple terms as a city councilman and as Washington, D.C.’s first elected black mayor. Other SNCC veterans would play important roles as campaign organizers and politicos, with many former SNCC members migrating to the nation’s capital in the seventies. In contrast, Carmichael for the rest of his life would remain a political outsider and an evangelist for anticapitalist revolution and Pan-African unity, even after many of the Third World left regimes that inspired such politics had long collapsed into dictatorship, civil war, and underdevelopment.

 

Waiting for Revolution

Parks’s 1967 photographs and text convey the impressive stamina of Carmichael and his movement comrades, and equally, the tremendous physical and psychological toll of their work. “In the four months that I traveled with him,” Parks recalled of Carmichael, “I marveled at his ability to adjust to any environment.”15 Carmichael was chameleon-like, shifting in ways to effectively connect and communicate with his audience: “Dressed in bib overalls, he tramped the backlands of Lowndes County, Alabama, urging Negroes, in a Southern-honey drawl, to register and vote. The next week, wearing a tight dark suit and Italian boots, he was in Harlem lining up ‘cats’ for the cause, using the language they dig most – hip and very cool. A fortnight later, jumping from campuses to intellectual salons, where he was equally damned and lionized, he spoke with eloquence and ease about his cause, quoting Sartre, Camus and Thoreau.”16

The Life magazine article depicts Carmichael in a moment when he is moving quickly from grounded political organizing within a powerful social movement to becoming an enduring symbol of black radicalism, though sadly lacking any real constituency. Mass media played a powerful role in amplifying, influencing, and, in part, undoing the black movements of the fifties and sixties. In the wake of Emmett Till’s murder in Money, Mississippi, in 1955, black journalists were crucial in building opposition to Jim Crow after the teen’s mother, Mamie Till, decided to hold an open-casket funeral so everyone could see what racist vigilantes had done to her son. Throughout the southern campaigns, television broadcasts and the images of well-dressed black marchers being bludgeoned by white police and attacked with dogs and firehoses helped shift public sentiment against the perpetuation of Jim Crow. And yet the same media coverage bore negative consequences, contributing to processes of leadership certification that proved divisive, antidemocratic, and careerist, by too often elevating more telegenic personalities, breeding internal tensions, and shifting priorities away from the grounded politics that had been so central to the movement’s successes.17 Parks clearly sought to cast a different light on Carmichael against the popular white anxieties conjured by the Black Power slogan.

The broader machinery of publicity, however, took its toll on Carmichael and the internal lives of movement organizations, heightening rivalries and fueling overinflated rhetoric and posturing that ran counter to building effective political power – the goal of any movement worthy of the name. Parks’s article captures some of these sharpening tensions within the nascent Black Power movement, when he discusses the friction between the US Organization and other black political formations in Los Angeles over providing security for Carmichael during his visit. The FBI and local police would aggravate existing cleavages within and between black groups like US and the Black Panther Party, instigating and inflaming conflicts that would ultimately destroy lives, optimism, and political momentum.

Carmichael spent the decades after the sixties touring the world and lecturing at universities and in community centers, unwavering in his commitment to revolutionary Pan-Africanism [a worldwide movement that aims to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all Indigenous and diaspora peoples of African ancestry]. I had a chance to meet him briefly during one of those stateside tours, in the fall of 1989, when I was a first-year student at Southern University-Baton Rouge, at the time the largest historically black college in the United States. Carmichael delivered an afternoon talk in Stewart Hall, which then housed the Junior Division, essentially a community college within the university that repaired the damage wrought by poorly funded public schools whence many of our students hailed. His Afro and goatee were graying, but his wide grin, quick wit, and gregarious manner recalled the youthful activist, his slim mod suit now replaced with a brocade dashiki. Since his exile, he had taken the name Kwame Ture, an homage to the anti-colonial revolutionaries Kwame Nkrumah and Sékou Touré. The room was only about half full, but that didn’t dissipate Carmichael’s energy. We matched his enthusiasm, laughing and shouting at various turns. Carmichael was in vogue again for our cohort, the sons and daughters of the civil rights generation now suffering the waning years of the Reagan-Bush administration. We were living through a prolonged period of urban implosion, the social chaos of the crack cocaine crisis, rising gun violence, and the ramped-up policing and imprisonment of black men – what we would later come to know as mass incarceration. We were drawn to the rhetorical style of Carmichael, Malcolm X, and the Panthers and the criticisms they leveled against white supremacy and the goal of racial integration still promoted by the old civil rights vanguard. Carmichael’s criticisms of capitalism resonated with us in a town where the smokestacks of petrochemical refineries dominated the skyline, their stench filling the North Baton Rouge air day and night. After the talk, I stood around with a handful of other students engaging Carmichael. He seemed to take all our questions, however errant they might have been, with seriousness. He didn’t appear bored or impatient, and he tarried with us for some time.

In his memoir Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama characterized Carmichael in disparaging terms after a similar collegiate encounter with him – “his eyes glowed inward as he spoke, the eyes of a madman or a saint.”18 As he ascended to national leadership, Obama often disassociated from black radicalism and socialist politics. Recall how he publicly rejected his one time pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the man who officiated at his wedding, once that association became a political liability on the campaign trail. It is not surprising that Carmichael’s damning criticism of American hypocrisy and empire rattled the young Obama. For those of us confined to underfunded and failing urban school districts and equally maligned black colleges, and angered by the bipartisan decimation of the welfare state, Carmichael’s words were like manna, affirming our sense that we were not failures, but that the society itself had failed to live up to its most basic promises.

Carmichael was neither madman nor saint. Since 1969 he was something more tragic – a revolutionary without a revolution. His decades-long exile estranged him from the very political constituencies responsible for his fame, and the world itself had changed dramatically in the same period. The defeat and collapse of socialist and progressive- left postcolonial regimes across Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia, the end of the Cold War, and limited but very real cultural and political changes hewn by the Second Reconstruction in the United States rendered his calls for revolutionary Pan-Africanism simultaneously alluring, overly nostalgic, and tragically out of step with the world we lived in. His criticisms still echoed loudly in the lecture hall but did not offer black laboring classes grappling with day-to-day existence under austerity and resurgent capitalist class power any legitimate, workable political alternative. What was needed then and now wasn’t so much the correct ideological line, a favorite diversion of the American left for decades, but rather a politics that returned to the beginning, to places like Lowndes County, where Carmichael once went house to house, patiently conversing with black sharecroppers about their needs and hopes, gaining their trust, and, in careful and protracted collaboration, building effective popular power.

Carmichael’s longtime friend Michael Thelwell, a SNCC veteran and novelist, provides a touching elegy, reminding us how even as his body was ravaged by cancer, Carmichael’s spirit burned ever brighter. In the waning days of his illness, after he had returned to Guinea for the last time, Carmichael was met with a steady stream of visitors, “humble folk and dignitaries alike,” Thelwell recalled.19 One such group included Mozambican amputees who had traveled to Conakry, prompting Thelwell to ask: What motive “could have brought simple farmers and old soldiers so great a distance?” They were, he came to understand, propelled by a deep sense of gratitude. When Carmichael learned of the horrible consequences of war and land mines wrought on these men and their communities, he appealed to the Cuban embassy, which responded with a supply of prosthetics.

Carmichael stands alongside King, Rustin, Liuzzo, Ella Baker, James Forman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, E. D. Nixon, and a broad pantheon of activists, martyrs, and forgotten figures who defeated Jim Crow and ushered unprecedented black political progress. Parks’s images and impressions of Carmichael should remind us of his historical significance, his limitations, virtues, and sacrifices, and the decisive role that mass political pressure has played in making concrete progressive advances in American society. And what role popular social movements must play again if we want to build on this progress and effectively abolish the myriad injustices in our midst.

Cedric Johnson. “Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics,” in Volpe, Lisa. Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power. Steidl / The Gordon Parks Foundation / The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2022, p. 28-34

 

Footnotes

  1. Stokely Carmichael with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) (New York: Scribner, 2005), 49.
  2. Samuel R. Delany, The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 85.
  3. Gordon Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” Life, May 19, 1967, 80.
  4. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  5. Gordon Parks, Voices in the Mirror: An Autobiography (New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1990), 238.
  6. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt (New York: New York University, 2009).
  7. Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1981), 206.
  8. Richard Wright, Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954).
  9. Gordon Parks, “‘I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized,'” Life, March 5, 1965, 30.
  10. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  11. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  12. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  13. Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Black Liberation in America (New York: Vintage Books, 1992 [1967]), 47.
  14. Kent B. Germany, New Orleans After the Promises: Poverty, Citizenship and the Search for the Great Society (Atlanta: University of Georgia, 2007); Adolph Reed, Jr., Stirrings in the Jug: Black Politics in the Post-segregation Era (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).
  15. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  16. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  17. Todd Gitlin, The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).
  18. Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (New York: Crown, 2004), 140.
  19. Carmichael with Thelwell, Ready for Revolution, 783.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael before an appearance on KTTV, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael before an appearance on KTTV, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam poster with photograph by Maury Englander 1967

 

National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam poster with photograph by Maury Englander
1967

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Martin Luther King, Jr., at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Martin Luther King, Jr., at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

"Whip of Black Power," Life Magazine Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks

"Whip of Black Power," Life Magazine Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks

 

“Whip of Black Power,” Life Magazine
Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks
Introduction by Life Editors, May 19, 1967

 

 

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09
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Life Magazine and the Power of Photography’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA)

Exhibition dates: 9th October 2022 – 16th January 2023

Curators: Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs at the MFA; Katherine A. Bussard, Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography at Princeton University Art Museum; and Alissa Schapiro, an independent curator and doctoral candidate in art history at Northwestern University

 

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Flame Burner Ann Zarik' 1943, printed about 2000

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Flame Burner Ann Zarik
1943, printed about 2000
Gelatin silver print
Princeton University Art Museum
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Continuing the illustrated magazine theme from the last Bill Brandt post, here presented are images, cover and photo essay by major photographers such as Robert Capa, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke‑White, Henri Cartier‑Bresson and Gordon Parks which appeared in the influential American magazine Life (1926-1972).

“This exhibition takes a closer look at the creation and impact of the carefully selected images found in the pages of Life – and the precisely crafted narratives told through these pictures – in order to reveal how the magazine shaped conversations about war, race, technology, national identity, and more in the 20th-century United States. The photographs on view capture some of the defining moments – celebratory and traumatic alike – of the last century, from the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations to the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Far from simply nostalgic and laudatory, the exhibition critically reconsiders Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives who captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, from the Holocaust to white supremacist terror of the 1960s.” (Exhibition text)

Of particular interest in the posting is the contact sheet to Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (1945, below) … in order to note how the artist chose that particular negative out of the four (good exposure, less confusing background to the central characters); how he marked the contact sheet with the usual red pencil that black and white photographers use to indicate his negative preference and the cropping of the image that was required (notice the arrow at bottom left, a crop which was not heeded in the final print); and how the final print is much darker than the contact sheet (notice the dark pavement and lack of detail in the sailors outfits).

In the final print the negative has been cropped up from the bottom to tension the lifting of the nurse’s raised leg as it floats above the ground (here, the distance from the bottom of the shoe to the bottom of the image is critical in order to make the shoe “float”), the man at right now makes half an appearance, and the man at far left has been included and “burnt in” under the enlarger so that he recedes from and does not detract from the importance of the figures in the foreground. The background figures form a triangle behind the sailor and the nurse, forming a stage for them, and a supporting and encircling cast of characters. The vanishing point of the image and the buildings does the rest.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Mrs. Nelson and her two children outside her laundry which she operates without running water' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Mrs. Nelson and her two children outside her laundry which she operates without running water
1936
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

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

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
At the Time of the Louisville Flood
1937
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Fort Peck Dam, Montana' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Fort Peck Dam, Montana
1936
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

'Life', November 23, 1936 (Cover photograph by Margaret Bourke-White) 1936

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972)
Life, November 23, 1936 (Cover photograph by Margaret Bourke-White)
1936
Illustrated periodical
Life Picture Collection
Photo by Life Magazine
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

In the period from the Great Depression to the Vietnam War, the majority of photographs printed and consumed in the U.S. appeared on the pages of illustrated magazines. Among them, Life – published weekly from 1936 to 1972 – was both extraordinarily popular and visually revolutionary. Estimates for pass-along readership – the number of people who shared each copy of Life in spaces like waiting rooms and offices – suggest that the magazine may have regularly reached about one in four people in the country. The photographers who worked for Life bore witness to some of the most defining moments of the 20th century – and the magazine’s use of photography shaped the way many Americans experienced, perceived and remembered these events. Co-organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), and the Princeton University Art Museum, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography offers a revealing look at the collaborative processes behind many of the publication’s most recognisable, beloved and controversial images and photo essays. The exhibition brings together more than 180 objects, including original press prints, contact sheets, shooting scripts, internal memos and layout experiments – drawing on unprecedented access to Life‘s picture and paper archives. Added to the exhibition for its presentation at the MFA, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography also incorporates works by contemporary artists Alexandra Bell, Alfredo Jaar and Julia Wachtel, whose critical reflections on photojournalism and the politics of images frame urgent conversations about implicit biases and systemic racism in contemporary media.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography is on view at the MFA from October 9, 2022 through January 16, 2023 in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery. Member Preview takes place October 5-8. Timed-entry exhibition tickets, which include general admission, are required for all visitors and can be reserved on mfa.org starting September 14 for MFA members and September 20 for the general public.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography is sponsored by Bank of America. Generously supported by Patti and Jonathan Kraft, with additional support from Kate Moran Collins and Emi M. and William G. Winterer. With gratitude to the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust for its generous support of Photography at the MFA. The exhibition is co-organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Princeton University Art Museum.

“This major exhibition is an invitation for our visitors to experience a time when photographs first began to influence world events and narratives – and how they continue to do so today,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “Life‘s groundbreaking use of photography shaped important 20th-century dialogues in the U.S. around war, race, technology, art and national identity. Through a generous collaboration with the Princeton University Art Museum, we are exploring this process in a more critical and complex way than ever done before, and at a moment when technologies of distribution have evolved and disrupted the recording of history.”

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography was curated by Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs at the MFA; Katherine A. Bussard, Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography at Princeton University Art Museum; and Alissa Schapiro, an independent curator and doctoral candidate in art history at Northwestern University. In 2016 the curators were among the first to delve deeply into the Time Inc. Records Archive, which was newly available at the New-York Historical Society. In 2019, the MFA and Princeton University Art Museum became the first museums to be granted full access to the LIFE Picture Collection, the magazine’s photographic archive. (The exhibition debuted at Princeton in February 2020, but closed after three weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.). The exhibition and the accompanying book grew out of these unparalleled research opportunities, which helped to advance new scholarly perspectives on Life’s pictorial journalism. The book was named the 2021 recipient of the Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award for museum scholarship.

“I am thrilled to be adding three contemporary moments to the exhibition in Boston. Through powerful and provocative works by Alexandra Bell, Alfredo Jaar and Julia Wachtel, who each interrogate news media through their practice, viewers are invited to reflect on contemporary media consumption and our inherited historical narratives,” said Gresh.

 

Exhibition Overview

Among the over 30 photographers featured in Life Magazine and the Power of Photography are Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Frank Dandridge, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Charles Moore, Gordon Parks and W. Eugene Smith. The exhibition also emphasises the contributions of women to the magazine’s success – not only photographers such as Bourke-White, whose monumental image of the Fort Peck Dam graced the first issue, but also negative and picture editors such as Peggy Sargent and Natalie Kosek. Additionally, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography considers the ways in which the magazine – through the vision of its founder, Henry R. Luce, its editorial teams’ points of view and the demographics of its readers – promoted a predominantly white, middle-class perspective on politics, daily life and culture, even when documenting the country’s reckoning with racism and xenophobia. The exhibition makes a point to trace Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through the inclusion of works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives that captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, ranging from the Holocaust to white supremacist violence of the 1960s.

The exhibition is divided into three historical sections, interspersed with immersive contemporary moments. The first section, “Getting the Picture,” focuses on the creation of Life photographs, exploring multiple factors such as the details of the assignment, the idea for the story developed by the editorial staff, the selection of a particular photographer for the job, and the photographer’s own decisions about how to best capture the images needed to construct a story. Once a photographer completed an assignment, his or her undeveloped rolls of film and notes were sent to Life‘s offices, where editorial teams selected images and determined how to adapt them for the printed page. The second section, “Crafting Photo Stories,” examines the making of a photo-essay, a format with stunning visuals and minimal text that Life claimed to have invented. The complex process involved negative editors, picture editors, art directors, layout artists, writers, researchers and fact-checkers in the construction of each page. The third section, “Life‘s Photographic Impact,” considers the power and reach of the magazine, whose circulation peaked at 8.5 million in 1969. Here, the exhibition explores not only responses from readers – who wrote letters to the editor and even offered assistance to individuals profiled in the magazine – but also how Life perpetuated its own influence by repackaging its photographs and using technical sophistication and business savvy to outpace its competitors.

Contemporary works by Alfredo Jaar (born Santiago, Chile, 1956), Alexandra Bell (born 1983) and Julia Wachtel (1956) appear in immersive moments installed between the three historical sections. Jaar questions the ethics of representation and the politics of images in his photography, installations, films and new media works. The exhibition features Real Pictures (1995) from his Rwanda Project and the U.S. debut of his multimedia installation The Silence of Nduwayezu (1997) from the same series. It also includes the triptych Life Magazine, April 19, 1968 (1995), in which he manipulates the magazine’s iconic photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral procession to point to the disproportionate number of Black mourners relative to white ones. Similarly, works from Bell’s Counternarratives series (2017-2018) highlight racial biases in annotated pages from The New York Times. Finally, in a newly commissioned work by the MFA, Wachtel directly responds to photographs from Life and engages in deep critical discourse about popular culture and politics, as well as media consumption.

 

Publication

The accompanying 336-page book, published by the Princeton University Art Museum and distributed by Yale University Press, examines Life‘s groundbreaking role in mid-20th-century American culture and the history of photography by considering the complexity of the magazine’s image-making and publishing enterprise. The book includes essays and contributions by the three co-curators and 22 additional scholars of art history, American studies, history and communication studies. It was the winner of the College Art Association’s 2021 Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award, praised for “bring[ing] a new complexity to Life‘s legendary picture-making enterprise and suggest[ing] why Life‘s signal role in fostering consensus and collective memory is ripe for further unpacking.”

Press release from the Museum of Fine Arts , Boston

 

Gjon Mili (American born in Albania, 1904-1984) 'Stroboscopic image of intercollegiate champion gymnast Newt Loken doing floor leaps' 1942

 

Gjon Mili (American born in Albania, 1904-1984)
Stroboscopic image of intercollegiate champion gymnast Newt Loken doing floor leaps
1942
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Blast furnace cleaner Bernice Daunora, part of the top gang at Carnegie‑Illinois Steel Corp., wearing protective breathing apparatus fr. escaping gas fumes' 1943

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Blast furnace cleaner Bernice Daunora, part of the top gang at Carnegie‑Illinois Steel Corp., wearing protective breathing apparatus fr. escaping gas fumes
1943
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Robert Capa (American born in Hungary, 1913-1954) 'Normandy Invasion on D‑Day, Soldier Advancing through Surf' 1944

 

Robert Capa (American born in Hungary, 1913-1954)
Normandy Invasion on D‑Day, Soldier Advancing through Surf
1944
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© International Center of Photography / Magnum Photos
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Carl Mydans (American, 1907-2004) '(Young man playing guitar in the stockade, Tule Lake Internment Camp, Newell, California)' 1944

 

Carl Mydans (American, 1907-2004)
(Young man playing guitar in the stockade, Tule Lake Internment Camp, Newell, California)
1944
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography, the LIFE Magazine Collection, 2005
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945 (detail)

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (detail)
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945 (detail)

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (detail)
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'VJ Day in Times Square' 1945

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
VJ Day in Times Square
1945
Gelatin silver print
Alan and Susan Solomont
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Reconsidering the pictures we remember. Revealing the stories we don’t know.

From the Great Depression to the Vietnam War, almost all of the photographs printed for consumption by the American public appeared in illustrated magazines. Among them, Life magazine – published weekly from 1936 to 1972 – was both wildly popular and visually revolutionary, with photographs arranged in groundbreaking dramatic layouts known as photo-essays. This exhibition takes a closer look at the creation and impact of the carefully selected images found in the pages of Life – and the precisely crafted narratives told through these pictures – in order to reveal how the magazine shaped conversations about war, race, technology, national identity, and more in the 20th-century United States. The photographs on view capture some of the defining moments – celebratory and traumatic alike – of the last century, from the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations to the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Far from simply nostalgic and laudatory, the exhibition critically reconsiders Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives who captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, from the Holocaust to white supremacist terror of the 1960s.

Drawing on unprecedented access to Life magazine’s picture and paper archives as well as photographers’ archives, the exhibition brings together more than 180 objects, including vintage photographs, contact sheets, assignment outlines, internal memos, and layout experiments. Visitors can trace the construction of a Life photo-essay from assignment through to the creative and editorial process of shaping images into a compelling story. This focus departs from the historic fascination with the singular photographic genius and instead celebrates the collaborative efforts behind many now-iconic images and stories. Particular attention is given to the women staff members of Life, whose roles remained forgotten or overshadowed by the traditional emphasis on men at the magazine. Most photographs on view are original working press prints – made to be used in the magazine’s production – and represent the wide range of photographers who worked for Life, such as Margaret Bourke-White, Larry Burrows, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Frank Dandridge, Gordon Parks, and W. Eugene Smith.

Interspersed throughout the exhibition, three immersive contemporary “moments” feature works by artists active today who interrogate news media through their practice. A multimedia installation by Alfredo Jaar, screen prints by Alexandra Bell, and a new commission by Julia Wachtel frame larger conversations for visitors about implicit biases and systemic racism in contemporary media.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography offers a revealing look at the collaborative processes behind many of Life‘s most recognisable, beloved, and controversial images and photo-essays, while incorporating the voices of contemporary artists and their critical reflections on photojournalism.

The exhibition is accompanied by a multi-authored catalogue, winner of the College Art Association’s 2021 Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Red Jackson, Harlem, New York' 1948

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Red Jackson, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print
Princeton University Art Museum
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972) '[Harlem Gang Leader opening spread]' 1948

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972)
[Harlem Gang Leader opening spread]
1948
From LIFE Magazine, November 1, 1948, pages 96-97
Illustrated periodical
Princeton University Art Museum
Photograph by Gordon Parks. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
Text © 1948 LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Henri Cartier‑Bresson (French, 1908-2004) 'Untitled (Peiping)' 1948

 

Henri Cartier‑Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Untitled (Peiping)
1948
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985) '3-D Movie Contact Sheet' 1952

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985)
3-D Movie Contact Sheet
1952
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985) 'Audience watches movie wearing 3‑D spectacles' 1952

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985)
Audience watches movie wearing 3‑D spectacles
1952
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Fritz Goro (American born in Germany, 1901-1986) 'Red laser light focused through a lens blasts a pin‑point hole through a razor blade in a thousandth of a second' 1962

 

Fritz Goro (American born in Germany, 1901-1986)
Red laser light focused through a lens blasts a pin‑point hole through a razor blade in a thousandth of a second
1962
Photograph, colour transparency
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) 'Vintage NASA Photograph of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing' 1969

 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Vintage NASA Photograph of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing
1969
Photograph, chromogenic print
Abbott Lawrence Fund
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'Life Magazine, April 19, 1968' 1995

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956)
Life Magazine, April 19, 1968
1995
Suite of three pigment prints on Innova paper
© Alfredo Jaar
Courtesy Alfredo Jaar and Galerie Lelong & Co., New York
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'The Silence of Nduwayezu' 1997

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'The Silence of Nduwayezu' 1997

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956)
The Silence of Nduwayezu
1997
One million slides, light table, magnifiers, illuminated wall text
78 7/10 × 118 1/10 in. (200 × 300cm)

 

 

One million slides featuring eyes in close-up of boy who witnessed murder of his parents.

“In 1994, in the face of what he described as “the criminal, barbaric indifference of the so-called world community”, Jaar travelled to Rwanda to witness the horrific aftermath of one of history’s most violent conflicts. Three months prior, an estimated one million Rwandans had been systematically killed during one hundred days of civil unrest. The artist dedicated six years to this project in which he seeks to bring attention to personal stories to pay tribute to the victims of the genocide.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is an installation titled The Silence of Nduwayezu, which comprises one million slides featuring a pair of eyes in close-up. The eyes belong to Nduwayezu, a five year old Tutsi boy who Jaar met at a refugee camp in Rubavu. Like many Rwandan children, Nduwayezu had witnessed the killing of his own parents, a trauma so deep it affected his ability to speak.

“The installation tangibly represents the steadily escalating number of Tutsis killed in the massacre by showing one million identical slides of Nduwayezu’s eyes piled high on a giant light table. […] By borrowing Nduwayezu’s eyes and making them stare at us as if we were gazing in a mirror, Jaar reminds us of the silence of the international community – the absence of images – that exacerbated the calamity and consequences experienced by the people of Rwanda. […] The Silence of Nduwayezu fills the information void left by the silence of the international community, yet at the same time, it is also a meditative gesture, casting doubt on the ability of photographs to ever relay the enormity of raw human experience, or to make it part of the viewer’s world.”

Anonymous text. “Alfredo Jaar: 25 Years Later,” on the Goodman Gallery website January 2022 [Online] Cited 06/12/2022

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983) 'Gang Leader' 2019

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983)
Gang Leader
2019
Screenprint, chine colle on paper and archival pigment print on paper
25 x 44 inches each
Courtesy of the Artist
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

“It’s imperative to show how a turn of phrase or a misplaced photo has real consequences for people at the margins who are still suffering under the weight of unfair and biased representation.” ~ Alexandra Bell

.
Presented as a series of boldly reworked New York Times articles, each of the six works exhibited in Counternarratives perform visual examinations that reveal news media’s complicity in perpetuating racial prejudice in America. Through redactions of original text, revised headlines, and margins replete with red sharpie annotations, Bell reveals the implicit biases that control how narratives involving communities of colour are depicted and in turn disseminated under the aegis of journalistic ‘objectivity.’ Bell identifies misleading frameworks and false equivalencies in journalism’s coverage of events like the murder of the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson, MO police officer, Darren Wilson in 2014, which is explored in her work “A Teenager With Promise.” The series demonstrates the extent to which white-centered, sympathetic news coverage remains pervasive within even liberal news organisations. By arguing back and calling out these inequities, Bell gives voice to the ways in which power operates through language to articulate our lived, bodily experiences in the world.

Anonymous text. “Alexandra Bell: Counternarratives,” on the Charlie James Gallery website 2019 [Online] Cited 07/12/2022

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983) 'A Teenager with Promise (Annotated)' 2018

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983)
A Teenager with Promise (Annotated)
2018
Screenprint, chine colle on paper and archival pigment print on paper
44 x 35 inches/each
Courtesy of the Artist
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

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Boston, Massachusetts

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06
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 17th October 2022 – 15th January 2023

Curators: Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror is curated by Carol Jacobi, Curator of British Art 1850-1915 and James Finch, Assistant Curator of 19th Century British Art at Tate Britain, supported by Yasufumi Nakamori, Senior Curator of International Art (Photography), Tate Modern.

 

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Woman Swimming' Nd

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Woman Swimming
Nd
Tate
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax from the Estate of Barbara Lloyd and allocated to Tate 2009
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

I have written about the German-British photographer Bill Brandt in other postings on Art Blart: Bill Brandt at the Fundación Mapfre, Madrid in 2021; and Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2013. After viewing installation photographs of this exhibition at Tate Britain it seems a particularly sparse and limited representation of the great artists work.

Of interest are cabinets where we can see Brandt’s many photobooks and magazine spreads and observe the pairing of the images and their compositional rhymes, but some of these are facsimiles. We also notice the different cropping of the image Toppers (below) from the same image with a different title seen earlier, Hatter’s window, Bond Street (c. 1931-1935, below).

For me, the most exciting experience is seeing the double page magazine spread ‘The Perfect Parlourmaid’ from Picture Post magazine 29 July 1939 featuring photographs from Brandt’s book The English at Home (1936). I have never seen this before, nor many of the images the spread contains. It shows how the editors and photographer constructed the story they wanted to tell.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Tate Britain for the four press images. Installation images are courtesy of my friend and artist Drager Meurtant who took them at my request. Many thankx to him for his effort.

 

British photographer Bill Brandt (1904-1983) was a leading photographer in the mid-20th century. This period of experimentation and rapid growth saw photography displayed in art galleries and seen by millions in illustrated magazines.

Brandt’s images of daily life merged documentary with art. He was inspired by many sources, from books such as Alice in Wonderland to the sculpture of Henry Moore and the film Citizen Kane.

This exhibition of works in Tate’s collection reveals how Brandt changed his practice throughout his career and crafted each photograph to capture the surreal beauty he saw in the everyday.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at centre, Brandt’s Woman Swimming (modern mural enlargement, above)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

‘The photographer has to wait until something between dreaming and action occurs in the expression of the face.’

.
Bill Brandt

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing from left to right, Brandt’s photographs Louise Nevelson’s Eye (1963, below); Pablo Picasso at “La Californie” (1955, below); Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy (1955, below); and Glenda Jackson (1971, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Louise Nevelson’s Eye (1963, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Louise Nevelson's Eye' 1963

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Louise Nevelson’s Eye
1963
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Brandt’s first job as a photographer was in the studio of Grete Kolliner, in Vienna. Greta taught Brandt to compose and light the scene and modify the image in the darkroom to create the desired effect. in the studio of Man Ray in Paris, he learned the surreal potential of manipulating and distorting these techniques.

In the 1950s and 60s Brandt represented artists by their eyes, including the sculptor Louise Nevelson. Her gaze avoids us, suggesting inner thought. The extreme close-up makes her features unfamiliar and strange; their textures and reflections take on the vastness of a landscape.

Wall text

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Pablo Picasso at "La Californie"' 1955

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Pablo Picasso at “La Californie”
1955
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy (1955, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy' 1955

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy
1955
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

After the Second World War, Brandt could travel again and he spent time on the north and south French coast. He photographed artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

Picasso was 74 when Brandt photographed him in his villa on the Cote d’Azur, for the American magazine Harper’s Bazaar. Brandt wrote a self-deprecating account of Picasso avoiding the sitting. The portrait turned out relatively conventionally, the close-up head and preoccupied gaze sharp against the soft-focus complexities of the cluttered room.

Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019

Wall text

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Glenda Jackson' 1971

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Glenda Jackson
1971
Tate
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing from left to right, Brandt’s photograph Louise Nevelson’s Eye (1963, above); Pablo Picasso at “La Californie” (1955, above); Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy (1955, above)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at left in the bottom image, Brandt’s photograph Glenda Jackson (1971, above) next to a modern mural enlargement
Photos: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at right, Brandt’s photograph Portrait of a Young Girl, Eaton Place (1955, below) next to a modern mural enlargement
Photos: Drager Meurtant

 

 

Citizen Kane

Brandt saw Orson Welles revolutionary film Citizen Kane many times after its release in 1941. Its style was openly artificial. Theatrical lighting, deep focus and wide angles distorted figures, making familiar settings appear strange and surreal.

‘I’d never seen a film in which real rooms were used and you could see everything, the ceiling, the terrific perspective. I was very much inspired by it and I thought I must make photographs like that.’

In 1944, Brandt bought a simpler camera, the Kodak Wide Angle. This type of camera was used by auctioneers or the police for recording merchandise and evidence, because it could capture a whole room. He began a series of experimental interiors that changed his photographic style.

Wall text

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Portrait of a Young Girl, Eaton Place' 1955

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Portrait of a Young Girl, Eaton Place
1955
Tate
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Brandt photographed people in rooms with a Kodak Wide Angle camera. The lens was fixed and kept everything beyond four feet away in focus. Her profile is enlarged in contrast to the small, distant windows that appear sharp in the background.

Judith looms like Alice in Wonderland. Her pose creates a dreamlike effect and her eyes are in shadow. The formal interior recalls the beginning of Alice’s adventure. The empty chair adds to the uncanny atmosphere. A similar button-backed, seat featured in Alice Through the Looking Glass. It was a prop in many of Brandt’s photographs.

Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013

Wall text

 

Kodak wide angle view camera / Bill Brandt. The camera is equipped with a Carl Zeiss Protar 1:18 8.5cm lens. This very rare Kodak wide angle view camera is very slim, and does not have bellows. The front accepts interchangeable panels should the user wish to fit other suitable lenses. There is a spring-back with a ground glass, two plate holders and a transport case. Bill Brandt used one of these cameras for photographs in his book “Wide Angle Nudes”. Format 6.5 x 8.5 inches (16.5 x 21.5cm) The wide angle lens has a very large depth of field, and the aperture of f45 eliminates the need to focus. The field of view is 110° or the equivalent to a rectilinear lens of 14 or 15 mm on a 35 mm camera.

Anonymous text. “Wide angle KODAK View Camera / Bill Brandt,” on the Antiq Photo website [Online] Cited 05/11/2022

 

What Brandt had bought was a rare Kodak Wide Angle Camera with Zeiss Protar Lens, used by police for recording crime scenes. The wide angle lens captured the whole scene while the small f45 aperture gave full depth-of-field. Essentially it was a fixed focus box camera allowing untrained coppers to get the shot on the generous full plate film. The lens was a Carl Zeiss Jena f18 Protar of 85mm focal length, giving a very wide 110 degree angle of view, equivalent to 15mm lens on 35mm format.

These cameras are extremely rare, perhaps only made for the police force, but John Rushton’s website has one and you can see all the details. It is an original design, as the pictures show, with curious features such as the small “feet” on the back which allows you to lay it on the ground to shoot vertically up.

Greg Neville. “Bill Brandt’s camera,” on the Greg Neville photography blog October 26, 2015 [Online] Cited 05/11/2022

 

Wide-angle Kodak View camera

 

Wide-angle Kodak View camera

 

 

Today Tate Britain opens a free exhibition dedicated to celebrated British photographer Bill Brandt (1904-1983). 44 original photographs from across his career are displayed alongside the magazines and photobooks in which these images were most often seen. Entitled Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror, this is Tate’s first Brandt exhibition. It reveals the secrets of his artistry and the fascinating ways he staged and refined his photographs. Drawn from Tate’s collection, the show includes many recent acquisitions which reflect Tate’s ongoing commitment to strengthening its holdings of photography.

Bill Brandt was first known as a photojournalist, renowned in the 1930s for his observations of British life and later for his landscapes, portraits and nudes. But his images were always carefully crafted to ‘enter the mirror’, as he put it, employing formal experimentation and artistic interventions to evoke the surreal beauty he saw in everyday life. This exhibition celebrates his theatrical direction of people and setting, his mastery of composition and abstraction, and his dialogues with the work of other artists.

Although Brandt’s images can appear candid and spontaneous, he did not capture people unaware. He worked closely with those he photographed, directing and lighting them to cast ‘the spell that charges the commonplace with beauty’. He sometimes waited for hours to capture effects at specific times of day – as in Woman Swimming – and some of his most mysterious scenes were taken at night. Brandt developed his own film and printed his own photographs, giving him further opportunities to rebalance light and dark, and change the composition through cropping and enlarging. He even used ink and pencil to alter prints, for example introducing plumes of smoke onto Hail, Hell & Halifax. The series of Brandt’s nudes shown in the exhibition include some of his best-known and most evocative works, which further explore his interest in altered perspectives, surreal effects and abstract compositions.

As well as being an artist in his own right, Brandt took inspiration from many other artists and art forms. The exhibition explores some of these conversations between his photographs and other imagery, from Gustave Doré’s engravings of London to Henry Moore’s air raid shelter drawings to Orson Welles’ 1941 movie Citizen Kane. Brandt’s handmade photobook ‘A Dream’ – which is being exhibited for the first time – reveals further influences, such as John Tenniel’s surreal illustrations to Alice in Wonderland and the dramatic shadows of Expressionist cinema. Brandt also became famous for his portraits of artists, such as the actor Glenda Jackson at home in the early 1970s, and an arresting close-up of sculptor Louise Nevelson’s eye.

The exhibition at Tate Britain coincides with a group of newly opened photography displays at Tate Modern. These include a room of recently acquired photographs by Martha Rosler, two photographic series by Laura Aguilar and Lyle Ashton Harris, and a selection of photobooks documenting the war in Bosnia. There is also a display of images from Liz Johnson Artur’s series Time don’t run here, depicting the Black Lives Matter protests in London over the summer of 2020, which is accompanied by a new book about Artur from Tate Publishing.

Press release from the Tate Museum

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition : Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Race Goers, Auteuil Races, Paris (1931, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Race Goers, Auteuil Races, Paris' 1931

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Race Goers, Auteuil Races, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Brandt often photographed the spectacle of horse races. These racegoers are dressed in fashionable clothing of the time – Brandt mischievously mischievously twins their ties, collars and bowler hats. The sophisticated air is further subverted by their anxious matching gestures as they watch the race.

The softly focused natural setting contrasts with the sharply suited figures. Brandt enhanced this by brightening details such as the pocket handkerchief, scratched away to expose white paper. This print has been rephotographed from an earlier print.

Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at left, Brandt’s photograph Butcher in Notting Hill Gate (1930); and at right, Regency Houses, Park Lane, Mayfair (c. 1930-1939, below)
Photos: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Regency Houses, Park Lane, Mayfair' c. 1930-1939

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Regency Houses, Park Lane, Mayfair
c. 1930-1939
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

A lorry, bus and carriage pass prosperous old houses whose blank windows give nothing away. This later exhibition print is larger then the version in The English At Home, with greater contrast to stress shape and pattern. The traffic is cropped to divert less attention from the rhythm of the railings. Shadows have been added to the curved facades so they stand out adjacent the flat ones.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at centre, Brandt’s photograph Hatter’s window, Bond Street (c. 1931-1935, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Hatter's window, Bond Street' c. 1931-1935

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Hatter’s window, Bond Street
c. 1931-1935
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Staging

Like many photographers in Britain in the 1930s, Brandt made his name documenting contemporary society for illustrated magazines. Inspired by the success of the book Paris by Night (1933) by Hungarian-French photographer Brassaï, who was an early influence, Brandt published groundbreaking photobooks The English At Home (1936) and A Night in London (1937).

Brandt did not seek to capture people unaware or catch a decisive moment, as Henri Cartier-Bresson called it. He felt he could attempt a more meaningful kind of realism by engaging and gaining cooperation with those he photographed. The people in this room posed for him or were played by friends and family like a drawing he planned and sketched, staged and directed…

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at rear right, Brandt’s photograph A Billingsgate Porter (c. 1934)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Flowerseller in Hampstead, All a blowin’ and a growin’ (1936, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Flowerseller in Hampstead, All a blowin' and a growin'' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Flowerseller in Hampstead, All a blowin’ and a growin’
1936
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Flower sellers were well-known figures from London life and literature during the Victorian and Edwardian eras (1837-1910), most famously Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion (1913). The bright noon day sun casts strong shadows on the flower seller’s face and feet. The black dress and had, perhaps strengthened in the printing, give her a solid silhouette. Her feathered hat stands out against the white sign.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Housewife, Bethnal Green (1937, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Housewife, Bethnal Green' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Housewife, Bethnal Green
1937
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

This young woman posed from Brandt at her work, but like many people he photographed, her name was not recorded. Brandt retouched the print to enhance stains on the apron and the pavement, playing into some stereotypes about the hardship of working-class life in Bethnal Green, a lower income area. The title and location tell us that she is cleaning her own step and is not a domestic worker. Brandt has enhanced the gleam of her wedding ring, suggesting this is her married home.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing the cover and pages from Brandt’s photobook The English At Home (1936)
Photos: Drager Meurtant

 

 

The pictures of Brandt’s photobooks were carefully paired. He wrote that although he found the social contrast of the thirties ‘visually exciting… I never intended them for political propaganda.’ The 63 photographs in The English At Home were arranged to prompt visual and human comparisons, rather than political ones.

Cabinet text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

All Dressed up for the Show
All a blowin’ and a growin’
From The English At Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

Brandt’s titles often draw attention to conservations between the images; the men are ‘dressed up’ in buttonholes like those the flower seller trades. There are also compositional rhymes; the street sign in All a blowing’ and a growin’ mirrors he sign in All Dressed up for the Show.

Cabinet text

 

Bill Brandt. 'All Dressed up for the Show' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

All Dressed up for the Show
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

A Whitechapel Blind Beggar
A Billingsgate Porter
From The English At Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

As an immigrant to Britain, Brandt was interested in other incomers to the city. In this pair, the Italian porter, Ernie Delmonte faces a street vendor whose name is not recorded. Many sailors and dockworkers from countries that Britain had colonised lived in Whitechapel. This man may have been a veteran of the First World War.

The vendor is selling lottery tickets. Brandt’s title refers to the name of a Whitechapel pub, commemorating Henry de Montfort, a medieval aristocrat who lost his sight in battle and lived as a poor man in the area. It chimes with the vendor’s imperious presence, despite the shabby suit.

Cabinet text

 

Bill Brandt. 'A Whitechapel Blind Beggar' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

A Whitechapel Blind Beggar
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Bill Brandt. 'A Billingsgate Porter' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

A Billingsgate Porter
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Middle-class Tailors
Toppers
From The English At Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

This pairing explores Brandt’s fascination with the language of clothes. Both photographs set high status garments in the working world of the trade. The untidy backgrounds of shop and workshop make visual and thematic connections. The ripple of silk in the jacket rhymes with the reflection in the vitrine. The dark and light heads of the tailors provide a surreally humorous echo of the dark and light top hats.

Cabinet text

NB. Notice the different cropping of the image Toppers from the same image with a different title seen earlier, Hatter’s window, Bond Street (c. 1931-1935, above) ~ Marcus

 

Bill Brandt. 'Toppers' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

Toppers
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Brighton Beach
Brighton Belle
From The English At Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt. 'Brighton Beach' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

Brighton Beach
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Bill Brandt. 'Brighton Belle' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

Brighton Belle
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

‘The Perfect Parlourmaid’
Picture Post magazine 29 July 1939
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Double page magazine spread ‘The Perfect Parlourmaid’ from Picture Post magazine 29 July 1939 featuring photographs from The English at Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

In Brandt’s first book, The English at Home (1936), he juxtaposed the privileged and working classes, frequently using his friends and family as subjects. Pratt, the stern parlourmaid in the country house of one of the photographer’s wealthy uncles, was a particular favourite of Brandt’s, perhaps because she so thoroughly inhabited her role.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the cover of Bill Brandt’s photobook A Night in London (1937)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Homeless Girl
Footsteps Coming Closer

From A Night in London (1937)

Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Ride In A Handsom Cab
Admiralty Arch Almost Empty Of Traffic
From A Night in London (1937)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

(at right)

Unchanging London

which is

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Tooting Broadway Tube Station
1938
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt nudes from the 1950s
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s nudes from the 1950s
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing a 1950s Brandt nude
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Nude' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, London
1954
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Nude, Camden Hill, London' 1956

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, Camden Hill, London
1956
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Interactive film of section 6 of Perspective of Nudes

Brandt’s book, Perspective of Nudes, published in 1961 (in the display case nearby) was divided into six sections. Throughout the book, images were paired so their compositions complemented each other. The last section can be viewed on this screen.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Nude, Taxo d'Aval, France' 1957, later print

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, Taxo d’Aval, France
1957, later print
Tate
Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, St. John’s Wood, London (installation view)
1955
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

In the 1950s, Brandt photographed in a more modern studio. The geometry of the paintings of his brother [in the background], Rolf, compliments the abstraction of the nudes. He experimented with distorting effects that were not dependent on the camera.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, London (installation view)
1952
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

One of Brandt’s best-known nudes is unusual in its intimacy and focus on the sitter’s face. This later variation removes grey and the figure is flattened into black and white shapes. These contrast with touches of texture around the nipple and eyebrow, and three dimensionality at the curves of the eyes, lips and breast.

Wall text

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, London' 1952

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, London
1952
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Tate Britain
Millbank, London SW1P 4RG
United Kingdom
Phone: +44 20 7887 8888

Opening hours:
10.00am – 18.00pm daily

Tate Britain website

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02
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Ilse Bing’ at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 23rd September 2022 – 8th January 2023

Curator: Juan Vicente Aliaga

 

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Scandale' 1947

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Scandale
1947
Gelatin silver print
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Estate of Ilse Bing / Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

The first exhibition for Art Blart in 2023!

The Art Blart archive has been going since November 2008. This is the first time I have posted on the avant-garde artist Isle Bing and her documentary humanism. Elements of Modernism, movement, New Vision, Bahuas, Surrealism, abstraction, form, geometry are all spontaneously and intuitively, precisely and poetically expressed in the artist’s work. Manipulation, solarisation, enlargement of fragments and cropping in the darkroom enhance the original negative.

“In addition to numerous portraits, Ilse Bing was primarily interested in urban motifs. They were fascinated by architectural elements and structures as well as urban hustle and bustle. Her way of working repeatedly explores the tracing of symmetry and rhythm in the experience of everyday situations.”1

“In Paris, Ilse Bing forged her style [using a Leica], combining poetry and realism, dreamlike enchantment and the clarity of modernity. She sought contrasts and original juxtapositions that transformed the banal reality of daily life into a new idea.”2

“Ilse Bing was once amongst the very first few women photographers to influentially master the avant-garde handheld Leica 35mm camera in the 1930s. She was also amongst the first to use solarisation, electronic flash and night photography, and established her own distinctive photographic style adoring romanticism, symbolism and dream imagery of surrealism.”3

“It was a time of exploration and discovery. … We wanted to show what the camera could do that no brush could do, and we broke every rule. We photographed into the light – even photographed the light, used distorted perspective, and showed movement as a blur. What we photographed was new, too – torn paper, dead leaves, puddles in the street—people thought it was garbage! But going against the rules opened the doors to new possibilities.” ~ Ilse Bing

Magnificent. Enjoy!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. Many more works can be viewed on the MoMA website.

 

  1. Anonymous. “Ilse Bing,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2023
  2. Anonymous. “Ilse Bing. Photographs 1928-1935,” on the Galerie Karsten Greve website [Online] Cited 02/01/2023
  3. Anonymous. “Ilse Bing: Paris and Beyond,” on the Exibart street website [Online] Cited 02/01/2023

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

 

Ilse Bing (Frankfurt, 1899 – New York, 1998) was born into a well-off Jewish family. Having discovered her true vocation while preparing the illustrations for her academic thesis, in 1929 she abandoned her university studies in order to focus entirely on photography. The medium would be her chosen form of expression for the following thirty years of her fascinating life and career.

In 1930 Bing moved to Paris where she combined photojournalism with her own more personal work, soon becoming one of the principal representatives of the modernising trends in photography which emerged in the cultural melting pot of Paris during those years. With the advance of the Nazi forces, in 1941 she and her husband, the pianist Konrad Wolff, went into exile in New York. Two decades later the sixty-year-old Bing gave up her photographic activities in order to channel her creativity into the visual arts and poetry until her death in 1998.

Bing’s work cannot be ascribed to any of the movements or tendencies that influenced her. She worked in almost all the artistic genres, from architectural photography to portraiture, self-portraits, images of everyday objects and landscapes. The diversity of styles which she employed reflect her significant and notably individual interpretation of the different cultural trends that she assimilated, from the German Bauhaus and New Objectivity to Parisian Surrealism and the ceaseless dynamism of New York.

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE website

 

 

“I felt the camera grow as an extension of my eyes and move with me.”

.
Ilse Bing

 

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Dead Leaf and Tramway Ticket On Sidewalk, Frankfurt' 1929

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Dead Leaf and Tramway Ticket On Sidewalk, Frankfurt
1929
Gelatin silver print
17.1 x 22.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Budgeheim' 1930

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Budgeheim
1930
Gelatin silver print
27.9 x 21.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Laban Dance School, Frankfurt' 1929

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Laban Dance School, Frankfurt
1929
Gelatin silver print
9.7 x 16.6cm
Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Orchestra Pit, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Orchestra Pit, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris
1933
27.9 × 35.6cm
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography, New York
Donation of Ilse Bing, 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Pommery Champagne Bottles' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Pommery Champagne Bottles
1933
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 19.7cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'French Can-Can Dancer' 1931, printed 1941

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
French Can-Can Dancer
1931, printed 1941
Gelatin silver print
35.6 x 27.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Dancer Gerard Willem van Loon' 1932

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Dancer Gerard Willem van Loon
1932
Gelatin silver print
49.2 x 34.6cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) '"It was so Windy on the Eiffel Tower", Paris' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
“It was so Windy on the Eiffel Tower”, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
22.2 x 28.2cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection
Donation of Jean and Julien Levy 1977
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence

 

 

Ilse Bing’s photographic oeuvre, created between 1929 and the late 1950s, was influenced by the different cities where she lived and worked: Frankfurt prior to the 1930s, Paris in that decade and post-war New York where above all she experienced the situation of an enforced emigré. Her work cannot, however, be easily located within the photographic and cultural trends that she encountered, although it was certainly enriched by all of them. Bing’s output was influenced by Moholy-Nagy’s Das Neue Sehen (The New Vision) and the Weimar Bauhaus, by André Kertész and by the Surrealism of Man Ray, which she encountered when she moved to Paris in 1930. At the time of her arrival the French capital was a melting pot of artistic and intellectual trends and the setting for the emergence of a number of movements that would be crucial for the evolution of the avant-gardes. Surrealist echoes are evident in Bing’s photographs of objects and in her approach to the framing of her shots of chairs, streets and public spaces, images that transmit a sense of strangeness and almost of alienation.

The Bauhaus was an extremely important influence on Bing’s work via both El Lissitzky’s theories and those of Moholy-Nagy’s New Vision, which promoted the fusion of architecture and photography and the autonomy of photography as a medium in relation to painting. New Vision offered infinite possibilities and Bing took full advantage of them, employing some of them in her work, such as abstraction, close-ups, plunging viewpoints, di sotto in sù, photomontages and overprinting, all to be seen in the images on display in the exhibition.

Ilse Bing belonged to a generation of women photographers who achieved unprecedented visibility. It was not the norm that women should be artists in a field habitually occupied by men, who regarded their presence as active agents in the social and cultural realm with disdain and even hostility. Like many of her contemporaries – Germaine Krull, Florence Henri, Laure Albin-Guillot, Madame d’Ora, Berenice Abbott, Nora Dumas and Gisèle Freund – Bing’s camera became an essential tool of self determination and a means to confirm her own identity.

Ilse Bing was born in Frankfurt on 23 March 1899 to a middle-class Jewish family. She took her first photographs at the age of fourteen. Self-taught in this field, she realised that this would become her principal activity when she began photographing in order to illustrate her doctoral thesis. She studied mathematics and physics before opting for art history. In 1929 she gave up her university studies and, armed with her inseparable Leica, devoted herself to photography for the next thirty years. In 1930 she moved to Paris, where she continued active as a photojournalist while also producing her own more creative work, gradually becoming one of the leading representatives of modern French photography. In 1941 and with the advance of National Socialism, Bing moved to New York with her husband, the pianist Konrad Wolff. Two decades later, at the age of 60, she ceased taking photographs and focused her attention on making collages, abstract works, drawings and also poetry writing. Ilse Bing died in New York in 1998.

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE exhibition brochure

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Champ de Mars from the Eiffel Tower' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Champ de Mars from the Eiffel Tower
1931
Gelatin silver print
19.3 x 28.2cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing. 'Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1931' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Poverty in Paris' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Poverty in Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
27.8 x 35.3cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlín
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Three Men Sitting on the Steps by the Seine' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Three Men Sitting on the Steps by the Seine
1931
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 35.6 cm
International Center of Photography, Nueva York
Donation of Ilse Bing, 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998) 'French Can Can Dancers, Moulin Rouge' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
French Can Can Dancers, Moulin Rouge
1931
Gelatin silver print
6 1/4 × 9 in. (15.9 × 22.9cm)
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg
Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Greta Garbo Poster, Paris' 1932

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Greta Garbo Poster, Paris
1932
Gelatin silver print
22.3 × 30.5 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago
Donation of David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence

 

 

Overview

Ilse Bing (Frankfurt, 1899 – New York, 1998) was born into a well-off Jewish family. Having discovered her true vocation while preparing the illustrations for her academic thesis, in 1929 she abandoned her university studies in order to focus entirely on photography. The medium would be her chosen form of expression for the following thirty years of her fascinating life and career.

In 1930 Bing moved to Paris where she combined photojournalism with her own more personal work, soon becoming one of the principal representatives of the modernising trends in photography which emerged in the cultural melting pot of Paris during those years. With the advance of the Nazi forces, in 1941 she and her husband, the pianist Konrad Wolff, went into exile in New York. Two decades later the sixty-year-old Bing gave up her photographic activities in order to channel her creativity into the visual arts and poetry until her death in 1998.

Bing’s work cannot be ascribed to any of the movements or tendencies that influenced her. She worked in almost all the artistic genres, from architectural photography to portraiture, self-portraits, images of everyday objects and landscapes. The diversity of styles which she employed reflect her significant and notably individual interpretation of the different cultural trends that she assimilated, from the German Bauhaus and New Objectivity to Parisian Surrealism and the ceaseless dynamism of New York.

 

The exhibition

Featuring around 200 photographs and a range of documentary material, the exhibition presents a chronological and thematic survey of Ilse Bing’s career, divided into ten sections: “Discovering the world through a camera: the beginnings”, “The life of still lifes”, “The dancing body and its circumstances”, “Lights and shadows of modern architecture”, “The hustle and bustle of the street: the French years”, “The seduction of fashion”, “The United States in two phases”, “Self-image revelations”, “Portrait of time”, and “Live nature”.

 

Four keys

The Bauhaus. From 1910 onwards Frankfurt became the prototype of modern urban design thanks to the architect Ernst May, and the city’s medieval layout was gradually modified in a transformation based on its different societal requirements. This new architecture soon began to echo the ideas of El Lissitzky’s Constructivism, partly via the Dutch architect Mart Stam, a friend of Ilse Bing. Stam and the theories of the Bauhaus had a major influence on her works. László Moholy-Nagy, who taught at the Bauhaus, had promoted the union of architecture and photography as well as the independence of the latter in relation to painting. The possibilities of Das Neue Sehen (The New Vision) seemed endless and Bing applied some of its concepts and devices to her work: abstraction, immediate close-ups, plunging and di sotto in sù viewpoints, photo-montage and overprinting.

Surrealism, the spirit of an era. When Ilse Bing moved to Paris in 1930 the city was a melting pot of artistic and intellectual trends and the setting for the emergence of some of the key movements in the evolution of the avant-gardes. One of them – Surrealism – had a particular influence on her and its echoes are clearly discernible in her photographs of accessories taken for fashion magazines which reflect Surrealist theories on fetishism. It is also evident in the framing she chose for her images of chairs, streets and public spaces, which transmit a sense of strangeness and almost of alienation. Finally, this influence also arose from Bing’s relationship with prominent figures associated with the movement, such as Elsa Schiaparelli.

Movement. Despite her fascination with abstraction and pure compositions, evident in many of her photographs of architecture and her still lifes, Ilse Bing was also captivated by the dynamism and movement of life and changing reality. She expressed this in her photographs of the Moulin Rouge and its surrounding area and in her investigation of dance. Bing captured the dynamism of the dancers twirling their skirts but also the expressivity of their bodies as they moved, jumping into the air or doing the splits.

Woman photographer. Ilse Bing belonged to a generation of women photographers who achieved unprecedented visibility. It was not the norm that women should be artists in a field habitually occupied by men, who regarded their presence as active agents in the social and cultural realm with disdain and even hostility. Like many of her contemporaries – Germaine Krull, Florence Henri, Laure Albin-Guillot, Madame d’Ora, Berenice Abbott, Nora Dumas and Gisèle Freund – Bing’s camera became an essential tool of self-determination and a means to confirm her own identity.

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE website

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Prostitutes, Amsterdam' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Prostitutes, Amsterdam
1931
Gelatin silver print
25.5 x 34cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Self-portrait with Leica' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Self-portrait with Leica
1931
Gelatin silver print
26.5 × 30.7cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Pantaloons for Sale, Amsterdam' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Pantaloons for Sale, Amsterdam
1931
Gelatin silver print
28 x 22cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection
Donation of Jean and Julien Levy 1977
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Street Fair, Paris' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Street Fair, Paris
1933
Gelatin silver print
28.2 × 22.3cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C.
Donation of Ilse Bing Wolff
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Equine butcher shop' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Equine butcher shop
1933
Gelatin silver print
19.2 × 28.2cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlín
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'The Honorable Daisy Fellowes, Gloves by Dent in London for Harper's Bazaar' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
The Honorable Daisy Fellowes, Gloves by Dent in London for Harper’s Bazaar
1933
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 35.6cm
International Center of Photography, New York
Donation of Ilse Bing 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Self-portrait' 1934

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Self-portrait
1934
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 21.6cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998) 'Study for "Salut de Schiaparelli" (Lily Perfume), Paris' 1934

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Study for “Salut de Schiaparelli” (Lily Perfume), Paris
1934
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 28.2 x 22.3cm (11 1/8 x 8 3/4 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 43.18cm (21 x 17 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Ilse Bing Wolff
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Gold Lamé Evening Shoes' 1935

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Gold Lamé Evening Shoes
1935
Gelatin silver print
22.2 × 27.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Between France and the USA (Seascapes)' 1936

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Between France and the USA (Seascapes)
1936
Gelatin silver print
21 × 28.3 cm
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Legacy of Ilse Bing Wolff 2001
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 Digital image Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'New York, the Elevated, and Me' 1936

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
New York, the Elevated, and Me
1936
Gelatin silver print
Galerie Le Minotaure, Paris
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'New York' 1936

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
New York
1936
Gelatin silver print
19.8 x 22.2cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlín
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

 

The artistic career of Ilse Bing (Frankfurt, 1899-New York, 1998) can be located within a particularly complex temporal and socio-cultural context. This German photographer principally lived and worked in three places: in Frankfurt prior to the 1930s, in Paris in that decade and in post-war New York where she above all experienced the status of enforced emigré. Bing also visited other places, including Switzerland, Italy and Holland, but they never became decisive spaces that significantly influenced her way of working with regard to photography.

Analysed with the distance and perspective offered by the passing of time, Ilse Bing’s artistic corpus cannot easily be located within the various photographic trends she encountered during her lifetime, particularly in her initial German phase and the decade in Paris. While her work is charged with elements associated with both Das Neue Sehen (The New Vision) and the Bauhaus, which emerged during the Weimar Republic, as well as with the Surrealism she assimilated during her years in France, Bing’s position evades any strict norm or visual orthodoxy. In this sense it could be said that hers is a notably unique photographic gaze and approach in which modernity and formal innovation are indissolubly linked to a humanist approach involving a social conscience.

It is also important to emphasise that Ilse Bing’s career within the context of relatively difficult times was marked by a resolute determination to make her way in a world which viewed the presence of women as active agents in the social and thus the cultural realm with disdain or even hostility. Bing belonged to a generation of female photographers that achieved a previously unattainable visibility. The camera became for an essential tool of self-determination for numerous women artists, including figures such as Germaine Krull, Florence Henri, Laure Albin-Guillot, Madame d’Ora, Berenice Abbott, Nora Dumas and Gisèle Freund.

Juan Vicente Aliaga
Curator

 

Discovering the World Through A Camera: The Beginnings

With the exception of a few photographs of an amateur type, nothing indicated that Ilse Bing, who was born into a prosperous Jewish family in Frankfurt, would dedicate much of her life to the practice of photography. After an initial focus on scientific subjects and a period studying art history, Bing decided to illustrate her doctoral thesis with images taken in different museums. From that moment onwards and following a study trip to Switzerland when she discovered the work of Vincent van Gogh, she took the decision to focus her attention on photography. While she initially made use of a Voigtländer plate camera, she soon acquired a Leica which she would continue to use for much of her career. This was the camera she employed for the commissions she received from newspapers such as the Frankfurter Zeitung, work that gave her a degree of financial independence during the turbulent years of the Weimar Republic.

At the outset Bing covered a range of subjects, doing so with ease and formal audacity. Everything seemed to attract her attention: men at work, the spatial simplicity of a gallery, the organic lines of a roof, the leg and arm movements of the ballerinas of the Rudolf von Laban company, the modern architecture which she had discovered through her friend the Dutch architect Mart Stam, and more. Bing’s gaze sought out unusual angles, it looked upwards and downwards, at times encountering normally overlooked elements of no monetary value and ones brought together by chance, as in Dead Leaf and Tramway Ticket on Sidewalk, Frankfurt (1929).

 

The Life of Still Lifes

Objects from daily life are frequently present in modern art: a bottle, a newspaper, a letter, a collage-like fragment of a label, a jug, etc. Surrealism marked a revolution with regard to the representation of the object, which is never literal but rather filled with hidden aspects. The insertion of external objects into the visual space combined with other ones favours the emergence of the imaginary. By the time Ilse Bing arrived in Paris in 1930 she was already captivated by the chance encounter of often humble elements. Her French period served to accentuate her interest in a wide range of cast-off possessions and objects that seemed to allude to a universe in flux. Bing’s gaze always came to rest on real elements. The chairs she photographed existed but the framing she employed, the closeness or distance of the shot, the fact that the chairs are unoccupied and that the floor on which they stand has the silvery darkness of rain are all the result of her choices, adding an air of melancholy to the image.

Over the course of her career Bing used a range of different techniques in parallel while remaining constantly fascinated by inanimate objects. During her Paris years and despite financial difficulties her work is generally characterised by a poetic gaze in which the imagination moves towards undefined, almost dream-like realms. In contrast, in the period of exile in the United States a degree of coolness emerges, with the appearance of formal and symbolic traits such as a closing-in or enclosing of the depicted scene.

 

The Dancing Body and Its Circumstances

During her initial phase, in 1929 Ilse Bing established contacts with the dance and gymnastics school founded by Rudolf von Laban. She was struck by the way in which he aimed to draw a parallel between geometry and human movements and gestures.

Soon after arriving in Paris, Bing was commissioned to photograph the Moulin Rouge waxworks museum. The old Parisian dance hall where La Goulue and Toulouse-Lautrec had been leading attractions had lost much of its splendour. Bing spent time there and was attracted by numerous aspects of the place: its daily life on and off stage, including the couples who enjoyed a drink there, the boxing matches taking place, a dancer cheering up a weary boxer, the interesting nature of the clients, and the boredom of the doorman at the entrance to the cabaret. Aside from these aspects, what really caught the attention of the Paris photography world were Bing’s images of dancers in movement. Her restless eye was able to represent the vibration of the circular twists and turns, the complex, effortful open leg movements of a dancer captured in action, the troupe of dancers energetically waving their skirts, and more.

Another group of images of the troupe centres around the dancer Gerard Willem van Loon.

The third and last series of images focusing on dance was commissioned in relation to the ballet L’Errante, choreographed by the American George Balanchine and with set designs and libretto by the Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchew. Bing demonstrated her skill at capturing movement without making it seem frozen or trapped in time. Her eye translated the weightlessness of dreamlike fantasies to her images through the dynamic way in which she captured shadows.

 

Lights and Shadows of Modern Architecture

The architecture of Paris is generally reflected in Bing’s photography through images of middle- or working-class houses or walls and façades of dilapidated buildings. There was one notable exception, namely the Eiffel Tower. This emblematic work, constructed for the Universal Exhibition of 1889, was nothing less than a revelation for Bing. The Tower’s imposing metal structure had been captured by various photographers, including László Moholy-Nagy in 1925, followed by Erwin Blumenfeld, André Kertész, François Kollar and Germaine Krull.

Bing chose to locate herself inside the structure and take shots at different heights, the majority looking downwards. Using this method, the reality of the space occupied by passers-by becomes perfectly visible. In other words, the intention is not to emphasise the abstract core, pure geometry and beauty of the forms, girders, mainstays, braces and other constructional elements but rather to show that this architectural marvel was also located in a specific place, in this case the gardens of the Champ de Mars.

At a later date, New York’s modern architecture astonished Bing for its display of power expressed as imposing constructions. She translated her amazement into a group of images primarily characterised by a distanced and simultaneously critical gaze on the architectural spectacle before her eyes. Her position was not simply an uncritical and admiring one, as evident in various photographs of skyscrapers abutting on poor areas of the city. The thrust of the symbolic power of vertical architecture is called into question by being juxtaposed with humble spaces and buildings, as we see with Chrysler Building (1936).

 

The Hustle and Bustle of the Street: The French Years

When Ilse Bing arrived in Paris in late November 1930 the city’s cultural context was particularly favourable in terms of the number of illustrated publications that made use of images taken by a large group of male and female photographers. These publications included Vu, Voilà, Marianne, Regards, L’Art Vivant, Arts et Métiers Graphiques and Urbanisme.

One of the commissions that Bing received allowed her to delve into an evident reality: the existence of poverty in certain parts of a major capital such as Paris. She focused her work on portraying the soup kitchens where large numbers of destitute people gathered.

The artist revealed her abilities in Paris, rue de Valois (1932), an image that allows for a questioning of the supposedly objective truth habitually associated with photography. On an inner city street Bing’s gaze focuses on a puddle in which the roofs of an adjacent building are reflected. She shows us the paradox of something that is located above and high up appearing below, on the ground.

While Bing’s Parisian photography has a melancholy, even sombre tone to it, it also looked at areas of human activity characterised by lively bustle and social interaction, such as her images of a gingerbread fair.

These years in France provided the setting for a veritable laboratory of ideas in which the influence of Bing’s Frankfurt years is still evident. It was also a time when the emergence of Surrealism was occupying the Parisian cultural scene, with its exploration of the unconscious and of hidden desires. It can be detected in the ghostly feel of the solarised photographs that Bing took on the Place de la Concorde.

In this context, and thanks to an invitation from the Dutch-born Hendrick Willem van Loon, Bing discovered the Netherlands, visiting places such as Veere and Amsterdam and capturing different moments of daily life. The country’s nature as a terrain regained from the sea also led the artist to reflect this geographical reality in a number of snapshots.

 

The Seduction of Fashion

During her Paris years Bing experienced financial difficulties, a recurrent problem for her over the years, for which reason in November 1933 she began to contribute to the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, an American publication noted for its modern style. She secured this work with a recommendation from the editor of the French edition, Daisy Fellowes, a fashion-world figure brought up in aristocratic circles. Some of Bing’s photographs are in fact of accessories that belonged to Fellowes, including the grey felt hat and an elegant pair of gloves. In these and other images Bing applied a highly innovative approach in which she brought out the texture of the objects and the sheen of the surfaces by cropping the frame in such a way that the various garments acquired a sensual touch as well as suggesting the attractiveness of a coveted object.

During these years Bing also met Elsa Schiaparelli, the celebrated Italian fashion designer with links to Surrealism. Bing took photographs as advertisements for perfumes such as Salut and Soucis, both of 1934. The aim of these images was to encourage the viewer to desire the product with all its sensual resonances without renouncing a modern aesthetic.

 

The United States in Two Stages

Bing’s experiences in New York can be divided into two quite distinct phases. The first was a visit in 1936 while the second came in 1941 with her forced departure from France following the Nazi occupation. She continued to live there until her death in 1998, although she brought her photographic activity to an end forty years earlier.

The first American trip lasted from April to June 1936. Bing was impressed by the colossal dimensions of the city’s architecture while her restless gaze also focused on other aspects of the metropolis: the harsh life of down-and-outs (Variation on Dead End), the dirtiness of the streets, a circus show with acrobats and animals, and more.

In these difficult circumstances and experiencing isolation, Bing transferred her sense of solitude to the reality that surrounded her, observing it attentively. The result is a number of desolate images in which her own feelings are transmuted into melancholy landscapes and objects: scrawny, leafless tree branches, picket fences enclosing plots, and a fire hydrant in a snowy landscape next to a fallen tree.

From 1941 onwards, still suffering from the effects of exile and in need of earning a living in a hostile environment, Bing turned her activities to various different jobs, taking passport photographs for immigrants, portrait photographs on commission and even working as a dog groomer, among other things. The illustrated magazine world clearly turned its back on her at this period.

 

Self-Image Revelations

In 1913 the teenage Bing took what she considered to be her first self-portrait. She poses in her bedroom in the family home in Frankfurt, sitting sideways at a desk and resting her feet on a chair. What we see in reality is her reflection in a cupboard mirror, which shows the young Ilse with her long hair. In front of a background of paintings, she looks out attentively and places her hand on the camera – a Kodak box model. She was unaware at the time that this device (albeit not this make) would become her principal working tool.

Throughout her life as an artist Bing repeated the exercise of portraying herself (usually indoors) with the aim of leaving a record of a specific moment of her existence. Through these self-portraits she forged her own identity as an emancipated and independent woman in times of enormous patriarchal pressure.

During her first visit to New York Bing conceived an image that is a clear indication of the sense of estrangement and alienation she felt at seeing herself so small before the immensity of the mecca of skyscrapers, as in New York, the Elevated, and Me (1936).

Bing would later make the representation of shadow a stark extension of her life and personality, frequently using it throughout her American years.

During the course of her lifetime Ilse Bing explored the transitory states of her own identity, sometimes presenting herself as firm and decided, at times as vulnerable and anxious and on other occasions as a fleeting shadow cast on a wall.

 

Portrait of Time

In addition to seeking out the intricacies of her subjectivity in her own image, from almost the outset Bing engaged in an intensive photographic activity in which she combined commissions for portraits, especially of children, with the desire to explore the human psyche.

With regard to childhood, Bing saw children as complete beings on the same level as adults, with their own internal struggles and issues. During her own childhood the prevailing view was that they were not fully formed but Bing was uncomfortable with this perception and over time she learned to see adulthood and childhood as two phases of life that had much more in common than was generally thought.

Similarly, she did not share the view that women should be conceived on the male model as if they were a mere accompaniment to their tune. She considered that “the human being can be represented and symbolised by women”, albeit without aiming to idealise them. These concepts, which clearly reflect an underlying feminist attitude, seem to allude to a holistic vision of existence devoid of hierarchies or fixed categories.

Bing went beyond merely capturing the moment, the temporal space in which her models pose. Rather, with both her child sitters and adults she aimed to show them engaged in an activity, extracting aspects of their character and personality from them.

 

Live Nature

Any assessment of Ilse Bing’s work must necessarily emphasise the impact on her career of her urban experiences in Frankfurt, Paris and New York. While this assertion seems indisputable, an analysis of her corpus would be diminished without a consideration of the close relationship she maintained with nature, both the untamed natural world and nature designed and organised by human hand, as in the case of the gardens of Versailles.

The natural world was also the locus in which Bing’s emotions and feelings took hold. The photographs taken on the banks of the Loire, for example, generally exude an air of calm and balance comparable to that which she felt in her own life at the time, contrasting strongly with the landscapes of wild and rugged places such as those she captured in the mountains of Colorado at a period of greater personal tension.

In 1959 Ilse Bing gave up photography for good. After three decades as a photographer and long before her work started to be recognised in museums in the United States, France and Germany, with exhibitions and publications of her work in Paris, New Orleans, Aachen and New York, the artist, who had proved herself able to represent the vibration of life, considered that she no longer had anything new to say or contribute in this medium.

Fundación MAPFRE exhibition texts

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Street Cleaner, Paris' 1947

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Street Cleaner, Paris
1947
Gelatin silver print
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Antigone with Teacher' 1950

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Antigone with Teacher
1950
Gelatin silver print
33.7 × 26.7cm
International Center of Photography
Donation of Ilse Bing, 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Nancy Harris' 1951

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Nancy Harris
1951
Gelatin silver print
50.3 × 40.3cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C.
The Marvin Breckinridge Patterson Fund for Photography 2000
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'All of Paris in a Box' 1952

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
All of Paris in a Box
1952
Gelatin silver print
40.1 x 48.4cm
James Hyman Gallery, London
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Picket Fence' 1953

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Picket Fence
1953
Gelatin silver print
50.5 × 40.6cm
International Center of Photography, New York
Donation of Steven Schwartz 2013
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Without Illusion, Flea Market, Paris' 1957

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Without Illusion, Flea Market, Paris
1957
Gelatin silver print
49.5 x 40cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

 

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28
Dec
22

Exhibition: ‘Boris Mikhailov: Ukrainian Diary’ at Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP), Paris

Exhibition dates: 7th September 2022 – 15th January 2023

Curator: Laurie Hurwitz

 

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Luriki' (Coloured Soviet Portrait) 1971-1985

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Luriki (Coloured Soviet Portrait)
1971-1985
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
61 x 81cm
© Boris Mikhailov. Collection Pinault. Courtesy Guido Costa Projects, Orlando Photo

 

 

This is the last posting for the year 2022, and what a year it has been… personally, now retired, surviving an appendicitis where they had trouble stabilising me after the operation, and in terms of the world: living with COVID, further destruction of habitat and species, global warming, and the invasion of the sovereign country of Ukraine by a Russian aggressor, and let’s call it what it really is – the war in Ukraine.

Can you imagine a creative, dissident, free-thinking political artist like Boris Mikhaïlov existing, being alive, under the dictatorship of Putin’s Russia if that country were to conquer Ukraine. He’d either be dead or packed off to a forced-labour camp in Siberia, quick smart, unless he escaped to the West.

“Since the 1960s, he has been creating a haunting record of the tumultuous changes in Ukraine that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disastrous consequences of its dissolution. …

Early in his career, he was given a camera in order to document the state-owned factory where he was employed; he used it to take nude photographs of his wife. He developed them in the factory’s laboratory, and was fired after they were found by KGB agents.

Determined to take up the camera full-time, he eked out a living making photographs on the black market, in parallel creating a body of experimental personal work in reaction to the idealised images of Soviet life. He showed his work in “dissident kitchens”, clandestine exhibitions organised among friends in private flats, and became an active member of a collective of non-conformist photographers that would later become the core of the Kharkiv School of Photography.

At the time, taking images of the naked body or unflattering images of daily life, of people who were poor, ill, or in distress, was utterly taboo. Artists whose work did not conform to the official USSR aesthetic risked arrest, interrogation, even imprisonment. Under constant surveillance, Mikhailov was frequently harassed, his cameras broken and his rolls of film destroyed.” (Press release)

Speaking to Le Figaro, Mikhailov reflects on the early years of his career working in the former Soviet Union: “The most terrifying thing was on the street: anyone could call the police just because you took a photo, and you would be questioned. There was a very strong climate of mistrust, an omnipresent spy hunt.” (Lydia Figes)

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Mikhailov’s lack of formal training as a photographer has served him well for he was able to experiment freely and was not beholden to any aesthetic or photographic style. Through irony, the artist subversively undermined official art, notably “art and its history under the Soviet Union, from the avant-garde montages of Alexander Rodchenko to the kitsch propagandist images of Socialist Realism.” (Lydia Figes) His photographs “range from political scenes to staged photos, landscapes, self-portraits and erotic images, often soiled and blemished by scratches, tears, blotches and hand-colouring.” (Exhibition text)

His surreptitious photographs are full of overlappings, slippages, collages, assemblages, and links to early photographic processes (sepia and cyanotype); full of introduced dust and scratches, application of fixer and hand-colouring; and full of concepts which deconstruct, dissect and disrupt the “official” reading of an image. “By allowing chance to connect disparate images, Mikhailov wants to bring ‘together several topics into a single, common world view inextricably linked to mass culture, memory and the collective unconscious of Soviet people in the 1960 and 1970s’.” (Boris Mikhailov quoted in Lydia Figes)

“Mikhailov has constructed his own distinct artistic language in series that vary enormously in terms of technique, format and approach. In an extraordinarily rich body of work that defies categorisation, he challenges visual codes, and uses documentary photography to conceptual ends. Combining numerous working methods, he alternately creates a dialogue between photography and text as well as between the images themselves, in superimpositions and diptychs and with blur, cropping or hand-colouring, giving them a feeling of irony, poetry or nostalgia.” (Exhibition text)

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Mikhailov has constructed his own distinct artistic language, one in which “he combines humour and tragedy, consistently defending a wild and energetic artistic freedom as both a means of resistance to oppression and potential emancipation. For the artist, even the most serious subjects have a deep comedy, and every joke is deadly serious.” (Exhibition text)

His photographs are emotionally powerful, politically astute and uncannily effective conversations with the world… about subjects that should matter to all of us: war, destitution, poverty, oppression, and the power of an authoritarian state to control the thoughts and actions of human beings under its control. They are about the freedom of individual people to live their lives as they choose; and they are about the freedom of a group of people which form a country to not be subjugated under the rule of another country to which they are historically linked. His photographs are about choice and difference, they are about life. They perform a task, that is, they bring into consciousness … the ground on which we stand together, against oppression, for freedom. Of course, no country is without its problems, its historical traumas, prejudices and corruption but the alternative is being ruled over without a choice, which is totally unacceptable.

Against the “failed promises of both communism and capitalism” and the “economic history that is written on the flesh” of the poor, Boris Mikhaïlov’s Ukrainian diary documents day after day the dis-ease and fragility, but also resilience, of his subjects and the world in which they live. He uses his art as a visual tool for cultural resistance. And the thing about his images is: you remember them. They are unlike so much bland, conceptual contemporary photography because these are powerful, emotional images. In their being, in their presence, they resonate within you. Photographs such as those from my favourite series Case History remain with you as a reminder, no, not a reminder, as a prick to your consciousness – never forget! This can so easily happen to you!

Happy New Year to you all.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

PS. What I find so ironic about the current war in Ukraine is the Russian pronouncement that they were invading the country to “denazify” it… to discredit Ukrainian nationalism as Nazism. When they themselves fought to rid themselves of a tyrannical, invading regime.

“One of the Kremlin’s most common disinformation narratives to justify its devastating war against the people of Ukraine is the lie that Russia is pursuing the “denazification” of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has referred to Ukraine’s democratically elected government as a “gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis,” while Russian state media and propagandists have repeatedly called for the “denazification” of the entire population of Ukraine.

By evoking Nazism and the horrors associated with World War II and the Holocaust, the Kremlin hopes to delegitimize and demonize Ukraine in the eyes of the Russian public and the world. The Kremlin attempts to manipulate international public opinion by drawing false parallels between Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine and the Soviet fight against Nazi Germany, a source of pride and unity for many people of the former Soviet republics who made enormous sacrifices during World War II, including both Ukrainians and Russians.

More than 140 international historians have denounced Russia’s “equation of the Ukrainian state with the Nazi regime to justify its unprovoked aggression,” calling Moscow’s propaganda “factually wrong, morally repugnant and deeply offensive” to the “victims of Nazism and those who courageously fought against it.””

Anonymous. “To Vilify Ukraine, The Kremlin Resorts to Antisemitism,” on the U.S. Department of State website July 11, 2022 [Online] Cited 28/12/2022

 

A lengthy list of historians signed a letter condemning the Russian government’s “cynical abuse of the term genocide, the memory of World War II and the Holocaust, and the equation of the Ukrainian state with the Nazi regime to justify its unprovoked aggression.”

They pointed to a broader pattern of Russian propaganda frequently painting Ukraine’s elected leaders as “Nazis and fascists oppressing the local ethnic Russian population, which it claims needs to be liberated.”

And while Ukraine has right-wing extremists, they add, that does not justify Russia’s aggression and mischaracterization. …

Laura Jockusch, a professor of Holocaust studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, told NPR over email that Putin’s claims about the Ukrainian army allegedly perpetrating a genocide against Russians in the Donbas region are completely unfounded, but politically useful to him.

“Putin has been repeating this ‘genocide’ myth for several years and nobody in the West seems to have listened until now,” she says. “There is no ‘genocide,’ not even an ‘ethnic cleansing’ perpetrated by the Ukraine against ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers in the Ukraine. It is a fiction that is used by Putin to justify his war of aggression on the Ukraine.”

Rachel Treisman. “Putin’s claim of fighting against Ukraine ‘neo-Nazis’ distorts history, scholars say,” on the NPR website March 3, 2022 [Online] Cited 28/12/2022

 

 

The MEP is proud to present, from the 7th of September, 2022 to the 15th of January, 2023, the most important retrospective to date devoted to the Ukrainian artist Boris Mikhailov (born in 1938 in Kharkiv): Boris Mikhaïlov – Ukrainian diary. Considered one of the most influential contemporary artists from Eastern Europe, he has been developing a body of experimental photographic work exploring social and political subjects for more than fifty years.

 

 

“A photographer is not a hero. He has no great desire to be there at the end of the world to document the most important, the most interesting and the hardest things. A photographer is not a hero.”

“Art can compromise an ideology by aesthetic means.”

“A photographer’s task is to always find this subtle and vague border between the permitted and the prohibited. This border is constantly changing, like life itself.”

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Boris Mikhailov

 

“”Boris Mikhailov: Ukrainian Diary,” which opened recently at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (M.E.P.) in Paris, is the biggest show of his life and – to spell it out – arrives as Ukrainian culture receives attention for the worst possible reason. It includes no fewer than 800 photographs, covering almost all of the series he undertook before and after the fall of the Soviet Union. There are burlesque self-portraits, but also straight reportage from the 2013-14 Maidan Uprising in Kyiv. Conceptual mockery of “lousy” Soviet pictures, as well as aching collages of poetry and everyday snaps. Preparations for the show were well underway when Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, and the war has reformatted “Ukrainian Diary” into a show of improbable resistance: to Soviet repression and now to Russian historical revisionism, to the fraudulence of official Communist art and to the global market’s appetite for trauma porn. …

I’d stood there in Kyiv this past summer, looking up at that kitschy angel, who looked back down onto the square that the invading army planned to parade through and never reached. To see it again, through Mikhailov’s eyes, was to see at last how all of the parts fit together: the trashy and the conceptual, the heroic and the parodic, the busted utopias of the past century and the Ukrainian bravery of 2022.

“Soviet history gave us a common culture, and we had a connection to Moscow, but less and less with time,” Mikhailov told me. “And this is why Maidan happened: because people waited and waited and did not get anything.” He showed me a photo from Kyiv, one more ironic record from a lifetime spent under misrule, and said: “Whatever system there might have been, it was broken, and it brought a lot of grief. But on the other hand, that grief made the country.””

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Jason Farago. “The Life’s Work of Photography’s Great Trickster, and Ukraine’s Greatest Artist,” on The New York Times website Oct. 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/2022

 

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Luriki' (Coloured Soviet Portrait) 1971-1985

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Luriki (Coloured Soviet Portrait)
1971-1985
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
61 x 81cm
© Boris Mikhailov. Collection Pinault. Courtesy Guido Costa Projects, Orlando Photo

 

 

The MEP is proud to present the most important retrospective to date devoted to the Ukrainian artist Boris Mikhailov (born in 1938 in Kharkiv). Considered one of the most influential contemporary artists from Eastern Europe, he has been developing a body of experimental photographic work exploring social and political subjects for more than fifty years.

 

The exhibition

Boris Mikhailov’s pioneering practice encompasses documentary photography, conceptual work, painting and performance. Since the 1960s, he has been creating a haunting record of the tumultuous changes in Ukraine that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disastrous consequences of its dissolution. Conceived in close collaboration with the artist, the exhibition brings together more than 800 images drawing on more than twenty of his most important series, up to his most recent work.

In an extraordinarily rich body of work that defies categorisation, Mikhailov unsettles visual codes. Inventing his own distinct artistic language in series that vary enormously in terms of technique, format and approach, he bears witness to the harsh social realities and absurdities of his time.

Combining humour and tragedy, Boris Mikhailov unceasingly defends artistic freedom as both a means of resistance. Through his uncompromising treatment of controversial subjects, he demonstrates the subversive power of art.

For more than half a century, he has been bearing witness to the grip of the Soviet system on his country, constructing a complex and powerful photographic narrative on Ukraine’s contemporary history that in light of current events, is all the more poignant and enlightening.

 

The artist

Born in 1938 in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and trained as an engineer, Boris Mikhailov is a self-taught photographer. Early in his career, he was given a camera in order to document the state-owned factory where he was employed; he used it to take nude photographs of his wife. He developed them in the factory’s laboratory, and was fired after they were found by KGB agents.

Today seen as one of the most important figures on the international art scene, he has received many prestigious awards, among them the 2015 Goslar Kaiserring Award, the Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize (now the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Award) in 2001 and the Hasselblad Award in 2000. He represented Ukraine at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and again in 2017.

His work has been exhibited in major international venues, including the Tate Modern in London, MoMA in New York, and more recently, the Berlinische Galerie and C/O Berlin in Berlin, the Pinchuk Art Center in Kyiv, the Sprengel Museum in Hannover and the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Baden Baden.

Boris Mikhailov is represented in Paris by the Suzanne Tarasieve Gallery. He also shows his work at the Sprovieri Gallery in London, Guido Costa Projects in Turin, Barbara Gross in Munich and Galerie Barbara Weiss in Berlin.

He lives between Berlin and Kharkiv with his wife, Vita.

Text from the MEP website

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) 'Untitled' 1997-1998 From the series 'Case History'

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
Untitled
1997-1998
From the series Case History
Chromogenic colour print
93″ x 49 15/16″ (236.2 x 126.8cm)
© Boris Mikhailov. Collection Pinault. Courtesy Guido Costa Projects, Orlando Photo

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) 'Untitled' 1997-1998 From the series 'Case History'

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
Untitled
1997-1998
From the series Case History
Chromogenic colour print
93″ x 49 15/16″ (236.2 x 126.8cm)
© Boris Mikhailov. Collection Pinault. Courtesy Guido Costa Projects, Orlando Photo

 

 

Boris Mikhailov’s pioneering practice encompasses documentary photography, conceptual work, painting and performance. Since the 1960s, he has been creating a haunting record of the tumultuous changes in Ukraine that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disastrous consequences of its dissolution. Conceived in close collaboration with the artist, the exhibition brings together more than 800 images that draw on more than twenty of his most important series, up to his most recent work.

Mikhailov has constructed his own distinct artistic language in series that vary enormously in terms of technique, format and approach. In an extraordinarily rich body of work that defies categorisation, he challenges visual codes, and uses documentary photography to conceptual ends. Combining numerous working methods, he alternately creates a dialogue between photography and text as well as between the images themselves, in superimpositions and diptychs and with blur, cropping or hand-colouring, giving them a feeling of irony, poetry or nostalgia.

The series produced while Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union deconstruct propaganda images and question collective memory, and reflect the societal contradictions that existed at the time. In “Yesterday’s Sandwich”, starting in 1965, the artist shows a dual reality, ambiguous and poetic, juxtaposing beauty and ugliness. In “Red” (1968-1975), he underlines the omnipresence of the colour red, evoking the pervasive presence of the communist regime and the way it introduced itself into individual consciousness and collective memory. The series “Luriki” (1971-1985) and “Sots Art” (1975-1986) are a cynical reflection on the way propaganda images artificially idealise reality. The underside of the proselytised utopia is also revealed in “Salt Lake” (1986), images of bathers taken clandestinely on the shore of a lake in southern Ukraine.

Boris Mikhailov also frequently uses humour as a weapon, a means of resistance to oppression and of potential emancipation. In provocative self portraits, he uses self-deprecation and irony in series such as “Crimean Snobbism” (1982), “I am not I” (1992), “National Hero” (1992) and “If I were a German” (1994), rather than making a more frontal critique of society.

Other series realised during and after the collapse of the USSR bear witness to the failure of both communism and capitalism in Ukraine and shed light on the roots of war, from “By the ground” (1991) and “At Dusk” (1993) to “Case History” (1997-1998), “Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino” (2000-2010) and “The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out” (2013). The iconic series “Case History” depicts a devastating portrayal of the disenfranchised in Kharkiv, left homeless by the new capitalist society; while “The Theater of War” powerfully documents the occupation of Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the central square in Kyiv, during violent protests that are inextricably linked to the current conflict.

Through his uncompromising treatment of controversial subjects, Boris Mikhailov demonstrates the subversive power of art. For more than half a century, he has been bearing witness to the grip of the Soviet system on his country, constructing a complex and powerful photographic narrative of Ukraine’s contemporary history that in the light of current events, is all the more poignant and enlightening.

The exhibition gathers more than twenty series, most being shown in France for the first time, in loaned works from major institutions and from the artist’s personal collection. From projected images and large-scale installations to small-format vintage prints or artist’s books in display cases, the hanging reflects his indefatigable investigations of photographic techniques and styles as well as his frequent oscillation between conceptual and documentary work as he explores the shifting landscape of his native Ukraine.

The exhibition is curated by Laurie Hurwitz in collaboration with Boris and Vita Mikhailov.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue in French and English published by Morel Books, London, with an introduction by Simon Baker, director of the MEP.

Text from the MEP website

 

 

Reality, aesthetic innovations and the dissolution of the USSR

The first half of the exhibition introduces a number of the artist’s most important aesthetic innovations from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s – black-and-white documentary, conceptual work, superimpositions of slides, hand-colouring prints, combinations of text and image, “bad” photography – in an experimental visual language that is poetic, playful and uncompromising. At certain moments, the order of the works is non-chronological, in order to highlight connections or contrasts between the series.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Luriki' (Coloured Soviet Portrait) 1971-1985

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Luriki (Coloured Soviet Portrait)
1971-1985
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
61 x 81cm
© Boris Mikhailov. Collection Pinault. Courtesy Guido Costa Projects, Orlando Photo

 

 

“Ironically, it was the Ukrainian’s lack of photographic training that led to his success, providing him with a unique and peripheral perspective. “As an unofficial photographer, I discover, I observe, I clandestinely stalk,” he said. Mikhailov’s proclivity for risk underpinned his career, though it came at a price. Speaking to Le Figaro, Mikhailov reflects on the early years of his career working in the former Soviet Union: “The most terrifying thing was on the street: anyone could call the police just because you took a photo, and you would be questioned. There was a very strong climate of mistrust, an omnipresent spy hunt.” He became known for showing his work in “dissident kitchens”, clandestine exhibitions organised in private flats, and became an active member of a collective of non-conformist photographers, later known as the Kharkiv School of Photography. In the words of his long-term friend and fellow artist Ilya Kabakov, “From the way that Boris takes pictures, I have the complete impression of a catastrophic shot on the verge of self-destruction”.”

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Lydia Figes. “The MEP opens a retrospective of one of the most influential photographers from Eastern Europe, Boris Mikhailov,” on the British Journal of Photography website 22 September 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/2022.

 

“Mikhailov’s series “Luriki” (1971-85) took found black-and-white photographs of anonymous soldiers and sailors, or of happy families who are all alike, and overpainted them with hand coloring – a common technique in the Soviet Union, where color printing was expensive. These were probably the first artworks in the Soviet Union to use found imagery to capture the Soviet zeitgeist and tweak the regime. Yet their garishness gave him an out with irony-blind censors, to whom he could always explain that he was just trying to make the sitters look prettier.”

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Jason Farago. “The Life’s Work of Photography’s Great Trickster, and Ukraine’s Greatest Artist,” on The New York Times website Oct. 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/2022

 

 

Luriki, 1971-1985

Starting in the late 1960s, Mikhailov worked as a commercial photographer and earned extra money enlarging, retouching and hand-colouring family snapshots of weddings or newborns, or of someone lost during the war. In what is considered the first use of found material in contemporary Soviet photography, Mikhailov appropriated the photos in order to conceptualise this technique and create ironic works of art. Often using kitsch colours, he made them more “beautiful” while mocking the way Soviet propaganda glorified mundane events.

 

Sots Art, 1975-1986

The title “Sots Art” refers to a movement created in 1972 by the Moscow born duo Vitally Komar and Alexander Melamid, who deconstructed Socialist Realism and combined it with elements of Western Pop art. Boris Mikhailov took photographs depicting sanctioned socialist imagery (parades, students in military training, athletic youth…), then subverted them using garish colours that reflect his disillusionment with false Soviet ideals.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Yesterday's Sandwich' 1966-1968

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Yesterday’s Sandwich
1966-1968
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

“A photographer’s task is to always find this subtle and vague border between the permitted and the prohibited. This border is constantly changing, like life itself.”

 

 

Yesterday’s Sandwich, late 1960s – late 1970s

While developing colour slide film, the artist nonchalantly threw it on the bed and two slides accidentally stuck together “like a sandwich,” he says. “Suddenly, I saw a totally new, metaphoric image”. He began randomly exploring combinations in what he called “programmed accidentality” to create surreal, highly poetic images that act as a metaphor for the duality of Soviet life, between the idealised images imposed by those in power and the drab reality. “Yesterday’s Sandwich” fuses opposites or unrelated images as a way of introducing forbidden imagery, conflating beauty and the grotesque, and visualising the world of memory and the collective unconscious in a visual language not unrelated to the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky. “I made these compositions at a time when, given the scarcity of real news, everyone was on the lookout for the smallest piece of new information, hoping to uncover a secret or read between the lines. Encryption was the only way to explore forbidden subjects such as politics, religion, nudity”, Mikhailov explains. The MEP exhibition presents the work in a large-scale projection set to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, which for the artist explores the “exaggeration of beauty” and “a paradise lost”, along with individual prints.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Yesterday's Sandwich' 1966-1968

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Yesterday’s Sandwich
1966-1968
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Black Archive' 1968-1979

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Black Archive
1968-1979
Black-and-white print
24 x 18cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

“By adding something previously unacceptable to my photos, I was violating the canons of Soviet photography: I was shooting allegedly wrong things in an allegedly wrong way…”

“As a photographer without official credentials, I discover, I observe, I clandestinely stalk.”

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Boris Mikhailov

 

“These unofficial pictures were printed on cheap paper; they incorporated blurs and backlighting and too much headroom; the nudes, especially, could have gotten him packed to Siberia. Mikhailov, along with other artists of what’s now known as the Kharkiv School of Photography, could exhibit only in private, usually in friends’ kitchens. (“They were free artists,” Vita said, “because they didn’t think, ‘We should sell for money’.”) And the lack of public opportunities, not to mention a market, inspired a self-sufficiency guarded long after the Soviet censors faded from view.”

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Jason Farago. “The Life’s Work of Photography’s Great Trickster, and Ukraine’s Greatest Artist,” on The New York Times website Oct. 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/202

 

 

Black Archive, 1968-1979

Small-format black-and-white vintage prints, “Black Archive” documents everyday life in Kharkiv, often revealing the disparity between outside and inside. In the public space, images taken clandestinely (at the time, anyone making photos on the street could be taken for a spy, and Mikhailov’s studio was frequently searched by the KGB) capture solitary pedestrians, often from behind and at odd angles, while in contrast, the private sphere is seen as a space of liberty, as in joyful shots of naked woman proudly showing off their curves.

The series introduces another of Boris Mikhailov’s concept of “bad” photography: unlike his fellow photographers, who sought technical perfection, his prints were deliberately low-contrast, blurry, full of visible flaws, on poor-quality paper. While it was quite difficult to procure high-quality Soviet-made film, paper or chemicals, these defects more importantly express Mikhailov’s very personal idea of beauty. They were also a way of subverting the glorified imagery of social realism; he felt glossy, impeccably crafted photographs could never reflect the hardships of the life he saw around him.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Black Archive' 1968-1979

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Black Archive
1968-1979
Black-and-white print
24 x 18cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Dance' 1978

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Dance
1978
Gelatin silver print
16.2 x 24.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Dance' 1978

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Dance
1978
Gelatin silver print
16.2 x 24.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

Dance, 1978

“Dance” captures light-hearted moments of open-air dancing in Kharkiv. These scenes reflecting Mikhailov’s interest in photographing very ordinary subjects and anti-heroes, “some sort of general uniqueness, a group of people that could easily be from anywhere.” In many images, women dance together as if preparing subconsciously for war, when the men would be sent away again.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Series of four' 1982-1983

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Series of four
1982-1983
Silver gelatin print, unique copy
From a 20-part series
Each 18 x 23.80cm

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Series of four' 1982-1983

 

Boris Mikhailow (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Series of four
1982-1983
Silver gelatin print, unique copy
From a 20-part series
Each 18 x 23.80cm

 

 

Series of Four, early 1980s

In “Series of Four” Boris Mikhailov printed four small-format, black-and-white pictures on the same sheet, as if creating a single image. Once again an accident, here due to a technical constraint – a shortage of photographic paper – is conceptualised. Multiple viewpoints become a metaphor for a complex reality, an ambiguous, fragmented view of a world in constant flux, one that invites viewers to look for connections between them. Taken in the suburbs of Kharkiv, these “bad” images, poorly aligned and full of imperfections, depict a series of non-events.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Viscidity' 1982

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Viscidity
1982
Gelatin silver print with hand-colouring and handwritten texts
© Boris Mikhailov. VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

 

Viscidity, 1982

Combining text and image in a conceptual way, Mikhailov created a new kind of artist’s book, one that would have an enormous influence on his peers and on generations of younger artists. Mikhailov carelessly pasted his photographs onto pieces of paper, then scribbled thoughts – banal, poetic or philosophical – in the margins. His fragmentary thoughts were not meant as captions, nor as an interpretation or elucidation of the photos, and did not even necessarily relate to them; they were also meant to be as important as the images and to inspire unexpected associations. “Viscidity” for Mikhailov talks about a period he calls viscous, “at the threshold of something unknown… no catharsis nor nostalgia – only frozen dayto- dayness”. In this time of “deep political stagnation”, he said “nothing is happening – nothing at all is interesting… There was a kind of certainty that society was at the threshold of something unknown, something everyone was anticipating”.

 

Unfinished Dissertation, 1984

On the back of each yellowed page of a tattered university thesis found in the bin, Mikhailov pasted in two messily printed, black-and-white photographs of insignificant moments, often taken just a few moments apart, then jotted down his thoughts on art and life in the margins. Totally subjective (as its subtitle, “discussions with oneself”, suggests) and bereft of any scientific value, in this project, in which he says the “text gives new life to boring pictures”, Mikhailov puts forth his own “dissertation” about a new aesthetic.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Red' 1968-1975

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Red
1968-1975
Digital chromogenic print
45.5 x 30.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

“The word ‘red’ in Russian contains the root of the word for beauty. It also means the Revolution and evokes blood and the red flag. Everyone associates red with Communism. Maybe that’s enough. But few people know that red suffused all our lives, at all levels.”

.
Boris Mikhailov

 

Mikhailov’s work is a rich and self-referential homage to art and its history under the Soviet Union, from the avant-garde montages of Alexander Rodchenko to the kitsch propagandist images of Socialist Realism. The series Red appropriates the old-fashioned technique of making hand-coloured prints. The colourful overlaid slides in Yesterday’s Sandwich, to a degree, echo the uncanny montages of the Surrealists. By allowing chance to connect disparate images, Mikhailov wants to bring “together several topics into a single, common world view inextricably linked to mass culture, memory and the collective unconscious of Soviet people in the 1960 and 1970s.”

.
Lydia Figes. “The MEP opens a retrospective of one of the most influential photographers from Eastern Europe, Boris Mikhailov,” on the British Journal of Photography website 22 September 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/2022

 

 

Red, 1965-1978

Bridging documentary and conceptual art, the “Red” series brings together 84 colour photographs taken in Kharkiv between 1968 and 1975. All contain the colour red – a powerful symbol of the revolution and the Soviet empire – either in patriotic objects (a flag, a billboard, a military parade) or mundane details (a tomato, a garage door, painted toenails, a headscarf). For the artist, together they showed the extent to which everyday life was permeated by communist ideology. Printed in small format and left unframed, the photographs are hung together in a loose, pseudo-organised grid several meters long, in random order. Drawing visitors into a disjointed vision made up of small, disparate moments, this immersive installation invites viewers to become active participants in the work.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Red' 1968-1975

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Red
1968-1975
Digital chromogenic print
45.5 x 30.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Red' 1968-1975

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Red
1968-1975
Digital chromogenic print
45.5 x 30.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

Performance, social documentary and the roots of war

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'By the Ground' 1991

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series By the Ground
1991
Gelatin silver print, toned sepia
11.5 x 29.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

By the Ground, 1991

In two seminal series created before and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Mikhailov wandered the streets with a Russian-made swing-lens Horizon camera with a rotating lens that took in a 120-degree panoramic view. Holding the camera at hip height, the artist guides the viewer’s gaze downward, as if to bring us closer to the experience of destitute figures queuing for food or lying in the street.

In “By the Ground”, Mikhailov hand-painted the silver prints with sepia, evoking dirt and dust, while imbuing the pictures with a sense of nostalgia. The bleak street scenes reminded him of Maxim Gorki’s play The Lower Depths (1901-1902) and the extreme poverty of Russia’s lower class it depicts. The artist’s protocol for installation accentuates this effect: hung low, in a single row, they force viewers to stoop down, symbolising the new, destabilising social order.

 

 

“Everything fell, collapsed, died: both the environment and human beings. Space was destroyed, people fell to the ground… I tried to express this photographically, in sepia toned, aged panoramic images.”

.
Boris Mikhailov

 

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'At Dusk' 1993

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series At Dusk
1993
Chromogenic print
66 x 132.9 cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

At Dusk, 1993

Taken shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this series is toned with cobalt blue, the colour of twilight, the transition from day into night, alluding to Ukraine’s transition to independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For the artist, the colour blue is also linked to the artist’s traumatic memories from World War II, when at age three he was awakened by the wailing of air-raid sirens in the middle of the night: “Blue for me is the colour of the blockade, hunger and the war… I can still remember the bombings, the howling sirens and the searchlights in the wonderful, dark-blue sky…”

A related work, “Green”, a monumental triptych of hand-coloured silver prints, shows a world falling apart: an abandoned factory, surrounded by an overgrown landscape with a figure attempting to reactivate a rusty tractor.

The second part of the exhibition introduces Mikhailov’s performative work. We see him using irreverence and humour as tools for corrosive social criticism, for revealing our fragility and the lies of Soviet propaganda – mise en scène reflects a world in which everyone seems to be playing a role. This part of the exhibition also includes Mikhailov’s best known social photography, bridging documentary work and a conceptual approach, and evoking the failures and tensions that have since led to war.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'At Dusk' 1993

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series At Dusk
1993
Chromogenic print
66 x 132.9 cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

“In the Soviet Union, heroism had already been destroyed by ideology. So there could only be an anti-hero.”

.
Boris Mikhailov

 

 

I Am Not I, 1992

In provocative, dramatically-lit black-and-white images, the naked artist plays the role of anti-hero in burlesque, self-deprecating self-portraits that mock the traditional masculine stereotype idealised by the Soviet regime. At times recalling Buster Keaton or pantomime artist Marcel Marceau, he dons a curly black wig, brandishing a sword or artificial phallus or holding an enema bag; exposing his ageing, vulnerable body, “trying on the icons of Western mass culture, like Rambo,” he assumes pseudo-athletic or contemplative poses that call to mind works by Rodin or Caravaggio. The images are presented here in a composition imagined by the artist especially for the MEP with vintage prints from his archives.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'I am not I' 1992

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series I am not I
1992
Sepia silver print
30 x 20 cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'National Hero' 1991

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series National Hero
1991
Chromogenic print
120 x 81cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

National Hero, 1992

Dressed in Soviet military garb with Ukrainian insignia, Mikhailov creates a seemingly simple portrait of troubling ambiguity, in which the face’s delicate beauty and the pink background challenge classic images of masculinity.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Crimean Snobbism' 1982

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Crimean Snobbism
1982
Gelatin silver print, toned sepia
15 x 20cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Tate: Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee and the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2016

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Crimean Snobbism' 1982

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Crimean Snobbism
1982
Gelatin silver print, toned sepia
20 x 15cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Tate: Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee and the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2016

 

 

Crimean Snobbism, 1982

Mikhailov turned the camera on himself for the first time in tongue-in-cheek snapshots of his holidays with his wife Vita and their friends in Gursuf, a seaside resort on the Crimean Peninsula and a popular destination for Russian intellectuals in the 19th century. Sepia-toned images, like photos from another era, capture the carefree protagonists swimming, sunbathing on the rocks, spouting seawater, frolicking in the park or on the pier. But their idyllic vacation is also a game, “playing at being bourgeois”; on closer inspection, the poses feel forced, exaggerated, as if mimicking the luxurious and carefree lifestyle of the West that was inaccessible to Ukrainians at the time.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Crimean Snobbism' 1982

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Crimean Snobbism
1982
Gelatin silver print, toned sepia
20 x 15cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Tate: Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee and the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2016

 

 

If I Were a German, 1994

In the early 1990s, Mikhailov, his wife Vita founded a group called “Fast Reaction” with their artist friends Sergei Bratkov and Sergei Solonski. In this controversial series, they engaged in darkly provocative, satirical role play, staging scenes inspired by interviews with Ukrainians who had witnessed the country’s wartime occupation by the Germans during World War II. At times donning Nazi uniforms, the artists pose in tableaux vivants, some with captions quoting Goethe or Dürer, in scenarios that explore how they might have felt as either victim or oppressor, and probe difficult questions about guilt, accountability and shame: “What if we had been a German? How would we have treated others? Who or what is the real enemy?”

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Salt Lake' 1986

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Salt Lake
1986
Chromogenic print toned sepia
75.5 x 104.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

Salt Lake, 1986

Mikhailov’s large-format sepia prints of bathers were taken on the edge of a lake in Sloviansk, his father’s native city, in the Donbass region of southern Ukraine, whose inhabitants, he was told, were convinced the warm, salty water had healing properties. He found a popular bathing spot where little suggested anything salubrious: a murky, heavily polluted industrial site surrounded by factories. Mikhailov’s clandestine photographs of these scenes in which families enjoying their “freedom” with total indifference to their surroundings are both compassionate and scathing.

 

Promzona, 2011

A guest at the first Kyiv Biennale, Mikhailov returned to abandoned industrial sites in Donetsk, in the Donbass region, long famous as a centre for mining, steel production and machine manufacturing, largely left behind by socioeconomic transformations. The former engineer explores a constructivist aesthetic in compositions that at times echo works by Rodchenko, with their sharp, unusual camera angles and rigid geometry. “For me, these pictures are an anthem to the technologies of a past age,” says the artist.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Salt Lake' 1986

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Salt Lake
1986
Chromogenic print toned sepia
75.5 x 104.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino' 2000-2010

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino
2000-2010
Chromogenic print
25.5 x 80cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino' 2000-2010

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino
2000-2010
Chromogenic print
25.5 x 80cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

“Only when one sees misery in a picture, does one begin to notice it in the street.”

.
Boris Mikhailov

 

 

Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino, 2000-2010

In a continuation of “By the Ground”, “At Dusk” and “Case History”, the artist photographs Kharkiv nearly two decades after the fall of the USSR, in an independent Ukraine that has adopted the Western capitalist model. Colourful advertisements and billboards, McDonald’s, an ocean of cheap plastic objects and tote bags, anonymous figures waiting at tram stops, and the cries of street vendors who once sold only tea or coffee, but now propose cappuccino as well – they capture a moment of transition, in between east and west, past and present, and a new era of “doing business” in which “anything can be bought and sold, even children,” says Mikhailov.

Part of “Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino” was first presented in the Ukrainian Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino' 2000-2010

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino
2000-2010
Chromogenic print
25.5 x 80cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino' 2000-2010

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino
2000-2010
Chromogenic print
25.5 x 80cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out, 2013

In late December 2013, Boris Mikhailov and his wife Vita documented those who had pitched their tents a few weeks earlier on the central square in Kyiv, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, to protest the Ukrainian government’s sudden decision not to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union – a key moment in the ongoing tensions that recently led to war. In photographs of the protestors’ everyday life behind the barricades, their faces express a palpable sense of anxiety. Some of the images recall 19th-century Russian realist paintings. “Emotions were so high”, the artist explains, “that at first glance, the scenes almost felt as if they had been staged”.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out' 2013

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out
2013
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Collection Akademie der Künste, Berlin

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out' 2013

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out
2013
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Collection Akademie der Künste, Berlin

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Case History' 1997-1998

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Case History
1997-1998
Chromogenic print
172 x 119cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

 

“Now the war has sent Ukraine into an economic tailspin, and Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s electrical grid threaten millions with scarcity and worse. Mikhailov never shied from misfortune and crisis, especially in the first years of Ukrainian independence, when the country fell into a spiral of hyperinflation that peaked at 10,000 percent. A new underclass of homeless people appeared in Kharkiv’s city parks, without any state aid to help them.

Out of that misery came the unshrinking “Case History,” for which Mikhailov photographed Kharkiv’s most desperate people and printed them at billboard size. He frequently had them pose nude, laughing or crying in the snow. He posed them in positions that recall a Pietà or the Descent from the Cross. He showed their chapped, burned, infected skin, their tumorous bellies and misshaped genitals; economic history is written on the flesh. Boris and Vita paid these subjects, and often invited them into their home – the 400 or so pictures of “Case History” were not reportage. They were a requiem for all of the failed promises of both communism and capitalism, a danse macabre on the grave of the 20th century.

The “Case History” pictures have compelled, disturbed and enraged viewers for two decades now, with a corpus of academic literature now trailing behind them. They certainly defy Ukraine’s current projection of itself through viral propaganda, though with their indictment of local corruption, the images in “Case History” also call forward to Ukraine’s two revolutions of the 2000s: the Orange Revolution of 2004 and especially the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, which pushed the whole country, Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking alike, into a new democratic era.”

.
Jason Farago. “The Life’s Work of Photography’s Great Trickster, and Ukraine’s Greatest Artist,” on The New York Times website Oct. 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/202

 

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Case History' 1997-1998

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Case History
1997-1998
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

 

Case History, 1997-1998

After spending a year in Berlin on a stipend from DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service), Mikhailov returned to Kharkiv and saw that the city had changed drastically post-communism. A new ruling elite of millionaires had emerged, but a considerable part of the population had been plunged into poverty, and the number of homeless people, or bomzhes, had swollen dramatically. A series of some 400 raw, difficult, deeply empathetic portraits, “Case History” is Mikhailov’s requiem; it documents the deeply troubling situation of this disenfranchised community. Some embrace in poignant moments of tenderness or gesticulate drunkenly; others pose in compositions that allude to scenes in paintings by Leonardo da Vinci or Rembrandt or evoke actors in a passion play; many openly exhibit their wounded bodies for the camera.

While these photographs may look like traditional photojournalism (the title even evokes the clinical detachment of a medical history), they also distance themselves from this genre – Mikhailov and his wife Vita paid their subjects, often taking them home to feed them and give them baths, in exchange for posing. Mikhailov intentionally subverted the codes of photojournalism, exploring the limits of objective representation. While this approach was controversial and perceived by some as unethical, he argued that his often theatrical shots might help draw attention to the degradation and suffering of his subjects.

For this exhibition, the artist proposed to show a selection of large-format works along with small-scale prints of the series and medium-format works specially created by the artist for the MEP collection.

 

“The work itself can be difficult to look at. The colour, life-size prints are unsparing in their documentation of the disease and frailty of Mikhailov’s subjects, and the grit and grime of their humble surroundings. Directed to stand naked, clothes in hand, some appear, in his words, ‘like people going to gas chambers.’ Others share heartbreaking moments of tenderness, while a few appear comatose with drink” (Little).

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Case History' 1997-1998

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Case History
1997-1998
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Case History' 1997-1998

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Case History
1997-1998
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

 

Temptation of Death, 2017-2019

This elegiac installation, composed of more than 150 diptychs, was awarded Shevchenko National Prize, the first official recognition of Mikhailov’s work in Ukraine in 2021. The project was inspired by an unfinished building for a working crematorium in Kyiv, where construction, begun in 1968, was fraught with conflict. Sensitive to the fact that the subject of cremation could provoke memories of the mass killing of Ukrainian Jews during World War II, the architects proposed a modernist design that also included a park and a huge bas-relief, “The Wall of Remembrance”. But after more than ten years of work, the government buried the wall under a layer of concrete, calling it inconsistent with the “principles of socialist realism”. Boris Mikhailov juxtaposed new photographs of the structure with images made throughout his career in a dialogue about past and present, raising questions about transformation, vulnerability and mortality.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Diary' 1973-2016

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Diary
1973-2016
Black-and-white print with hand colouring
29.5 x 21cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

Diary, 1973-2016

In 2016, Boris Mikhailov published “Diary”, bringing together five decades of his work presented as an intimate scrapbook. “Diary” was not conceived in a retrospective manner; and there is no obvious historical narrative or linear progression. The selection of images, many of which are outtakes from his different series, range from political scenes to staged photos, landscapes, self-portraits and erotic images, often soiled and blemished by scratches, tears, blotches and hand-colouring.

In work often marked by irony and self-mockery, Boris Mikhailov plays with a wide range of everyday and propaganda imagery to bear witness, in uncompromising terms, to both the harsh social realities and absurdities of his time. He combines humour and tragedy, consistently defending a wild and energetic artistic freedom as both a means of resistance to oppression and potential emancipation. For the artist, even the most serious subjects have a deep comedy, and every joke is deadly serious. The interplay of these haunting images – by turns beautiful and ugly, disturbing and poignant, brutal and tender – gives rise to a compelling and unique view of history that resonates today more than ever before.

 

Boris Mikhailov

 

Boris Mikhailov
© Nobuyoshi Araki

 

 

Boris Mikhailov a dissident artist

A key figure of the Kharkiv School of Photography (KSOP)

In 1971, Boris Mikhailov was one of eight photographers who established the Vremya group in Kharkiv, an experimental non-conformist art collective that is considered the core of the Kharkiv School of Photography. The group’s members (Boris Mikhailov, Evgeniy Pavlov, Jury Rupin, Anatoliy Makiyenko, Oleg Malyovany, Oleksandr Sitnichenko, Oleksandr Suprun, and Gennadiy Tubalev), thus formalised an underground movement sparked in an informal photo club in the 1960s, to create a visual tool for cultural resistance. Although the name Vremya (Time) sounds banal, it was a call for revolution – a statement of defiance against a painful system from the past. They called their artistic objective the “blow theory”, to produce works whose impact would strike the viewer hard and fast. Boris Mikhailov, who emerged as their informal leader, was the driving force for much of their shared aesthetic.

Vremya developed a diverse but recognisable photographic language that frequently depicted nudes and an unseemly Soviet reality. Persecuted by the party’s ideological watchdogs, routinely searched by the KGB, its only public exhibition of their works, held in Kharkiv in 1983, shut down on opening day, the Vremya collective dissolved in the 1980s. The group nevertheless formed the basis for the school established a few years later.

The group’s influence was far-reaching and continues to be deeply felt throughout Ukraine; a second and third wave of younger artists are still inspired by their ideas today. Boris Mikhailov continues to be a beloved mentor for many of them. In 2018, the Museum of Kharkiv School of Photography was also founded through the initiative of Sergiy Lebedynskyy, a member of the Shilo Group, in close collaboration with Boris and Vita Mikhailov.

 

Biography

Born in 1938 in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and trained as an engineer, Boris Mikhailov is a self-taught photographer. Early in his career, he was given a camera in order to document the state-owned factory where he was employed; he used it to take nude photographs of his wife. He developed them in the factory’s laboratory, and was fired after they were found by KGB agents.

Determined to take up the camera full-time, he eked out a living making photographs on the black market, in parallel creating a body of experimental personal work in reaction to the idealised images of Soviet life. He showed his work in “dissident kitchens”, clandestine exhibitions organised among friends in private flats, and became an active member of a collective of non-conformist photographers that would later become the core of the Kharkiv School of Photography.

At the time, taking images of the naked body or unflattering images of daily life, of people who were poor, ill, or in distress, was utterly taboo. Artists whose work did not conform to the official USSR aesthetic risked arrest, interrogation, even imprisonment. Under constant surveillance, Mikhailov was frequently harassed, his cameras broken and his rolls of film destroyed.

Today seen as one of the most important figures on the international art scene, he has received many prestigious awards, among them the 2015 Goslar Kaiserring Award, the Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize (now the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Award) in 2001 and the Hasselblad Award in 2000. He represented Ukraine at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and again in 2017.

His work has been exhibited in major international venues, including the Tate Modern in London, MoMA in New York, and more recently, the Berlinische Galerie and C/O Berlin in Berlin, the Pinchuk Art Center in Kyiv, the Sprengel Museum in Hannover and the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Baden Baden.

Boris Mikhailov is represented in Paris by the Suzanne Tarasiève Gallery. He also shows his work at the Sprovieri Gallery in London, Guido Costa Projects in Turin, Barbara Gross in Munich and Galerie Barbara Weiss in Berlin.

His work is currently on display in the exhibition This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia in Venice, as part of the official program accompanying the Venice Biennale.

Text from the press pack from the MEP website

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Case History' 1997-1998

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Case History
1997-1998
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

 

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20
Dec
22

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