Archive for the 'quotation' Category

04
Feb
23

Exhibition: ‘Jan Groover. Laboratory of Forms’ at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

Exhibition dates: 8th November 2022 – 12th February 2023

Exhibition curators: Tatyana Franck, President of the French Institute Alliance Française in New York, former director of Photo Elysée Emilie and Delcambre Hirsch Agnès Sire, Artistic director, for the Paris version

 

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1971

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1971
Diptych
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groove

 

 

Formalism is everything

Well no. No it isn’t. Groover is not one of my favourite photographers but I acknowledge how she broadened the definition of what a photograph can be. But her photographs are too clinical for my taste. They leave me cold. I like a little serendipity and spirit in my photography…

A painter before she became a photographer.

All images are constructions.

She composed her photographs as artists compose their paintings.

She wanted to “reinvent everything”.

Still life were influenced by Edward Weston, Paul Outerbridge and Alfred Stieglitz.

The reality is in the detail.

Nothing was left to chance. Every photograph had a plan:

“Spotlight on the house sink: who would have thought that so much beauty was nestled there? Reflection of a fork, transparency of a glass, sliding of water, damaged enamel, burning of coffee: under its tight framing, effects and materials are intertwined. Nothing is left to chance, each arrangement is first sketched out in pencil, tested with Polaroid.”1

 

concept [of] space

elements [of] reality

perception [of] image

photographs [of] objects

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

1/ Emmanuelle Lequeux. “Jan Groover, l’abstraction du réel,” on the Le Monde website 18 September 2019 [Online] Cited 10/01/2022. Translated from the French by Google Translate

.
Many thankx to the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“And then one day I had the thought that I didn’t want to have to make everything up, so I quit painting. Then I found out that you have to make everything up anyway.”

.
Jan Groover, in Pure invention: The Tabletop Still Life, 1990

 

“I had some wild concept that you could change space – which you can… If the thing doesn’t look like the way I want it to look, I’ll try something else.”

.
Jan Groover, 1994

 

 

 

 

Interview with Tatyana Franck around the Jan Groover. Laboratory of Forms exhibition

A singular artist, Jan Groover (1943-2012), of American origin, had a considerable impact on the recognition of colour photography. This exhibition, the first retrospective to be dedicated to her since her death in 2012, shows the evolution of her work, from her original polyptychs to the still lifes that she would produce throughout her life. Thanks to the donation of Jan Groover’s archives to Photo Elysée (Lausanne) in 2017, this exhibition, presented in 2019 in Lausanne, pays tribute to an artist who has constantly renewed herself, thus becoming part of the history of photography.

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1971

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1971
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1975

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1975
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1975

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1975
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1975

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1975
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

 

Exhibition

Born in the United States, singular artist Jan Groover (1943-2012) played a significant role in the appreciation of colour photography. In the first retrospective since her death in 2012, the exhibition shows the development of Groover’s work, from original polyptychs to still lifes she produced throughout her career. Thanks to a donation from the Jan Groover archives at Photo Elysée (Lausanne) in 2017, the exhibition, shown in Lausanne in 2019, pays tribute to an artist who constantly reinvented herself, thus leaving her mark on the history of photography.

Jan Groover took up photography as a sort of challenge. Noting that “photography wasn’t taken seriously” in the United States in the 1960s, she distanced herself from abstract painting, which she’d previously studied. In 1967, Groover bought her first camera in what she described as her “first adult decision.” Her fondness for abstraction and the pictorial can already be seen in her first series of polyptychs, where the subject is multiplied, divided, or hidden behind opaque forms to the point of negation.

Starting in the late 1970s, Groover turned to the still life, a traditional genre in pictorial art, experimenting with it until the end of her life through impressively diverse subjects, formats and techniques. At a time when documentary photography was at the forefront in magazines like LIFE, Groover applied her background in painting to photography, giving abstract photography due credit by creating images for the sake of form, far from signification and statement. On top of her still lifes, Groover also produced series on freeways, portraits, and Body Parts.

As an actor in rendering the photographic medium more versatile – a property then attributed to painting and drawing – Groover explored different creative techniques, as in the use of platinum and palladium prints for her urban series and portraits of close friends (John Coplans or Janet Borden, with whom she was in constant intellectual dialogue).

In Jan Groover. Laboratory of Forms, colour and black-and-white vintage prints are presented, along with the artist’s work materials (polaroids, notebooks, etc.). The exhibition explores Groover’s artistic process and gives us insight into the experimental nature of her work and her influence on modern photography.

 

Biography

Born on April 24, 1943, in Plainfield, New Jersey, Jan Groover first studied abstract painting at the Pratt Institute in New York before taking up photography, with the purchase of her first camera in the early 1970s. This marked the beginning of a diverse career made of polyptychs, series of shots of the same location, portraits and still lifes (a recurring theme of her art). In 1970, she earned a Master’s in Art Education from Ohio State University, Columbus. She then moved to New York with her partner, painter and art critic Bruce Boice.

In New York, a center of contemporary art, she gradually gained recognition on the art scene and experimented with other techniques in photography, like platinum/palladium prints.

In 1974, the Light Gallery put on her first solo exhibition, and in 1978 she received a grant from the federal agency National Endowment for the Arts. As a respected teacher at Purchase College, she taught photographers Gregory Crewdson, Laurie Simmons and Philip-Lorca diCorcia, for a few.

In 1987, the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) held a retrospective on Groover’s work.

The Groover-Boice couple turned in this way on the New York art scene until 1991, the year they settled in the Dordogne region of France. Groover continued her series of still lifes despite falling ill in 1998. The couple gained French nationality in 2005. Jan Groover passed away a few years later, on January 1st, 2012.

Thanks to Bruce Boice’s donation, Photo Elysée in Lausanne was able to expand its collection with the archive of Jan Groover, including a great majority of her work as well as unpublished archival material from her studio. The museum ensures the conservation, study and distribution of the archive.

Text from the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson website

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' Nd

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
Nd
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1978

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1978
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1978

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1978
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

 

In 1978, another radical turning point. Jan Groover focuses all her efforts on still life. Spotlight on the house sink: who would have thought that so much beauty was nestled there? Reflection of a fork, transparency of a glass, sliding of water, damaged enamel, burnt coffee: under its tight framing, effects and materials are intertwined. Nothing is left to chance, each arrangement is first sketched out in pencil, tested with Polaroid. In fact, she has never stopped painting: she simply does it with the elements of reality. Her challenge, “that the entire surface of the photo have the same magnetism and the same importance,” summarises the painter Bruce Boice, her husband.

Resounding success: her Kitchen Still Lifes establish her as an immense visual artist. In the eyes of Susan Kismaric, curator in the photography department at MoMA in New York, she invented “nothing less than a resplendent new way of seeing”. An “anomaly of the photographic world”? Some call it that. But of those who have a sacred heritage: initiated by Jan Groover, photographers Gregory Crewdson and Philip-Lorca diCorcia bring her composition lessons to incandescence.

Emmanuelle Lequeux. “Jan Groover, l’abstraction du réel,” on the Le Monde website 18 September 2019 [Online] Cited 10/01/2022. Translated from the French by Google Translate

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1978

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1978
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1978

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1978
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled (Ealan Wingate)' c. 1980

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled (Ealan Wingate)
c. 1980
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

 

A summary inventory of Groover’s archive tallied a total of 11,663 negatives, 525 slides, and 9,485 paper prints, along with unpublished drawings and all of her camera equipment. “Jan Groover was not only interested in beautiful prints, but she was very much interested in techniques, and the artisanal way of making images,” says Franck. “We were very lucky to have been able to find a complete laboratory with all of her prints, negatives, everything was kept in her house.”

Marigold Warner. “Jan Groover: Laboratory of Forms,” on the British Journal of Photography website 8th November 2019 [Online] Cited 10/01/2022.

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled (Mel Bochner)' 1980

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled (Mel Bochner)
1980
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' 1983

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
1983
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1981

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1981
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1983

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1983
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

 

An unpublished exhibition, from the artist’s archive

This exhibition looks back over the life’s work of Jan Groover (1943- 2012), the American photographer whose personal collection was added to the Musée de l’Elysée’s collections in 2017. Based on a selection of archives from her personal collections, the exhibition evokes not only the artist’s years in New York but also her years in France – a less known part of her career. With the will to enrich research on Jan Groover, the exhibition displays the first results of the considerable work on the collection conducted by the museum – from the perspective both of conservation as well as historical documentation.

 

Formalism is everything

Taking Jan Groover’s statement as a guiding principle, the exhibition highlights the eminently plastic design pursued by the photographer throughout her career. Conducted in a spirit of endless experimentation, this research and the creative process it involves are emphasised not only by the presentation of early tests and experiments but also by the inclusion of unique documents, notes and preparatory notebooks.

In the early 1970s, abandoning her earlier vocation as a painter, Jan Groover began to attract attention with her photographic polyptychs constructed around the motifs of the road, cars and the urban environment. As the early stages of her formal and aesthetic explorations, they offer an opportunity to re-examine the reflections initiated at the time by the conceptual trend (especially with regard to notions of seriality and sequence).

By 1978, Jan Groover had radically changed subject, turning to still life. She embarked on pictures that were to form the main body of her work and thanks to which she remains to this day one of the eminent figures of the genre. Mostly created in her studio, her compositions use a variety of processes. In the 1980s, they actively contributed to the recognition of colour photography. Despite the indisputable pre-eminence of her photographs of objects, Jan Groover’s work is also studded with landscapes, bodies and portraits, often in monochrome. She developed a keen interest in the technique of platinum and palladium, which she studied in greater depth when she arrived in France, with several series in a very specific elongated format (banquet camera) concluding the exhibition.

Text from the Musée de l’Elysée website

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1985

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1985
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1989

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1989
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Bruce Boice (American, b. 1941) 'Jan Groover' c. 1968

 

Bruce Boice (American, b. 1941)
Jan Groover
c. 1968
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Tatyana Franck (author). 'Jan Groover. Laboratory of Forms' book cover 2019

 

Tatyana Franck (author)
Photo Elysée & Scheidegger and Spiess (publisher)
February, 2020 (date of publication)
ISBN 978-3858818386
192 pages
48 euros

 

This book accompanies the eponymous exhibition presented at Photo Elysée from September 18, 2019 to January 5, 2020, then at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson from November 8, 2022 to February 12, 2023.

“Formalism is everything”: Jan Groover’s statement alone sums up the plastic ambition of a work that today embodies one of the key moments in the history of photography and the genre of still life.

Conducted through constant and varied experimentation, her research focused on forms and their ability to transform the perception of the image. In the early 1970s, the photographer was noticed by the New York art scene for her polyptychs based on the motifs of the car and the urban environment. Around 1978, Jan Groover radically changed the subject to still life, which would form the main part of his later work. Produced in the studio, her compositions use a variety of techniques; in the 1970s and 1980s, they actively contributed to the institutional and artistic recognition of colour photography. She then developed a great interest in a late 19th century process, the platinum-palladium.

Defending the historical and technical importance of her work, the publication thus puts Jan Groover’s work in perspective with the analysis of the archival finds given by her husband, Bruce Boice, to Photo Elysée.

Edited by Tatyana Franck

With contributions from Bruce Boice, Emilie Delcambre Hirsch, Paul Frèches, Tatyana Franck, Sarah Hermanson Meister, and Pau Maynés Tolosa

21 x 27 cm.
Texts in English

 

 

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
79 rue des Archives
75003 Paris

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday
11am – 7pm
Closed on Mondays

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson website

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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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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

 

 

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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)

.
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.”

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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.”

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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

 

 

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.”

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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.”

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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)

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

The New Orleans Museum of Art
One Collins Diboll Circle, City Park
New Orleans, LA 70124
Phone: (504) 658-4100

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

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16
Dec
22

Exhibition: ‘Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 12th September, 2022 – 1st January 2023

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 Photo: Emile Askey

 

 

There are so many exhibitions that finish before mid-January 2023 that I am going to post at odd times over the festive season and New Year so that I can fit them all in.

Another exhibition by this superb artist, this time his first museum survey in New York. ‘The decisive logic of his practice is a visual democracy, best summarised by his phrase “If one thing matters, everything matters.”‘

This relationship to the world, of living and loving in the world, of being an aware social and political artist, reminds me of a wonderful quote by that magical Irish poet Thomas Heaney:

“The watergaw, the faint rainbow glimmering in chittering light, provides a sort of epiphany, and MacDiarmid connects the shimmer and weakness and possible revelation in the light behind the drizzle with the indecipherable look he received from his father on his deathbed … Each expression, each cadence, each rhyme is as surely and reliably in place as a stone on a hillside.” ~ Seamus Heaney1

Each of Tillmans’ individual images offer the possibility of an epiphany … collectively, they propose a sure and reliable nonhierarchical nexus of relationships that is revelatory.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Heaney, Seamus. The Redress of Poetry. London: Faber and Faber, 1995, pp. 107-108.

.
Many thankx to the Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Download the Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition brochure (2.4Mb pdf)

 

The Museum of Modern Art will present Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, the artist’s first museum survey in New York, from September 12, 2022 through January 1, 2023, in the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Center for Special Exhibitions. Unique groupings of approximately 350 of Tillmans’s photographs, videos, and multimedia installations will be displayed according to a loose chronology throughout the Museum’s sixth floor. Informed by new scholarship and eight years of dialogue with the artist, the exhibition will highlight how Tillmans’s profoundly inventive, philosophical, and creative approach is both informed by and designed to highlight the social and political causes for which he has been an advocate throughout his career.

From the outset of his career, Wolfgang Tillmans (b. 1968, Germany) has revolutionised the prevailing conventions of photographic presentation, making connections between his pictures in response to a given context and activating the space of the exhibition by hanging photographs in a corner, above a doorframe, on a free-standing column, or next to a fire extinguisher. In developing his own language for these overall installations, Tillmans’s practice verges into a sculptural dimension. The decisive logic of his practice is a visual democracy, best summarised by his phrase “If one thing matters, everything matters.”

 

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 shwoing at left, Tillmans Victoria Park (2007, below)
Photo: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Victoria Park' 2007

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Victoria Park
2007
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 shwoing at top left, Tillmans Lacanau (self) (1986, below)
Photo: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Lacanau (self)' 1986

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Lacanau (self)
1986
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing in the bottom image at right, Smokin’ Jo (1995, below)
Photo: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Smokin' Jo' 1995

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Smokin’ Jo
1995
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Arkadia I' 1996

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Arkadia I
1996

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023