Archive for the 'quotation' Category

14
Feb
21

Exhibition: Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime” at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409
From ‘New art from wall to wall’ ongoing

 

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Shooting Victim in Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Shooting Victim in Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

As you can imagine, with the tragic situation of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic around the world at the moment, there are few photography exhibitions on view.

This selection of images comes from the collection 1940s-1970s at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in an ongoing display. Please note that not all Gordon Parks photographs shown here are on display, but I include them to give the viewer an overview, a greater understanding of the breadth of photographs included in Parks’ cinematic photo-essay.

Can you imagine the fortitude of this man: “born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912. An itinerant labourer, he worked as a brothel pianist and railcar porter, among other jobs, before buying a camera at a pawnshop, training himself and becoming a photographer. He evolved into a modern-day Renaissance man, finding success as a film director, writer and composer.” “The first Black member of the Farm Security Administration’s storied photo corps; the first Black photographer for the U.S. Office of War Information; the first Black photographer for Vogue; the first Black staff photographer at the weekly magazine Life; and, years later, the first Black filmmaker to direct a motion picture (Shaft) for a major Hollywood studio.” As a photographer he learnt his craft shooting dresses for department stores, taking portraits of society women in Chicago, and studying “the Depression-era images of photographers like Dorothea Lange”. Before joining them as a member of the FSA.

This body of work is remarkable for its non-judgemental gaze, a felt response to a subject which was an assignment for LIFE magazine: an objective reporter with a subjective heart as Parks proclaimed, one who had a certain kind of empathy, “expressing things for people who can’t speak for themselves… the underdogs… in that way I speak for myself.” Park’s photographic strategy was to use colour (rare and expensive in those days), and to close in on detail. Rarely if at all are there any mid to long shots in the photo-essay, placing the photograph in a particular location, the exception being the Untitled street scene under the Chicago “L” (short for “elevated”) rapid transit system and the night-time shot of an illuminated Alcatraz Island – remote, forbidding, isolated.

Photographed with candour – using low depth of field, silhouette, chiaroscuro, natural light, low light, night photography, no blur, little flash and challenging perspective, aesthetically a mixture of Dorothea Lange, Weegee and the colour images of Saul Leiter – other intimate images in the series create an “atmosphere” of everyday life on the streets and in the prisons, capturing how the disenfranchised, the desperate and the destitute are controlled and processed by force. “Parks coaxed his camera to record reality so vividly and compellingly that it would allow Life’s readers to see the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations.” In Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois (1957) we see two detectives of Italian descent raiding a dingy run-down tenement, busting the door open unannounced, guns drawn. In the photograph underneath in the posting, taken inside the oh so red room with floral curtains, one of the detectives questions a black suspect smoking a cigarette, while on the table covered with newspapers sits a burning candle probably providing the only illumination. Cowering in the shadows is a black women, almost unnoticed until you really look at the photograph. This is what abject poverty looks like. In another photograph, Untitled, New York, New York (1957), black and white men emerge from a police van – about the only time black and white men would have sat together in the segregated society of the time (other than being in prison). Can you imagine the atmosphere inside the paddy wagon, the looks, the conversation or lack of it?

Parks’ beautiful photographs, for they are that, include challenging depictions of death, drug use and nonchalantly displayed items such as guns and knuckledusters. Violence and the outcomes of it are an ever present theme in Parks’ documentation of the policing and criminalisation of marginalised people and communities. The photographs are frequently heartbreaking, such as the scars on the legs of a Black American; or devastating, such as the photograph Knifing Victim I (1957). Park’s compresses the space of the action, attacking the nitty gritty of the mise en scène but with no rush to judgement, just telling it how it is. As Sebastian Smee so eloquently observes, “If all of this were mere history – a series of episodes confined to the past – it would be one thing. But Parks’s photographs are alive to the many ways in which crime in the 1950s was a continuation of this legacy [of slavery, of lynching]. Sixty years after he took these photographs, it’s difficult to deny the conclusion that today’s crime-related inequities, from mass incarceration to police brutality, are likewise an extension of this racist legacy.”

And so it goes, both for the marginalised in America and for Indigenous Australians. “According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in 2018 Black males accounted for 34% of the total male prison population, white males 29%, and Hispanic males 24%” (Wikipedia) while the percentage of US population that is black is 14%. “As of September 2019, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners represented 28% of the total adult prisoner population, while accounting for 3.3% of the general population.” (Wikipedia)

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to MoMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs are used for the purposes of education and research under fair use conditions.

 

 

In 1957, Life staff photographer Gordon Parks traversed New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco capturing crime scenes, police precincts, and prisons for “The Atmosphere of Crime,” as his photo essay was titled when it appeared in the magazine. Rather than identify or label “the criminal,” Parks – a fierce advocate for civil rights and a firm believer in photography as a catalyst for change – documented the policing and criminalisation of marginalised people and communities.

Here, Parks’s series is presented in relation to a long history of picturing criminality. In the nineteenth century, mug shots relied on photography’s supposed objectivity as the basis of their value for identification and surveillance. In the twentieth, more sensational images of victims, raids, and arrests circulated in newspapers and tabloids. In contrast, Parks urges us to look beyond individual people and events, to consider the forces of state and police power that are inextricable from any history of crime – a lesson as essential now as ever.

Text from the MoMA website

 

 

“I’m an objective reporter with a subjective heart,” proclaimed Gordon Parks. “I can’t help but have a certain kind of empathy… It’s more or less expressing things for people who can’t speak for themselves… the underdogs… in that way I speak for myself.” For over half a century, from the 1940s to the 2000s, Gordon Parks captured American life with his powerful photographs. After getting his first camera at the age of 25, he used this “weapon of choice” to attack issues including racism, poverty, urban life, and injustice. He became the first African American staff photographer at Life magazine – an immensely influential platform in the golden age of photo-illustrated magazines that not only allowed his art to be seen by many but also brought a critical, nuanced and, importantly, a Black perspective to the stories and depictions that he shared. For a 1957 assignment, he crisscrossed the streets of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, producing vivid colour images addressing the perceived rise in crime in the US. This series, “The Atmosphere of Crime,” challenged stereotypical images of delinquency, drug use, and corruption.

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Text from the Gordon Parks Foundation website

 

 

 

Sarah Meister, curator in the Department of Photography, looks at images from Gordon Parks’s 1957 photo essay “The Atmosphere of Crime” (1957) and is moved by the power (and, sadly, continued relevance) of his ability to confront “the great social evils of his time” with an “incredible artistic sensibility.”

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Closing in on a known criminal on Chicago’s South Side, police in a scout car check tensely by radio with headquarters. City lights rainbow the storm-splattered windshield as the car approaches the hideout.

Text from LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, p. 46.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 3/4 × 21″ (35 × 53.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957 (detail)

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois (detail)
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 3/4 × 21″ (35 × 53.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Narcotics Addict, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Narcotics Addict, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 3/4 × 21″ (35 × 53.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'San Quentin, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
San Quentin, California
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled (Alcatraz Island), San Francisco, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled (Alcatraz Island), San Francisco, California
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime 1957

Gordon Parks’ ethically complex depictions of crime in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, with previously unseen photographs.

When Life magazine asked Gordon Parks to illustrate a recurring series of articles on crime in the United States in 1957, he had already been a staff photographer for nearly a decade, the first African American to hold this position. Parks embarked on a six-week journey that took him and a reporter to the streets of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Unlike much of his prior work, the images made were in colour. The resulting eight-page photo-essay The Atmosphere of Crime was noteworthy not only for its bold aesthetic sophistication but also for how it challenged stereotypes about criminality then pervasive in the mainstream media. They provided a richly hued, cinematic portrayal of a largely hidden world: that of violence, police work and incarceration, seen with empathy and candour.

Parks rejected clichés of delinquency, drug use, and corruption, opting for a more nuanced view that reflected the social and economic factors tied to criminal behaviour and afforded a rare window into the working lives of those charged with preventing and prosecuting it. Transcending the romanticism of the gangster film, the suspense of the crime caper and the racially biased depictions of criminality then prevalent in American popular culture, Parks coaxed his camera to record reality so vividly and compellingly that it would allow Life‘s readers to see the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations. The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957 includes an expansive selection of never-before-published photographs from Parks’ original reportage.

Anonymous. “Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime 1957,” on the Exibart Street website [Online] Cited 07/02/2021

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Crime Suspect with Gun, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Crime Suspect with Gun, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Police Raid, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Police Raid, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Checking In Suspect, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Checking In Suspect, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Detectives Grilling a Suspect, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Detectives Grilling a Suspect, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Fingerprinting Addicts for Forging Prescription, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Fingerprinting Addicts for Forging Prescription, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Cops Bring In Knifing Victim, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Cops Bring In Knifing Victim, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
21 × 13 3/4″ (53.3 × 35cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

A sidewalk puddle reflects a common tragedy. A police van drives up to a Chicago hospital’s emergency door with a knifing victim. Tired attendants, once compassionate, sit idly by.

Text from LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Police Bring in Victim, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Police Bring in Victim, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
21 × 13 3/4″ (53.3 × 35cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

A prowl car halts in a New York street, a youth comes nervously to its side. “You clean?” the cop asks. “We’re watching you.”

Text from “The Atmosphere of Crime” photographed for LIFE by Gordon Parks. LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, p. 50.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Knifing Victim I, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Knifing Victim I, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Morgue Photos of Dope Peddler Killed by Cops, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Morgue Photos of Dope Peddler Killed by Cops, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, San Quentin, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, San Quentin, California [Pre-execution report]
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print
16 × 20″ (40.6 × 50.8 cm)
Gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The left hand of a man who knows the ropes nonchalantly dangles a cigaret through the bars of a Chicago prison. But the man’s right hand, grasping the bars below, betrays him: he is frustrated and locked in.

Text from LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

 

MoMA acquires historic Gordon Parks series The Atmosphere of Crime

The photographs will go on view in the New York museum’s permanent collection galleries in May, along with a selection of works by other artists and a clip from the classic 1971 film Shaft

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York has acquired a full set of photographs by Gordon Parks from The Atmosphere of Crime series, a photographic essay examining crime in America he created on assignment with Life magazine in 1957. Along with 55 modern colour inkjet prints created from Parks’s transparencies, selected and bought in consultation with the Gordon Parks Foundation, the foundation has gifted a vintage gelatin silver print that matches a work already in MoMA’s collection, given by the photographer in 1993. Around 15 pieces from the series will go on view in a dedicated gallery on the fourth floor in May, along with an excerpt from his classic 1971 film Shaft and works by other artists from the collection, as part of the next reinstallation of the permanent galleries.

The acquisition comes through years of conversations with the Gordon Parks Foundation, which has been organising in-depth exhibitions of the photographer’s work at major museums since his death in 2006. “When Sarah Meister [MoMA’s curator of photography] and I began speaking a few years ago about how the museum could make a major acquisition, it was about what body of work would really have the most impact to what’s going on in the current world,” says Peter Kunhardt, Jr, the foundation’s executive director. “And we both felt that The Atmosphere of Crime was so relevant, not only because so much hasn’t changed today in our criminal justice system and with police brutality and violence, but also because the work is in colour.”

Colour photography was prohibitively expensive to produce outside of commercial projects at the time Parks first shot the series, Meister explains, and only a selection of images from the series were printed in colour in Life. “The transparencies that Gordon Parks made have been held back for a number of years for the right institution to thoughtfully put together an exhibition and book,” Kunhardt adds. The catalogue, published by Steidl with essays by Meister, Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and the art historian Nicole Fleetwood, who also wrote Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration, includes all the images from the acquisition.

Extract from Helen Stoilas. “MoMA acquires historic Gordon Parks series The Atmosphere of Crime,” on The Art Newspaper website 11 February 2020 [Online] Cited 07/02/2021

 

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime” at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

 

None of these images is crude or cliched. A few, it’s true, are brutally direct, in the spirit of Robert Lowell (“Yet why not say what happened?”) or Walker Evans (“If the thing is there, why there it is.”). But others are oddly – and arrestingly – tentative. They’re optically blurred, obscured by visual impediments, as if filtered through the artist’s melancholy, his pity, his black-of-night bewilderment. Looking at them, you feel that something others might rush to – judgment, sentencing, finality – has been deliberately withheld. …

The presence of the word “atmosphere” in the title is apt. It captures both the cumulative impact of the imagery and the complexity of crime’s causes and effects. Park’s use of blur, his unexpected vantage points and his embrace of pooling darkness all elevate his feeling for complication and suffering over the usual simplistic story lines that crowd to the subject of crime. …

Between 1880 and 1950, lynchings were committed in open defiance of the law, terrorising a Black population that proceeded to escape to the ghettos of the North in massive numbers.

If all of this were mere history – a series of episodes confined to the past – it would be one thing. But Parks’s photographs are alive to the many ways in which crime in the 1950s was a continuation of this legacy. Sixty years after he took these photographs, it’s difficult to deny the conclusion that today’s crime-related inequities, from mass incarceration to police brutality, are likewise an extension of this racist legacy.

Big-city street crime has been in steady decline for three decades now. And yet the complexities and inequities of American crime still hinge on race and are still crudely narrated in the media.

Extract from Sebastian Smee. “With his camera, Gordon Parks humanized the Black people others saw as simply criminals,” on The Washington Post website August 5, 2020 [Online] Cited 07/02/2021

 

LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957 front cover

 

Robert Wallace. "Crime in the U.S." LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 46-47.

 

Robert Wallace. “Crime in the U.S.” LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 46-47. Photograph by Gordon Parks.

 

LIFE magazine 'Crime in the U.S.'

Robert Wallace. "Crime in the U.S." LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

Robert Wallace. “Crime in the U.S.” LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957. Photographs by Gordon Parks.

 

 

Robert Wallace. “Crime in the U.S.” LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 68-69.

 

 

“BANDIT’S ROOST” in New York’s Mulberry Street in 1890s housed Italians who, like most economically exploited immigrant groups, had a high incidence of crime. As Sellin explains, this dropped as they prospered.

Unattributed photograph by Jacob Riis (see below).

 

Jacob Riis (Danish-American, 1849-1914) 'Bandit's Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street' 1888

 

Jacob Riis (American, born Denmark 1849-1914)
Bandit’s Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street
1888
From How the Other Half Lives

 

This image is Bandit’s Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street, considered the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of New York City.

 

 

Jacob August Riis (1849-1914) was a Danish-American social reformer, “muckraking” journalist and social documentary photographer. He contributed significantly to the cause of urban reform in America at the turn of the twentieth century. He is known for using his photographic and journalistic talents to help the impoverished in New York City; those impoverished New Yorkers were the subject of most of his prolific writings and photography. He endorsed the implementation of “model tenements” in New York with the help of humanitarian Lawrence Veiller. Additionally, as one of the most famous proponents of the newly practicable casual photography, he is considered one of the fathers of photography due to his very early adoption of flash in photography.

While living in New York, Riis experienced poverty and became a police reporter writing about the quality of life in the slums. He attempted to alleviate the bad living conditions of poor people by exposing their living conditions to the middle and upper classes. …

 

Photography

Bandit’s Roost (1888) by Jacob Riis, from How the Other Half Lives. This image is Bandit’s Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street, considered the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of New York City. Riis had for some time been wondering how to show the squalor of which he wrote more vividly than his words could express. He tried sketching, but was incompetent at this. Camera lenses of the 1880s were slow as was the emulsion of photographic plates; photography thus did not seem to be of any use for reporting about conditions of life in dark interiors. In early 1887, however, Riis was startled to read that “a way had been discovered to take pictures by flashlight. The darkest corner might be photographed that way.” The German innovation, by Adolf Miethe and Johannes Gaedicke, flash powder was a mixture of magnesium with potassium chlorate and some antimony sulfide for added stability; the powder was used in a pistol-like device that fired cartridges. This was the introduction of flash photography.

Recognising the potential of the flash, Riis informed a friend, Dr. John Nagle, chief of the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the City Health Department who was also a keen amateur photographer. Nagle found two more photographer friends, Henry Piffard and Richard Hoe Lawrence, and the four of them began to photograph the slums. Their first report was published in the New York newspaper The Sun on February 12, 1888; it was an unsigned article by Riis which described its author as “an energetic gentleman, who combines in his person, though not in practice, the two dignities of deacon in a Long Island church and a police reporter in New York”. The “pictures of Gotham’s crime and misery by night and day” are described as “a foundation for a lecture called ‘The Other Half: How It Lives and Dies in New York.’ to give at church and Sunday school exhibitions, and the like.” The article was illustrated by twelve line drawings based on the photographs.

Riis and his photographers were among the first Americans to use flash photography. Pistol lamps were dangerous and looked threatening, and would soon be replaced by another method for which Riis lit magnesium powder on a frying pan. The process involved removing the lens cap, igniting the flash powder and replacing the lens cap; the time taken to ignite the flash powder sometimes allowed a visible image blurring created by the flash.

Riis’s first team soon tired of the late hours, and Riis had to find other help. Both his assistants were lazy and one was dishonest, selling plates for which Riis had paid. Riis sued him in court successfully. Nagle suggested that Riis should become self-sufficient, so in January 1888 Riis paid $25 for a 4×5 box camera, plate holders, a tripod and equipment for developing and printing. He took the equipment to the potter’s field cemetery on Hart Island to practice, making two exposures. The result was seriously overexposed but successful.

For three years, Riis combined his own photographs with others commissioned of professionals, donations by amateurs and purchased lantern slides, all of which formed the basis for his photographic archive.

Because of the nighttime work, he was able to photograph the worst elements of the New York slums, the dark streets, tenement apartments, and “stale-beer” dives, and documented the hardships faced by the poor and criminal, especially in the vicinity of notorious Mulberry Street. …

 

Social attitudes

Riis’s concern for the poor and destitute often caused people to assume he disliked the rich. However, Riis showed no sign of discomfort among the affluent, often asking them for their support. Although seldom involved with party politics, Riis was sufficiently disgusted by the corruption of Tammany Hall to change from being an endorser of the Democratic Party to endorse the Republican Party. The period just before the Spanish-American War was difficult for Riis. He was approached by liberals who suspected that protests of alleged Spanish mistreatment of the Cubans was merely a ruse intended to provide a pretext for US expansionism; perhaps to avoid offending his friend Roosevelt, Riis refused the offer of good payment to investigate this and made nationalist statements.

Riis emphatically supported the spread of wealth to lower classes through improved social programs and philanthropy, but his personal opinion of the natural causes for poor immigrants’ situations tended to display the trappings of a racist ideology. Several chapters of How the Other Half Lives, for example, open with Riis’ observations of the economic and social situations of different ethnic and racial groups via indictments of their perceived natural flaws; often prejudices that may well have been informed by scientific racism.

 

Criticism

Riis’s sincerity for social reform has seldom been questioned, but critics have questioned his right to interfere with the lives and choices of others. His audience comprised middle-class reformers, and critics say that he had no love for the traditional lifestyles of the people he portrayed. Stange (1989) argues that Riis “recoiled from workers and working-class culture” and appealed primarily to the anxieties and fears of his middle-class audience. Swienty (2008) says, “Riis was quite impatient with most of his fellow immigrants; he was quick to judge and condemn those who failed to assimilate, and he did not refrain from expressing his contempt.” Gurock (1981) says Riis was insensitive to the needs and fears of East European Jewish immigrants who flooded into New York at this time.

Libertarian economist Thomas Sowell (2001) argues that immigrants during Riis’s time were typically willing to live in cramped, unpleasant circumstances as a deliberate short-term strategy that allowed them to save more than half their earnings to help family members come to America, with every intention of relocating to more comfortable lodgings eventually. Many tenement renters physically resisted the well-intentioned relocation efforts of reformers like Riis, states Sowell, because other lodgings were too costly to allow for the high rate of savings possible in the tenements. Moreover, according to Sowell, Riis’s own personal experiences were the rule rather than the exception during his era: like most immigrants and low-income persons, he lived in the tenements only temporarily before gradually earning more income and relocating to different lodgings.

Riis’s depictions of various ethnic groups can be harsh. In Riis’s books, according to some historians, “The Jews are nervous and inquisitive, the Orientals are sinister, the Italians are unsanitary.”

Riis was also criticised for his depiction of African Americans. He was said to portray them as falsely happy with their lives in the “slums” of New York City. This criticism didn’t come until much later after Riis had died. His writing was overlooked because his photography was so revolutionary in his early books.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

“The Atmosphere of Crime” photographed for LIFE by Gordon Parks. LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, p. 50.

 

Gordon Parks' photo essay 'The Atmosphere of Crime' in 'Life Magazine', September 9, 1957

 

Gordon Parks’ photo essay “The Atmosphere of Crime” in Life Magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 58-59.

 

 

Because this year marks the 50th anniversary of his groundbreaking 1971 film, “Shaft”; because two fine shows of his pioneering photojournalism are on view at the Jack Shainman galleries in Chelsea; because a suite from his influential 1957 series, “The Atmosphere of Crime,” is a highlight of “In and Around Harlem,” on view at the Museum of Modern Art; and because, somehow, despite the long shadow cast by a man widely considered the preeminent Black American photographer of the 20th century, he is too little known, the time seems right to revisit some elements of the remarkable life, style and undimmed relevance of Gordon Parks.

 

Last born of 15 children, he made a career of firsts

Born Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks in Fort Scott, Kansas, on Nov. 30, 1912, he attended segregated schools where he was prohibited from playing sports and was advised not to aim for college because higher education was pointless for people destined to be porters and maids.

Once, he was beaten up for walking with a light-skinned cousin. Once, he was tossed into the Marmaton River by three white boys fully aware that he could not swim. Once, he was thrown out of a brother-in-law’s house where he was sent to live after his mother’s death. This was in St. Paul, at Christmas. He rode a trolley all night to keep warm.

 

The road to fame had plenty of detours

At various points in his early years, Parks played the piano in a brothel, was a janitor in a flophouse and was a dining car waiter on the cross-country railroad. He survived these travails to become, following a route that was anything but direct, the first Black member of the Farm Security Administration’s storied photo corps; the first Black photographer for the U.S. Office of War Information; the first Black photographer for Vogue; the first Black staff photographer at the weekly magazine Life; and, years later, the first Black filmmaker to direct a motion picture for a major Hollywood studio. By the standards of a Jim Crow era, Parks’ perseverance rose to the level of the biblical.

 

He got his break shooting dresses

As passengers have done everywhere and always, those on the North Coast Limited between Chicago and Seattle tossed their onboard reading when they were done. Parks scavenged the well-thumbed magazines and, taking them home, discovered both the Depression-era images of photographers like Dorothea Lange and the exotic spheres depicted in Vogue.

He bought his first camera at a pawnshop in Seattle in 1937 and taught himself how to use it. Returning to the Minneapolis area where he had lived for a time, he scouted work shooting for local department stores. All except one rebuffed him.

This, as it happened, was Frank Murphy, the most fashionable boutique in the city, a shop with a running fountain, a resident parrot and a clientele that ran to women from the Pillsbury, Ordway and Dayton dynasties and who relied on the buyers there to supply them with things like “telephone dresses,” for those who considered it unseemly to take calls in dishabille.

By legend, it was the owner’s wife, Madeleine, who insisted that her husband hire the fledgling photographer despite his inexperience, for reasons never made clear. The bet paid off, though, since the images Parks produced promptly resulted in more work, a local exhibition and a telephone call from Marva Louis, then the wife of the world heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, who encouraged him to relocate to Chicago, where he began taking portraits of society women. It was a career transit compressed in a sequence of events so implausible as to seem cinematic. Yet, for Parks, it was just a beginning.

“From the start, Parks knew how to make a beautiful picture,” photography critic Vince Aletti said. And it is true that, long after Parks established his reputation with unflinching photographic series on the civil rights movement, Harlem gangs, the Black Panthers, Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, he continued to move easily between photojournalism and the fashion work for which he maintained a lifelong regard – and which, along with his access to elements of Black life largely invisible to white readers, was among the reasons he was hired in the first place by Life.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled (Pages from an album of mugshots)' 1870s-80s

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled (Pages from an album of mugshots)
1870s-80s
Albumen silver prints
Each 9 1/8 × 4 7/16″ (23.2 × 11.2cm)

 

Times Wide World Photos. "Ms. Ruth Snyder as She Looks Today" April 1927

 

Times Wide World Photos
“Ms. Ruth Snyder as She Looks Today”
April 1927
Gelatin silver print
9 7/8 × 7 1/2″ (25.1 × 19.1cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 Times Wide World Photos

 

 

Ruth Brown Snyder (March 27, 1895 – January 12, 1928) was an American murderer. Her execution in the electric chair at New York’s Sing Sing Prison in 1928 for the murder of her husband, Albert Snyder, was recorded in a well-publicised photograph.

 

Associated Press. "Mob Foiled in Attempted Lynching" 1934

 

Associated Press
“Mob Foiled in Attempted Lynching”
1934
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 8 3/8″ (16.5 × 21.3cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 Associated Press

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968) 'Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces' 1942

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces
1942
Gelatin silver print
10 5/16 × 13 3/16″ (26.2 × 33.5cm)
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Weegee/ICP/Getty Images

 

Associated Press, Roger Higgins. 'Ethel and Julius Rosenberg on Their Way to Jail in New York' March 29, 1951

 

Associated Press, Roger Higgins
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg on Their Way to Jail in New York
March 29, 1951
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 8 7/16″ (16.5 × 21.4cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 Associated Press

 

 

Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg were American citizens who were convicted of spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. The couple was accused of providing top-secret information about radar, sonar, jet propulsion engines, and valuable nuclear weapon designs; at that time the United States was the only country in the world with nuclear weapons. Convicted of espionage in 1951, they were executed by the federal government of the United States in 1953 in the Sing Sing correctional facility in Ossining, New York, becoming the first American civilians to be executed for such charges and the first to suffer that penalty during peacetime.

Other convicted co-conspirators were sentenced to prison, including Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass (who had made a plea agreement), Harry Gold, and Morton Sobell. Klaus Fuchs, a German scientist working in Los Alamos, was convicted in the United Kingdom.

For decades, the Rosenbergs’ sons (Michael and Robert Meeropol) and many other defenders maintained that Julius and Ethel were innocent of spying on their country and were victims of Cold War paranoia. After the fall of the Soviet Union, much information concerning them was declassified, including a trove of decoded Soviet cables (code-name: Venona), which detailed Julius’s role as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets. Ethel’s role was as an accessory who helped recruit her brother David into the spy ring and she worked in a secretarial manner typing up documents for her husband that were given to the Soviets. In 2008, the National Archives of the United States published most of the grand jury testimony related to the prosecution of the Rosenbergs.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Black Maria, Oakland' 1957

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Black Maria, Oakland
1957
Gelatin silver print
10 15/16 × 9 13/16″ (27.9 × 24.9cm)
Gift of the artist

 

Meyer Liebowitz (American, 1906-1976) / The New York Times. 'Umberto (Albert) Anastasia Shot to Death in Barber's Chair' October 25, 1957

 

Meyer Liebowitz (American, 1906-1976) / The New York Times
Umberto (Albert) Anastasia Shot to Death in Barber’s Chair
October 25, 1957
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 × 8 7/16″ (19.4 × 21.4cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 The New York Times

 

 

Umberto “Albert” Anastasia (1902-1957) was an Italian-American mobster, hitman, and crime boss. One of the founders of the modern American Mafia and a co-founder and later boss of the Murder, Inc. criminal collective, Anastasia eventually rose to the position of boss in what became the modern Gambino crime family. He was also in control of the New York waterfront for most of his criminal career, including the dockworker unions. He was murdered on October 25, 1957, on the orders of Vito Genovese and Carlo Gambino; Gambino subsequently became boss of the family.

Anastasia was one of the most ruthless and feared organised crime figures in American history; his reputation earned him the nicknames “The One-Man Army”, “Mad Hatter” and “Lord High Executioner”. …

 

Assassination

On the morning of October 25, 1957, Anastasia entered the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel, at 56th Street and 7th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Anastasia’s driver parked the car in an underground garage and then took a walk outside, leaving him unprotected. As Anastasia relaxed in the barber’s chair, two men – scarves covering their faces – rushed in, shoved the barber out of the way, and fired at Anastasia. After the first volley of bullets, Anastasia reportedly lunged at his killers. However, the stunned Anastasia had actually attacked the gunmen’s reflections in the wall mirror of the barber shop. The gunmen continued firing until Anastasia finally fell dead on the floor.

The Anastasia homicide generated a tremendous amount of public interest and sparked a high-profile police investigation. Per The New York Times journalist and Five Families author Selwyn Raab, “The vivid image of a helpless victim swathed in white towels was stamped in the public memory”. However, no one was charged in the case. Speculation on who killed Anastasia has centred on Profaci crime family mobster Joe Gallo, the Patriarca crime family of Providence, Rhode Island, and certain drug dealers within the Gambino family. Initially, the NYPD concluded that Anastasia’s homicide had been arranged by Genovese and Gambino and that it was carried out by a crew led by Gallo. At one point, Gallo boasted to an associate of his part in the hit, “You can just call the five of us the barbershop quintet”. Elsewhere, Genovese had traditionally strong ties to Patriarca boss Raymond L. S. Patriarca.

Anastasia’s funeral service was conducted at a Brooklyn funeral home; the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn had refused to sanction a church burial. Anastasia was interred in Green-Wood Cemetery in Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn, attended by a handful of friends and relatives. It is marked “Anastasio”. In 1958, his family emigrated to Canada, and changed the name to “Anisio”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942) 'Dominoes, Walls Unit, Texas' 1967-69

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Dominoes, Walls Unit, Texas
1967-69
Gelatin silver print
11 × 14″ (28 × 35.6cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James Hunter
© 2021 Danny Lyon

 

John Hubbard / Black Star Publishing Company. "Kennedy Car off Bridge to Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts" July 19, 1969

 

John Hubbard / Black Star Publishing Company
“Kennedy Car off Bridge to Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts”
July 19, 1969
Gelatin silver print
6 13/16 × 9 15/16″ (17.3 × 25.2cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 John Hubbard/Black Star Publishing Co.

 

 

The Chappaquiddick incident (popularly known as Chappaquiddick) was a single-vehicle car crash that occurred on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts some time around midnight between Friday, July 18, and Saturday, July 19, 1969. The crash was caused by Senator Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy’s negligence and resulted in the death of his 28-year-old passenger Mary Jo Kopechne, who was trapped inside the vehicle.

Kennedy left a party on Chappaquiddick at 11:15 p.m. Friday, with Kopechne. He maintained his intent was to immediately take Kopechne to a ferry landing and return to Edgartown, but that he accidentally made a wrong turn onto a dirt road leading to a one-lane bridge. After his car skidded off the bridge into Poucha Pond, Kennedy swam free, and maintained he tried to rescue Kopechne from the submerged car, but he could not. Kopechne’s death could have happened any time between about 11:30 p.m. Friday and 1 a.m. Saturday, as an off-duty deputy sheriff maintained he saw a car matching Kennedy’s at 12:40 a.m. Kennedy left the scene and did not report the crash to police until after 10 a.m. Saturday. Meanwhile, a diver recovered Kopechne’s body from Kennedy’s car shortly before 9 a.m. Saturday.

At a July 25, 1969, court hearing, Kennedy pled guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month suspended jail sentence. In a televised statement that same evening, he said his conduct immediately after the crash “made no sense to me at all”, and that he regarded his failure to report the crash immediately as “indefensible”. A January 5, 1970, judicial inquest concluded Kennedy and Kopechne did not intend to take the ferry, and that Kennedy intentionally turned toward the bridge, operating his vehicle negligently, if not recklessly, at too high a rate of speed for the hazard which the bridge posed in the dark. The judge stopped short of recommending charges, and a grand jury convened on April 6, 1970, returning no indictments. On May 27, 1970, a Registry of Motor Vehicles hearing resulted in Kennedy’s driver’s license being suspended for a total of sixteen months after the crash.

The Chappaquiddick incident became national news that influenced Kennedy’s decision not to run for President in 1972 and 1976, and it was said to have undermined his chances of ever becoming President. Kennedy ultimately decided to enter the 1980 Democratic Party presidential primaries, but earned only 37.6% of the vote and lost the nomination to incumbent President Jimmy Carter.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006) 'New York: Woman killed by her boyfriend at her place of employment' 1972

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006)
New York: Woman killed by her boyfriend at her place of employment
1972
Gelatin silver print
15 5/8 × 23 9/16″ (39.7 × 59.8cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Thomas L. Kempner, Jr.
© 2021 Leonard Freed/Magnum Photos

 

 

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31
Jan
21

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

.
Destiny Deacon

 

 

Embodied Ab/origin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Abi see da classroom

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Blak lik mi

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

Peter Blazey, journalist, author and gay activist.

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Wall text

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Digital prints, Digital prints on plywood, wood, gelatin silver photographs, high-definition video, sound
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Wall text

 

Wall text

 

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

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

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

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing in the foreground Snow storm 2005
Photos: Tom Ross

Colour Blinded

Man & doll (a)
Man & doll (b)
Man & doll (c)
Baby boomer
Back up
Pacified
2005, printed 2020
Lightfoot print from orthochromatic film negative

 

Wall text

 

Wall text

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Snow storm' 2005 (installation vie

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Snow storm' 2005 (installation vie

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Snow storm' 2005 (installation vie

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Virginia Fraser (Australian)
Snow storm (installation views)
2005
Golliwogs, polystyrene and perspex cube
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Man & doll' 2005 (installation view detail)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Man & doll' 2005 (installation view detail)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Man & doll (installation view details)
2005, printed 2020
Lightfoot print from orthochromatic film negative
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

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

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

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Koori lounge room 2021
Photos: Tom Ross

 

Wall text

 

Wall text

 

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

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

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

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

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Koori lounge room 2021
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Ebony and Ivy face race' 2016 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Ebony and Ivy face race (installation view)
2016, printed 2020
Lightjet print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Sand minding / Sand grabs 2017 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Sand minding / Sand grabs 2017 (installation view detail)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Sand minding / Sand grabs (installation views)
2017, printed 2020
Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

More than half of all mining projects in Australia are in close proximity to Indigenous communities. This relationship has long been, and continues to be, the source of much debate. In this work Deacon condemns the violence committed by the sand mining industry on the ecosystem, the land and its people. A latex-gloved hand makes an incision in a bag of soil, destructively releasing the sand inside. The white hand grasps the contents and takes a handful. Two disturbing characters look on with a seemingly perplexed expression, perhaps inviting us to consider the consequences of mining.

 

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

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at left, Arrears windows 2009; at centre, Sand minding / Sand grabs 2017; and in the background Koori lounge room 2021

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Arrears windows' 2009

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Arrears windows
2009
From the series Gazette
Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper
60.0 x 80.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

Gazette

Gossip walks
Look out!
Action men
Arrears windows
Come on in my kitchen

In 2009 Deacon produced the series Gazette. These now eerily familiar scenes appear like vignettes, offering windows into the lives of those living inside Melbourne’s public housing towers. Recent scenes from the news are echoed in Arrears windows, which shows Deacon’s collection of black and brown dolls crammed into yellow plastic tubs. The series draws attention to the individual lives and struggles of residents within these buildings, while also reminding viewers of the often-overcrowded conditions these residents live in. Each image brings to light Deacon’s idiosyncratic take on current global and national events with her semi-autobiographical edge.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Action men' 2009

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Action men
2009
From the series Gazette
Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper
80.0 x 60cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Dolly eyes' (A-H) 2020 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Dolly eyes' (A-H) 2020 (installation view detail)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Dolly eyes' (A-H) 2020 (installation view detail)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Dolly eyes (A-H)
2020
Lightjet print
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

A doll with piercing blue eyes and dark brown skin is among the unblinking, manic faces that make up Destiny Deacon’s most recent series, Dolly Eyes, 2020. While people of colour can and do have an array of different-coloured eyes, blue eyes are often seen as a signifier of whiteness. Deacon’s tightly cropped images reduce these dollies to just eyes and skin tone, highlighting the problematic nature of using physical features to signify of racial identity.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Dolly lips (A-E)' 2017

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Dolly lips (A-E)
2017, printed 2020
Lightjet print
Photo: Tom Ross

 

 

Dolly lips extracts surprising expressions from some of Deacon’s regular models. Some of these dolls have been posing for Deacon for decades, but these sensitive and suggestive images show them in a new light.

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon's 'Smile' 2017

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon’s Smile 2017 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Smile' 2017

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Smile
2017
Exhibition version printed 2020
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2016
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

Deacon undercuts our trust in the innocuous smiley face emoji and prompts the viewer to look more closely at the everyday symbols that proliferate in our lives. The dolls appear decapitated, but perhaps even more ominously the disembodied heads are actually poking through a yellow sheet. Deacon uses an op-shop boomerang to complete the smile. When broken down, the individual features that make up the happy face are all racially charged. However, when viewed at a glance, all people see is the familiar smiley face emoji.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Oz Games – Under the spell of the tall poppies' 1998

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Oz Games – Under the spell of the tall poppies
1998
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

In the lead-up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Deacon produced Oz, a series of works parodying the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. In the original film, Dorothy Gale is swept away from a farmhouse in Kansas to the magical land of Oz. In this series, Deacon transforms the journey undertaken by the original characters into a contemporary recognition of Aboriginality. Dorothy, now known as the ‘traveller’, appears alongside a ‘sad’ tin man, a ‘slow’ scarecrow in blackface and a ‘scared’ cowardly lion. The character’s quest for self-realisation resembles the personal journeys many Aboriginal people go through every day.

 

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

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at right, On reflection 2019

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'On reflection' 2019

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
On reflection
2019
Lightjet print
100.0 x 80.0cm
Collection of the artist
© Destiny Deacon, courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Escape – From the whacking spoon' 2007

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Escape – From the whacking spoon
2007
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

Whacked

Escape – from the whacking spoon
Whacked to sleep (B)
Fence sitters (A)
The goodie hoodie family
Waiting for the bust
Whacked & coming home

2007, printed 2020
Lightjet print

This series of photographs references familiar imagery from news media and contemporary culture, making a link between themes of terrorism, surveillance, suppression and Australian nationalism. Playing with stereotypes, Deacon and her friends have masked themselves in long johns with disturbing painted faces. The images use sinister humour to highlight shared similarities between fanatics around the world.

 

Installation view of 'Postcards from Mummy' 1998

Installation view of 'Postcards from Mummy' 1998

 

Installation view of Postcards from Mummy 1998 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

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

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at left Dolly eyes (A-H) 2020; and at right, Blak 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

 

Throughout her career, this cast of characters has become central to Deacon’s practice, as has her subversive use of language. For Deacon, language, and in particular spelling, has provided an opportunity to reframe and assert her identity on her own terms. In its deceptive simplicity the recasting of ‘Black’ to ‘Blak’ resonated with Aboriginal communities everywhere. What started as Deacon asserting her personal identity as a Kuku / Erub / Mer woman, has since morphed into a Community-owned declaration of Aboriginal pride. It is fitting to conclude this exhibition with a singular photographic work: the letters b-l-a-k emblazoned across the surface with seventeen of Deacon’s regular dolly models.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Blak' 2020 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Blak (installation view)
2020
Light jet print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm

National Gallery of Victoria website

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17
Jan
21

Exhibition: ‘The Experimental Self: Edvard Munch’s Photography’ at the National Nordic Museum, Seattle

Exhibition dates: 29th October 2020 – 31st January 2021

Curator: Dr Patricia Berman

 

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait in Åsgårdstrand' 1904

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait in Åsgårdstrand
1904
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

The camera is located so close to Munch that his looming head is out of focus. Reversing photographic norms, the background is in sharp focus, revealing a chest that had been given to the artist by his on-and-off-girlfriend Tulla Larsen, and a lithograph tacked to the wallpaper above it – a bitterly satirical commentary on their relationship.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Caricature: The Assault' 1903

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Caricature: The Assault
1903
Lithograph printed in black on medium heavy cream paper
Sheet: 237 x 487mm
Image: 180 x 415mm

 

 

Munch says to a woman friend – “What do you think of me?”
She says, “I think you are the Christ”

.
Peter Watkins (director) Edvard Munch (film) 1974

 

 

The semi-transparent self

What a fascinating study of an artist in motion – physically and spiritually.

Through his informal, experimental photographs, Munch explores issues of identity and self-representation, friendship, work and location. In his photographs, he “assumes a range of personalities, from the vulnerable patient at the clinic to the vital, naked artist on the beach”, many of which undermine “the function of a camera as a straight-forward documentary tool.”

“Faulty” focus, distorted perspectives and eccentric camera angles combined with low and selective depth of field allow Munch to create a body of self-images in which “the artist himself appears in some pictures as a shadow or a smear rather than a physical presence.” There is a subtle mystery to much of the artist’s photographic work, a sense of loneliness and isolation trading off visions of heroic creatures; mirror images questioning the stability of him/self playing off the vitalism of male body culture; and variations of melancholy opposing a better life which lay in nature and good health, stages in the theatre of life.

His ghost-like, semi-transparent self-image appears as if seen in a far off dream – flickering images in light – out of space and time / asynchronous with the effects of time and motion.

What strong, e-motionless photographs of self these are. Here is observation but not self pity. Here is Munch investigating, probing, the mirror stage of “the formation of the Ego via the process of identification, the Ego being the result of identifying with one’s own specular image.”1 (Lacan). Munch explores the tension between the subject and the image, between the whole and fragmented body as revealed in psychoanalytic experience, seeking access to representations of the unified self, in order to understand the human condition, of becoming. Who am I? How am I represented to myself, and to others?

The attempt to locate a fixed subject proves ever elusive. “The mirror stage is a drama… which manufactures for the subject, caught up in the lure of spatial identification, the succession of phantasies that extends from a fragmented body-image to a form of its totality.” (Écrits 4). With its link to a belief in spiritualism (popular in his day), Munch speculates that if we had different eyes we would be able to see our external astral casing, our different shapes. The exhibition text notes, “It is easy to read his layered, flickering images in light of such speculation.” Indeed it is. But the spectres that haunt Munch’s photographs are as much grounded in the reality of the everyday struggle to live a life on earth as they are in the spirit world. They are of the order of something, something that haunts and perturbs the mind, a questioning as to the nature of the self: am I a good person, am I worthy of a good life, where does the path lead me. I have been there, I am still there, I know his joy and pain.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. The specular image refers to the reflection of one’s own body in the mirror, the image of oneself which is simultaneously oneself and other – the “little other”.

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

 

Internationally celebrated for his paintings, prints, and watercolours, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) also took photographs. This exhibition of his photographs, prints, and films emphasises the artist’s experimentalism, examining his exploration of the camera as an expressive medium. By probing and exploiting the dynamics of “faulty” practice, such as distortion, blurred motion, eccentric camera angles, and other photographic “mistakes,” Munch photographed himself and his immediate environment in ways that rendered them poetic. In both still images and in his few forays with a hand-held moving-picture camera, Munch not only archived images, but invented them.

On loan from the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway, the 46 copy prints in the exhibition and the continuous screening of the DVD containing Munch’s films are accompanied by a small selection of prints from private collections, as well as contextualising panels and others that examine Munch’s photographic exploration. Similar to the ways in which the artist invented techniques and approaches to painting and graphic art, Munch’s informal photography both honoured the material before his lens and transmuted it into uncommon motifs.

 

” …these photographic images of the artist rise to the level of what Munch called “selfscrutinies”: emotional but hard-edged, and pierced with a dread of modern life that has outlived the Modernist era.” ~ New York Times

” …an unfinished playfulness with technical manipulation and subject matter that is not as readily seen in Munch’s more well-known work” ~ Hyperallergic

 

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Nurse at the Clinic, Copenhagen' 1908-09

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Nurse at the Clinic, Copenhagen
1908-09
Scan from negative

 

 

One of the nurses at Daniel Jacobson’s clinic in Copenhagen posed in a fontal manner that mirrors representations of women throughout Munch’s work. The slight movement of the camera blurs the figure and her surroundings, undermining the function of a camera as a straight-forward documentary tool.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Nurse at the Clinic, Copenhagen' 1908-09

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Nurse at the Clinic, Copenhagen
1908-09
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

After a successful run at New York’s Scandinavia House that received great reviews from New York Times and others, the photography of Edvard Munch is currently on display at the National Nordic Museum in Seattle now through January 31, 2021. Curated by distinguished Munch scholar, Dr. Patricia Berman of Wellesley College, The Experimental Self: Edvard Munch’s Photography presents works from the rich collection of Oslo’s Munch Museum and shares new research on one of the most significant artists of his day.

“After displaying the journalistic photography of Jacob Riis this spring and discussing a picture’s power to change lives, it is wonderful to host another celebrated Nordic artist whose photography reflects the artistic potential found in the camera of the late 19th and early 20th century,” said Executive Director / CEO Eric Nelson.

Internationally celebrated for his paintings, prints, and watercolours, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) experimented with both still photography and early motion picture cameras. The Experimental Self: Edvard Munch’s Photography displays his photographs and films in a way that emphasises the artist’s exploration of the camera as an expressive medium. By probing and exploiting the dynamics of “faulty” practice, such as distortion, blurred motion, eccentric camera angles, and other photographic “mistakes,” Munch photographed himself and his immediate environment in ways that rendered them poetic.

“In many ways, these works reveal an unknown Munch,” said Leslie Anne Anderson, Director of Collections, Exhibitions, and Programs at the National Nordic Museum. “The photographs were never displayed during the artist’s lifetime, and this exhibition invites visitors to peer into the keyhole of Munch’s private life.”

Press release from the National Nordic Museum

 

Ragnvald Vaering. 'Munch in his Winter Studio in Ekely on his seventy fifth birthday' 1938

 

Ragnvald Vaering
Munch in his Winter Studio in Ekely on his seventy fifth birthday
1938
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

Introduction: The Experimental Self

Edvard Munch was among the first artists in history to take “selfies.” Like his paintings, prints and writings, his amateur photographs are often about self-representation. Munch assumes a range of personalities, from the vulnerable patient at the clinic to the vital, naked artist on the beach. Sometimes he staged himself and people around him almost theatrically. Munch pursued his informal photography as an experimental medium, just like his paintings and prints. The artist himself was more than often the experimental subject. This exhibition, containing around 60 photographs and movie fragments in dialogue with graphic works, highlights the connection between Munch’s amateur photography and his more recognised work as an artist.

Munch took up photography in 1902, months before he and his lover Tulla Larsen ended a multi-year relationship with a pistol shot that mutilated one of his fingers. This event, and an accelerating career, triggered a period of increasing emotional turmoil that culminated in a rest cure in the private Copenhagen clinic of Dr. Daniel Jacobson in 1908-09. After a pause of almost two decades, Munch picked up the camera again in 1927. This second period of activity lasted into the mid-1930s and was bracketed by triumphant retrospective exhibitions in Berlin and Oslo but also by a haemorrhage in his right eye, temporarily impairing his vision. This was also the time that Munch tried his hand at home movies.

Unlike his prints and paintings, however, Munch did not exhibit his tiny, copy-printed photographs. Yet he wrote in 1930, “I have an old camera with which I have taken countless pictures of myself, often with amazing results … Some day when I am old, and I have nothing better to do than write my autobiography, all my self-portraits will see the light of day again.”

 

The Amateur Photographer

Munch’s photographs are often out of focus, and the artist himself appears in some pictures as a shadow or a smear rather than a physical presence. As an amateur photographer, he seems to have exploited the expressive potential in photographic “mistakes” such as “faulty” focus, distorted perspectives and eccentric camera angles. By including the platforms on which he stabilised his small, hand-held camera, he created out-of-focus, undefined areas cutting across the foreground. What may have begun as accidents, eventually became a habitual element in his work.

In many of his self-portrait photographs, Munch moved during the camera’s exposure time, transforming his own body into a ghost-like figure. In the photographs from his studio, Munch and his work seem to exist out of space and time with one another. He often experimented with such effects: “Had we different, stronger eyes,” wrote Munch, “we would be able, like X-rays … to see our external astral casing – and we would have different shapes.” It is easy to read his layered, flickering images in light of such speculation. On the other hand, Munch also regarded his self-images with humour. Writing to his relative Ludvig Ravensberg in June 1904, he confessed: “When I saw my body photographed in profile, I decided, after consulting with my vanity, to dedicate more time to throwing stones, throwing the javelin, and swimming.”

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait on a Valise in the Studio, Berlin' 1902

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait on a Valise in the Studio, Berlin
1902
Collodion contact print

 

 

Munch took up photography in 1902, the same year that this picture was taken. There are three preserved versions of the motif, with subtle variations. Munch sent two of the images to his aunt Karen in Norway with the description: “Here are two photographs taken with a little camera I procured. You can see that I have just shaved off my moustache.”

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait on a Valise in the Studio, Berlin' 1902

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait on a Valise in the Studio, Berlin
1902
Collodion contact print

 

 

The artist stages himself amidst his paintings (see below) in the studio he rented in Berlin at the time. The valise doubles as furniture and a symbol of Munch’s restless nature – he was often on the move.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Evening on Karl Johan' 1892

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Evening on Karl Johan
1892
Oil on canvas
84.5cm (33.2 in) x 121cm (47.6 in)
KODE, Rasmus Beyers samlinger
Public domain

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'The Back Yard at 30B Pilestredet, Kristiania' 1902(?)

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
The Back Yard at 30B Pilestredet, Kristiania
1902(?)
Silver gelatin contact print

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Nude Self-Portrait, Åsgårdstrand' 1903

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Nude Self-Portrait, Åsgårdstrand
1903
Collodion contact print

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'The Courtyard at 30B Pilestredet, Kristiania' 1902(?)

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
The Courtyard at 30B Pilestredet, Kristiania
1902(?)
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

This is assumed to be one of Munch’s earliest photographs, taken in one of his childhood homes. An inscription on the back reads “Outhouse window. 30-40 years old. Photograph of Pilestredet 30. A swan on the wall.” The swan that Munch refers to is actually a stain on the wall by the door. Can you see it? In moving the camera during the exposure, Munch erased the communal outhouse of his childhood and transformed it into a kind of dream image. This effect was later explored in avant-garde photography.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Karen Bjølstad and Inger Munch on the steps of 2 & 4 Olaf Ryes Plass, Kristiania' 1902(?)

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Karen Bjølstad and Inger Munch on the steps of 2 & 4 Olaf Ryes Plass, Kristiania
1902(?)
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

Munch has photographed his aunt Karen and his sister Inger on the steps of one of his childhood homes in Oslo. The camera is stabilised on a flat surface that dominates the foreground of the image. This is the case in several of Munch’s photographs, perhaps to mark the camera’s position, create a sense of distance and frame the subjects. What likely began as the accident of an amateur eventually became an aesthetic choice.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Nude Self-Portrait, Åsgårdstrand' 1904(?)

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Nude Self-Portrait, Åsgårdstrand
1904(?)
Collodion contact print

 

 

In the summer of 1904, Munch organised an informal “health vacation” for several of his friends in Åsgårdstrand by the Oslo fjord. Munch had owned a small fisherman’s cabin there since 1898. In that period, he worked on the painting Bathing Young Men. Munch described to his relative and close associate Ludvig Ravensberg “a huge canvas … ready to be populated by the strong men wandering among the waters. Here we train our muscles by swimming, boxing, and throwing rocks.”

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Ludvig Ravensberg in Åsgårdstrand' 1904

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Ludvig Ravensberg in Åsgårdstrand
1904
Collodion contact print

 

 

Ludvig Ravensberg was Munch’s close friend and relative who helped him organise exhibitions and get other practical work done. He also assisted Munch when the artist took some of his self-portraits in Åsgårdstrand. Here Ravensberg gets to pose in front of the camera himself.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait in the Garden, Åsgårdstrand' 1904

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait in the Garden, Åsgårdstrand
1904
Collodion contact print

 

 

Was this picture taken by Munch himself or another person? The filtered light, the human shadow projected onto Munch’s body and the dynamics of his pose help set the stage for the subtle mystery.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait in a Room on the Continent' 1906(?)

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait in a Room on the Continent
1906(?)
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

This photograph exists in two versions. One mirrors the other, probably a result of Munch flopping the negative as he developed the picture. The mirroring of motifs is something Munch often explored in his graphic work, such as the woodcuts Evening. Melancholy and Melancholy III – perhaps a dynamic he wanted to emulate in his photography. Chemical stains on the print testify to Munch’s hands-on approach to development and printing. In contrast to the products of a commercial printing house, he was not terribly concerned with a perfect print.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait in a Room on the Continent (mirrored)' 1906(?)

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait in a Room on the Continent (mirrored)
1906(?)
Silver gelatin contact print

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Evening. Melancholy I (Aften. Melankoli I)' 1896

 

Edvard Munch, Berlin (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
M.W. Lassally, Berlin (printer)
Evening. Melancholy I (Aften. Melankoli I)
1896
Woodcut
Composition: 16 1/4 x 18″ (41.2 x 45.7cm)
Sheet: 16 15/16 x 21″ (43 x 53.3cm)

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) Melancholy III (Melankoli III)' 1902

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Melancholy III (Melankoli III)
1902
Woodcut with gouache additions
Composition: 14 3/4 x 18 9/16″ (37.5 x 47.2cm)
Sheet: 20 1/2 x 25 7/8″ (52 x 65.8cm)

 

 

Variations of Melancholy

Edvard Munch made his first woodcuts and lithographs in 1896. He mastered an innovative technique in which he used the wood grain to emphasise his own lines. Using this technique, he created a number of related woodcuts on the theme of melancholy, including Evening. Melancholy I (1896), in which the brooding figure sits facing right, under an imposing crimson sky.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Edvard Munch and Ludvig Ravensberg, Åsgårdstrand' 1904

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Edvard Munch and Ludvig Ravensberg, Åsgårdstrand
1904
Collodion contact print

 

 

Munch used himself and his friends as models for his canvas Bathing Men. Here is a description by his friend Christian Gierløff: “The sun baked us all day and we let it do so. Munch worked a little on a painting of bathers, but for most of the day, we lay, overcome by the sun, in the sand by the water’s edge, between the large boulders, and we let our bodies drink in all of the sun they could. No one asked for a bathing suit.”

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'The Painting "Bathing Young Men" in the Garden, Åsgårdstrand' 1904

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
The Painting “Bathing Young Men” in the Garden, Åsgårdstrand
1904
Collodion contact print

 

 

Several photographs from the summer of 1904 picture Munch’s painting Bathing Young Men. Shadows cast by leaves at the upper left of the painting seem integral to canvas and have the effect of linking the painting to its natural surroundings. Ludvig Ravensberg stands on the extreme right, seemingly holding the painting. The out-of-focus foreground, the painted figures, and the living man holding the canvas aloft document not only the painting but, playfully, photographic representation itself.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Bathing Young Men' 1904

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Bathing Young Men
1904
Oil on canvas
Munch Museum
Public domain

 

 

Bathers were a popular subject around the turn of the last century. Sojourns at health spas were fashionable and people pursued sports, nudism and the healthful effects of the natural environment. It was seen as cleansing to bathe in the sea, while the sun constituted a rejuvenating force of life.

In this painting we see a virile, muscular, naked man emerging from the cool, turquoise sea after a swim. The picture can be read as a reflection of the period’s “vitalism” – a world view that assumed all living things to be suffused with a magical life force. This philosophy found its pictorial expression in particular in dynamic motifs of naked men and youths.

As a cultural phenomenon, vitalism was a reaction against the decadence of the period, and against industrialism, with the great cities and ways of life it brought with it. Instead of cool-headed rationalism and scientific technology, vitalism preferred to emphasise instinct and intuition – and believed the key to a better life lay in nature and good health.

Text from the National Museum website

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Exhibition at Blomqvist, Kristiania' 1902

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Exhibition at Blomqvist, Kristiania
1902
Collodion contact print

 

 

Munch took this image of his one-man exhibition at the influential art dealer Blomqvist in 1902. He also recorded himself, standing in the background, out of focus, hands in his pockets, facing directly into the camera.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Model in the Studio, Berlin' 1902

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Model in the Studio, Berlin
1902
Collodion contact print

 

 

This is among the few photographs that directly relate to Munch’s work in paint and graphic media. There are two versions of the motif, and subtle variations suggest that the photographer himself might have offered some instructions.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Nude with Long Red Hair' 1902

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Nude with Long Red Hair
1902
Oil on canvas

 

 

A Record of Healing

Munch often photographed in times and places where he struggled with his health and sought new energy. The pictures from the town of Warnemünde on Germany’s Baltic Coast show him as part of male body culture and include images of the artist naked and semi-naked on the beach. Munch also took tourist shots with his female models on the sand during the summers he spent there in 1907 and 1908.

In autumn 1908, Munch checked into a private clinic in Copenhagen managed by the physician Daniel Jacobson and his nurses. Munch was broken down by exhaustion, distress and alcoholism. The clinic became his home for over half a year. Within its walls, he painted, drew, created graphic motifs, organised exhibitions and took photographs in which he consistently appears semi-transparent. In the pictures of Munch’s room at the clinic we often get a glimpse of his paintings and prints. Sometimes he seems to have staged his body in postures that echo these paintings.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Rosa Meissner at Hotel Rohn, Warnemünde' 1907

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Rosa Meissner at Hotel Rohn, Warnemünde
1907
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

Most of Munch’s photographs cannot be firmly associated with specific artworks. This photograph is however closely related to the motif Weeping Woman, which Munch rendered in several oil versions, a lithograph and a sculpture. While the foreground figure has remained static, the figure in the background has moved. Blurred movement is specific to photography and film, a phenomenon that Munch exploited repeatedly in his photographs. The effect of motion reproduces the appearance of spirit photographs – the spectral bodies of the departed allegedly registered on photographic plates and film. Munch expressed interest in such photographs in the 1890s. Ghosts and spectres also began to appear in cinema in the medium’s infancy.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Edvard Munch and his Housekeeper, Warnemünde' 1907

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Edvard Munch and his Housekeeper, Warnemünde
1907
Collodion contact print

 

 

In this picture, Munch has exploited the effects of movement and time. His housekeeper in Warnemünde has moved during exposure and is out of focus. Munch himself is sharply rendered in the background, and at the same time barely present. He has perched on a dark sofa long enough to be registered in detail and then moved out of the camera’s range. He now appears almost as a ghost where both the couch and the back wall are visible through his body. This effect mirrors his experimentation with layered woodblock printing in his graphic work, in which figures appear embedded in wood graining.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Edvard Munch with Model on the Beach, Warnemünde' 1907

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Edvard Munch with Model on the Beach, Warnemünde
1907
Collodion contact print

 

 

This photograph stages the beach at Warnemünde as Munch’s outdoor studio. The painter is strategically covered beside his monumental canvas Bathing Men. The naked man is one of Munch’s models holding a pose depicted in the painting.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Bathing Men' 1907-08

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Bathing Men
1907-08
Oil on canvas
206 x 227cm

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Nude Self-Portrait, Warnemünde' 1907

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Nude Self-Portrait, Warnemünde
1907
Collodion contact print

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Canal in Warnemünde' 1907

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Canal in Warnemünde
1907
Collodion contact print

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait with a Valise' c. 1906

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait with a Valise
c. 1906
Collodion contact print

 

 

Back lit and smudged with chemicals, this photograph deviates from the instructions that accompanied the popular Kodak cameras intended for amateur use. Munch’s bodily envelopment by darkness and the light that dissolves the window in the background make this a staged image of isolation and longing. It echoes the mood and composition of the woodcut Evening. Melancholy I (above).

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Edvard Munch and Rosa Meissner on the Beach, Warnemünde' 1907

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Edvard Munch and Rosa Meissner on the Beach, Warnemünde
1907
Collodion contact print

 

 

Munch posed for this photograph with Rosa Meissner, a model with whom he had worked in Berlin and later in in Warnemünde. Rosa’s sister Olga Meissner, who appears in another photograph in the same location, may have taken the image. A similar picture exists with double exposure, perhaps as a result of instructions given by Munch himself.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Edvard Munch and Rosa Meissner, Warnemünde (mirrored)' 1907

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Edvard Munch and Rosa Meissner, Warnemünde (mirrored)
1907
Collodion contact print

 

 

By flopping the negative Munch demonstrated a curiosity with the dynamics of motif. This is something he explored over many years when he translated one of his painted motifs into a graphic image – the result was always mirrored. Sometimes Munch went even further and mirrored the motif itself on the printing stone or block – just as he did with this negative.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait at the Clinic, Copenhagen' 1908-09

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait at the Clinic, Copenhagen
1908-09
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

In the autumn of 1908 Munch suffered a psychological and physical collapse and sought treatment at the private Copenhagen clinic of Dr. Daniel Jacobson. He remained there for over half a year. Some years earlier, he had been wounded by a shot from his own pistol in a quarrel with his then lover Tulla Larsen. Munch’s voluminous writings attribute this event to the beginning of the decline for which he sought treatment. Here, the wounded hand is sharply focused in the foreground. Towards the end of his stay at the clinic, Munch painted a self-portrait which is related in posture and gesture, if not in mood, with this photograph.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait in the Clinic' 1909

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait in the Clinic
1909
Oil on canvas
KODE, Rasmus Meyers samlinger

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Edvard Munch à la Marat at the Clinic, Copenhagen' 1908-09

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Edvard Munch à la Marat at the Clinic, Copenhagen
1908-09
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

Munch has staged himself semi-naked next to a bathtub, suggesting a reference to Jacques-Louis David’s canonical painting of the murdered French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat. Munch made several paintings with the title The Death of Marat. The photograph can also be seen in relation to Munch’s painting On the operating table, which he made following the accident that wounded his hand. Unlike in his heroically staged nude self-portraits from Åsgårdstrand and Warnemünde, Munch appears softened and vulnerable. Whether this is a homage or satire, we can only imagine.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'The Death of Marat' 1907

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
The Death of Marat
1907
Oil on canvas

 

 

The starting point for The Death of Marat was the harrowing break-up with Tulla Larsen, who Munch was engaged to from 1898 to 1902. During a huge quarrel at his summer house at Aagaardsstrand in 1902, a revolver went off by accident, injuring Munch’s left hand. Munch laid the lame on Tulla Larsen and the engagement was broken off. The episode developed into a trauma which was to haunt Munch for many years, and which he worked on in several paintings, such as The Death of Marat I and The Death of Marat II, also called The Murderess.

The title Death of Marat refers to the murder of the French revolutionary Jean Paul Marat who, in 1793, was murdered by Charlotte Corday when he was lying in the bathtub. This was a motif many artists had treated up through the years. Marat was often presented as a hero, whilst Corday was regarded as a traitor.

Text from the Google Arts and Culture website

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-portrait on the Operating Table' 1902-03

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-portrait on the Operating Table
1902-03
Oil on canvas

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait with a Sculpture Draft, Kragerø' 1909-10

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait with a Sculpture Draft, Kragerø
1909-10
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

Following his return to Norway in 1909, Munch tried his hand at designing a monument for the centennial of Norway’s constitution. He identified this composition as “Old Mother Norway and Her Son.” It is one of the few informal images that picture the artist at work, or posing as though in the process of making his art.

 

 

Munch’s Selfies

When Munch picked up the camera again in 1927, after a pause of over fifteen years, he often posed in and around his life’s work at his home. The small size and flexibility of the popular camera models that he had chosen – about the size of a smartphone – made it easy to hold the apparatus in one hand and take a picture. Munch’s “selfies”, sometimes playful and always self-analytical, reveal a public life lived in private. They show us the artist outside of public scrutiny, as his camera recorded both staged and spontaneous moments of his everyday life. In his many self-portraits, we might recognise our own daily practices as we turn the camera back on ourselves.

In the late spring of 1930, Munch suffered a haemorrhage in his right eye, seriously compromising his vision. In that year, he created a series of “selfies.” In one photograph of great pathos, Munch closed his eyes, transforming his camera into both mirror and eye. “The camera cannot compete with brush and palette as long as it cannot be used in Heaven or in Hell,” Munch had written. With Munch’s eye closed and his aperture open, his own camera – disclosing both humour and pain – surely came close.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Edvard Munch's Housekeeper, Ekely' 1932

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Edvard Munch’s Housekeeper, Ekely
1932
Silver Gelatin

 

 

In the years 1927-1932, during Munch’s second period of photographic activity, the artist almost exclusively took photographs of himself and his work. This is a rare exception. Munch’s housekeeper is posing in a doorway and is doubled as a reflection on the shiny table on which the artist placed the camera. In fact, the woman is tripled, as a light, located behind her, throws her shadow onto the door to her left. The shadowing and expressive use of the foreground seem to have been strategic – an electrical plug and cord, snaking around the door jamb, appear to lead to a light source behind the model.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait with Paintings, Ekely' 1930

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait with Paintings, Ekely
1930
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

In several of Munch’s pictures, his body is transparent or ghosted as he moved his body during a time exposure. The images in the background (below), on the other hand, are rendered sharply. Perhaps the photograph tells us something about how volatile a human life is, while art endures.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Woman with a Samoyed' 1929-30

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Woman with a Samoyed
1929-30
Watercolour

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait with Paintings, Ekely' 1930

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait with Paintings, Ekely
1930
Silver gelatin contact print

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Fips on the Veranda, Ekely' 1930

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Fips on the Veranda, Ekely
1930
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

This “self-portrait” with the artist’s dog together with his own shadow exploits the effects of architectural space and direct and reflected light. Charmingly, Fips’s head and right paw are perfectly aligned with the shadow of a wall and light thrown through its mullioned window. Munch often photographed motifs with his back to the sun, causing his shadow to fall into the frame. A similar exploration of shadows appears in his painting and prints, sometimes with foreboding or pathos, and sometimes, as seen here, with humour.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Double Exposure of "Charlotte Corday", Ekely' c. 1930

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Double Exposure of “Charlotte Corday”, Ekely
c. 1930
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

In this photograph of the painting Charlotte Corday, Munch appears almost as a ghost. To achieve this affect, he used double exposure, taking two pictures on top of each other. Shadow figures such as this were emblematic of an absent presence, a kind of haunting, in Munch’s work. What began as a “mistake” in amateur snapshot photography became a common motif in experimental photography of the 1920s and ’30s as well as macabre effects in horror films from the same period.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Charlotte Corday' 1930

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Charlotte Corday
1930
Oil on canvas

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait at Ekely' 1930

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait at Ekely
1930
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

This is one of several prints that carries the words: “Photo: E. Munch 1931. After the eye disease.”

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait at Ekely' 1930

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait at Ekely
1930
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

In this image Munch is a spectral presence through which his well-lit paintings materialise. A similar union of body and material is found in the paintings and graphics, where figures become enmeshed in paint drips or wood grain patterning. Here the artist seems to stage himself as a figure in Evening. Melancholy (see above), embodying the contemplative state of mind conveyed by the title.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Still Life with Cabbage and other Vegetables' 1926-30

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Still Life with Cabbage and other Vegetables
1926-30
Oil on wooden panel

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait in front of "Metabolism", Ekely' 1931-32

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait in front of “Metabolism”, Ekely
1931-32
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

Munch stretches his arm outward and moves slightly to render himself out-of-focus. He appears almost transparent in this self-portrait at the feet of the figures in the painting Metabolism.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Metabolism' 1898-99

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Metabolism
1898-99
Oil on canvas

 

 

Munch’s Films

Munch’s short films can best be described as the charming experiments of an amateur. This was, however, an amateur with a long-term exploration of motion in art and photography. Electrified by cinema, Munch had even announced his intention of opening his own movie house. The short sequences he shot both mirror popular cinema, such as the films of Charlie Chaplin, and explore the industrial aesthetic of Dziga Vertov’s silent documentary Man with a Movie Camera from 1929.

Munch shot his “home movies” in the summer of 1927 using a Pathé-Baby camera that he had purchased in Paris. The portable device, which had come on the market in 1922, had helped to spark a surge of amateur home movies all over the world. The 9.5 mm projector that accommodated the film, and which Munch also owned, was likewise inexpensive and marketed for home projection. “Every decade extends the influence of cinema, enlarges its domain and multiplies its applications,” stated the Pathé promotional literature, ” …Today, in order to enter our home, it has made itself small, simple, affordable.”

Munch’s camera had a spring-loaded drive, rather than a hand-driven crank, allowing for a uniform recording speed and simplifying his act of filming. His fascination with the effects of time and motion are played out with humour and deliberation in his few forays into motion pictures. The artist peering into his own lens is a performance knowingly looking at a self that will be projected later, an actor in his large body of self-images.

 

 

Munch’s Films
1927
3:40

 

 

Munch’s short amateur films, stitched together in this video, were shot in Dresden, Oslo and on his property Ekely. One segment, a panning shot in a park, includes a man and woman seated on a bench, echoing Munch’s 1904 painting Kissing Couples in the Park. The high-angle shot of the boys looking through a fence, as we watch them, points to the artist’s canny and humorous analysis of point of view. Munch’s fragmentary films share the experimental camerawork with the genre of “city symphony” films of the 1920s.

 

 

Munch’s cameras

Munch purchased his first camera in Berlin in February 1902. This was most likely a Kodak Bulls-Eye No. 2, a simple and hugely popular amateur’s model. Because his later prints exist in three additional formats, he probably owned or borrowed other cameras. The first Kodak hand-held film camera was marketed in 1888. Successive innovations by Kodak made picture taking increasingly simple and inexpensive, establishing a mass market of amateur photographers. Early amateur photography was marketed as “fun” and “sport.” Munch was an early and eccentric practitioner.

The photographic manuals instructed amateurs to avoid mistakes such as out-of-focus or tilted images, ghosted figures, or shadows laid across the subjects. These were the very photographic elements that Munch repeated, turning the rules of good picture taking upside down.

Munch likely made his own contact prints using an Eastman Kodak-marketed kit outfitted for home use. There are both fingerprints and chemical spills on some of the images. He occasionally double-exposed his photographs or flopped the negative to achieve mirror-image prints, demonstrating a curiosity about the printing process itself. Munch’s exploration of the means and materials of amateur photography extends his groundbreaking strategies in lithography and woodcut.

 

Kodak Bulls-Eye No. 2

 

Kodak Bulls-Eye No. 2

 

 

This popular portable model seems to have been the type that Munch had as his first camera. Because the camera used light-proof film cartridges, had a fixed focus lens, and a small window indicating the exposure number, Kodak advertised this model as “Easy Photography,” suitable for the unskilled amateur. An instruction manual from the Eastman Kodak Company was sold with each camera. It included helpful graphics to guide the aspiring amateur and warnings against “absolute failure” to follow instructions. These “failures” were the effects that Munch seemed to favour.

 

Kodak Vest-Pocket Autographic

 

Kodak Vest-Pocket Autographic

 

 

This small, lightweight camera could be folded to fit a shirt pocket. Released during the Great War, it was advertised by Kodak to be “as accurate as a watch and as simple to use.” Requiring just a small pressure on the shutter release, the modest size and flexibility of the camera was well suited to some of the intimate images taken by Munch in the 1920s and 1930s.

 

 

 

Kodak No. 3A Series III

 

Kodak No. 3A Series III

 

 

Eastman Kodak issued the No. 3A, its first postcard format camera, between 1903 and 1915. The company produced variants such as the Series III until 1943. A bellows that collapsed into a folding bed made the camera portable.

 

Kodak No. 3 Series III Folding Pocket Camera

 

Kodak No. 3 Series III Folding Pocket Camera

 

 

Munch took most of the “selfies” at Ekely using this model. First produced from 1900 to 1915, and then with variants issued though the early 1940s, it was a camera that, like the No. 3A, could be operated by direct touch or via a pneumatic release.

 

Pathé Baby Ciné Camera

 

Pathé Baby Ciné Camera

 

 

This is one of the first cinema cameras intended for home use. The lightweight apparatus had a built-in clockwork which enabled amateurs such as Munch to make hand-held films. Pathé’s projectors made it possible to view the results at home.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Portrait of Edvard Munch' Nd

 

Unknown photographer
Portrait of Edvard Munch
Nd

 

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 12 December 1863 – 23 January 1944) was a Norwegian painter. His best known work, The Scream, has become one of the most iconic images of world art.

His childhood was overshadowed by illness, bereavement and the dread of inheriting a mental condition that ran in the family. Studying at the Royal School of Art and Design in Kristiania (today’s Oslo), Munch began to live a bohemian life under the influence of nihilist Hans Jæger, who urged him to paint his own emotional and psychological state (‘soul painting’). From this emerged his distinctive style.

Travel brought new influences and outlets. In Paris, he learned much from Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, especially their use of colour. In Berlin, he met Swedish dramatist August Strindberg, whom he painted, as he embarked on his major canon The Frieze of Life, depicting a series of deeply-felt themes such as love, anxiety, jealousy and betrayal, steeped in atmosphere.

The Scream was conceived in Kristiania. According to Munch, he was out walking at sunset, when he ‘heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature’. The painting’s agonised face is widely identified with the angst of the modern person. Between 1893 and 1910, he made two painted versions and two in pastels, as well as a number of prints. One of the pastels would eventually command the fourth highest nominal price paid for a painting at auction.

As his fame and wealth grew, his emotional state remained insecure. He briefly considered marriage, but could not commit himself. A breakdown in 1908 forced him to give up heavy drinking, and he was cheered by his increasing acceptance by the people of Kristiania and exposure in the city’s museums. His later years were spent working in peace and privacy. Although his works were banned in Nazi Germany, most of them survived World War II, securing him a legacy.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

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27
Dec
20

European art research tour exhibition: ‘Alberto Giacometti’ at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Exhibition dates: 18th July – 1st December 2019, posted December 2020

Curators: Julia Tatiana Bailey (NGP), Catherine Grenier (Fondation Giacometti), Serena Bucalo-Mussely (Fondation Giacometti)

 

 

Installation view of the entrance to the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the entrance to the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The last posting for this year. What an excellent way to finish off what has been an incredibly long, stressful and tragic time. I am thinking of all my readers and sending them good energies for the year ahead. I saw this exhibition during my European sojourn last September… it seems a long time ago now.

.
The revelations

The beauty, darkness and intensity of Giacometti’s paintings. Most unexpected.
The fecundity, malleability and darkness of his busts of men.

.
The highlight

The large Walking Man I (1960)

.
The disappointment

That there was only one Walking Man in the exhibition (Giacometti cast six numbered editions plus four artist proofs). I wanted to see a whole forest of them!

 

What a privilege to see this exhibition.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All iPhone images © Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“In my finished work I find transformed and relocated images, impressions, events that deeply affected me (often without me realising it), forms that are very close to me, even if I am often not able to name them, which makes them even more mysterious.”

.
Alberto Giacometti

 

 

The retrospective presents the works by one of the major 20th-century artists, sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti (1901⁠-1966) for the first time in the Czech milieu.

His main theme was the human figure. He became well-known for compelling elongated figures done after World War II, but no less important are his artworks from the interwar period, when he was a key member of the Paris avant-garde. The National Gallery Prague prepares this exhibition in cooperation with the Paris-based Fondation Giacometti, which administers the estate of Annette and Alberto Giacometti. The selection of the exhibits from its collections, which is shown in the Trade Fair Palace, includes more than one hundred sculptures (including rare originals of plaster), paintings and drawings from all Giacometti’s creative periods, from the 1920s to 1960s.

 

 

Installation view of the entrance to the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the entrance to the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the entrance to the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation views of the opening of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

A family of artists

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation views of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Large Head of Mother' 1925

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Large Head of Mother (installation view)
1925
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Head of Father (Round II)' 1927-1930

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Head of Father (Round II) (installation view)
1927-1930
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

For the very first time in the Czech Republic, the National Gallery Prague presents the work of one of the most important, influential and beloved artists of the 20th century, the sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966).

This extensive retrospective exhibition maps Giacometti’s artistic development across five decades. It follows its course from the artist’s early years in the Swiss town of Stampa, through his avant-garde experiments in inter-war Paris and up to its culmination in the unique manner of figural representation for which the artist is known best. His impressive elongated figures, which Giacometti created after World War II and which carry a sense of existential urgency, reflect his sense for the fragility and vulnerability of the human being.

Thanks to a joint collaboration with the Fondation Giacometti in Paris, who administers the estate of Annette and Alberto Giacometti, we are able to present over one hundred sculptures, including a series of valuable plaster statuettes, to the Czech audience. The exhibition will also feature several of Giacometti’s key paintings and drawings that testify to the breadth of his technical ability and thematic ambit,” says Julia Bailey, the exhibition’s curator from the NGP’s Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art. The exhibition at the Trade Fair Palace will feature such notable examples of Giacometti’s works as Walking Man, Standing Woman or his Women of Venice, which intrigued audiences at the famous Italian Biennale in 1956, as well as several other of his iconic works such as Spoon Woman, Woman with Chariot, Nose and valuable miniature plaster sculptures, intimate portraits of the artist’s family and friends who have been Giacometti’s favourite models all life long.

Giacometti, whom Jean-Paul Sartre described as one of the most important existential artists, refused strictly realistic representation because he perceived an insurmountable abyss between reality and art. “The originality of Giacometti’s work lies in the fact that it is situated on the very edge of this chasm. He internalised his earlier struggle with representation to such an extent that it became a motive force for his art,” explains Catherine Grenier, director of the Fondation Giacometti, President of the Giacometti Institute, and co-curator of the show.

The exhibition Alberto Giacometti, prepared by the National Gallery in collaboration with the Fondation Giacometti in Paris, will open on 18 July 2019 on the first floor of the Trade Fair Palace and run until 1 December 2019. It will be complemented by a rich accompanying programme as well as a companion volume.

Press release from the National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Gazing Head' 1929

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Gazing Head (installation view)
1929
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing at centre, Suspended Ball 1930-31
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Suspended Ball' 1930-31

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Suspended Ball (installation view)
1930-31
Plaster, metal and string
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In the magazine Le Surréalisme au service de la Révolution, Salvador Dalí presented this work as the prototype “object with a symbolic function”. The potential swinging of the ball on the crescent simultaneously suggests the softness of a caress and the violence of an incision. The erotic dimension is obvious, reinforced by the idea of movement. It is the first example of Giacometti’s “cage” works.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing at left in the top photograph, Cubist figures / couples, and at right in the bottom photograph, Pocket-Tray 1930-1931
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Pocket-Tray' 1930-1931

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Pocket-Tray (installation view)
1930-1931
Painted plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Cubist Figure I' c. 1926 (left) and 'The Couple' 1926 (right)

 

Left

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Cubist Figure I (installation view)
c. 1926
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris

Right

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
The Couple (installation view)
1926
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Composition (known as Cubist I, Couple)' and 'Composition (known as Cubist II, Couple)' 1926-1927

 

Left

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Composition (known as Cubist I, Couple) (installation view)
1926-1927
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris

Right

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Composition (known as Cubist II, Couple) (installation view)
c. 1927
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

For the first time in history the Trade Fair Palace presented to Czech visitors the work of one of the most important, most influential and also most popular 20th century artists. Alberto Giacometti was not only a sculptor, but also a painter. The exhibition offered a new interpretation of Giacometti’s work focused on the human figure. The works, which had not yet been exhibited or are not exhibited often, included iconic pieces from each period of his career. More than 170 statues, pictures and graphics were on display. The retrospective exhibition was divided into nine chronological, topical units. They mapped Giacometti’s journey through the decades, from growing up in Stampa, Switzerland, to avant-garde experiments in interwar Paris and the climax in his unique displaying of the body. It is the impressive, existential figures that he created during the Second World War and that reflect the author’s feeling for the fragility and vulnerability of a human being that made the artist most famous. The individual groups included a whole number of large photographs with Giacometti, the exhibition also contained a video in which the artist spoke of his work and an interactive studio. The cherry on top was, at the end of the exhibition, the bronze Walking Man from 1960. The statue was placed against a white background, so the dark silhouette stood out, and illuminated so that it cast several shadows. This gave rise to a multiform image of one item.

Anonymous text from the Lexxus Norton website 20th September 2019 [Online] Cited 19/12/2020

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing at left Very Small Figurine (1937-1939), and at right Woman with Chariot (1943-1945)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Tiny sculptures

During the war, Giacometti left for Geneva and produced tiny works in a hotel room that he transformed into his studio. Those motifs in miniature were placed on pedestals integrated into the sculpture, for which he experimented with variations in form and size.

He worked from memory on figures seen from afar, in an attempt to sculpt “the distance”. The Very Small Figurine in plaster [at left in the above photograph] was made from memory of Isabel Delmer in the distance on a Parisian boulevard. It barely measures a few centimetres but it is as monumental as Woman with Chariot, the only piece Giacometti sculpted in a large dimension during the war [at right in the above photograph].

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Woman with Chariot' 1943-1945 (detail)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Woman with Chariot (installation view detail)
1943-1945
Plaster and wood
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Tall Woman Seated' 1958

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Tall Woman Seated (installation view)
1958
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Bust of Annette X' 1965 (left) and 'Bust of Annette, Venice' 1962 (right)

 

Left

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Bust of Annette X (installation view)
1965
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris

Right

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Bust of Annette, Venice (installation view)
1962
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Annette Arm met Giacometti in Genova in 1943, and became his wife in 1949. She was to be one of Alberto’s favourite models. The representations of Annette evolved throughout the years and transformed in line with the artist’s state of mind and according to his vision of the moment. Annette’s attitude is often solemn, her eyes fixed in front of her. For Giacometti the gaze was the absolute sign of life: “When I manage to capture the expression in the eyes, everything else follows.”

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Bust of a Man (known as New York I)' 1965

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Bust of a Man (known as New York I) (installation view)
1965
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Bust of a Man (known as New York II)' 1965

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Bust of a Man (known as New York II) (installation view)
1965
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Bust of Diego' 1962

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Bust of Diego (installation view)
1962
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Bust of a Man' 1956

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Bust of a Man (installation view)
1956
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Tall Thin Head' 1954

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing Tall Thin Head 1954
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Tall Thin Head' 1954

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Tall Thin Head' 1954

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Tall Thin Head (installation views)
1954
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris

 

 

This bust of Diego gathers two very different views into a single one. Worked with the “blade of a knife”, the facial features are aligned according to a slightly askew axis, with the extreme narrowness provoking the sensation of disappearing into space. Seen in profile, the compact form defines the craggy contours of the nose, the half open mouth and the chin, all dominated by a skull stretched upwards.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing some of his paintings
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing at right centre, The Cage 1950-51 (bronze, Fondation Giacometti, Paris)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The Cage, 1950-51

Between 1949 and 1951, Giacometti went back to the device of the cage invented for Suspended Ball. The legs raise to a certain height the table on which the figures are presented: two characters, arranged on a board, a spindly woman, and a male character, reduced to a bust directly placed on the floor. The cage is used to define the space and frame the scene.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing at centre left, Four Women on a Base 1950 (bronze, Fondation Giacometti, Paris)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Four Women on a Base' 1950

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Four Women on a Base (installation view)
1950
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Women of Venice' 1956 (installation view detail)

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Women of Venice' 1956 (installation view detail)

 

Installation views of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing Women of Venice 1956 (plaster and painted plaster, Fondation Giacometti, Paris)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Women of Venice, 1956

The Women of Venice owe their name to the Venice Biennale, where six plaster sculptures from the series were exhibited in 1956. Giacometti made nudes in clay, which were cast by his brother Diego as he proceeded. The plaster pieces were then reworked with a knife and enhanced with paint. The aspect of the women owes a lot to the use of soft clay imprinted with the marks of the artist’s fingers.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague with The Glade 1950 in the foreground with Women of Venice 1956 in the background
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'The Glade' 1950 (installation view)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
The Glade (installation view)
1950
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'The Forest' 1950 (installation view)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
The Forest (installation view)
1950
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The Forest, 1950

Giacometti said that one day he place some figures on the floor of the studio to make room on his worktable. Chance organised them in positions that he kept and then rear-arranged in two separate works, The Glade and The Forest. This sculpture reminded him of a place in the forest visited during childhood, where trees made him think of characters talking to one another, immobilised in the act of walking.

 

Making a portrait

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation views of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing in the bottom image at second left Isaku Yanaihara 1956-57, and at right Yanaihara in Profile 1956
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Isaku Yanaihara' 1956-57 (installation view)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Isaku Yanaihara (installation view)
1956-57
Oil on canvas
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Professor of Philosophy at the University of Osaka in Japan, Isaku Yanaihara met Giacometti in 1955 at an interview. Fascinated by his face, the artist made him one of his main models. The philosophy returned almost every summer between 1956 and 1961 to sit for two sculpted busts, twenty or so painted portraits and numerous drawn portraits.

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Yanaihara in Profile' 1956 (installation view)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Yanaihara in Profile (installation view)
1956
Oil on canvas
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Alberto Giacometti (10 October 1901 – 11 January 1966) was a Swiss sculptor, painter, draftsman and printmaker. Beginning in 1922, he lived and worked mainly in Paris but regularly visited his hometown Borgonovo to see his family and work on his art.

Giacometti was one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. His work was particularly influenced by artistic styles such as Cubism and Surrealism. Philosophical questions about the human condition, as well as existential and phenomenological debates played a significant role in his work. Around 1935 he gave up on his Surrealistic influences in order to pursue a more deepened analysis of figurative compositions. Giacometti wrote texts for periodicals and exhibition catalogues and recorded his thoughts and memories in notebooks and diaries. His self-critical nature led to great doubts about his work and his ability to do justice to his own artistic ideas but acted as a great motivating force.

Between 1938 and 1944 Giacometti’s sculptures had a maximum height of seven centimetres (2.75 inches). Their small size reflected the actual distance between the artist’s position and his model. In this context he self-critically stated: “But wanting to create from memory what I had seen, to my terror the sculptures became smaller and smaller”. After World War II, Giacometti created his most famous sculptures: his extremely tall and slender figurines. These sculptures were subject to his individual viewing experience – between an imaginary yet real, a tangible yet inaccessible space.

In Giacometti’s whole body of work, his painting constitutes only a small part. After 1957, however, his figurative paintings were equally as present as his sculptures. His almost monochromatic paintings of his late work do not refer to any other artistic styles of modernity.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation views of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing at left in the bottom photograph, Stele III 1958
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Stele III' 1958 (installation view detail)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Stele III (installation view detail)
1958
Plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'The Nose' 1947

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
The Nose (installation view)
1947
Bronze, painted metal and cotton string
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

This extraordinary head suspended in a void is the representation of a nightmare that deeply upset the artist following a traumatic experience in 1921. After witnessing the death of Pieter van Meurs, whom he had met while travelling, Giacometti became fascinated by the nose that appeared to be growing continually even after life had left his body. [See also the gaping mouth of the sculpture Head on a Rod 1947]

 

1921: At the beginning of the summer he travels yet again to Italy, and on the train he meets a mysterious man, an old Dutchman named Peter van Meurs, who would later contact Giacometti with an invitation to become his travel companion. Giacometti, hungry for adventure and wanting to avoid wasting time in school, which he resented, he was finally given permission by his parents, reluctantly, to embark on the adventure. He was only 19, years of age. However, as fate would have it, the adventure was cut short by the unexpected death of the old Dutchman.

 

The Death of van Meurs

The following story is told by James Lord in his excellent book: Giacometti, A Biography:

“Van Meurs was not handsome. He had thick fleshy features … If he was a homosexual there is no reason to assume he was an active or even conscious one. … The travellers set  out on September 3, 1921 … they went to the Grand Hotel ds Alpes, built on the ruins of an ancient monastery.

The following day was Sunday. Rain was falling on the mountainsides, on the forest, and on the fields around the hotel. It was cold. Van Meurs awoke unwell and in sever pain.  He suffered from kidney stones … The hotel luckily had a doctor attached to the staff. He was called, examined van Meurs, and gave him an injection to ease the pain.

Alberto remained by the bedside of the elderly Dutchman. Having brought with him a copy of Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pecuchet, he began to read the introductory essay by Guy de Maupassant. In it there is a passage which may have seemed striking to the impressionable young artist as he sat by the bed of this sick man whom he barley knew.

Speaking of Flaubert, Maupassant says:

“Those people who are altogether happy, strong and healthy: are they adequately prepared to understand, to penetrate, and to express this life we live, so tormented, so short? Are they made, the exuberant and outgoing, for the discovery of all those afflictions and all those sufferings which beset us, for the knowledge that death strikes without surcease, every day and everywhere, ferocious, blind, fatal? So it is possible, it is probable, that the first seizure of epilepsy made a deep mark of melancholy and fear upon the mind of this robust youth. It is probable that thereafter a kind of apprehension toward life remained with him, a manner somewhat more somber of considering things, a suspicion of outward events, a mistrust of apparent happiness.”

Outside the window, rain continued to fall … but [van Meurs] showed no sign of improving. On the contrary. His cheeks had become sunken, and he was barely breathing through his open mouth.

Alberto took paper and pencil and began to draw the sick man “to see him more clearly, to try to grasp and hold the sight before his eyes, to understand it, to make something permanent of the experience of the moment.” He drew the sunken cheeks, the open mouth, and the fleshy nose which even as he watched seemed bizarrely to be growing longer and longer. Then it suddenly occurred to him that van Meurs was going to die. All alone in that remote hotel, with rain pouring on the rocky mountaintops outside, Alberto was seized by blind fear.

Toward the end of the afternoon, the doctor returned  and examined the sick man again. Taking Alberto aside, he said, “Its finished. The heart’s failing. Tonight he’ll be dead.”

Nightfall came.  Hours passed.  Peter van Meurs died.

In that instant everything changed for Alberto Giacometti forever. He said so, and never ceased saying so. The subsequent testimony of his lifetime showed that it was the truth.  Till then he had had no idea, no inkling of what death was. He had never seen it. He had thought of life as possessing a force, a persistence, a permanence of its own, and of death as a fateful occurrence which might somehow enhance the solemnity, and even the value, of life. Now he had seen death. It had been present for an instant before his eyes with a power which reduced life to nothingness. He had witnessed the transition from being to non-being. Where there had formerly been a man, now there remained only refuse. What had once seemed valuable and solemn was now visibly absurd and trivial. He had seen that life is frail, uncertain, transitory.

In that instant, everything seemed as vulnerable as van Meurs. Everything was threatened in the essence of its being. From the most infinitesimal speck of matter to the great galaxies and the whole universe itself, everything was precious, perishable. Human survival above all appeared haphazard and preposterous.

James Lord then quotes Giacometti’s own words: … “For me it was an abominable trap. In a few hours van Meurs had become an object, nothing. Then death became possible at every moment for me, for everyone. It was like a warning. So much had come about by chance: the meeting, the train, the advertisement [placed by van Meurs in the newspaper]. As if everything had been prepared to make me witness this wretched end. My whole life certainly shifted in one stroke on that day. Everything became fragile for me.”

Alberto did not rest well that night. He did not dare go to sleep for fear he might never wake. He was so afraid of the dark, as if the extinction of light were the extinction of life, as if the loss of sight were the loss of everything. All night, he kept the light burning. [and every night of his life thereafter]. He shook himself repeatedly to try to stay awake. … Then suddenly it seemed to him in his half-sleep that his mouth was hanging open like the mouth of the dying man, and he started awake in terror.”

James Lord quoted in Steven D. Foster. “Homage to Giacometti Part 5: Regarding His Fear of Death,” on the Steven D. Foster – Photographs: The Departing Landscape website September 10, 2017 [Online] Cited 20/12/2020.

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Head on a Rod' 1947 (installation view)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Head on a Rod (installation view)
1947
Painted plaster and metal
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Standing Figures

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation views of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing in the bottom photograph, Woman Leoni 1947-1958
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Woman Leoni' 1947-1958 (installation view detail)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Woman Leoni (installation view detail)
1947-1958
Painted plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Standing Nude on a Cubic Base' 1953 (installation view)

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Standing Nude on a Cubic Base (installation view)
1953
Painted plaster
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation views of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing Walking Man I 1960
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966) 'Walking Man I' 1960

 

Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966)
Walking Man I (installation view)
1960
Bronze
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

THE LAST ART WORK IN THE EXHIBITION

In 1959, the architect Gordon Bunshaft commissioned a monumental sculpture for the plaza of the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. Giacometti chose three figures that sum up his work in a definitive manner: a standing woman, a head and a walking man. Unsatisfied with the result he decided to abandon the project. However, the work gave life to several sculptures that the artist had cast in bronze from 1960, including two versions of Walking Man.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

Installation view of the exhibition 'Alberto Giacometti' at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague

 

Installation view of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti at the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery Prague showing
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

National Gallery Prague
Trade Fair Palace
Dukelských hrdinů 47, 170 00 Prague 7

Opening hours:
Tue, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun: 10.00 – 18.00
Wed: 10.00 – 20.00

National Gallery Prague website

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20
Dec
20

Exhibition: ‘Bruce Davidson: Brooklyn Gang’ at Cleveland Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 25th October 2020 – 28th February 2021

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

For a few brief moments, rebels with a cause

This is one of my favourite photo essays of all time. The story Davidson tells of this male-orientated Brooklyn gang and its culture through his photographs is one of brotherhood, friendship, rivalry, love, longing, agony, depression and death at a time of utter poverty and rock ‘n roll rebellion. He produced “unflinchingly honest images of these American youths.” Now, all these years later, the photographs possess a powerful nostalgia for the era mixed with the desolation of destroyed lives and lost youth.

Davidson gets under the skin of his subjects, embeds himself firmly in their milieu. The subjects allow him to photograph their most intimate moments, seemingly free from worry or anxiety. There is an insouciance to their attitude, a knowing insouciance. In one photograph inside Helen’s Candy Store, Bob Powers stares directly and disarmingly at the camera while the girl playing with the yo-yo and the youth in the background also stare directly into the lens, forming a strong compositional triangle of the gaze. Powers said he was voted “most likely to die before I was 21 years old.” He lived with his seven siblings and alcoholic parents in a three-bedroom apartment that had a coal-powered cookstove and no hot water or central heating.

There is a dark undertone to the narrative. While there are moments of joy and happiness, you can sense the isolation and despair of these disaffected youths. Cathy O’Neal, seen in front of a cigarette machine at Coney Island, committed suicide by shotgun. Jimmie and his family were wiped out by drugs. Junior Rice became a heroin dealer. Lefty od’d in bed at 19. “He was the first in the group to die from a drug overdose… within a few years, drugs would claim the lives of many in the gang and in the neighbourhood.” In picturing their lives, the photographs gather moments (in time), enunciating how the gang members railed against the conformity and materialism of 1950s America whilst imbibing its rebellious iconography. Only occasionally does the artist pull back to show us the wider picture, the context of the action, with photographs of New York skyscrapers seen in the distance and the Statue of Liberty.

Davidson does not let his spontaneity slip. He is informed, aware, absent (but present) in all of these photographs waiting for that special moment. In the photograph above, a bird-like creature swoops down on something invisible on the ground. In informal yet tightly focused photographs – of sunbathing or walking the boardwalks of Coney Island, gang members fixing their hair, rolling up their sleeves, dead beat(s) in the back of the bus, making out in the back seat of a car, walking in the park or hooning around on the Metro – Davidson is there to capture the off-beat moments of gang existence and the members relationship to each other.

Through a superb eye, a feeling, a sensibility and connection towards the gang members desperation and isolation, universally acknowledged by the photographer himself, Davidson sets them all on the path to immortality. Do not forget, these photographs seem to be saying. For a few brief moments these people did exist, their lives were valuable, these rebels with a cause.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

One of Davidson’s best-known series, Brooklyn Gang was inspired by a news story he read about a teenage gang called the Jokers.

Davidson contacted the Jokers, one of Brooklyn’s roughest gangs, through their social worker. In the summer of 1959, Davidson roamed the streets of New York with these teens, loitered in stores that the Jokers called their own, and sunbathed with them on the beach at Coney Island. Eventually they allowed him to photograph even their most intimate, private moments. He responded by producing unflinchingly honest images of these American youths.

Gang membership was exclusively male, but the members’ girlfriends appear frequently in Davidson’s photographs. Some of the pictures depict the teenagers exploring lust and love and the boys struggling to define and prove their masculinity. Looking back at the series in 1998, Davidson said that he felt “the reason that body of work has survived is that it’s about emotion. That kind of mood and tension and sexual vitality, that’s what those pictures were really about.”

 

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The pleasures and agonies of teenage romance are captured in Bruce Davidson’s photographs of the gang’s dance parties, which were held variously in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, at a neighbourhood school, and in members’ homes. The basement wallpaper seen here – with its fairy-tale figures, including horses, queens, knights, marionettes, and jokers – suggests a domestic setting. The event could have been a farewell party for an older gang member going off to join the army, which was a common occurrence.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16 x 23.9cm (6 5/16 x 9 7/16 in.)
Paper: 20.3 x 25.2cm (8 x 9 15/16 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

This rooftop view in Park Slope, Brooklyn, was taken from a building in the gang’s “turf,” which was a block anchored by the intersection of 17th Street and 8th Avenue. Davidson spent the summer hanging out with the gang and photographing them. Describing his process, the artist said, “I stay a long time. … I am an outsider on the inside.” Park Slope, now one of New York’s most desirable neighbourhoods, was then a poor, mostly Irish area.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.9 x 14.6cm (8 5/8 x 5 3/4 in.)
Paper: 25.1 x 20.2cm (9 7/8 x 7 15/16 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Davidson contacted the Jokers, one of Brooklyn’s roughest gangs, through their social worker. In the summer of 1959, Davidson roamed the streets of New York with these teens, loitered in stores that the Jokers called their own, and sunbathed with them on the beach at Coney Island. Eventually they allowed him to photograph even their most intimate, private moments. He responded by producing unflinchingly honest images of these American youths.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The pleasures and agonies of teenage romance are captured in Bruce Davidson’s photographs of the gang’s dance parties, which were held variously in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, at a neighbourhood school, and in members’ homes.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.1 x 24.1cm (6 5/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Paper: 20.2 x 25.3cm (7 15/16 x 9 15/16 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Childhood pastimes like playing yo-yo were a thing of the distant past for 15-year-old Bob Powers, a Joker seen here leaning against a fixture in Helen’s Candy Store. He had already been in and out of the court system numerous times by 1959. Powers stabbed someone when he was 12 and had been incarcerated for bringing zip guns (homemade firearms) and chains to school, where, Powers said, he was voted “most likely to die before I was 21 years old.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The gang members, most of whom were 15 or 16 years old, thought tattoos made them look older and might help them get served at bars. Tattoos were also a demonstration of masculinity and a rite of passage. Bob Powers, seen here at age 15 displaying his first tattoo, recalled years later that “the first time you get a tattoo it’s scary. I was sitting back with a cigarette like it’s nothing. Meanwhile, it was killing me. … I got ‘Bobby’ with stars around it. … They said, ‘Get your name.’ … I hated it forever.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 61 x 50.8cm (24 x 20 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

One of the gang members – Bob Powers – suggested that Davidson follow him to a rooftop on the gang’s block. “I remember thinking,” said Davidson, “‘This kid’s going to throw me off the roof and then rob me,’ but he’s pointing down at the stickball game (an informal form of baseball played in the street) and saying, ‘Get that,’ and saying: ‘Oh, there’s the Statue of Liberty. You can see it through all these television antennas.'”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The gang members were very concerned with their appearance, although they did not have much money to spend on grooming or clothes. “If you see a picture of me,” said former gang member Bob Powers, “the broken tooth, my teeth were green because I didn’t go to the dentist. We never had any money even though my father worked. … We used Vaseline petroleum jelly to make our hair stick like iron in a pompadour. We combed our hair constantly, wore sunglasses, and all thought we were Marlon Brandos.”

The Jokers’ slicked-back pompadours … and their clothing echoed the greaser style, a rebellious youth subculture that was promoted by cinematic antiheroes of the era. Role models included Marlon Brando’s portrayal of a motorcycle gang member in The Wild One (1953) and James Dean as a troubled teen in Rebel without a Cause (1955). The “bad boy” image flouted the aspirational role model of the time, the upwardly mobile white-collar worker in a business suit and short haircut.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Petey, a Jokers member who looks out the second-story window here, was injured in that fight. Petey’s best friend, fellow Jokers member Bob Powers, walks by the house. Housing in the gang’s neighbourhood, the then-impoverished Park Slope, Brooklyn, was overcrowded and rundown. Powers lived with his seven siblings and alcoholic parents in a three-bedroom apartment that had a coal-powered cookstove and no hot water or central heating.

 

 

One of the most highly respected and influential American documentary photographers of the past half century, Bruce Davidson spent several months photographing the daily lives of a teenage street gang for his 1959 series Brooklyn Gang. A new exhibition in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Mark Schwartz and Bettina Katz Photography Gallery, Bruce Davidson: Brooklyn Gang features 50 black-and-white photographs from that series, which are part of a recent anonymous gift to the museum of extensive selections from the artist’s archives. The exhibition is on view now through February 28, 2021.

Brooklyn Gang was Davidson’s first major project after joining the distinguished photo agency Magnum and was the fruit of several months spent immersing himself in the daily lives of the Jokers, one of the many teenage street gangs worrying New York City officials at the time. He recorded the teenagers’ pleasures and frustrations as they attempted to define masculinity and mimic adult behaviour. The photographs reflect the group’s camaraderie but also their alienation from societal norms. While many officials and commentators at the time saw the gangs as evidence of social deterioration resulting from poverty, others regarded them as the most visible manifestations of a socially disengaged generation of males – rebels without a cause.

“Bruce Davidson: Brooklyn Gang presents an intimate portrayal of the teens’ lives,” said William Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “Davidson was an outsider, but one who spent so much time with the gang that he became, as he liked to say, ‘an outsider on the inside.’ Davidson offered an independent look at the lives of these disadvantaged youths; this view of society was quite different from the age of visual and social homogenisation of the 1950s presented in mainstream magazines such as Life and Look and predicts the social turmoil of the 1960s.”

The images reflect the time Davidson spent with the teens hanging out on street corners and in the local candy store and accompanying them to the beach at Coney Island with their girlfriends. Included are several sets of variant images, affording a rare glimpse into Davidson’s working process.

“Despite a more than ten-year age difference, Davidson describes recognising his own repression in his subjects and feeling a connection to their desperation,” said Barbara Tannenbaum, the CMA’s chair of prints, drawings, and photographs and curator of photography.

Press release from the Cleveland Museum of Art

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 40.6 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The museum owns several groups of images from the series taken during the same shoot at Coney Island. They provide a rare glimpse of the artist’s selection process (see 2018.688, 2018.696, 2018.697, 2018.701, 2018.706, and 2018.735). The size of these prints, and the fact that the artist printed them long after they were shot, suggest he considered all four images worthwhile. In an exhibition print, the white marks on the woman’s cheek here, made by dust on the negative, would have been covered up with ink or dye, a process known as spotting. This may be a work print, made to aid in decisions on exactly how to print this picture. It has become one of the better-known images from Brooklyn Gang.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

In this photograph, gang member Bob Powers talks with friends in one of the many Coney Island bathhouses where people could change, shower, or swim in pools. “We’d come down on a Friday and sometimes we’d stay the whole weekend till Monday, down on the beach, me, Lefty, Junior,” Powers recalled. “The girls would stay too… We would light fires and bury all the cans of beer. I remember stealing cars and driving down there. We’d drive the car under the boardwalk and bring it right onto the bay and leave it there.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 50.8 x 61cm (20 x 24 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Shown here on the Coney Island boardwalk, from left to right, are gang members Junior Rice, Bob Powers, and Lefty, who “was a pretty tough guy in the gang and then he went to jail for about a year,” according to Powers. “He came out and he just lost it. He wasn’t the same guy. Something happened and nobody knew what. … We protected him a bit, but he caught a couple of bad beatings and lost his reputation. He ate a lot of pills one night and never woke up. His mother found him dead. OD’d in bed at 19. He was the first in the group to die from a drug overdose.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.1 x 24.1 cm (6 5/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Paper: 20.2 x 25.3 cm (7 15/16 x 9 15/16 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

This print is vintage – made soon after the picture was shot – and its 8 x 10-inch size was typical of the period and preferred for making reproductions for magazines and books. As photography began gaining acceptance into the gallery and museum world in the 1980s, larger prints became the norm. The museum also owns an unusually large print of the same image, made in the 1990s or 2000s, which was created to be exhibited in galleries and museums. The two may look the same on the computer screen, but do not feel the same when viewed in real life.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.8 x 24.1 cm (6 1/4 x 9 1/2 in.)
Paper: 20.1 x 25.4 cm (7 15/16 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

After a day at the beach at Coney Island, the teens “would take the long bus ride back to their neighbourhood,” remembered Bruce Davidson. “As they sat in the rear of the bus, the sunlight burned through the windows, giving them an angelic glow. They would drift into their dreams and awake alert to the mean streets awaiting them.”

 

 

Bruce Davidson

Barbara Tannenbaum

Curator of Photography

A hot topic in the 1950s, gangs were avidly analysed by sociologists, the press, and artists. Gordon Parks’s photographs of a young black Harlem gang leader were published in Life magazine in 1948. The musical West Side Story, which pitted a Polish gang against a Puerto Rican one, debuted on Broadway in 1957. The following year, a seven-part series in the New York Times analysed the social, economic, and psychological causes of this juvenile delinquency.

In the summer of 1959, Bruce Davidson went to Brooklyn to meet and photograph a teenage street gang called the Jokers. Davidson’s series Brooklyn Gang provided an in-depth view into the daily activities of an Irish and Polish gang whose turf was a block in the impoverished Park Slope neighbourhood. The Jokers were teenagers who were mostly students at the neighbourhood Catholic school or dropouts. They shoplifted and fought with members of rival gangs in rumbles that involved bricks, bats, knives, and occasionally zip (homemade) guns.

At age 25, Davidson was an outsider to them. He had been raised in a Jewish family in suburban Chicago and held an MFA in photography from Yale University. His images were being published in major magazines, and he had just joined Magnum, a distinguished, artist-run photographic agency. The Jokers’ role models were the greasers, a rebellious youth subculture promoted by cinematic antiheroes such as Marlon Brando’s motorcycle gang member in The Wild One (1953) and James Dean’s troubled teen in Rebel without a Cause (1955). The gang members’ “bad boy” image, replete with Vaseline-slicked pompadours and blue-collar clothing, flouted the era’s aspirational role model of an upwardly mobile white-collar worker in a business suit and short haircut.

Davidson did not sport a pompadour, but making a living as a freelance photojournalist was itself a rebellion against the nine-to-five office world. He spent the summer with the Jokers, hanging out on street corners, in the local candy store, and on the beach at Coney Island. His images reflect their alienation and anxieties but also their camaraderie. The boys explore male bonding rituals and act out their visions of maleness and adulthood. They may roughhouse, but gang ethics dictated that they were not to hurt each other. Real violence was reserved for rival gangs and, like their criminal acts, was not shown by Davidson.

He did capture the teens’ early experiences with lust and love. The Lothario in the back seat of a car is Lefty, of whom Bob Powers, a gang member who wrote a memoir 40 years later, remarked, “We never thought he was good-looking, but all the girls loved him.” This well-known image of Lefty is joined in the exhibition by three others from that same make-out session. Together they form an almost cinematic progression. Several other groups of related images of events are also included in the exhibition. These rare glimpses into the artist’s shooting and editing processes are all drawn from the recent anonymous gift to the museum of 367 works from Davidson’s archive, selections that span his 70-year career.

Davidson was careful not to pass judgment in his Brooklyn Gang photographs. The youngsters’ hairstyles, tattoos, and underage drinking, smoking, and sex were considered ruinous behaviour at the time. The memoirs of Bob Powers and the reminiscences of other members give the Jokers’ story a dark tone. The best-known image in the series, taken in front of a cigarette machine at Coney Island, shows Artie Giammarino, who later became a transit police detective, and Cathy O’Neal, whom the boys considered “beautiful like Brigitte Bardot.” Cathy is seen here at age 13 or 14, around the time she began dating the “coolest” of the gang, Junior Rice. At 14 she got pregnant. Though they were both under the legal age, they married. They later divorced, and Junior became a heroin dealer and user; within a few years, drugs would claim the lives of many in the gang and in the neighbourhood. Years after their divorce, Cathy committed suicide by shotgun.

Davidson would always remain an outsider to the gang, but his working process allowed for intimacy and trust to grow between the gang members and the photographer. By the end of the summer, Davidson realised that he and the Jokers were all considered outsiders in the conformist, materialistic 1950s. “I could see my own repression in them, and I began to feel a connection to their desperation,” he remembered. “I began to feel their isolation and even my own.”

Cleveland Art, Fall 2020

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 61 x 50.8 cm (24 x 20 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Although most of the gang members’ time was spent in their neighbourhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn, the Jokers sometimes took excursions. Few had access to cars, so most travel was by bus and subway. The subway fare of 15 cents – the equivalent of $1.33 today – would take them anywhere in New York City. Here a gang member and his girlfriend wait for a train on the neighbourhood subway platform. The beach at Coney Island was a favourite summer destination for the gang.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

“We used to hang out in [Brooklyn’s] Prospect Park all the time,” recalled Jokers member Bob Powers. “We did a lot of drinking and sleeping overnight in the park. … The cops with their bats would push us along, tell us to move. We were very defiant. If we moved, we moved ten feet. Then they had to tell us to move another ten feet. We’d kind of like move around in a circle and come back to where we originally started. The cops were mean at that time, but then we weren’t the best of kids either.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 13.9 x 17.6cm (5 1/2 x 6 15/16 in.)
Image: 11.4 x 16.9cm (4 1/2 x 6 5/8 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The Jokers roughhoused and fought among themselves but were not allowed to hurt each other. Real violence was reserved for those in other gangs or occasionally for civilians. “Did we fight with chains and pipes and knives? Yeah,” gang member Bob Powers reminisced years later. “Did people get stabbed? Yeah, people got stabbed. And people got their heads cracked open with bats.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The gang member making out in the back seat of a car on the way home from Coney Island is Lefty, identifiable by his tattoo. “We always wondered why the girls liked him,” recalled Jokers member Bob Powers. “We never thought he was good-looking, but all the girls loved him. It was amazing.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 61 x 50.8 cm (24 x 20 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Jimmie, an older member of the gang, watched over the younger members with his brother Johnny. In 1998, Jokers member Bob Powers recalled, “Later, the whole family, all six of them … died, wiped out, mostly from drugs. It’s amazing because at this particular time, if you see Jimmie, he’s like the ‘Fonz,’ like James Dean – handsome. He was good-looking, he had the women, and he was always working on cars.”

 

 

Cleveland Museum of Art
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Cleveland, Ohio 44106

Opening hours:
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15
Nov
20

Exhibition: ‘Photography’s Last Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 10th March – 30th November 2020

Curator: Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary' 1917

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary
1917
Gelatin silver print
1 1/2 in. × 2 in. (3.8 × 5.1cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2020 Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures

 

 

This tiny but iconic masterpiece of twentieth-century photography is the second earliest work in the exhibition, and a gem in the Tenenbaum and Lee collection. Made while André Kertész was convalescing from a gunshot wound received while serving in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I, it prefigures by some fifteen years his renowned mirror distortions produced in Paris. Displaying both Cubist and Surrealist influences, the photograph reveals the artist’s commitment to the spontaneous yet analytic observation of fleeting commonplace occurrences – one of the essential and most idiosyncratic qualities of the medium.

 

 

It’s a mystery

There are some eclectic photographs in this posting, many of which have remained un/seen to me before.

I have never seen the above version of Kertész’s Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary (1917), with wall, decoration and water flowing into the pool at left. The usual image crops these features out, focusing on the distortion of the body in the water, and the lengthening of the figure diagonally across the picture frame. That both images are from the same negative can be affirmed if one looks at the patterning of the water. Even as the exhibition of Kertész’s work at Jeu de Paume at the Château de Tours that I saw last year stated that their version was a contact original… this is not possible unless the image has been cropped.

Other images by Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Outerbridge Jr., Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, Pierre Dubreuil, Ilse Bing, Bill Brandt, Dora Maar, Joseph Cornell, Nan Goldin, Laurie Simmons, Robert Gober, Rachel Whiteread, Zanele Muholi have eluded my consciousness until now.

What I can say after viewing them is this.

I am forever amazed at how deep the spirit, and the medium, of photography is… if you give the photograph a chance. A friend asked me the other day whether photographs had any meaning anymore, as people glance for a nano-second at images on Instagram, and pass on. We live in a world of instant gratification was my answer to him. But the choice is yours if you take / time with a photograph, if it possesses the POSSIBILITY of a meditation from its being. If it intrigues or excites, or stimulates, makes you reflect, cry – that is when the photographs pre/essence, its embedded spirit, can make us attest to the experience of its will, its language, its desire. In our presence.

The more I learn about photography, the less I find I know. The lake (archive) is deep – full of serendipity, full of memories, stagings, concepts and realities. Full of nuances and light, crevices and dark passages. To understand photography is a life-long study. To an inquiring mind, even then, you may only – scratch the surface to reveal – a sort of epiphany, a revelation, unknown to others. Every viewing is unique, every interpretation different, every context unknowable (possible).

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

PS. When Minor White was asked, what about photography when he dies? When he is no longer there to influence it? And he simply says – photography will do what it wants to do. This is a magnificent statement, and it shows an egoless freedom on Minor White’s part. It is profound knowledge about photography, about its freedom to change.

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

 

 

This exhibition will celebrate the remarkable ascendancy of photography in the last century, and Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee’s magnificent promised gift of over sixty extraordinary photographs in honour of The Met’s 150th anniversary in 2020. The exhibition will include masterpieces by the medium’s greatest practitioners, including works by Paul Strand, Dora Maar, Man Ray, and László Moholy-Nagy; Edward Weston, Walker Evans, and Joseph Cornell; Diane Arbus, Andy Warhol, Sigmar Polke, and Cindy Sherman.

The collection is particularly notable for its breadth and depth of works by women artists, its sustained interest in the nude, and its focus on artists’ beginnings. Strand’s 1916 view from the viaduct confirms his break with the Pictorialist past and establishes the artist’s way forward as a cutting-edge modernist; Walker Evans’s shadow self-portraits from 1927 mark the first inkling of a young writer’s commitment to visual culture; and Cindy Sherman’s intimate nine-part portrait series from 1976 predates her renowned series of “film stills” and confirms her striking ambition and stunning mastery of the medium at the age of twenty-two.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1918

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Georgia O’Keeffe
1918
Platinum print
9 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (24.1 × 19.1cm)
Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

This photograph marks the beginning of the romantic relationship between Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe, which transformed each of their lives and the story of American art. The two met when Stieglitz included O’Keeffe, a then-unknown painter, in her first group show at his gallery 291 in May 1916. A year later, O’Keeffe had her first solo show at the gallery and exhibited her abstract charcoal No. 15 Special, seen in the background here. In the coming months and years, O’Keeffe collaborated with Stieglitz on some three hundred portrait studies. In its physical scope, primal sensuality, and psychological power, Stieglitz’s serial portrait of O’Keeffe has no equal in American art.

 

Paul Outerbridge Jr. (American, 1896-1958) 'Telephone' 1922

 

Paul Outerbridge Jr. (American, 1896-1958)
Telephone
1922
Platinum print
4 1/2 × 3 3/8 in. (11.4 × 8.5cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

A well-paid advertising photographer working in New York in the 1930s, Paul Outerbridge Jr. was trained as a painter and set designer. Highly influenced by Cubism, he was a devoted advocate of the platinum-print process, which he used to create nearly abstract still lifes of commonplace subjects such as cracker boxes, wine glasses, and men’s collars. With their extended mid-tones and velvety blacks, platinum papers were relatively expensive and primarily used by fine-art photographers like Paul Strand, Edward Steichen, and Alfred Stieglitz. This modernist study of a Western Electric “candlestick” telephone attests to Outerbridge’s talent for transforming banal, utilitarian objects into small, but powerful sculptures with formal rigour and startling beauty.

 

Edward Weston. 'Anita ("Pear-Shaped Nude")' 1925

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Nude
1925, printed 1930s
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (21.6 × 19cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Edward Weston moved from Los Angeles to Mexico City in 1923 with Tina Modotti, an Italian actress and nascent photographer. They were each influenced by, and in turn helped shape, the larger community of artists among whom they lived and worked, which included Diego Rivera, Jean Charlot, and many other members of the Mexican Renaissance. In fall 1925 Weston made a remarkable series of nudes of the art critic, journalist, and historian Anita Brenner. Depicting her body as a pear-like shape floating in a dark void, the photographs evoke the hermetic simplicity of a sculpture by Constantin Brancusi. Brenner’s form becomes elemental, female and male, embryonic, tightly furled but ready to blossom.

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Boulevard de Strasbourg' 1926

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Boulevard de Strasbourg
1926
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 in. × 7 in. (22.5 × 17.8 cm)
Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Eugène Atget became the darling of the French Surrealists in the mid-1920s courtesy of Man Ray, his neighbour in Paris, who admired the older artist’s seemingly straight forward documentation of the city. Another American photographer, Walker Evans, also credited Atget with inspiring his earliest experiments with the camera. A talented writer, Evans penned a famous critique of his progenitor in 1930: “[Atget’s] general note is a lyrical understanding of the street, trained observation of it, special feeling for patina, eye for revealing detail, over all of which is thrown a poetry which is not ‘the poetry of the street’ or ‘the poetry of Paris,’ but the projection of Atget’s person.”

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Self-portrait, Juan-les-Pins, France, January 1927' 1927

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Self-portrait, Juan-les-Pins, France, January 1927
1927
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Shadow, Self-Portrait (Right Profile, Wearing Hat), Juan-les-Pins, France, January 1927' 1927

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Shadow, Self-Portrait (Right Profile, Wearing Hat), Juan-les-Pins, France, January 1927
1927
Film negative
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Pierre Dubreuil (French, 1872-1944) 'The Woman Driver' 1928

 

Pierre Dubreuil (French, 1872-1944)
The Woman Driver
1928
Bromoil print
9 7/16 × 7 5/8 in. (24 × 19.3cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

Like many other European and American photographers, Pierre Dubreuil was indifferent to the industrialisation of photography that followed the invention and immediate global success of the Kodak camera in the late 1880s. A wealthy member of an international community of photographers loosely known as Pictorialists, he spurned most aspects of modernism. Instead, he advocated painterly effects such as those offered by the bromoil printing process seen here. What makes this photograph exceptional, however, is the modern subject and the work’s title, The Woman Driver. Dubreuil’s wife, Josephine Vanassche, grasps the steering wheel of their open-air car and stares straight ahead, ignoring the attention of her conservative husband and his intrusive camera.

 

Florence Henri (French, born America 1893-1982) 'Windows' 1929

 

Florence Henri (French, born America 1893-1982)
Windows
1929
Gelatin silver print
14 1/2 × 10 1/4 in. (36.8 × 26cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

A peripatetic French American painter and photographer, Florence Henri studied with László Moholy-Nagy at the Bauhaus in Germany in summer 1927. Impressed by her natural talent, he wrote a glowing commentary on the artist for a small Amsterda