Archive for the 'reality' Category

02
Oct
22

Exhibition: ‘PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs’ at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 17th June – 2nd October, 2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Eight photo booth self-portraits)' Nd

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Eight photo booth self-portraits)
Nd
Gelatin silver prints on whiteboard
Sheet: 8 × 9 1/2 in. (20.32 × 24.13 cm)
Courtesy of the Ray Johnson Estate

 

 

Ray Johnson was an American artist “known primarily as a collagist and correspondence artist, he was a seminal figure in the history of Neo-Dada and early Pop art…” He absorbed from his teachers Josef Albers, Alvin Lustig, and Robert Motherwell and “entered into Zen kinship with two teachers, John Cage and Merce Cunningham, and into romantic partnership with another, the sculptor Richard Lippold.” And then he burnt all the early paintings in his possession and took the path less trodden. He developed his own artistic language “through the creation of slight, irregular-shaped, frame-resistant (but mailable) collages he called “moticos”.” (The name was an anagram of the word “osmotic”)

After moving from New York to Locust Valley, Long Island in 1968, Johnson continued to make art but only had two more solo exhibitions, the last one in 1991. “Johnson was forever constructing miniature sets for his own delirious theatre of the absurd: puzzles within puzzles. The sensibility is not unlike Joseph Cornell’s [whose work was a major influence], minus the romance and period nostalgia. Johnson worked in another sort of outsider vernacular – at once banal, vulgar, campy, and deeply sophisticated.”1 The curator Joel Smith refers to “the low-key but constant thrum of odd motivation” behind all of the artist’s work.

Towards the end of his life Johnson took up photography and became a master of the throwaway camera, using the machine to create intimate, staged actions “which served the artist as a form of citation: as a way to “reference,” rather than “represent,” his subjects. The hands-off nature of the medium gave Johnson a way to bring topics up yet keep his viewer (his recipient, his reader) focused on something he cared about more: the messaging process itself.”

Each person, each artist has a different reason to communicate. But what are they communicating? In Johnson’s case I think he was expressing his inner alternate reality, a different point of view of the world communicated through a new and fantastical visual language. Inhabited by bunnies and pop stars, Johnson’s work was a collage of the unclassifiable, bizarre, wired, wonderful, pop, performance, licked, action, nothings, dreams, concept, sexual, stamped, eccentric and enigmatic moticos… osmotic and fluidly subversive observational images, staged interventions, obsessive, witty and weird constructions. As Loring Knoblauch observes, “these pictures find new pathways of physical intervention, creating staged installations that combine Johnson’s restless collage combinations and the quirks of photographic vision into something cleverly unexpected.”2

Revelling in his insider-outsider status, Johnson was a naive draftsman / Navy draftsman (he loved a good play on words). There is a “distinctive wit – and the evident delight of discovery – that runs through these photographs.” But it is a dark witticism, as dark one of my favourite movies, Donnie Darko (full of bunnies). His is art as performance… of nothings, of everything, moving everything, setting everything in motion. We follow his in/actions whether it be documenting a flopped stranger wearing a bunny cutout, six Movie Stars in the back of a car, or his prescient undated Eight photo booth self-portraits (above) in which he acts out and obscures different personas.

In his last performance this creative man of nothing (real life) “was seen jumping from a bridge in Sag Harbor… [and] appeared to be doing a backstroke toward the open Atlantic.” He could not swim. As he said of one of his early performances, it (he) “went off into the void in some marvellous fashion…”

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Vince Aletti. “A Trove of Snapshots from a Sly Master of Collage,” on The New Yorker website July 22, 2022 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022
  2. Loring Knoblauch. “PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs @Morgan Library,” on the Collector Daily website September 7, 2022 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022

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

 

 

Johnson, however, was a prankster. Like the bunny head he adopted as his trademark – a cartoonish line drawing that appeared in much of his work, often bearing the name of a key figure in 20th-century art – he hopped lightly, merrily across this playing field. Revelling in puns and irreverence (an untitled 1973 collage known as “Jackson Pollock Fillets” includes cut-out recipes for Pollock Fillets Amandine and Barbecued Pollock Burgers), conducting his life as a nonstop performance, he revived the Dada tradition embodied by his hero Marcel Duchamp. In contrast to the grandiosity of Minimal art, land art, Pop Art and other macho midcentury movements, he offered something much humbler: collages or drawings of portable size and wry wit. … Johnson created some of the earliest works of Pop Art and was an early influence on conceptual art. …

The contents of Johnson’s pictures fall into several categories. At times, he chopped up the photos and used them to form a collage. Usually, though, and more interestingly, he found or created a collage-like pattern within the photographic frame. He made corrugated cardboard pieces that he called movie stars, and carried them to places where he could photograph them. Sometimes they incorporated images of celebrities: Marilyn Monroe, Jack Kerouac, Johns. Often they were renditions of his signature creation, a bunny with long, erect ears and a pendulous nose that, like a “Kilroy was here” graffiti drawing from World War II, feels both childlike and sexualized. He would inscribe a bunny with a name, thereby transforming it into a standardized personal portrait. And then he would drive his movie stars to a picturesque setting and shoot them with his camera.

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Arthur Lubow. “An Elusive Artist’s Trove of Never-Before-Seen Images,” on The New York Times website March 23, 2021 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022

 

As a body of work, these photographs by Johnson absolutely feel unfinished, in an open-ended and unwieldy way, as though he was grasping for new ways to communicate. Seen together, there is both dogged teach-yourself inventiveness and a hint of loneliness on display, with a nostalgia for stars of the past and his own younger face percolating through his iterative reworkings. At their best, these pictures find new pathways of physical intervention, creating staged installations that combine Johnson’s restless collage combinations and the quirks of photographic vision into something cleverly unexpected. At the end of his life, Johnson was actually becoming an interesting photographer, and these unearthed leavings provide tantalizing glimpses of what might have been.

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Loring Knoblauch. “PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs @Morgan Library,” on the Collector Daily website September 7, 2022 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022

 

 

Overview

Dubbed “New York’s most famous unknown artist” by the New York Times, Ray Johnson (1927-1995) was a widely connected downtown figure, Pop art innovator, and pioneer of collage and mail art. After moving from Manhattan to suburban Long Island in 1968, Johnson selectively distanced himself from the mainstream art world, holding only two exhibitions after 1978. Yet even after his last show, in 1991, he remained a prolific and unpredictable artist.

Johnson used photographs in his work for decades, but it was only with his purchase of a single-use, point-and-shoot camera in January 1992 that he embarked on his own “career as a photographer.” By the end of December 1994 he had used 137 disposable cameras. His most frequent subjects were what he called his Movie Stars: meter-high collages on cardboard, often featuring the bunny head that served as his artistic signature. They became ensemble players in the curious tableaux he staged in everyday locales near his Locust Valley home.

At his death by suicide in January 1995, Johnson left a vast archive of art in boxes stacked throughout his house, including over five thousand colour photographs, still in the envelopes from the developer’s shop. This body of work, virtually unseen until now, comprised his final major art project, the last act in a romance with photography that had begun some forty years earlier.

 

 

 

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs

A widely connected pioneer of Pop and mail art, Ray Johnson (1927-1995) was described as “New York’s most famous unknown artist.” Best known for his multimedia collages, he stopped exhibiting in 1991, but his output did not diminish. In 1992-1994, he used 137 disposable cameras to create a large body of work that is coming to light only now. Staging his collages in settings near his home in Locust Valley, Long Island – parking lots, sidewalks, beaches, cemeteries – he made photographs that pull the world of everyday “real life” into his art. In his “new career as a photographer,” Johnson began making collages in a new, larger format that made them more effective players in his camera tableaux. The vast archive he left behind at his death included over three thousand of the late photographs. Now, his final project makes its debut alongside earlier photo-based collages and works of mail art: fruits of a romance with the camera that spans the four decades of the artist’s career.

 

Hazel Larsen Archer (American, 1921-2001) 'Ray Johnson at Black Mountain College' 1948

 

Hazel Larsen Archer (American, 1921-2001)
Ray Johnson at Black Mountain College
1948
Gelatin silver print
13 3/4 × 9 7/8 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased as the gift of David Dechman and Michel Mercure
© Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

 

 

As a student at North Carolina’s Black Mountain College from 1945 to 1948, Johnson thrived under the rigorous tutelage of his foundation-course teacher Josef Albers (1888-1976). Johnson also modelled for Archer, a fellow student who would go on to teach photography at the school. This portrait – lush, faceless, and sexually ambiguous – foreshadows the complexity of Johnson’s use of photography throughout his career. Though attracted by the camera’s peerless ability to bestow glamour, he often tried to undercut its role as a transparent conveyor of facts.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'RJ silhouette and wood, Stehli Beach' Autumn 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
RJ silhouette and wood, Stehli Beach
Autumn 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

As an artist, Johnson was a master hunter-recycler, constantly revisiting and reinterpreting images from his past. On a visit to the beach at nearby Oyster Bay in 1992, he brought along a camera and a cardboard cutout of his head. Propping the board against a piece of driftwood log, he created a visual pun: the log’s central rings evoke the swirl of hair that Hazel Archer had once photographed on his (now long-bald) head.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Moticos with KAFKAYLLA)' c. 1953-1954

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Moticos with KAFKAYLLA)
c. 1953-1954
Collage on illustration board
13 × 5 in. (33.02 × 12.7cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson applied one all-purpose noun, “moticos” (both singular and plural), to his short writings, his collages, and the glyph-like shapes he drew. He and his friend Norman Solomon coined the term by reshuffling the word “osmotic,” chosen out of the dictionary. On this moticos made from a flattened box, Johnson paired a photograph of a pigeon with its strange twin: a sort of photo-bird, composed of cookie cutters and a checkerboard. Johnson proposes a second unlikely duo by combining the names of the author Franz Kafka (1883-1924) and the photographer Ylla (Camilla Koffler, 1911-1955), known for her images of animals.

 

Moticos

In the autumn of 1955, artist Ray Johnson walked through the streets of New York City with a slip of paper, asking strangers if they could define the word he’d written on it: “motico.” People gamely racked their brains: “‘Gee, I wish to hell I knew,’ said one. A nun asked, ‘Isn’t it a kind of colour?'” Johnson recalled these encounters in a story that ran that year in the very first issue of The Village Voice, when he was 27 years old and living in Manhattan, and working primarily in painting and collage.

The word was one Johnson had invented. An anagram of osmotic (a word allegedly chosen at random from a book), “moticos” could refer to several different things. Johnson called the small collage panels he made “moticos” but he also used the word to refer to textual representations too. Johnson would paint and transform the cardboard pieces that came with his laundry into parts of his collages, transforming them into silhouettes and then glyphs, new moticos.

Rebecca Bengal. “Photo Dump: Digging into the 5,000 Photographs Ray Johnson Left Behind,” on the Elephant Art website 20 Jul 2022 [Online] Cited 25/09/2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (James Dean in the Rain)' c. 1953-1959

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (James Dean in the Rain)
c. 1953-1959
Collage on illustration board
15 1/2 × 11 3/4 in. (39.37 × 29.85cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

From the early 1950s, Johnson embraced photocollage as a way to inject Hollywood glamour into the cloistered world of avant-garde art. He was appropriating mass-media imagery years before Andy Warhol began populating monumental canvases with celebrity portraits. Here Johnson worked directly upon Dennis Stock’s iconic Life magazine photograph of James Dean walking alone through Times Square, which was published a few months before Dean died in a 1955 car crash. Whether Johnson made this work before or after Dean’s death is unknown. In the 1990s, he would again incorporate the actor’s silhouette in collages and photographs.

 

Elisabeth Novick. 'Untitled (Moticos on floor)' c. 1955

 

Elisabeth Novick
Untitled (Moticos on floor)
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 × 13 1/4 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
Elisabeth Loewenstein / ArenaPAL
© Elisabeth Loewenstein

 

 

For a short feature in the first issue of the Village Voice (26 October 1955), a reporter walked with Johnson as he approached strangers in Grand Central Terminal and asked them whether they knew what a “moticos” was. As seen here, Johnson also literally took moticos to the streets, staging crowds of them for the camera in disused spaces in downtown Manhattan. Few early moticos have survived intact: over the next several decades, in a practice he called Chop art, Johnson continually disassembled his work and used the fragments to create new pieces.

 

Elisabeth Novick. 'Untitled (Ray Johnson and Suzi Gablik)' 1955

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) '1955 moticos photographs from ladder' January 1992

 

Elisabeth Novick
Untitled (Ray Johnson and Suzi Gablik)
1955
Gelatin silver print
11 × 14 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
Elisabeth Loewenstein / ArenaPAL
© Elisabeth Loewenstein

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
1955 moticos photographs from ladder
January 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In 1955 Johnson asked his friend Elisabeth Loewenstein (later Novick) to bring a camera along on a walk with their mutual friend Suzi Gablik (1934-2022). Novick’s photographs record the impromptu performance that ensued, in which Johnson draped moticos on Gablik’s face and body. A fellow Black Mountain College alum, Gablik would become an influential critic; in her 1969 book on Pop art, she described improvised actions such as this one as the first “informal happenings” – ephemeral events conceived as works of art – in the postwar era.

Johnson preserved the photographs Novick made that day. Nearly forty years later, in one of his earliest experiments with a “throwaway camera,” he laid out the prints in a grid on his driveway and photographed them from atop a ladder.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Correspondence to Frances X. Profumo' Undated

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Correspondence to Frances X. Profumo
Undated
Typewritten text on paper, newspaper clippings
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In the mid-1950s, Johnson simultaneously shifted from oil painting to small-scale collage and from gallery exhibitions to the mail as a way of putting his art before an individual viewer. An envelope from Johnson often contained enigmatic clippings from books and magazines, including photographic illustrations drawn from the same stockpile that fuelled his collages. These are items Johnson sent in the 1950s to Frances X. Profumo, whom he befriended when he was a student and she an employee at Black Mountain College. The many visual and textual Xs invoke both Profumo’s distinctive middle initial and the convention of signing a fond letter “with kisses” (XXX).

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Nothing with Brancusi)' Undated

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Mapplethorpe with moticos)' Undated

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (book page with umbrella as splint)' Undated

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Nothing with Brancusi)
Undated
Ink on book page
9 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (24.13 × 19.05cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Mapplethorpe with moticos)
Undated
Ink on magazine page
Image: 7 × 7 in. (17.78 × 17.78cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
The Morgan Library & Museum. Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty.

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (book page with umbrella as splint)
Undated
Ink on paper
Image: 9 1/2 × 7 in. (24.13 × 17.78cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Over the years, Johnson inducted hundreds or thousands of recipients into what he called the New York Correspondence School by mailing them oblique yet personalised messages. These altered book and magazine pages were among the unmailed works found in his house after his death.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Offset printing plate (Ara Ignatius portrait)' c. 1964

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Ara Ignatius portrait with a photograph of lips)' Undated

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Ara Ignatius portrait with bunnyheads)' Undated

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Offset printing plate (Ara Ignatius portrait)
c. 1964
Metal
Image: 15 1/2 × 10 in. (39.37 × 25.4cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Ara Ignatius portrait with a photograph of lips)
Undated
Cut paper on paper
Image: 11 × 8 1/2 in. (27.94 × 21.59cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Ara Ignatius portrait with bunnyheads)
Undated
Ink on paper
Image: 11 × 8 1/2 in. (27.94 × 21.59cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson favoured likenesses that masked as much about him as they revealed. He repeatedly used a headshot that his friend Ara Ignatius made around 1963. It is an unnerving image, lacking the conceit of intimacy that characterises most formal portraits; instead it “stands for” Johnson, in the artless manner of a government-issued ID.

Many pieces of mail art that look like photocopies are in fact products of offset printing – a means of transferring photographs and other images to the page from reusable metal plates. The medium allowed Johnson to return to an image repeatedly, imposing variations that reflected his ever-changing purposes.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled ("I shot an arrow into the air..." with Shirley Temple and Vikki Dougan)' c. 1970-1972

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (“I shot an arrow into the air…” with Shirley Temple and Vikki Dougan)
c. 1970-1972
Ink, wash, collage, vintage photograph on illustration board
18 × 15 in. (45.72 × 38.1cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In this photocollage, two movie actors meet: Vikki Dougan (b. 1929), who became a sex symbol in the 1950s by publicly appearing in backless dresses, and the quintessentially innocent child star Shirley Temple (1928-2014). Temple’s rendering as a blacked-out, moticos-like figure may allude to her adult married name, Shirley Temple Black. Across the bottom of the image, a line from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1845 poem “The Arrow and the Song” is altered to refer to Johnson’s forerunner in collage and assemblage art, Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), who lived in Flushing, Queens.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'David Hockney's Mother's Potato Masher' 1972-80-88-94

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
David Hockney’s Mother’s Potato Masher
1972-80-88-94
Collage on cardboard panel
20 3/8 × 15 1/4 in. (51.75 × 38.74cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Frances Beatty, Alexander Adler, and the Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

The title of each collage in the Potato Masher series begins with a notable artist’s or celebrity’s name. The titles then take an abrupt turn away from stardom by alluding first to the famed figure’s mother, and then to her potato masher. Here, Johnson included his own likeness in the form of a headshot, made around 1963 by the photographer Ara Ignatius. His face is covered by black moticos and cut-up fragments of his earlier artworks. Johnson created his collages over a span of weeks, months, or even years, dating each element in pencil as it joined the composition.

 

 

The Morgan Library & Museum presents PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs, opening June 17 and running through October 2, 2022. This exhibition explores the previously unknown camera work of the widely connected downtown New York figure, Pop art innovator, and pioneer of collage and mail art. At his death on 13 January 1995, Ray Johnson (1927-1995) left behind a vast archive of art in his house, including over five thousand colour photographs made in his last three years. Small prints, neatly stored in their envelopes from the developer’s shop, the photographs remained virtually unexamined for three decades. Now they can be seen as the last act in a romance with photography that had begun in Johnson’s art some forty years earlier. After retracing the story of Johnson’s use of photography throughout his career, PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE offers an in-depth look at the late work the artist called “my career in photography.”

After moving from Manhattan to suburban Long Island in 1968, Johnson selectively distanced himself from the mainstream art world, holding only two exhibitions after 1978. Yet even after his last show, in 1991, he remained a prolific and unpredictable artist. With his purchase of a single-use, point-and-shoot camera in January 1992, he embarked on an entirely fresh creative enterprise. By the end of December 1994, he had used 137 disposable cameras. His most frequent subjects were what he referred to as his Movie Stars: meter-high collages on cardboard, often featuring the bunny head that served as his artistic signature. They became ensemble players in the curious tableaux he staged in everyday locales near his Locust Valley home.

As an artist, Johnson was a master hunter-recycler, constantly revisiting and reinterpreting images from his past. He appears to have first used a disposable camera for a practical purpose: documenting his enormous backlog of unused collage fragments. He performed that work in his driveway and on the back steps of his house, but soon he was carrying a pocket-size camera on daily outings to nearby beaches, parks, and cemeteries. Johnson’s photographs exhibit a collagist’s instinct for insertion, layering, and surprise: most of them are centred on objects that he placed between himself and a scene as he found it. In his photographs as in his pun-filled writing and his densely worked collages, Johnson used juxtaposition to suggest that everything finds correspondence in something else. The point-and-shoot habit gave him a way to create an image almost as quickly as he could think of it. As curator Joel Smith writes in the book that accompanies the exhibition, “Nowhere in Johnson’s art does he look more intensely engaged by the present tense, more thrilled to be immersed in real life, than in the inventions of his throwaway camera.”

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE offers a rare chance to examine photographs taken by Ray Johnson, an artist known primarily for his brilliant work in collage,” said Colin B. Bailey, Director of the Morgan Library & Museum. “The images, most of which have gone unexplored until now, are truly innovative and ahead of their time. The exhibition also celebrates a significant gift of Johnson’s work, generously made by Ray Johnson estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty.”

“These photographs show that in his last years, Ray Johnson remained irrepressibly, explosively creative,” said Smith, the Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography at the Morgan. “It’s his last great body of work, and its very casualness is prophetic: ten years later, smart phones and social media turned daily life into a constant exchange of personal photographs and commentary. Johnson was still making collages right up to the end – but now he made them in a camera, and the ‘real life’ all around him was his medium.”

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs is accompanied by a book with the same title published by Mack Books, which includes an essay by the exhibition’s curator, Joel Smith.

Press release from the Morgan Library & Museum

 

 Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Photo Booth Collage)' 1972

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Photo Booth Collage)
1972
Collage on illustration board
12 7/8 × 19 in. (32.7 × 48.26cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Frances Beatty, Alexander Adler, and the Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Here, Johnson (visible at top left) employs a booth as an affordable studio for documenting works from his Potato Masher series. Sitting in the photo booth, he simply held up one collage after another for the automatic camera. The resulting sequence of vertical photo strips combines the qualities of a crude performance document and an art gallery’s inventory sheet. David Hockney’s Mother’s Potato Masher appears, not yet finished, fourth from the left in the bottom row.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Tab Hunter William Burroughs)' c. 1976-1981

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'William S. Burroughs silhouette and kingfisher' Winter 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
William S. Burroughs silhouette and kingfisher
Winter 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gifts of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Tab Hunter William Burroughs)
c. 1976-1981
Collage on cardboard panel
12 × 12 1/2 in. (30.48 × 31.75cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Frances Beatty, Allen Adler, Alexander Adler, and the Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In 1976 Johnson began asking friends, art-world figures, and celebrities to sit and have their silhouettes traced onto paper. He thus built a library of nearly three hundred profile templates he could use and reuse. As a portrait form, the silhouette reduces its subject to a graphic shape, identifiable but resistant to psychological interpretation. In this example, Johnson overlapped the profiles of 1950s movie heartthrob Tab Hunter (1931-2018) and avant-garde writer William S. Burroughs (1914-1997).

In the 1990s Johnson photographed one of his stock props, a stuffed kingfisher, in combination with Burroughs’s silhouette. The beak of the bird extends the author’s prominent nose: a bill replacing the bill of a Bill.

 

Even when Johnson avoided direct self-portraiture, his quirky fixations were always evident. (In an essay for the exhibition catalogue, the curator Joel Smith refers to “the low-key but constant thrum of odd motivation” behind all of the artist’s work.) In one of the collages on display, William Burroughs’s profile nearly eclipses that of the nineteen-fifties movie star turned gay icon Tab Hunter, and both are all but obscured by a swarm of pebble-like fragments and bits of collage. Johnson was forever constructing miniature sets for his own delirious theatre of the absurd: puzzles within puzzles. The sensibility is not unlike Joseph Cornell’s, minus the romance and period nostalgia. Johnson worked in another sort of outsider vernacular – at once banal, vulgar, campy, and deeply sophisticated. Like John Baldessari, he favored artless lettering and crisp graphic design. The cardboard slats, especially, might be mistaken for portable Baldessaris.

Vince Aletti. “A Trove of Snapshots from a Sly Master of Collage,” on The New Yorker website July 22, 2022 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Elvis with Bunny Ears)' 1987

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Elvis with Bunny Ears)
1987
Collage with acrylic and ink on canvasboard
16 × 8 in. (40.64 × 20.32cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty.
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Beginning in the 1950s, Johnson made artistic use of photographs of the twentieth-century cultural icon Elvis Presley (1935-1977). Johnson’s most emblematic motif, a stylised bunny face, first appeared beside the artist’s name in 1964. Bunny ears would serve both as a kind of trademark and as a way of turning anyone – Elvis, in this case – into a Ray Johnson character. The enlarged halftone dots that compose Elvis’s image confirm its status as a mass-market photographic reproduction.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Rubble and photo credit' Summer 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Andy Warhol life dates on flowers' July 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Shadow and manhole' Spring 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Rubble and photo credit
Summer 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Andy Warhol life dates on flowers
July 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Shadow and manhole
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson appears to have first used a disposable camera for a practical purpose: documenting his backlog of unused collage fragments. But in January 1992, he told curator Clive Phillpot, “I’m pursuing my career as a photographer,” and in March he added, “I’m having fun with my throw-away camera.” Always faithful to the rapidity of his own thinking, Johnson found in the “throwaway” Fuji Quicksnap a way to give graphic form to ideas as they occurred to him.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Path of headshots and back steps' Spring 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Joseph Cornell silhouette and payphone' Spring 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Bills, Stehli Beach' Summer 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Path of headshots and back steps
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Joseph Cornell silhouette and payphone
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Bills, Stehli Beach
Summer 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6
The Morgan Library & Museum. Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty; 2022.2:11
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson’s first photography studios were the driveway and back steps of his house, but soon he was carrying a pocket-size camera on his daily outings to nearby beaches, parks, and cemeteries. In spring 1992, he threaded a cutout silhouette of Joseph Cornell over the cord of a payphone, then photographed it with one hand while holding the receiver with the other – acting as operator of a hotline to the collage-art pioneer.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'One-legged figure beside back steps' Spring 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
One-legged figure beside back steps
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Mondrian's grave and playing card, Mount Lebanon Cemetery, Queens' spring 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Billboard' Summer 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Mondrian’s grave and playing card, Mount Lebanon Cemetery, Queens
spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Billboard
Summer 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Even in his photography, Johnson exhibits a collagist’s instinct for insertion and layering. Most of his photographs are centred on objects that he placed between himself and a scene as he found it. On occasion, though, he used the camera in a conventional way, simply collecting views of sights that drew his interest, such as a billboard advertising nothing or the word HELP on the underside of a boat. Photographs such as these are the field notes of a minutely attentive observer.

 

 

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE

Joel Smith

In January 1992, a few weeks after his last lifetime exhibition closed at Moore College in Philadelphia, the artist Ray Johnson began photographing in and around his house in Locust Valley, Long Island, using what he called “my throwaway camera”: a single-use point-and-shoot, preloaded with daylight color film. Thirty-five months and 137 throwaways later, he photographed views through the storefront window of an even-more-final exhibition called Ray Johnson: Nothing. It was up during the Christmas week lull of 1994 in a gallery on the main street of Sea Cliff, a few minutes’ drive from Johnson’s house, and around the corner from that of his friend and frequent mail-art partner, Sheila Sporer. Then, one Friday a couple of weeks into 1995, a man was seen jumping from a bridge in Sag Harbor, an hour and a half’s drive east. Witnesses reported that Johnson – the body, when recovered, proved to be his – appeared to be doing a backstroke toward the open Atlantic. (He could not swim.) Johnson’s presumed suicide is often described as the final work of a career in which art and life had long been inseparable.

In his last three years Johnson made and mailed art incessantly, went out for a drive most days, and ran through about one camera a week. When he finished a twenty-four-frame roll, he would drop off the camera – he used a couple of Kodaks at first and then, consistently, Fujicolor Quicksnaps – at Living Color, a shop in Glen Cove, for developing and printing. After turning sixty-five in October 1992, he often took advantage of a senior discount and ordered duplicate prints. For some forty years his art practice had consisted mainly of collage, relief assemblages, and correspondence art. Though photographs had figured in all three channels of work, they were not photographs made by Johnson himself, but portraits of him by others, or images he cut out of books or magazines. Now, in what he called his new “career as a photographer,” Johnson incorporated a few of his own photographs in modest little collages. He also mailed his photographs to correspondents, usually in the form of photocopies. But in the season after his death, among the dozens of boxes of art and effects Johnson left packed up in every room of his house, over five thousand of the color photos were found, still filed with their negatives and receipts in Living Color envelopes. To say the photographs were found needs qualifying: their existence was recorded, but years would pass before photography registered as a central creative pursuit of his final years.

It is not surprising that this work evaded scrutiny. Physically, these are plain, consumer-grade four-by-six-inch color snapshots, indistinguishable from those anyone would take home from the processor’s – whereas Johnson’s art more often took the form of distinctly, peculiarly altered public imagery. After the rise and canonization of Pop art in the 1960s, his work of a few years earlier, notably his addition of dripping red tears to a fan-magazine photo of Elvis Presley (1956-1957), looked prescient. Johnson, like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, took mass-market imagery for his muse – but, instead of enlarging it to grandiose scale, his instinct was to bestow the status of an artistic “original” upon ordinary, available-to-everyone printed matter itself. His collages, in that sense, define an antipode to Pop painting’s monumentalised appropriations. His prototype, you could say, was the sardonic teenager he had been not long before, scribbling mustaches onto Marilyns in magazines.

Spend time with the color photographs, and Johnson’s playful, punky persona becomes evident – not in anything he did to the pictures, but in their contents. The straight-men in these images are the streets, beachfronts, and parking lots of bucolic, smalltown northern Long Island: Locust Valley, Sea Cliff, Roslyn, Lattingtown, Glen Cove, Bayville. The scribbled mustaches are the dramatis personae Johnson introduces to those spaces. Within a few months of starting his photo-work, he began making, and photographing, collages on what were, for him, large (thirty-two-by-eight-inch) pieces of corrugated cardboard (62). (The cardboard often bears Fuji brand info; it, too, comes from the camera shop, or out of its dumpster.) In a letter to art critic David Bourdon in summer 1993, Johnson introduces ninety-three of these collages by name (Bobby Short, Greta Garbo …) and calls them his Movie Stars (or Move Stars). Indeed, despite their rectilinear format, they read as figures: paper-doll play-actors for his photo-tableaux. They have faces – most frequently Johnson’s signature pop-eyed, schlong-nosed bunny, inscribed with a name or phrase. (Many of those are rendered in mirror letters, correctly sequenced but laterally FLOPPED, as if in a misbegotten effort to address a reader on the other side of a steamy window.) As he did with his collages generally, Johnson would glue new elements onto these figures over time, dating each newly added bit in pencil. As the weeks of photo-shoots roll by, you can watch as a figure that starts as mostly naked cardboard fills up with information. I picture Johnson exiting his little grey house (he described its color as “grey with an e,” but named it The Pink House) with a freshly worked batch of Movie Stars under his arm, loading them into the back of his Volkswagen Golf, and taking them out on a drive, camera in pocket.

About a decade after these photographs were made, smart phones came into use, and everyone began having a camera on their person all the time. In 1992, making a photograph still required deciding and preparing to do so, and not simply asking oneself (or not even asking), “Why don’t I?” Buying the camera, noting how close to frame zero it was getting, dropping it off, returning to pick up the prints: making these pictures called for effort, on a par with the effort of crafting the Movie Stars. The whole enterprise reflects the low-key but constant thrum of odd motivation that drives all of Johnson’s work. The art he made was irreducibly personal, if gnomic, and he went to lengths to maintain control over how his collages, punning defacements, paradoxes, and near-nothings would make their way into the world. Johnson’s New York Correspondence School – the vast network he invented for circulating mail art – existed mainly in his head, but this, from his angle, made it no less real than the art world.

In the art-historical fairy tale of postwar New York City, young Ray Johnson must have looked, for a few years, like an avant-garde heir apparent. Born in 1927, the only child of loving working-class parents, he grew up in Detroit and, from 1945 to 1948, attended North Carolina’s Black Mountain College, crucible of every far-seeing artistic impulse of that moment. He was shy and hard-working and he devoured all he could from instructors who included Josef Albers, Alvin Lustig, and Robert Motherwell. He left BMC having entered into Zen kinship with two teachers, John Cage and Merce Cunningham, and into romantic partnership with another, the sculptor Richard Lippold. The four of them took up residence in a building in the deep reaches of downtown Manhattan. Johnson earned money working in Ad Reinhardt’s studio and at the Orientalia bookstore. He showed his Albers-sized, minutely rendered geometric paintings as a member of the American Abstract Artists group. In short, he seemed destined for middling highbrow success.

Instead, he became Ray Johnson. Between 1954 and 1956, he ditched his qualifications by burning all the early paintings still in his possession and redirecting his creative effort onto the slight, irregular-shaped, frame-resistant (but mailable) collages he called “moticos.” His move to print-media-based figural collage came at an historical moment far too late to boast a Dada-Surrealist pedigree and too early to get swept neatly up into Pop. The concerted wrongness of this switch makes it, in retrospect, quietly brilliant, and it points to the singularity that doomed Johnson’s crown-prince prospects. (Two of his successors and friends at BMC, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, picked up those prospects and put them to good use.)

Johnson hung onto a number of photographs that documented his fateful conversion. At age sixty-four he arranged twenty of them in a grid on the drive behind his house, then scaled a ladder to re-photograph them (26). In most of these old photographs, moticos in profusion can be seen arrayed in two real-world sites, a pallet on a sidewalk and a large industrial interior. In others – which were made in the street by a friend of Ray’s, the future fashion photographer Elisabeth Novick (then Loewenstein) – you can see Johnson draping moticos all over another friend (and fellow BMC alum), Suzi Gablik. These are, in effect, performance records; Gablik even came to describe Johnson’s moticos-stagings as perhaps the first Happenings in art—a notion that arguably proceeds from their having been photographed. Interviewed in 2015, Novick emphasized how casually this came about. Not long before, she had been given her first camera, and one day, Ray simply asked her to bring it along on a walk. “Suzi just sat there,” Novick said, “and he just threw the things on top of her.” She explains: “He was a very lighthearted sort of whimsical person. […] He wasn’t intense. It was the opposite of intense. If I could look up the opposite word of intense, I would say that was him.”

The “opposite-of-intense” mode of hardly-work Johnson was auditioning that day led him to an art based on play, exchange, and movement; on remaining light-footed enough to follow any association that came to mind, be it ever so slight, silly, or hermetic. Perhaps for just that reason, Johnson’s art found its ideal helpmate in the camera, with its knack for lending graphic form to the ephemeral. In any event, the 1955 documents turn up repeatedly in his color photographs of forty years later (44, 102).

Even more prevalent in these images is the infinitely malleable bunny head (64) that Johnson described as “a sort of self-portrait.” Its partner, equally ever-present, is a headshot of Johnson made by Ara Ignatius around 1963. (Johnson kept on hand an offset plate of this image, from which he could order new printings by the hundreds whenever he needed them.) In one early-1992 photograph, nineteen headshots are laid down in a path leading to Johnson’s backdoor stairs, where he would be staging many more photographs (20). In the summer of 1993, four headshots stare in through the windshield of his car, like a posse of avid fans (126). The headshot rides shotgun with Elvis (108) and, reduced to a pair of eyes, lends consciousness to a mob of moticos on camelback (98).

Johnson’s longtime collector, advocate, and chief interpreter, William Wilson, observed that photographs served the artist as a form of citation: as a way to “reference,” rather than “represent,” his subjects. The hands-off nature of the medium gave Johnson a way to bring topics up yet keep his viewer (his recipient, his reader) focused on something he cared about more: the messaging process itself. Using another photography adjacent tool, the silhouette, Johnson could convert the people he knew into references-to-themselves. Starting in 1976, he used pencil and paper to trace the profile shadows of some 284 sitters. He filed these in two big template binders, ready for use in the studio. Most of his profile subjects were writers, artists, and actors, whose shared characteristic is their publicly traded names.

Some of the silhouettes appear in the colour photographs, as do various celebrity portraits – but many more people show up as bunny faces inscribed with their names. Johnson wrote to Bourdon that seventy-two of his Movie Stars were going to appear in a “RAY JOHNSON OUTDOOR MOVIE SHOW” (see 110, 122, and 124 for variant stagings) that would stand “45 feet in length if ever actually placed next to each other and the wind didn’t blow them down.” In the meantime, he posed individual Movie Stars in the company of obliging strangers (54) or leaned them against the occasional dog (222).

The photographs include some one-offs, such as the shadow cast by Johnson’s mailbox (2) and a tar seam in a parking lot (176). Many of the subjects, though, are ones he revisited dozens of times, such as local beaches, cemeteries, and storefronts, a bathtub he found in a field (106, 107), and himself as a shadow, encountering a manhole cover (4).

Most of the photographs work in a collage-like way: they record Johnson’s alteration of a real-world setting through the addition of some flat thing he has made or chosen, such as one of his grimly cartoony black-on-white graphic characters, hiding amid spiky succulents (18), or an ace of clubs, leaning against Piet Mondrian’s grave marker (42).

At other times he works like a conventional photographer, observing but not intervening, as when he captures the horizon across Long Island Sound (230), a faceless billboard (41), the snapped arrow of a rooftop weathervane (16), or a palm frond splayed on beach sand (92).

Still other images define a mode between these two options, as Johnson finds some noteworthy thing to photograph (dragon’s teeth icicles [6], a mortuary angel [8]), then props up beside it a sign that emblazons the view like a maker’s logo or a graffitist’s tag: “PHOTO BY RAY JOHNSON”; “RAY JOHNSON THE PARIS CORRESPONDENCE SCHOOL.”

Here are a few of the subjects that kept Johnson and his 137 cameras coming back most often:

Inside. When Johnson photographed inside his house, the daylight-exposure film in his pre-loaded cameras restricted his work area to patches of direct sunlight. In late afternoon, the window in his front door cast a scalloped picture frame, or spotlight, around whatever he photographed on the floor (132, 168). The window’s shape in turn became a player, alone or in tandem with its mirror image (45).

Telephones. Johnson was as tireless a phone-caller as he was a mailer. Once, while at home, he held the phone for a bunny labeled EAR MUFS, posing between a 1955 photo and a clutch of moticos glyphs (28). Out driving around, he staged momentary installations in payphone boxes (65, 232). He unhooked one phone’s receiver and threaded over its cord a cardboard cutout silhouette of the artist Joseph Cornell, whom he used to visit in Flushing, Queens (12). The cutout void of Cornell’s head frames the telephone’s number-pad, turning Johnson into the operator of a Cornell-box hotline: camera in one hand, receiver in the other, plugged into the head of the master collagist.

Doubles. In Johnson’s universe, doubleness – correspondence – is the norm. No surprise, then, that he should photograph twins, replicas (48, 50), and those spellbinding autocopies, twin-initialed celebrities (Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse [160]). He gives dualism a distinctly photographic turn by pairing things with their reflections or shadows. When photographed, these light-borne modes of doubling assume a concrete presence: they make reality look Johnsonian. A reflection echoes its original, but the two are non-identical. The reflection – being laterally flopped, like Johnson’s mirror letters – is the original’s opposite (52, 172). As for the shadow, it is a flat, graphic version of its original (70), an incorporeal counterpart to reality (136).

Recycling. A collagist traffics in the reincarnation of materials and images. The beginnings of Johnson’s photographs look like an effort to document his vast inventory of “chop art” – his term for the densely-reworked chunks of assemblage he had been building up and cutting apart again for decades (30-33). He abandoned this cataloguing, but his photographs remain as full of junk (130, 131) as his house (228); “WHAT A DUMP.” His movie-reel memory encompassed everything from Bette Davis films to a porn video made famous in the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas [150]). He created a deadpan cardboard memorial to his old associate, arch-recycler Andy Warhol, and laid it atop a raked pile of cemetery flowers (142), and, two years later, atop a scattering of donated clothes (144).

Bills. Scavenged out of those clothing drops, most likely, were the many baseball cap visors Johnson photographed. He held them up before the camera, always in C formation, with deep spaces behind them: the sky, or receding railway tracks (34, 78). He arrayed them on Stehli Beach like a school of migrating horseshoe crabs (94). He cut the bill’s crescent-moon shape out of his headshot (33). If they stand for a name, “Bill,” perhaps he is William Wilson. Or the writer William S. Burroughs, who sat for his silhouette in 1976. Johnson laid a cutout of Burroughs down on cardboard, then extended Bill’s prominent nose with the bill of a kingfisher (96).

Photographers. The photographs feature many images drawn from photography’s historical canon, making Johnson-collaborators of, among others, Walker Evans (via Sherrie Levine) (136), Dennis Stock (158), and Félix González-Torres (186). Some Movie Star bunnies are given the names of photographers, including Horst, Duane Michals (154, 170), and Lord Snowdon (snowed-in / snowed-N [236]). The crane in Bill Brandt’s famous photograph of Kew Gardens provides the top half of an awkward composite figure (159, 174). Johnson perched Michals’s book of portraits on the front bumper of his car, making a third headlight of its cyclopean eye (138). He turned Richard Avedon’s An Autobiography face-down to reveal its author photo and dressed the portraitist in a hat (163) that channels Marianne Moore, who is portrayed in that book wearing her signature tricorn (a moticos-like garment that fascinated Johnson). Late one dusk, Johnson photographed the legs of his shadow spanning a copy of Lee Friedlander’s book Like a One-Eyed Cat, laid down open to its frontispiece, one of Friedlander’s many self-portraits in shadow (80).

Please Send. Between July and December 1994, over twenty wrapped packages appear in Johnson’s photographs. They are addressed to or from his mail-art correspondents, most frequently his local friend Sheila Sporer (158, 242). (The ones Sheila opened – those not marked “DO NOT OPEN” – turned out to be stuffed with plain craft paper.) Often the packages are pictured in the midst of what look like obscure rituals. One stands in Johnson’s driveway, tethered to a helium bunny balloon, ready to begin its physically impossible ascent (206). Others he positioned inside the gallery show-window of his late December 1994 un-show, Ray Johnson: Nothing, and then photographed them from out on the sidewalk (169). (He never ventured inside.) A few days later, he posed two packages, tourist-like, at the end of a pier at sunset (214); distressingly, one of them is next seen drifting in the water below (216).

In late December 1994, Johnson photographed himself in a shop window mirror, holding up a bunny inscribed PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE (246). (On the collage, this bunny bears the date December 21; below it, on December 30, Johnson added ONLY YOU [244].) REAL LIFE refers, at one level, to the New York-based art magazine REALLIFE (1979-1994): since late November, Johnson had been urging Sporer to pitch its editor, Thomas Lawson, an article about their three years of collaborative correspondence art.

But the message can mean something else, too – something like: “Here, Life, take this thing I’ve made; I’m going to the other place.” For decades death had been a resolute presence in Johnson’s work, taking such forms as Nothing, pitch-black humor, and a fixation on life dates. Is death palpably present in the photographs of his last three years? It would be silly to deny that it is. And yet it would be trivial to hunt through this large, complex, often comical, always personal body of work for nothing more than a rebus suicide note. Ray Johnson never made himself that easily readable. And nowhere in his art does he look more intensely engaged by the present tense, more thrilled to be immersed in Real Life, than in the inventions of his throwaway camera.

Joel Smith. “PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE,” in PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs. Mack Books, 2022, pp. 188-195

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Outdoor Movie Show on RJ's car' February 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Outdoor Movie Show in RJ's backyard' 1 June 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Outdoor Movie Show on RJ’s car
February 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Outdoor Movie Show in RJ’s backyard
1 June 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

The photographs Johnson made between January 1992 and December 1994 feature several dozen collages in a large, vertical format he had never used before. He referred to these works as Movie Stars (or Move Stars), writing that “if the wind didn’t knock them down,” he planned to cast them in a “Ray Johnson Outdoor Movie Show,” lined up like dancers in a musical revue. In the end, still photography was the nearest he came to filmmaking.

 

 

In the same way that Johnson burned his early paintings, renouncing the most reliable route to a successful art career in mid-20th-century New York, he exited the fray of Manhattan. In 1968 he moved to Locust Valley, Long Island, and after 1978 he had only two solo exhibitions – the last one in 1991. He continued to make art, though, and looked to artists like Joseph Cornell, famous for his box assemblages, who lived on Utopia Parkway in Queens. Many of Johnson’s works take Cornell’s idea of the display box filled with quirky objects and expands it to tableaus staged for the camera, using the suburban environment, the woods or the seashore as found theatrical sets. …

Johnson’s presence in many of the photos could be called self-portraiture – but the photos also feel very much like ancestors to the ubiquitous cellphone selfie. The photo “RJ with Please Send to Real Life and camera in mirror” (1994) is an obvious selfie precursor. It includes a number of conceptual twists, however: Johnson appears in a mirror, holding a disposable camera and one of his cardboard signs with an alter-ego bunny and the words “Please Send to Real Life” partially printed in reverse – a reminder of how the camera doesn’t merely document reality, but shapes and potentially distorts it. (This photo might also be a reference to his mail-art practice or the New York art magazine Real Life, published from 1979 to 1994.) …

What is art? What is real? Does the image document reality or create it? “Please Send to Real Life” raises some of these questions and shows how Johnson predicted the growing fuzziness between the realms of photography and IRL (in real life) – from snapshots to social media – suggesting that the relationship between them is porous but also ripe for creative intervention.

Anonymous. “Ray Johnson’s Camera Was Disposable. The Photos Are Unforgettable,” on The New York Times website 24th August 2022 [Online] Cited 28/08/2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (yellow DUANE MICHALS bunny)' 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (JOSEF ALBERS with cat)' 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (six blue Rays in Rolls)' Undated

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (yellow DUANE MICHALS bunny)
1993
Collage on corrugated cardboard
13 3/4 × 4 1/2 in. (34.93 × 11.43cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (JOSEF ALBERS with cat)
1993
Collage on corrugated cardboard
17 3/8 × 7 1/2 in. (44.13 × 19.05cm)
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (six blue Rays in Rolls)
Undated
Collage on corrugated cardboard
21 × 8 1/2 in. (53.34 × 21.59cm)
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Movie Stars

Overhead are some of the several dozen collages that appear in photographs Johnson made between January 1992 and December 1994. He referred to these large, vertical pieces as Movie Stars (or Move Stars), writing that “if the wind didn’t knock them down,” he planned to cast them in a “Ray Johnson Outdoor Movie Show,” lined up like dancers in a musical revue. In the end, still photography was the nearest he came to filmmaking. Were the Movie Stars made to be photographed? Or are the photographs mere documents of the Movie Stars? Perhaps the two bodies of work are best understood as complementary parts of a continuous creative cycle. Many of the Movie Stars are made on cardboard that bears photographic product information, suggesting that it was scavenged from the dumpster of the shop where Johnson bought his cameras and turned them in for developing.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Cage and Satie with Orpheus and Eurydice, Planting Fields Arboretum' February 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Jasper John' February 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'WIGART grave and Movie Star of RJ between David Bs' April 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Cage and Satie with Orpheus and Eurydice, Planting Fields Arboretum
February 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Jasper John
February 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
WIGART grave and Movie Star of RJ between David Bs
April 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

The Movie Stars feature a roll call of celebrity faces and names that is, in composite, unique to Johnson’s imagination. By photographing the collages, Johnson animated his personal pantheon in the familiar settings of his daily life. Composers Erik Satie and John Cage rest in the arms of a statue of Orpheus, the prophetic music-maker of Greek myth. Artist Jasper Johns punningly marks the door of an outhouse-like wooden structure. Johnson himself rides shotgun in his Volkswagen Golf while Elvis takes the wheel. And art critic David Bourdon and rock star David Bowie (embodiments, in different ways, of Pop’s legacy) join Johnson at the grave of “Wig art.” Once Johnson even photographed the Movie Stars in their staging area at home, ready to be loaded into the car and taken out for a day’s work.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Headshot and Elvises in RJ's car' February 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Outdoor Movie Show on dumpster' 18 May 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Four Movie Stars, Locust Valley Cemetery' 31 March 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Headshot and Elvises in RJ’s car
February 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Outdoor Movie Show on dumpster
18 May 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Four Movie Stars, Locust Valley Cemetery
31 March 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Silhouette version of RJ portrait by Joan Harrison, Lattingtown Beach' Autumn 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Silhouette version of RJ portrait by Joan Harrison, Lattingtown Beach
Autumn 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

To create this picture-within-a-picture, Johnson returned to the site of a much-reproduced portrait of him that photographer Joan Harrison made in the early 1980s. In the spot where he once sat, knees raised and arms outstretched, Johnson leaned a card that features a black silhouette of his symmetrical pose. As so often occurs in his photographs, Johnson here strikes an unsettling balance between absence and presence, erasure and memorialisation.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Bill and Railroad Tracks)' Spring 1992)

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Bill and Long Island Sound' Winter 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Bill and Railroad Tracks)
Spring 1992)
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Bill and Long Island Sound
Winter 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson held up the sky-blue bill of a baseball cap over a railroad crossing and photographed it. When he holds it over the ocean in another image, it resembles a crescent moon. With his “throwaway” camera he photographed arrangements of photographs and photobooks by Walker Evans, Lord Snowden, Richard Avedon, Bill Brandt, and Lee Friedlander. Friedlander-like, Johnson photographed his own shadow, interacting with the places of his solitary visits.

He photographed his own works in infinite arrangements and continuous correspondence: two bunnyheads sitting up conversationally in tall chairs. He photographed his headshot, affixed to the passenger seat of a car, next to a double photo of Elvis, in the driver’s seat. He photographed a blank billboard in a field; he photographed a pier; he photographed the ocean. He photographed a picture of himself in his shadow cast across a mailbox, a bunny head peeking out. The unearthed photographs become the last note sent.

Rrebecca Bengal. “Photo Dump: Digging into the 5,000 Photographs Ray Johnson Left Behind,” on the Elephant Art website 20 Jul 2022 [Online] Cited 25/09/2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'RJ reflected in ice truck and split Duane Michals Movie Star' 11 May 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Back steps and moticos' Spring 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
RJ reflected in ice truck and split Duane Michals Movie Star
11 May 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Back steps and moticos
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Twins

In his writing and visual art, Johnson used juxtapositions and puns to suggest that nothing stands alone: everything finds correspondence in something else. Photography’s optical literalness gave him new ways to explore reality’s doubleness. Twins – and photocopied photographs – are nearly alike yet insistently distinct. Mirrors give back a faithful, yet laterally reversed, image of nature. The shadow of a thing echoes its original, but (like a moticos) it is flat and empty of internal detail.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Bunny drawn on Felix Gonzalez-Torres's "Untitled"' 2 January 1994

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Long Dong Silver, Lattingtown Beach' 16 November 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Six Movie Stars in RJ's car' April 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Bunny drawn on Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled”
2 January 1994
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Long Dong Silver, Lattingtown Beach
16 November 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Six Movie Stars in RJ’s car
April 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Bunnies

A round-eyed, long-nosed bunny head functioned as Johnson’s signature and, as he said, “a kind of self-portrait.” Despite the bunny’s blank expression, context can render it comical, hapless, sinister, or obscene. Johnson altered Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s photograph of a rumpled empty bed – an iconic image of gay mourning during the AIDS crisis – by resting a lone bunny’s head on one of the two pillows. Johnson cut a face-sized hole out of one bunny, then photographed the view outside his front window through the gap. He gave the same bunny to passersby to wear and, once, laid it suggestively atop his toilet bowl. When a large old tree next door was being chainsawed apart, Johnson found in its branching form a gaunt, eyeless bunny’s face.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Harpo Marx bunny, headshot, and payphone' February 1994

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Bunny tree in backyard' 17 April 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (red bunny NOTHING)' 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Ad Rein Hardt Bunny)' 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Flopped stranger wearing cutout bunny' Spring 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Harpo Marx bunny, headshot, and payphone
February 1994
Commercially processed chromogenic print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Bunny tree in backyard
17 April 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (red bunny NOTHING)
1993
Collage on corrugated cardboard
12 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (31.75 × 19.05cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Ad Rein Hardt Bunny)
1993
Collage on corrugated cardboard
12 1/2 × 7 5/8 in. (31.75 × 19.37cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Flopped stranger wearing cutout bunny
Spring 1992
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

What did Johnson intend to do with the thousands of photographs he made between 1992 and 1994? There are few solid indications. He mailed some to correspondents, either in the form of original prints or as photocopies. He also incorporated a handful of his photographs into collages that differ markedly in scale and sensibility from the larger, contemporaneous Movie Stars. In one collage, a photograph of five Movie Stars – arranged like sequential ads beside a road – is punningly combined with a bunny head bearing the name of abstract painter Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967), a friend and employer of Johnson’s in his early New York years.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Shadow of RJ's mailbox' March 1994

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'RJ with PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE and camera in mirror' 23 December 1994

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Shadow of RJ’s mailbox
March 1994
Commercially processed chromogenic print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
RJ with PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE and camera in mirror
23 December 1994
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

This self-portrait appears on a roll of film Johnson turned in for developing about three weeks before his suicide by drowning on 13 January 1995. The flopped lettering on the Movie Star in his hand undergoes a further reversal in the mirror. On a literal level, the words “REAL LIFE” refer to the New York-based art magazine REALLIFE (1979-1994), which Johnson hoped would soon publish an article about his years-long collaboration with a friend, Sheila Sporer. But the message unmistakably announces, too, that the artist was soon to venture beyond the reach of “real life.”

 

 

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25
Sep
22

Exhibition: ‘American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 29th May – 2nd October 2022

Curator: Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art

 

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Summer, Early Morning, Immigrant Cemetery, North of Bethune, Colorado' 1965

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Summer, Early Morning, Immigrant Cemetery, North of Bethune, Colorado
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image: 10.4 x 15.2 cm (4 1/8 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

The quiet of the great beyond

With gratitude, I admire the photographs of Robert Adams. I admire their perspicuous (“clear, lucid”, able to be seen through) and perspicacious (“keen, astute,” able to see through) nature.

They imbibe (“absorb, assimilate,” ideas or knowledge) in us “the wonder and fragility of the American landscape, its inherent beauty, and the inadequacy of our response to it… [they] capture the sense of peace and harmony that the beauty of nature can instill in us – “the silence of light,” as he calls it… [and they] question our silent complicity in the desecration of that beauty by consumerism, industrialisation, and lack of environmental stewardship… While these photographs lament the ravages that have been inflicted on the land, they also pay homage to what remains.”

Like so many photographers of the American landscape, Adams’ debt to the vision of Walker Evans can be seen in his early work, in images such as Movie Theater, Otis, Colorado (1965, below) and Catholic Church, Summer, Ramah, Colorado (1965, below) – but even in images such as Wheat Stubble, South of Thurman, Colorado (1965, below) we can begin to see the beginnings of Adams personal artistic signature, the quiet of “the great beyond” (both physically and spiritually).

In modernist photographs that step off from Walker Evans’ legacy, Adams quiet, still photographs require of the viewer contemplation and reflection… reflection on the isolation of tract housing seemingly dropped into the vast American landscape. In these photographs (such as the two photographs Newly Occupied Tract Houses, Colorado Springs, 1968 below) Adams’ use of near/far is exemplary, with the nearness of the new excavation, the new scarring of the earth, contrasting with the sublime majesty of the mountains beyond. Other more personal psychological scarring can be seen in the two photographs Colorado Springs (1968-1971, below) where single, isolated, anonymous human beings are occluded in silhouette or shadow, damned by the hot sun.

In other photographs houses become like fossilised dinosaur skeletons, their graves marked by ironic street names such as Darwin Pl. (Frame for a Tract House, Colorado Springs, 1969 below), or multiply across the landscape, breeding like some genetically identical sequence (Pikes Peak Park, Colorado Springs, 1969, below). Even petrol stations blare out the name “Frontier” as though to irrevocably define that here we live on the edge of nowhere. And so it goes in Adams’ work… isolated people living in a barren landscape being colonised and inhabited without much thought for the beauty or the destruction of the landscape.

From the mid-1970s onwards, Adams’ landscape photographs begin to eschew all but the smallest pointers to human habitation, but this makes these human marks on the landscape all the more intrusive because of it. For example, in the photograph of the vast landscape South of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Jefferson County, Colorado (1976, below) the only markings of human activity are the tyre marks in the foreground and the telegraph poles, road and cars at far right… and then the title hits you with a double-whammy, “Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant”, not present in the photograph but present in our consciousness (of the landscape). Even less evidence of human existence is signalled in the photograph Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota (1977, below), but then we notice at bottom left a discarded tin can, just a discarded tin can, but this one tin can says so much about our use and abuse of our only habitable planet, earth.

In image after image, roads scar the landscape, planes fly overhead, industry and housing colonise the sublime, and human beings hug and are alienated amongst concrete jungles and car parks. New development erodes the earth leaving behind the detritus of human existence. Old growth trees are slaughtered in clearcut operations in which every tree has been cut down and removed. A dead albatross rots on an expanse of beach (The Sea Beach, Albatross, 2015 below) while in the distance the photographer picks out 4 ghosts of human beings (The Sea Beach, 2015 below).

Adams’ photographic vision is extra ordinary and I cannot fault his individual photographs. I become engrossed in them. I breathe their atmosphere. He has a resolution, both in terms of large format aesthetic, the aesthetic of beauty and of using materials, light and composition… that seems exactly right. He possesses that superlative skill of few great photographers, and by that I mean: sometimes he has true compassion** / parallel to a religious compassion, but not based on something higher / just perfect human. In some of his photographs (such as East from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado 1975, below) he possesses real forgiveness, in others there is the perfection of cruel, the perfection of de/composition.

** achieved by Arbus, Atget and sometimes by Clift, Gowin.

And then, each image holds small clues vital to the overall conversation that is the accumulation of his work and it is in their collective accumulation of meaning that Adams’ photographs grow and build to shatter not just the American silence on environmental issues, but the deafening silence of the whole industrialised world. In their holistic nature, Adams’ body of work becomes punctum and because of this his work produces other “things”, things as great as anything the French literary theorist, essayist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician Roland Barthes wrote about. As in Barthes’ seminal work Camera Lucida, Adams’ work reminds us that the “photograph is evidence of ‘what has ceased to be’. Instead of making reality solid, it reminds us of the world’s ever changing nature.”1

Human beings can never leave anything as they find it, they always have to possess and change whatever they see in a form of desecration (the action of damaging or showing no respect toward something holy or very much respected). Except human beings do not respect the only place that have to live on, this earth. When will it change?

As Alain de Botton observes on the importance of the sublime places to the human psyche,

“If the world is unfair or beyond our understanding, sublime places suggest it is not surprising things should be thus. We are the playthings of the forces that laid out the oceans and chiselled the mountains. Sublime places acknowledge limitations that we might otherwise encounter with anxiety or anger in the ordinary flow of events. It is not just nature that defies us. Human life is as overwhelming, but it is the vast spaces of nature that perhaps provide us with the finest, the most respectful reminder of all that exceeds us. If we spend time with them, they may help us to accept more graciously the great unfathomable events that molest our lives and will inevitably return us to dust.”2

.
We loose these places at our peril and the peril of the entire human race.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Anonymous. “Roland Barthes,” on the Wikipedia website Nd [Online] Cited 23/09/2022
  2. Alain de Botton. The Art of Travel. London: Penguin, 2002, pp. 178-179.

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

 

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Wheat Stubble, South of Thurman, Colorado' 1965, printed 1988

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Wheat Stubble, South of Thurman, Colorado
1965, printed 1988
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 27.9cm (9 x 11 in.)
Collection of Jeffrey Fraenkel and Alan Mark
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

For 50 years, Robert Adams (b. 1937) has made compelling, provocative, and highly influential photographs that show us the wonder and fragility of the American landscape, its inherent beauty, and the inadequacy of our response to it. This exhibition explores the reverential way he looks at the world around him and the almost palpable silence of his work.

Many of these photographs of the American West capture the sense of peace and harmony that the beauty of nature can instill in us – “the silence of light,” as he calls it, that he sees on the prairie, in the woods, and by the ocean. Other pictures question our silent complicity in the desecration of that beauty by consumerism, industrialisation, and lack of environmental stewardship. Divided into three sections – The Gift, Our Response, and Tenancy – the exhibition features some 175 works from the artist’s most important projects and includes pictures of suburban sprawl, strip malls, highways, homes, and stores, as well as rivers, skies, the prairie, and the ocean.

While these photographs lament the ravages that have been inflicted on the land, they also pay homage to what remains.

 

 

“Robert Adams’s photographs often seem to demand that viewers do a double-take. Seemingly ordinary subjects like tree stumps, tract housing or the moon seen from a parking lot “require very careful looking and careful consideration,” says curator Sarah Greenough, before they reveal the photographer’s deeply personal visions of nature – and, sometimes, his despair at what humans have done with it.”

.
Peter Saenger. “Robert Adams Takes Photos That Face Facts,” on The Wall Street Journal website May 13, 2022 [Online] Cited 23/06/2022

 

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Movie Theater, Otis, Colorado' 1965, printed c. 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Movie Theater, Otis, Colorado
1965, printed c. 1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.3 x 20.3cm (6 7/16 x 8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Catholic Church, Winter, Ramah, Colorado' 1965, printed 1982

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Catholic Church, Winter, Ramah, Colorado
1965, printed 1982
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.3 x 16.4cm (8 3/4 x 6 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Catholic Church, Summer, Ramah, Colorado' 1965, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Catholic Church, Summer, Ramah, Colorado
1965, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.5 x 16.4cm (8 7/16 x 6 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Store, Elizabeth, Colorado' 1965, printed 1988

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Store, Elizabeth, Colorado
1965, printed 1988
Gelatin silver print
Image: 26.9 x 22.8cm (10 9/16 x 9 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Arriba, Colorado' 1966, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Arriba, Colorado
1966, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.4 x 22.7cm (11 3/16 x 8 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Schoolyard, Ramah, Colorado' 1968

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Schoolyard, Ramah, Colorado
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2 cm (6 x 6 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Newly Occupied Tract Houses, Colorado Springs' 1968

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Newly Occupied Tract Houses, Colorado Springs
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 13.3cm (5 x 5 1/4 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'New Tract Housing, Colorado Springs' 1968, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
New Tract Housing, Colorado Springs
1968, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14.4 x 15cm (5 11/16 x 5 7/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Colorado Springs' 1968, printed 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Colorado Springs
1968, printed 1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Colorado Springs' 1968-1971

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Colorado Springs
1968-1971
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Alameda Avenue, Denver' 1968-1971

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Alameda Avenue, Denver
1968-1971
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Northeast of Keota, Colorado' 1969, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Northeast of Keota, Colorado
1969, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 39.2 x 47.8cm (15 7/16 x 18 13/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Frame for a Tract House, Colorado Springs' 1969, printed 1984

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Frame for a Tract House, Colorado Springs
1969, printed 1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 15cm (5 15/16 x 5 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Basement for a Tract House, Colorado Springs' 1969

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Basement for a Tract House, Colorado Springs
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 26.6 x 27.6cm (10 1/2 x 10 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Colorado Springs' 1969

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Colorado Springs
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.6 x 15.2cm (6 1/8 x 6 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Pikes Peak Park, Colorado Springs' 1969

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Pikes Peak Park, Colorado Springs
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 15.2cm (5 15/16 x 6 in.)
Yale University Art Gallery, Purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'New Housing, Colorado Springs' 1969, printed 2005

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
New Housing, Colorado Springs
1969, printed 2005
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.5 x 15.1cm (6 7/8 x 5 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs' 1969

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14 x 14.9cm (5 1/2 x 5 7/8 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

For 50 years, Robert Adams (b. 1937) has made compelling, provocative, and highly influential photographs that show the wonder and fragility of the American landscape, its inherent beauty, and the inadequacy of our response to it. American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams celebrates the art of this seminal American photographer and explores the reverential way he looks at the world around him and the almost palpable silence of his work. Organised in cooperation with the artist, the exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog. American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams is on view from May 29 through October 2, 2022, in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art.

Capturing the sense of peace and harmony created through what Adams calls “the silence of light” that can be seen on the prairie, in the woods, and by the ocean, American Silence features some 175 pictures from 1965 to 2015. Other images on view question our moral silence to the desecration of that beauty by consumerism, industrialisation, and lack of environmental stewardship. Divided into three sections – The Gift, Our Response, and Tenancy – the exhibition includes works from not only the artist’s most important projects but also lesser-known ones that depict suburban sprawl, strip malls, highways, homes, and stores, as well as rivers, skies, the prairie, and the ocean. While these photographs lament the ravages that have been inflicted on the land, they also pay homage to what remains.

“The photographs in this exhibition encourage us to experience the sense of silence that the beauty of nature can inspire while asking us to question our own silent complicity in the face of its desecration,” said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art. “We are deeply grateful to Robert Adams and his wife, Kerstin, for their steadfast commitment to this endeavour and for their many donations to the National Gallery. I would like to extend our thanks to the Trellis Fund, Jane P. Watkins, The Shared Earth Foundation, Randi and Bob Fisher, Wes and Kate Mitchell, Nion McEvoy, Greg and Aline Gooding, and the James D. and Kathryn K. Steele Fund for Photography whose generous support has made this exhibition possible as well as to all our lenders for their willingness to share their treasured works of art with our public.”

 

About the exhibition

The exhibition begins with The Gift, which presents selected works that reveal the silence, beauty, peace, and spiritual harmony found in the landscape itself. Spanning three decades, this section includes photographs from Prairie (1978), Perfect Times, Perfect Places (1988), Listening to the River (1994), Pine Valley (2005), and This Day (2011). These pictures demonstrate the artist’s exceptional ability to find the sublime in the vast vistas and quiet, often overlooked, corners of the sparse and fragile American West, particularly in Colorado and Oregon, two areas of the country that Adams knows intimately. Infused with a deep understanding of the way light articulates forms, these photographs illuminate the natural world and demonstrate how Adams seeks to illustrate, in his own words, “a quiet so absolute that it allows one to begin again, to love the future.”

The largest section of the exhibition, Our Response examines how Americans have dealt with both the potential and the vulnerability of the West. Divided into six thematic subjects arranged chronologically, this section begins with “Early Hispanic and Plains Communities,” including work from some of the artist’s earliest publications: White Churches of the Plains (1970), The Architecture and Art of Early Hispanic Colorado (1974), and Prairie (1978). These pictures portray the respectful nature of older settlements in the West and acknowledge the importance of the gravel roads, farmhouses, furrowed fields, stores, and churches. They also demonstrate how early settlers attempted to achieve a unity with nature, rather than dominate over it.

“Our Imprint on the Land” and “A New West” feature works from seminal early publications by Adams: The New West: Landscapes along the Colorado Front Range (1974), denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area (1977), From the Missouri West (1980), and What We Bought: The New World, Scenes from the Denver Metropolitan Area, 1970-1974 (1995). “Our Imprint on the Land” includes pictures made along the Missouri River around the time of the 1976 bicentennial of the United States, a moment of national reflection on the past and assessment of the present. The photographs in “A New West” address the construction of a new kind of American environment. Dominated by cars, highways, cheaply fabricated homes, and commercial developments, these pictures emphasise the lack of community and the great isolation that grew in these new suburban communities.

“Our Lives and Our Children” depicts the area near Rocky Flats, a nuclear weapons plant northwest of Denver, where Adams photographed the simple dignity of everyday people to illustrate what would be lost in a nuclear disaster. Our Response ends with “Southern California” and “A Mythic Forest,” drawing works from two of his sharpest critiques: Los Angeles Spring (1986), depicting the destruction of the fragile landscape around Los Angeles in the early 1980s, and Turning Back: A Photographic Journal of Re-exploration (2005), illustrating the American timber industry’s exploitation of the North­west forests.

American Silence concludes with a selection of works from one of the artist’s recent books, Tenancy: Between the River and the Sea; The Nehalem Spit, the Coast of Oregon (2017). Divided into three parts, this series of photographs was made between 2013 and 2015 along a two-mile promontory on the Oregon coast, the Nehalem Spit. The first examines the eastern edge of the spit where massive tree stumps washed up on the shore reveal the brutality of the clearcutting done farther up the Nehalem River. The second part looks at the spit itself, a sanctuary of small trees, meadows, and dunes resting near a large geologic fault, and the third depicts the ever-changing beauty and wonder of the ocean to the west, as well as the people who seek “to escape illusion and to be reconciled,” as Adams noted. Tenancy illustrates his belief that we are only temporary occupants of the land that nourishes and sustains us, and it reveals the strength of his convictions, his deep spirituality, and the eloquent power of his vision.

 

Exhibition Catalog

Published by the National Gallery of Art and Aperture, New York, American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams traces the evolution of his work, highlighting the importance of faith to his art and – through his elegant visual reckonings – how “what was” has become “what is.” It is richly illustrated, with over 200 compelling photographs that explore the profound questions of our responsibility to the land and the moral dilemmas of progress. This extensive 332-page monograph includes award-winning curator Sarah Greenough’s in-depth examination of the evolution of his art as well as personal reflections by the celebrated nonfiction author Terry Tempest Williams and writings by Adams himself, along with a timeline of the artist’s life.

Press release from the National Gallery of Art, Washington

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Genoa, Colorado' 1970

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Genoa, Colorado
1970
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.1 x 19.1cm (7 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Boys in a Pickup, Simla, Colorado' 1970, printed 1991

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Boys in a Pickup, Simla, Colorado
1970, printed 1991
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 14.2cm (5 15/16 x 5 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1970, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1970, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 15cm (5 15/16 x 5 7/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Walking to a Shopping Center, North Edge of Denver' 1970-1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Walking to a Shopping Center, North Edge of Denver
1970-1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 19.2cm (5 15/16 x 7 9/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Sandstone Grave Marker, Walsenburg, Colorado' 1972

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Sandstone Grave Marker, Walsenburg, Colorado
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clarkville, Colorado' 1972

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clarkville, Colorado
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.4 x 16.5cm (7 1/4 x 6 1/2 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'North of Keota, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
North of Keota, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19cm (6 x 7 1/2 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973, printed 1988

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973, printed 1988
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 19.3cm (5 15/16 x 7 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Tract House, Longmont, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Tract House, Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.6 x 19.4cm (6 1/8 x 7 5/8 in.)
Collection of Frish Brandt and August Fischer
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.4cm (6 x 7 5/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1973-1974, printed 2008

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1973-1974, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.1cm (6 x 5 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'From Interstate 25, North Edge of Denver' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
From Interstate 25, North Edge of Denver
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.1cm (6 x 7 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Mobile Home Park, North Edge of Denver' 1973, printed 2005

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Mobile Home Park, North Edge of Denver
1973, printed 2005
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.8cm (6 x 7 13/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'North Edge of Denver' 1973-1974, printed 2008

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
North Edge of Denver
1973-1974, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.2cm (6 x 7 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Next to Interstate 25, Denver' 1973, printed 1991

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Next to Interstate 25, Denver
1973, printed 1991
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.3cm (6 x 7 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Outdoor Theater, North Edge of Denver' 1973-1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Outdoor Theater, North Edge of Denver
1973-1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.6 x 19.7cm (6 1/8 x 7 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Highway, Northeast Denver' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Highway, Northeast Denver
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 19.1cm (5 15/16 x 7 1/2 in.)
Stephen G. Stein Employee Benefit Trust
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973-1974, printed 2001

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973-1974, printed 2001
gelatin silver print
Image: 16.8 x 17.2cm (6 5/8 x 6 3/4 in.)
Private collection
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14.3 x 15.1cm (5 5/8 x 5 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1973, printed 1979

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1973, printed 1979
gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.2 x 15.2cm (6 3/4 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Boulder County, Colorado' 1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Boulder County, Colorado
1974
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 15.2 x 19.2cm (6 x 7 9/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1974, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1974, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 29.2cm (9 x 11 1/2 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Arvada, Colorado' 1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Arvada, Colorado
1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.7cm (6 x 7 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Shopping Mall and Parking Lot, Denver' 1974, printed 1980s

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Shopping Mall and Parking Lot, Denver
1974, printed 1980s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.4cm (6 x 7 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Northeast from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado' 1975

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Northeast from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.1 x 47.9cm (15 x 18 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'East from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado' 1975

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
East from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Garden of the Gods, El Paso County, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Garden of the Gods, El Paso County, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.3cm (9 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'South of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Jefferson County, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
South of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Jefferson County, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.4 x 21.8cm (6 7/8 x 8 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Jefferson County, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Jefferson County, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.8 x 17.8cm (7 x 7 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Berthoud, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Berthoud, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 12.7 cm (5 x 5 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with funds contributed by Marilyn L. Steinbright, 1985
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.1cm (8 15/16 x 11 1/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Concrete and Ice, Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Concrete and Ice, Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18 x 22.2cm (7 1/16 x 8 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Larimer County, Colorado' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Larimer County, Colorado
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.1cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Jeffrey Fraenkel and Alan Mark
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Abandoned Car, Carbon County, Wyoming' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Abandoned Car, Carbon County, Wyoming
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.5cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Arkansas River Canyon, Colorado' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Arkansas River Canyon, Colorado
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.5cm (8 15/16 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Lou and Di Stovall
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Highway 287, Larimer County, Colorado' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Highway 287, Larimer County, Colorado
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.3 x 28.5cm (8 3/4 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 12.7cm (5 x 5 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Fort Collins, Colorado' 1977, printed 1985

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Fort Collins, Colorado
1977, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 12.7cm (5 x 5 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with funds contributed by Marilyn L. Steinbright, 1985
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Development Road, San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Development Road, San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.8 x 22.2cm (7 x 8 3/4 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with matching funds contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Hauslohner and Harvey S. Shipley Miller, 1980
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Edge of San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California' 1977-1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Edge of San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California
1977-1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.8 x 22.5cm (7 x 8 7/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with matching funds contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Hauslohner and Harvey S. Shipley Miller, 1980
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Santa Ana Wash, Norton Air Force Base, San Bernardino County, California' 1977-1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Santa Ana Wash, Norton Air Force Base, San Bernardino County, California
1977-1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.8 x 22.2cm (7 x 8 3/4 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with matching funds contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Hauslohner and Harvey S. Shipley Miller, 1980
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Nebraska State Highway 2, Box Butte County, Nebraska' 1978, printed 1991

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Nebraska State Highway 2, Box Butte County, Nebraska
1978, printed 1991
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.2 x 27.8cm (8 3/4 x 10 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Umatilla County, Oregon' 1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Umatilla County, Oregon
1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.2 x 47.6cm (15 1/16 x 18 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Quarried Mesa Top, Pueblo County, Colorado' 1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Quarried Mesa Top, Pueblo County, Colorado
1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 47cm (14 15/16 x 18 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Edge of San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California' 1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Edge of San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California
1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.3cm (8 15/16 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Eucalyptus along Interstate 10, Redlands, California' 1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Eucalyptus along Interstate 10, Redlands, California
1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.3cm (9 x 11 1/8 in.)
Collection of Frish Brandt and August Fischer
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1979, printed 1985

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1979, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 12.7cm (5 x 5 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1979

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1979
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 22.5cm (9 x 8 7/8 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

Robert Adams is a man who walks with silences. I feel the pace of his stride in the quiet, acute considerations of his photographs of the American West. That he is drawn to sources of light in darkness, be it the moon, the shimmering light on poplar leaves, or the lonely lamp radiating on to the streets from a house in the suburbs, inspires me to pursue my own night walks in summer. In the embrace of the night, my own darkness is absorbed into an uncommon stillness that does not frighten me. I see the eye-shine of other creatures and it is a comfort to know we are not alone.

The stillness married to loneliness in Adams work is something I understand as a westerner born in the suburbs of 1955. Though we have never met, he photographed my mother on one of his walks in Colorado Springs (1968) even though she was sitting in a different living room on Moor Mont Drive in Salt Lake City, Utah. …

The silhouette of the woman I see in the window, facing the door that is closed, in a red brick house, with a putting-green lawn, where a gentle curve of concrete leads to the entrance, is the home I was raised in as a child. I write this long sentence intentionally, because those were the days of my childhood that felt languid and secure.

This was the New West that Robert Adams captured in the middle of construction. We lived inside the green square houses used in the game Monopoly. But what we always knew was that beyond the dust of development and the play money that became real, wildness awaited us – even if it was the empty lot next door or the dirt road nearby that led to the creek shaded by cottonwoods.

Cottonwoods were the guardians of our childhood. They were deemed safe by our parents. They sheltered us from the heat of summer and the claustrophobia of winter. We knew their secrets. Inside their tangled skirts of lower branches families of house wrens lived and in the upper branches, great horned owls could be heard. The cottonwoods’ massive fluted trunks were our hide-and-seek. And if we gave our siblings a hand-stirrup up, we could climb into the large embrace of the trees. Once in the cottonwood’s arms, we were camouflaged in its rustling leaves – we would simply listen. It’s where I learned to trust other species more than my own. My love of solitude was nurtured inside these cathedral groves of cottonwoods.

The cottonwoods that appear in Weld County, Colorado (1992) and reappear throughout Adams’ work are emblematic of his intimacy and understanding of the American West. Cottonwoods root themselves near water. They are the wanderer’s hope in arid country. Water is the difference between living and dying in the West. And when Adams speaks of his affection toward one particular cottonwood in a field in Colorado, photographing it over many years, only to return one day to see it cut down – he faced what remained of the beloved tree as grieving kin. The body of a man, the body of a tree, there is no separation in the shared reach of a relationship. …

Robert Adams has been led by Beauty on what could be seen as the spiritual path of the artist as he followed forms of light again and again through the depths of darkness, even his own. Never easy, but often, glorious. We are the beneficiaries of his focus. He is a trustworthy companion. I choose to walk with him. Perhaps, he learned something about tenacious love as a form of being on those solitary summer nights as he walked in moonlight with an eye toward stillness.

Terry Tempest Williams. “Terry Tempest Williams on Walking with Robert Adams,” on the National Gallery of Art website May 19, 2022 [Online] Cited 31/05/2022, excerpted from the afterword by Terry Tempest Williams in the book American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams.

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.8 x 17.2cm (6 5/8 x 6 3/4 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.3 x 15.9cm (8 x 6 1/4 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.6 x 22.7cm (9 11/16 x 8 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 26 x 22.6cm (10 1/4 x 8 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.1 x 15.6cm (7 1/8 x 6 1/8 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 27.9 x 22.5cm (11 x 8 7/8 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1981, printed 1987

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1981, printed 1987
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 47.6cm (14 15/16 x 18 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1981, printed 1988

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1981, printed 1988
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.8 x 47cm (14 7/8 x 18 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14.6 x 15.2cm (5 3/4 x 6 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.15 x 16.83cm (6 3/4 x 6 5/8 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.2 x 17.2cm (6 3/4 x 6 3/4 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.4 x 15.7cm (7 1/4 x 6 3/16 in.)
Yale University Art Gallery, Purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.6 x 15.9cm (8 1/8 x 6 1/4 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.8 x 15.9cm (7 x 6 1/4 in.)
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Remains of a Eucalyptus Windbreak, Redlands, California' 1982, printed 1990

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Remains of a Eucalyptus Windbreak, Redlands, California
1982, printed 1990
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.1 x 47.5cm (15 x 18 11/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Firebreak, above East Highland, California' 1982

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Firebreak, above East Highland, California
1982
Gelatin silver print
Image: 27.4 x 22.8cm (10 13/16 x 9 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Santa Ana Wash, Redlands, California' 1982

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Santa Ana Wash, Redlands, California
1982
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 47.1cm (14 15/16 x 18 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Rialto, California' 1982

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Rialto, California
1982
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Looking toward the Mountains in Smog, Weld County, Colorado' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Looking toward the Mountains in Smog, Weld County, Colorado
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.8 x 47cm (14 7/8 x 18 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Boulder County, Colorado' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Boulder County, Colorado
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.8 x 47.5cm (14 7/8 x 18 11/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Old Estate Road, Redlands, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Old Estate Road, Redlands, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Eucalyptus Branch, Redlands, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Eucalyptus Branch, Redlands, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.9 x 47.1cm (14 15/16 x 18 9/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of the Friends of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1986
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'On Signal Hill, Overlooking Long Beach, California' 1983, printed 199

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
On Signal Hill, Overlooking Long Beach, California
1983, printed 1990
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.5cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Broken Trees, East of Riverside, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Broken Trees, East of Riverside, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.6 x 46.7cm (14 13/16 x 18 3/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1986
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Eroding Edge of a Former Citrus-Growing Estate, Highland, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Eroding Edge of a Former Citrus-Growing Estate, Highland, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 46.7cm (14 15/16 x 18 3/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1986
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'On Top of the La Loma Hills, Colton, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
On Top of the La Loma Hills, Colton, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 47cm (14 15/16 x 18 1/2 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1986
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'New Development on a Former Citrus-Growing Estate, Highland, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
New Development on a Former Citrus-Growing Estate, Highland, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.1 x 47cm (15 x 18 1/2 in.)
Andrew Szegedy-Maszak and Elizabeth Bobrick
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'New Housing, Reche Canyon, San Bernardino County, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
New Housing, Reche Canyon, San Bernardino County, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.9 x 47.8cm (14 15/16 x 18 13/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with funds contributed by Ann and Donald W. McPhail and the Atlantic Richfield Foundation, 1986
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Interstate 10, West Edge of Redlands, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Interstate 10, West Edge of Redlands, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.5 x 45.7cm (14 3/4 x 18 in.)
Christine and Michael J. Murray
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Fontana, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Fontana, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1984

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 47.7cm (14 15/16 x 18 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1984

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.9 x 46.8cm (14 15/16 x 18 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1984

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.1 x 47.3cm (15 x 18 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Sally, Weld County, Colorado' 1984, printed 1990

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Sally, Weld County, Colorado
1984, printed 1990
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.2cm (8 15/16 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1992

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1992
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37 x 46cm (14 9/16 x 18 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Irrigation Canal, Larimer County, Colorado' 1995

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Irrigation Canal, Larimer County, Colorado
1995
Gelatin silver print
Image: 29 x 22.8cm (11 7/16 x 9 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Poplars, Harney County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Poplars, Harney County, Oregon
1999
Photogravure
Image: 50.5 x 40cm (19 7/8 x 15 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Linda Hackett and Russell Munson Fund and Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Poplars, Harney County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Poplars, Harney County, Oregon
1999
Photogravure
Image: 49.3 x 40cm (19 7/16 x 15 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Linda Hackett and Russell Munson Fund and Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Poplars, Harney County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Poplars, Harney County, Oregon
1999
Photogravure
Image: 50.5 x 40cm (19 7/8 x 15 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Linda Hackett and Russell Munson Fund and Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Poplars, Harney County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Poplars, Harney County, Oregon
1999
Photogravure
Image: 50 x 40cm (19 11/16 x 15 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Linda Hackett and Russell Munson Fund and Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon
1999
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.2 x 22.7cm (11 1/8 x 8 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Kerstin next to an Old-Growth Stump, Coos County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Kerstin next to an Old-Growth Stump, Coos County, Oregon
1999
Gelatin silver print
Image: 27.9 x 22.9cm (11 x 9 in.)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: Don Ross

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon
1999
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.2cm (8 15/16 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Columbia County, Oregon' 1999-2001

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Columbia County, Oregon
1999-2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 31.3 x 39.7cm (12 5/16 x 15 5/8 in.)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Purchase through a gift of an anonymous donor
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: Don Ross

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Baker County, Oregon' 2000

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Baker County, Oregon
2000
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.6 x 26.1cm (8 1/8 x 10 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon' c. 2000

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon
c. 2000
Gelatin silver print
Image: 39.4 x 31.3cm (15 1/2 x 12 5/16 in.)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: Don Ross

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon' c. 2000

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon
c. 2000
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon' c. 2000

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon
c. 2000
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.6cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/4 in.)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Purchase through a gift of an anonymous donor
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: Don Ross

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon' 2001

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon
2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.9cm (9 x 11 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Kerstin, Old-Growth Stump, the Last Evidence of the Original Forest, Clatsop County, Oregon' c. 2001

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Kerstin, Old-Growth Stump, the Last Evidence of the Original Forest, Clatsop County, Oregon
c. 2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.7cm (9 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

These views of the American West evoke a wide range of memories, myths, and regrets associated with America’s final frontier. In the nineteenth century, that frontier began at the Missouri River. Beyond it lay a landscape of natural grandeur and purity, challenging the spirit and promising redemption. At the time the pictures were made, the hand of man had not so much disfigured as domesticated that paradise, leaving its mark of intrusion almost casually, with the assurance of absolute triumph. Adams recorded this intrusion with neither judgment nor irony; the land he shows has simply been changed, reduced, made ordinary. Yet a second look makes it apparent that the hand of man has, after all, its limitations. The simple natural facts imposed upon by civilization still exert a mysterious counterforce: they abide, in a kind of triumph of resignation. That counterforce is present in all of Adams’s images, recognizable as the same silence and stillness that once summoned pioneers into a wilderness, and now summon their descendants to remember.

~ from the book Robert Adams: From the Missouri West

9.5 x 11.5 in, Hardcover
First edition, 46 b&w photographs
Aperture
1980

 

denver and What We Bought, together with The New West, form a loose trilogy of Robert Adams’s work exploring the rapidly developing landscape of the Denver metropolitan area from 1968 through 1974. In the former two books, Adams created a comprehensive document that was resolute in its avoidance of romantic notions of the American West and dispassionately honest about man’s despoliation of the land. Both books demonstrate the artist at the height of his powers as a documentary photographer and a poetic sequencer of images.

The photographs featured in denver and What We Bought show tract housing with mountain ranges in the distance, trailer lots devoid of people, suburban streets through generic windows, shopping mall interiors, and parking lots: subjects distinctly unspectacular, familiar, and banal. Adams’s compositions are straightforward and democratic, and it is this precise turn from sentimentality that has made Adams one of the most influential figures in the history of American photography.

~ the publisher

8 x 9.25 in., Hardbound
136 pages, 117 tritone illustrations
Yale University Press
2009

 

Listening to the River is a celebration of anonymous places where we can still find nature’s beauty. Robert Adams first visited these particular locations as a boy, when the West seemed unchanging. Now in his fifties, he returns to them with the affection of a longtime acquaintance. The book records hushed walks when irrelevancies are forgotten, when sunlight makes the fields, hills, and roads new. Adams has chosen twelve poems by William Stafford to accompany the pictures. Both photographer and poet observe a practice of quiet in the out-of-doors, and both discover there a promise.

This is an optimistic book, though not a sentimental one: a number of the photographs record views of the suburban West. “Any tree in the path of development appears to have an uncertain future,” Adams observes. Listening to the River affirms, however, that trees and other elements of nature are ultimately protected. “Part of what their beauty means,” says the photographer, “is that they are safe.”

In 1989 Adams spoke at the Philadelphia Museum of Art about his enjoyment of the landscape, citing as an example his experiences at rural crossroads on the plains: “Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be anything there at all – just two roads, four fields, and sky. Small things, however, can become important – a lark or a mailbox or sunflowers. And if I wait I may see the architecture – the roads and the fields and the sky. Were you and I to drive the prairie together, and the day turned out to be a good one, we might not say much. We might get out of the truck at a crossroads, stretch, walk a little ways, and then walk back. Maybe the lark would sing. Maybe we would stand for a while, all views to the horizon, all roads interesting. We might find there a balance of form and openness, even of community and freedom. It would be the world as we had hoped, and we would recognize it together.”

~ the publisher

10 x 13 in, Hardcover
Featuring poems by William Stafford; 176 plates
Aperture
1994

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The River's Edge' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The River’s Edge
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.8 x 29.9cm (7 13/16 x 11 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The River's Edge' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The River’s Edge
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.7 x 29.8cm (7 3/4 x 11 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The River's Edge' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The River’s Edge
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.9 x 29.9cm (7 13/16 x 11 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The River's Edge' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The River’s Edge
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.8 x 30cm (7 13/16 x 11 13/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The River's Edge' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The River’s Edge
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.8 x 29.8cm (7 13/16 x 11 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Interior of the Spit' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Interior of the Spit
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.7cm (8 7/8 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Interior of the Spit' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Interior of the Spit
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 x 28.8cm (8 7/8 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Interior of the Spit' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Interior of the Spit
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 x 28.8cm (8 7/8 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 x 28.2cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.8cm (8 15/16 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.5cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.3cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 x 28.2cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach, Albatross' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach, Albatross
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.2cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.5cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.8cm (9 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.4cm (8 7/8 x 11 3/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.9cm (8 15/16 x 11 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28cm (8 7/8 x 11 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.9cm (9 x 11 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.9cm (8 15/16 x 11 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 x 28.3cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

National Gallery of Art
National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets
Constitution Avenue NW, Washington

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Daily 10am – 5pm

National Gallery of Art website

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18
Sep
22

Photographs: Marcus Bunyan. ‘The sun does not move’ 2017-2022

September 2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Women in orange' London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Women in orange
London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

This posting offers a selection of photographs from my new ninety-eight image sequence The sun does not move (2017-2022). To see the whole extended conversation please visit my website. The text below illuminates the rationale for the work…

 

Two students were arguing about a flag flapping in the wind. “It’s the wind that is really moving,” stated the first one. “No, it is the flag that is moving,” contended the second. A Zen master, who happened to be walking by, overheard the debate and interrupted them. “Neither the flag nor the wind is moving,” he said, “It is MIND that moves.”

 

The photographs in this sequence meditate on the idea that it is the mind of the viewer that constructs the spaces and meanings of these images. It is MIND that moves. The title of this sequence the sun does not move is attributed to Italian polymath Galileo Galilei.

The photographs are not a contemporary dissection of some archaic concept or hidden historical moment. They just are. Why do I make them? Because I feel impelled to be creative, to explore the spiritual in liminal spaces that I find across the earth. Ultimately, I make them for myself, to illuminate the journey that this soul is on.

With wonder and affection and empathy and feeling for the spaces placed before it. As clear as light is for the ‘mind’s eye’.

With thankx to the few “fellow travellers” for their advice and friendship.

Marcus

 

98 images
© Marcus Bunyan

VIEW THE WHOLE SEQUENCE ON MY WEBSITE (preferably on a desktop computer)

 

 

“To try to see more and better is not a matter of whim or curiosity or self-indulgence. To see or to perish is the very condition laid upon everything that makes up the universe, by reason of the mysterious gift of existence.”

.
Teilhard de Chardin, Seeing 1947

 

Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Photographs are available from this series for purchase. As a guide, a digital colour 16″ x 20″ print costs $1,000 plus tracked and insured shipping. For more information please see the Store web page.

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Brick pattern' London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Brick pattern
London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Sliver' France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Sliver
France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Bus depot' South London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Bus depot
South London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Gare du Nord' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Gare du Nord
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Blue / White' London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Blue/White
London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Tomb effigy' V&A Museum, London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Tomb effigy
V&A Museum, London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Float' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Float
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Scar' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Scar
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Circle, two white lines, four pieces of white and a trail of dark oil' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Circle, two white lines, four pieces of white and a trail of dark oil
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Couple in light' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Couple in light
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The crossing' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The crossing
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Equilibrium' Tuileries, Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Equilibrium
Tuileries, Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Leaving' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Leaving
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The sun does not move, it's your mind that moves...' France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The sun does not move, it’s your mind that moves…
France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Crystallize' France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Crystallize
France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Hand in hand' France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Hand in hand
France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'We might be otherwise – we might be all' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
We might be otherwise – we might be all
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Every kind of pleasure' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Every kind of pleasure
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Eiffel Tower II' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Eiffel Tower II
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Profusion' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Profusion
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Ancient and modern' V&A Museum, London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Ancient and modern
V&A Museum, London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Two black holes' V&A Museum, London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Two black holes
V&A Museum, London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The Wheel of Time' V&A Museum, London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The Wheel of Time
V&A Museum, London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Where is the love, beauty, and truth we seek (Shelley)' France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Where is the love, beauty, and truth we seek (Shelley)
France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Modernisation' Montparnasse, Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Modernisation
Montparnasse, Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The light whose smile kindles the universe' Palace of Fontainebleau, France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The light whose smile kindles the universe
Palace of Fontainebleau, France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The unknown thought I' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The unknown thought I
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

Marcus Bunyan website

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10
Sep
22

Exhibition: ‘Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 19th July – 9th October 2022

Curators: Mazie Harris, assistant curator, J. Paul Getty Museum, in consultation with Sarah L. Eckhardt, associate curator, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

 

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Pensacola, Florida' 1966

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Pensacola, Florida
1966
Gelatin silver print
22.5 × 34cm (8 7/8 × 13 3/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
© Anthony Barboza

 

 

LIBERTY!

Even though I know the history of photography reasonably well(!) I had never heard of the Kamoinge Workshop (a collective of Black photographers formed in New York in 1963) before I started to assemble this posting. This “group of people acting together… produced powerful images, sensitively registering Black life in the mid-20th century.” Their work “reminds us of the power of both individual creativity and collective action.”

What is notable about the work of Kamoinge artists as evidenced by the vibrant, graphic photographs of high contrast and chiaroscuro presented here is the mainly abstract nature of their representation of Black life.

Through images such as Anthony Barboza’s broken liberty in Pensacola, Florida (1966) and fragmented Street Self-portrait (1970s), Adger Cowans’ distorted Three Shadows (1966), C. Daniel Dawson’s Backscape #1 (1967), Louis Draper’s Untitled (Swing and Shadow) (1967) and Boy and H, Harlem (1961), James Mannas’ desperate No Way Out, Harlem, NYC (1964) and Peeping Sea Wall Beach Boy, Georgetown, Guyana (1972), Herbert Randall’s melancholy Untitled (Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Freedom Summer) (1964), Herb Robinson’s Brother and Sister (1973) and Central Park, Kids (1961), Beuford Smith’s, hanging, Boy on Swing, Lower East Side (1970), Ming Smith’s decaying Untitled (Harlem, NY) (c. 1973) and Shawn Walker’s barricaded Harlem, 117th Street (c. 1960) … the viewer can begin to picture, begin to feel and empathise with – the life of displacement and deprivation, poverty and protest, strength and joy – that was at the centre of Black experiences. The work of the Kamoinge artists offered “an alternative to the mainstream media of the time, which often overlooked Black culture or portrayed it negatively.”

“Through careful cropping, framing, and printing techniques, Kamoinge artists defamiliarised everyday sights such as puddles and clouds, asphalt, and weathered walls. Their images encourage greater attention to commonplace subjects – the reflective glass of shop windows, worn advertisements on city streets, a dirtied pile of salt – that might otherwise be overlooked. Much of their work with shadows and reflections centers Black bodies seeking a place for themselves amid the ebb and flow of daily life.” (Exhibition text)

For me what is so important about this group of artists (or any individual or group of people that represent through art: difference, diversity and the fight for equality and liberty) is that they represent themselves and historically archive their continuing struggle against oppression – so that, as the definition of the word “liberty” states – we can all attain “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behaviour, or political views.”

Usually the fight comes not from the top down, but from the grass roots up… from community, from culture and how these begin to influence wider social attitudes and prejudices. Fighting against any injustice, whether it be racism, sexism, ism ism ism, is a fight against ignorance and bigotry. It is a fight against people being unaware of what is going on, what affect their actions have on others, it is a fight against misinformation and misrepresentation, and it is a fight against power residing in the hands of the few. As such, the photographs of the Kamoinge Workshop artists are a vital reflection on the process of change and acceptance, of progress (or the lack of it) and the constant need to be vigilant, to keep fighting against any force that seeks to subjugate us. Their photographs heighten our aesthetic awareness, one of the defining qualities of being human, connecting us to our ability to reflect on and appreciate the world around us in all its mysterious spirit and joyful difference.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

This is the first major exhibition about the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of Black photographers formed in New York in 1963. Members of the group produced powerful images, sensitively registering Black life in the mid-20th century. The exhibition explores Kamoinge’s photographic artistry in the 1960s and 1970s, celebrating the group’s collaborative ethos, commitment to community, and centering of Black experiences.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop' at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Installation view of the exhibition Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles showing at centre, the work of Louis Draper.

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Kamoinge Members' 1973, printed 2019

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Kamoinge Members
1973, printed 2019
Inkjet print
45.7 × 50.8cm (18 × 20 in)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Eric and Jeanette Lipman Fund
© Anthony Barboza

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Editors Working on the First Volume of The Black Photographers Annual' 1973

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Editors Working on the First Volume of The Black Photographers Annual
1973
Pictured: Beuford Smith, Joe Crawford, Ray Francis
Gelatin silver print
12.1 × 17.9cm (4 3/4 × 7 1/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
© Anthony Barboza

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) '1st Annual International Black Photographers Dinner Honoring Roy DeCarava and James Van Der Zee, NYC' 1979

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
1st Annual International Black Photographers Dinner Honoring Roy DeCarava and James Van Der Zee, NYC
1979
Gelatin silver print
18.9 × 24.9cm (7 7/16 × 9 13/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Anthony Barboza

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Easter Sunday in Harlem' 1974

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Easter Sunday in Harlem
1974
Gelatin silver print
15.4 x 22.6cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Street Self-portrait' 1970s

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Street Self-portrait
1970s
Gelatin silver print
19.9 x 15.1cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

In 1963 a group of Black photographers based in New York formed the Kamoinge Workshop.

Committed to photography’s power as an art form, Kamoinge members depicted Black life as they saw and experienced it. They hoped to offer an alternative to the mainstream media of the time, which often overlooked Black culture or portrayed it negatively.

Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop, on view at the Getty Museum at the Getty Center July 19 – October 9, is the first major retrospective presenting photographs from the collective during the 1960s and 1970s. Highlighting each photographer’s individual artistry as well as the Workshop’s shared concerns, this exhibition celebrates the group’s self-organising, commitment to community, and centering of Black experiences.

“The work in this exhibition highlights Black Americans behind and in front of the camera. The Museum regularly features individual artists in monographic exhibitions, but it is important also to document and celebrate the importance of collaborative groups such as the Kamoinge Workshop,” says Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Working Together reflects Getty’s continuing efforts to diversify our collection, and thereby represent a more expansive history of photography. To that end, several of the works shown in the exhibition were recently acquired for the Museum’s collection.”

Within their first year as a group, the members of the Kamoinge Workshop (pronounced “kuh-moyn-gay” by the members of the group) made a commitment to portray the communities around them. They chose the name – which means “a group of people acting together” in the Kikuyu language of Kenya – to reflect the collective model they wished to follow as well as their interest in Black communities not just at home but also outside the United States.

The exhibition will focus on the first two decades of the collective, from the founding of the group in 1963 through the various activities of the International Black Photographers association in the early 1980s, and includes photographs by 15 of the organisation’s early members. The artists included in the exhibition are Anthony Barboza, Adger Cowans, Daniel Dawson, Louis Draper, Al Fennar, Ray Francis, Herman Howard, Jimmie Mannas, Herb Randall, Herb Robinson, Beuford Smith, Ming Smith, Shawn Walker, and Calvin Wilson. Also included are several photographs by Roy DeCarava, the first director of the Workshop.

Images in the exhibition capture the experience of urban life at mid-century, the civil rights movement, intimate portraiture, experimental abstraction, jazz musicians, and the Black experience abroad. Though the photographers included in the exhibition produced diverse bodies of work, many of their photographs are printed with dark tones that compellingly evoke the unsettling era in which they were made.

“The Kamoinge vision remains resonant today,” notes Mazie Harris, curator of the installation of Working Together in the Getty Museum’s Center for Photographs. “The photographs in this exhibition offer a glimpse into the artistry and ambition of the workshop members, reminding us of the power of both individual creativity and collective action.”

Working Together: The Photographs of the Kamoinge Workshop is organised by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and curated by Mazie Harris, assistant curator, J. Paul Getty Museum, in consultation with Sarah L. Eckhardt, associate curator, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936) 'Three Shadows' 1966, printed 1968

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936)
Three Shadows
1966, printed 1968
Gelatin silver print
26.6 × 15.7cm (10 1/2 × 6 3/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Adger Cowans, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936) 'Footsteps' 1960

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936)
Footsteps
1960
Gelatin silver print
21 × 33.8cm (8 1/4 × 13 5/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.
Aldine S. Hartman Endowment Fund
© Adger Cowans

 

C. Daniel Dawson (American, b. 1943) 'Backscape #1' 1967

 

C. Daniel Dawson (American, b. 1943)
Backscape #1
1967
Gelatin silver print
15.2 × 22.9cm (6 × 9 in.)
Collection of C. Daniel Dawson
© C. Daniel Dawson

 

C. Daniel Dawson (American, b. 1943) 'Olaifa and Egypt' 1978

 

C. Daniel Dawson (American, b. 1943)
Olaifa and Egypt
1978
Gelatin silver print
16.5 × 24.1cm (6 1/2 × 9 1/2 in.)
Collection of C. Daniel Dawson
© C. Daniel Dawson

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Fannie Lou Hamer' 1971

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Fannie Lou Hamer
1971
Gelatin silver print
18.1 × 13.3cm (7 1/8 × 5 1/4 in.)
Getty Museum
© Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

 

Fannie Lou Hamer (née Townsend; October 6, 1917 – March 14, 1977) was an American voting and women’s rights activist, community organiser, and a leader in the civil rights movement. She was the co-founder and vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party, which she represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Hamer also organised Mississippi’s Freedom Summer along with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She was also a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, an organisation created to recruit, train, and support women of all races who wish to seek election to government office.

Hamer began civil rights activism in 1962, continuing until her health declined nine years later. She was known for her use of spiritual hymnals and quotes and her resilience in leading the civil rights movement for black women in Mississippi. She was extorted, threatened, harassed, shot at, and assaulted by racists, including members of the police, while trying to register for and exercise her right to vote. She later helped and encouraged thousands of African-Americans in Mississippi to become registered voters and helped hundreds of disenfranchised people in her area through her work in programs like the Freedom Farm Cooperative. She unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1964 and the Mississippi State Senate in 1971. In 1970, she led legal action against the government of Sunflower County, Mississippi for continued illegal segregation.

Hamer died on March 14, 1977, aged 59, in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Her memorial service was widely attended and her eulogy was delivered by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young. She was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Congressional Gathering' 1959, printed later

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Congressional Gathering
1959, printed later
Gelatin silver print
23.4 × 16.9 cm (9 3/16 × 6 5/8 in.)
Getty Museum
© Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Untitled (Swing and Shadow)' 1967

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Untitled (Swing and Shadow)
1967
Gelatin silver print
22.9 × 15.2cm (9 × 6 in.)
Getty Museum
© Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Untitled (Billy)' About 1966-1972

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Untitled (Billy)
About 1966-1972
Gelatin silver print
24.1 × 33.3cm (9 1/2 × 13 1/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Courtesy of the Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, Nell D. Winston, Trustee

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Boy and H, Harlem' 1961

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Boy and H, Harlem
1961
Gelatin silver print
21.3 × 32.2 cm (8 3/8 × 12 11/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Courtesy of the Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, Nell D. Winston, Trustee

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Untitled' 1960s

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Untitled
1960s
Gelatin silver print
23.3 × 17.3cm (9 3/16 × 6 13/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Courtesy of the Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, Nell D. Winston, Trustee

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Reward MLK Poster, New York' 1971

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Reward MLK Poster, New York
1971
Gelatin silver print
18.1 x 13.3cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Community

The Kamoinge Workshop began as a community of photographers who supported and encouraged one another. Within their first year, they also made a commitment to portray the communities around them. They introduced one of their early projects by explaining, “The Kamoinge Workshop represents black photographers whose creative objectives reflect a concern for truth about the world, about the Society, and about themselves.” Years later, member Louis Draper expanded: “Cognizant of the forces for change revolving around Kamoinge, we dedicated ourselves to speak of our lives as only we can. This was our story to tell and we set out to create the kind of images of our communities that spoke of the truth we’d witnessed, and that countered the untruths we’d all seen in mainline publications.”

 

Mentorship

Kamoinge members taught photography in programs across New York City, from Brooklyn and Harlem to the Bronx, equipping a younger generation with the technical and philosophical knowledge they needed to portray their communities. Louis Draper noted that they were eager for “a sense of purpose other than individual acclaim; we wanted to serve.” In the late 1960s, Draper and Daniel Dawson taught a photography course for teens every summer, and Draper led a youth mentorship program in the Bronx. The photographs in this section of the exhibition document some of their students.

 

Civil Rights

Although most Kamoinge members resisted being labeled civil rights photographers – a term they felt conjured images of firehoses and attack dogs – oral and written histories of the group emphasise that the collective formed in the midst of the civil rights movement. As Louis Draper described: “Many of the group had been a part of the March on Washington with Reverend King. Others had witnessed southern law brutality brought on by voting rights activity and sit-in demonstrations. Within a year’s time, these same volatile forces would propel many of us into engaged and enraged resistance.” Part of their resistance was to make images of Black Americans that were absent from the national conversation. Some members photographed leading figures and pivotal events of the civil rights movement but not necessarily to provide a journalistic record. Many created images reflected the theme of civil rights on a symbolic level instead.

 

“Like Jazz”

Music played an enormous role in the art of the Kamoinge Workshop. Jazz was a near-constant soundtrack for the group’s meetings, and musicians and live performances were the subjects of many of their photographs. Jazz also served as a metaphor for photography itself. Rhythm, timing, and improvisation are key elements in street photography as well as experimental abstraction. Innovative musicians such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane inspired Kamoinge artists, as did attending rehearsals and performances by figures as diverse as Mahalia Jackson and Sun Ra. These musicians moved the photographers to experiment and above all to hone their craft. Ming Smith characterised photography as “making something out of nothing,” adding, “I think that’s like jazz.”

 

A Global Perspective

A significant factor leading to the formation of the Kamoinge Workshop was, as Louis Draper put it, “the emerging African consciousness exploding within us.” Even before most of the members began traveling internationally, their choice of a name from the Kikuyu people of Kenya emphasised their interest in Black experiences outside the United States. Kenya, which gained independence from colonial rule in 1963, the same year Kamoinge was founded, was frequently in the press during the group’s earliest meetings. The decolonisation movement swept across the African continent from the mid-1950s through the 1960s, the same years that the US civil rights movement intensified. Many Kamoinge members traveled to African countries that had recently gained independence, and also to regions with significant diasporic communities. Some worked outside the United States on film projects or on assignments for magazines and in their off-hours made time for their own art. These travels expanded their sense of belonging to a global Black fellowship, however widely dispersed.

 

Shadows, Reflections, and Abstractions

Kamoinge has often been associated with street photography, but abstraction was also a crucial part of their work. By the time they joined the group, Louis Draper, Al Fennar, and Adger Cowans were already making abstract images in addition to more recognisably documentary pictures. In the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, many of the other members began to follow suit. Workshop photographers pushed themselves and the medium by experimenting with new forms and ideas. Through careful cropping, framing, and printing techniques, Kamoinge artists defamiliarised everyday sights such as puddles and clouds, asphalt, and weathered walls. Their images encourage greater attention to commonplace subjects – the reflective glass of shop windows, worn advertisements on city streets, a dirtied pile of salt – that might otherwise be overlooked. Much of their work with shadows and reflections centers Black bodies seeking a place for themselves amid the ebb and flow of daily life.

 

Kamoinge’s Legacy

Kamoinge Workshop members supported not just one another but also the broader community of Black photographers. In 1973 Beuford Smith founded the Black Photographers Annual, a publication that helped bring attention to artists outside the Kamoinge circle. In 1978, other members started a group called International Black Photographers, which honoured the work of photography elders and encouraged younger generations. Neither endeavour was part of the workshop’s official activities, but each grew out of the members’ ambition to serve and promote Black artists. Following their exhibitions in the mid-1970s, the Kamoinge Workshop neither organised exhibitions nor produced publications again until the mid-1990s. The group never disbanded, however, and the members remained close. They resumed formal meetings in 1992, applied for nonprofit status, and renamed themselves Kamoinge, Inc. A subsequent influx of new members energised the group as they continued the work that began in 1963.

Exhibition texts adapted from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts publication Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop published as “Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop” on the J. Paul Getty Museum website [Online] Cited 31/08/2022

 

Albert Fennar (American, 1938-2018) 'Salt Pile' 1971

 

Albert Fennar (American, 1938-2018)
Salt Pile
1971
Gelatin silver print
Framed [outer dim]: 52.1 × 41.9cm (20 1/2 × 16 1/2 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Gift of Mrs. Alfred duPont, by exchange
© Miya Fennar and the Albert R. Fennar Archive

 

Albert Fennar (American, 1938-2018) 'Sphere' 1974

 

Albert Fennar (American, 1938-2018)
Sphere
1974
Gelatin silver print
Framed [outer dim]: 52.1 × 41.9cm (20 1/2 × 16 1/2 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Gift of Mrs. Alfred duPont, by exchange
© Miya Fennar and The Albert R. Fennar Archive

 

Herman Howard (American, 1942-1980) 'March on Washington' 1963

 

Herman Howard (American, 1942-1980)
March on Washington
1963
Gelatin silver print
14.8 × 23.8cm (5 13/16 × 9 3/8 in.)
Collection of Herb Robinson
Digital image courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

 

Herman Howard (American, 1942-1980) 'New York' 1960s

 

Herman Howard (American, 1942-1980)
New York
1960s
Gelatin silver print 16 × 23.3cm (6 5/16 × 9 3/16 in.)
Collection of Herb Robinson
Digital image courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

 

James Mannas (American, b. 1941) 'No Way Out, Harlem, NYC' 1964

 

James Mannas (American, b. 1941)
No Way Out, Harlem, NYC
1964
Gelatin silver print
22.7 × 16.2cm (8 15/16 × 6 3/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© James Mannas

 

James Mannas (American, b. 1941) 'Peeping Sea Wall Beach Boy, Georgetown, Guyana' 1972

 

James Mannas (American, b. 1941)
Peeping Sea Wall Beach Boy, Georgetown, Guyana
1972
Gelatin silver print
23.8 × 15.9cm (9 3/8 × 6 1/4 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© James Mannas

 

Herbert Randall (American, born 1936) 'Untitled (Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Freedom Summer)' 1964

 

Herbert Randall (American, born 1936)
Untitled (Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Freedom Summer)
1964
Gelatin silver print
34.3 × 22.9cm (13 1/2 × 9 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Herbert Randall

 

Herbert Randall (American, born 1936) 'Untitled (Bed-Stuy, New York)' 1960s

 

Herbert Randall (American, born 1936)
Untitled (Bed-Stuy, New York)
1960s
Gelatin silver print
33.7 × 23.3cm (13 1/4 × 9 3/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Herbert Randall

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s) 'Miles Davis at the Vanguard' 1961, printed later

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s)
Miles Davis at the Vanguard
1961, printed later
Gelatin silver print
35.3 × 25cm (13 7/8 × 9 13/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Herb Robinson, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s) 'Brother and Sister' 1973

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s)
Brother and Sister
1973
Gelatin silver print
16.5 × 22.9cm (6 1/2 × 9 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Herb Robinson

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s) 'Central Park, Kids' 1961

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s)
Central Park, Kids
1961
Gelatin silver print
33.8 × 23.5cm (13 5/16 × 9 1/4 in.)
Collection of Herb Robinson
© Herb Robinson

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s) 'The Girls' 1969

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s)
The Girls
1969
Gelatin silver print
8.6 × 21.3cm (3 3/8 × 8 3/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Herb Robinson

 

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941) 'Two Bass Hit, Lower East Side' 1972

 

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941)
Two Bass Hit, Lower East Side
1972
Gelatin silver print
23.8 × 34.3cm (9 3/8 × 13 1/2 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Beuford Smith/Césaire

 

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941) 'Boy on Swing, Lower East Side' 1970

 

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941)
Boy on Swing, Lower East Side
1970
Gelatin silver print
17.3 × 25.1cm (6 13/16 × 9 7/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Beuford Smith

 

 

Interviews with Kamoinge Artists

Interviewed by video during the pandemic, Kamoinge artists reflect on their experience with the group and the ongoing significance of their work together.

Video includes subtitles/closed captions in English and Spanish. Footage courtesy of the artists and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Adapted by the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s) 'America Seen through Stars and Stripes, New York City, New York' About 1976

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s)
America Seen through Stars and Stripes, New York City, New York
About 1976
Gelatin silver print
31.8 × 47cm (12 1/2 × 18 1/2 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
© Ming Smith

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s) 'Untitled (Harlem, NY)' About 1973

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s)
Untitled (Harlem, NY)
About 1973
Gelatin silver print
31.8 × 22.2cm (12 1/2 × 8 3/4 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
© Ming Smith

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s) 'Love Barber Shop Jazz, Pittsburgh, PA' 1992

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s)
Love Barber Shop Jazz, Pittsburgh, PA
1992
Gelatin silver print
46.2 x 31.8cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council
© Ming Smith

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940) 'Harlem, 117th Street' About 1960

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940)
Harlem, 117th Street
About 1960
Gelatin silver print
18.4 × 12.7cm (7 1/4 × 5 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Aldine S. Hartman Endowment Fund
© Shawn Walker PhotoArts Studio

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940) 'Family on Easter, Harlem, NY' 1975

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940)
Family on Easter, Harlem, NY
1975
Gelatin silver print
11 × 15.9cm (4 5/16 × 6 1/4 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Kathleen Boone Samuels Memorial Fund
© Shawn Walker

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940) 'Women in the Field, Cuba' 1968

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940)
Women in the Field, Cuba
1968
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Shawn Walker

 

 

The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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03
Sep
22

Exhibition: ‘Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow’ at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

Exhibition dates: 7th May – 9th October 2022

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) '"Fortune Teller" Sign. US 79 & 80, Greenwood, Louisiana' 1975

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
“Fortune Teller” Sign. US 79 & 80, Greenwood, Louisiana
1975
Gelatin silver print
15 5/8 × 19 9/16 inches (39.7 × 49.68cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

These photographs build on the lexicon of existing photographs of this type (Americurbana) from photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke-White, Minor White and Harry Callahan. As such they add to the pantheon of known images on a subject. Dow studied with not just Harry Callahan, but also Walker Evans and Minor White, and these are early images in the development of the artist, when he was starting to find his artistic signature.

In some of the first images such as Lott’s Grocery Store. US 11, Bessemer, Alabama (1968, below) we can see Dow’s indebtedness to his teacher, Walker Evans’ vision; in other later photographs (1972 onwards) we see Dow’s concentration on detail, so that the sign fills the frame. In these contextless, groundless photographs the signs become floating signs, floating signifiers, where interpretation is left wholly up to the viewer.

In this sense, Dow is developing a different artistic and visual language to describe the American vernacular… graphic, isolated, strong and more than slightly surreal images that creep into the imagination as if in a bad dream. The robotic head covered in neon; the bowling ball struck through with an arrow; the diver like a swooping fighter plane; the skeletal horse and rider; and the look of fear on the child’s face as he gets inoculated. Weird tales and gothic fiction.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to The Nelson-Atkins 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.

 

Vivid, clear-sighted images of American vernacular signage and architecture encountered along old US highways showcase the early black-and-white work of the acclaimed photographer Jim Dow.

The American photographer Jim Dow (b. 1942) is renowned for photographs that depict the built environment – he first gained attention for his panoramic triptychs of baseball stadiums – and for his skill at conveying the “human ingenuity and spirit” that suffuse the spaces. This book is the first to focus on Dow’s early black-and-white pictures, featuring more than 60 photographs made between 1967 and 1977, a majority of which have never before been published. Indebted to the work of Walker Evans, a key mentor of Dow’s, these photographs depict time-worn signage taken from billboards, diners, gas stations, drive-ins, and other small businesses. While still recognisable as icons of commercial Americana, without their context Dow’s signs impart ambiguous messages, often situated between documentation and abstraction. Including a new essay by Dow that reveals his own perspective on the development of the work, Signs suggests how these formative years honed the artist’s sensibility and conceptual approach.

 

 

“Late in the fall of 1965, I met Walker Evans. I had no idea who he was or anything about his work. But his book ‘American Photographs’ completely changed the way I thought about photography. The pictures were descriptive, literate and distinct. They could be read slowly; information was packed into every square inch. They were intense but not dramatic. Rigorous in their making, they demanded attentive scrutiny. It was clear that I had a template for my education through a classic method: at first emulate, then lease the space and ultimately own the process, until taking pictures was no longer a re-enactment. …

I never travelled around the US to find myself. I went to find people, places and things I didn’t know about. Leaving familiar confines is an outward-facing process best done by car on older two- or three-lane roads, stopping, looking and listening every step of the way.”

.
Jim Dow in the book Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow

 

 

 

Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow, with essays by Jim Dow and April M. Watson
Distributed for The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Lott's Grocery Store. US 11, Bessemer, Alabama' 1968

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Lott’s Grocery Store. US 11, Bessemer, Alabama
1968
Gelatin silver print
3 3/4 × 4 3/4 inches (9.53 × 12.07cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Abandoned Truck Stop. US 61/AR 150, near Number Nine, Arkansas' 1970

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Abandoned Truck Stop. US 61/AR 150, near Number Nine, Arkansas
1970
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 × 9 11/16 inches (20.14 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Bowling Pin with Arrow. US 1, Branford, Connecticut' 1971

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Bowling Pin with Arrow. US 1, Branford, Connecticut
1971
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 x 9 11/16 inches (19.99 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of Jim and Jacquie Dow

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Horse Painting on Sign, Ranch Entrance. US 87, Billings, Montana' 1972

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Horse Painting on Sign, Ranch Entrance. US 87, Billings, Montana
1972
Gelatin silver print
15 7/8 × 20 1/16 inches (40.31 × 50.95cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Curlicue Arrow Sign. US 2, near Wenatchee, Washington' 1972

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Curlicue Arrow Sign. US 2, near Wenatchee, Washington
1972
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 × 9 5/8 inches (20.14 × 24.46cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Rear of Screen, Van Nuys Drive-In Theatre. Old US 101, Van Nuys, California' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Rear of Screen, Van Nuys Drive-In Theatre. Old US 101, Van Nuys, California
1973
Gelatin silver print
15 9/16 x 19 ½ inches (39.52 × 49.53cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Detail, Diving Lady Sign. Near US 19, Blairsville, Georgia' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Detail, Diving Lady Sign. Near US 19, Blairsville, Georgia
1973
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 x 9 11/16 inches (20.14 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

For American photographer Jim Dow, a road trip was not just an excuse to travel from one place to another; it provided an opportunity to find inspiration in the unique structures lining old U. S. highways. Between 1967 and 1977, a decade marking the first ten years of his career, Dow traveled over 150,000 miles on multiple cross-country road trips, photographing vernacular architecture, signage, and commercial billboards that conveyed a unique sense of human spirit and industry. A new, free exhibition at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow, draws visitors into Dow’s fascination with the everyday structures that constitute the landscapes we inhabit.

“Although most of Dow’s subjects have long since disappeared, the impetus to make one’s mark on the land through an assertion of livelihood, values, and aspiration remains,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “There will always be a desire to express individual agency and creativity, and Dow’s photographs remind us that as difficult as that may be, it remains vital for understanding ourselves and our community.”

Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow opens May 7 and features 62 black-and-white photographs from the early part of Dow’s career, as well as a small selection of recent colour photographs that extend the themes forged during his formative years.

“Dow travelled on back roads rather than the interstate system,” said April M. Watson, Senior Curator of Photography. “He always sought unusual or unique subjects that stood apart from the corporate chains that had begun to dominate the social landscape, often isolating specific details so they appear unmoored from their immediate surroundings.”

Born in 1942, Dow grew up in Belmont, Massachusetts and attended the Rhode Island School of Design. As an undergraduate, he majored in graphic design, and in his senior year, had the good fortune to take his introductory photography classes with renowned photographer Harry Callahan. Thanks to Callahan’s influence, Dow was able to continue graduate studies at RISD, completing his MFA in photography in 1968.

A meeting with Walker Evans while Dow was in graduate school made a profound impact on him. Dow found Evans’s sophisticated embrace of vernacular American subject matter and straightforward, descriptive application of the medium to be revelatory. Between 1969 and 1971, he worked closely with Evans when printing Evans’s work for a career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the late 1960s, Dow began searching for his own subject matter, taking numerous road trips. Roadside diners, drive-in movie theatres, ice cream stands, burger joints, billboards, gas stations, and small-town, storefront murals all became part of Dow’s regular roster of subjects, as he refined his own artistic vision. Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1973, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1974 allowed Dow to continue his project.

This exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Dow and Watson, distributed by Yale University Press. Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow runs through Oct. 9, 2022.

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Trailer Park Sign. US 27, Red Bank, Tennessee' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Trailer Park Sign. US 27, Red Bank, Tennessee
1973
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 × 9 11/16 inches (19.99 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Neon Cowboy Sign. US 66, Duarte, California' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Neon Cowboy Sign. US 66, Duarte, California
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 × 9 15/16 inches (20.32 × 25.22cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Lady Reclining on La-Z-Boy Sign. PA 61, Shamokin, Pennsylvania' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Lady Reclining on La-Z-Boy Sign. PA 61, Shamokin, Pennsylvania
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 × 9 15/16 inches (20.32 × 25.22cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Coffee At It's Best Sign. US 11, Pittston, Pennsylvania' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Coffee At It’s Best Sign. US 11, Pittston, Pennsylvania
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 x 9 15/16 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) '"Heated Pool" Sign at Motel. US 99, Bakersfield, California' 1975

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
“Heated Pool” Sign at Motel. US 99, Bakersfield, California
1975
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 × 9 11/16 inches (19.53 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Detail, Coy Getting on Inoculation Sign. US 20, Idaho Falls, Idaho' 1975

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Detail, Coy Getting on Inoculation Sign. US 20, Idaho Falls, Idaho
1975
Gelatin silver print
15 7/8 × 19 7/8 inches (40.31 × 50.47cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

“Jim was extremely fortunate to study with not just Harry Callahan, but also Walker Evans and Minor White; three of the most outstanding figures in photographic history, and all masters of black and white. His formal approach to his work obviously stems from their teaching, and in some ways, his love of “collecting culture” with his 8 x 10 view camera does as well. Like Evans and to some degree, Minor White, Jim is attracted to aspects of material culture which often speak to a fading history – that of small town America. He doesn’t seek out majestic or sublime subject matter, rather, he simply elevates the everyday. This characteristic of his work aligns him with other photographers working in colour in the 1970s and 80s, such as Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, and Joel Sternfeld who were all similarly enchanted with revealing the true textures of the world immediately around us and feeding our popular imaginations. And like his peers, Jim is indelibly part of the tried and true American tradition of hitting the road and traveling extensively to make his work. His wanderlust has led him throughout the country and he has amassed an impressive archive of the American vernacular in the process.”

Hannah Sloan, The Rose Gallery quoted in Aline Smithson. “Interview with Jim Dow: The Griffin Museum’s Focus Award recipient for Lifetime Achievement,” on the Lenscratch website October 24, 2014 [Online] Cited 31/08/2022

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Detail, School Crossing Sign. Albany, Georgia' 1975

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Detail, School Crossing Sign. Albany, Georgia
1975
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 x 9 5/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

When Dow took to the road, he always sought unusual or unique subjects that stood apart from the ever-increasing presence of corporate chains. Rather than focusing on the entirety of his subjects, he often isolated specific details of image and text so that they appear unmoored from their immediate surroundings. Roadside diners, drive-in movie theatres, ice cream stands, burger joints, billboards, gas stations and small-town, storefront murals all became part of Dow’s regular roster, as he refined his own artistic vision and organically developed categories of subject matter. …

More often than not, Dow’s subjects bear the marks of time’s passage, evident in the weather-worn surfaces, outdated clichés, and stereotyped imagery that prevailed in mid-20th-century American consumer culture but had begun to deteriorate in the shifting socioeconomic and political landscape of the early 1970s. It is this sense of things passing out of one time period and into another that permeates Dow’s photographs, which are less of a particular time than about the passage of time itself. Though most of the subjects Dow photographed have long since disappeared, the impetus to make one’s mark on the land through an assertion of livelihood, values and aspiration remains. In a nation where economic prosperity relies on a perpetual renewal of tastes, trends and styles, there will always be a desire to express individual agency and creativity. Dow’s photographs remind us that as difficult as that endeavour may be in an era of monopolised, corporate consumption, it remains vital for understanding our sense of self and community.

April M. Watson, Senior Curator, Photography. “Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow,” on the K C Studio website March 11, 2022 [Online] Cited 31/08/2022

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Papier-mâché Elephant. US 202, Gwynedd, Pennsylvania' 1977

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Papier-mâché Elephant. US 202, Gwynedd, Pennsylvania
1977
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 × 9 7/8 inches (20.14 × 25.07cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Hardware Store Painting on Wall. Nashville, Tennessee' 1977

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Hardware Store Painting on Wall. Nashville, Tennessee
1977
Gelatin silver print
15 15/16 × 19 7/8 inches (40.46 × 50.47cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

Jim Dow Trailer

 

'Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow' book cover

 

Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow book cover

 

 

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
4525 Oak Street
Kansas City, MO 64111

Opening hours:
Thursday – Monday 10am – 5pm
Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art website

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28
Aug
22

Exhibition: ‘Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 16th April – 2nd October 2022

Organised by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator of Photography, with Dana Ostrander, Curatorial Assistant, and Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, MoMA

 

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990) 'Head of the Dancer' 1929

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990)
Head of the Dancer Niura Norskaya
1929
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 × 9 3/8″ (19.1 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

With a focus on people, this is a challenging exhibition that can only scratch the surface of the importance of the photographic work of women artists to the many investigations critical to the promotion of equality and diversity in a complex and male orientated world.

Germaine Krull is always a favourite, as is the work of neutered genius (and my hero), Claude Cahun. Susan Meiselas’s immersive work is also impressive in its “understanding of social, political and global issues and of the potentially complex ethical relationship between photographer and subject”, especially in her early work Carnival Strippers (1972-1975). I also particularly like the sensibility of the Mexican women photographers: sensitive portraits of strong women.

The most cringe worthy photograph that illustrates some of the ills associated with a male-orientated society is Ruth Orkin’s staged but spontaneous photograph, American Girl in Florence, Italy (1951, below) which was “an instant conversation starter about feminism and street harassment long… [and which is] more relevant now than ever for what it truly represents: independence, freedom and self-determination.”

“The photos ran in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1952 in a photo essay, “When You Travel Alone…”, offering tips on “money, men and morals to see you through a gay trip and a safe one.” The article encourages readers to buy ship and train tickets ahead of time. It reminds them to bring their birth certificate and check in with the State Department. The caption on the photo of Craig walking down the street reflects cultural mores of the era.

“Public admiration … shouldn’t fluster you. Ogling the ladies is a popular, harmless and flattering pastime you’ll run into in many foreign countries. The gentlemen are usually louder and more demonstrative than American men, but they mean no harm.”

It’s a far cry from what we tell women these days, but for its time the mere notion of encouraging women to travel alone was progressive. That’s what made the photos so special, Craig says. They offered a rare glimpse of two women – behind and in front of the camera – challenging the era’s gender roles and loving every minute of it.”1

.
Talking of challenging gender roles, I’m rather surprised there aren’t any photographs by Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman or Francesca Woodman for example, critical women photographers who challenge our orientation towards our selves and the world. Many others could have been included as well. But that is the joy and paradox of collecting: what do you collect and what do you leave out. You have to focus on what you like and what is available.

“Rather than presenting a chronological history of women photographers or a linear account of feminist photography, the exhibition prompts new appraisals and compelling dialogues from a contemporary, intersectional feminist perspective. African-diasporic, queer, and postcolonial / Indigenous artists have brought new mindsets and questions to the canonical narratives of art history. Our Selves will reexamine a host of topics, countering racial and gender invisibility, systemic racial injustice, and colonialism, through a diversity of photographic practices, including portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, advertising, avant-garde experimentation, and conceptual photography.” (Press release)

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

  1. Emanuella Grinberg. “The real story behind ‘An American Girl in Italy’,” on the CNN website March 30, 2017 [Online] Cited 28/08/2022

 

The Museum of Modern Art announces Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum, an exhibition that will present 90 photographic works by female artists from the last 100 years, on view from April 16 to October 2, 2022. Drawn exclusively from the Museum’s collection, thanks to a transformative gift of photographs from Helen Kornblum in 2021, the exhibition takes as a starting point the idea that the histories of feminism and photography have been intertwined.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

 

How have women artists used photography as a tool of resistance? Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum reframes restrictive notions of womanhood, exploring the connections between photography, feminism, civil rights, Indigenous sovereignty, and queer liberation. “Society consumes both the good girl and the bad girl,” wrote artist Silvia Kolbowski in 1984. “But somewhere between those two polarities, space must be made for criticality.”

Spanning more than 100 years of photography, the works in this exhibition range from Frances Benjamin Johnston’s early documentary photographs of racially segregated education in turn-of-the-century United States, to a contemporary portrait by Chemehuevi artist Cara Romero that celebrates the specificity of Indigenous art forms. A tribute to the generosity of collector Helen Kornblum, Our Selves features women’s contributions to a diversity of practices, including portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, avant-garde experimentation, advertising, and performance.

As we continue to reckon with equity and diversity, Our Selves invites viewers to meditate on the artist Carrie Mae Weems’s evocative question: “In one way or another, my work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition. I’m determined to find new models to live by. Aren’t you?”

Text from the MoMA website

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989) 'Self-Portrait' 1932

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989)
Self-Portrait
1932
Gelatin silver print
9 × 11 7/8″ (22.9 × 30.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985) 'The Hands of the Actress Jenny Burnay' c. 1930

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)
The Hands of the Actress Jenny Burnay
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 8 5/8″ (16.5 × 21.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)

Germaine Krull was a pioneer in the fields of avant-garde photomontage, the photographic book, and photojournalism, and she embraced both commercial and artistic loyalties. Born in Wilda-Poznań, East Prussia, in 1897, Krull lived an extraordinary life lasting nine decades on four continents – she was the prototype of the edgy, sexually liberated Neue Frau (New Woman), considered an icon of modernity and a close cousin of the French garçonne and the American flapper. She had a peripatetic childhood before her family settled in Munich in 1912. She studied photography from 1916 to 1918 at Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Lichtbildwesen (Instructional and Research Institute for Photography), and in 1919 opened her own portrait studio. Her early engagement with left-wing political activism led to her expulsion from Munich. Then, on a visit to Russia in 1921, she was incarcerated for her counterrevolutionary support of the Free French cause against Hitler. In 1926, she settled in Paris, where she became friends with artists Sonia and Robert Delaunay and intellectuals André Malraux, Jean Cocteau, Colette, and André Gide, who were also subjects of her photographic portraits.

Krull’s artistic breakthrough began in 1928, when she was hired by the nascent VU magazine, the first major French illustrated weekly. Along with photographers André Kertész and Éli Lotar, she developed a new form of reportage rooted in a freedom of expression and closeness to her subjects that resulted in intimate close-ups, all facilitated by her small-format Icarette, a portable, folding bed camera. During this period, she published the portfolio, Metal (Métal) (1928), a collection of 64 pictures of modernist iron giants, including cranes, railways, power generators, the Rotterdam transporter bridge, and the Eiffel Tower, shot in muscular close-ups and from vertiginous angles. Krull participated in the influential Film und Foto, or Fifo, exhibition (1929-1930), which was accompanied by two books, Franz Roh’s and Jan Tschichold’s Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) and Werner Gräff’s Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!). Fifo marked the emergence of a new critical theory of photography that placed Krull at the forefront of Neues Sehen or Neue Optik (New Vision) photography, a new direction rooted in exploring fully the technical possibilities of the photographic medium through a profusion of unconventional lens-based and darkroom techniques. After the end of World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia, and then moved to India, where, after a lifetime dedicated to recording some of the major upheavals of the twentieth century, she decided to live as a recluse among Tibetan monks.

Introduction by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, 2016

 

Ruth Orkin. 'American Girl in Italy' 1951

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985)
American Girl in Florence, Italy
1951
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 × 11 15/16″ (21.6 × 30.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Although this photograph appears to be a street scene caught on the fly-an instance of what Henri Cartier-Bresson called the “decisive moment”  – it was actually staged for the camera by Orkin and her model. “The idea for this picture had been in my mind for years, ever since I had been old enough to go through the experience myself,” Orkin later wrote. While traveling alone in Italy, she met the young woman in the photograph at a hotel in Florence and together they set out to reenact scenes from their experiences as lone travellers. “We were having a hilarious time when this corner of the Piazza della Repubblica suddenly loomed on our horizon,” the photographer recalled. “Here was the perfect setting I had been waiting for all these years… And here I was, camera in hand, with the ideal model! All those fellows were positioned perfectly, there was no distracting sun, the background was harmonious, and the intersection was not jammed with traffic, which allowed me to stand in the middle of it for a moment.” The picture, with its eloquent blend of realism and theatricality, was later published in Cosmopolitan magazine as part of the story “Don’t Be Afraid to Travel Alone.”

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Three Harps' 1935

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Three Harps
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 7 1/2″ (24.4 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978) 'School Girl, St. Croix' 1963

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)
School Girl, St. Croix
1963
Gelatin silver print
12 13/16 × 8 15/16″ (32.5 × 22.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000) 'Untitled (Masked Self-Portrait, Dessau)' 1930

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000)
Untitled (Masked Self-Portrait, Dessau)
1930
Gelatin silver print
9 × 5 5/8 in. (22.9 × 14.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000)

Gertrud Arndt (born Gertrud Hantschk in Upper Silicia) set out to become an architect, beginning a three-year apprenticeship in 1919 at the architecture firm of Karl Meinhardt in Erfurt, where her family lived at the time. While there, she began teaching herself photography by taking pictures of buildings in town. She also attended courses in typography, drawing, and art history at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of design). Encouraged by Meinhardt, a friend of Walter Gropius, Arndt was awarded a scholarship to continue her studies at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Enrolled from 1923 to 1927, Arndt took the Vorkurs (foundation course) from László Moholy-Nagy, who was a chief proponent of the value of experimentation with photography. After her Vorkurs, Georg Muche, leader of the weaving workshop, persuaded her to join his course, which then became the formal focus of her studies. Upon graduation, in March 1927, she married fellow Bauhaus graduate and architect Alfred Arndt. The couple moved to Probstzella in Eastern Germany, where Arndt photographed buildings for her husband’s architecture firm.

In 1929, Hannes Meyer invited Alfred Arndt to teach at the Bauhaus, where Arndt focused her energy on photography, entering her period of greatest activity, featuring portraits of friends, still-lifes, and a series of performative self-portraits, as well as At the Masters’ Houses, which shows the influence of her studies with Moholy-Nagy as well as her keen eye for architecture. After the Bauhaus closed, in 1932, the couple left Dessau and moved back to Probstzella. Three years after the end of World War II the family moved to Darmstadt; Arndt almost completely stopped making photographs.

Introduction by Mitra Abbaspour, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, 2014

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954) 'M.R.M (Sex)' c. 1929-1930

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954)
M.R.M (Sex)
c. 1929-1930
Gelatin silver print
6 × 4 in. (15.2 × 10.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Juliet Jacques: I’m Juliet Jacques. I am a writer and filmmaker based in London. You’re looking at a photomontage by the French artist Claude Cahun, entitled M.R.M (Sex). It’s a photomontage of Cahun’s self-portraits.

Claude Cahun was born in 1894 in France into a family of prominent Jewish intellectuals and began making photomontages in 1912 when she was 18. The works were often exploring Cahun’s own identity in terms of gender and sexuality, but also this sense of a complex and fragmented personhood. Nonbinary pronouns, as we’d understand them now, weren’t officially in existence in the 1920s. Cahun actually wrote “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” So, I think either she or they is appropriate.

M.R.M was published as one of the illustrations in Cahun’s book Aveux non Avenus in 1930. Throughout the book you see this playing with the possibilities of gender expression that are kind of funny, sometimes melancholic, but are very emotionally complicated and do really speak to a sense of sometimes being trapped by the confines of gender and sometimes finding these very playful and beautiful ways to break out of it.

Artists and writers, we’re supposed to be dreamers, I think, and people who want to come up with a better world. And of course Cahun’s work is really suggesting different possibilities of free expression.

It’s hard to know how Cahun might have felt about being included in an exhibition of women artists. But, I think Cahun definitely deserves a place within this feminist canon, if not a strictly female one.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954) 'Aveux non avenus' (Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions) 1930

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954)
Aveux non avenus (Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions)
1930
Illustrated book with photogravures
Cover (closed) approx. 8 11/16 × 6 11/16″ (22 × 17cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Juliet Jacques: My name is Juliet Jacques.

You’re looking at Claude Cahun’s book Aveux non Avenus, which has been translated variously as “denials” or “disavowals” or “cancelled confessions.”

It’s an autobiographical text that doesn’t just refuse the conventions of memoir, it also really refuses to open up to the reader in a clearly understandable way. It’s this mixture of photography and aphorisms and longer prose-poetic passages. It doesn’t have a formalised narrative. It’s rather just exploring the fragmented and somewhat chaotic nature of their own consciousness and what they are able to access.

I’ve just flipped to page 91. Cahun writes:

“Consciousness. The carver. My enthusiasms, my impulses, my little passions were irksome. … Come on, then. … By a process of elimination, what is necessary about me? … The material is badly cut. I want it to be straightened up. A clumsy snip with the scissors. Bach! Let’s even it up on the other side. … A stain? We’ll cover it up. Let’s trim it again. I no longer exist. Perfect. Now nothing can come between us.”

.
The affinity I felt with Cahun is because I ended up doing a lot of writing that got bracketed as confessional or sort of first-person autobiographical writing. You can get yourself into a situation where you’re constantly expected to give away details about your personal life. And what I have always found really interesting about Cahun is the refusal of that trap, even in the project of putting oneself on the page.

I was always looking for queer and trans writers, and Cahun’s work gave me this gender non-conforming take on art that I thought always should have been there.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (Native American (Seminole-Muscogee-Navajo)) 'Vanna Brown, Azteca Style' 1990

 

Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (Native American (Seminole-Muscogee-Navajo))
Vanna Brown, Azteca Style
1990
Photocollage
15 11/16 × 22 13/16″ (39.9 × 58cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Veronica Passalacqua: My name is Veronica Passalacqua, and I’m a curator at the C.N. Gorman Museum at the University of California Davis. My research focus is upon contemporary Native American art with a specialty in photography. This is a work called Vanna Brown, Azteca Style by the Navajo-Tuskegee artist Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie.

It’s a hand collage that depicts Tsinhnahjinnie’s friend, dressed in her Azteca dancing regalia within the frame of a Philco television set. It was the beginning of a series of works and videos related to a project called NTV, or Native Television. She wanted to create her own vision of what she’d like to see on television.

Curator, Roxana Marcoci: The photograph makes reference to Wheel of Fortune, a televised game show where contestants guess words and phrases one letter at a time. Vanna White has been the show’s co-host for 40 years.

Veronica Passalacqua: Vanna White was always dressed in these elaborate gowns to show the letters of the enduring game show. She was there really as a symbol of the idealised beauty that television was portraying. Tsinhnahjinnie changes the name from Vanna White to Vanna Brown, addressing the beauty that she sees in her friend. What Tsinhnahjinnie wanted to focus on was this notion that you can create these beautiful images when you have a relationship with the sitter.

I’d like to read you a quote by Tsinhnahjinnie: “No longer is the camera held by an outsider looking in, the camera is held with brown hands opening familiar worlds. We document ourselves with a humanising eye, we create new visions with ease, and we can turn the camera to show how we see you.”

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Laura Gilpin (American, 1881-1979) 'Navajo Weaver' 1933

 

Laura Gilpin (American, 1881-1979)
Navajo Weaver
1933
Platinum print
13 1/8 × 9 3/8 in. (33.3 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Lola Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1907-1993) 'Frida Kahlo' c. 1945

 

Lola Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1907-1993)
Frida Kahlo
c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 × 6 1/4″ (21.3 × 15.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Prague, 1894-1989) 'Frau Finsler' 1926

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Prague, 1894-1989)
Frau Finsler
1926
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 × 10″ (20 × 25.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'Woman, Locket, Georgia' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Woman, Locket, Georgia
1936
Gelatin silver print
13 × 9 3/4″ (33 × 24.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Margrethe Mather (American, 1885-1952) 'Buffie Johnson, Painter' 1933

 

Margrethe Mather (American, 1885-1952)
Buffie Johnson, Painter
1933
Gelatin silver print
3 3/4 × 2 7/8″ (9.5 × 7.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Meridel Rubenstein (American, b. 1948) 'Fatman with Edith' 1993

 

Meridel Rubenstein (American, b. 1948)
Fatman with Edith
1993
Palladium print
18 1/2 × 22 1/2″ (47 × 57.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Helen Kornblum: I’m Helen Kornblum. If there’s a theme in my collection, I’d say it’s people. My interest in people, meeting people, knowing people, learning about people.

I have felt about my photographs almost like a third child. Each one actually has its own story for me. Where I found them, who led me to them. I’ve just attached myself in different ways to each one.

One, for instance, is Fatman with Edith by Meridel Rubenstein. With this photograph she conflates war with the feminine. She has the inhumanly destructive warhead, the plutonium bomb, called Fatman, dropped on Nagasaki, juxtaposed with a portrait of a woman, Edith Warner, and a nurturing, warm cup of tea.

Curator, Roxana Marcoci: In the early 1940s Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist in charge of The Manhattan Project developed the first atomic bomb.This photograph belongs to a series that explores encounters in New Mexico between indigenous communities and the scientists who created the bomb. These two worlds collided in the home of Edith Warner, who ran a tearoom in Los Alamos.

Helen Kornblum: Oppenheimer knew Edith Warner, who lived near Santa Fe. And when he came to create the bomb at Los Alamos, he asked Edith if he could bring scientists to her home for a place away from the creation of this bomb, and he would come with them for dinner, all during the Manhattan Project.

Roxana Marcoci: By pairing two seemingly dissimilar images, Rubenstein said she hopes “to enlarge the lives of ordinary people, and strip the mythic characters of history down to their ordinariness.”

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Edith Warner (1893-1951), also known by the nickname “The Woman at Otowi Crossing”, was an American tea room owner in Los Alamos, New Mexico, who is best known for serving various scientists and military officers working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory during the original creation of the atomic bomb as a part of the Manhattan Project. Warner’s influence on the morale and overall attitude of the people there has been noted and written about by various journalists and historians, including several books about her life, a stage play, a photography exhibition, an opera, and a dance.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rosemarie Trockel (German, b. 1952) 'Untitled' 2004

 

Rosemarie Trockel (German, b. 1952)
Untitled
2004
Chromogenic print
20 3/4 × 19″ (52.7 × 48.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci