Archive for the 'review' Category

19
Aug
16

Review: ‘Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 7th May – 21st August 2016

Curator: Susan van Wyk

 

 

To be frank, this handsomely installed exhibition of the work of Australian fashion photographer Henry Talbot is a bit of a let down. The images look terribly dated, and while historically they have some significance in terms of the time and context from which they emerged – the movement towards en plein air photography, taking the model from the studio to the street – most of the photographs are not very good. The prints are either commercial vintage prints with all their faults (dust, scratches, poor printing, over exposure, lack of burning in etc.) evidencing a lack of care and attention to detail, or modern inkjet reproductions from original negatives and even then some of the printing is poor: for example, the hair of the model in Fashion illustration for Blunden Wool, models Joan Crellin and Bruce Anderson (1961, below) is completely blown out with no detail retained in the highlights. Some of the angles in his images (the positioning of the figure) are just off, the cropping of the negatives (the space above and below the figure) often does not work and framing of the prints is also less than exemplary. But we must remember Talbot was a commercial photographer from the 1960s and that’s just what these photographs are: commercial fashion photographs that fulfil a client brief.

Talbot was no experimenter. Too often his images are really basic, a basic visualisation, and he has a fixed idea for a shot and goes with that idea and variations of it, even when it is evident that the photograph is not working. Any photographer worth their salt would recognise such a situation and be flexible enough to change it up but with Talbot this does not happen. Positioning his model centrally, he usually uses low depth of field so that everything falls out of focus behind. In this sense he still seems to possess a studio mindset. While professing his love of free-moving fashion, his photographs seem stilted and conformist, even as they are taken out of doors. His proof sheets are evidence of a “team” oriented focus in order to fulfil a client brief, but in these very proof sheets we see uneven exposures and severe cropping into the frame to get the final image. And while he was more romantic than the hard edged Helmut Newton, his photographs only ever project a surface and rarely show any true emotion. Without doubt his best two photographs are Fashion illustration for Fibremakers, model Maggi Eckardt (1966, below) taken at the Altona Petrochemical Company. The photographs are a symphony of form, movement and light. They possess a “feeling” a lot of his other photographs simply cannot, and do not, contain.

There is no catalogue to the exhibition so this posting will have to serve historically to document the exhibition and Talbot’s work. Thus, there is an in depth interview included with Australian curator, artist and photography collector Joyce Evans who ran Church Street Photographic Centre in Melbourne from 1976 and who showed Talbot’s work in her gallery. It is all very well that I have an opinion on the work but what I write needs to be an informed opinion, and the interview with Joyce provides valuable background with regard to the people, the era and the context from which these photographs emerged. One thing noted in the conversation is that Talbot photographed strong, independent women like Janice Wakeley and Maggie Taberer… something that is not mentioned at all in the wall text and press release that accompanies the exhibition. I would have thought it vital that a curator would have linked the presence of these independent women in fashion photography to the work of art photographers such as Australian artist Carol Jerrems who published her seminal book A Book About Australian Women in 1975.

Another insight into the times is provided by a friend of mine who knew Talbot,

“People said he was good, and he charged enough, but he just thought he was having fun, fun with a certain quality. I don’t think he had any grand ideas about his talent, but he was quite prepared to sell a print or sell his time if someone wanted to pay. Henry knew the fun he was having wasn’t going to last beyond his life. And now, it is weird and very country town that his work should be regurgitated. His work looks poor because people are making him into something he wasn’t.

There is a seminal incident that can help with the context of the Henry Talbot, Athol Shmith and Helmut Newton generation. Athol Shmith was giving a print critique at Prahran, and someone had left a glass of fixer on the shelf of the room. Athol finished his critique and drank it. Rushed to hospital of course. But think of that from all its angles. The world in which these photographers worked and the stories from those times reveal a world that was flying by the seat of its pants – just.”

Talbot is a solid photographer, no more. While the exhibition gives some sense of depth to the quality of work that was coming out of Melbourne at that time, perhaps it would have been best to let sleeping dogs lie.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Some installation photographs as noted © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria. All the rest as noted taken by Brooke Holm for the National Gallery of Victoria.

 

In conversation with Australian curator, artist and photography collector Joyce Evans about the Australian photographer Henry Talbot

17/07/2016

MB: Just before we started this conversation you said to me Joyce that Talbot was a gentle man. Can you explain what you meant by that please?

JE: I use the word gentle in comparison to his one-time partner Helmut Newton, who I found to be an aggressive man.

MB: So they were in partnership together before Newton left for Europe

JE: Yes

MB: So Talbot was intelligent, he knew his field and understood the history of the genre that he was working in, he could speak well, and was well liked both by clients, models and the society in which he worked.

JE: Well, he was not a superficial person. When he spoke he researched things properly, he had the depth of knowledge which came from a sort of European intellect. This intellect was broadly read, and he was also a person that listened.

MB: And he was also a good teacher as well…

JE: In his commercial work, Henry photographed his women (as far as I could see), with the idea of having a client, and he was displaying clothes on the women, which was part of the old tradition. In an environment where, if you wanted to make a living, that’s what you had to do. If he had been, however, in a place like New York – which was avant-garde as compared to Melbourne, which was not avant-garde – he may well have gone the same way as Helmut Newton. The very big difference, though, is in the personality of the two men.

Helmut Newton went out and he was an aggressive man. He had charm, but it was an aggressive charm, it wasn’t a gentle charm. He had intelligence and he knew how to handle his women so that he got aggression out of his women, that’s what he wanted.

MB: Whereas Talbot was doing it for a job?

JE: Talbot A was doing it for a job and B, he had a gentle nature. He was not an aggressive man and actually if you look at those photographs you can see that he liked the women that he photographed and he lived in an environment where fashion was still, fairly soft, in many ways. You can see in things like the swimwear industry and the sports industry there was quite a lot of Australian independence, but he, combined with Athol Shmith in Melbourne, took his models out into the street, they interacted with the environment, and he did not depend on the studio.

MB: When I look at his photographs they are quite modernist, they are quite clean, but his vision seems to me to be quite limited… in the sense that he uses a central female figure (sometimes two central figures), low depth of field, out of focus background. And then you look at the proof sheets and you can see that he is not an experimenter. From shot to shot there is a slight change in angle of a hand or the tilt of a head but he really doesn’t push the boundaries of what he is trying to say with the image. He has his set idea (for the shot, for the location) and then he does slight variants in the proof sheet towards that idea. Very rarely do you get a feeling, a sense of atmosphere in his images – of the outdoors in the sense of the outdoors enveloping the model. The models seem to be isolated within their environment…

JE: But who does what is asked of him, at that time? You can compare him to Avedon or Athol Shmith, but you cannot compare him to today. You cannot ask someone to work outside of his own time. You can ask him to lead in his own time and the leading that occurred at that time, by both Shmith and Talbot, was that they took models out into the city and the environment and away from the studio. This was something that Avedon did and these two photographers did also. The big argument is, did Talbot do it effectively? Who chose his proofs? Which ones got published?

MB: But also, a quite organised and restricted view of the world, even though he was pushing the boundaries by taking fashion photography outdoors, he still seems to be in a studio mindset when he was outside.

JE: What you did in those days, is that you would do the shoot, you would come in with your proof sheets, and the art director would go over it with the red crayon with the team – it tended often to be team work. So he’s working to a brief …. and you are the instrument of the team. The art director sets everything up and you do the shoot. Now, when you get a name like Talbot had, you could start to begin to influence what the art director was doing. Now, how much and when and at what time and what effect – I really don’t know.

MB: Did he photograph strong women? You mentioned Maggie Taberer and Janice Wakeley.

JE: Maggie Taberer and Janice Wakeley – both educated women, well read women – Talbot would have chosen his own models and they were two of his favourites. Or been offered models, depending on the control of the art director and what they desired.

MB: Today, all we can do is try and understand the history of these photographs, and the time and context from which they emerged. From today’s standpoint they look rather dated and stilted.

JE: You have to see them from a decade earlier, looking at fashion photography in Australia from the 1930s and 1940s to see what was happening. The 1930s fashion stuff was very very largely in the studio. Very little of it was en plein air.

MB: But that doesn’t negate his aesthetic choices to shoot with so low a depth of field that the context of the outdoors becomes more or less irrelevant. Yes, you have the images of the oil refinery behind with the movement of the women, in my opinion some of his best photographs, that are more romantic in feel… and these tend to work better than other more prosaic shots.

JE: He was more of a romantic than Newton was. Newton was very hard edged and he managed to get that extra particular something out of his women…

MB: Even in his Melbourne images?

JE: Well, we don’t know Newton’s Melbourne images, because he has denied them all.

MB: Yes exactly, that’s the thing.

JE: Thinking about Talbot, he was part of a movement. He wasn’t the leader of it or the only one, but he was part of the early evolution of the movement.

MB: Does that mean his photographs stand up to scrutiny today?

JE: I have this feeling that when you only look at the top of the cake, you don’t know what the cake is all about. I don’t know whether I would put him as the fairy on top of the cake or one of the really nice pieces of icing. I think that Athol Shmith is a stronger photographer.

MB: What about the Australian photographer Bruno Benini? I find him incredibly strong in terms of his style, his lighting.

JE: My understanding of Bruno is that he is a decade younger that Talbot…

MB: So 1950s?

JE: Yes I think so

MB: So he has a more classical influence…

JE: It’s not that, he’s like John Eaton is to Pictorialism, he’s a very good photographer – but he’s not a groundbreaker, he’s not of the beginning of Pictorialism. I think Benini is a very good fashion photographer and I think he is working on other people’s shoulders. I think Athol Shmith is stronger and if I had a choice about having to show one, but I like the fact that we have shown Talbot, because it gives some sense of depth to the quality of work that was coming out of Melbourne. Places like Sportscraft were exceptionally good at encouraging talent, both in design and in photography.

MB: All I can do is understand the history and the context and what was going on at the time and then, as I was thinking the other day, all I can write is what I see.

JE: Compare this… Athol Shmith had Bambi. Bambi was the most exquisite women you would ever find in your whole life. I remember her when I was a teenager, me and my girlfriend were both sitting in a room and she was there, both in out late teens/early 20s, and I remember saying to my friend that I feel as though I have ten feet – and I am so clumsy when I look at her. She is so beautiful. Now Janice Wakeley was also a stunning looking women as was Maggie Taberer. But the number one model with Athol was Bambi and then there were really other top people that he had. And he, I think, had a much broader to work with – not only his models, but his clientele was broader. Talbot was predominantly clothing as compared to Shmith who did a whole stack of things other than fashion. His love of music, he did a lot of musicians, he did some amazing portraiture. Shmith did H.G. Wells etc…

MB: His breadth was greater than Talbot. My concern with Talbot is 1/ the dating of the images, and 2/ his aesthetic choices when taking those photographs which may be a team decision but, the fact that he didn’t experiment that much. When looking at his proof sheets there are only slight changes to the positioning of the model…

JE: He’s got an idea and he goes for it.

MB: And that just really shows a lack of flexibility in his vision.

JE: No, I don’t think so I just think that it shows that he knows what he wants and that’s it.

MB: I think that is where we differ.

JE: He is very professional. How many shots of a person do you make at a time?

MB: I work on a ratio of 10 to 1, so if you take 10 shots you will get one, possibly two excellent shots. Talbot must have been thinking I need one good shot and he kept shooting and shooting, even though some of his exposures are poor, even though he radically crops the full frame image to get the final shot. It shows he was not as confident as you think about getting the shot, because he is hedging his bets with his in camera framing, relying on cropping later.

JE: He knows he wants her getting this feeling, and he goes bang, bang, bang, head turned slightly, arm down slightly and that’s it… and he knew what he wanted at the beginning and then he just saw the variations to fine tune it. And that’s what every photographer tends to do.

MB: And that’s where I really think there is a problem with his photography. Most of his images don’t really work – and yet he never recognised that fact at the time, when he was taking or setting up the shot, that it was not working. Any good photographer worth his salt, worth his previsualisation of the shot, must know how to adapt and be flexible enough to change on the run. He didn’t recognise that they weren’t working and change the idea. That’s the problem I have with him. It shows a fixed mindset in terms of not being able to see through the viewfinder when a shot is not working.

JE: That’s another story…

MB: Let’s leave it there. Thank you Joyce so very much for your thoughts.

 

 

“Well man, this is 1966 and in this game you have to be open to, and live, contemporary influences to a certain degree. The younger generation is very strong in fashion – very much in command. They’re spending a great deal of money in the garment industry, so fashion is geared to the young. There is, of course, in this “with it” idea itself, certain conformity to non-conformity, to a non-conformity standard. But, as a photographer, you must accept this idea as far as you can and that probably reflects to some extent in your own behaviour and dress.”

.
Henry Talbot, 1966

 

“I always tried to show models in a free-moving fashion. I avoided stiff poses and I tried to keep up with what the great fashion photographers overseas were doing”

.
Henry Talbot

 

 

Installation views of the exhibition 'Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Installation views of the exhibition 'Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Installation views of the exhibition 'Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Installation views of the exhibition 'Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Installation views of the exhibition 'Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Installation views of the exhibition 'Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'Collection of proof sheets 1958 - 1972'

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'Collection of proof sheets 1958 - 1972'

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'Collection of proof sheets 1958 - 1972'

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'Collection of proof sheets 1958 - 1972'

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
Collection of proof sheets
1958 – 1972
Gelatin silver photographs
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration for Blunden Wool, models Joan Crellin and Bruce Anderson)' 1961, printed 2016

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Blunden Wool, models Joan Crellin and Bruce Anderson)
1961, printed 2016
Photographed on location at the National Gallery of Victoria
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Blunden Wool, models Joan Crellin and Bruce Anderson)
1961, printed 2016
Photographed on location at the National Gallery of Victoria
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Blunden Wool, models Joan Crellin and Bruce Anderson)
1961, printed 2016
Photographed on location at the National Gallery of Victoria
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive

Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration for Watersun ski wear)' 1970, printed 2016

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Watersun ski wear)
1970, printed 2016
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Watersun ski wear)
1970, printed 2016
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Watersun ski wear)
1970, printed 2016
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive

Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration for Lisal of Melbourne)' 1971, printed 2016

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Lisal of Melbourne) (installation photo)
1971, printed 2016
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration for the Australian Wool Board) (installation photo)' 1968, printed 2016

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for the Australian Wool Board) (installation photo)
1968, printed 2016
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

“There is little an Australian fashion photographer can do that has not been done overseas, and often better. But one thing they do not have is our Australian environment. I use it a great deal because the idea makes it possible to come up with something uniquely different.

.
Henry Talbot 1966

 

“The striking and youthful fashion of 1960s Melbourne is the starring subject of more than eighty photographs by fashion photographer Henry Talbot, many of which have never been exhibited before. Showcasing the shifting face of fashion from a time that has captured popular imagination, many of the images have never been seen since their original publication 50 years ago and offer an insight into the styles and attitudes of the 1960s. The photographs on display have been carefully selected from an extraordinary archive of 35,000 negatives that Talbot gifted to the NGV in the 1980s.

“Henry Talbot’s photography captures the exuberance and changing times of a generation. His modern photographs depict an emerging youth culture and offer an insider’s look into a thriving cultural scene during the 1960s,” said Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV.

A European émigré artist from Germany, Talbot brought an invigorating internationalism to Australian photography and partnered with Helmut Newton. Their Flinders Lane studio was very successful enterprise and secured major clients including the Australian Wool Board and Sportscraft. It was during the 1960s that Talbot established his place as a dynamic force in Australian fashion photography and his work was regularly published in Australian Vogue.

The exhibition includes some of Talbot’s beautiful fashion spreads from 1960s Australian Vogue, providing a visual history that chronicles the magazine’s first decade in Australia. The photographs will be presented alongside a display of early edition Australian Vogue magazines, including those in which Talbot’s photographs originally appeared, offering an insight into the aspirational fashion and lifestyle choices of Australians living in this era. Talbot’s photography also highlights the public’s affinity with uniquely Australian brands, such as Qantas and Holden. Fast cars and air travel were aspirational luxury experiences in the 1960s and, as a result, airports, planes and brand new cars were the glamorous setting for many of Talbot’s photographs, demonstrating his astute understanding of current trends and consumer culture.

From an outback sheep station, to lamp-lit streets of Melbourne, Australian cityscapes and landscapes also provided the backdrop to some of Talbot’s most arresting photographs. Shot on location around Melbourne, these photographs showcase Talbot’s adventurous style and ability to transform 1960s Melbourne into scenes that looked like Paris, London, New York – a testament to his ‘international eye’. A photographer with an astute vision, Talbot also ingeniously transformed Altona Petrochemical Company into an intergalactic, futuristic setting that captured the public’s fascination with space travel during the ‘space race’ of the 1960s. This exciting suite of images demonstrates the ways in which space travel permeated popular culture, including space-age fashion trends.

The exhibition will open during the NGV’s landmark 200 Years of Australian Fashion exhibition and together, these two exhibitions will offer a comprehensive and fresh new look at Australian fashion in the 1960s.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Henry Talbot

Henry Talbot was born in Germany in 1920. As a young man he studied graphic design and photography in Berlin and Birmingham. After leaving Germany in 1939, he arrived in Australia in 1940. Following a period of internment, Talbot then served in the Australian army. In the postwar years he left Australia, travelling to South America and Europe, before returning to Melbourne in 1950. At the time Melbourne was the most important centre of fashion in Australia because of the abundance of textile and garment manufacturing in Flinders Lane; boutiques in the Paris End of Collins Street, and major department stores around the city.

Talbot worked in some of the leading Melbourne photographic studios and quickly established a reputation as a major fashion photographer in Melbourne. In 1956 he was invited to go into partnership with Helmut Newton. Newton was already renowned for his innovate fashion images and this partnership offered Talbot recognition for his talent in this field. In 1973 Talbot closed his studio, and ten years later presented the NGV with what is now known as the Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive. Works in this exhibition at taken from this remarkable collection, comprising 35,000 black-and-white negatives, photographs and contact prints. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the National Gallery of Victoria’s 'Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer' exhibition at NGV Australia at Federation Square

 

Installation view of the National Gallery of Victoria’s Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer exhibition at NGV Australia at Federation Square
Photo: Brooke Holm

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration, model Janice Wakely)' 1961

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration, model Janice Wakely)
1961
Gelatin silver photograph
24.3 x 19.3 cm
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

 

Working with the right model was as important to the success of Talbot’s images as choosing the right location. Like most photographers he had his favourite models, and often worked with Janice Wakely, Maggie Tabberer, Helen Homewood, Maggi Eckardt and Margot McKendry.

Talbot’s philosophy was simple, as he explained it in 1995: “I’ve always held that if you can establish a definite emotional rapport with a model you’re halfway toward producing good photographs. My own favourite method  of fashion working is to explain roughly what I am after then leave the model more or less free to interpret the garment she’s to show. A good model will absorb and become part of what she is wearing almost completely. Whilst shooting away I may suggest minor changes, the model senses what I’m after, and then really good shots happen.”

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration for Sportscraft on location Yarra River near Princes Bridge)' 1961

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Sportscraft on location Yarra River near Princes Bridge)
1961
Gelatin silver photograph
24.4 x19.0 cm
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration model wearing long feather dress)' 1961-66

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration model wearing long feather dress)
1961-66
Gelatin silver photograph
24.2 x 19.4 cm
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration model wearing a three-quarter length coat)' 1961-66

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration model wearing a three-quarter length coat)
1961-66
Gelatin silver photograph
25.0 x 19.1 cm
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

‘Forsaking city airs for cool country breezes, she previews the three day event at Oaklands Hunt Club which will finish the Melbourne Cup season, wearing a three-quarter oat of palest blue pearl lamb.’ Descriptive caption, 1966

 

Installation view of the National Gallery of Victoria’s 'Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer' exhibition at NGV Australia at Federation Square

 

Installation view of the National Gallery of Victoria’s Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer exhibition at NGV Australia at Federation Square

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration)
1963, printed 2016
Inkjet print
40.7 x 40.6 cm (image), 67.4 x 61.1 cm (sheet)
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration)
1963, printed 2016
Inkjet print
40.7 x 40.6 cm (image), 67.4 x 61.1 cm (sheet)
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration)
1963, printed 2016
Inkjet print
50.9 x 50.8 cm (image), 72.4 x 61.0 cm (sheet)
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot
Photo: Brooke Holm

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration)' 1963, printed 2016

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration)
1963, printed 2016
Inkjet print
40.7 x 40.6 cm (image), 67.4 x 61.1 cm (sheet)
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

 

The locations used by Talbot were an important aspect of his image making; they played a significant role in the implicit narratives he constructed in his fashion photography. Talbot’s work, like most fashion photographs, presents an aspirational ideal. In his case a picture of the modern woman – at an opening night; arriving at the airport; on the streets of London; visiting an art gallery; or in a beatnik coffee bar – who looks effortlessly up to date and glamorous because she has bought the perfect garment.

Despite Talbot’s assertion that using Australian settings gave his work an edge, some of his most successful photographs artfully disguise the familiar streets of Melbourne. The streets of the city are transformed in Talbot’s photographs to look like Fifth Avenue, New York or Hyde Park in London. (Wall text)

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration)' 1963, printed 2016

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration)
1963, printed 2016
Inkjet print
50.8 x 50.3 cm (image and sheet)
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration)' 1963, printed 2016

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration)
1963, printed 2016
Inkjet print
50.9 x 50.8 cm (image), 72.4 x 61.0 cm (sheet)
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

 

The 1960s was a period of social turbulence, when youth-led movements changed the world. In Australia it was a time of prosperity: employment rates were high and, for many, the opportunities seemed boundless. The fashions of the day, including mini skirts and hipster pants, reflected the “youthquake” that was shaking up the status quo. Photography studios made the transition to the 1960s by creating images with a fresh, contemporary edge, and increasingly worked on location rather than in the studio.

Henry Talbot began to work in fashion photography in the 1950s, but it was in the 1960s that he established himself as a leading force in Melbourne’s fashion industry. He worked for designers and manufacturers, department stores and boutiques, as well as on the job for the Australian Wool Bureau, taking photographs that showed Australian fashion to the world.

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration for Classweave Fabric, models Uschi Huber, Ellen Neudal and Heather Ceembruger)' 1963, printed 2016

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Classweave Fabric, models Uschi Huber, Ellen Neudal and Heather Ceembruger)
1963, printed 2016
Inkjet print
50.9 x 50.8 cm (image), 72.5 x 61.1 cm (sheet)
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

‘The magic carpet revisited: Classweave takes to the air. Classweave deny weaving the magic carpet, but [the] chic three disagree, find Classweave fabrics magic. Feel like flying,and choose Qantas.’

Advertising copy, Australian Vogue, 1963

 

Installation view of the National Gallery of Victoria’s 'Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer' exhibition at NGV Australia at Federation Square

 

Installation view of the National Gallery of Victoria’s Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer exhibition at NGV Australia at Federation Square
Photo: Brooke Holm

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration for Pelaco shirts and Ford Falcon, models Margot McKendry and Murray Rose)' 1963, printed 2016

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Pelaco shirts and Ford Falcon, models Margot McKendry and Murray Rose)
1963, printed 2016
Inkjet print
41.0 x 40.6 cm (image), 67.5 x 61.1 cm (sheet)
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

‘They’re going places, the Pelaco Pair – and riding the crest all the way. They live their life with a style and carefree assurance that many envy. They know and demand the best this modern world has to offer, a personal formula for success that shows in everything they do. You can see it in the clothes they wear (he doesn’t own a shirt that isn’t Pelaco; she collects Lady Pelaco, secretly feels they were created especially for her). You can see it in the cars they drive – always, a trim, taut, terrific Falcon.’

Advertising copy, Vogue Australia, April/May 1963

 

Murray Rose

Iain Murray Rose, AM (6 January 1939 – 15 April 2012) was an Australian swimmer, actor, sports commentator and marketing executive. He was a six-time Olympic medalist (four gold, one silver, one bronze), and at one time held the world records in the 400-metre, 800-metre, and 1500-metre freestyle (long course). He made his Olympic debut at the 1956 Summer Olympics as a 17-year-old and won three Olympic medals, all gold. Four years later, as a 21-year-old, he won three Olympic medals (one gold, one silver, one bronze) at the 1960 Summer Olympics.

At the age of 17, Rose participated in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. He won the 400-metre and 1500-metre freestyle races and was a member of the winning team in the 4×200-metre freestyle relay. Winning three gold medals in his home country immediately made him a national hero. He was the youngest Olympian to be awarded three gold medals in one Olympic Games. Afterwards, Rose moved to the United States to accept an athletic scholarship at the University of Southern California where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business/Communications.

He continued competing while at USC, and graduated in 1962. At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy, Rose again won an Olympic gold medal in the 400m freestyle, as well as a silver in the 1500m freestyle and a bronze in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay, bringing his haul to six Olympic medals. In addition to his Olympic medals, he won four gold medals at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia. He eventually set 15 world records, including the world record in the 800-metre freestyle in 1962, which was not broken until Semyon Belits-Geiman set a new record in 1966. Rose continued to compete as a masters swimmer. During the 1960s, he also pursued an acting career, starring in two Hollywood films and making guest appearances on television shows.

In addition, Rose worked as an Australian sports commentator for the Nine Network, plus each of the major US networks, participating in seven consecutive Olympic Games.  (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Installation view of the National Gallery of Victoria’s 'Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer' exhibition at NGV Australia at Federation Square

Installation view of the National Gallery of Victoria’s 'Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer' exhibition at NGV Australia at Federation Square

 

Installation views of the National Gallery of Victoria’s Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer exhibition at NGV Australia at Federation Square
Photos: Brooke Holm

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration, model Maggie Tabberer)' (1960s), printed 2016

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration, model Maggie Tabberer)
(1960s), printed 2016
Inkjet print
61.2 x 47.4 cm (image), 86.3 x 60.9 cm (sheet)
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive (119664)
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

 

Maggie Tabberer

Maggie Tabberer AM (also known as Maggie T; born 11 December 1936) is a dual Gold Logie-winning Australian fashion, publishing and media/television personality. Maggie’s first modelling job was a one-off assignment at the age of 14, after a photographer spotted her at her sister’s wedding. She attended a modelling school in her early twenties, and at the age of 23 was discovered by photographer Helmut Newton, who mentored her and launched a highly successful modelling career. While living in Melbourne in 1960, she won ‘Model of the Year’, and moved to Sydney to take advantage of the modelling opportunities there, but she chose to end her modelling career at the age of 25 after she began to lose her slim figure.

Tabberer stayed well connected to the fashion industry, however. In 1967 she started a public relations company, Maggie Tabberer & Associates, which took on many fashion-related clients and assignments. In 1981, she launched a plus-size clothing label called Maggie T. A portrait of her by Australian artist Paul Newton was a finalist in the 1999 Archibald Prize.

Publishing work

Tabberer began working in publishing when she wrote a fashion column, “Maggie Says”, for Sydney’s Daily Mirror newspaper in 1963. She remained with the paper for sixteen years, until billionaire Kerry Packer asked her to become fashion editor of Australian Women’s Weekly magazine in 1981, and she soon became the public face of the magazine, frequently appearing on its cover and television advertising. Tabberer stayed with Women’s Weekly for fifteen years until 1996.

Television work

Tabberer began appearing on television in 1964, as the “beauty” on panel talk show Beauty and the Beast (the “beast” being the show’s host: Eric Baume until 1965, and then Stuart Wagstaff). Tabberer’s appearances on Beauty and the Beast made her a household name, and she began hosting her own daily chat show, Maggie, for which she won two consecutive Gold Logies, in 1970 and 1971. She was the first person to win back-to-back awards, although Graham Kennedy had already won three non-consecutive Gold Logies by 1970.

Since 2005, she has hosted her own television interview show, Maggie… At Home With on Australian pay TV channel Bio. (formerly The Biography Channel). On her show she “visits the homes of various Australian celebrities and elites to discuss their lives, careers, tragedies, and triumphs.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration for Fibremakers, model Maggi Eckardt)' 1966, printed 2016

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Fibremakers, model Maggi Eckardt)
1966, printed 2016
Inkjet print
54.45 x 50.8 cm (image), 72.5 x 61.0 cm (sheet)
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration for Fibremakers, model Maggi Eckardt)' 1966, printed 2016

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Fibremakers, model Maggi Eckardt)
1966, printed 2016
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

“Fibres for fashions future. Its theme was fibres for the present and the future … pictures taken by Melbourne photographer Henry Talbot – a man who is as sophisticated as James Bond and always a jump ahead of ‘now’. The visiting ‘Venusians’ in Mr Talbot’s photographs (Maggi Eckardt and Jackie Holme) are gyrating at the Altona Petrochemical Company in Victoria.”

Australian Fashion News, March 1967

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration for Fibremakers, model Maggi Eckardt)' 1966, printed 2016

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Fibremakers, model Maggi Eckardt)
1966, printed 2016
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Fibremakers, model Maggi Eckardt)
1966, printed 2016
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot
Photo: Brooke Holm

 

 

Maggi had been brought up on Sydney’s northern beaches and went to a ladies’ college in Manly. She had the proud, sultry looks of a flamenco dancer. Her distinctive appearance limited her potential in Australian modelling but she was heaven-sent for elegant Parisian designers such as Balenciaga and Givenchy and was transformed through the worshipping lens of American photographer Richard Avedon into an international icon. After seven years overseas, Maggi returned to Sydney in 1972 to be embraced as a TV personality and high-profile fashion adviser to David Jones. (Text from The six wives of Singo)

During the 1960s Maggi Eckhardt was one of the world’s most sought after models. Her modelling career began in 1958 when she was selected to model for celebrated British designer Norman Hartnell. He offered her a job in his London salon and she never looked back. The brunette beauty rapidly shot to international fame modelling top designer brands including Dior and Balenciaga. She posed for a string of famous photographers such as Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton and graced the covers of Australian and French Vogue. (Text from Australia’s 25 top models named)

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration for Sportscraft)' 1967, printed 2016

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Sportscraft)
1967, printed 2016
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Sportscraft)
1967, printed 2016
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Sportscraft)
1967, printed 2016
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot
Photo: Brooke Holm

 

 

The 1960s was a period of social turbulence, when youth-led movements changed the world. In Australia it was a time of prosperity: employment rates were high and, for many, the opportunities seemed boundless. The fashions of the day, including mini skirts and hipster pants, reflected the “youthquake” that was shaking up the status quo. Photography studios made the transition to the 1960s by creating images with a fresh, contemporary edge, and increasingly worked on location rather than in the studio.

Henry Talbot began to work in fashion photography in the 1950s, but it was in the 1960s that he established himself as a leading force in Melbourne’s fashion industry. He worked for designers and manufacturers, department stores and boutiques, as well as on the job for the Australian Wool Bureau, taking photographs that showed Australian fashion to the world.

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'Swimwear model' 1968

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
Swimwear model
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
Swimwear model
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot
Photo: Brooke Holm

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration for Blunden Wool, models Joan Crellin and Bruce Anderson)' 1961, printed 2016

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Blunden Wool, models Joan Crellin and Bruce Anderson)
1961, printed 2016
Photographed on location at the National Gallery of Victoria
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Blunden Wool, models Joan Crellin and Bruce Anderson)
1961, printed 2016
Photographed on location at the National Gallery of Victoria
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Blunden Wool, models Joan Crellin and Bruce Anderson)
1961, printed 2016
Photographed on location at the National Gallery of Victoria
Inkjet print
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
Photo: Brooke Holm

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration, model wearing cotton capri pants and cropped sleeveless top on location in Papua New Guinea)' 1961-66

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration, model wearing cotton capri pants and cropped sleeveless top on location in Papua New Guinea)
1961-66
Gelatin silver photograph
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

‘Discovering the hidden charms of New Guinea in the obvious attributes of Swiss cotton… she wears a cropped top and lean slack in sunny yellow, embroidered in diamond panels of white.’ Descriptive caption, 1966

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration model wearing cropped pants and jacket, Papua New Guinea)' 1961-66

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration model wearing cropped pants and jacket, Papua New Guinea)
1961-66
Gelatin silver photograph
22.4 x 19.1 cm
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration for Stella Ricks, model wearing coat and hat)' 1960s

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Stella Ricks, unknown model wearing coat and hat)
1960s
Gelatin silver photograph
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

‘Town and country, sport and travel are words enough to place this American style coat in the all-purpose group, and its colour is the outstanding feature – honey bamboo saddle stitched with white. Loose and casual it has fly-away cuffs on sleeves, hip, and breast pockets, and a tailored revere collar. By Stella Ricks.’ Descriptive caption, 1960s

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration model wearing plaid kilt style skirt, Spring Street, Melbourne)' 1956-60

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration model wearing plaid kilt style skirt, Spring Street, Melbourne)
1956-60
Gelatin silver photograph
24.4 X 21.0 cm
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration model wearing hip length fur jacket, photographed at the National Gallery of Victoria)' 1960s

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration model wearing hip length fur jacket, photographed at the National Gallery of Victoria)
1960s
Gelatin silver photograph
24.3 x 19.1 cm
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration, model Maggie Tabberer wearing ocelot coat)' 1961-66

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration, model Maggie Tabberer wearing ocelot coat)
1961-66
Gelatin silver photograph
24.0 x 19.0 cm
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration, model Janice Wakely standing in front of wool bale)' 1961-66

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration, model Janice Wakely standing in front of wool bale)
1961-66
Gelatin silver photograph
24.5 x 18.8 cm
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration for Sportscraft, Treasury Gardens, Melbourne)' 1960-61

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Sportscraft, Treasury Gardens, Melbourne)
1960-61
Gelatin silver photograph
24.3 x19.1 cm
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration, model Maggie Tabberer)' 1960

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration, model Maggie Tabberer)
1960
Gelatin silver photograph
24.4 x 19.1 cm
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 - Australia 1999, Australia from 1940) 'No title (Fashion illustration for Sportscaft, model Janice Wakely)' 1956-61

 

Henry Talbot (Germany 1920 – Australia 1999, Australia from 1940)
No title (Fashion illustration for Sportscaft, model Janice Wakely)
1956-61
Gelatin silver photograph
24.1 x 19.1 cm
Henry Talbot Fashion Photography Archive
© Lynette Anne Talbot

 

 

Janice Wakely

Janice Wakely, fashion model and photographer, graduated from Sydney’s Mannequin Academy in 1952 and began her modelling career in Melbourne two years later. Dismissed as ‘too thin’ by various Australian agencies after working on a Department of Trade-sponsored fashion tour to New Zealand in 1956, she decamped for London. Within ten days, Wakely snared a shoot with Marie Claire in Paris and St Tropez; soon, she was dubbed ‘The Girl of the Moment’ with ‘The Look of 1958’.

The Australian Women’s Weekly reported that, in the competitive English market, her “fragile but tough and oh, so carefully casual” look had set her apart – for the time being – from “the thousands from Commonwealth countries who invade Britain each year to see something of the world before they settle down to marriage and the building of a home and family.”

Returning to Australia in 1958, Wakely commandeered the camera herself, proceeding to capture photographers such as Helmut Newton, Athol Shmith and Henry Talbot while they worked with models on location. During this time, Wakely maintained a strong presence in front of the camera. Photographed by Terence Donovan in London in 1960, in 1961 and 1962, she starred in the All-Australian Fashion Parades, was featured on the cover of The Women’s Weekly, was Model of the Year and wore the Gown of the Year.

Then, in 1963, she stepped down from the catwalk, establishing the Penthouse modelling agency and photographic studio in Flinders Lane, Melbourne with co-model Helen Homewood. After an overseas tour in 1965, Wakely returned to Melbourne and set up a studio with fashion photographer Bruno Benini, who, according to People magazine, had “given many other girls a helping hand up the ladder to success”.

Wakely commented in 1968 that “the Australian sense of fashion is appalling”.

Extract from “Treasure Trove: Janice Wakely, fashion icon,” on the ABC Canberra website 11 October, 2012 [Online] Cited 30/07/2016

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

29
Mar
16

Review: ‘Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan’ at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

Exhibition dates: 15th January – 15th April 2016

 

This is the most profound exhibition that I have seen so far this year. Simply put, the exhibition is magnificent … a must see for any human being with an ounce of understanding and compassion in their body.

While I am vehemently anti-war, and believe that we should have never have been in Afghanistan in the first place, these sensual and skeletal paintings represent the danger that these soldiers exposed themselves to in the line of duty. The sensuousness and vulnerability of their solitary, contorted poses – poses which they themselves chose to for Quilty to paint – reflect an actual event, such as taking cover to engage insurgents. That these naked poses then turn out to have a quiet eroticism embedded in them confirms the link between eroticism, death and sensuality as proposed by Georges Bataille. The three forms of eroticism (physical, emotional, religious) try to substitute continuity (life) for discontinuity (death). In these paintings the soldiers lay bare their inner self. They bring forth experiences that have been buried – their dissociation from the reality of what occurred, the experiences they have repressed, the post-traumatic stress – brought to the surface and examined in these paintings through the re-presentation of suppressed emotions, through a form of emotional eroticism, a primordial rising of eroticism, death and sensuality. An affirming act of life over death.

As an artist, Quilty intimately understands this process. I think a strong element of this exhbition is the feeling that there is something missing, that the range of concerns is lacking something. I suspect this is deliberate. Something is being withheld. And what is being withheld in the paintings is, I believe, narrative.

While there is an overarching text narrative – soldiers painted “after Afghanistan” – and individual paintings have titles such as Sergeant P, Troy Park, Trooper M and Trooper Daniel Westcott, these paintings could almost be of any human being who has been a soldier. Other than the specific triptych of Air Commodore John Oddie (and even then the portraits remind me of the ambiguity of Francis Bacon’s Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953), these paintings could be of any soldier. As Gerhard Ricther observes, “You can only express in words what words are capable of expressing, what language can communicate. Painting has nothing to do with that.” After Richter, you might say that “there is no plan”, there is only feeling in the work of Ben Quilty, embodied through his brush. Here, I see links to the work of that great British painter, Francis Bacon.

“Bacon was deeply suspicious of narrative. For him, narrative seems to be the natural enemy of vision; it blinds… Bacon seems to propose an opposition between narrative as a product that can be endlessly reproduced, as re-presentation – the ‘boredom’ is inspired by the deja vu of repetition – and narrative as process, as sensation. Conveying a story implies that a pre-existing story, fictional or not, is transferred to an addressee. Narrative is then reduced to a kind of transferable message. Opposed to this ‘conveying of story’, ‘telling a story’ focuses on the activity or process of narrative. This process is not repeatable; it cannot be iterative because it takes place, it happens, whenever ‘story’ happens… Bacon’s hostility toward narrative is directed against narrative as product, as re-presentation, not against narrative as process.
(Bacon) does not paint characters, but figures. Figures, unlike characters, do not imply a relationship between an object outside the painting and the figure in the painting that supposedly illustrates that object. The figure is, and refers only to itself.”1

The figure is, and refers only to itself, and it is up to the viewer to actively interpret this telling of the story each time they view one of Quilty’s paintings. There is no transferable message.

Further, much like Bacon’s triptychs, Quilty’s paintings depict isolated figures or figural events on the panels. The figures are isolated in their space and their is never any clear interaction between the figures. “Bacon explains the use of the triptych as follows: ‘It helps to avoid storytelling if the figures are painted on three different canvases’ … The figures never fully become characters, while the figural events are never explained by being embedded in a sequence of events. The figures interact neither with each other nor with their environment. Although Bacon’s paintings display many signs which traditionally signify narrativity, by the same token any attempt to postulate narratives based on the paintings is countered.”2

In these paintings, Quilty does not turn away from the evidence of the soldiers before him who express through their bodies that life is violent. He does not attempt to save the viewer from such unpleasantries. As Bacon comments, “The feelings of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment, because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility.” Quilty stretches his sensibility as an artist and as a human being by getting down and dirty with his subject matter, both physically and emotionally. In fact, I would say Quilty becomes his subject, so close does the artist get to the object of his attention (after all, this is also Quilty’s experience of Afghanistan, as much as it is the soldiers who he is painting. The artist is always present in the work). The closer you get to one of his paintings, the more the detail vanishes and the more the paint becomes like blood and guts. The artist presses up against his subject which dissolves into abstraction. A bravura tour de force of painting that it so confident in its intent… [that there are] huge stretches of bare white canvas as flesh, with these striking gestures for throat and nipple executed without fear in one stroke of the brush. The black hole appearing out of the side of the soldiers head reminds me of Carl Jung’s ambivalent feelings toward his unconscious shadow; and at one end of the gallery you have a black hole (Trooper Luke Korman, Tarin Kot, 2012, below) and at the other a white hole (Trooper Luke Korman, 2012, below), such are the energies of yin yang that flow through the lighter of the gallery spaces.

Using what the photographer Imogen Cunningham termed the ‘paradox of expansion via reduction’ – closing in on subject (either physically and/or mentally), the intensity and focus attendant to a clear way of seeing – allows Quilty’s work to be flooded with sensuality and reductive power. The horror of the body, of how fragile we are (Damien Hirst) is expressed through the visceral paint. The viewer’s mind tells the story, creates the horror, the closer you get to the work. As I said earlier, there is no transferable message, no actual interpretation but universal triggers that impinge on the viewer’s mind. Quilty plays with the flow of time and space, memory and war by disassociating himself from traditional narrative. As the quotation below from Peter Handke’s novel Across eloquently expresses it, it is a sense of “being-empty” (Zen), an empty form that is also full at the same time. Every object in Quilty’s opus moves into place and we pass over, quietly, into a place we have never been before, through paintings that picture the unknowable. Something we have never seen or felt before. In painting, I don’t think there are many artists that could have achieved what Quilty has with this body of work.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,125

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

 

  1. Ernst Van Alphen. Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, 1992 quoted in “Francis Bacon and ‘Narrative’, the Natural Enemy of Vision,” on the ASX website, June 27 2013 [Online] Cited 29/03/2016.
  2. Ibid.,

 

 

“With the light of that moment, silence fell. The warming emptiness that I need so badly spread. My forehead no longer needed a supporting hand. It wasn’t exactly a warmth, but a radiance; it welled up rather than spread; not an emptiness, but a being-empty; not so much my being-empty as an empty form. And the empty form meant: story. But it also meant that nothing happened. When the story began, my trail was lost. Blurred. This emptiness was no mystery; but what made it effective remained a mystery. It was as tyrannical as it was appeasing; and its peace meant: I must not speak. Under its implosion, everything (every object) moved into place. “Emptiness!” The word was equivalent to the invocation of the Muse at the beginning of an epic. It provoked not a shudder but lightness and joy, and presented itself as a law: As it is now, so shall it be. In terms of image, it was a shallow river crossing.”

.
Peter Handke. Across. Ralph Manheim (translator). Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000, p. 5.

 

“I do not want to avoid telling a story, but I want very, very much to do the thing that Valery said – to give the sensation without the boredom of its conveyance. And the moment the story enters, the boredom comes upon you.”

.
Francis Bacon

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan at the Castlemaine Art Gallery with, from left to right, Sergeant P, after Afghanistan (2012); Trooper Daniel Westcott, after Afghanistan (2012); and Troy Park, after Afghanistan (2012)

 

 

Sergeant P, a Special Operations Task Group soldier, is a survivor of a Black Hawk helicopter crash that claimed the lives of three Australians. Some of the soldiers depicted in the other portraits witnessed the crash and were first on the scene to provide assistance. The memory of this experience, and the friends who did not make it, will stay with these men for a long time.

 

Ben Quilty. 'Trooper Daniel Westcott, after Afghanistan' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Trooper Daniel Westcott, after Afghanistan
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

Ben Quilty. 'Troy Park, after Afghanistan' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Troy Park, after Afghanistan
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

 

Installation views of the exhibition Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan at the Castlemaine Art Gallery with, from left to right, Troy Park, after Afghanistan, no. 2 (2012); Trooper M, after Afghanistan (2012); and Trooper M, after Afghanistan, no. 2 (2012)

 

Ben Quilty. 'Troy Park, after Afghanistan, no. 2' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Troy Park, after Afghanistan, no. 2
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

 

Quilty asked the soldiers to suggest a post that encapsulated some of the emotions that surrounded their experience in Afghanistan. Often the pose is quite contorted, as it reflects an actual event, such as taking cover to engage insurgents.

 

Ben Quilty. 'Trooper M, after Afghanistan' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Trooper M, after Afghanistan
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

 

“You can’t really stop out there. You have to keep doing your job and keep moving forward … There is no time, until you get home, to stop and think about it.”

Trooper M

 

Ben Quilty. 'Trooper M, after Afghanistan, no. 2' 2012 (detail)

 

Ben Quilty
Trooper M, after Afghanistan, no. 2 (detail)
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

 

“Sitting for Ben is therapeutic; it does get a lot of stuff off your chest. And actually seeing your portrait on canvas, I think for me it’s definitely a chapter that I can close and leave there.”

Trooper M

 

Ben Quilty. 'Bushmaster' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Bushmaster
2012
Aerosol and oil on linen
Donated by Ben Quilty through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program in 2013

 

 

Portraiture for Quilty can also take a vehicle as its subject. This destroyed Bushmaster reflects the soldiers’ identity and is a vestige of their physical experience. They risk their lives while carrying out their duties in these versatile military vehicles.

“I met a young man who’d been in the back of a Bushmaster that had blown up. The Bushmaster is the big armoured four-wheel-drive vehicle that’s saving a lot of Australian lives, but even so the explosion caused every single you man inside that vehicle to suffer from concussion and one of them was blown out of the gun turret and landed in front of the vehicle among possibly more hidden explosive devices.”

Ben Quilty

 

Ben Quilty. 'Captain S, after Afghanistan' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Captain S, after Afghanistan
2012
Oil on linen
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

 

 

“I think when Ben paints, he’s not looking for what’s on the outside … He’s more after what they’re feeling o what they’ve been through … He’s looking at the inner instead of just the outer.”

Captain S

 

Ben Quilty. 'Lance Corporal M, after Afghanistan' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Lance Corporal M, after Afghanistan
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

Ben Quilty. 'Lance Corporal M, after Afghanistan' 2012 (detail)

 

Ben Quilty
Lance Corporal M, after Afghanistan (detail)
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

 

The naked portraits have a sensuousness and vulnerability in their solitary, contorted poses. The rough surface signifies the uniform and body armour that have been stripped away in front of us, and them. We and they recognise what they have endured and achieved.

“I wanted [this soldier] to be naked, showing not only his physical strength but also the frailty of human skin and the darkness of the emotional weight of the war.”

Ben Quilty

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of drawings from the exhibition Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan at the Castlemaine Art Gallery including, at bottom left, Captain M II, Tarin Kot (October 2011, below) and third from left top, Waiting, Tarin Kot (October 2011, below)

 

 

“This very wild place”

Sitting and talking with the Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, Quilty became intrigued by their experiences. He came to feel responsible for telling the stories of these young men and women.

“I started doing drawings of the soldiers, and hearing their stories about their experiences of being in this very wild place. I realised that I needed to just sit with them … making portraits of these guys in Tarin Kot or wherever I was … getting them to sit still and talk to me about their experience. Those little drawings are a reminder to me of the time that I spent with those people. I hoped that there’d be some remnant of that experience that I could then draw out … to put into the paintings when I returned to Australia.”

Ben Quilty

The trust that Quilty developed with these soldiers in Afghanistan was strong enough to continue at home in Quilty’s studio, where he invited some to sit for larger portraits.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

(top row, first three from left)

Ben Quilty
Private C, Tarin Kot
October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Coloured felt tip pen on paper
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

Ben Quilty
Trooper M, Special Forces, Tarin Kot
October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Coloured felt tip pen, pencil and ink wash on paper
Collection of the artist

Ben Quilty
Captain Kate Porter
27 October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Coloured pencil and ink wash on paper
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

(bottom row, first three from left)

Ben Quilty
Sergeant M II, Tarin Kot
October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Pencil and ink wash on paper
Collection of the artist

Ben Quilty
Chinook pilot, Kandahar Airfield
October 2011
Drawn at Kandahar Airfield, Kandahar province, Afghanistan
Pencil and ink wash on paper
Collection of the artist

Ben Quilty
Brigadier General Noorullah, Afghan National Army, Tarin Kot
22 October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Coloured felt tip pen on paper
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

 

 

While in Tarin Kot, Quilty attended a marching out parade of 400 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers who had completed training under the Australian Mentoring Task Fore. There he met a senior ANA commander, Brigadier General Noorullah. Just days later, three Australian soldiers were killed at a similar training parade being held at Forward Operating Base Sorkh Bed (aka Pacemaker). Quilty learnt of the incident the day after he left Afghanistan, giving him an even greater sense of the dangers that the soldiers he met face daily.

 

Ben Quilty. 'Captain Kate Porter' 27 October 2011

 

Ben Quilty
Captain Kate Porter
27 October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Coloured pencil and ink wash on paper
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

 

 

Quilty wanted to meet a cross-section of people serving in Afghanistan – soldiers driving Bushmasters, Chinook pilots, Special Forces soldiers, and both men and women of all ranks – to try to understand who makes up the Australian Defence Force. He met Captain Kate Porter at Tarin Kot. There he spoke to her about her experiences as female in the very masculine community of the Special Operations Task Group, as well as her general experience as a soldier in Afghanistan.

 

Ben Quilty. 'Trooper M, Special Forces, Tarin Kot' October 2011

 

Ben Quilty
Trooper M, Special Forces, Tarin Kot
October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Coloured felt tip pen, pencil and ink wash on paper
Collection of the artist

 

Ben Quilty. 'Waiting, Tarin Kot' October 2011

 

Ben Quilty
Waiting, Tarin Kot
October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Coloured felt tip pen on paper
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

 

Ben Quilty. 'Captain M II, Tarin Kot' October 2011

 

Ben Quilty
Captain M II, Tarin Kot
October 2011
Drawn at Tarin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan
Pencil and ink wash on paper
Collection of the artist

 

 

“Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan is an extraordinary Australian War Memorial Touring Exhibition by one of the nation’s most incisive artists, and is of great relevance to all Australians. The exhibition officially opens at Castlemaine Art Gallery on Friday 15 January 2016.

The exhibition itself was the result of the Archibald Prize-winning artist’s three-week tour across Afghanistan in October 2011. Engaged as an Official War Artist, his purpose was to record and interpret the experiences of Australians deployed as part of Operation Slipper in Kabul, Kandahar, and Tarin Kot in Afghanistan and at Al Minhad Airbase in the United Arab Emirates. In fulfilling his brief, Quilty spoke with many Australian servicemen and women, gaining an insight into their experiences whilst serving in the region, and ultimately leaving with an overwhelming need to tell their stories.

Quilty recently spoke on ANZAC Day 2015 and paid tribute not only to those who did not return from Afghanistan and their grieving families, but also to “the young men and women who live amongst us who have paid so dearly and will quietly wear the thick cloak of trauma for many years to come, after Afghanistan.”

The exhibition is a must see as Quilty is arguably one of Australia’s greatest living painters, and this exhibition, with its intense and emotional subject matter is particularly important to Castlemaine, a town with a history of young men and women serving their country far from home. The exhibition has been very well received across the country with over 70,000 visitors attending the works when on display most recently in Darwin. Dr Brendan Nelson, Director of the Australian War Memorial believes Quilty should be considered one of Australia’s great official war artists.

“Ben Quilty’s works follows a truly great tradition at the Australian War Memorial of appointing artists to record and interpret the Australian experience of war.”

“Ben brought to this task all his brilliance, sensitivity and compassion. The works he produced will leave Australians a legacy which informs them not only about the impact of war on our country, but even more importantly, about the effects on the men and women he has depicted,” said Dr Nelson.

Dr Jan Savage, President of the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum Committee of Management said the exhibition, “was significant in understanding the impact of war on serving members of the Australian armed forces and I encourage visitors to attend this most important exhibition.”

Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan is on display at Castlemaine Art Gallery from 15 January until 15 April 2016.

An Australian War Memorial Touring Exhibition, proudly sponsored by Thales.”

Text from the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum website

 

Ben Quilty. 'Tarin Kot, Hilux' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Tarin Kot, Hilux
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

Ben Quilty. 'Kandahar' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Kandahar
2012
Oil on linen
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

 

Ben Quilty. 'Kandahar' 2012 (detail)

 

Ben Quilty
Kandahar (detail)
2012
Oil on linen
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

 

 

Kandahar Airfield is a multinational vase with approximately 35,000 people from the International Security Assistance Fore, aid organisations, and a pool of local civilian staff. Weapons are carried at all times by both military and civilian personnel, creating a tense atmosphere with a violent undercurrent. Quilty described Kandahar as being a cross between the worlds of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and Catch 22, a surreal, dusty, and violent place. “For the first week in Kandahar, I basically felt like I was dodging rockets. The first night we landed there, two or three rockets landed inside the compound.”

This painting was Quilty’s first visceral response on his return from Afghanistan and i sums up his emotions, particularly his personal experience of Kandahar and being a part of the maelstrom of war.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan at the Castlemaine Art Gallery with, at centre, Tarin Kot, Hilux (2012) and, at right, Kandahar (2012)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

 

Returning from war

“You can’t take the experiences out of your head.
You can’t take the damages out of your head.”

John Oddie

 

On his return to Australia, Ben Quilty contacted Air Commodore John Oddie (Ret’d), whom he had met during his Afghanistan deployment, to invite him to sit for a portrait in his studio. From February to October 2011, Oddie had been the Deputy Commander of Australian forces in the Middle east, a position of immense responsibility.

Quilty eventually produced three portraits over five months. These works reveal a man returning from war and its burden of responsibility, exhausted emotionally and mentally, and his progress towards a more positive view of life and of himself as a survivor.

 

Ben Quilty. 'Air Commodore John Oddie, after Afghanistan, no. 3' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Air Commodore John Oddie, after Afghanistan, no. 3
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

Ben Quilty. 'Air Commodore John Oddie, after Afghanistan, no. 3' 2012 (detail)

 

Ben Quilty
Air Commodore John Oddie, after Afghanistan, no. 3 (detail)
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

 

“I don’t necessarily see beauty, I see insight in what Ben does. That’s reflected in the way he paints … I think his later portraits, done after he’s got to know us better, are different from the raw emotion of the first ones.”

John Oddie

 

Ben Quilty. 'Air Commodore John Oddie, after Afghanistan, no. 1' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Air Commodore John Oddie, after Afghanistan, no. 1
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

 

“With through a lack of insight or through an unwillingness … I wasn’t always admitting the truth to myself about my life. Ben really took that out and put it on a table in front of me like a three-course dinner and said, well, how about that? And you know, I sort of thought well, I’m not going to come to this restaurant again in a hurry!”

John Oddie

 

Ben Quilty. 'Air Commodore John Oddie, after Afghanistan, no. 2' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Air Commodore John Oddie, after Afghanistan, no. 2
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

 

“He’s got this one little gash of paint and it brings out this wry smile that I didn’t even know I had … When I stood back and had a look, I was just stunned at the honesty of the painting – until then I hadn’t really been fully honest with myself about what I was feeling.”

John Oddie

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Introductory text from the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Introductory titles and text for the exhibition Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Ben Quilty. 'Trooper Daniel Spain, Tarin Kot' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Trooper Daniel Spain, Tarin Kot
2012
Oil on linen diptych
Collection of the artist

 

 

In some of the works, Quilty has used dramatic symbols to represent the emotional weight and the sense of emptiness he felt some soldiers brought home with them after Afghanistan. The black hole motif also reflects his own feelings of anxiety and uncertainty during his time there.

“I had such extreme feelings about the smell, sound, emotions of being in Afghanistan … I wanted to convey this.”

 

Ben Quilty. 'Trooper Luke Korman' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Trooper Luke Korman
2012
Aerosol and oil on linen
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan at the Castlemaine Art Gallery with, on the far wall, Trooper Luke Korman, Tarin Kot (2012, left) and SOTG, after Afghanistan (2011, right)

 

Ben Quilty. 'Trooper Luke Korman, Tarin Kot' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Trooper Luke Korman, Tarin Kot
2012
Aerosol and oil on linen diptych
Collection of the artist

 

Ben Quilty. 'SOTG, after Afghanistan' 2011

 

Ben Quilty
SOTG, after Afghanistan
2011
Oil on linen diptych
Acquired under the official art scheme 2012

 

 

As part of his initial idea for the war artist commission, Quilty photographed soldiers of the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan in the same pose. He asked each of them to face the sun with their eyes closed, then open them and stare into the blinding light. At that instant Quilty would take the photograph. “To me, this symbolises what they’re facing, something immense, overwhelming.”

Back in Australia, Quilty attempted to work from these photographs, and created a handful of portraits. He was dissatisfied with the results. Determined to re-establish a personal connection with his subjects, he invited some of them to sit for portraits in his studio.

 

 

Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum
14 Lyttleton Street (PO Box 248)
Castlemaine, Vic 3450 Australia
Phone: (03) 5472 2292
Email: info@castlemainegallery.com

Opening hours:
Monday        10am – 5pm
Tuesday       CLOSED
Wednesday   10am – 5pm
Thursday      10am – 5pm
Friday          10am – 5pm
Saturday      12pm – 5pm
Sunday        12pm – 5pm

Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

21
Feb
16

Review: ‘On the beach’ at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery, Mornington

Exhibition dates: 11th December 2015 – 28th February 2016

Curator: Wendy Garden

 

 

This is another solid thematic group exhibition at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery (curator Wendy Garden), following on from their recent success, Storm in a teacup.

The exhibition is not as successful as Storm in a teacup, mainly because most of the works are based on the monolithic, monosyllabic representation of beach culture, and its figuration, during the early decades of the twentieth century (White Australia policy, Australian stereotypes of the interwar period) and the re-staging of these ideas in the contemporary art presented through a diachronic (through/time), performative discourse.

There is so much re-staging in this exhibition I was left to wonder whether there was any original art work being produced that does not quote sources of history, memory, identity, representation and art from past generations. Daniel Boyd re-stages Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay with said hero as a pirate. Stephen Bowers replicates the Minton willow pattern motif and early paintings of kangaroos. Leanne Tobin re-stages Bungaree’s disrobing on the beach during his journey with Matthew Flinders. Diane Jones re-stages Max Dupain’s Sunbaker replacing the anonymous prostrate man with her head looking into the camera, or Dupain’s Form at Bondi with her head turned towards the camera. Worst offender is Anne Zahalka who re-states Dupain’s Sunbaker (again!) as a red-headed white women on the beach; or re-presents Charles Meere’s Australian beach pattern (1940, below) not once but twice – the first time in The bathers (1989) broadening the racial background of people to depict multicultural Australia in the 1980s, the second time in The new bathers (2013) broadening the mix even further. Most successful of these re-stagings is Michael Cook’s series of photographs Undiscovered in which the artist subverts deeply ingrained understandings of settlement, that of terra nullius, by depicting Captain Cook as black and positioning him in high-key, grey photographs of impressive beauty and power, surveying the land he has ‘discovered’ while perched upon an invisibly balanced ladder.

But with all of the works that quote from the past there is a sense that, even as the artists are critiquing the culture, they are also buying into the system of patriarchy, racism and control that they seek to comment on. They do not subvert the situation, merely (and locally) extrapolate from it. The idealised, iconic representation of early 20th century Australia culture in the paintings from the 1920-30s and the photographs from the 1940s-70s – specimens of perfect physical beauty – are simply shifted to a new demographic – that of iconic, individual figures in the same poses as the 1940s but of a different ethnicity. The colour of the figure and the clothing might have changed, but the underlying structure remains the same. And if you disturb one of the foundation elements, such as the base figure in one of George Caddy’s balancing beachobatics photographs, the whole rotten edifice of a racism free, multicultural Australia will come tumbling down, just as it did during the Cronulla Riot.

What I would have liked to have seen in this exhibition was a greater breadth of subject matter. Where are the homeless people living near the beach, the sex (for example, as portrayed in Tracey Moffat’s voyeuristic home video Heaven which shows footage of male surfers changing out of their wetsuits in car parks – “shot by Moffatt and a number of other women as if they were making a birdwatching documentary” – which challenges the masculinity of Australian surf culture and the ability of women to stare at men, instead of the other way around), death (drownings on beaches, the heartbreak of loss), and debauchery (the fluxus of Schoolies, that Neo-Dada performance of noise and movement), the abstract nature of Pictorialist photographs of the beach, not to mention erosion and environmental loss due to global warming. The works presented seem to have a too narrowly defined conceptual base, and a present narrative constructed on a coterie of earlier works representing what it is to be Australian at the beach. The contemporary narrative does not address the fluidity of the landscape in present time (in works such as Narelle Autio’s series Watercolours or The place in between).

The dark underside of the beach, its abstract fluidity, its constant movement is least well represented in this exhibition. Although I felt engaged as a viewer the constant re-quoting and rehashing of familiar forms left me a little bored. I wanted more inventiveness, more insight into the conditions and phenomena of beach culture in contemporary Australia. An interesting exhibition but an opportunity missed.

.
Many thankx to the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery for allowing me to publish most of the photographs in the posting. Other photographs come from Art Blart’s archive and those freely available online. Thankx also go to Manuela Furci, Director of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive for allowing me to publish his photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All text comes from the wall labels to the exhibition.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with Daniel Boyd’s We call them pirates out here (2006, below)

 

Daniel Boyd (b. 1982) 'We call them pirates out here' 2006

 

Daniel Boyd (b. 1982)
We call them pirates out here
2006
Museum of Contemporary Art
Purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2006

 

 

“The landing of Captain Cook in Botany Bay, 1770 by E. Phillips Fox is such an iconic and important image relating to the birth of Australia. Shifting the proposed view of Fox’s painting to something that was an indigenous person’s perspective allowed for me to challenge the subjective history that has been created.” – Daniel Boyd, 2008

.
In this painting Daniel Boyd parodies E. Phillips Fox’s celebrated painting which was commissioned in 1902 by the Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria to commemorate federation. No longer an image valorising colonial achievement, Boyd recasts the scene as one of theft and invasion. Captain Cook is depicted as a pirate to contest his heroic status in Australia’s foundation narratives. Smoke in the distance is evidence of human occupation and is a direct retort to the declaration that Australia was ‘terra nullius’ – land belonging to no-one, which was used to justify British possession.

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952) Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961) 'Antipodean willow surfboard' 2012 'Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)' 2012

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952)
Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961)
Antipodean willow surfboard
2012
Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)
2012
Hollow core surfboard, Paulownia wood, fibreglass, synthetic polymer paint
Courtesy of the artist and Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Caulfield

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952) Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961) 'Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)' (detail) 2012

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952)
Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961)
Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons) (detail)
2012
Hollow core surfboard, Paulownia wood, fibreglass, synthetic polymer paint
Courtesy of the artist and Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Caulfield

 

 

In these works Bowers combines the willow pattern motif, a ready-made metaphor of hybridity, with an image of a kangaroo as envisioned by George Stubbs in 1772. The willow pattern as an English invention, created by Thomas Minton in 1790. It is an imaginative geography and, like the first known European painting of a kangaroo, considers other lands as strange, exotic places. In this work the imagery of colonial occupation is visualised as a fusion of cultures underpinned by half-truths, fantasy and desire.

 

Installation view of Leanne Tobin's 'Clothes don't always maketh the man' (2012) (detail)

Installation view of Leanne Tobin's 'Clothes don't always maketh the man' (2012) (detail)

 

Installation views of Leanne Tobin’s Clothes don’t always maketh the man (2012)

 

Leanne Tobin (b, 1961)
Clothes don’t always maketh the man (detail)
2012
Sand, textile, wood
Collection of the artist

 

 

Bungaree (c. 1755-1830) was a Garigal man who circumnavigated the continent of Australia with Matthew Flinders on the H.M.S. Investigator between 1802-03. Unlike Bennelong, who attempted to assimilate with British ways and Pemulwuy, who resisted, Bungaree made the decision to navigate a relationship with the British while still maintaining his cultural traditions. He played an important role as an envoy on Flinder’s voyages, negotiating with the different Aboriginal groups they encountered. A skilled mediator, Bungaree was adept at living between both worlds. When coming ashore he would shed his white man’s clothes so that he could conduct protocol relevant to the local elders. In this respect the beach became a zone of transformation and exchange.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with in the foreground, Leanne Tobin’s Clothes don’t always maketh the man (2012), and in the background photographs from Michael Cook’s Undiscovered series (2010, below)

 

Michael Cook (b. 1968) 'Undiscovered 4' 2010

 

Michael Cook (b. 1968)
Undiscovered 4
2010
inkjet print on Hahnemuhle paper
124.0 x 100.0 cm
Australian National Maritime Museum

 

 

A selection of works from a series of ten photographs in which Michael Cook contests the idea of ‘discovery’ that underpins narratives of the British settlement of Australia… Cook depicts the historic Cook as an Aboriginal man replete in his British naval officers attire. His ship, the famed Endeavour, is anchored in the sea behind him. By mimicking the moment of first discovery Cook subverts deeply ingrained understandings of settlement and asks us to consider what type of national Australia would be if the British had acknowledged Aboriginal people’s prior ownership.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery showing, at top left, Max Dupain’s Form at Bondi (1939); to the right of that Dupain’s At Newport (1952, below); to the right upper is George Caddy’s Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937 (below); followed at far right by Rennie Ellis’ St Kilda Lifesavers (1968, top) and David Moore’s Lifesavers at Manly (1959, bottom)

 

Max Dupain. 'At Newport' 1952, Sydney

 

Max Dupain (1911-1992)
At Newport
1952, Sydney
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Caddy (1914-1983) 'Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937' 1937

 

George Caddy (1914-1983)
Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937
1937
Digital print on paper
Paul Caddy collection
Courtesy of Paul Caddy

 

 

Like Max Dupain, who was three years his senior, Caddy was interested in the new modernist approach to photography. During 1936 he read magazines such as Popular Photography from New York and US Camera rather than Australasian Photo-Review which continued to champion soft-focus pictorialism. This photograph was taken the same year as Dupain’s famous Sunbather photograph. The framing and angle is similar reflecting their common interest in sharp focus, unusual vantage points and cold composition.

 

George Caddy (1914-1983) 'Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club reel team march past, 3 April 1938' 1938

 

George Caddy (1914-1983)
Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club reel team march past, 3 April 1938
1938
Digital print
Collection of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Purchased from Paul Caddy, 2008

 

 

This photograph was taken only months after an infamous rescue at Bondi. On 6 February 1938 a sand bar collapsed sweeping two hundred people out to sea. 80 lifesavers rescued all but 5 people in a day subsequently described as Black Sunday. By 1938 the Surf Life Saving Association, which incorporated clubs from around Australia, had rescued 39,149 lives in its 30 year history. In 1938 alone there were 3,442 rescues. Up until the events of Black Sunday no one had drowned while lifesavers were on duty at Australian beaches. In comparison 2,000 people drowned in England each year.1

  1. Alan Davies, Bondi Jitterbug: George Caddy and his amera, Sydney: State Library of New South Wales, p. 13.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, Anne Zahalka’s The sunbather #2 (1989, below) and, at right, a selection of George Caddy’s beachobatics photographs.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, Max Dupain’s Sunbaker (1937, top) with Diane Jones Sunbaker (2003, below); in the centre Anne Zahalka’s The sunbather #2 (1989, below); then Max Dupain’s Form at Bondi (1939, top) with Diane Jones Bondi (2003) underneath.

 

Anne Zahalka. 'The sunbather #2' 1989

 

Anne Zahalka (b. 1957)
The sunbather #2
1989
From the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989
Type C photograph

 

Installation photograph of Charles Meere's 'Australian beach pattern' (1940, below) and Anne Zahalka's 'The bathers' (1989)

 

Installation photograph of Charles Meere’s painting Australian beach pattern (1940, below) and Anne Zahalka’s photograph The bathers (1989) from the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989, in which Zahalka restates Charles Meere’s painting to subvert the narrow stereotype of the Australian ideal… In this work Zahalka broadens the racial background of people depicted to create a more representative image of multicultural Australia in the 1980s.

 

Charles Meere (1890-1961) 'Australian beach pattern' 1940 (detail)

 

Charles Meere (1890-1961)
Australian beach pattern (detail)
1940
Oil and wax on canvas
Collection of Joy Chambers-Grundy and Reg Grundy AC OBE

 

 

A now iconic representation of early 20th century Australia culture… The scene is dominated by a mass of suntanned bodies: muscular, square-jawed white Australians – specimens of perfect physical beauty – enjoying the strenuous physical activities of the beach. A glorification of the strong, healthy, racially pure Australian ideal of the 1930s, it is eerily reminiscent of Nazi German Aryan propaganda between the wars.

Notably, the figures themselves all appear anonymous and disconnected, with indistinct facial features that show no acknowledgement of their fellow beach-goers. Their identities are overwhelmed by Meere’s obsession with arrangement. Rather than reflect real life, the figures are placed to create an idealised work of perfect balance. It is fascinating to consider that this iconic representation of Australian beach culture actually came from the imagination of an Englishman, who had only lived in Australia since the mid-1930s and who, according to his apprentice, ‘never went to the beach’ and ‘made up most of the figures’.1

  1. Freda Robertshaw quoted in Linda Slutzkin, Charles Meere 1890-1961. Sydney: S. H. Ervin Gallery, 1987, p. 6.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, George Caddy’s beachobatic photographs, and on the far wall Sidney Nolan’s Bathers (1943, below) and Jeffrey Smart’s Surfers Bondi (1963, below)

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992) 'Bathers' 1943

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)
Bathers
1943
Ripolin enamel on canvas
Headed Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Bequest of John and Sunday Reed, 1982

 

Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013) 'Surfers Bondi' 1963

 

Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013)
Surfers Bondi
1963
Oil on board
Private collection

 

 

“When bans on daylight bathing were lifted in 1902, the beach became a prime leisure destination. The beach became not only as a public space of recreation but also as a place where the Australian identity was developing, for many epitomizing the liberties of Australia’s society. On the beach brings together 76 outstanding and iconic paintings, photographs and installations to consider the defining relationship we have to the shore.

Works by artists including Vernon Ah Kee, Arthur Boyd, Gordon Bennett, Daniel Boyd, Max Dupain, Charles Meere, Tracey Moffatt, David Moore, Sidney Nolan, Polixeni Papapetrou, John Perceval, Scott Redford, Jeffrey Smart, Albert Tucker, Guan Wei and Anne Zahalka, as well as outstanding recently discovered works by George Caddy (see above). A champion jitterbug dancer, Caddy’s photographs of ‘beachobatics’ were kept undisturbed in a shoebox for 60 years until they were ‘discovered’ by his son after his death. They capture the exuberance and optimism of Australian society between the wars.

The beach first became a prime leisure destination in the early decades of the twentieth century. Up to Federation many artists had looked to the bush to galvanise a fledging nationalism, but during the interwar years this shifted and increasingly the beach became the site of Australian identity. Already by 1908 one Melbourne newspaper commented upon the ‘vast throng of holidaymakers all along the coast.’ In the years following the First World War, against a backdrop of a growing interest in physical fitness, the beach was seen as a place for creating ‘a fine healthy race of men.’ Understandings of the beach as an Australian way of life emerged during this period and increasingly the Australian type was associated with bronzed athletic bodies on the beach.

On the beach looks at artists’ responses to the stereotype of the interwar period and juxtaposes modernist works with contemporary artists’ responses to include a more culturally diverse mix of people. Other artists in the exhibition challenge understandings of the beach as a benign space and consider the history of violence that is latent.”

Press release from the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Photographer Joyce Evans looking at two colour photographs by Rennie Ellis in the exhibition.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall left hand side, photographs by Rennie Ellis.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall right hand side, photographs by Rennie Ellis and, at right, Fiona Foley’s Nulla 4 eva IV (2009)

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Union Jack, Lorne' c. 1968

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Union Jack, Lorne
c. 1968
Silver gelatin selenium toned fibre-based print
Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Four Sunbathers, Lorne' c. 1968

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Four Sunbathers, Lorne
c. 1968
Type C photograph (ed. AP)
Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Bondi, New South Wales' 1997

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Bondi, New South Wales
1997

 

“On the beach we chuck away our clothes, our status and our inhibitions and engage in rituals of sun worship and baptism. It’s a retreat to our primal needs.” – Rennie Ellis

 

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

 

Installation views of Vernon Ah Kee’s cantchant 2007-09

 

Vernon Ah Kee (b. 1967)
cantchant
2007-09
Synthetic polymer paint and resin over digital print on roamer, vinyl
Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

 

 

Vernon Ah Kee’s response to the events at Cronulla (the Cronulla Riot) us a powerful retort to the racists and their mantra ‘we grew here, you flew here’ chanted on the beach during the riots. Ah Kee takes issue pointing out the hypocrisy in their statement.

We grew here, you flew here is an insincere statement and they were chanting it over and over again. It’s a way to exercise racism. I’m like ‘WE’ grew here, say what you want, but we’re the fellas that grew here.

The surfboards are printed with Yidinji shield designs and the portraits are members of the artists family. The work was exhibited in the Australian Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall, Charles Blackman’s Sunbather (c. 1954, below) and Arthur Boyd’s Kite flyers [South Melbourne] (1943, below).

 

Charles Blackman (b. 1928) 'Sunbather' c. 1954

 

Charles Blackman (b. 1928)
Sunbather
c. 1954
Oil on board
Private collection, Melbourne

 

 

This is one of a number of paintings and drawings made in response to Blackman’s observations of life on Melbourne’s beaches. Blackman moved from Sydney to Melbourne in 1945 to be part of Melbourne’s burgeoning art scene, making friends with John Perceval, Joy Hester and John and Sunday Reed amongst others.

During this period Blackman regularly took the tram to St Kilda beach to swim and paint. Although he enjoyed spending time on the beach, there is a sinister overtone to this painting of a prostrate figure lying on the sand. A bleak, grey palette articulates the pallid lifeless flesh amplifying a sense of death. The hollow slits that substitute for eyes further accentuate the corpse-like appearance. It is a stark contrast to many paintings of the era that emphasise physical vitality and wellbeing. Rather the sense of isolation and heavy treatment of shadows and water creates a painting that is psychologically disturbing. This painting can be seen as a response to his wife, Barbara’s developing blindness. It has been noted that as the ‘darkness grew in her life, his pictures got darker.’1 Blackman stated many years later ‘I was trying to paint pictures which were unseeable.’2

  1. Barry Humphries quoted in Peter Wilmoth ‘An artist in wonderland’ The Age, 21 May 2006.
  2. Charles Blackman interviewed by James Gleeson, 28 April 1979.

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) 'Kite flyers [South Melbourne]' 1943

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999)
Kite flyers [South Melbourne]
1943
Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard
46.3 x 60.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria
The Arthur Boyd Gift, 1975

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, in the centre, Brett Whiteley’s Balmoral (1975-78, below). To the left of this painting is Nancy Kilgour’s Figures on Manly Beach (1930, below) and to the right, at top, Norma Bull’s Bathing Beach (c. 1950-60s, below) with at bottom, George W. Lambert’s Anzacs bathing in the sea (1915, below).

 

Brett Whiteley (1939-1992) 'Balmoral' 1975-78 (detail)

 

Brett Whiteley (1939-1992)
Balmoral (detail)
1975-78
Oil and collage on canvas
180 x 204 cm
Collection of the Hunter-Dyer family

 

Nancy Kilgour (1904-1954) 'Figures on Manly Beach' c. 1930

 

Nancy Kilgour (1904-1954)
Figures on Manly Beach
c. 1930
Oil on canvas
76 x 117 cm
Manly Art Gallery and Museum, Sydney
Purchase with the assistance of the NSW Ministry for the Arts, 1986

 

 

Nancy Kilgour’s artificial arrangement of figures is believed to have been painted in the 1930s before Charles Meere painted his highly contrived composition Australian Beach Pattern, 1940. The staged poses create a tableau of Australians enjoying the freedoms of life on the beach. What is interesting about Kilgour’s painting is that a number of people are depicted fully clothed. so the emphasis is not so much on toned physiques but rather the pleasures of relaxing on the beach. The painting is also unusual because, whereas most beach scenes are cast in brilliant sunshine, the figures in the foreground in this painting are rendered in shadow suggesting the presence of the towering Norfolk Island Pine trees which form a crescent along the Manly foreshore.

 

Norma Bull. 'Bathing Beach' c. 1950-60s

 

Norma Bull (1906-1980)
Bathing Beach
c. 1950s-60s
Oil on aluminium
30.5 x 40 cm
Collection of the Warrnambool Art Gallery, Victoria

 

 

Norma Bull began her career at the National Gallery School in 1929, Receiving acclaim for her portraits she won the Sir John Longstaff Scholarship in 1937 and travelled to London where she worked as a war artist during the Second World War. After nine years in Europe, Bull returned to Australia and spent the next year following Wirth’s Circus, painting acrobats, clowns and scenes from circus life. She settled in the Melbourne suburb of Surrey Hills and spent her summer holidays at Anglesea which provided the opportunity to paint seascapes and beach scenes.

 

George W. Lambert. 'Anzacs bathing in the sea' 1915

George W. Lambert. 'Anzacs bathing in the sea' 1915 (detail)

 

George W. Lambert (1867-1930)
Anzacs bathing in the sea (full and detail)
1915
Oil on canvas
25 x 34 cm
Mildura Arts Centre
Senator R.D. Elliott Bequest, presented to the City of Mildura by Mrs Hilda Elliott, 1956

 

 

George Lambert, Australia’s official war artist, travelled to Gallipoli where he created detailed studies of large battle scenes. He also painted a number of smaller, more intimate works which were execute rapidly on the spot such as this scene of men bathing in the sea. Lambert’s focus is the musculature of their bodies. They are depicted as exemplars of heroic Australian masculinity. Historian C.E.W. Bean reflected in the 1920s that it was through the events on Anzac Cove on 25th April 1915 ‘that the consciousness of Australian nationhood was born.’1 In this respect the painting can be seen to have baptismal overtures.

  1. C.E.W. Bean, Official history of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 Volume 2, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1934, p. 346.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, second left, Anne Zahalka’s The girls #2, Cronulla Beach (2007, below). At left on the far wall John Anderson’s Abundance (2015, below) followed by John Hopkins The crowd (1970, below)

 

Anne-Zahalka-The-girls-#2-WEB

 

Anne Zahalka (b. 1957)
The girls #2, Cronulla Beach
2007
From the series Scenes from the Shire 2007
Type C photograph
73.3 x 89.2 cm
Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Gift of the artist, 2012

 

John Anderson (b. 1947) 'Abundance' (detail) 2015

 

John Anderson (b. 1947)
Abundance (detail)
2015
Oil on linen
Courtesy of the artist and Australian Galleries, Melbourne and Sydney

 

John Hopkins. 'The crowd' 1970

 

John Hopkins (b. 1943)
The crowd
1970
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
172.7 x 245.2 cm
Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Gift of the artist, 1974

 

Polixeni Papaetrou born Australia 1960 'Ocean Man' 2013

 

Polixeni Papaetrou (b. 1960)
Ocean Man
2013
From the series The Ghillies 2012-13
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

 

The ghillie suit is a form of camouflage originally used by hunters and the military. recently popularised in the video game, Call of duty, the ghillie suit is worn a Pxpapetrou’s son, Solomon, who poses on the beach at Queenscliff. Appearing neither man nor nature, his indistinct form speaks of transformation and becoming – of prison and absence. By depicting the figure as some sort of monster emerging from the depths of the ocean, pxpapetrou creates an image that draws upon Jungian understanding of the sea as a symbol of the collective unconscious – both a source of life and return.

 

 

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Civic Reserve, Dunns Road, Mornington

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

30
Nov
14

Review: ‘PHOTOGRAPHY MEETS FEMINISM: Australian women photographers 1970s-80s’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 17th October – 7th December 2014

Artists: Micky Allan, Pat Brassington, Virginia Coventry, Sandy Edwards, Anne Ferran, Sue Ford, Christine Godden, Helen Grace, Janina Green, Fiona Hall, Ponch Hawkes, Carol Jerrems, Merryle Johnson, Ruth Maddison, Julie Rrap, Robyn Stacey.

Curator: Shaune Lakin

 

 

With the National Gallery of Victoria’s photography exhibition program sliding into oblivion – the apparent demise of its only dedicated photography exhibition space on the 3rd floor of NGV International; the lack of exhibitions showcasing ANY Australian artists from any era; and the exhibition of perfunctory overseas exhibitions of mediocre quality (such as the high gloss, centimetre deep Alex Prager exhibition on show at the moment at NGV International) – it is encouraging that Monash Gallery of Art consistently puts on some of the best photography exhibitions in this city. This cracker of an exhibition, the last show curated by Shaune Lakin before his move to the National Gallery of Australia (and his passionate curatorial concept), is no exception. It is one of the best photography exhibitions I have seen all year in Melbourne.

Most of the welcome, usual suspects are here… but seeing them all together is a feast for the eyes and the intellect. While most are social documentary based photographers what I like about this exhibition is that there is little pretension here. The artists use photography as both a means and an end, to tell their story – of mothers, of workers, of dancers, of lovers – and to depict a revolution in social consciousness. What we must remember is the period in which this early work appeared. In the 1970s in Australia there were no formal photography programs at university and photography programs in techs and colleges were only just beginning: Photography Studies College (1973) in South Melbourne, Prahran College of Advanced Education (Paul Cox, John Cato, 1974) and Preston Tech (c. 1973, later Phillip Institute) were all set up in the early 1970s. The National Gallery of Victoria photography department was only set up in 1969 (the third ever in the world) with Jenny Boddington, Assistant Curator of Photography, was appointed in 1972 (later to become the first full time photography curator). There were three commercial photography galleries showing Australian and international work in Melbourne: Brummels (Rennie Ellis), Church Street Photographic Centre (Joyce Evans) and The Photographers Gallery (Paul Cox, John Williams, William Heimerman and Ian Lobb). While some of the artists attended these schools and others were self taught, few had their own darkroom. It was not uncommon for people to develop their negatives and print in bathrooms, toilets, backyard sheds and alike – and the advise was to switch on the shower before printing to clear the dust out of the air, advise in workshops that people did no bat an eyelid at.

What these women did, as Julie Millowick (another photographer who should have been in this exhibition, along with Elizabeth Gertsakis and Ingeborg Tyssen for example) observes of the teaching of John Cato, was “bring to the work knowledge that extended far beyond picking up a camera or going into a darkroom. He [Cato] believed that you must bring to every image you create a wide depth of insight across social, cultural and historical concerns. John was passionate in his belief that an understanding of humanity and society was crucial to our growth as individuals, and ultimately our success as photographers.”1 And so it is with these artists. Never has there been a time in Australian photography when so much social change has been documented by so few for such great advantage. In all its earthiness and connection, the work of these artists is ground breaking. It speaks from the heart for the abused, for the disenfranchised and downtrodden. The work is not only for women by women, as Ponch Hawkes states, but also points the way towards a more enlightened society by opening the eyes of the viewer to multiple points of view, multiple perspectives.

There are few “iconic” images among the exhibition and, as Robert Nelson notes in his review in The Age, little pretension to greatness. One of the surprising elements of the exhibition is how the four photographs by Carol Jerrems (including the famous Vale Street, 1975), seem to loose a lot of their power in this company. They are out muscled in terms of their presence by some of the more essential and earthy series – such as Women at work by Helen Grace and Our mums and us by Ponch Hawkes – and out done in terms of their sensuality by the work of Christine Godden. These were my two favourite bodies of work: Our mums and us and Christine Godden’s sequence of 44 images and the series Family.

Hawkes’ objective series of mother/daughter relationships are deceptively simple in their formal structure (mother and daughter positioned in family homes usually looking directly at the camera), until you start to analyse them. Their unpretentious nature is made up of the interaction that Hawkes elicites from the pairing and the objet trouvé that are worn (the cowgirl boots in Ponch and Ida, 1976) or surround them (the carpet, the table, the plant and the painting in Mimi and Dany, 1976). This relationship adds to the power of the assemblage, juxtaposition of energy and form being a guiding principle in the construction of the image. While the environment might be ‘natural’ it is very much constructed, both physically and psychologically, by the artist.

The work of Christine Godden was a revelation to me. These small, intense images have a powerful magnetism and I kept returning to look at them again and again. There is sensitivity to subject matter, but more importantly a sensuality in the print that is quite overwhelming. Couple this with the feeling of light, space, form and texture and these sometimes fragmentary photographs are a knockout. Just look at the sensitivity of the hands in Untitled, c. 1976. To see that, to capture it, to reveal it to the world – I was almost in tears looking at this photograph. The humanity of that gesture is something that I will treasure.

The only criticism of the exhibition is the lack of a book that addresses one of the most challenging times in Australian photographic history. This important work deserves a fully researched, scholarly publication that includes ALL the players in the story, not just those represented here. It’s about time. As a good friend of mine recently said, “Circles must expand as history moves away from a generation and cohort and, hopefully, the future will ask its own questions” … and I would add, without putting the blinkers on and creating more ideology.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Footnotes

1. Julie Millowick and Christopher Atkins. “Dr John Cato – Educator,” in Paul Cox and Bryan Gracey (eds.,). John Cato Retrospective. Melbourne: Wilkinson Publishing, 2013.

.
Many thankx to the Monash 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.

 

 

“As feminism took off among intellectuals of both sexes, art history would sometimes be interrogated to account for the reasons why there were relatively few great female artists.

While art historians would create reasonable apologies and impute the deficit to centuries of disadvantage to women, it was left to women artists to construct a view of art that redefined the stakes.

They sought a vision that didn’t see art as line-honours in transcendent inventions but a conversation that furthered the sympathy and consciousness of the community”

.
Robert Nelson The Age Wednesday November 5, 2014

 

 

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled' 1984 (1)

 

Pat Brassington
Untitled
1984 (1)
From the series 1 + 1 = 3
Gelatin silver print
18 x 28 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Courtesy of the artist, ARC ONE Gallery (Melbourne), Stills Gallery (Sydney) and Bett Gallery (Hobart)

 

Pat Brassington‘s photographs have often made use of the artist’s home and family life as subject matter. The photographs included in this exhibition were taken during the early 1980s and, with their tight cropping and diagonal obliques, suggest that family life is an anxious and ambivalent place. Erotically charged body parts – whether partner’s or offspring – are left to hang, like fetish objects drifting through a dream. Brassington is consciously mining the clichés of psychoanalysis, with her focus on shoes, panties and an ominous father figure, but she reworks this symbolism with a comical lightness that is closer to a teen horror film than the analyst’s couch.

 

Helen Grace. 'Women at work, Newcastle' 1976

 

Helen Grace
Women at work, Newcastle
1976
From the series Series 1
Gelatin silver prints
17.5 x 11.6 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Helen Grace. 'Women at work, Newcastle' 1976

 

Helen Grace
Women at work, Newcastle
1976
From the series Series 2
Gelatin silver prints
11.6 x 17.5 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Helen Grace. 'Women at work, Newcastle' (detail) 1976

 

Helen Grace
Women at work, Newcastle (detail)
1976
From the series Series 2
Gelatin silver prints
11.6 x 17.5 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Helen Grace was a member of the Sydney-based feminist collective Blatant Image (which also included Sandy Edwards), which formed around the Tin Sheds at Sydney University. The collective was interested in examining and reconfiguring the representation of women in popular culture, and also in developing alternative venues for socially conscious art and film. The photographs displayed here point to the two interconnected preoccupations of Grace’s work at this time: the social and cultural construction of motherhood and femininity (and the way that each of these categories are produced by and through consumerism and popular culture), and the documentation of women’s labour. An active member of Sydney’s labour movement, Grace photographed women working in a range of workplaces (including factories and hospitals) for both the historical record and as promotional aids for activist organisations.

Grace’s Women seem to adapt to repetitive-type tasks was widely shown in Sydney and Melbourne, including the exhibition The lovely motherhood show (1981). This work of seven panoramas depicting a string of nappies on a washing line at once points towards the inexorable tediousness of motherhood, and at the same timeattempts to demystify the romantic myths of motherhood found in contemporary advertising and popular culture. Grace’s photographs were also widely used in posters produced by trade union and women’s groups. During the 1970s and 1980s screen printing was a cheap and effective way to incorporate photographic imagery into posters. Community groups also embraced screen printing because its aesthetic stood in opposition to commercial advertising, and the process lent itself to a do-it-yourself work ethic.

 

Merryle Johnson. 'Outside the big top' 1979-80

 

Merryle Johnson
Outside the big top
1979-80
From the series Circus
Hand coloured gelatin silver prints
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Merryle Johnson, 2014

 

Merryle Johnson‘s photographic feminism sits alongside her contemporaries Micky Allan and Ruth Maddison. In the first instance, it is expressed in the autobiographical nature of her images, which often refer to her family history. And like Allan and Maddison, Johnson also used hand-colouring to reinvigorate documentary photography and to bring a decidedly female perspective to the medium. Johnson’s contribution to feminist photography in Australia is also reflected in her use of photographic sequences – multiple images printed on the same sheet. In these works, the single, perfectly realised photographic image of Modernist photography was replaced with a series of images that draw attention to the fragmentary, contingent and inconclusive nature of photography. The serialisation of photographs also engages a more embodied, spatialised and assertive experience than single pictures alone.

 

Christine Godden. 'Joanie and baby Jade, Larkspur' 1973

 

Christine Godden
Joanie and baby Jade, Larkspur
1973
From the series Family
Gelatin silver print
8.4 x 13.8 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Joanie pregnant' 1972

 

Christine Godden
Joanie pregnant
1972
From the series Family
Gelatin silver print
15.3 x 22.6 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' c. 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
c. 1976
Gelatin silver print
15.3 x 22.8 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' c. 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
c. 1976
Gelatin silver print
15.2 x 22.7 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' c. 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
c. 1976
Gelatin silver print
15.2 x 22.8 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden’s Untitled c. 1976 is part of a sequence of 44 images that represented fragments and textures that combine tenderness and formal rigour in a way that evokes a sense of poetry. The series Family c. 1973 details the domestic environment and experience of young families in the American West.

As well as presenting subjects that engaged a ‘feminine’ subject, Godden’s photographs critically interrogate many of the claims for a distinctly ‘feminine sensibility’ being made by and for women artists at this time. The ‘Untitled’ prints on display here were originally exhibited in 1976 at George Paton Gallery, Melbourne and the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney. These pictures were originally shown as part of a tightly organised sequence of 44 photographs intended to show ‘how women see [and] how women think’. The tightly cropped glimpses of bodies and textures combine tenderness and formal rigour in a way that evokes a sense of visual poetry.

Christine Godden’s Family series comprises a large number of images detailing the domestic environment and experience of young families living in the American west. Godden was at this time a student at the San Francisco Art Institute and was very active in feminist networks, including the Advocates for Women organisation, for whom she photographed events and actions. Godden’s Family series documents her experience of the counter-cultural families of America’s west coast, who provided and celebrated a new model of family life and women’s work.

 

Installation view of 'Photography Meets Feminism' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of Photography Meets Feminism at the Monash Gallery of Art with, at right, Anne Ferran’s Scenes on the death of nature, scene I and II (1980-86)

 

Anne Ferran. 'Scenes on the death of nature, scene I' 1980-86

 

Anne Ferran
Scenes on the death of nature, scene I
1980-86
Gelatin silver print
122.0 x 162.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Courtesy the artist and Sutton Gallery (Melbourne)

 

Anne Ferran‘s series Scenes on the death of nature presents five tableau-like scenes showing the artist’s daughter and her friends in classical dress. When they were first exhibited, commentators noted the enigmatic quality of the images, and how they resisted clear meaning, narrative and any attribute of personal style. To many, they represented a significant shift away from documentary photography. This might well be the ‘death’ to which the titles refer. For the critic Adrian Martin, the pictures appeared to evoke myth, while also being ambivalent about a photograph’s capacity to point to or allude to anything outside of itself; in this way, they can be seen to exemplify a certain post-modern approach to photography.

All the same, it is possible to see these important pictures as signposts for another kind of death. The photographs allude to some of the ways that the subject of girl/woman has been produced through visual culture, whether the monumental friezes of classical or Victorian architecture, or Pre-Raphaelite tableaux. In this way, they evoke the idea of ‘femininity’ as a source of meaning. Rather than rejoicing in, resisting or critiquing ‘femininity’ as earlier feminist photographers might have done, Ferran’s pictures remain steadfastly, even ‘passively’ ambivalent. As the artist wrote at the time, the works reveal ‘very little of a personal vision or private sensibility’. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of four Carol Jerrems photographs with 'Vale Street' (1975) at left

 

Installation view of four Carol Jerrems photographs with Vale Street (1975) at left and Lynn
(1976) at right

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Vale Street' 1975

 

Carol Jerrems
Vale Street
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Lynn' 1976

 

Carol Jerrems
Lynn
1976
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

 

Carol Jerrems was one of a number of Australian women whose work during the 1970s challenged the dominant ideas of what a photographer was and how they worked. She adopted a collaborative approach to making photographs, which often featured friends and associates, and sought a photographic practice that would bring about social change. For Jerrems, as for many of her contemporaries, the photograph was an agent of social change, a means of both bringing people together and creating active and engaged social relationships. As she stated:
.

I really like people … I try to reveal something about people, because they are so separate, so isolated; maybe it’s a way of bringing people together … I care about [people], I’d like to help them if I could, through my photographs…

.
The iconic Vale Street shows Jerrems’s friend Catriona Brown standing in front of Mark Lean and Jon Bourke, teenage boys from Heidelberg Technical School where Jerrems was teaching at the time. The photograph was taken at a house in Vale Street, St Kilda. Although it is unclear if Jerrems conceived of this image as a feminist gesture, the subject’s assertive, bare-chested pose and Venus symbol led to this photograph being interpreted as a statement of feminist power.

 

Installation view of 'Photography Meets Feminism' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation view of 'Photography Meets Feminism' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation views of Photography Meets Feminism at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of Ponch Hawkes series 'Our mums and us' at the exhibition 'Photography Meets Feminism'

 

Installation view of Ponch Hawkes series Our mums and us at the exhibition Photography Meets Feminism. Her photographs were made by women, of women, for women.

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Ponch and Ida' 1976

 

Ponch Hawkes
Ponch and Ida
1976
From the series Our mums and us
Gelatin silver print
17.7 x 12.7 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Ian Bracegirdle 2012
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Lorna and Mary' 1976

 

Ponch Hawkes
Lorna and Mary
1976
From the series Our mums and us
Gelatin silver print
17.7 x 12.7 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Ian Bracegirdle 2012
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Mimi and Dany' 1976

 

Ponch Hawkes
Mimi and Dany
1976
From the series Our mums and us
Gelatin silver print
17.7 x 12.7 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Ian Bracegirdle 2012
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ponch Hawkes‘s best-known series Our mums and us documents a selection of the photographer’s contemporaries standing with their mothers. The photographs were taken at each subject’s family home and record generational shifts in personal style and domestic decor. Originally shown at Brummels Gallery of Photography in 1976, which was Hawkes’s first solo exhibition, Our mums and us has become one of the most celebrated examples of feminist photography in Australia.

The use of pronouns in the title suggests the series was made by women, of women and for women; it is a defiant and celebratory feminist gesture, which foregrounds women as at once independent and connected to each other. Reflecting on the series, Hawkes explains that ‘feminism helped me to understand that my mother was actually a woman too, and not just a mother, and Our mums and us came out of that realisation.’

 

installation-i

installation-j

installation-k

installation-l

installation-h

 

Ephemera and books from Ponch Hawkes personal collection, including the cover of the seminal book A Book About Australian Women by Carol Jerrems and Virginia Fraser (Melbourne, 1974)

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Vehicle Builders Union Ball, Collingwood Town Hall, Melbourne' 1979

 

Ruth Maddison
Vehicle Builders Union Ball, Collingwood Town Hall, Melbourne
1979
From the series Let’s dance
Gelatin silver print
27.0 x 18.0 cm
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Women’s dance, St Kilda Town Hall, Melbourne' 1985

 

Ruth Maddison
Women’s dance, St Kilda Town Hall, Melbourne
1985
Gelatin silver print
36.5 x 24.5 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ruth Maddison photographed the social spaces that had been important to activist communities but which were in the process of passing away. These were mainly commissioned projects for labour and social movements, otherwise these histories would have been lost.

Dancing and entertainment were features of Ruth Maddison’s work throughout the 1980s. These photographs reflected Maddison’s own social life, which often revolved around Melbourne’s pubs and nightclubs. But there was also a classical documentary function to her photographs of trade union dances and the annual women’s dance at St Kilda Town Hall. These pictures reflected social spaces that had been important to activist communities, but which by the mid-1980s were in the process of passing away; as women’s groups began to fragment, and as the membership of labour organisations changed. The photographs shown here of the Vehicle Builders’ Union Ball at Collingwood Town Hall were part of a commission. Like many photographers in this exhibition (including Helen Grace, Sandy Edwards and Ponch Hawkes), political affiliation and professional practice often came together in commissioned projects for labour and social movements.

 

Virginia Coventry. 'Miss World televised' 1974

 

Virginia Coventry
Miss World televised
1974
Gelatin silver print
15.5 x 13.5 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Miss World televised is typical of Virginia Coventry‘s photographic work from this period, which tended to revolve around tightly organised sequences of pictures of the same subject (swimming pools in a Queensland town; the spaces between houses) or an event (a car moving through a carwash; a receding flood).

At the time, Coventry shared a house with Micky Allan. One night, while watching Allan’s black-and-white television, she saw footage of the 1974 Miss World pageant on the news. Immediately taken by the way the poor reception distorted the bodies of the contestants, Coventry began to photograph the footage. Once she developed the film, she realised the visual ‘disruption’ caused by the incongruity of the telecast process and the camera’s shutter speed obscured the figures and the beauty of the contestants, without necessarily deriding or critiquing the women themselves. As Coventry has written of the pictures: “I remember discussions with other women at the time about the way that the distortions offered a protection to the integrity of the actual person in the photo-images. Because of the radical slippage between reportage and reception, the individual is no longer the subject. The title operates to focus attention on Miss World telecast as a quiteabstract construction – as do the black-and-white, grainy, prints.”

 

 

PHOTOGRAPHY MEETS FEMINISM: Australian women photographers 1970s-80s looks at the vital relationship of photography and feminism in Australia during the 1970s and ’80s.

Given the vitality of both feminist politics and art photography during the 1970s, it is not surprising that they entered into a lively exchange that extended into the 1980s. On the one hand, feminists used the highly informative and accessible medium of photography to raise awareness of critical social issues.

On the other hand, photographic artists embraced feminist themes as a way of making their practice less esoteric and more engaged with contemporary life. This productive intersection of feminism and photography fostered a range of technical innovations and critical frameworks that made a significant contribution to the direction of visual culture in Australia.

PHOTOGRAPHY MEETS FEMINISM: Australian women photographers 1970s-80s will feature vintage prints of important photographs, many of which have not been seen for decades.

MGA Interim Director, Stephen Zagala states, “We are proud to present this exhibition, which provides an as-yet untold account of Australian photography and draws heavily on MGA’s nationally significant collection of Australian photography.””

Press release from the Monash Gallery of Art

 

“This exhibition explores the encounter between photography and feminist politics during the 1970s and into the 1980s.

Both photography and feminism thrived during this period. Feminist politics of the 1970s expanded on its earlier fight for equal rights by illuminating discrimination against women in various contexts. This included addressing domestic violence, inequality in the workplace, sexism in the media, and the economics of parenting. Alongside this expanded critique of patriarchy, feminist politics also celebrated ‘sisterhood’ by drawing attention to the undervalued achievements of women and by taking pride in distinctly female perspectives on the world.

Photographic practice also expanded its parameters during the 1970s. Together with other art forms such as painting and sculpture, photography became more experimental and irreverent. Most photographic artists rejected the tradition of highbrow fine art photography and invested the medium with personal sentiment and everyday content. The camera also became a useful tool for a generation of artists more interested in social engagement than aesthetic finesse.

Given the vitality of both feminist politics and art photography during the 1970s, it is not surprising that they entered into a lively exchange that extended into the 1980s. On the one hand, feminists used the highly informative and accessible medium of photography to raise awareness of critical social issues. On the other hand, photographic artists embraced feminist themes as a way of making their practice less esoteric and more engaged with contemporary life. This productive intersection of feminism and photography fostered a range of technical innovations and critical frameworks that made a significant contribution to the direction of visual culture in Australia.”

Text from the Monash Gallery of Art website

 

Sue Ford. 'Untitled' 1969-71

 

Sue Ford
Untitled
1969-71
From the series The Tide Recedes
Selenium toned gelatin silver print

 

Sue Ford. 'Untitled' 1969-71

 

Sue Ford
Untitled
1969-71
From the series The Tide Recedes
Selenium toned gelatin silver print

 

Sue Ford‘s series The Tide Recedes 1969-71 was made for her first solo exhibition at the Hawthorn City Art Gallery in 1971. People were becoming more removed from nature but Ford felt that woman share a particular biological and cultural affinity with nature. The contrasty black and white photographs of bodies melding with rocks in montage prints that are as rough as guts work magnificently.

These prints were made as preparation for Sue Ford’s ambitious series The tide recedes, shown as part of Ford’s first solo exhibition at the Hawthorn City Art Gallery in 1971. Throughout this body of work, images of naked women and of men and women embracing merge with a marine landscape. The series expresses Ford’s concern that people were becoming too removed from nature, and allude to the idea that women share
a particular biological and cultural affinity with nature. It also draws on a technique that was central to feminist photographic practice – montage, where two disparate fragments are brought together to produce new and often unexpected meanings. While this reflects Ford’s work as a film maker, where montage is often used in storytelling, this strategy also embeds her pictures in the field of activist art. With montage, it is the viewer who ultimately makes sense of a work, as they find and see connections between disparate fragments.

While the prints presented in the 1971 exhibition were ambitious in scale and resolution, Ford preferred prints that were – in her terms – ‘rough as guts’. Prints such as those shown here represented an explicit rejection of the maleness of both the camera as a technological instrument and the arcane knowledge of the darkroom.

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Queensland out west' 1982

 

Robyn Stacey
Queensland out west
1982
Hand-coloured gelatin silver prints
9.2 x 15.2 (each)
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Queensland out west' 1982 (detail)

Robyn Stacey. 'Queensland out west' 1982 (detail)

Robyn Stacey. 'Queensland out west' 1982 (detail)

 

Robyn Stacey
Queensland out west (details)
1982
Hand-coloured gelatin silver prints
9.2 x 15.2 (each)
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Untitled (Geoff in Bondi)' 1981

 

Robyn Stacey
Untitled (Geoff in Bondi)
1981
From the series Modified myths 1938-88
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
39.0 x 38.3 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Untitled (Picnic)' 1981

 

Robyn Stacey
Untitled (Picnic)
1981
From the series Modified myths 1938-88
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
39.0 x 38.3 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey established a reputation for her hand- coloured prints in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Introduced to the process by Micky Allan, Stacey’s early hand-coloured prints examined the life and culture of Australia, especially her native Queensland. Stacey hand-coloured her photographs so as to invest them with personal attributes: “At the time I was interested in hand colouring [because it was] a technique associated with women’s work and craft. This approach seemed a good way to visually re-enforce the personal and intimate quality of the prints.”

Among Stacey’s most important contributions to the feminist tradition of hand colouring photographs are her pictures of Queensland architecture, taken during a road trip to western Queensland made with her mother. These images refer to an heroic subject in Australian culture – the stoicism of the outback and the people who populate it. But Stacey revises these myths, by presenting the images as intimate and personal.

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Ice' 1989

 

Robyn Stacey
Ice
1989
from the series Redline 7000
Silver dye bleach print
104.0 x 175.3 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2012
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Jet' 1989

 

Robyn Stacey
Jet
1989
from the series Redline 7000
Silver dye bleach print
164.0 x 103.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2012
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

In the late 80s, Stacey began to hand colour her transparencies rather than the print, thereby incorporating an aspect of reproducibility to the images. In this way the work shifted from the unique print, with its references to nostalgia and the careful rendering of places and times, to something resembling the glossy images found in 1980s’ mass media, especially Hollywood cinema.

 

Julie Rrap. 'Persona and shadow: Madonna' 1984

 

Julie Rrap
Persona and shadow: Madonna
1984
Silver dye bleach print
203.0 x 126.5 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1997
Courtesy of the artist and Arc One Gallery (Melbourne) and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery (Sydney)

 

 

This photograph is from the series of nine works titled Persona and shadow. Julie Rrap produced this series after visiting a major survey of contemporary art in Berlin (Zeitgeist, 1982) which only included one woman among the 45 artists participating in the exhibition. Rrap responded to this curatorial sexism with a series of self-portraits in which she mimics stereotypical images of women painted by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Each pose refers to a female stereotype employed by Munch: the innocent girl, the mother, the whore, the Madonna, the sister, and so on.

Appropriating the work of other artists is one of the strategies that characterises the work of so-called ‘postmodern’ artists active during the 1980s. The practice of borrowing, quoting and mimicking famous artworks was employed as a way of questioning notions of authenticity. Feminist artists tended to use appropriation to specifically question the authenticity of male representations of females. In more straightforward terms, Rrap reclaims Munch’s clichéd images of women and makes them her own. Rrap ultimately becomes an imposter, stealing her way into these masterpieces of art history, but the remarkable thing about these works is the way that the artist foregrounds the process of reappropriation itself. The procedure of restaging, collage, overpainting, and rephotographing becomes part of the final image, testifying to a d0-it-herself politic. (Wall text)

 

Micky Allan. 'Old age' 1978

 

Micky Allan
Old age
1978
From the series Old age
Gelatin silver photograph, hand coloured with watercolour and pencil
18.2 x 12.0 cm
© Micky Allan

 

Micky Allan. 'Old age' 1978

 

Micky Allan
Old age
1978
From the series Old age
Gelatin silver photograph, hand coloured with watercolour and pencil
18.2 x 12.0 cm
© Micky Allan

 

Micky Allan. 'Old age' 1978

 

Micky Allan
Old age
1978
From the series Old age
Gelatin silver photograph, hand coloured with watercolour and pencil
18.2 x 12.0 cm
© Micky Allan

 

Micky Allan’s two series Babies and Old age were shown in Melbourne and Sydney around 1976-77; their reception revealed much about the anxieties that informed photographic criticism and practice at the time, with critics dismissing the works as ‘slight’ and ‘feminine photographs par excellence’. Across a series of exhibitions between 1976 and 1980, Allan challenged many of the established conventions of fine art photography, in both technique and subject. Allan overpainted the black-and-white print with watercolour, gouache and pencil to the extent of both acknowledging the under recognised history of women’s photographic work – historically, women were employed by studios to hand-paint or tone photographic prints – and transgressing the smooth surface of photographic prints that was prized by traditional art photographers.

For Allan, overpainting rejected the technical sameness of modern photography and introduced an emotional warmth. Allan’s hand-colouring also interrupted the myth of photographic transparency – the notion of the photograph as a ‘disinterested’ window onto the world. Overpainted, the photograph became subjective, contingent and fallible. The lightness of many of Allan’s interventions enhances this sense of fallibility. (Wall text)

 

With a body of work ranging across painting, photography and performance, investigations of subjectivity have been central to Micky Allan’s practice. Allan has consistently drawn on feminist strategies which emphasise the personal and autobiographical. In the early 1970s she became involved with the experimental performance and collective activities based at The Pram Factory in Melbourne, working there as both a set designer and a photographer, documenting early feminist work. Of this time Allan has said that she saw “photography as a form of social encounter … that in comparison with painting it [was] much more integrated to what was going on.”1

Allan has acknowledged social documentary as the basis of her photographic work. For a short period she recorded political figures and the surrounding social changes in which she was both a participant and an observer. Old age, the second of three series whose focus is lifecycles (the other two being Babies 1976 and The prime of life 1979-80), comprises 40 hand-coloured individual portraits. Allan introduced the technique of hand-colouring in her work in 1976, a technique taken up by many women photographers at that time to counter the then dominant modes of masculine production. While there is stylistic variation across the series, each portrait, close-up in viewpoint, is meticulously rendered in pastel colours. The images do not capture a simple moment but rather work together to poignantly symbolise a rich regard for age. Of this Allan has said: “Altogether they are an attempt to familiarise and personalise “age”, in a society which tends to ignore or stereotype the old.”2

1. ‘On paper – survey 12’, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 21 Jun ‘ 20 Jul 1980, as quoted in 1987, Micky Allan: perspective 1975-1987, Monash University Gallery, Clayton p. 4
2. Ibid p. 19

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

 

Exhibiting artist’s biographies

Micky Allan (b. Australia 1944) studied Fine Art at the University of Melbourne, and painting at the National Gallery School in the 1960s. Allan began taking photographs in 1974 after joining the loosely formed feminist collective at Melbourne’s experimental arts and theatre space the Pram Factory. During this time Allan was part of a vibrant community of feminist artists that included Virginia Coventry, who taught her how to take and print photographs. Allan returned to painting as her primary medium in the early 1980s.

Pat Brassington (b. Australia 1942) is a Hobart-based artist who studied printmaking and photography at the Tasmanian School of Art, graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in 1985. Brassington draws on a personal archive of visual material to compose her images. This archive includes both photographic and non-photographic material, which has either been found or produced by Brassington. Her work takes inspiration from surrealist photography, with its recurring interest in fetish objects and uncanny domestic scenes. Brassington typically employs digital collage to manufacture disjointed compositions, and she exhibits her work in elliptical series that suggest dream-like narratives.

Virginia Coventry (b. Australia 1942) studied painting at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology during theearly 1960s, before undertaking postgraduate studies at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London. While painting and drawing have been constant features of Coventry’s practice, she started taking photographs during the mid-1960s and developed a significant reputation for her photo-based work during the 1970s. Her photographic work typically engages with socio-political issues and often incorporates textual elements that give it a discursive form.

Sandy Edwards (b. New Zealand 1948 arr. Australia 1961) has been an important figure in Australian photography as both a maker and advocate since the 1970s. Edwards’s practice has paid particular attention to women and their relationship with the media of photography and film. Most of her work is documentary in nature but her photographic prints are often presented in sequences that elaborate conceptual points. Edwards has also been a prolific curator of exhibitions promoting the work of contemporary photographers, especially in Sydney.

Anne Ferran (b. Australia 1949) is a Sydney-based photographer and academic. She studied humanities and teaching before training in photography at Sydney College of the Arts. She began exhibiting her work in the mid-1980s and has become one of Australia’s most critically acclaimed photographers. Ferran’s practice is largely concerned with using photography to reclaim forgotten pasts, with a specific interest in the histories of women and children in colonial Australia. In pursuing this interest, Ferran often develops her projects through archival research and fieldwork.

Sue Ford (Australia 1943-2009) studied photography at RMIT and was the first Australian photographer to be given a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1974. Over the course of her artistic career Ford worked with still photography and moving images, beginning with traditional analogue film and then embracing the possibilities offered by photomedia and digital technologies. In this respect, Ford is a key figure in the history of avant-garde photographic experimentation. Ford’s artworks are also remarkable for their critical engagement with contemporary social issues, while also expressing deeply personal perspectives on the world.

Christine Godden (b. Australia 1947) has played a significant role in Australian photography as a maker, curator and advocate. After studying in Melbourne, Godden completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1975 and a Master of Fine Arts at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, New York in 1980. On her return to Australia, she became director of the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, and was consequently a prominent spokesperson for Australian photography during the 1980s. Her own photography is couched in a highly personal and poetic form of documentary practice.

Helen Grace (b. Australia 1949) is a self-taught artist who began making work as an active member of feminist and labour organisations in Sydney during the mid-1970s. Often straight-forwardly documentary in style, Grace’s approach to photography is closely aligned with political consciousness raising. Her work for the labour and women’s movements was widely circulated around the time of its production, both in the pages of publications and in posters produced by trade unions and women’s groups. Grace’s writing on photography and film, history and politics have also made a significant contribution to the critical discussion that surrounds feminist practice in Australia.

Janina Green (b. Germany 1944 arr. Australia 1949) studied Fine Arts at Melbourne University and Victoria College before training as a printmaker at RMIT. In the 1980s she taught herself photography and subsequently specialised in this medium. Green held her first solo exhibition of photography in 1986 and has exhibited regularly since then, participating in over 30 group exhibitions and producing over 20 solo shows. Green’s photographs are distinguished by their sophisticated and often sensuous surfaces, which testify to her early training in printmaking. In her role as a teacher in the photography department at the Victorian College of the Arts, Green has also played a significant role as a mentor for younger photographers.

Fiona Hall (b. Australia 1953) initially trained as a painter, and has ultimately become a celebrated sculptor, but photography was her primary medium in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Hall developed an interest in photography at art school and worked as an assistant to the well-known landscape photographer Fay Godwin while she lived in London between 1977-78. Hall subsequently studied photography at the Visual Studies Workshop in New York during 1982. Hall’s photographic practice demonstrates a fascination with decoration and style, which is informed by a critical interest in the premise of a ‘feminine’ sensibility.

Ponch Hawkes (b. Australia 1946) took up photography in 1972 while working as a journalist for the counter-cultural magazines Digger and Rolling Stone. Her early photography was informed by her role as a commentator on alternative social issues, and she has often used her images to engage with contemporary critical debates. During the 1970s Hawkes was part of a loosely formed feminist collective based at Melbourne’s experimental arts and theatre space the Pram Factory. Since that time she has continued to work closely with community groups around Australia and remains a key figure in contemporary photographic practice.

Carol Jerrems (Australia 1949-80) was born in Melbourne and studied photography at Prahran Technical College under Paul Cox and Athol Shmith between 1967 and 1970. Although she practised as an artist for only a decade, Jerrems has acquired a celebrated place in the annals of Australian photography. Her reputation is based on her compassionate, formally striking pictures, her intimate connection with the people involved in social movements of the day, and her role in the promotion of ‘art photography’ in this country.

Merryle Johnson (b. Australia 1949) graduated from Bendigo College of Advanced Education in 1969 with a major in painting. She took up photography in 1970 and it subsequently became central to her professional life, both as an arts educator and an exhibiting artist. Johnson’s approach to photography is informed by her broader training as an artist. This is particularly evident in her use of hand-colouring and sequencing. While the subject matter of her images is largely drawn from everyday life, she employs artistic devices to bring a sense of drama and fantasy to documentary photography.

Ruth Maddison (b. Australia 1945) is a self-taught photographer and artist. Maddison began working as a professional photographer in 1976, and she has been regularly exhibiting her work since 1979. Photography has been her primary medium, but in later years her artistic practice has expanded to include moving-image, textiles and sculpture. An interest in personal biography and the celebration of everyday existence informs her artistic practice. She is most well-known for her hand-coloured photographs of domestic life. In 1996 Maddison relocated from Melbourne to Eden, on the south coast of NSW.

Julie Rrap (b. Australia 1950) studied humanities at the University of Queensland (1969-71) before establishing her career as an exhibiting artist in Sydney during the 1980s. Rrap’s involvement with performance art and avant-garde politics during the 1970s laid the foundations for her later work in photography, painting, sculpture and video, which is largely concerned with the representation and experience of women’s bodies. The photographic objectification of female bodies is a persistent theme in Rrap’s work, but her highly expressive self-portraits invest the medium with a subjective intensity that affronts the clinical quality of voyeurism.

Robyn Stacey (b. Australia 1952) is a Sydney-based photographer who has been exhibiting since the mid-1980s. During the 1980s Stacey produced staged or ‘directorial’ photographs that drew on the visual language of cinema and television. Through the 1990s Stacey engaged in further training and study, and experimented extensively with new media including digital photography and lenticular prints. In 2000 Stacey began working with natural history collections in Australia and overseas, using photography to bring the contents of these archives to life. Throughout her career, Stacey has been interested in photography as an expressive medium that can be used to reiterate, remix and reanimate visual information.

 

 

Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri: 10am – 5pm
Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

Monash Gallery of Art website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

02
Nov
14

Review: ‘Victor Hugo: Les Misérables – From Page to Stage’ at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th July – 9th November 2014

 

Devour the main course but don’t stay for dessert

This is an exhibition in two galleries. In the first you are not allowed to take photographs but in the second you can take as many as you want. You are told this as you enter the exhibition but the import of this incantation only becomes apparent much later in your visit.

The first gallery is a profound experience: manuscripts, letters, photographs, paintings, and posters that all relate to the great man and his work Les Misérables. The Charles Marville photographs are sublime (as always) with the width of the vertical prints being the element that I noticed most on this viewing. The space that Marville manages to capture in these vertical images makes them seem almost as wide as they are high giving them an almost panoramic feel, as though the space of the image goes on forever, from side to side and into the distance. There is a wonderful sense of volume in the atmosphere, tones and textures of these images. One juxtaposition is particularly tantalising, the pairing of Marville’s Rue Tirechape (1865) with engravings such as the demolition work for constructing the Boulevard St. Germain by Maxine Lalanne (1827-1886). The illusion that one could be the other is enlightening, and there is an established association (especially in Pictorialist photography) between representation in etching and photography.1

As Philip Ebury observes,

“It has often been said that Pictorial photographs resemble works in other media. The analogy with etchings is especially striking and the comparison is more than physical. Between 1890 and the late 1920s, etching and Pictorial photography had a shared history and many similar aims. Parallels between the two disciplines in Australia had their antecedents in England. In the late nineteenth century many photographers in that country were consciously promoting artistic, as opposed to documentary work. At the same time, printmakers were reviving the art of original etching as an expressive rather than a reproductive medium.”2

But the Charles Marville photographs are not the star of the show, oh no. That is left to five things:

a) An album of which you can see only one leaf in the exhibition, Les Proscrits (‘The Exiles’) (1856, below), but that one leaf is enough. The enigma, light and intimacy of this one page is just magnificent.

b) Equally impressive are the very small intense portraits of Victor Hugo such as the silver gelatin photograph attributed to Arsène Garnier (1820-1909) – dark, atmospheric with Neo-classical sculptures and chandeliers reflected in expansive mirrors, VH propped up by a favourite chair; or Charles Hugo’s salted paper print from a collodion negative of his father in Jersey leaning on the back of a chair (1853-55). The intensity of these portraits is remarkable.

c) Victor Hugo’s own paintings, usually pen and brown ink wash on paper, are also very powerful. In images such as Ma destinée (My destiny) (1867, below) where VH wrote in direct conversation with the ocean and The bowels of the Leviathan (1866) – dark, dank labyrinthine Parisian sewers – Hugo draws you into a world of the disenfranchised, the poor, the destitute and their (and his) destiny.

d) The beautiful theatre posters (1880s-1910s) worth the price of admission on their own

e) Leaving the best till last, the autographed manuscript Volume 1 of Les Misérables in all its glory (the first time it has ever left France), complete with revisions, crossings out and the final version in red, resting innocuously in a glass display cabinet. The psychological weight of the volume is immense. This is getting as close to the ‘source’ as you can possibly get without touching it. I remember once holding a first edition of Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol in my hand. This had that same spine tingling effect.

.
The first gallery assembles this incredible story and builds a glorious intensity of experience. I was on such an elevated level it was great.

And then, in literally two minutes, it was gone… No, no, no, no!

The second gallery is such a let down. It features costumes, posters, pamphlets and video in an exploration of the musical ‘phenomena’ this is the (Disney-fied) Les Misérables. A stage set from the musical with cut our heads so people can have their photo taken, and for performances; very poor quality black and white images of the sets of the theatrical productions of Les Misérables; a cardboard cut-out two-wheeled cart that is the worst thing that you could possibly see; and videos of workshops with men explaining how they are using a bandsaw to create the stage for the musical (as if I want to see that after what has gone before!). From the sublime to the ridiculous. I’m sure the kids might like it but after seeing such an amazing first half of the exhibition, for me this was like being tied with a ball and chain and dropped over the side to sink like a stone. Why do curators insist on doing this. Do they think that they always have to have a “popular” space for the family and the kids these days. That more is really more?

In this case it quite ruined what was up till then an incredible experience. So visit the exhibition for the main course (and don’t take any photos), but if I were you I would turn around after the first gallery and walk out the way I came in, thinking to myself ‘less is more!

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

1. See Ebury, Frances. “Engravers and Etchers, Pictorialists and Photographers,” Part 2, Chapter 2 in Making Pictures: Australian Pictorial Photography as Art 1897 – 1957 Volume 1. Phd thesis, The University of Melbourne, 2001, p. 73.
2. Ibid.,

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

 

 

“As long as social damnation exists, through laws and customs, artificially creating hell at the heart of civilization and muddying a destiny that is divine with human calamity; as long as the three problems of the century – man’s debasement through the proletariat, woman’s demoralisation through hunger, the wasting of the child through darkness – are not resolved … as long as ignorance and misery exist in this world, books like the one you are about to read are, perhaps, not entirely useless.”

.
Victor Hugo, Hauteville House, 1 January 1862

 

 

Victor Hugo. 'Les Misérables vol. 1' 1845-1862

 

Victor Hugo
Les Misérables vol. 1
1845-1862
Autograph manuscript
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Victor Hugo. 'Title page of 'Les Misérables' vol. 1' 1845-1862

 

Victor Hugo
Title page of Les Misérables vol. 1
1845-1862
Autograph manuscript
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Victor Hugo. 'Paris' Paris, 1867

 

Victor Hugo
Paris
Paris, 1867
Maison Littéraire de Victor Hugo

 

Victor Hugo. 'Ma destinée (My destiny)' 1867

 

Victor Hugo
Ma destinée (My destiny)
1867
Ink and brown-ink wash
© Maisons de Victor Hugo / Roger-Viollet

 

'Les Proscrits' ('The Exiles') 1856

 

Les Proscrits (‘The Exiles’)
1856
Album of photographs
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Album The Exiles – Victor Hugo and his circle of friends in exile started in Guernsey on the 1st January 1856. The album creates an allegorical portrait of VH. His family is represented by Victor Hugo’s hand (left), Adele’s hand (right), Marine Terrace their home in Jersey 1852-56 (centre) and VH posing at his desk in his study at Hauterville House, Guernsey, where he completed Les Misérables surrounded by sunlight. The page appears in the posting the correct way up, as it appears in the album.

 

Les Proscrits ('The Exiles') album (detail of page) 1856

 

Victor Hugo’s hand
From the album Les Proscrits (‘The Exiles’) (detail of page)
1856
Album of photographs
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Les Proscrits ('The Exiles') album (detail of page) 1856

 

Victor Hugo posing at his desk in his study at Hauterville House, Guernsey
From the album Les Proscrits (‘The Exiles’) (detail of page)
1856
Album of photographs
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Edmond Bacot. 'Victor Hugo en 1862' (Victor Hugo in 1862)

 

Edmond Bacot
Victor Hugo en 1862 (Victor Hugo in 1862)
1862
Maison de Victor Hugo
Image © Edmond Bacot / Maisons de Victor Hugo / Roger-Viollet

 

Auguste Rodin. 'Victor Hugo, buste dit À l'Illustre Maître' (Victor Hugo, bust known as 'To the illustrious master') 1883

 

Auguste Rodin
Victor Hugo, buste dit À l’Illustre Maître (Victor Hugo, bust known as ‘To the illustrious master’)
1883
Musée Rodin

 

Rodin states that Hugo would not pose. “I worked out on the veranda. I observed him swiftly, but carefully as he refused to pose. He accepted to be looked at, from all angles, but he would not pose. And so I looked at his conscience. And this is how I was able to capture the real Hugo.”

 

 

When the first two volumes of Les Misérables arrived in Paris in April 1862, all 6000 copies sold in a day. Public readings were organised when copies sold out. Everyone was reading it, from the literary intelligentsia to the common people. It was also quickly translated into nine languages to reach a global audience. After only three months, 100,000 authorised copies (and countless editions on the black market) had been sold worldwide, making the novel into an unprecedented literary bestseller of western literature. In 1870 after the fall of Napoleon III, Hugo returned to France and was hailed a national hero.

Victor Hugo’s legacy and the iconic story of Les Misérables endure to this day with various adaptations being created around the world. There have been at least 48 films, 14 animated films or TV series, radio plays, 12 television miniseries, numerous comic books, and at least 286 editions of Les Misérables published, sung and spoken. The stage musical of Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables is in itself a worldwide phenomenon. It is the longest running theatre performance in London and has been seen by over 65 million people in 43 countries and in 21 languages. It returns to Melbourne in June 2014.

About Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo is considered one of the most important and influential authors of the 19th century. Through his transformative literary works and political activism, French society’s most vulnerable were given a voice in a nation ruled by those with power and privilege. Best known for his novels Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame Hugo is also acclaimed for his theatre, essays, drawings and poetry.

Born in Besançon, France in 1802, Hugo was the son of an atheist and anti-monarchist French General and a Catholic pro-monarchist mother. A precocious talent, Hugo’s first work was published at the age of 15. His debut as a professional writer soon followed with the release of his first volume of romantic poems; Ode et poésies diverses in 1822Many of his early romantic works drew inspiration from his childhood sweetheart and wife Adele Foucher, with whom he had four children. Another powerful female influence on Hugo’s writings was his mistress of more than fifty years, Juliette Drouet.

As Hugo’s career progressed, his aptitude and fondness for romantic literature was matched by his passion for addressing themes of disadvantage and poverty. Hugo’s first major masterpiece The Hunchback of Notre Dame published in 1831 reflected his interest in highlighting such prejudices. However, it was his greatest masterpiece, Les Misérables, that first challenged and then changed the social and political understanding of poverty, disadvantage and inherited privilege in society. In Les Misérables Hugo casts an ex-convict, Jean Valjean, as the revered protagonist and paints a villain of the character representing authority and privilege, Inspector Javert.

Hugo dedicated 17 years of his life to plan and write the epic three part story beginning in the early 1840s and finally publishing the novel in 1862. In addition to his social and political sympathies, Hugo drew from many of his own personal experiences and professional turmoil to inform the characters and themes in Les Misérables. These included the tragic drowning of his eldest daughter, Leopoldine, in a boating accident in 1843, and Hugo’s exile from France by Louis Napoleon III in 1851 – a result of his public opposition to the increasingly authoritarian rule of the self-declared emperor.

From his exile on the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey where he lived for 19 years, Hugo maintained his trenchent opposition to the political status quo and the death penalty, while also publishing widely and spending three years finishing his magnum opus Les Misérables. When Les Misérables finally hit the stands in Paris in 1862 the response by the public was explosive. All 6000 copies sold out in a day, and three months later the book was an international best seller and had been translated into nine languages. Following the success of Les Misérables Hugo returned to France in 1870 after the fall of Napoleon III and was hailed a national hero. He continued to work until he died on 22 May 1885. At his state funeral it was estimated that close to two million people attended. Hugo’s wish to be buried in a pauper’s coffin was granted and his body lay in state under the Arc de Triomphe until he was interred in the Panthéon.

Today Victor Hugo’s extraordinary legacy continues. Les Misérables has been published in at least 250 editions since 1862, 48 films have been made of the story and the Boublil and Schönberg Les Misérables musical has been seen by over 65 million people worldwide in 42 countries and 22 languages, and is one of the most popular musicals of all time. Victor Hugo is remembered as an international literary giant and a French national hero.

Themes

The possibility that the condemned can rise above poverty and degradation to become good and honourable, and perhaps above all to fight for freedom of body and soul.

 

Charles Marville. 'Percement de l'avenue de l'Opéra' (Clearing of the Avenue de l'Opéra) c. 1876

 

Charles Marville
Percement de l’avenue de l’Opéra (Clearing of the Avenue de l’Opéra)
c. 1876
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Rue Soufflot (pendant la démolition)' (Rue Soufflot [during demolition]) c. 1876-77

 

Charles Marville
Rue Soufflot (pendant la démolition) (Rue Soufflot [during demolition])
c. 1876-77
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Avenue d'Iéna' c. 1877

 

Charles Marville
Avenue d’Iéna
c. 1877
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Boulevard Haussmann' c. 1877

 

Charles Marville
Boulevard Haussmann
c. 1877
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Cour du Dragon' c. 1863-1869

 

Charles Marville
Cour du Dragon, Rue de Taranne
c. 1863-1869
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Rue Tirechape' c. 1863-69

 

Charles Marville
Rue Tirechape
c. 1863-69
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Rue de Fontaines' c. 1863-69

 

Charles Marville
Rue de Fontaines
c. 1863-69
State Library of Victoria

 

129_SLV_Marville_Rude-du-Marche-aux-fleurs-WEB

 

Charles Marville
Rue du Marche aux fleurs
c. 1863-69
State Library of Victoria

 

Paul Carpentier. 'Episode du 29 juillet 1830, rue Chilperic, face á la colonnade du Louvre' (Event of 29 July 1830, rue Chilperic, before the colonnade of the Louvre) 1830

 

Paul Carpentier
Episode du 29 juillet 1830, rue Chilperic, face á la colonnade du Louvre (Event of 29 July 1830, rue Chilperic, before the colonnade of the Louvre)
1830
© Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet

 

Ff110366_WEB

 

Charles Méryon
Le petit pont (The little bridge)
1850
National Gallery of Victoria, purchased 1891

 

36_BNF_I-Miserabili-WEB

 

Ottavio Rodella Tavio
Poster for I Miserabili di Victor Hugo (Les Misérables by Victor Hugo)
1890
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

'Les Misérables by Victor Hugo' New York, Classics Illustrated no. 9 1950

 

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
New York, Classics Illustrated no. 9
1950
State Library of Victoria

 

Design by Slawomir Kitowski. 'Les Misérables poster' 1989-2000

 

Design by Slawomir Kitowski
Les Misérables
poster
1989-2000
Teatr Muzyczny, Gdynia, Poland
Courtesy Cameron Mackintosh Ltd

 

 

State Library of Victoria
328 Swanston St,
Melbourne VIC 3000
T: (03) 8664 7000

Opening hours:
Sunday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Monday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Tuesday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Wednesday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Thursday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Friday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Saturday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm

State Library of Victoria website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

 

21
Oct
14

Review: ‘Crossing Paths with Vivian Maier’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd October – 26th October 2014

Artists: Cherine Fahd, Vivian Maier, Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano, Debra Phillips, Patrick Pound, Clare Rae, Simone Slee, David Wadelton And Kellie Wells and Vivian Maier.

Curators: Naomi Cass, Louise Neri and Karra Rees

 

Over rated and over here…

Apologies to the wonderful and hard working Director of the CCP Naomi Cass for what I am about to say, but this is one of the most disappointing photographic exhibitions in Melbourne this year.

Let’s start with the Australian work. There is nothing at all wrong with any of the Australian work. Some of it is very strong, such as the found images of Patrick Pound and the social documentary work of David Wadelton. The problem comes with the lack of connection to the photographs of Vivian Maier. For work that is supposed to be “crossing paths” conceptually with the images of Maier many of the connections are so esoteric as to be almost indistinguishable, so obtuse (as Tim Robbins would say in the Shawshank Redemption) as to be almost unintelligible to the uninitiated. Where the work is conceptualised around the performative context of identity and the occupation of space(s), such as in Claire Rae’s digital colour lightbox images of people jumping in the air stopped in suspended animation or the beautiful reinscription of the body in the almost dance like video work of Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano, then the juxtaposition simply does not work. The ties that bind one to another simply are not strong enough to sustain the inquiry of the viewer. More interesting would have been the investigation of the concept of an artist taking photographs in her own time, hidden, secretive, and then being discovered later after she had died – which brings up issues of visibility (the cameras and her gendered own), celebrity, posthumous recreation of identity, the fame of the artist after death, and how the self-portraits fit into this theme etc…

.
The photographs by Vivian Maier printed by ? are far more disappointing.

Touted as the NEXT BIG THING by curators who are always looking for the next big thing and people out to make a healthy buck or two, VM is a person who has been “posthumously invented” and her work, which was largely unprinted during her lifetime, has been brought to market in a commercial process. As Abigail Solomon-Godeau notes at the end of her excellent essay “Inventing Vivian Maier” on the Jeu de Paume website:

“Here one can see how the terms of an “aesthetic” discourse within the world of contemporary photography, turning on the individual author and her work, and the far less lofty realities of market and marketing, property relations, public relations, media relations and all the other apparatuses, illuminate one another, or even collide. “Her big project,” remarks Michael Williams, “was her life,” but perhaps the even larger project is her posthumous invention.”

.
With this invention in mind (and the product that you want to sell being paramount), you would have thought that the people who now control her archive would have got a damn good black and white printer to print the work. But no. Some of the prints are appalling, so flat that there is little if any true black in them at all. As for the content of the images, they look better in reproduction than they do in real life. Maier, as I have said elsewhere, is a competent photographer – but she will never be a great photographer. Periodically (and I use the word my female friend supplied) she is very good, but too often she lapses into cliche. There are lots of low depth of field photographs but the construction of the images is cold and stilted, there is little engagement it would seem but for the snap of the shutter as she wanders around city after city, keeping the resulting negatives securely hidden.

There is also little mystery in her photographs which is probably why they don’t rise to that next level: look at the photograph of the two men staring at a length of hose on the ground on a rainy street in NY. The hose just sits there, the men are caught mid-gesture… and that’s it. Lots of her photographs are like this. And there also seem to be some anger towards the world as well. If you compare the photograph of the two boys, Undated, Canada (below) with that of the twins by Diane Arbus, there seems to be a darkness and maelevolence to VM’s photograph that contrasts with the mystery and joy in that of Arbus – not so much in the subject matter but in the feeling that the photographer projects towards what she is photographing.

There is a coldness when you see the prints in the flesh (like the wind whistling off Lake Michigan onto the Chicago streets), an ice chill, a lack of humour, something that is a little creepy and screwy (if you will pardon the colloquialism) about the work. She wants us to know she is there in the photograph, even when she is not physically present, as in the image September 18, 1962 (below) where the viewer understands that the photographer is down on one knee to get the shot. There is also a healthy dose of narcissism in the photographs: the self-portraits with this serious woman peering back at us, one who’s eyes hardly ever smile (you can tell a lot from a person’s eyes!) are not psychological investigations like the self-portraits of Rembrandt as he ages throughout the years – portraits in which Rembrandt explores what it is to be him – they are something more obsessive which VM then hides under a bushel. The use of fragmentation and shadows in the two self-portraits that I have put together (New York City, September 10, 1955 and Self-Portrait; October 18, 1953, New York, NY, below) speak of a schism inside the person, one who exposes herself through photography and then possesses but disclaims the results.

People have been flocking to see the film with sold out sessions all over the city, and they were flocking into the CCP to see the exhibition last Saturday when we were there. People love the back story as it has been sold to them by “marketing, property relations, public relations, media relations and all the other apparatuses” and there has been a veritable feeding frenzy about this work: THE DISCOVERY OF KING TUT’S TOMB WITH 100,000 NEGATIVES AND ASSORTED ARTEFACTS!

.
Kudos to the CCP for getting these images to Australia and exhibiting them and its great to see so many people in the gallery but please, let’s understand the hype and then really look at the work. The ART in FACT is that these are not well printed images, and most of them are pretty prosaic in composition and feeling. There are maybe four really good images, but that is about it. As always, go and see for yourself and keep my words in mind.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

 

“I don’t believe in reincarnation but in a previous life I did!”

.
Frederick White

 

 

Vivian Maier. 'East 108th Street. September 28, 1959, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
East 108th Street. September 28, 1959, New York, NY
1959
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'August 1960. Chicago, IL' 1960

 

Vivian Maier
August 1960. Chicago, IL
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, Canada'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, Canada
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Diane Arbus. 'Identical twins, Roselle, N.J. 1967' 1967

 

Diane Arbus
Identical twins, Roselle, N.J. 1967
1967
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

 

Vivian Maier. 'Self-Portrait, 1950ies'

 

Vivian Maier
Self-Portrait, 1950ies
c. 1950s
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Armenian woman fighting on East 86th Street, September, 1956, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
Armenian woman fighting on East 86th Street, September, 1956, New York, NY
1956
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'April 7, 1960. Florida'

 

Vivian Maier
April 7, 1960. Florida
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'January 1956'

 

Vivian Maier
January 1956
1956
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'January, 1953, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
January, 1953, New York, NY
1953
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Self-Portrait, 1953'

 

Vivian Maier
Self-Portrait, 1953
1953
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Self-Portrait, 1953'

 

Vivian Maier
Self-Portrait, 1953
1953
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, Canada'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, Canada
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'July 1957. Chicago Suburb, IL'

 

Vivian Maier
July 1957. Chicago Suburb, I
1957
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'January 9, 1957, Florida'

 

Vivian Maier
January 9, 1957, Florida
1957
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Self-Portrait, New York, February 3, 1955'

 

Vivian Maier
Self-Portrait, New York, February 3, 1955
1955
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'March 1954, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
March 1954, New York, NY
1954
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'May 16, 1957. Chicago, IL'

 

Vivian Maier
May 16, 1957. Chicago, IL
1957
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'June 1963. Chicago, IL'

 

Vivian Maier
June 1963. Chicago, IL
1963
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

 

“During her lifetime, Vivian Maier (1926-2009) produced more than 100,000 photographic images, which remained largely undiscovered until after her death. CCP celebrates this reluctant artist’s timely relevance, juxtaposing her work with contemporary Australian photography, performance and video.

Maier’s prolific body of work recording both herself and the world around her – predominately with a distinctive medium format Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex camera – is a precursor to our age of compulsive photographic documentation via smart phones and digital media. The posthumous construction of her identity is almost as compelling as her images and her ability to determine and frame a gripping moment with poignancy and beauty. Time has been Maier’s collaborator, where nostalgia plays a significant role in the popularity of her archive.

In Crossing Paths with Vivian Maier, Maier’s photography – printed well after her death – is presented with contemporary Australian artists working in still, moving and found photography and who also document the street and themselves in an equally obsessive manner.

Against the gritty street life captured by her probing lens, Patrick Pound responds with second-hand images gleaned from junk shops and the Internet, while Debra Phillips and David Wadelton make an inventory of the city and its quirky features. Maier’s self-portraits reverberate with Australian women artists who turn the camera on themselves in performative ways, in the work of Cherine Fahd, Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano, Clare Rae, Simone Slee and Kellie Wells.”

Text from the CCP website

 

Vivian Maier. 'May 27, 1970. Chicago, IL'

 

Vivian Maier
May 27, 1970. Chicago, IL
1970
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'May 28, 1954, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
May 28, 1954, New York, NY
1954
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'New York City, September 10, 1955'

 

Vivian Maier
New York City, September 10, 1955
1955
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Self-Portrait; October 18, 1953, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
Self-Portrait; October 18, 1953, New York, NY
1953
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, New York, NY
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, New York, NY
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, New York, NY
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, New York, NY
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, New York, NY
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'New York, NY' 1954

 

Vivian Maier
New York, NY
1954
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Self-Portrait, 1959'

 

Vivian Maier
Self-Portrait, 1959
1959
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, New York, NY
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'October 31, 1954. New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
October 31, 1954. New York, NY
1954
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'July 27, 1954. New York, NY' 1954

 

Vivian Maier
July 27, 1954. New York, NY
1954
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'September 18, 1962'

 

Vivian Maier
September 18, 1962
1962
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'September 1956, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
September 1956, New York, NY
1956
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Untitled, Undated'

 

Vivian Maier
Untitled, Undated
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Untitled, Undated'

 

Vivian Maier
Untitled, Undated
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Untitled, Undated'

 

Vivian Maier
Untitled, Undated
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, Vancouver, Canada'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, Vancouver, Canada
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Untitled, Undated'

 

Vivian Maier
Untitled, Undated
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Untitled, Undated'

 

Vivian Maier
Untitled, Undated
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

 

Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
T: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Sunday, 1pm – 5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

17
Oct
14

Review: ‘Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 8th July – 19th October 2014

Curator: Paul Martineau is associate curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

 

Never the objective camera, always a mixture of spirit and emotion

Minor White and Eugène Atget. Eugène Atget and Minor White. These two photographers were my heroes when I first started studying photography in the early 1990s. They remain so today. Nothing anyone can say can take away from the sheer simple pleasure of really looking at photographs by these two icons of the art form.

I have waited six years to do a posting on the work of Minor White, and this exhibition is the first major retrospective of White’s work since 1989. This posting contains thirty seven images, one of the biggest collections of his photographs available on the web.

What drew me to his work all those years ago? I think it was his clarity of vision that so enthralled me, that showed me what is possible – with previsualisation, clear seeing, feeling and thinking – when exposing a photograph. And that exposing is really an exposing of the Self.

Developing the concept of Steiglitz’s ‘equivalents’ (where a photograph can stand for an/other state of being), White “sought to access, and have connection to, fundamental truths… Studying Zen Buddhism, Gurdjieff and astrology, White believed in the photographs’ connection to the subject he was photographing and the subject’s connection back via the camera to the photographer forming a holistic circle. When, in meditation, this connection was open he would then expose the negative in the camera hopeful of a “revelation” of spirit in the subsequent photograph.” (MB) The capturing of these liminal moments in the flux of time and space is such a rare occurrence that one must be patient for the sublime to reveal itself, if only for a fraction of a second.

Although I cannot view this exhibition, I have seen the checklist of all the works in the exhibition. The selection is solid enough covering all the major periods in White’s long career. The book is also solid enough BUT BOTH EXHIBITION AND BOOK ARE NOT WHAT WE REALLY WANT TO SEE!

At first, Minor White photographed for the individual image – and then when he had a body of work together he would form a sequence. He seemed to be able to switch off the sequence idea until he felt “a storm was brewing” and his finished prints could be placed in another context. It was only with the later sequences that he photographed with a sequence in mind (of course there is also the glorious fold-out in The Eye That Shapes that is the Totemic sequence that is more a short session that became a sequence). In his maturity Minor White composed in sequences of images, like music, with the rise and fall of tonality and range, the juxtaposition of one image next to another, the juxtaposition of twenty or more images together to form compound meanings within a body of work. This is what we really need to see and are waiting to see: an exhibition and book titled: THE SEQUENCES OF MINOR WHITE. I hope in my lifetime! **

How can you really judge his work without understanding the very form that he wanted the work to be seen in? We can access individual images and seek to understand and feel them, but in MW their meaning remains contingent upon their relationship to the images that surround them, the ice/fire frisson of that space between images that guides the tensions and relations to each other. Using my knowledge as an artist and musician, I have sequenced the first seven images in this posting just to give you an idea of what a sequence of associations may look like using the photographs of Minor White. I hope he would be happy with my selection. I hope I have made them sing.

Other than a superb range of tones (for example, in Pavilion, New York 1957 between the flowers in shadow and sun – like an elegy to Edward Weston and the nautilus shell/pepper in the tin) the size, contrast, lighter/darker – warmer/cooler elements of MW’s photographs are all superb. These are the first things we look at when we technically critique prints from these simple criteria, and there aren’t many that pass. But these are all well made images by MW. He was never Diogenes with a camera, never the objective camera, he was always involved… and his images were printed with a mixture of spirit and emotion. Now, try and FEEL your response to the first seven images that I have put together. Don’t be too analytical, just try, with clear, peaceful mind and still body, to enter into the space of those images, to let them take you away to a place that we rarely allow ourselves to visit, a place that is is out of our normal realm of existence. It is possible, everything is possible. If photography becomes something else -then it does -then it does.

Finally, I want to address the review of the book by Blake Andrews on the photo-eye blog (October 6, 2014). The opening statement opines: “Is photography in crisis again? Well then, it must be time for another Minor White retrospective.” What a thrown away line. As can be seen from the extract of an interview with MW (published 1977, below), White didn’t care what direction photography took because he could do nothing about it. He just accepted it for what it is and moved with it. He was not distressed at the direction of contemporary photography because it was all grist to the mill. To say that when photography is in crisis (it’s always in crisis!) you wheel out the work of Minor White to bring it back into line is just ridiculous… photography is -what it is, -what it is.

Blake continues, “Minor White was a jack-of-all-styles in the photo world, trying his hand at just about everything at one time or another. The plates in the book give a flavor of his shifting – some might say dilettantish – photo styles.” Obviously he agrees with this assessment otherwise he would not have put it in. I do not. Almost every artist in the world goes on a journey of discovery to find their voice, their metier, and that early experimentation is part of the overall journey, the personal and universal narrative that an artist pictures. Look at the early paintings of Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko in their representational ease, or the early photographs of Aaron Siskind and how they progress from social documentary to abstract expressionism. The same with MW. In this sense every artist is a dilettante. Every photograph is part of his journey as an artist and has value in an of itself.

And I don’t believe that his mature voice was “internalized, messy, and deliberately obtuse,” – it is only so to those that do not understand what he sought to achieve through his images, those who don’t really understand his work.

Blake comments, “Twenty-five years later White’s star is rising again. One could speculate the reasons for the timing, that photography is in crisis, or at least adrift, and in need of a guru. But the truth is photography has been on the therapist’s couch since day one, going through this or that level of doubt or identity crisis. Is it an art? Science? Documentation? Can it be trusted? When Minor White came along none of these questions had been resolved, and they never will. But every quarter century or so it sure feels good to hang your philosopher’s hat on something solid. Or at least someone self-assured.”

Every quarter of a century, hang your philosophers hat on something solid? Or at least someone self-assured? The last thing that you would say about MW was that the was self-assured (his battles with depression, homosexuality, God, and the aftermath of his experiences during the Second World War); and the last thing that you would say about the philosophy and photographs of MW is that they are something solid and immovable.

For me, the man and his images are always moving, always in a constant state of flux, as avant-garde (in the sense of their accessing of the eternal) and as challenging and essential as they ever were. Through his work and writings Minor White – facilitator, enabler – allowed the viewer to become an active participant in an aesthetic experience that alters reality, creating an über reality (if you like), one whose aesthetics promotes an interrogation of both ourselves and the world in which we live.

“There are plays written on the simplest themes which in themselves are not interesting. But they are permeated by the eternal and he who feels this quality in them perceives that they are written for all eternity.”

Constantin Stanislavsky, (1863 – 1938) / My Life in Art.

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

** The Minor White Archive at Princeton University Museum of Art has a project called The Minor White Archive proof cards: “The ultimate goal of this project is a stand-alone website dedicated to the Minor White Archive, and the completely scanned proof cards represent significant progress to this end. The website will be an authoritative source for the titles and dates of White’s photographs. All of the scanned proof cards will be available on the website so that users can search the primary source information as well as major published titles. Additionally, the website will include White’s major published sequences, with additional sequences uploaded gradually until the complete set is online. Eventually, the hope is to have subject-term browsing available, adding another access point to the Archive.”

.
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.

 

 

“Self-discovery through a camera? I am scared to look for fear of discovering how shallow my Self is! I will persist however … because the camera has its eye on the exterior world. Camera will lead my constant introspection back into the world. So camerawork will save my life.”

“When you try to photograph something for what it is, you have to go out of yourself, out of your way, to understand the object, its facts and essence. When you photograph things for what ‘Else’ they are, the object goes out of its way to understand you.”

.
Minor White

 

 

When Paul Martineau, an associate curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum, in Los Angeles, was collecting photographs for a new retrospective of Minor White’s photography, he discovered an album called The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors. Only two copies of the volume were produced, each containing thirty-two images of Tom Murphy, Minor’s student and model. “It’s a visual love letter: he only created two, one given to Tom and one for him,” Martineau told me.

Martineau’s show, Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit, is the first major retrospective of White’s work since 1989. White was born in Minneapolis, in 1908, took photographs for the Works Progress Administration during the nineteen-thirties, and served in the Army during the Second World War. He kept company with Ansel Adams, Alfred Steiglitz, and Edward Steichen, and, in 1952, he helped found the influential photography magazine Aperture. Martineau said that, while the Getty retrospective “comes at a time when life is rife with visual imagery, most of it designed to capture our attention momentarily and communicate a simple message,” White aimed to more durably express “our relationships with one another, with the natural world, with the infinite.” White believed that all of his photographs were self-portraits; as Martineau put it, “he pushed himself to live what he called a life in photography.”

 

 

Minor White. 'Vicinity of Rochester, New York' 1954

 

Minor White 
Vicinity of Rochester, New York
1954
Gelatin silver print
18.4 x 23.2 cm (7 1/4 x 9 1/8 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Stony Brook State Park, New York' 1960

 

Minor White 
Stony Brook State Park, New York
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 24.1 cm (12 x 9 1/2 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. '72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York' 1960

 

Minor White 
72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 24.1 cm (12 x 9 1/2 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Pultneyville, New York' 1957

 

Minor White 
The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Pultneyville, New York
1957
Gelatin silver print
24.4 x 25.1 cm (9 5/8 x 9 7/8 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Haags Alley, Rochester, New York' 1960

 

Minor White
Haags Alley, Rochester, New York
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 24.1 cm (12 x 9 1/2 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Tom Murphy, San Francisco, California' 1948

 

Minor White
Tom Murphy, San Francisco, California
1948
Gelatin silver print
12.5 x 10 cm (4 15/16 x 3 15/16 in.)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. '72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York' 1958

 

Minor White 
72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1958
Gelatin silver print
26.7 x 29.2 cm (10 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

 

“Controversial, misunderstood, and sometimes overlooked, Minor White (American 1908-1976) pursued a life in photography with great energy and ultimately extended the expressive possibilities of the medium. A tireless worker, White’s long career as a photographer, teacher, editor, curator, and critic was highly influential and remains central to understanding the history of photographic modernism. Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit, on view July 8 – October 19, 2014 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center is the first major retrospective of his work since 1989.

The exhibition includes never-before-seen photographs from the artist’s archive at Princeton University, recent Getty Museum acquisitions, a significant group of loans from the collection of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, alongside loans from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Portland Art Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Also featured is White’s masterly photographic sequence Sound of One Hand (1965).

“Minor White had a profound impact on his many students, colleagues, and the photographers who considered him a true innovator, making this retrospective of his work long overdue” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “The exhibition brings together a number of loans from private and public collections, and offers a rare opportunity to see some of his greatest work alongside unseen photographs from his extensive archive.”

One of White’s goals was to photograph objects not only for what they are but also for what they may suggest, and his pictures teem with symbolic and metaphorical allusions. White was a closeted homosexual, and his sexual desire for men was a source of turmoil and frustration. He confided his feelings in the journal he kept throughout his life and sought comfort in a variety of Western and Eastern religious practices. This search for spiritual transcendence continually influenced his artistic philosophy.

Early Career, 1937-45

In 1937, White relocated from Minneapolis, where he was born and educated, to Portland, Oregon. Determined to become a photographer, he read all the photography books he could get his hands on and joined the Oregon Camera Club to gain access to their darkroom. Within five years, he was offered his first solo exhibition at the Portland Art Museum (1942). White’s early work exhibits his nascent spiritual awakening while exploring the natural magnificence of Oregon. His Cabbage Hill, Oregon (Grande Ronde Valley) (1941) uses a split-rail fence and a coil of barbed wire to demonstrate the hard physical labor required to live off the land as well as the redemption of humankind through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

During World War II, White served in Army Intelligence in the South Pacific. Upon discharge, rather than return to Oregon, he spent the winter in New York City. There, he studied art history with Meyer Shapiro at Columbia University, museum work with Beaumont Newhall at the Museum of Modern Art, and creative thought in photography with photographer, gallerist, and critic Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946).

Midcareer, 1946-64

In 1946, famed photographer Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) invited White to teach photography at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) in San Francisco. The following year, White established himself as head of the program and developed new methods for training students. His own work during this period began to shift toward the metaphorical with the creation of images charged with symbolism and a critical aspect known as “equivalence,” meaning an image may serve as an idea or emotional state beyond the subject pictured. In 1952, White co-founded the seminal photography journal Aperture and was its editor until 1975.

In 1953, White accepted a job as an assistant curator at the George Eastman House (GEH) in Rochester, New York, where he organized exhibitions and edited GEH’s magazine Image. Coinciding with his move east was an intensification of his study of Christian mysticism, Zen Buddhism, and the I Ching. In 1955, he began teaching a class in photojournalism at the Rochester Institute of Technology and shortly after began to accept one or two live-in students to work on a variety of projects that were alternately practical and spiritually enriching. During the late 1950s and continuing until the mid-1960s, White traveled the United States during the summers, making his own photographs and organizing photographic workshops in various cities across the country.

By the late 1950s, at the height of his career, White pushed himself to do the impossible – to make the invisible world of the spirit visible through photography. White’s masterpiece – and the summation of his persistent search for a way to communicate ecstasy – is the sequence Sound of One Hand, so named after the Zen koan which asks “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

“White’s sequences are meant to be viewed from left to right, preferably in a state of relaxation and heightened awareness,” says Paul Martineau, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition. “White called on the viewer to be an active participant in experiencing the varied moods and associations that come from moving from one photograph to the next.”

Late Career, 1965-76

In 1965, White was appointed professor of creative photography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he developed an ambitious program in photographic education. As he aged, he became increasingly concerned with his legacy, and began working on his first monograph, Mirrors Messages Manifestations, which was published by Aperture in 1969. The following year, White was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and he was the subject of a major traveling retrospective organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1971.

Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing until the early 1970s, White organized a series of groundbreaking thematic exhibitions at MIT – the first of which served as a springboard for forming the university’s photographs collection. In 1976, White died of heart failure and bequeathed his home to the Aperture Foundation and his photographic archive of more than fifteen thousand objects to Princeton University. The exhibition also includes work by two of White’s students, each celebrated photographers in their own right, Paul Caponigro (American, born 1932) and Carl Chiarenza (American, born 1935).

“An important aspect of Minor White’s legacy was his influence on the next generation of photographers,” says Martineau. “Over the course of a career that lasted nearly four decades, he managed to maintain personal and professional connections with hundreds of young photographers – an impressive feat for a man dedicated to the continued exploration of photography’s possibilities.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Minor White. 'Navarro River, California' 1947

 

Minor White 
Navarro River, California
1947
Gelatin silver print
35.6 x 45.7 cm (14 x 18 in.)
Lent by Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Nude Foot, San Francisco, California' Negative, 1947; print, 1975

 

Minor White 
Nude Foot, San Francisco, California
Negative, 1947; print, 1975
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 30.5 cm (9 x 12 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Pavilion, New York' 1957

 

Minor White 
Pavilion, New York
1957
Gelatin silver print
22.5 x 29.5 cm (8 7/8 x 11 5/8 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Cabbage Hill, Oregon (Grande Ronde Valley)' 1941

 

Minor White
Cabbage Hill, Oregon (Grande Ronde Valley)
1941
Gelatin silver print
18 x 22.9 cm (7 1/16 x 9 in.)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Self-Portrait, West Bloomfield, New York' 1957

 

Minor White
Self-Portrait, West Bloomfield, New York
1957
Gelatin silver print
17.8 x 20.6 cm (7 x 8 1/8 in.)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

 

Interview with Minor White

Q. How would you like to see photography develop?

A. It makes absolutely no difference what I want it to do. It’s going to do what it’s going to do. All I can do is stand back and observe it.

Q. What don’t you want it to do?

A. That doesn’t make any difference either, It’ll do that whether I want it to or not!

Q. Surely , you’ve got to have some feelings?

A. In one sense I don’t care what photography does at all. I can just watch it do it. I can control my photography, I can do what I want with it  – a little. If I can get into  contact  with something much wiser than myself , and it says get out of photography , maybe I would. I hesitate to say this because I know its going to be misunderstood. I’ll put I this way  – I’m trying to be in contact with my Creator when I photograph. I know perfectly well its not possible to do this all the time, but there can be moments.

Q. Do you see anything in contemporary photography that distresses you?

A. What ever they do is fine.

Q. Is there any work that you are particularly interested in?

A. What ever my students are doing.

Q. There seems to be a passing on of certain sets of ideas and understandings. Do you feel yourself to be an inheritor of a set of ideas or ideals?

A. Naturally. After all I have two parents, so I inherited some thing.  I’ve had many spiritual fathers for example. The photographers who I have been influenced by for example. There have been many other external influences. Students have had an influence. In a sense that’s an inheritance. After a while we work with material that comes to us and it becomes ours, we digest it. It becomes energy and food for us, its ours . And then I can pass it on to somebody else with a sense of responsibility and validity. I am quoting it in my words, it has become mine and that person will take it from me – just as I have taken it from people who have influenced me. Take what you can use, digest it, make it yours, and then  transmit it to your children or your students.

Q. It’s a cycle?

A. No, it’s a continuous line. Not a cycle at all.

.
Interview by Paul Hill and Thomas Cooper of Minor White, published in 3 parts in the January, February and March editions of Camera 1977.

 

Minor White. 'Point Lobos, California' 1948

 

Minor White 
Point Lobos, California
1948
Gelatin silver print
16.8 x 19.5 cm (6 5/8 x 7 11/16 in.)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'San Francisco, California' 1949

 

Minor White
San Francisco, California
1949
Gelatin silver print
18.5 x 18.7 cm (7 5/16 x 7 3/8 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Vicinity of Dansville, New York' Negative, 1955; print, 1975

 

Minor White 
Vicinity of Dansville, New York
Negative, 1955; print, 1975
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 30.5 cm (9 x 12 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White Images in the bound sequence 'The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors'

 

(top)
Minor White
Images 9 and 10 in the bound sequence The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors
1948
Gelatin silver prints
9.3 x 11.8 cm; 11.2 x 9.1 cm
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

(bottom)
Minor White
Images 27 and 28 in the bound sequence The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors
1948
Gelatin silver prints
5.3 x 11.6 cm; 10.6 x 8.9 cm
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Rochester, New York' 1963

 

Minor White 
Rochester, New York
1963
Gelatin silver print
9.2 x 7.3 cm (3 5/8 x 2 7/8 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

 

Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit book

Controversial, eccentric, and sometimes overlooked, Minor White (1908-1976) is one of the great photographers of the twentieth century, whose ideas and philosophies about the medium of photography have exerted a powerful influence on a generation of practitioners and still resonate today. Born and raised in Minneapolis, his photographic career began in 1938 in Portland, Oregon with assignments as a “creative photographer” for the Oregon Art Project, an outgrowth of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

After serving in World War II as a military intelligence officer, White studied art history at Columbia University in New York. It was during this period that White’s focus started to shift toward the metaphorical. He began to create images charged with symbolism and a critical aspect called “equivalency,” which referred to the invisible spiritual energy present in a photograph made visible to the viewer and was inspired by the work of Alfred Stieglitz. White’s belief in the spiritual and metaphysical qualities in photography, and in the camera as a tool for self-discovery, was crucial to his oeuvre.

Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit (Getty Publications, 2014) gathers together for the first time a diverse selection of more than 160 images made by Minor White over five decades, including some never published before. Accompanying the photographs is an in-depth critical essay by Paul Martineau entitled “‘My Heart Laid Bare’: Photography, Transformation, and Transcendence,” which includes particularly insightful quotations from his journals, which he kept for more than forty years.

The result is an engaging narrative that weaves through the main threads of White’s work and life – his growth and tireless experimentation as an artist; his intense mentorship of his students; his relationships with Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz, and Ansel Adams, who had a profound influence on his work; and his labor of love as cofounder and editor of Aperture magazine from 1952 until 1976. The book also addresses White’s life-long spiritual search and ongoing struggle with his own sexuality and self-doubt, in response to which he sought comfort in a variety of religious practices that influenced his continually metamorphosing artistic philosophy.

Published here in its entirety for the first time is White’s stunning series The Temptation of Anthony Is Mirrors, consisting of 32 photographs of White’s student and model Tom Murphy made in 1947 and 1948 in San Francisco. White’s photographs of Murphy’s hands and feet are interspersed within a larger group of portraits and nude figure studies. White kept the series secret for years as at the time he made the photographs it was illegal to publish or show images with male frontal nudity. Anyone making such images would be assumed to be homosexual and outed at a time when this invariably meant losing gainful employment.

Other works shown in this rich collection are White’s early images of the city of Portland that depict his experimentations with different styles and nascent spiritual awakening; his photographs of the urban streets of San Francisco where he lived for a time; his elegant images of rocks, sandy beaches and tidal pools in Point Lobos State Park in Northern California that are an homage to Edward Weston; and the series The Sound of One Hand made in the vicinity of Rochester, New York where he also taught classes at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and curated shows at the George Eastman House (GEH). Paul Martineau describes this iconic series as “White’s chef d’oeuvre, the work that is the summation of his persistent search or a way to communicate ecstasy.” Among the eleven images in the Getty collection are Windowsill Daydreaming, Rochester, Night Icicle, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, and Pavilion, New York.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Minor White. '"Something Died Here," San Francisco, California' 1947

 

Minor White 
“Something Died Here,” San Francisco, California
1947
Gelatin silver print
22.8 x 17.5 cm (9 x 6 7/8 in.)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Dodd Building, Portland, Oregon' c. 1939

 

Minor White 
Dodd Building, Portland, Oregon
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
34.3 x 26.7 cm (13 1/2 x 10 1/2 in.)
Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration

 

Minor White. 'San Mateo County, California / Leonard Nelson, Vicinity of Stinson Beach, Marin County, California, November 1947' 1947

 

Minor White 
San Mateo County, California / Leonard Nelson, Vicinity of Stinson Beach, Marin County, California, November 1947
1947
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 50.8 cm (12 x 20 in.)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Ralph M. Parsons Fund
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Lily Pads and Pike, Portland, Oregon' c. 1939

 

Minor White 
Lily Pads and Pike, Portland, Oregon
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
34 x 26.8 cm (13 3/8 x 10 9/16 in.)
Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services

 

Minor White. 'Design (Cable and Chain), Portland, Oregon' c. 1940

 

Minor White 
Design (Cable and Chain), Portland, Oregon
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
33.8 x 25.8 cm (13 5/16 x 10 3/16 in.)
Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration

 

Minor White. 'Peeled Paint, Rochester, New York' 1959

 

Minor White 
Peeled Paint, Rochester, New York
1959
Gelatin silver print
31.1 x 22.9 cm (12 1/4 x 9 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Empty Head, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York' 1962

 

Minor White
Empty Head, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1962
Gelatin silver print
30 x 23 cm (11 13/16 x 9 1/16 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Burned Mirror, Rochester, New York' 1959

 

Minor White 
Burned Mirror, Rochester, New York
1959
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 22 cm (12 x 8 11/16 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Essence of Boat, Lanesville, Massachusetts' 1967

 

Minor White 
Essence of Boat, Lanesville, Massachusetts
1967
Gelatin silver print
31.8 x 23.8 cm (12 1/2 x 9 3/8 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Ivy, Portland, Oregon' Negative,1964; print, 1975

 

Minor White 
Ivy, Portland, Oregon
Negative,1964; print, 1975
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 30.5 cm (9 x 12 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. '72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York' 1960

 

Minor White 
72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 24.1 cm (12 x 9 1/2 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Moencopi Strata, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah' 1962

 

Minor White 
Moencopi Strata, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
1962
Gelatin silver print
32.7 x 24.1 cm (12 7/8 x 9 1/2 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Windowsill Daydreaming, Rochester, New York' 1958

 

Minor White 
Windowsill Daydreaming, Rochester, New York
1958
Gelatin silver print
24.4 x 25.1 cm (9 5/8 x 9 7/8 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Notom, Utah' 1963

 

Minor White 
Notom, Utah
1963
Gelatin silver print
39.4 x 31.1 cm (15 1/2 x 12 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Gloucester, Massachusetts' 1973

 

Minor White
Gloucester, Massachusetts
1973
Gelatin silver print
21.6 x 29.2 cm (8 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Batavia, New York' 1958

 

Minor White
Batavia, New York
1958
Gelatin silver print
34 x 20.3 cm (13 3/8 x 8 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Night Icicle, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York' 1959

 

Minor White 
Night Icicle, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1959
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 23 cm (12 x 9 1/16 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. '203 Park Ave., Arlington, Massachusetts' 1966

 

Minor White
203 Park Ave., Arlington, Massachusetts
1966
Gelatin silver print
34.3 x 12.7 cm (13 1/2 x 5 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

gm_34199701-WEB

 

Minor White 
Easter Sunday, Stony Brook State Park, New York
1963
Gelatin silver print
23.7 x 9.2 cm (9 5/16 x 3 5/8 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

 

Minor White. 'Mission District, San Francisco, California' 1949

 

Minor White 
Mission District, San Francisco, California
1949
Gelatin silver print
33.8 x 9.5 cm (13 5/16 x 3 3/4 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Tues – Friday 10 am – 5.30 pm
Saturday 10 am – 9 pm
Sunday 10 am – 9 pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top




Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘England’ 1993

Join 1,652 other followers

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Recent Posts

Lastest tweets

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

August 2016
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  

Archives

Categories


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,652 other followers