Archive for the 'Sally Mann' Category

24
Oct
15

Text / Exhibition: ‘Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney Part 2

Exhibition dates: 14th August – 25th October 2015

Curator: Dr Marta Weiss

 

 

The road less travelled

It was a flying visit to Sydney to see the Julia Margaret Cameron exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The trip was so very worthwhile, for I had never seen JMC’s large contact photographs “in the flesh” before, let alone over 100 vintage prints from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection. They did not disappoint. This exhibition is one of the photographic highlights of the year.

When you think about it, here is one the world’s top ten photographers of all time – a woman, taking photographs within the first twenty five years of the birth of commercial photography, using rudimentary technology and chemicals – whose photographs are still up there with the greatest ever taken. Still recognisable as her own and no one else’s after all these years. That is a staggering achievement – and tells you something about the talent, tenacity and perspicacity of the women… that she possessed and illuminated such a penetrating discernment – a clarity of vision and intellect which provides a deep understanding and insight into the human condition.

Annie; ‘My first success’ (1864, below) points the way to the later development of her mature style. Although not entirely successful, the signature low depth of field and wonderful use of light are already present in this image. Compare this to Lady Adelaide Talbot (1865, below), only a year later, and you can see that her development as an artist is phenomenal. JMC pushes and pulls the face of the sitter within the image plane. In a sequence from the exhibition (enlarge the installation image, below) we have (from left to right), female in profile facing right with light from right Sappho (1865); female lower 2/3rds right with light from front above Christabel (1866); female looking at camera, soft, dark moody lighting hitting only one the side of the face and embroidered cap Zoe / Maid of Athens (1866); now a different tilt of the jaw, lighter print Beatrice (1866, below); a frontal portrait with dark background, pin sharp face and hair to the front and back of the face out of focus Julia Jackson (1867, below), then female portraits facing left, the head filling the upper left corner; looking down in three-quarter profile with light from the right, filling the frame; and then upper right, small face, with the rest falling off into darkness.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (detail)

 

There is something so magical about how JMC can frame a face, emerging from darkness, side profile, filling the frame, top lit. Soft out of focus hair with one point of focus in the image. Beautiful light. Just the most sensitive capturing of a human being, I don’t know what it is… a glimpse into another world, a ghostly world of the spirit, the soul of the living seen now before they are dead.

While it is very interesting to see her failures, or what she perceived as her failures – not so much a failure of vision but mainly a failure of technique: cracking of the plates, under development, defective unmounted impressions – presented in the exhibition, plus all her techniques for developing and amending the photograph – double printing, reverse printing, scratching onto the negative and painting on the print (all techniques later used by the Pictorialists) – it is the low depth of field, wonderful tones and the quality of the light that so impresses with her work. Her portraits have a real but very fluid and ethereal presence. Material, maternal, touch, sublime, religious, allegorical, mythological, and beautiful. She would focus her lens until she thought is was beautiful “instead of screwing on the lens to the more definite focus which all other photographers insist upon.”

She has, of course, been seen as a precursor to Pictorialism, but personally I do not get that feeling from her photographs, even though the artists are using many of the same techniques. Her work is based on the reality of seeing beauty, whereas the Pictorialists were trying to make photography into art by emulating the techniques of etching and painting. While the form of her images owes a lot to the history of classical sculpture and painting, to Romanticism and the Pre-Raphaelites, she thought her’s was already art of the highest order. She did not have to mask its content in order to imitate another medium. Others, such as the curator of the exhibition Marta Weiss, see her as a proto-modernist, precursor to the photographs of Stieglitz and Sander and I would agree. There is certainly a fundamental presence to JMC’s photographs, so that when you are looking at them, they tend to touch your soul, the eyes of some of the portraits burning right through you; while others, others have this ambiguity of meaning, of feeling, as if removed from the everyday life.

Unfortunately, her legacy and her baton has not been taken up in contemporary photography, other than through her love child Sally Mann. One of the main problems with contemporary portrait photography, perhaps any type of contemporary photography, is that anything goes. And what goes is usually linked to the photographer’s desire. It is not about the reality of the subject, but just a refraction of the desires of the photographer reflected in the subject. Many photographers today are not real photographers at all… they are just a pimp to their own ideas. There is a 100% co-relation between their vision and their work which leaves no room for ambiguity. There is no longer the interesting and lovely space between what is attempted and how the photographer would like it to be, as in JMC. Where the shortcomings are welcomed (she embraced flaws, cracks, thumb prints) and it all seems a marvellous activity. She was dedicated to the task of extracting the beauty of this ambiguity, through taking hours preparing plates, through sitting, developing and washing. She took her shortcomings and folded them back into her work so that there seems to be a type of perfection to it. Of course, there isn’t. These fulfilled her photographic vision, a rejection of ‘mere conventional topographic photography – map-making and skeleton rendering of feature and form’ in favour of a less precise but more emotionally penetrating form of portraiture. By contrast, the surface in contemporary “topographic” photography is just a paper thin reflection of the photographer themselves, nothing more.

The road to spirituality is the road less travelled. It is full of uncertainty and confusion, but only through exploring this enigma can we begin to approach some type of inner reality. Julia Margaret Cameron, in her experiments, in her dogged perseverance, was on a spiritual journey of self discovery. In Philip Roth’s Exit Ghost, he suggests Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs as the ideal music for a scene his character has written:

“Four Last Songs. For the profundity that is achieved not by complexity but by clarity and simplicity. For the purity of the sentiment about death and parting and loss. For the long melodic line spinning out and the female voice soaring and soaring. For the repose and composure and gracefulness and the intense beauty of the soaring. For the ways one is drawn into the tremendous arc of heartbreak. The composer drops all masks and, at the age of eighty-two, stands before you naked. And you dissolve.”

These words are an appropriate epithet for the effect of the photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron in this year 2015, the 200th anniversary of her birth.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,336

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Many thankx to the AGNSW and the Victoria and Albert Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

NB: it would have been great to see more of the later work as this exhibition mainly focuses on the period 1864-1869 (probably the bulk of what is in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection). Also, in the expansive, open galleries, some colour on the walls would have been good. When JMC exhibited her work it would have been on coloured walls, probably with multiple mounts of different colours as well. It would also have been nice to see some of the signatures on the work, as some of them reveal intimate facts about the sitter/theme.

 

 

When Cameron photographed her intellectual heroes such as Alfred Tennyson, Sir John Herschel and Henry Taylor, her aim was to record ‘the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man.’

‘When I have such men before my camera my whole soul has endeavoured to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man. The photograph thus taken has been almost the embodiment of a prayer’.

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Julia Margaret Cameron 1867

 

‘When … coming to something which, to my eye, was very beautiful, I stopped there instead of screwing on the lens to the more definite focus which all other photographers insist upon’.

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Julia Margaret Cameron

 

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Mrs. Herbert Duckworth' 1872

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Mrs. Herbert Duckworth
1872
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron’s powerful portraits of her niece and goddaughter Julia Jackson depict her as herself, rather than a religious or literary character. Cameron generally reserved this approach for her male sitters. This is one of a series of portraits in which the dramatically illuminated Jackson fearlessly returns the camera’s gaze. Cameron’s niece, here given her married name, once again regards the camera directly, but with an air of sadness rather than confidence. Her husband had died after just three years of marriage. Cameron inscribed one version of this photograph ‘My own cherished Niece and God Child / Julia Duckworth / a widow at 24’.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Annie' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Annie; ‘My first success’
1864
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron was 48 when she received a camera as a gift from her daughter and son-in-law. It was accompanied by the words, ‘It may amuse you, Mother, to try to photograph during your solitude at Freshwater.’ Cameron had compiled albums and even printed photographs before, but her work as a photographer now began in earnest. Cameron made this portrait of Annie Philpot, the daughter of a local family, within a month of receiving her first camera. She inscribed some prints of it ‘My first success’ and later wrote of her excitement, ‘I was in a transport of delight. I ran all over the house to search for gifts for the child. I felt as if she entirely had made the picture.’

Cameron’s mentor and friend, the artist G.F. Watts wrote to Cameron, ‘Please do not send me valuable mounted copies … send me any … defective unmounted impressions, I shall be able to judge just as well & shall be just as much charmed with success & shall not feel that I am taking money from you.’ This is one of approximately 67 in the V&A’s collection that was recently discovered to have belonged to him. Many are unique, which suggests that Cameron was not fully satisfied with them. Some may seem ‘defective’ but others are enhanced by their flaws. All of them contribute to our understanding of Cameron’s working process and the photographs that did meet her standards.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Lady Adelaide Talbot' May 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Lady Adelaide Talbot
May 1865
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Julia Margaret Cameron, 28 & 31 July 1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

In this close-up profile, Lady Talbot gazes out of the frame with determination. Instead of a tangle of branches and leaves, the background is neutral. The focus is soft and the light coming from the right traces the sitter’s profile. This photograph looks more distinctively like the work of Julia Margaret Cameron and shows the development of her signature style.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Il Penseroso; Come pensive nun devout and pure, Sober, stedfast and demure; Portrait or rather Study of Lady Adelaide Talbot' May 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Il Penseroso; Come pensive nun devout and pure, Sober, stedfast and demure; Portrait or rather Study of Lady Adelaide Talbot
May 1865
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Julia Margaret Cameron, 27 September 1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Here Lady Adelaide Talbot appears not as herself, but as Melancholy, the personification of pensive sadness, that John Milton evoked in his poem Il Penseroso (about 1631). Draped in a shawl that hides her everyday clothing, her hands form a V on her chest, in a theatrical gesture. Cameron inscribed this print with two lines from the poem, ‘Come pensive Nun, devout and pure, / Sober, stedfast, and demure’.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron, 'Christiana Fraser-Tytler' c. 1864-1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Christiana Fraser-Tytler
c. 1864-1865
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Mrs Margaret Southam, 1941
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Christiana Fraser-Tytler modelled for other Julia Margaret Cameron photographs together with her sisters. One of them, Mary, an artist and designer, later married the artist G.F. Watts. This print originally belonged to either Watts or his wife. It came from the Watts estate, which was sold after Mary’s death in 1938.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Sappho' 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Sappho
1865
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Alan S. Cole, 19 April 1913
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

In late 1865 Julia Margaret Cameron began using a larger camera, which held a 15 x 12-inch glass negative. Early the next year she wrote to Henry Cole with great enthusiasm – but little modesty – about the new turn she had taken in her work. Cameron initiated a series of large-scale, close-up heads. These fulfilled her photographic vision, a rejection of ‘mere conventional topographic photography – map-making and skeleton rendering of feature and form’ in favour of a less precise but more emotionally penetrating form of portraiture.

This striking version of Sappho is in keeping with Cameron’s growing confidence as an artist. Mary Hillier’s classical features stand out clearly in profile while her dark hair merges with the background. The decorative blouse balances the simplicity of the upper half of the picture. Cameron was clearly pleased with the image since she printed multiple copies, despite having cracked the negative.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Christabel' 1866

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Christabel
1866
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Alan S. Cole, 19 April 1913
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

The title refers to a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge about a virtuous maiden who is put under a spell by an evil sorceress. Cameron wrote of photographs such as this, ‘when … coming to something which, to my eye, was very beautiful, I stopped there instead of screwing on the lens to the more definite focus which all other photographers insist upon’.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Beatrice' 1866

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Beatrice
1866
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Alan S. Cole, 19 April 1913
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Cameron based the pose, drapery, and sad expression of her model on a painting attributed to Guido Reni. The subject is the 16th-century Italian noblewoman Beatrice Cenci who was executed for arranging the murder of her abusive father. One review admired Cameron’s soft rendering of ‘the pensive sweetness of the expression of the original picture’ while another mocked her for claiming to have photographed a historical figure ‘from the life’.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Julia Jackson' 1866

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Julia Jackson
1867
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Mrs Margaret Southam, 1941
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Cameron’s powerful portraits of her niece and goddaughter Julia Jackson depict her as herself, rather than a religious or literary character. Cameron generally reserved this approach for her male sitters. This is one of a series of portraits in which the dramatically illuminated Jackson fearlessly returns the camera’s gaze.

Cameron’s good friend Anne Thackeray Ritchie recalled in 1893, ‘Sitting to her was a serious affair, and not to be lightly entered upon. We came at her summons, we trembled (or we should have trembled had we dared to do so) when the round black eye of the camera was turned upon us, we felt the consequences, what a disastrous waste of time and money and effort, might ensue from any passing quiver of emotion.’

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Hosanna' 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Hosanna
1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Portrait of Julia Margaret Cameron by her son' about 1870

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Portrait of Julia Margaret Cameron by her son
about 1870
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Vivien and Merlin from Illustrations to Tennyson's Idylls of the King' 1874

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Vivien and Merlin from Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King
1874
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Vivien and Merlin from Illustrations to Tennyson's Idylls of the King' (detail) 1874

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Vivien and Merlin from Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King (detail)
1874
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation views of the exhibition Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

 

Julia Margaret Cameron’s career as a photographer began in 1863 when her daughter gave her a camera. Cameron began photographing everyone in sight. Because of the newness of photography as a practice, she was free to make her own rules and not be bound to convention. The kinds of images being made at the time did not interest Cameron. She was interested in capturing another kind of photographic truth. Not one dependent on accuracy of sharp detail, but one that depicted the emotional state of her sitter.

Cameron liked the soft focus portraits and the streak marks on her negatives, choosing to work with these irregularities, making them part of her pictures. Although at the time Cameron was seen as an unconventional and experimental photographer, her images have a solid place in the history of photography.

Most of Cameron’s photographs are portraits. She used members of her family as sitters and made photographs than concentrated on their faces. She was interested in conveying their natural beauty, often asking female sitters to let down their hair so as to show them in a way that they were not accustomed to presenting themselves. In addition to making stunning and evocative portraits both of male and female subjects, Cameron also staged tableaux and posed her sitters in situations that simulated allegorical paintings.

Text from the Victoria and Albert Museum website

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Lady Elcho / A Dantesque Vision' 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Lady Elcho / A Dantesque Vision
1865
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Mrs Margaret Southam, 1941
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron’s earliest photographic subjects were family and friends, many of whom were eminent literary figures. These early portraits reveal how she experimented with dramatic lighting and close-up compositions, features that would become her signature style. In May 1865 Cameron used her sister’s London home, Little Holland House, as her photographic headquarters. Her sister Sara Prinsep, together with her husband Thoby, had established a cultural salon there centred around the artist George Frederic Watts, who lived with them. Cameron photographed numerous members of their circle on the lawn. These included artists, writers and collectors and Henry Cole, the director of the South Kensington Museum.

Cameron clothed Lady Elcho in flowing draperies to suggest a character out of Dante, author of the 14th-century poem the Divine Comedy. Cameron wears the same large, paisley-edged shawl in the portrait by her son. The fragmented female figure at the far left of the frame may have been assisting Cameron.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Resting in Hope; La Madonna Riposata' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Resting in Hope; La Madonna Riposata
1864
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Purchased from Julia Margaret Cameron, 17 June 1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Many of the photographs purchased by the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) from Julia Margaret Cameron were ‘Madonna Groups’ depicting the Virgin Mary and the infant Christ. Her housemaid Mary Hillier posed as the Virgin Mary so often she became known locally as ‘Mary Madonna’.  Like many of her contemporaries, Cameron was a devout Christian. As a mother of six, the motif of the Madonna and child held particular significance for her. In aspiring to make ‘High Art’, Cameron aimed to make photographs that could be uplifting and morally instructive.

As in many of Cameron’s depictions of the subject, the Madonna is holding a sleeping child. This had practical advantages as the infant was less likely to move during the long exposure. It was also suggestive of death, a grim reality for many Victorian families and a reference to the Pietà, a subject in Christian art in which the Virgin Mary cradles the dead Christ.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'The Shadow of the Cross' August 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
The Shadow of the Cross
August 1865
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Julia Margaret Cameron, 27 September 1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

With the addition of a small wooden cross and female model in drapery, Cameron transformed a portrait of her sleeping grandson into an image of the Virgin Mary and the infant Christ. The mother leaning over the child prefigures Mary mourning over the body of her son, who had died on the cross. The framed pictures and curtain in the background reveal the setting as a domestic interior.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Devotion' 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Devotion
1865
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Julia Margaret Cameron, 27 September 1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

In this unusual horizontal composition, the close-up figures of the sleeping Christ child and the Madonna nearly fill the frame. The title suggests both Christian concepts and the theme of motherhood. Next to the title Cameron wrote: ‘From Life My Grand child age 2 years & 3 months’, making the image simultaneously a religious study and a family portrait.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'St. Agnes' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
St. Agnes
1864
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Purchased from Julia Margaret Cameron, 17 June 1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

This image may have been inspired by poems by Alfred Tennyson and John Keats based on the legend that virgins dream of their future husbands on St Agnes Eve (20 January). To suggest the night, Julia Margaret Cameron printed the photograph dark and added a moon by hand. The sitter is Mary Hillier, Cameron’s housemaid and one of her ‘most beautiful and constant’ models.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'The Dream' 1869

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
The Dream
1869
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Alan S. Cole, 19 April 1913
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

In 1869, Julia Margaret Cameron wrote to Sir Henry Cole, the founding director of the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) of the ‘cruel calamity … which has over taken 45 of my Gems – a honey comb crack extending over the picture appearing at any moment and beyond any power to arrest.’ Cameron blamed her ‘fatally perishable’ photographic chemicals, while members of the Photographic Society suspected the damp climate of the Isle of Wight. Today’s theory is that failure to sufficiently wash the negatives after fixing them caused the problem.

John Milton’s poem On his deceased Wife (about 1658) tells of a fleeting vision of his beloved returning to life in a dream. On this mount she included G.F. Watts’ assessment: ‘quite divine’. Cameron was particularly distraught by the crackling that befell this negative. She seemed not to be bothered, however, by the two smudged fingerprints in the lower right, which form a kind of inadvertent signature.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Henry Taylor' October 10, 1867

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Henry Taylor
October 10, 1867
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Window & Grove, 1963
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

When Julia Margaret Cameron photographed her intellectual heroes such as Alfred Tennyson, Sir John Herschel and Henry Taylor, her aim was to record ‘the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man.’ Another motive was to earn money from prints of the photographs, since her family’s finances were precarious. Within her first year as a photographer she began exhibiting and selling through the London gallery Colnaghi’s. She used autographs to increase the value of some portraits.

For this portrait of her close friend, the playwright and poet Taylor, Cameron broke from her practice of photographing male heads emerging from darkness. As with some of her female heads, the sitter’s face fills the frame, while his sleeve and beard flow beyond its confines.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Charles Darwin' 1868; printed 1875

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Charles Darwin
1868; printed 1875
Carbon print from copy negative
Given by Mrs Ida S. Perrin, 1939
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

The naturalist Charles Darwin and his family rented a cottage in Freshwater from the Camerons in the summer of 1868. By 27 July, Colnaghi’s was advertising, ‘we are glad to observe her gallery of great men enriched by a very fine portrait of Charles Darwin’. Due to the sitter’s celebrity, Cameron later had this portrait reprinted as a more stable carbon print. When Cameron photographed her intellectual heroes such as Alfred Tennyson, Sir John Herschel and Henry Taylor, her aim was to record ‘the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man.’

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Portrait of Herschel' 1867

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Portrait of Herschel
April 1867
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Window & Grove, 1963
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Herschel was an eminent scientist who made important contributions to astronomy and photography. Cameron wrote of this sitting, ‘When I have such men before my camera my whole soul has endeavoured to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man. The photograph thus taken has been almost the embodiment of a prayer.’

 

 

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Opening hours:
Open every day 10am – 5pm
except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Art Gallery of New South Wales website

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18
Oct
15

Exhibition: ‘Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney Part 1

Exhibition dates: 14th August – 25th October 2015

Curator: Dr Marta Weiss

 

I’m heading up to Sydney on Thursday night, especially to see this exhibition on Friday at the Art Gallery of New South Wales = excitement. I’ll limit my words here until I have seen the exhibition and give you some fuller thoughts next weekend. Suffice it to say, that I consider JMC to be one of the top ten photographers of all time.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Kept in the Heart/La Madonna della Ricordanza' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Kept in the Heart/La Madonna della Ricordanza
1864
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Whisper of the Muse' 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Whisper of the Muse
1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

“The Art Gallery of New South Wales is delighted to bring to Sydney a superb exhibition of works by one of the most influential and innovative photographers of the nineteenth century – Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79). Drawn from the extensive collection of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, the exhibition features over 100 photographs that trace Cameron’s early ambition and mastery of the medium. A series of letters will also be on display, along with select photographs sourced from Australian institutions.

Judy Annear, Senior Curator of Photographs at the Art Gallery of NSW, said it was a privilege to be able to bring such a fine selection of Cameron’s photographs to Australia. “Using the camera to convey both tenderness and strength, Cameron introduced an emotive sensibility to early photographic portraiture. At the time, her work was controversial and her unconventional techniques attracted both praise and criticism,” Annear said. “It is timely to reflect upon Cameron’s significant contribution to art photography, with this year marking the bicentenary of her birth and 150 years since her first exhibition was held at the South Kensington Museum, now the Victoria and Albert Museum,” Annear added.

Across her brief but prolific career, Cameron produced penetrating character studies that memorialised the intellectual and artistic elite of Victorian England, including the poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson, scientists Charles Darwin and Sir John Herschel, and Julia Jackson, Cameron’s niece and the mother of Virginia Woolf. To this pantheon of intellectuals Cameron added housemaids and local children who were enlisted as cherubs, Madonnas and Christ figures in photographic tableaux that re-staged allegorical scenes derived from literary and biblical narratives.

Embracing imperfection, Cameron would leave fingerprints, streak marks and swirls of collodion on her negatives. Her use of soft focus and shallow depth of field defined the painterly tone of her aesthetic signature. Cameron took up photography at the age of 48 after she was given a camera by her daughter Julia in December 1863. She transformed her house into her workspace, converting a henhouse into a studio and a coalhouse into a darkroom. While Cameron had no interest in establishing a commercial studio, concentrating instead on elevating photography as high art, she nonetheless operated as an astute businesswoman, fastidiously marketing, publishing and exhibiting her work.

Within two years of taking up photography, she had both donated and sold work to the South Kensington Museum, London. She corresponded frequently with the museum’s founding director Henry Cole. Cameron’s self-promotion was not restricted to England. In 1874, 20 of her photographs were displayed in the Drawing Room of NSW Government House. Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London will be on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 14 August – 25 October 2015 after touring from Moscow and Ghent. The exhibition is organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Dr Marta Weiss, Cameron expert and curator of the exhibition, will be visiting Sydney for the exhibition’s opening and will give a public lecture at the Gallery on Saturday 15 August 2015. The exhibition is accompanied by the book Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs to electrify you with delight and startle the world, by Marta Weiss. Published by Mack in partnership with V&A Publishing.”

Press release from the AGNSW website

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Paul and Virginia' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Paul and Virginia
1864
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Paul and Virginia' (detail) 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Paul and Virginia (detail)
1864
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Portrait of Herschel' 1867

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Portrait of Herschel
1867
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Opening hours:
Open every day 10am – 5pm
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17
Dec
12

Exhibition: ‘The Serial Portrait: Photography and Identity in the Last One Hundred Years’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 30th September 2012 – 31st December 2012

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Alfred Stieglitz / Georgia O’Keeffe

Paul Strand / Rebecca Strand

Emmet Gowin / Edith Gowin

Harry Callahan / Eleanor and Barbara Callahan

Robert Mapplethorpe / Patti Smith

Nicholas Nixon / The Brown Sisters

Andy Warhol / Serial Photography / Photo Booth Portraits

Mario Testino / Kate Moss

Baron Adolf de Meyer / Baroness Olga de Meyer

Edward Weston / Charis Weston

Lee Friedlander / Maria Friedlander

Paul Caponigro / The woods of Connecticut

Bernd and Hilla Becher / grids

Gerhard Richter / Overpainted Photographs

Masahisa Fukase / wife and family

Seiichi Furuya / Christine Furuya-Gößler

Sally Mann / children and husband

William Wegman / dogs

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Australia?
Nobody that I can think of…

Notice how all the artists are men except two: Sally Mann and Hilla Becher.

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

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Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Danville, Virginia' 1971

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Emmet Gowin
Edith, Danville, Virginia
1971
Gelatin silver print
20.2 x 25.2 cm (7 15/16 x 9 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Emmet and Edith Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

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Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Danville, Virginia' 1963

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Emmet Gowin
Edith, Danville, Virginia
1963
Gelatin silver print, printed 1980s
19.7 x 12.7 cm (7 3/4 x 5 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Charina Endowment Fund
© Emmet and Edith Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

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Emmet Gowin. 'Edith and Moth Flight' 2002

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Emmet Gowin
Edith and Moth Flight
2002
Digital ink jet print
19 x 19 cm (7 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Charina Endowment Fund
© Emmet and Edith Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

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Francesca Woodman. 'House #3, Providence, Rhode Island' 1976

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Francesca Woodman
House #3, Providence, Rhode Island
1976
Gelatin silver print
16.1 x 16.3 cm (6 5/16 x 6 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection

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Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island' 1975-1978

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Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island
1975-1978
Gelatin silver print
10.5 x 10.5 cm (4 1/8 x 4 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collectors
Committee and R. K. Mellon Family Foundation

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Ann Hamilton. 'body object series #13, toothpick suit/chair' 1984

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Ann Hamilton
body object series #13, toothpick suit/chair
1984
Gelatin silver print, printed 1993
11 x 11 cm (4 5/16 x 4 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington,Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection

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Ann Hamilton. 'body object series #14, megaphone' 1986

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Ann Hamilton
body object series #14, megaphone
1986
Gelatin silver print, printed 1993
11 x 11 cm (4 5/16 x 4 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington,Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection

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“The National Gallery of Art explores how the practice of making multiple portraits of the same subjects produced some of the most revealing and provocative photographs of our time in The Serial Portrait: Photography and Identity in the Last One Hundred Years, on view in the West Building’s Ground Floor photography galleries from September 30 through December 31, 2012. Arranged both chronologically and thematically, the exhibition features 153 works by 20 artists who photographed the same subjects – friends, family, and themselves – numerous times over days, months, or years to create compelling portrait studies that investigate the many facets of personal and social identity.

“The Gallery’s photography collection essentially began with the donation of Alfred Stieglitz’s ‘key set,’ so it is fitting that this exhibition opens with portraits by Stieglitz, who understood that a person’s character was best captured through a series of photographs taken over time,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “Although the exhibition is drawn largely from the Gallery’s significant collection of photographs, we are grateful to the lenders who have allowed us to present more fully the serial form of portraiture that Stieglitz championed.”

Since the introduction of photography in 1839, portraiture has been one of the most widely practiced forms of the medium. Starting in the early 20th century, however, some photographers began to question whether one image alone could adequately capture the complexity of an individual. As Alfred Stieglitz, the era’s leading champion of American fine art photography, argued: “to demand the [single] portrait that will be a complete portrait of any person is as futile as to demand that a motion picture will be condensed into a single still.”

Along with Stieglitz, some of the 20th century’s most prominent photographers – Paul Strand, Harry Callahan, and Emmet Gowin – used the camera serially to transcend the limits of a single image. Each of these photographers made numerous studies of their lovers that sought to redefine the expressive possibilities of portraiture while probing the affective bonds of love and desire. By employing the camera’s capacity to record fluctuating states of being and mark the passage of time, other photographers such as Nicholas Nixon and Milton Rogovin have documented individuals – in families or communities – over four decades. Capturing subtle and dramatic shifts in appearance, demeanor, and situation, these series are poignant and elegiac memorials that remind us of our own mortality.

Other photographers have made serial self-portraits that explore the malleability of personal identity and the possibility of reinvention afforded by the camera. By photographing themselves as shadows, blurs, or partial reflections, Ilse Bing, Lee Friedlander, and Francesca Woodman have created inventive but elusive images that hint at the instability of self-representation. Conceptual artists of the 1970s and 1980s such as Vito Acconci, Blythe Bohnen, and Ann Hamilton have explicitly combined performance and self-portraiture to stage continual self-transformations. The exhibition concludes with work from the last 15 years by artists such as Nikki S. Lee and Gillian Wearing, who take the performance of self to its limits by adopting masquerades to delve into the ways identity is inferred from external appearance.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Art website

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Lee Friedlander. 'Haverstraw, New York' 1966

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Lee Friedlander
Haverstraw, New York
1966
Gelatin silver print
21.7 x 32.7 cm (8 9/16 x 12 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Trellis Fund
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery

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Lee Friedlander. 'Westport, Connecticut' 1968

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Lee Friedlander
Westport, Connecticut
1968
Gelatin silver print
19.8 x 12.3 cm (7 13/16 x 4 13/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Trellis Fund
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery

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Ilse Bing. 'Self-Portrait with Leica' 1931 gelatin silver print, printed c. 1988

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Ilse Bing
Self-Portrait with Leica
1931
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1988
26.7 x 29.7 cm (10 1/2 x 11 11/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Ilse Bing Wolff

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Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Mapplethorpe' 2009

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Gillian Wearing
Me as Mapplethorpe
2009
Gelatin silver print (based upon Robert Mapplethorpe work: Self Portrait, 1988. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation)
149.86 x 121.92 cm (59 x 48 in.)
Private Collection
Courtesy the artist; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles

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Paul Strand. 'Rebecca' 1922

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Paul Strand
Rebecca
1922
Platinum print
24.4 x 19.4 cm (9 5/8 x 7 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Southwestern Bell Corporation Paul Strand Collection
© Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive

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Paul Strand. 'Rebecca, New Mexico' 1932

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Paul Strand
Rebecca, New Mexico
1932
Platinum print
14.9 x 11.8 cm (5 7/8 x 4 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Southwestern Bell Corporation Paul Strand Collection
© Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive

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Alfred Stieglitz. 'Georgia O'Keeffe' probably 1918

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Alfred Stieglitz
Georgia O’Keeffe
probably 1918
Platinum print
18.4 x 23.1 cm (7 1/4 x 9 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection

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Alfred Stieglitz. 'Georgia O'Keeffe - Hands and Thimble' 1919

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Alfred Stieglitz
Georgia O’Keeffe – Hands and Thimble
1919
Palladium print
24 x 19.4 cm (9 7/16 x 7 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection

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Alfred Stieglitz. 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1930

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Alfred Stieglitz
Georgia O’Keeffe
1930
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 19.1 cm (9 7/16 x 7 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection

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Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters' 1975

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Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters
1975
Gelatin silver print
20.2 x 25.2 cm (7 15/16 x 9 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Nicholas Nixon, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco and Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

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Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters' 1978

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Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947)
The Brown Sisters
1978
Photograph, gelatin silver print
Promised gift of James and Margie Krebs
© Nicholas Nixon, courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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For more images from this series please see my posting ‘Nicholas Nixon: Family Album’

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

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Sunday 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m

National Gallery of Art website

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15
Jan
11

Exhibition: ‘Sally Mann: The Flesh and the Spirit’ at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA

Exhibition dates: 13th November 2010 – 23rd January 2011

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

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Sally Mann
‘Jessie #34’
2004
Gelatin Silver enlargement print from 8 x 10-in. collodion wet-plate negative, with Soluvar matte varnish mixed with diatomaceous earth

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Sally Mann
‘Untitled (Still Life)’
2006
Ambrotype (unique collodion wet-plate positive on black glass), with sandarac varnish (15 x 13 in.)

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Sally Mann
‘Untitled’
1983
Polaroid (8 x 10 in.)

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Sally Mann
‘Untitled’
2000-1
Gelatin silver enlargement prints from 8 x 10-in. (20.3 x 25.4-cm) collodion wet-plate negatives, with Soluvar matte varnish mixed with diatomaceous earth

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Sally Mann
‘Untitled-#4, Antietam’
2001
Gelatin silver enlargement print from 8 x 10-in. collodion wet-plate

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“One of the first major presentations in the United States of the bold work of contemporary photographer Sally Mann opened at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) on November 13, 2010. Exclusive to Richmond, the exhibition will continue until January 23, 2011.

Focusing on the theme of the body, the exhibition will revolve around several entirely new series while also incorporating little-known early work. Mann is admired for her passionate use of photography to address issues of love and loss, expressed in images of her children and southern landscapes. Her recent work uses obsolete photographic methods and nearly abstract images to push the limits of her medium and to dig deeper into themes of mortality and vulnerability. The images include several powerful series of self-portraits – an entirely new subject in her work – and figure studies of her husband. Some of the works in the exhibition include nudity and other graphic material. Viewer and parental discretion is advised.

“Sally Mann is among the top tier of photographers today. Although she is widely exhibited, we are fortunate to be one of the first U.S. museums to produce a major exhibition of her work,” says John Ravenal, the exhibition curator and Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. “The fearlessness, power and deeply emotional themes of her art are both captivating and unforgettable. We are pleased to exhibit one of Virginia’s, and the nation’s, finest artists.”

Self-examination, aging, death, and decay are some of the subjects of the exhibition, and these are balanced by themes of beauty, love, trust, and the hopefulness of youth. Among the works are portraits of Mann’s husband, who suffers from a degenerative muscle disease. These are juxtaposed with colorful images of her children, forming a poignant comparison between youthful evanescence and the expressive capacity of the mature adult body.

Other works offer additional perspectives on the themes of aging and mortality. Made during a trip to the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center, Mann’s “Body Farm” images explore her fascination with the thin line between animate and inanimate, form and matter. Multi-part self-portraits represent Mann’s first extended exploration of her own face as a subject. Two self-portrait pieces consist of multiple unique photographs printed on black glass – a format known as ambrotypes – arranged in monumental grids of Mann’s likeness.

“The focus on the body in the exhibition will offer a profound meditation on human experience,” continues Ravenal. “The sheer beauty, formal sophistication, and expressive power of the work is likely to appeal to art world and general audiences alike.”

For her landscapes, Mann developed the method she continues to use today, involving an antique large-format view camera and the laborious process of collodion wet-plate. This method, invented in the 1850s, uses sticky ether-based collodion poured on glass, which must be exposed and developed in a matter of minutes before it dries. Unlike her nineteenth-century predecessors, who strove for perfection, Mann embraces accident. Her approach produces spots, streaks, and scars, along with piercing focus in some areas and evaporation of the image in others. These distortions – “honest” artifacts of the process – add a profoundly emotional quality to Mann’s images.

Mann’s recent work continues to use this technique, but returns to the body as a principle subject after a decade of landscapes. Though the body has been an essential focus in Mann’s work from the beginning, this is the first time an exhibition and publication have explored it as a coherent theme.

Born in 1951, Sally Mann has played a leading role in contemporary photography for the past 25 years. Her career began in the 1970s and fully matured in the Culture Wars of the early 1990s, when photographs of her children became embroiled in national debates about family values. In the mid-1990s, Mann turned her attention to large-scale landscapes, specifically the evocative terrain of the South, where she was born, raised and continues to live. Her landscape work raised questions about history, memory and nostalgia, and also embraced a romantic beauty that proved as troubling to some critics as the sensual images of her children had to others. By the early 2000s, she had returned to figurative subjects, adding images of her husband and herself to her work.”

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts website

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Sally Mann
‘Untitled (Self Portraits)’
2006-7
Ambrotypes (unique collodion wet-plate positives on black glass) with sandarac varnish

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Sally Mann
‘Untitled (Self Portraits)’ (detail)
2006-7
Ambrotypes (unique collodion wet-plate positives on black glass) with sandarac varnish

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Sally Mann
‘Untitled (Self Portraits)’ (detail)
2006-7
Ambrotypes (unique collodion wet-plate positives on black glass) with sandarac varnish

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Sally Mann
‘Untitled (Self Portraits)’ (detail)
2006-7
Ambrotypes (unique collodion wet-plate positives on black glass) with sandarac varnish

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Sally Mann
‘Untitled’
2007-8
Ambrotypes (unique collodion wet-plate positives on black glass), with sandarac varnish

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Sally Mann
‘Ponder Heart’
2009
Gelatin silver contact print from 15 x 13 1/2-in. collodion wet-plate negative

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Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
200 N. Boulevard
Richmond, Virginia USA 23220-4007

Opening hours:
Sat – Wed: 10 am – 5 pm
Thurs + Fri: 10 am – 9 pm

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts website

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09
Nov
10

Review: ‘An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar’ by Taryn Simon at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy

Exhibition dates: 15th October – 12th December 2010

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Many thankx to the Melbourne International Arts Festival, Institute of Modern Art and the Centre for Contemporary Photography for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs © 2007 Taryn Simon. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery/Steidl.

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Taryn Simon
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Contraband Room, John F. Kendedy International Airport, Queens, New York
2005/2007
© 2007 Taryn Simon.
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery/Steidl

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African cane rats infested with maggots, African yams (dioscorea), Andean potatoes, Bangladeshi cucurbit plants, bush meat, cherimoya fruit, curry leaves (murraya), dried orange peels, fresh eggs, giant African snail, impala skull cap, jackfruit seeds, June plum, kola nuts, mango, okra, passion fruit, pig nose, pig mouths, pork, raw poultry (chicken), South American pig head, South American tree tomatoes, South Asian lime infected with citrus canker, sugar cane (poaceae), uncooked meats, unidentified sub tropical plant in soil. All items in the photograph were seized from baggage of passengers arriving in the U.S. at JFK Terminal 4 from abroad over a 48-hour period. All seized items are identified, dissected, and then either ground up or incinerated. JFK processes more international passengers than any other airport in the Unites States.

2005/2007 Chromogenic color print, 37-1/4 x 44-1/2 inches framed (94.6 x 113cm), Ed. Of 7

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Taryn Simon
Forensic Anthropology Research Facility, Decomposing Corpse, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee
2003/2007
© 2007 Taryn Simon.
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery/Steidl

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The decomposing body of a young boy is studied by researchers who have re-created a crime scene.

The Forensic Anthropology Research Facility, popularly known as The Body Farm, is the world’s chief research center for the study of corpse decomposition. Its six-acre plot hosts approximately 75 cadavers in various stage of decomposition. The farm uses physical anthropology (skeletal analysis of human remains) to help solve criminal cases, especially murder cases. Forensic anthropologists work to establish profiles for deceased persons. These profiles can include sex, age, ethnic ancestry, stature, time elapsed since death, and sometimes, the nature of trauma on the bones.

2005/2007 Chromogenic color print, 37-1/4 x 44-1/2 inches framed (94.6 x 113cm), Ed. Of 7

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Sally Mann
Untitled WR Pa 59
2001
from the series What Remains
© Sally Mann. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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This is an exhibition of large format colour photographs by Taryn Simon which features a body of work titled An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2006). The work investigates the hidden spaces, places, artefacts and rituals of American cultural warfare (here I mean warfare in the sense of good vs bad, natural vs unnatural (or mutated), safety vs danger, death vs life for example). The photographs are very much like opening a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ where the photographer is attempting to challenge the categorical boundaries of environments and objects, things that are yet to be defined and fixed in place. Some of the photographs work very well in their attempts to categorise, to index; others are far less successful.

Dan Rule in The Age sees the photographs as “slick, high-definition visuals … photographs [that] defy their gritty, documentarian sensibilities. Capturing an ominous vision of Bush-era America, her expansive series … doesn’t merely unearth a sinister vantage of the nation’s underbelly, but renders it in shocking clarity and detail … it ‘s a fascinating and troubling portrait. However, it’s not so much the subject matter but the luminous, hyper-realistic orientation that gives these images such resonance.”1

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I see things differently. Where Rule sees luminous photographs I see photographs that are very formal and dull, photographs that are rather lifeless and maudlin. Printed on grey pearlised paper (meaning that the base colour of the photographic paper is not white) and placed in pale grey frames, these A3 high definition, large depth of field photographs possess limited photographic insight into the condition of the spaces and objects being photographed. My friend rather cuttingly, but correctly, noted that they were very National Geographic drained of colour (note: the images in this online posting have far more life and colour than the actual prints!).

This is photography as documentation used to disseminate information, documentation that reinforces the indexical nature of photography (the link between referent and reality) as a form of ‘truth’ – hence the ‘Index’ in the title of the body of work, a taxonomic ordering of reality. Even then some of the photographs have to be validated by text for them to have any meaning. “The visual is processed aesthetically and then redefined by its text” trumpets the wall text. Yes sure, but here the photographs are formalistically visualised, some to very limited effect, and what the text is really doing is semiotically decoding an image that has little meaning (until we are told) through words, words that are about memory, reminders of what we call and know of a thing.
When the photograph tells us very little in the first place, when we do not have knowledge of a thing and cannot construct memories from the photograph but rely solely on words for meaning this can lead to photographs that are intrinsically and inherently poor. An example of a poor photograph in this series is the image of the captured Great white shark. Another example is the photograph of a decomposing body at the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility (see photograph above). Compare this to Sally Mann’s photograph of the same subject matter: the resonance of Mann’s photograph is powerful, confronting yet ambiguous with an amorphous aura surrounding the body, that of Simon’s almost as though the artist was afraid to really approach the subject; there seems to be an obsequiousness to the subject matter. Hidden is hidden and this photograph is definitely not “transforming the unknown into a seductive and intelligible form” (wall text).

Simon’s photographs are not visual enigmas that approach Atget’s The Marvellous in the Everyday, where he experimented with “the variable play between nature and art through minute changes in the camera’s angle, or as functions of the effects of light and time of day.” Nor do they possess that quality that I noted in my review of the work of Carol Jerrems – spaces that make some room for you in front – some room that would allow you to look forward, and maybe even walk into that space. Despite their ‘hidden’ and ‘unfamiliar’ context these photographs are very dull spaces. Simon’s camera angles are by the book. So are most of the photographs. Of course, I understand the revealing of meaning in the photograph by the text and the surprise this entails but this simply does not dismiss the fact that some of these works are just poor. In fact I would say only about 50% of these photographs could stand alone without the validation of the text. Does this matter? Is this important? Yes I think it is, for some of these works are just deadpan photographs of entropic spaces that are only given meaning because the photographer says they are important things to photograph (see my paper ‘Spaces That Matter: Awareness and Entropia in the Imaging of Place’, 2002). Even with text some of the photographs still have no resonance.

When the photographs do work they are astounding. There is delicious irony in the depiction of a ‘Recreational Basketball Court in Cheyenne Mountains Directorate, Chamber D, Colorado Springs, Colorado’ (2006) a dark, oppressive print of a nuclear bunker with basketball court or the incongruous nature of ‘Death Row, Outdoor Recreational Facility “The Cage”‘ (2006), a barred metal cage situated inside another building for the recreation of death row inmates. Shocking, disorientating. My personal favourite in this human built, human-less world of Simon’s was one of the simplest photographs in the exhibition, a photograph that cuts away the surroundings to picture a labelled flask sitting on a non-descript background. A concise visualisation of a labelled flask given extra meaning when you read the accompanying text: ‘Live HIV, HIV Research Laboratory’ (2006). Pause for thought. The photographs when understood aesthetically are like snapshots of an alien culture, almost mundane but disturbing. I believe the best photographs in the series combine the presence of the space or object, an understanding of the condition of that space or object without having to read the text. The text then supplements the visual interpretation not overrides it.

Human beings are secretive, unstable, paranoid creatures that are exclusory and fearful of Others. Fear is palpable in these photographs. Here is evidence of the human need for control (through the surveillance of photography) over conduct – control of contamination, death, disease, threat and Other. We investigate and document something in order to control it, in order that science can control it (think Foucault’s disciplinary systems of the prison and the madhouse). These photographs excavate meaning by bringing the shadow into the light in order to index our existence, to make the hidden less frightening and more controllable.

Personally, I prefer my world to remain the mutation that is the catastrophe in the pattern/randomness dialectic. I like the chthonic darkness of difference and the rupture of pattern, the dislocation of identity and the challenge of mutation. Even though these photographs address the context of the hidden and unfamiliar there is nothing in the least unusual about them. Here is the paradox of these works: their (ab)normality vs their lack of humanity. The photographs in this exhibition all too easily confirm our prejudices and limit our understanding of difference through their need to document, label, order and exhibit fear (in)difference, all the better to control the mutations of disturbance.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Taryn Simon
White Tiger (Kenny), Selective Inbreeding, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge and Foundation, Eureka Springs, Arkansas
2006/2007
© 2007 Taryn Simon.
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery/Steidl.

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In the United States, all living white tigers are the result of selective inbreeding to artificially create the genetic conditions that lead to white fur, ice-blue eyes and a pink nose. Kenny was born to a breeder in Bentonville, Arkansas, on February 3, 1999. As a result of inbreeding, Kenny is mentally retarded and has significant physical limitations. Due to this deep-set nose, he has difficulty breathing and closing his jaw, his teeth are severely malformed and he limps from abnormal bone structure in his forearms. The three other tigers in Kenny’s litter are not considered to be quality white tigers as they are yellow-coated, cross-eyed, and knock-kneed.

2006/2007 Chromogenic colour print, 37-1/4 x 44-1/2 inches framed (94.6 x 113cm), Ed. Of 7

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Taryn Simon
Hymenoplasty, Cosmetic Surgery, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, Florida
2005/2007
© 2007 Taryn Simon.
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery/Steidl.

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The patient in this photograph is 21 years old. She is of Palestinian descent and living in the United States. In order to adhere to cultural and familial expectations regarding her virginity and marriage, she underwent hymenoplasty. Without it she feared she would be rejected by her future husband and bring shame upon her family. She flew in secret to Florida where the operation was performed by Dr. Bernard Stern, a plastic surgeon she located on the internet. The purpose of hymenoplasty is to reconstruct a ruptured hymen, the membrane which partially covers the opening of the vagina. It is an outpatient procedure which takes approximately 30 minutes and can be done under local or intravenous anesthesia. Dr. Stern charges $3,500 for hymenoplasty. He also performs labiaplasty and vaginal rejuvenation.

2005/2007 Chromogenic color print, 37-1/4 x 44-1/2 inches framed (94.6 x 113cm), Ed. Of 7

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“Inspired by rumours of weapons of mass destruction and secret sites in Iraq, American photographic artist Taryn Simon focuses her lens on the hidden and inaccessible places in her own country.

An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2006) takes the viewer behind closed doors to uncover some extraordinary things inside places usually hidden from the public’s view. Ranging across the realms of science, government, medicine, entertainment, nature, security, and religion, Simon’s photographic subjects include glowing radioactive capsules in an underwater nuclear-waste storage facility, a Braille edition of Playboy, a deathrow prisoners’ exercise yard, an inbred tiger, corpses rotting in a Forensic Research Facility, and a Scientology screening room.

Shot over four years, mostly with a large-format view camera, the images in this fascinating exhibition are in turn ethereal, foreboding, deadpan and cinematic. In examining what is integral to America’s foundation, mythology and daily functioning, the Index provides a surprising map of the American mindset and creates a vivid portrayal of the contemporary United States.

Inspired by rumours of WMDs and secret sites in Iraq, Taryn Simon decided to address secret sites in her own country, photographing hidden places and things within America’s borders. Ranging across the realms of science, government, medicine, entertainment, nature, security and religion, her subjects include glowing radioactive capsules, a braille edition of Playboy, a death-row prisoners’ exercise yard, an inbred tiger, a teenage corpse rotting in a forensic research facility, and a Scientology screening room. An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar explores a dialectic of security and paranoia that is distinctly American. Offering a heart-of-darkness tour of Bush-period America, it also reflects on photography’s role in revealing and concealing.

In his foreward,¹ Salman Rushdie writes ‘In a historical period in which so many people are making such great efforts to conceal the truth from the mass of the people, an artist like Taryn Simon is an invaluable counter-force. Democracy needs visibility, accountability, light. It is in the unseen darkness that unsavoury things huddle and grow. Somehow, Simon has persuaded a good few denizens of hidden worlds not to scurry for shelter when the light is switched on, as cockroaches do, and vampires, but to pose proudly for her invading lens, brandishing their tattoos and Confederate flags.

Simon’s is not the customary aesthetic of reportage – the shaky hand-held camera, the grainy monochrome film stock of the ‘real’. Her subjects…are suffused with light, captured with a bright, hyper-realist, high-definition clarity that gives a kind of star status to these hidden worlds, whose occupants might be thought to be the opposite of stars. In her vision of them, they are dark stars brought into the light. What is not known, rarely seen, possesses a form of occult glamour, and it is that black beauty which she so brightly, and brilliantly, reveals.’

¹ Salman Rushdie, ‘Foreword’ in Taryn Simon, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Steidl Gottingen, Germany, 2007, p. 7.

Text from the Melbourne International Art Festival and the Centre for Contemporary Photography websites

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Taryn Simon
Cryopreservation Unit, Cryonics Institute, Clinton Township, Michigan
2004/2007
© 2007 Taryn Simon.
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery/Steidl.

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This cryopreservation unit holds the bodies of Rhea and Elaine Ettinger, the mother and fist wife of cryonics pioneer, Robert Ettinger. Robert, author of The Prospect of Immortality and Man into Superman is still alive. The Cryogenics Institute offers cryostasis (freezing) services for individuals and pets upon death. Cryostasis is practiced with the hope that lives will ultimately be extended through future developments in science, technology, and medicine. When, and if, these developments occur, Institute members hope to awake to an extended life in good health, free from disease or

the aging process. Cryostasis must begin immediately upon legal death. A person or pet is infused with ice-preventive substances and quickly cooled to a temperature where physical decay virtually stops. The Cryonics Institute charges $28,000 for cryostasis if it is planned well in advance of legal death and $35,000 on shorter notice.

2004/2007 Chromogenic colour print, 37-1/4 x 44-1/2 inches framed (94.6 x 113cm), Ed. Of 7

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Taryn Simon
Nuclear Waste Encapsulation and Storage Facility, Chernekov Radiation, Hanford Site, U.S. Department of Energy, Southeastern
Washington State
2005/2007
© 2007 Taryn Simon.
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery/Steidl.

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Submerged in a pool of water at Hanford Site are 1,936 stainless-steel nuclear-waste capsules containing cesium and strontium. Combined, they contain over 120 million curies of radioactivity. It is estimated to be the most curies under one roof in the United States. The blue glow is created by the Cherenkov Effect which describes the electromagnetic radiation emitted when a charged particle, giving off energy, moves faster than light through a transparent medium. The temperatures of the capsules are as high as 330 degrees Fahrenheit. The pool of water serves as a shield against radiation; a human standing one foot from an unshielded capsule would receive a lethal dose of radiation in less than 10 seconds. Hanford is among the most contaminated sites in the United States.

2005/2007 Chromogenic color print, 37-1/4 x 44-1/2 inches framed (94.6 x 113cm), Ed. Of 7

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1. Rule, Dan. “Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar” in The Age newspaper A2. Melbourne: Saturday, October 23rd 2010.

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

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

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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09
Sep
10

Exhibition: ‘The Family and the Land: Sally Mann’ at The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 18th June – 19th September 2010

 

One of the most haunting photography books I have ever opened and inhaled is ‘What Remains’ (2003) by Sally Mann. Many people say the photographs are shocking, featuring as they do documentation of a deceased pet greyhound, photos of decaying bodies out in the open field of a forensics lab (see photograph below), “the almost invisible traces left by the death of a fugitive on Mann’s property”, the dark landscape of a civil war battlefield and close up photographs of her now grown up children but there is a stillness and depth to these photographs that elevates them above such sentiments. Mann listens to the passing of time and inscribes an ode to what remains. Her gift is the photography of mortality with all the psychic weight that this entails. Not a book for the faint hearted but a stupendous book all the same.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to Sam Trenerry and the Photographers’ Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

Sally Mann
Candy Cigarette
1989
from the series Immediate Family
© Sally Mann. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

 

Sally Mann
Scarred Tree
1996
from the series Deep South
© Sally Mann. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

 

Sally Mann
Untitled WR Pa 59
2001
from the series What Remains
© Sally Mann. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

 

“This exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery is the American photographer Sally Mann’s first solo exhibition in the UK. Combining several series from her long photographic career, The Family and the Land: Sally Mann reflects Mann’s artistic impulse to draw on the world around her as subject matter.

The ‘family’ element of the title comprises Mann’s early series Immediate Family and the newer series Faces, both of which depict her children at various ages. The series Deep South represents the landscape, portraying images made across the south of the United States. The more recent body of work, What Remains brings together both strands of the exhibition, through its examination of how bodies, as they decompose, merge into the land itself.

Sally Mann (b.1951, USA) first gained prominence for Immediate Family (1984-94) a series of intimate and revealing portraits of her three young children, Emmett, Jessie and Virginia. Taken over a ten-year period, Mann depicts them playing, swimming and acting to the camera in and around their homestead in Lexington, Virginia. Born out of a collaborative process between mother and child, the work encapsulates their childhood in all its rawness and innocence.

Mann followed Immediate Family by focusing on the land itself in her series Deep South (1996-98). Here she is drawn to locations steeped in historical significance from the American Civil War, which left both literal and metaphoric scars on the trees and the land itself. Using antique cameras and processes throughout, Mann accentuates the sense of age in the subject while embracing the imperfect effects created by her printing process.

What Remains (2000-04) seeks to further connect human contact to the land and how the body eventually returns to and becomes a part of the land itself. This concept led Mann to photograph decomposing cadavers at the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility, Knoxville, where human decomposition is studied in a variety of, mainly outdoor, settings. What Remains deals directly with the subject of death, still a social taboo. As with her other work, Mann’s subjects are sensitively handled and beautifully realised, encouraging us to reflect upon our own mortality and place within nature’s order.

In the most recent series Faces (2004), Mann turns the camera once more on her children. Closing in on their faces and using several minutes of exposure time, these works act as a commemoration of the living. Again Mann takes the accidental drips and marks created by the wet collodian process and makes them a key feature of her work.

The Family and the Land: Sally Mann at The Photographers’ Gallery is an edited version of a touring exhibition, conceived by Sally Mann in collaboration with Hasse Persson, Director, Borås Museum of Modern Art, Sweden. It has been presented at Fotomuseum Den Hague and the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne as well as in Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki, Helsingborg, and Copenhagen.”

Press release from The Photographers’ Gallery website

 

 

Sally Mann
At Warm Springs
1991
from the series Immediate Family
© Sally Mann. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

 

Sally Mann
Jessie #10
2004
from the series Faces
© Sally Mann. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

 

Sally Mann
Virginia #42
2004
from the series Faces
© Sally Mann. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

 

The Photographers’ Gallery
16-18 Ramillies Street,
London W1F7Lw

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 10.00 – 18.00
Thursday 10.00 – 20.00
Sunday 11.30 – 18.00

The Photographers’ Gallery website

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14
Oct
09

Exhibition: ‘Proud Flesh’ by Sally Mann at Gagosian Gallery, New York

Exhibition dates: 15th September – 31st October 2009

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There is a great interview with Sally Mann by Jörg Colberg with more photographs from the series on his Conscientious weblog. There is also an interesting review of the book of the series on the ‘5B4: Photography and Books’ blog (from which the quotation is taken below). What photographs, what a ‘body’ of work, what an artist!

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“Proud Flesh is for me an emotionally exhausting work about withering. It has elements of 19th century clinical photography done with absolute loving care for the subject. Its factual surface is quickly replaced by metaphor and the haze of imperfection from the wet-plate collodion negatives she employs. In a few of the images, due to the choice of striped bedding on which the figure lays, we might be looking at a historical photograph take from Auschwitz or Bergen Belsen. With Larry’s thin and seemingly weak legs dangling over the edge of a wooden cot, the soiled bedding following the contour of his legs, it is difficult for me to see this image without this harsh historical reference. The following image in the book, he is turned into a martyr – arms out stretched – the sheet underneath him now sharply crinkled like a bed of straw (or an imagined crown of thorns).

The surface texture plays such a strong role in these photos much of the seduction of these photos comes from the beauty of those imperfections. At times they can be nauseating, for their liquid streaks ooze over the images of aged flesh keeping viscera and bodily fluids as a second metaphoric subject. On the cover image, the disturbed collodion emulsion leaves a pattern which seems to be both looking at, and looking inside, the torso standing before the camera. Like Lee Friedlander’s shadow self-portrait (see the cover of Like a One-eyed Cat) where his organs are replaced with a jumble of rocks and his head is filled with straw, Mann’s image turns Larry’s insides into a mix of man and machine – collodion cogs and gears. This is the most wishful, as it portrays the strongest sense of life and the perhaps even the possibility of escaping its mortality. He stands at table’s edge with a steadying hand and a closed fist.”

5B4: Photography and Books blog

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“I can think of numberless males, from Bonnard to Callahan, who have photographed their lovers and spouses, but I am having trouble finding parallel examples among my sister photographers. The act of looking appraisingly at a man, making eye contact on the street, asking to photograph him, studying his body, has always been a brazen venture for a woman, though, for a man, these acts are commonplace, even expected.”

Sally Mann

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Sally Mann. 'Hephaestus' 2008

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Sally Mann
‘Hephaestus’
2008

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Sally Mann. 'Somnambulist' 2009

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Sally Mann
‘Somnambulist’
2009

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Sally Mann. 'Memory's Truth' 2008

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Sally Mann
‘Memory’s Truth’
2008

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“Gagosian Gallery is pleased to present “Proud Flesh”, a series of new photographs by Sally Mann.

Children, landscape, lovers – these iconic subjects are as common to the photographic lexicon as light itself. But Mann’s take on them, rendered through processes both traditional and esoteric, is anything but common. From the outset of her career she has consistently challenged the viewer, rendering everyday experiences at once sublime and deeply disquieting.

In previous projects, Mann has explored the relationships between parent and child, brother and sister, human and nature, site and history. Her latest photographic study of her husband Larry Mann, taken over six years, has resulted in a series of candid nude studies of a mature male body that neither objectifies nor celebrates the focus of its gaze. Rather it suggests a profoundly trusting relationship between woman and man, artist and model that has produced a full range of impressions – erotic, brutally frank, disarmingly tender, and more. While the relation of artist and model is, traditionally, a male-dominated field that has yielded countless appraisals of the female body and psyche, Mann reverses the role by turning the camera on her husband during some of his most vulnerable moments.

Mann’s technical methods and process further emphasize the emotional and temporal aspects of these fragile life studies. The images are contact prints made from wet-plate collodion negatives, produced by coating a sheet of glass with ether-based collodion and submerging it in silver nitrate. Mann exploits the surface aberrations that can result from the unpredictability of the process to produce painterly photographs marked by stark contrasts of light and dark, with areas that resemble scar tissue. In works such as ‘Hephaestus’ and ‘Ponder Heart’, the scratches and marks incurred in the production process become inseparable from the physical reality of Larry’s body.”

Text from the Gagosian Gallery website

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Sally Mann. 'Kingfisher's Wing' 2007

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Sally Mann
‘Kingfisher’s Wing’
2007

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Sally Mann. 'The Quality of the Affection' 2006

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Sally Mann
‘The Quality of the Affection’
2006

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Sally Mann. 'Ponder Heart' 2009

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Sally Mann
‘Ponder Heart’
2009

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Sally Mann. 'Was Ever Love' 2009

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Sally Mann
‘Was Ever Love’
2009

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Gagosian Gallery – Madison Avenue Gallery
980 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10075
T. 212.744.2313 F. 212.772.7962

Opening Hours: Tue – Sat 10 – 6

Gagosian Gallery website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘England’ 1993

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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.

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