Archive for the 'street photography' Category

17
Oct
21

Exhibition: ‘James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective’ at the Serpentine North Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 19th May – 24th October 2021

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Portrait of James Barnor in front of some of his photographs, Accra' 1957

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Portrait of James Barnor in front of some of his photographs, Accra
1957
Courtesy Autograph

 

 

It’s late, but it’s better late than never

After a life of giving – putting his photographs out into the world, generous of his energy and spirit – this ‘Ever Young’ artist is, finally, getting the recognition that he so richly deserves.

In the tradition of Black African photographers such as Malick Sidibé, Seydou Keïta and Sanlé Sory, Barnor’s photographs present people of all ages and all walks of life – whether in Accra, Ghana or in the suburbs of London, England – through direct and honest studio portraits or in more candid documents of the communities that surrounded him. Barnor’s work “is the intimate documentation of African and Afro-diasporic lives across time and space. Whether taking family snapshots, commissioned portraits or commercial assignments, Barnor approaches the photographic process as a collaborative venture, a conversation with the sitter, and these images are a testament to a lifetime of encounters.”

In all of Barnor’s work their is a sensitivity to subject matter. Noticeably, in the work from the 1960s onwards there is a freeing up of the picture plane, a playfulness and freshness in these images, which capture the spirit which is naturally embedded within African culture. I look at his photographs and they make me smile. For example, the glorious presence of the women in Family members at the occasion of the engagement of James’ cousin (late 1970s, below) or the radiant women with the Christmas tree on top of the television in At Ataa Quarcoopome, family members at the occasion of the engagement of James cousin (c. 1970-71, below). People at ease in front of the camera, with no overt acting up, no pretension. His Afro-modernist colour photographs of people in Accra in the 1970s are magnificent for their refined use of limited colour palettes and the relaxed ease of the subjects. As the press release states, “These images are drawn from a long lifetime of capturing people and places with the camera, a lifetime in which Barnor acts as witness, maker, interpreter and storyteller.” As he says, the story is the picture.

But what pushes Barnor’s photographs further than other Black African photographers is that he ventured to another, foreign land to photograph Afro-diasporic lives across time and space. Imagine arriving in London in 1959 where you couldn’t get work as a Black photographer, and all the racism that this statement entails, to then continue to photograph for Drum magazine the vibrant and growing Afro diasporic community. In the ‘Swinging Sixties’ where ‘Black was Beautiful’, Barnor’s photographs were “affirming the place of black bodies in public and encouraging the active mixing of multinational cultural markers… Bridging between the world of Africa and Europe gave Barnor a unique perspective, and the best of his photographs simmer with cross-cultural style and verve.”1 This can be seen particularly in his personal images from parties, weddings, and family outings and in his cover work for Drum, where his models are in public – happy, proud and free. It is wonderful for me to see pictures such as A group of friends photographed during Mr. And Mrs Sackey’s wedding, London (c. 1966, below) for its depiction of a world where skin colour does not matter, should never matter. For too long has this world been ruled by hatred and division.

Barnor’s photographs plant the seed of equality and happiness as a way of transmitting this knowledge to others. “He is a living archive, a link between the birth of photography in West Africa and the development of the discipline for the modern era.”2 It is his passion and feeling for the practice of photography, the stories that it tells and his engagement with the spirit of the people that he encounters – as a conversation between equals – that intuitively ground his work in the history of photography and the history of Black culture and makes them forever young. As the article on the L’Officiel website by Kleaver Cruz observes, “… it is his calling to connect with his subjects, to create space for them to be free, and to capture their essence for the record, for the sake of our existence as Black and African peoples, and for what has become an important archive of the lives he has interacted with over the course of his own long and rich life.”

Lives across time and space, across this life and the next.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. Loring Knoblauch. “James Barnor, The Roadmaker,” on the Collector Daily website, June 18, 2021 [Online] Cited 17/10/2021
  2. Kleaver Cruz. “Legends Deserve Flowers: The Legacy of James Barnor,” on the L’Officiel website 19th May 2021 [Online] Cited 10th July 2021.
  3. Ibid.,

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

 

 

“I came across a magazine with an inscription that said: “A civilisation flourishes when men plant trees under which they themselves will never sit.” But to me it’s not only plants – putting something in somebody’s life, a young person’s life, is the same as planting a tree that you will not cut and sell during your lifetime. That has helped me a lot in my work. Sometimes the more you give, the more you get.”

.
James Barnor

 

“I wish the recognition that I’m getting now had come to me when I was about 65. And I wish when I was 60, 65, 70, my work was regarded as ‘iconic,’ or whatever people call it now. Then I would have had the chance to approach people for assignments and I would not have been taken for granted. And I’d have been able to buy the type of equipment I needed or wanted, and sold pictures at places that understood my work. It’s late, but it’s better late than never.”

.
James Barnor

 

“It took me a long time to understand the art of photography. There is a big difference between doing art and doing photography. I have come to realise that, when you get an education, as soon as you see a picture, you already know this should be here, that should be there. You form the story before you take the pictures: you take two or three, and you are on the way.”

.
James Barnor, ‘Frieze Magazine’, May 2021

 

“You can google all the technical stuff. It’s the ideas that you have that’re important. The community development, the self-involvement. Go and learn and be knowledgeable and take the camera. The story is the picture.”

.
James Barnor

 

 

James Barnor (born 1929) 'Mr. Blavo and friends at a Youth Development Club party, Scout Headquarters, Accra' 1953

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Mr. Blavo and friends at a Youth Development Club party, Scout Headquarters, Accra
1953
© James Barnor/Autograph ABP, London

 

 

As a young person, Barnor was active in Youth Development Clubs and other social activities organised for young people in Accra. In this image, he captured some new and old friends during a camping-style party hosted at the Boy Scout Headquarters in the capital city. At the centre of the group is someone Barnor was less familiar with, but remembered as a classmate and one of the first trained health workers in the country; on her left is E. Quarshie Blavo, a prominent Scout and youth leader who was “always coming up with ideas to get the youth united and to learn and do things and give service;” to her right is another friend of Barnor’s, Mr. Kitson-Mills who worked as a Tax Controller. Barnor was also part of developing the youth hostel system in Ghana, which offered affordable options for young Ghanaians who wanted to travel and get better acquainted with all their home country had to offer.

Extract from Kleaver Cruz. “Legends Deserve Flowers: The Legacy of James Barnor,” on the L’Officiel website 19th May 2021 [Online] Cited 10th July 2021.

 

James Barnor (born 1929) 'Eva, London' 1960s, printed 2010

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Eva, London
1960s, printed 2010
© James Barnor/Autograph ABP, London

 

 

A celebration of the great Ghanaian photographer, who established his Ever Young studio in Accra in the early 1950s, and documented London during the swinging 60s as a photojournalist for Drum magazine. Capturing the mood of Ghana as it transitioned to independence in the 1950s, Barnor’s work remains an important reference for painters, photographers and film-makers.

The Serpentine presents a major survey of British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor, whose career spans six decades, two continents and numerous photographic genres through his work with studio portraiture, photojournalism, editorial commissions and wider social commentary.

Born in 1929 in Ghana, James Barnor established his famous Ever Young studio in Accra in the early 1950s, capturing a nation on the cusp of independence in an ambiance animated by conversation and highlife music. In 1959 he arrived in London, furthering his studies and continuing assignments for influential South African magazine Drum which reflected the spirit of the era and the experiences of London’s burgeoning African diaspora. He returned to Ghana in the early 1970s to establish the country’s first colour processing lab while continuing his work as a portrait photographer and embedding himself in the music scene. He returned to London in 1994.

Central to Barnor’s work is the intimate documentation of African and Afro-diasporic lives across time and space. Whether taking family snapshots, commissioned portraits or commercial assignments, Barnor approaches the photographic process as a collaborative venture, a conversation with the sitter, and these images are a testament to a lifetime of encounters. Barnor’s desire to bring communities with him along his journey extends to his lifelong passion for education, not just as a means of furthering his own skills but also as a way of transmitting his knowledge to others. The recent digitisation of his archive of 32,000 images has enabled him to adopt the daily practice of revisiting his pictures with fresh eyes and memories to share his extraordinary life and work with a new generation.

Organised in broadly chronological order, James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective moves between the two countries, and includes portraits taken at his first studio, Ever Young; images taken in and around the independence movement in Ghana; Barnor’s era-defining work for South African anti-apartheid / Black lifestyle publication Drum and extensive photography of life in 1960s London; plus work from his time managing the first colour-processing laboratory in 1970s Ghana.

Text from the Serpentine North Gallery website

 

 

 

James Barnor at Serpentine 2021

 

'James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective' (Installation view, 19 May - 24 October 2021, Serpentine)

 

James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective (Installation view, 19 May – 24 October 2021, Serpentine) showing at centre, Beatrice with trademark figurine, Ever Young Studio, Accra (c. 1953, below), and at left The Pastor (Oscar Lamptey), Mamprobi, Accra (1955, below)
Photo: Zoe Maxwell

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Beatrice with trademark figurine, Ever Young Studio, Accra' c. 1953

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Beatrice with trademark figurine, Ever Young Studio, Accra
c. 1953
Courtesy of Autograph

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'The Pastor (Oscar Lamptey), Mamprobi, Accra' 1955

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
The Pastor (Oscar Lamptey), Mamprobi, Accra
1955
Courtesy of Autograph

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Roy Ankrah and an unknown boxer in a remote area of Ghana' 1952

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Roy Ankrah and an unknown boxer in a remote area of Ghana
1952
James Barnor/Courtesy Autograph ABP

 

 

John Theophilus Oti Ankrah (25 December 1925 – 28 May 1995), better known as Roy Ankrah, was a Ghanaian featherweight contender during the 1950s. He was given the nicknames “The Black Flash” and “Mr. Perpetual Motion” because of his fast hands and crafty footwork. Ankrah held the Commonwealth featherweight title from 1951 to 1952 and had his biggest fight against then-reigning NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring bantamweight world champion in a non-title fight as both fighters weighed above the 118lbs limit of bantamweight.

 

'James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective' (Installation view, 19 May - 24 October 2021, Serpentine)

 

James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective (Installation view, 19 May – 24 October 2021, Serpentine) showing at right Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, London (1966, below)
Photo: Zoe Maxwell

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, London' 1966, printed 2010

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, London
1966, printed 2010
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) ''Drum' magazine cover with Constance Mulondo, East Africa edition' August 1967

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
‘Drum’ magazine cover with Constance Mulondo, East Africa edition
August 1967

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Marie Hallowi, 'Drum' covergirl, Kent' 1966

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Marie Hallowi, ‘Drum’ covergirl, Kent
1966

 

'James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective' (Installation view, 19 May - 24 October 2021, Serpentine)

 

James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective (Installation views, 19 May – 24 October 2021, Serpentine), the bottom image showing Barnor cover photographs for the magazine Drum
Photo: Zoe Maxwell

 

 

“There weren’t magazines or newspapers showing Black models – Drum started it,” he said. “Any time I saw a Drum cover in London, side by side with international magazines, I felt really satisfied. I knew I was recording something. I knew I had to take care of my negatives.” ~ James Barnor

 

'James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective' (Installation view, 19 May - 24 October 2021, Serpentine)

'James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective' (Installation view, 19 May - 24 October 2021, Serpentine)

 

James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective (Installation view, 19 May – 24 October 2021, Serpentine) showing at third right Mohammed Ali preparing for his fight against Brian London, London (1966, below)
Photo: Zoe Maxwell

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Mohammed Ali preparing for his fight against Brian London, London' 1966

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Mohammed Ali preparing for his fight against Brian London, London
1966

 

 

At 24 years old, Muhammad Ali, then the heavyweight champion of the world, was scheduled to defend his title against Brian London in the UK’s capital in 1966. Barnor was commissioned by Drum to capture Ali during his preparation for the big fight. “I didn’t talk to him at all. I should have asked him to do this or that for me. I’m sure that he would have done anything I asked him to do – ‘turn this way’ or ‘you do that,’ he would have done it. But he was so fascinating,” Barnor says of photographing the young star. Consistent with his intuitive spirit, Barnor chose to focus on the icon’s back rather than his face. “Nobody would have thought of photographing somebody’s back,” he recalls. Barnor shot this image with a Mamiya he had acquired from trading the camera he came to London with following the completion of his studies at Medway College of Art in Kent.

Extract from Kleaver Cruz. “Legends Deserve Flowers: The Legacy of James Barnor,” on the L’Officiel website 19th May 2021 [Online] Cited 10th July 2021.

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Self Portrait with Nkrumah, Roy Ankrah and his Wife, Rebecca, Accra' Nd

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Self Portrait with Nkrumah, Roy Ankrah and his Wife, Rebecca, Accra
Nd
Courtesy Autograph, London

 

 

James Barnor’s career as a studio portraitist, photojournalist and Black lifestyle photographer spans six decades, recording major social and political changes in Accra and London. His pioneering, resolutely modern work has influenced generations of photographers in Africa and around the world. James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective, focuses on the period 1950-1980, selected from more than 32,000available images.

Central to Barnor’s work is the intimate documentation of African and Afro-diasporic lives across time and space. Whether making family snapshots, commissioned portraits or commercial assignments, Barnor approaches the photographic process as a collaborative venture, a conversation with the sitter, and his images are a testament to a lifetime of encounters.

Organised in broadly chronological order, James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective moves between the two countries, and includes portraits taken at his first studio, Ever Young; images taken in and around the independence movement in Ghana; Barnor’s era-defining work for South African anti-apartheid / Black lifestyle publication Drum and extensive photography of life in 1960s London; plus work from his time managing the first colour-processing laboratory in 1970s Ghana. His life-long passion for music is visible through portraits of musicians and performers.

“James Barnor’s work reminds us how thrillingly expansive life is; his photographs offer the possibility of connection and exchange across continents and through time. These images are drawn from a long lifetime of capturing people and places with the camera, a lifetime in which Barnor acts as witness, maker, interpreter and storyteller. We are immensely proud to be able to present this show atSerpentine this summer. We are so grateful to James Barnor for his vision, his unfailing energy and for sharing his memories so generously.”

Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director, and Bettina Korek, Chief Executive, Serpentine

This exhibition is part of Serpentine’s commitment to programming pioneering artists achieving wider recognition later in their careers, including exhibitions in recent years by Rose Wylie (2017), Luchita Hurtado and Faith Ringgold (both 2019).

 

About James Barnor

Born in 1929 in Accra, Ghana, Barnor came from a family of photographers. He initially trained under a photographic apprenticeship with his cousin J. P. D. Dodoo, before establishing Ever Young, his first studio, in the early 1950s. Barnor likened Ever Young to a community centre, and it was there that he captured a nation on the cusp of independence in an environment of lively conversation and music. During this time, he also undertook assignments for the Daily Graphic newspaper, documenting key events and figures in the lead-up to Ghana’s independence in 1957, which established him as the first photojournalist in the country. Enticed by a friend’s promise that ‘London was the place for him’, Barnor left Accra in 1959 and spent the next decade furthering his studies, continuing assignments for Drum, and photographing his ever-growing circle of family and friends. He returned to Accra a decade later to establish the first colour-processing laboratory in Ghana. Barnor settled permanently in the UK in 1994 and lives in West London.

On the occasion of the exhibition Serpentine is publishing a catalogue, Accra/London –A Retrospective, with Koenig Books, which is co-produced with MASI Lugano and Detroit Institute of Arts. Richly illustrated and designed by Mark El-khatib, it includes contributions by head of the photographic collection at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris, Christine Barthe; architect Sir David Adjaye OBE; artist David Hartt; curator Alicia Knock, and a personal recollection from former Drum magazine model, Erlin Ibreck, who worked with Barnor on numerous shoots during the 1960s in London. The catalogue also includes a conversation between Barnor and Serpentine Artistic Director Hans Ulrich Obrist.

Press release from the Serpentine North Gallery website

 

James Barnor (born 1929) 'Revolution in the public transport ticketing system, Accra' c. 1950s

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Revolution in the public transport ticketing system, Accra
c. 1950s
Courtesy Autograph, London

 

 

On March 6, 1957, the nation known today as Ghana gained its independence from British colonial rule, marking a growing tide of independence movements across the continent. In the capital city of Accra, where Barnor grew up, many waves of change occurred, including an upgraded bus system. Recalling today, Barnor describes the busyness of the capital city and how the municipal bus system transported people throughout the metropolitan area and its suburbs, as well as the enhancement of its technology, evidence of which we see in the suited conductor issuing paper tickets detailing the price and distance which each passenger was travelling. Barnor also notes elements of interaction between different classes, which is apparent in the dress and accessories of the woman on the far right in contrast to the other passengers. In regard to the people looking directly into the lens, Barnor recalls the excitement and curiosity when he showed up with a camera; after all, Barnor was the nation’s first newspaper photographer and, when people saw him, many understood that their image could potentially appear in the next day’s publication. “Oh yes… somebody with a camera coming, you know, people would ask, ‘What are you shooting for?’ By all means, everybody looks at you,” he says.

Extract from Kleaver Cruz. “Legends Deserve Flowers: The Legacy of James Barnor,” on the L’Officiel website 19th May 2021 [Online] Cited 10th July 2021.

 

James Barnor (born 1929) 'Naa Jacobson as Ballroom Queen, Ever Queen Studio, Accra' 1955

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Naa Jacobson as Ballroom Queen, Ever Queen Studio, Accra
1955

 

 

There are so many stories here;
I have a special relationship with many of my models.
This is my comfort zone because I am inspired:
distracted and also attracted by so many details!
These are some of the people I enjoyed photographing most,
But there are so many more stories to tell.

~ James Barnor

 

James Barnor (born 1929) 'Four Nurses (graduates of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital), Ever Young Studio, Accra' c. 1957

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Four Nurses (graduates of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital), Ever Young Studio, Accra
c. 1957
Courtesy Autograph

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Nigerian Superman. Old Polo Ground, Mantse Agbona Park, Accra' 1958

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Nigerian Superman. Old Polo Ground, Mantse Agbona Park, Accra
1958
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'A car accident outside Accra Brewery' Nd

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
A car accident outside Accra Brewery
Nd
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929). 'Untitled, Studio X23, Accra' 1975

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Untitled, Studio X23, Accra
1975
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Family members at the occasion of the engagement of James' cousin. Amanomo, Accra' Late 1970s

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Family members at the occasion of the engagement of James’ cousin, Amanomo, Accra
Late 1970s
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Ghanaian traditional hairstyle at Studio X23, Accra' c. 1970s

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Ghanaian traditional hairstyle at Studio X23, Accra
c. 1970s, modern print
Inkjet print
© James Barnor, courtesy galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

 

In 1973 Barnor converted a small storeroom given to him by his cousin Albert M. Quarcoopome into a darkroom before expanding into a building. This became his second studio Studio X23 (1973-1994) where alongside a multifaceted commission practice he continued working as a portrait photographer for twenty years.

 

Ever Young Studio, Jamestown, Accra

 

Ever Young Studio, Jamestown, Accra
Credit: James Barnor

 

 

Barnor’s studio was like a “community center,” he remembers, and he made “people feel at home,” by talking to and getting to know them. “Young men would come by to have a chat and have their photograph taken,” he said. “Most people had confidence in me already. Everybody knew me in Ghana as a successful photographer – they knew they would be satisfied.”

Barnor says he believes the photographs he took during this time showed a different, stylish view of his home country – one that belied assumptions. “When I had my studio in Ghana people thought we (Ghanaians) didn’t dress up,” he said. “But all my sitters, my friends, were fashion conscious – women would often request full-length photos with shoes, a handbag and their accessories.”

Emma Firth. “From Accra to London, how photographer James Barnor captured decades of style,” on the CNN style website 20th June 2020 [Online] Cited 10/07/2021

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'AGIP with Graphic Designer' 1974

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
AGIP with Graphic Designer
1974

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Print in progress, Studio X23. Accra' 1972

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Print in progress, Studio X23, Accra
1972
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Kids dressed in identical suits. Accra' 1970s

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Kids dressed in identical suits, Accra
1970s
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Ever Young studio. Accra' 1954

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Ever Young studio, Accra
1954
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'J Peter Dodoo Jnr., Yoga student of "Mr Strong", Ever Young Studio, Accra' c. 1955

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
J Peter Dodoo Jnr., Yoga student of “Mr Strong”, Ever Young Studio, Accra
c. 1955, modern print
Inkjet print
© James Barnor, courtesy galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

 

Accra in the 1950s was a decade marked by the significant transformation of nation building and the rise of cosmopolitanism. Photography served as an important medium for sitters to articulate their own self-actualisation. Barnor described his first studio Ever Young (1953-1959), in the Jamestown district of the city, as a community centre filled with music and conversation, a drop-in space that embodied precisely this spirit of reinvention through the frame.

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Evelyn Abbew, Ever Young Studio, Accra' 1954

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Evelyn Abbew, Ever Young Studio, Accra
1954
© James Barnor/Autograph ABP, London

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Emma Christiana Bruce Annan, Drum Party, Chorkor Beach, Accra' 1954-56

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Emma Christiana Bruce Annan, Drum Party, Chorkor Beach, Accra
1954-56
Courtesy Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

 

Introduction

Throughout his career, British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor has captured images of societies in transition and transformation. Moving between Accra and London to cultivate a practice that encompasses the genres of studio portraiture, photojournalism and social documentary photography, Barnor witnessed and recorded major social and political changes during a career that spans over six decades and two continents. This exhibition, the largest survey of his work to date, is drawn from his extensive archive and focuses on the decades 1950-80.

Born in 1929 in Accra, Ghana, Barnor came from a family of photographers. He initially trained under a photographic apprenticeship with his cousin J. P. D. Dodoo, before establishing Ever Young, his first studio, in the early 1950s. Barnor likened Ever Young to a community centre, and it was there that he captured a nation on the cusp of independence in an environment of lively conversation and music. During this time, he also undertook assignments for the Daily Graphic newspaper, owned by the Mirror Group, documenting key events and figures in the lead-up to Ghana’s independence in 1957, which established him as the first photojournalist in the country. Enticed by a friend’s promise that ‘London was the place for him’, Barnor arrived in London in December 1959 and spent the next decade furthering his studies, continuing assignments for the influential South African magazine Drum, and photographing his ever-growing circle of family and friends. He returned to Accra a decade later to establish the first colour-processing laboratory in Ghana. Barnor settled permanently in the UK in 1994 and now lives in West London.

Central to Barnor’s work is the intimate documentation of African and Afro-diasporic lives across time and space. Whether taking family snapshots, commissioned portraits or commercial assignments, Barnor approaches the photographic process as a collaborative venture, a conversation with the sitter, and these images are a testament to a lifetime of encounters. Barnor’s desire to bring communities with him along his journey extends to his lifelong passion for education, not just as a means of furthering his own skills but also as a way of transmitting his knowledge to others. The recent digitisation of his archive of 32,000 images has enabled him to adopt the daily practice of revisiting his pictures with fresh eyes and memories to share his extraordinary life and work with a new generation.

 

Ever Young Studio

Barnor first developed his photographic skills while serving an apprenticeship under his cousin J. P. D. Dodoo before going out on his own to establish Ever Young Studio in the early 1950s. Initially a modest, outdoor set-up with a darkroom in his aunt’s vacant room, the studio later moved to the Jamestown district of Accra in 953. Ever Young was a hive of activity, a drop-in space for people of all ages and all walks of life: ‘My studio was at a spot where everything happened in Accra, where young and old people met from various backgrounds, free to talk about everything and anything.’

Barnor took the name Ever Young from the story of Iduna’s Grove that he learned in school as a child. In the myth ‘Iduna, the beautiful young goddess of the Norsemen, lived in a pretty grove called Ever Young. She had a golden casket full of the most beautiful apples. A hero might come, tired and weary to Iduna’s Grove, feeling that he was growing old. Then Iduna would give him an apple and as soon as he had eaten it he would feel fresh and young again. It is not surprising that Iduna’s Grove was never lonely. As soon as the last rosy fruit had been given away, the casket was filled again by an invisible hand.’

The ethos of the name Ever Young can be felt in Barnor’s youthful energy and commitment to inspiring younger generations. The name also refers to his photographic training and process: ‘The essence of my studio profession is retouching, that’s the training I had, even though I wasn’t perfect. I thought that if someone came in, I’d make them look younger. So, if I open a studio, what should I call it? Ever Young.’

 

Accra Life

Barnor’s early work depicting life in and around Accra in the 1950s resisted the formal quality and rigid structure associated with large-format studio portraiture, becoming progressively more candid as he documented the communities around him using a small camera.

‘For me it was like living in two worlds: there was the careful handling of a sitter in my “studio” with a big camera on a heavy tripod, and then running around town chasing news and sports! … If I needed a picture, or a new story, I would rush to the Makola market, where people behave most like themselves. I enjoyed this more than studio photography. I would use a small camera. It was good for finding stories.’

Barnor became great friends with Drum magazine’s energetic proprietor, Jim Bailey. Drum was an influential South African politics and lifestyle magazine that also served as an anti-apartheid platform. When visiting Ghana, Bailey would host impromptu, often legendary, parties for the Drum community. One gathering was organised by Barnor at his studio, with another taking place on the beach, where he recounts that ‘people were swimming under the moon’.

 

Independence

In 1957, Ghana became the first West African country to gain independence from British colonial rule when Dr Kwame Nkrumah was elected its Prime Minister. Nkrumah’s political trajectory compounded by ‘philosophical consciencism’, an ideology for decolonisation to enable social revolution, saw him organising extensively with scholars and activists such as George Padmore and W.E.B Du Bois, who all resided in the country. Barnor was there to capture it all.

After gaining attention after one of his photographs was published in the Telegraph, Barnor was commissioned by UK-based Black Star Picture Agency and Drum magazine to photograph this time of significant historic transformation for a new nation, and the subsequent celebrations that drew people from all over the world.

‘I was the first newspaper photographer in Ghana, and I’m proud of that. Newspaper photography changed people’s lives and it changed journalism in Ghana. I was part of this moment.’

 

London

‘My friend and mentor, A. Q. A. Archampong, who had been my class teacher, had decided to go to England to study. We always kept in touch. Before he left, I said to him: “If the place is alright, write to me.” So, in his first letter to me, he wrote: “London is the place for you”.’

In 1959, two years after Ghana’s independence, Barnor arrived in London. After initially lodging in Peckham, he was introduced to Dennis Kemp by the Ghanaian Embassy, a lecturer in visual education working for the Kodak Lecture Service, who was researching Africa in preparation for a trip to document the forthcoming Nigerian independence celebrations. Kemp shared Barnor’s passion for photography and the two toured schools around the country where Kemp gave lectures using his archive of images on subjects that interested him, such as his travels, climbing and pot-holing, in order to demonstrate Kodak products as visual teaching aids. Barnor also joined Kemp on his trip to Nigeria in October 1960, and lodged at his flat in Holborn, eventually receiving a grant from the Ghana Cocoa Marketing Board to support his training. Barnor and Kemp would often host coffee evenings with friends discussing approaches to photography and shared interests in African cultures and philosophies.

 

Drum

‘When I saw Drum with my photos on the cover, alongside other magazines at the newsstands, I felt like I was in heaven.’

In London, Barnor continued assignments for Drum. He captured the experiences of a vibrant and growing Afro diasporic community for the magazine, playing a key role in placing models of African descent, such as Erlin Ibreck and Marie Hallowi, on the cover. Through his work for Drum, Barnor combined studio portraiture and street photography, capturing a singular vision of a diasporic ‘Swinging Sixties’ in London. Whether picturing Hallowi gazing seductively from a convertible car, or Mike Eghan joyously floating down the steps at Piccadilly Circus, these pictorial narratives articulate the Afro-diasporic reclaiming of space and agency in self-expression.

‘You couldn’t get work in the 1960s as a Black photographer. It wouldn’t happen that a Black photographer would instruct white sitters […] If you worked for a studio in London, you worked behind the scenes in the darkroom doing odd jobs. Drum though, where I did freelance work, was different. They let me photograph the cover girls, Muhammad Ali, Mike Eghan (the BBC presenter). Drum was my home in London, my office, I got everything done there.’

 

UK 1960s

In 1960, Barnor moved to Kent, where he learned about colour photography at the Colour Processing Laboratories (CPL) in Edenbridge, the UK’s leading lab at the time. With Kemp’s encouragement he enrolled in a three-year course at Medway College of Art in Rochester. At Medway, he learned the technical aspects of colour photography, while continuing to work during the holidays at CPL. After graduating he was employed as a technician at the college before he was hired as a photographer in the design section of Centre for Educational Television Overseas (CETO).

During this period Barnor became close to Kemp’s family, who lived in Southwick, West Sussex, spending his free time rock climbing with Kemp and going on weekly outings with the Tunbridge Wells Overseas Club, a community group that fostered friendships between people who had recently settled in West Kent. Barnor was offered full-time employment as a colour printer by CPL in 1968.

 

Colour in Ghana

Driven by a desire to share the experience and kills he acquired while working with colour photography in the UK, Barnor returned to Ghana in 1970 as a trained manager for Sick-Hagemayer, a subdivision of the photographic equipment and materials manufacturer Agfa-Gevaert, to establish the first colour-processing laboratory in the country, where he worked until 1973 before establishing his own studio. Prior to the introduction of colour film-processing labs in West Africa in the 1970s, photographers had to improvise or send films for processing abroad. With a local colour processing lab in Accra, under Barnor’s leadership, came a greater demand and wider access to colour photography. People wanted their photographs to depict the range of vibrant life and Ghanaian fashion around them. Barnor excelled in this regard, using his knowledge of colour and singular aesthetic to capture popular dress and create a new style of portraiture.

‘Colour really changed people’s ideas about photography. Kente is Ghanaian woven fabric with many different colours, and people wanted their photographs taken after church or in town wearing this cloth, so the news spread quickly.’

 

Accra Life and Studio X23

[Barnor] established his second studio, Studio X23 in 1973. Barnor initially converted a small storeroom given to him by his cousin Albert M. Quarcoopome into a darkroom before expanding into other parts of the building. Although he returned to Ghana with little intention of continuing a studio practice, it nevertheless found him again and for the next twenty years Barnor continued his practice as a portrait photographer.

 

Commissions

Alongside his studio practice Barnor regularly took on commercial commissions, many of which were passed on to him by his friend the graphic designer Emmanuel Odartey Lamptey. Barnor shot images for clients including a promotional calendar for the Italian oil company AGIP, and publicity shots and record sleeve images for musicians like E. K. Nyame. ‘I was close to the music fraternity too. I knew E.T. Mensah, who played the trumpet and the sax and spearheaded high-life music before all the others. I knew all the musicians. I was taking their pictures.’

 

Music

While continuing to run Studio X23 and working at the United States Information Service throughout the 1970s and 80s Barnor’s attention became increasingly focussed on pursuing his passion for music through the management of children’s troupe Ebaahi Gbiko (All Will Be Well One Day), later renamed Fee Hi (All is Well). The group rehearsed in the yard of the studio every day with the understanding that they had to attend school. He felt that practising together after school kept the group out of trouble and focused on their education: ‘I don’t play drums, write music or sing, but I took them in like my own children.’ The troupe became an important part of Barnor’s life, and he accompanied them on a tour of Italy in 1983 as part of an anti-apartheid campaign focusing on the living conditions of South African children for which they had been officially nominated.

As a result of the early 1980s global economic recession, by the middle of the decade Ghana’s economy collapsed, leading to a debt crisis that spread across the African continent. This made conditions difficult for Barnor to continue his photographic practice, the troupe disbanded and in 1994 he returned to the UK. Barnor enrolled in business-management classes in the evening and secured a rehearsal space with the hope of reforming the troupe and bringing them to London but was unable to arrange work permits and relinquished the idea. Today, former members of Fee Hi are, as Barnor notes: ‘All over the diaspora. They have since joined other groups, and I feel very pleased. The memory of them will never leave me.’

Text from the Serpentine North Gallery

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Drum cover girl Erlin Ibreck at Trafalgar Square, London' 1966

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Drum cover girl Erlin Ibreck at Trafalgar Square, London
1966, modern print
C-Type Print
© James Barnor, courtesy galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

 

Throughout the 1960s James Barnor shot six covers for Drum, a leading lifestyle, culture and politics magazine on the African continent that also served as anti-apartheid platform. By combining studio portraiture and street photography, Barnor’s lens captured the experiences of a vibrant and growing Afro diasporic community in London, playing a key role in placing models of African descent such as Erlin Ibreck on the cover of Drum. Here he captured the experiences of another growing and vibrant ‘Swinging Sixties’ as articulated by the Afro diasporic community in their self-expression thus reclaiming of space and agency.

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Model playing drums: Constance Mulondo, 'Drum' cover, at London University Weekend with the band The Millionaires, London' 1967

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Model playing drums: Constance Mulondo, Drum cover, at London University Weekend with the band The Millionaires, London
1967
© James Barnor, courtesy galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London' 1967

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London
1967
© James Barnor/Autograph ABP, London

 

 

As part of his work with Drum, Barnor captured the BBC’s first Black broadcaster, Mike Eghan, on the steps of the famous Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus, central London. Another photo shows street-scouted cover girl, 19-year-old Erlin Ibreck – whom he met waiting for a bus – feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Coffee night at Theobald's Road, London' 1960

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Coffee night at Theobald’s Road, London
1960
James Barnor/Courtesy Autograph ABP

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Pearly King, Petticoat Lane Market, London' 1960s

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Pearly King, Petticoat Lane Market, London
1960s
Courtesy Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Early morning in Covent Garden market in 1960s London' 1960s

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Early morning in Covent Garden market in 1960s London
1960s
Courtesy Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Drum cover girl Rosemarie Thompson, London' 1967

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Drum cover girl Rosemarie Thompson, London
1967
Courtesy of Autograph

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Wedding guests, London' 1960s

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Wedding guests, London
1960s
Courtesy of Autograph

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'A group of friends photographed during Mr. And Mrs Sackey's wedding, London' c. 1966

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
A group of friends photographed during Mr. And Mrs Sackey’s wedding, London
c. 1966
Courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'At Ataa Quarcoopome, family members at the occasion of the engagement of James cousin, Amanomo, Accra' c. 1970-71

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
At Ataa Quarcoopome, family members at the occasion of the engagement of James cousin, Amanomo, Accra
c. 1970-71
Courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) Wedding Portrait, Nii Ayi, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Accra 1970-1980

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Wedding Portrait, Nii Ayi, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Accra
1970-1980
Courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'E. K. Nyame, the legendary Ghanaian musician, photographed for a record cover, Accra' c. 1975

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
E. K. Nyame, the legendary Ghanaian musician, photographed for a record cover, Accra
c. 1975
Courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Sister holding Brother, Accra' 1979

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Sister holding Brother, Accra
1979
Courtesy Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) ''Drum' cover model Marie Hallowi at Charing Cross Station, London' 1966

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Drum cover model Marie Hallowi at Charing Cross Station, London

1966
Courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Members of the Tunbridge Wells Overseas Club, Relaxing after a Hot Summer Sunday Walk, Kent' c. 1968

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Members of the Tunbridge Wells Overseas Club, Relaxing after a Hot Summer Sunday Walk, Kent
c. 1968
Courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Two friends dressed for a church celebration with James' car, Accra' 1970

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Two friends dressed for a church celebration with James’ car, Accra
1970

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'James Barnor at the studio Agfa-Gevaert in Mortsel, Belgium' 1969

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
James Barnor at the studio Agfa-Gevaert in Mortsel, Belgium
1969
© James Barnor Courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Mavis and Mary Barnor with an Agfa advertising ball' 1970

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Mavis and Mary Barnor with an Agfa advertising ball
1970
© James Barnor/Autograph ABP, London

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Miss Sophia Salomon, Kokomlemle, Accra' c. 1972

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Miss Sophia Salomon, Kokomlemle, Accra
c. 1972
Courtesy of Autograph

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Salah Day, Kokomlemle, Accra' 1973

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Salah Day, Kokomlemle, Accra
1973
© James Barnor/Autograph ABP, London

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'A shop assistant at the Sick-Hagemeyer store. Accra' 1971

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
A shop assistant at the Sick-Hagemeyer store. Accra
1971
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'A store assistant on Station Road, Accra' 1971

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
A store assistant on Station Road, Accra
1971
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'AGIP calendar model' 1974

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
AGIP calendar model
1974
October Gallery, London

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Model posing for Agip 1 Calendar, Accra' c. 1974-1975

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Model posing for Agip 1 Calendar, Accra
c. 1974-1975
© James Barnor Courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Fee Hii Cultural troupe' c. 1983-1984

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Fee Hii Cultural troupe
c. 1983-1984

 

'James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective' book cover

 

James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective book cover

 

 

Serpentine Gallery
Kensington Gardens
London W2 3XA
Phone: 020 7402 6075

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 6pm

Serpentine Gallery website

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26
Sep
21

Exhibition: ‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 2nd July – 3rd October, 2021

Curators: The New Woman Behind the Camera is curated by Andrea Nelson, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The Met’s presentation is organised by Mia Fineman, Curator, with Virginia McBride, Research Assistant, both in the Department of Photographs.

 

 

Marion Post Wolcott (American, 1910–1990) '[Haircutting in Front of General Store and Post Office on Marcella Plantation, Mileston, Mississippi]' 1939

 

Marion Post Wolcott (American, 1910–1990)
[Haircutting in Front of General Store and Post Office on Marcella Plantation, Mileston, Mississippi]
1939
Gelatin silver print
9 13/16 × 12 11/16 in. (25 × 32.2cm)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

This is the first of two postings on this exhibition, this first one when it is taking place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The second posting will be its iteration at the National Gallery of Art, Washington starting on 31st October, with many more images. I will write more about the exhibition in the second posting.

The only thing you really need to know is… I bought the catalogue. Rarely do I buy catalogues, but that’s how important I think this exhibition is.

My favourite photographs in this posting are two atmospheric self-portraits: Gertrud Arndt’s Masked Self-Portrait (No. 16) (1930, below) and Marta Astfalck-Vietz’s Self-Portrait (nude with lace) (c. 1927, below). The most disturbing but uplifting are Margaret Bourke-White’s photographs of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp: after all that he had gone through, how the young man can smile at the flash of the camera is miraculous.

But really, there is not a dud photograph in this posting. They are all strong, intelligent, creative images. I admire them all.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

The New Woman of the 1920s was a powerful expression of modernity, a global phenomenon that embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Featuring more than 120 photographers from over 20 countries, this groundbreaking exhibition explores the work of the diverse “new” women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and artistic expression from the 1920s through the 1950s. During this tumultuous period shaped by two world wars, women stood at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

The exhibition is the first to take an international approach to the subject, highlighting female photographers’ innovative work in studio portraiture, fashion and advertising, artistic experimentation, street photography, ethnography, and photojournalism. Among the photographers featured are Berenice Abbott, Ilse Bing, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Florestine Perrault Collins, Imogen Cunningham, Madame d’Ora, Florence Henri, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Consuelo Kanaga, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Dora Maar, Tina Modotti, Niu Weiyu, Tsuneko Sasamoto, Gerda Taro, and Homai Vyarawalla. Inspired by the global phenomenon of the New Woman, the exhibition seeks to reevaluate the history of photography and advance new and more inclusive conversations on the contributions of female photographers.

 

 

 

The New Woman Behind the Camera Virtual Opening

The New Woman of the 1920s through the 1950s was a powerful expression of modernity, a global phenomenon that embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. During this tumultuous period shaped by two world wars, women stood at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

Join Mia Fineman, Curator in the Department of Photographs, for a tour of The New Woman Behind the Camera, a groundbreaking exhibition, which features more than 120 photographers from over 20 countries and explores the work of the diverse “new” women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and artistic expression.

 

 

 

New Woman Behind the Camera

The New Woman of the 1920s was a powerful expression of modernity, a global phenomenon that embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Featuring more than 120 photographers from over 20 countries, this groundbreaking exhibition explores the work of the diverse “new” women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and artistic expression from the 1920s through the 1950s. During this tumultuous period shaped by two world wars, women stood at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978) 'Annie Mae Merriweather' 1935

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)
Annie Mae Merriweather
1935
Gelatin silver print
32.9 × 24.8cm (12 15/16 × 9 3/4 in.)
Purchase, Dorothy Levitt Beskind Gift, 1974
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Consuelo Kanaga photographed Annie Mae Merriweather for the October 22, 1935 issue of New Masses (vol. 17, no. 4). This portrait accompanies a Merriweather’s account of a lynch mob in Lowndes County, Alabama. In response to a strike of the Sharecropper’s Union, members of the mob terrorised demonstrators, attacking Merriweather and murdering her husband.

The artist created this portrait of Annie Mae Meriwether for New Masses magazine, an Marxist periodical published in the United States from 1926 to 1948. The picture was commissioned to accompany an account of Meriwether’s escape from the lynch mob that had murdered her husband as retribution for his involvement with an Alabama sharecroppers’ union.

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)

Born in Astoria, Oregon, Consuelo Kanaga came from a family that valued ideals of social justice. After completing high school, she began writing for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1915. Within three years, she had learned darkroom technique from the paper’s photographers and become a staff photographer. She met Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, and Dorothea Lange through the California Camera Club, and was interested in the fine-art photography in Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Work. A series of three marriages and one canceled engagement precipitated Kanaga’s periodic relocations between New York and San Francisco, where she established a portrait studio in 1930. While not an official member of the f/64 group, her images were exhibited in its first exhibition at San Francisco’s M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in 1932. Kanaga was involved in West Coast liberal politics, and when she returned to New York in 1935, she was associated with the leftist Photo League; she lectured there in 1938 with Aaron Siskind, then occupied with his Harlem Document. Her photography was championed by Edward Steichen, who included her in ‘The Family of Man’ exhibition in 1955. Kanaga’s work was featured in the 1979 ICP exhibition “Recollections: Ten Women of Photography,” and she was the subject of a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1992.

In terms of photographic technique and depiction of subjects, romantic instincts characterise Kanaga’s work. An advocate for the rights of African-Americans and other people of colour, Kanaga distinguished her portraits from the documentary images of the Farm Security Administration by conveying her subject’s physical comfort and personal pride. The tactile sense of volume in her work is reinforced by strong contrasts in printing light and dark forms.

Meredith Fisher in Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 219 published on the International Center of Photography website [Online] Cited 16/07/2021.

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992) 'Martha Graham – Lamentation' 1935

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992)
Martha Graham – Lamentation
1935
Gelatin silver print
12 5/16 × 10 9/16 in. (31.2 × 26.9cm)
Purchase, Dorothy Levitt Beskind Gift, 1974
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992)

Barbara Morgan (July 8, 1900 – August 17, 1992) was an American photographer best known for her depictions of modern dancers. She was a co-founder of the photography magazine Aperture.

Morgan is known in the visual art and dance worlds for her penetrating studies of American modern dancers Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins, José Limón, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and others. Morgan’s drawings, prints, watercolours and paintings were exhibited widely in California in the 1920s, and in New York and Philadelphia in the 1930s. …

In 1935 Barbara attended a performance of the young Martha Graham Dance Company. She was immediately struck with the historical and social importance of the emerging American Modern Dance movement:

“The photographers and painters who dealt with the Depression, often, it seemed to me, only added to defeatism without giving courage or hope. Yet the galvanising protest danced by Martha Graham, Humphrey-Weidman, Tamiris and others was heartening. Often nearly starving, they never gave up, but forged life affirming dance statements of American society in stress and strain. In this role, their dance reminded me of Indian ceremonial dances which invigorate the tribe in drought and difficulty.”

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Morgan conceived of her 1941 book project Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs – the year she met Graham. From 1935 through the 1945 she photographed more than 40 established dancers and choreographers, and she described her process:

“To epitomise… a dance with camera, stage performances are inadequate, because in that situation one can only fortuitously record. For my interpretation it was necessary to redirect, relight, and photographically synthesise what I felt to be the core of the total dance.”

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Many of the dancers Morgan photographed are now regarded as the pioneers of modern dance, and her photographs the definitive images of their art. These included Valerie Bettis, Merce Cunningham, Jane Dudley, Erick Hawkins, Hanya Holm, Doris Humphrey, José Limón, Sophie Maslow, May O’Donnell, Pearl Primus, Anna Sokolow, Helen Tamiris, and Charles Weidman. Critics Clive Barnes, John Martin, Elizabeth McCausland, and Beaumont Newhall have all noted the importance of Morgan’s work.

Graham and Morgan developed a relationship that would last some 60 years. Their correspondence attests to their mutual affection, trust and respect. In 1980, Graham stated:

“It is rare that even an inspired photographer possesses the demonic eye which can capture the instant of dance and transform it into timeless gesture. In Barbara Morgan I found that person. In looking at these photographs today, I feel, as I felt when I first saw them, privileged to have been a part of this collaboration. For to me, Barbara Morgan through her art reveals the inner landscape that is a dancer’s world.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Austria-Hungary, 1894-1989) 'László Moholy-Nagy' 1925-26

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Austria-Hungary, 1894-1989)
László Moholy-Nagy
1925-26
10 3/16 × 7 15/16 in. (25.8 × 20.1cm)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Austria-Hungary, 1894-1989)

Lucia Moholy was one of the most prolific photographers at the Bauhaus between 1923 and 1928, while her husband, László Moholy-Nagy, was an instructor there. For both, photography was not simply a transparent window onto objective reality but a specific technology to be systematically explored in the modern spirit of exuberant experimentation. Here, illustrating the effect of selective focus, Moholy imprints his hand against the invisible picture plane that separates viewer and subject-a playful, disorienting gesture that collapses illusionistic depth into the concrete reality of the photographic image.

 

Lucia Moholy’s 1925-26 image of her celebrated photographer husband, László Moholy-Nagy, extending his hand in front of the camera was long assumed to be his own self-portrait, but research has led scholars to conclude that his wife shot the image. A wall label calls it “a striking example of the tendency to attribute the work of women artists to their male partners”.

Text from Nancy Kenney. “Triumphant in their time, yet largely erased later: a Met exhibition explores ‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’,” on The Art Newspaper website 1st July 2021 [Online] Cited 22/07/2021

 

Ringl and Pit (German, active 1930-1933) Grete Stern (Argentinian born Germany, 1904-1999) Ellen Auerbach (German, 1906-2004) 'Pétrole Hahn' 1931

 

Ringl and Pit (German, active 1930-1933)
Grete Stern (Argentinian born Germany, 1904-1999)
Ellen Auerbach (German, 1906-2004)
Pétrole Hahn
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 11 1/8 in. (23.9 × 28.2cm)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2021 VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Wanda Wulz. 'Io + gatto (Cat + I)' 1932

 

Wanda Wulz (Italian, 1903-1984)
Io + gatto (Cat + I)
1932
Gelatin silver print
11 9/16 × 9 1/8 in. (29.4 × 23.2cm)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Wulz, a portrait photographer loosely associated with the Italian Futurist movement, created this striking composite by printing two negatives – one of her face, the other of the family cat – on a single sheet of photographic paper, evoking by technical means the seamless conflation of identities that occurs so effortlessly in the world of dreams.

 

Lucy Ashjian (American, 1907-1993) '[Savoy Dancers]' 1935-43

 

Lucy Ashjian (American, 1907-1993)
[Savoy Dancers]
1935-43
Gelatin silver print
24 × 18.8cm (9 7/16 × 7 3/8 in.)
Gift of Gregor Ashjian Preston, 2004
Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Lucy Ashjian Estate

 

 

Lucy Ashjian (1907-1993) was an American photographer best known as a member of the New York Photo League. Her work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona and the Museum of the City of New York.

 

 

Groundbreaking Exhibition to Explore How Women Photographers Worldwide Shaped the Medium from the 1920s to the 1950s

The New Woman of the 1920s was a powerful expression of modernity, a global phenomenon that embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Opening July 2, 2021 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The New Woman Behind the Camera will feature 185 photographs, photo books, and illustrated magazines by 120 photographers from over 20 countries. This groundbreaking exhibition will highlight the work of the diverse “new” women who made significant advances in modern photography from the 1920s to the 1950s. During this tumultuous period shaped by two world wars, women stood at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

The exhibition is made possible in part by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Daniel and Estrellita Brodsky Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. It is organised by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met, commented, “The international scope of this project is unprecedented. Though the New Woman is often regarded as a Western phenomenon, this exhibition proves otherwise by bringing together rarely seen photographs from around the world and presenting a nuanced, global history of photography. The women featured are responsible for shifting the direction of modern photography, and it is exhilarating to witness the accomplishments of these extraordinary practitioners.”

The first exhibition to take an international approach to the subject, The New Woman Behind the Camera will examine women’s pioneering work in a number of genres, from avant-garde experimentation and commercial studio practice to social documentary, photojournalism, ethnography, and sports, dance, and fashion photography. It will highlight the work of photographers such as Ilse Bing, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Claude Cahun, Florestine Perrault Collins, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Dorothea Lange, Lee Miller, Niu Weiyu, Tsuneko Sasamoto, Gerda Taro, and Homai Vyarawalla, among many others.

 

About the exhibition

Known by different names, from nouvelle femme and neue Frau to modan gāru and xin nüxing, the New Woman of the 1920s was easy to recognise but hard to define. Her image – a woman with bobbed hair, stylish dress, and a confident stride – was everywhere, splashed across the pages of magazines and projected on the silver screen. A symbol that broke down conventional ideas of gender, the New Woman was inspiring for some and controversial for others, embraced and resisted to varying degrees from country to country.

For many of these daring women, the camera was a means to assert their self-determination and artistic expression. The exhibition begins with a selection of compelling self-portraits, often featuring the photographer with her camera. Highlights include innovative self-portraits by Florence Henri, Annemarie Heinrich, and Alma Lavenson.

For many women, commercial studios were an important entry point into the field of photography, allowing them to forge professional careers and earn their own income. From running successful businesses in Berlin, Buenos Aires, and Vienna to earning recognition as one of the first female photographers in their respective country, women around the world, including Karimeh Abbud, Steffi Brandl, Trude Fleischmann, Annemarie Heinrich, Eiko Yamazawa, and Madame Yevonde, reinvigorated studio practice. Photography studios run by Black American women, such as Florestine Perrault Collins, not only preserved likenesses but also countered racist images then circulating in the mass media.

The availability of smaller, lightweight cameras spurred a number of women photographers to explore the city and the diversity of urban experience outside the studio. The exhibition features stunning street scenes and architectural views by Alice Brill, Rebecca Lepkoff, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model, Genevieve Naylor, and Tazue Satō Matsunaga, among others. Creative formal approaches – such as photomontage, photograms, unconventional cropping, and dizzying camera angles – came to define photography during this period. On view are experimental works by such artists as Valentina Kulagina, Dora Maar, Tina Modotti, Lucia Moholy, Toshiko Okanoue, and Grete Stern, all of whom pushed the boundaries of the medium.

During this period, many women traveled extensively for the first time and took photographs documenting their experiences abroad in Africa, China, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Others, including Marjorie Content, Eslanda Goode Robeson, and Anna Riwkin, engaged in more formal ethnographic projects. This period also gave rise to new ideas about health and sexuality and to changing attitudes about movement and dress. Women photographers such as Lotte Jacobi, Jeanne Mandello, and Germaine Krull produced images of liberated modern bodies, from pioneering photographs of the nude to exuberant pictures of sport and dance.

The unprecedented demand for fashion and advertising pictures between the world wars provided new employment opportunities for many female photographers, including Lillian Bassman, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Toni Frissell, Frances McLaughlin-Gill, Margaret Watkins, Caroline Whiting Fellows, and Yva. Fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar visually defined the tastes and aspirations of the New Woman and offered a space in which women could experiment with pictures intended for a predominantly female readership.

The rise of the picture press also established photojournalism and social documentary photography as dominant forms of visual expression. Galvanised by the effects of a global economic crisis and growing political unrest, many women photographers, including Lucy Ashjian, Margaret Bourke-White, Kati Horna, Dorothea Lange, and Hansel Mieth, created powerful images that exposed injustice and swayed public opinion. While women photojournalists often received so-called “soft assignments” on the home front, others risked their lives on the battlefield. The exhibition features combat photographs by Thérèse Bonney, Galina Sanko, and Gerda Taro, as well as unsparing views of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps by Lee Miller. Views of Hiroshima by Tsuneko Sasamoto and photographs of the newly formed People’s Republic of China by Hou Bo and Niu Weiyu underscore the global complexities of the postwar era.

 

Credits

The New Woman Behind the Camera is curated by Andrea Nelson, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The Met’s presentation is organised by Mia Fineman, Curator, with Virginia McBride, Research Assistant, both in the Department of Photographs.

Following its presentation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibition will travel to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., where it will be on view from October 31, 2021 through January 30, 2022. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, published by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and distributed by DelMonico Books.

Press release from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Elizabeth Buehrmann (American, 1886-1965) 'Advertisement for Robert Burns Cigar' c. 1920

 

Elizabeth Buehrmann (American, 1886-1965)
Advertisement for Robert Burns Cigar
c. 1920
Gelatin silver print mounted in press book
Image: 19.69 x 18.42cm (7 3/4 x 7 1/4 in.)
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library

 

 

Elizabeth Buehrmann (1886-1965)

Elizabeth “Bessie” Buehrmann (1886-1965) was born June 13, 1886, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Elizabeth was an American photographer and artist who was one of the pioneers of taking formal portraits of people in their own homes rather than in a studio. …

At about the age of 15 she enrolled in painting and drawing classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. While she was still a teenager she began assisting Eva Watson-Schütze in her photography studio on West 57th Street, and it was there that she learned both the technical and aesthetic aspects of photography. She made such progress that by the time she was just 18 years old she was accepted as an Associate Member in Alfred Stieglitz’s important Photo-Secession.

Buehrmann specialised in taking portraits of clients in their homes, and she never used artificial scenery or props. She said “I have never had a studio at home but take my pictures in houses. A person is always much more apt to be natural, and then I can get different background effects.” She also did not pose her subjects; instead she would “spend several hours getting acquainted with her subjects before attempting to reproduce the character found in an interesting face.” Leading businessmen and diplomats commissioned her as well as prominent society women, and she was well known for both her artistry and her ability to capture “some of the soul along with the physical features of her sitters.”

In 1906-07 she spent a year living in London and Paris in order to learn the latest techniques and styles of European photographers. As another sign of her prominence, she was invited to join the Photo-Club de Paris, where she worked for several months.

When she returned, the Art Institute of Chicago gave her a large exhibition of 61 prints, including portraits, landscapes and still lifes. Included among her portraits were photographs of Alvin Langdon Coburn, Robert Demachy, Russell Thorndike, Fannie Zeisler, Sydney Greenstreet and Helena Modjeska.

In 1909 Stieglitz included three of her prints in the prominent National Arts Club exhibition which he organised. Another photographer, Robert Demachy, insisted her prints be included in an important show he was organising in Paris the next year. She is shown as still living with her parents, in Chicago, in the 1910 census. She continued doing portraiture until the late 1910s when she began exploring the then relatively new market for advertising photography. She spent the next decade working on a variety of advertising commissions. Her last known commercial photography took place in the early 1930s.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Charlotte Rudolph (German, 1896-1983) 'Gret Palucca' 1925

 

Charlotte Rudolph (German, 1896-1983)
Gret Palucca
1925
Gelatin silver print
8 13/16 × 6 9/16 in. (22.4 × 16.6cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

 

Charlotte Rudolph (German, 1896-1983)

Charlotte Rudolph (1896-1983) was a German photographer. After training with Hugo Erfurth, Charlotte Rudolph opened a photo studio in Dresden in 1924 and concentrated on portrait and dance photography. In particular, Rudolph became known through her photographs of dancers such as Gret Palucca, with whom she was friends, Mary Wigman , Vera Skoronel and countless Wigman students such as Chinita Ullmann.

Her photos of the avant-garde German dancers of the 1920s and 1930s are among the most important documents of expressive dance today. In contrast to other photographers, Charlotte Rudolph did not take the dancers in a pose, but in action. Her pictures of Gret Palucca’s jumps made a major contribution to Palucca’s international fame in 1924 and were also Charlotte Rudolph’s breakthrough. As a result, many women went to their studio because they were hoping for such jump pictures from Rudolph.

Charlotte Rudolph continued to work in Germany during the Nazi era, and temporarily also in the USA after the Second World War. Her archives and her studio in Dresden, which she took over in 1938 after the death of Genja Jonas, were destroyed in the Second World War when Dresden was bombed on February 13, 1945.

Text from the German Wikipedia website

 

Gret Palucca, born Margarethe Paluka (8 January 1902 – 22 March 1993), was a German dancer and dance teacher, notable for her dance school, the Palucca School of Dance, founded in Dresden in 1925.

 

Yvonne Chevalier (French, 1899-1982) 'Nu' (Nude) 1929

 

Yvonne Chevalier (French, 1899-1982)
Nu (Nude)
1929
Gelatin silver print
15 3/8 × 10 1/8 in. (39 × 25.7cm)
© National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

 

Yvonne Chevalier (French, 1899-1982)

Yvonne Chevalier (French, 1899-1982). Coming from a well-to-do background, Yvonne Chevalier went to study drawing and painting after high school. Her first photographs of seascapes and cliffs date back to 1909. She married a doctor in 1920, with whom she had a daughter the following year. She and her husband welcomed and socialised with many artists and writers, including her friends Colette (1873-1954), Adrienne Monnier (1892-1955) and Mariette Lydis (1887-1990), whom she photographed. In 1929 she devoted herself entirely to her art and in 1930 she opened a portrait studio which was a great success. She became the official photographer of painter Georges Rouault. In 1936 she joined the association of French illustrator and advertising photographers, Le Rectangle, founded by Emmanuel Sougez, René Servant and Pierre Adam, which demanded a return to classicism.

The artist exhibited her photos of nudes, architecture and landscapes during two solo exhibitions, in 1935 and 1937. She explored portraiture and photojournalism (Algeria and Southern France, 1937), worked on sculpture (Rodin, 1935), architecture (Thoronet Abbey, 1936) and objects, particularly musical instruments. She tightly framed images – hands, for example – and used high- and low-angle shots, close-ups, shadow and light effects. In 1932 her portrait of Colette submerged in almost total darkness left only the writer’s eye fully illuminated. Included in many group exhibitions, she also regularly published in various magazines, such as Arts et métiers graphiquesCinégraph and Musica. Following the bombings of of the Second World War, the majority of her works disappeared in a fire.

In 1946 she became one of the founding members of the group XV, which wanted photography to be recognised as an art in and of itself. She exhibited with this group on several occasions. Together with the writer Marcelle Auclair, in 1949 she made a long report on the Spanish Carmelites to commemorate the foundation of the order by Teresa of Avila. She continued working extensively as a book illustrator, but stopped taking photographs in 1970. In 1980 the artist sorted and destroyed a large number of her prints.

Catherine Gonnard

Translated from French by Katia Porro.
From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions

Catherine Gonnard. “Yvonne Chevalier,” on the AWARE: Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions website [Online] Cited 24/08/2021

 

Karimeh Abbud (Palestinian, 1893-1940) 'Three Women' 1930s

 

Karimeh Abbud (Palestinian, 1893-1940)
Three Women
1930s
Gelatin silver print
3 1/2 × 5 1/2 in. (8.9 × 14 cm)
Issam Nassar

 

Gertrud Arndt (German born Poland, 1903-2000) 'Masked Self-Portrait (No. 16)' 1930

 

Gertrud Arndt (German born Poland, 1903-2000)
Masked Self-Portrait (No. 16)
1930
Gelatin silver print
8 15/16 × 6 15/16 in. (22.7 × 17.6cm)
Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

Costuming played a central role at the Bauhaus. From the very beginning, masquerade balls were celebrated regularly under a wide variety of mottoes. And the Bauhaus people rushed over, sometimes preparing for weeks in the workshops and privately the Bauhaus festivals that were popular beyond the walls of the school: Decorations, demonstrations, but above all their costumes – made of simple materials – transformed the Bauhaus people into miraculous figures, incarnate objects and masked beings. Gertrud Arndt’s mask photographs (a series of 43 self-portraits) derive directly from these Bauhaus festivals. …

Arndt’s mask photos are private photographs and were never intended for the public. The mask photographs were taken, rather, independently of viewers, as an experimental excursion into the possibilities and limits of one’s own face – and into the many different characters Arndt transformed herself into in her pictures. They are the record of an intimate conversation conducted between Arndt and her camera. The special thing about Gertrud Arndt’s mask photos is that they were taken in a comprehensive series. Within the 43 photos in the series, smaller picture series can be recognized. In her mask photos, Gertrud Arndt developed a kind of external image of herself, a “visual identity.”12 Arndt only rarely photographed herself once in the same costume. She often made two, three or four pictures in the same costume (or with minor changes). Here the pose, facial expression or picture detail change. In a series of three pictures within the series, Arndt shows herself in a high-necked top with a frill collar and hat, frontally with her eyes closed, then looking directly into the camera in a half-profile, and finally posing in a larger frame with a surprised facial expression. In another mini-series consisting of two photos, Arndt once photographed herself with her eyes closed, her head raised high, and in the next picture, squinting at her nose. The true woman behind the façade is not visible to the viewer. The pictures can illustrate the conflict women faced during the Weimar Republic: faced by entrenched, conservative notions of femininity on the one hand while opposed models for how a modern emancipated woman might act were also present, if to a lesser degree. The contradictory models available within society may be one source behind Arndt’s decision to use her mask photographs as a means to observe herself from the outside, as it were, and to investigate to what degree the many women into whom she transformed herself were actually part of her own feminine persona. At the same time, perhaps unconsciously, she may have also used her portrait project in the service of the traditionally feminine image expected of her, which also did not necessarily correspond to reality. Stereotypical ideas of womanhood with broad social currency circulating during the Weimar Republic included conservative images of women – such as the wife and mother, the widow and the naïve young girl – and these clichés are present in Arndt’s photographs. Or was it that she deliberately exaggerated these role models because she herself felt like a “non-doer” at the Bauhaus, was uncomfortable in this role and felt herself degraded by being thought thusly when her own self-image was that of an emancipated a modern woman? And then again, perhaps Gertrud Arndt’s mask photos are actually merely the result of her “boredom,” which she was desperately trying to alleviate, with role plays.

Extract from Anja Guttenberger. “Festive and Theatrical: The Mask Photos of Gertrud Arndt and Josef Albers as an Expression of Festival Culture,” on the Bauhaus Imaginista Journal website Nd [Online] Cited 16/09/2021

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908–1973) 'Man Selling Lemons, Vienna' c. 1932, printed later

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908–1973)
Man Selling Lemons, Vienna
c. 1932, printed later
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 × 9 7/16 in. (23 × 24cm)
Collection of Peter Suschitzky. Julia Donat and Misha Donat

 

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (née Suschitzky; 28 August 1908 – 12 May 1973) was an Austrian-British photographer and spy for the Soviet Union. Brought up in a family of socialists, she trained in photography at Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus in Dessau, and carried her political ideals through her art. Through her connections with Arnold Deutsch, Tudor-Hart was instrumental in the recruiting of the Cambridge Spy ring which damaged British intelligence from World War II until the security services discovered all their identities by the mid-1960s. She recommended Litzi Friedmann and Kim Philby for recruitment by the KGB and acted as an intermediary for Anthony Blunt and Bob Stewart when the rezidentura at the Soviet Embassy in London suspended its operations in February 1940.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998) 'Ballet "L'Errante", Paris' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998)
Ballet “L’Errante”, Paris
1933
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.3 x 22.2 cm (11 1/8 x 8 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

 

Andrea Nelson, an associate curator in the department of photographs at the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, DC who conceived and organised the exhibition, says the idea for it arose after she was hired in 2010 and was ruminating about generating shows drawn from the NGA’s permanent collection. She was struck by a trove of 90 images by the interwar photographer Ilse Bing that were variously donated by the artist or left by her estate after Bing died in 1998. “She was actually one of the few women photographers that the National Gallery had collected in depth,” Nelson said in an interview. (The show, which was originally scheduled to open first at the NGA last September but was then deferred because of the coronavirus pandemic, travels there this autumn.)

Born into a Jewish family in Frankfurt, Bing became interested in photography while creating architectural illustrations for her art history dissertation there, and eventually gave up her academic studies to pursue a career with the camera. She bought a Leica 35mm model in 1929 and moved the following year to Paris, where she met leading lights in avant-garde photography including Brassaï and André Kertész. Bing began experimenting compositionally and with light effects in self-portraits, images of Parisian streets and photographs of quotidian objects, followed by a striking series of pictures of dancers at the Moulin Rouge and other performers as well as commercial and fashion work in the burgeoning German and French magazine industry.

Known to the cognoscenti as “the Queen of the Leica”, she became a firmament in the constellation of Modernist photographers, included in important exhibitions in Paris and New York. Then the Second World War intervened, and Bing and her husband were both interned with other Jews in the south of France before fleeing to New York in 1941. Her photographic career gradually diminished after that, and she gave it up altogether in 1959.

Yet what she achieved from 1930 to 1940 remains a wonder to behold. “To me, she represents the established narrative of the interwar photographer,” says Nelson. “And as I began to dive deeper, I started to think about this larger community of women photographers who were entering the field, particularly in Germany and France. Did they have the same experiences as Bing, different experiences? But then I just started asking, wait a minute, was that true elsewhere [in the world]? What I really wanted to do was hopefully move beyond the Euro-American narrative that has really structured the history of photography.”

“I just felt that there wasn’t a look at the greater diversity of practitioners during the Modern period. So I took off down that road.”

Extract from Nancy Kenney. “Triumphant in their time, yet largely erased later: a Met exhibition explores ‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’,” on The Art Newspaper website 1st July 2021 [Online] Cited 22/07/2021

 

Germaine Krull. 'La Tour Eiffel' (The Eiffel Tower) c. 1928

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch (born Poland) 1897-1985 Wetzlar, Germany)
La Tour Eiffel (The Eiffel Tower)
c. 1928
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 in. × 6 in. (22.5 × 15.2cm)
Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Elfriede Stegemeyer (German, 1908-1988) 'Glühbirne, Spiralfeder, Quadrate und Kreise' (Light Bulb, Spring, Squares, and Circles) 1934

 

Elfriede Stegemeyer (German, 1908-1988)
Glühbirne, Spiralfeder, Quadrate und Kreise (Light Bulb, Spring, Squares, and Circles)
1934
Gelatin silver photogram
Image: 23.5 x 17.1cm (9 1/4 x 6 3/4 in.)
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

 

From 1929 to 1932, Stegemeyer (German, 1908-1988) studied art in Berlin and Cologne. In Cologne she was involved in the activities of the Cologne Progressive art association together with Raoul Ubac, Heinrich Hoerle and others. From 1932 to 1938 Stegemeyer concentrated on photographic experiments such as cameraless photography, multiple exposure, photomontage and object studies. Meeting Raoul Hausmann in his Ibiza exile in 1935 nourished her photographic studies of landscape and rural architecture (also during travels in Eastern Europe in the late 1930s). Stegemeyer took part in underground political resistance activities in Nazi Germany, which led to her imprisonment in 1941. Her archive was destroyed during air raids in Berlin in 1943. After the war, Stegemeyer’s work shifted towards drawing, painting, writing and prize-winning animation. In her late work in the 1980s, the artist turned to montage work of different materials.

Text from the Kicken Berlin website [Online] Cited 16/09/2021

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) '[Boy with a Cat]' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
[Boy with a Cat]
1934
Gelatin silver print
16 5/16 × 11 7/16 in. (41.4 × 29cm)
Purchase, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund and Kurtz Family Foundation Gift, 2015
Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

From 1930 to 1934 Maar turned her camera to the inhabitants of the streets of Paris and London, blending documentary and Surrealist modes. Her photographs often focus on socially marginal figures such as the poor or disabled, revealing her own political engagement. In this striking image, an adolescent with rumpled hair protectively grasps a cat to his chest, his gaze challenging Maar’s camera. The boy’s expression and posture imbue this chance encounter – and the composition – with an arresting psychological dimension.

 

Marjorie Content (American, 1895-1984) 'Adam Trujillo and His Son Pat, Taos' Summer 1933

 

Marjorie Content (American, 1895-1984)
Adam Trujillo and His Son Pat, Taos
Summer 1933
Gelatin silver print
4 1/2 × 5 9/16 in. (11.5 × 14.2 cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Purchased as the Gift of the Gallery Girls

 

 

Marjorie Content (1895-1984) was an American photographer from New York City active in modernist social and artistic circles. Her photographs were rarely published and never exhibited in her lifetime. Since the late 20th century, collectors and art historians have taken renewed interest in her work. Her photographs have been collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Chrysler Museum of Art; her work has been the subject of several solo exhibitions.

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'Fort Peck Dam, Montana' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Fort Peck Dam, Montana
1936
Gelatin silver print
12 15/16 × 10 13/16 in. (32.9 × 27.4cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Patrons’ Permanent Fund

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'World's Highest Standard of Living' 1937

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
World’s Highest Standard of Living
1937
Gelatin silver print

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000) 'Stairway to the Cathedral, Spain' 1938

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Stairway to the Cathedral, Spain
1938
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 7 1/16 in. (24.1 × 17.9cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000) 'Sin titulo (Milicianos en una trinchera/Militiamen in a trench) '1937-38

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Sin titulo (Milicianos en una trinchera/Militiamen in a trench)
1937-38
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (19 × 19cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, R. K. Mellon Family Foundation

 

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)

Kati Horna (May 19, 1912 – October 19, 2000), born Katalin Deutsch, was a Hungarian-born Mexican photojournalist, surrealist photographer and teacher. She was born in Budapest and lived in France, Berlin, Spain, and later was naturalised Mexican. Most of her work was lost during the Spanish Civil War. She was also one of the most influential women artists/photographers of her time. Through her photographs she was able to change the way that people viewed war. One way that Horna was able to do this was through the utilisation of a strategy called “gendered witnessing”. Gendered witnessing consisted of putting a more “feminine” view on the notion that war was a predominantly masculine thing. Horna became a legendary photographer after taking on a woman’s perspective of the war, she was able to focus on the behind the scenes, which led her to portraying the impact the war had on women and children. One of her most striking images is the Tête de poupée. Horna worked for various magazines including Mujeres and S.NOB, in which she published a series of Fétiches; but even her more commercial commissions often contained surreal touches. …

In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, she moved to Barcelona, commissioned by the Spanish Republican government and the Confédération Générale du Travail, to document the war as well as record the everyday life of communities on the front lines, such as Aragón, Valencia, Madrid, and Lérida. She photographed elderly women, young children, babies and mothers, and was considered visionary for her choice of subject matter. She was editor of the magazine Umbral (where she me José Horna). Kati Horna collaborated with other magazines, most of which were anarchic, such as Tiempos Nuevos, Libre-Studio, Mujeres Libres and Tierra y Libertad. Her images of scenes from the civil war not only revealed her Republican sympathies but also gained her almost legendary status. Some of her photos were used as posters for the Republican cause.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lisette Model (American born Austria, 1901-1983) 'Blind Man Walking, Paris' 1933-38

 

Lisette Model (American born Austria, 1901-1983)
Blind Man Walking, Paris
1933-38
Gelatin silver print on newspaper mount
11 3/16 × 8 3/4 in. (28.4 × 22.3cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Japanese-American owned grocery store in Oakland, California March' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Japanese-American owned grocery store in Oakland, California
March 1942
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Children of the Weill Public School shown in a flag pledge ceremony, San Francisco, California
April 1942, printed c. 1965
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 × 6 7/8 in. (23.5 × 17.4cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

Hansel Mieth (German, 1909-1998) 'March of Dimes Dance' 1943

 

Hansel Mieth (German, 1909-1998)
March of Dimes Dance
1943
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Ron Perisho

 

Homai Vyarawalla (Indian, 1913-2012) 'The Victoria Terminus, Bombay' early 1940s, printed later

 

Homai Vyarawalla (Indian, 1913-2012)
The Victoria Terminus, Bombay
early 1940s, printed later
Inkjet print
11 9/16 × 11 13/16 in. (29.3 × 30cm)
Homai Vyarawalla Archive / The Alkazi Collection of Photography

 

 

Homai Vyarawalla (Indian, 1913-2012)

Homai Vyarawalla (9 December 1913 – 15 January 2012), commonly known by her pseudonym Dalda 13, was India’s first woman photojournalist. She began work in the late 1930s and retired in the early 1970s. In 2011, she was awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award of the Republic of India. She was amongst the first women in India to join a mainstream publication when she joined The Illustrated Weekly of India. …

Vyarawalla started her career in the 1930s. At the onset of World War II, she started working on assignments for Mumbai-based The Illustrated Weekly of India magazine which published many of her most admired black-and-white images. In the early years of her career, since Vyarawalla was unknown and a woman, her photographs were published under her husband’s name. Vyarawalla stated that because women were not taken seriously as journalists she was able to take high-quality, revealing photographs of her subjects without interference:

People were rather orthodox. They didn’t want the women folk to be moving around all over the place and when they saw me in a sari with the camera, hanging around, they thought it was a very strange sight. And in the beginning they thought I was just fooling around with the camera, just showing off or something and they didn’t take me seriously. But that was to my advantage because I could go to the sensitive areas also to take pictures and nobody will stop me. So I was able to take the best of pictures and get them published. It was only when the pictures got published that people realised how seriously I was working for the place.

~  Homai Vyarawalla in Dalda 13: A Portrait of Homai Vyarawalla (1995)

Eventually her photography received notice at the national level, particularly after moving to Delhi in 1942 to join the British Information Services. As a press photographer, she recorded many political and national leaders in the period leading up to independence, including Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Indira Gandhi and the Nehru-Gandhi family.

The Dalai Lama in ceremonial dress enters India through Nathu La in Sikkim on 24 November 1956, photographed by Homai Vyarawalla. In 1956, she photographed for Life Magazine the 14th Dalai Lama when he entered Sikkim in India for the first time via the Nathu La.

Most of her photographs were published under the pseudonym “Dalda 13”. The reasons behind her choice of this name were that her birth year was 1913, she met her husband at the age of 13 and her first car’s number plate read “DLD 13”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'Buchenwald Prison' 13th April 1945

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Buchenwald Prison
13th April 1945

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'The Liberation of Buchenwald' April 1945

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
The Liberation of Buchenwald
April 1945

 

 

Caption from LIFE. “Deformed by malnutrition, a Buchenwald prisoner leans against his bunk after trying to walk. Like other imprisoned slave labourers, he worked in a Nazi factory until too feeble.”

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'Self-Portrait with Camera' c. 1933

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Self-Portrait with Camera
c. 1933
Gelatin-silver print, toned
13 1/4 × 9 1/8 in. (33.66 × 23.18cm)

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977) 'Dead SS Prison Guard Floating in Canal, Dachau, Germany' 1945

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Dead SS Prison Guard Floating in Canal, Dachau, Germany
1945
Gelatin silver print
6 1/4 in. × 6 in. (15.9 × 15.2cm)
Lee Miller Archives
© Lee Miller Archives, England 2021

 

 

Sometime in the 1930s, Hungarian photographer Anna Barna shot “Onlooker,” a picture of a boy standing on a chair seen from behind as he peers over a palisade.

As his shadow stretches out across the planks blocking his way, it takes the shape of a bearded profile that reads as a second “onlooker” in the shot. A bit further off stands yet a third “looker” who, though quite invisible in the image, was very much present in the mind of any prewar viewer who saw the shot’s photo credit: That looker is Anna Barna, a woman who has dared to pick up the camera that would normally have been held by a man. Like all the camera-wielding women of her era, Barna made a bold move that gave her a powerful cultural presence.

That presence is on display in “The New Woman Behind the Camera,” an inspired and inspiring exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through Oct. 3. In late October, it moves on to the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Curated by Andrea Nelson of the NGA, the show has been installed at the Met by Mia Fineman.

The more than 200 pictures on view, taken from the 1920s through the ’50s, let us watch as women everywhere become photo pros. I guess some of their shots could have been snapped by men, but female authorship shaped what these images meant to their contemporaries. It shapes what we need to make of them now, as we grasp the challenges their makers faced.

The Met shows women photographing everything from factories to battles to the oppressed, but also gowns and children and other traditionally “feminine” subjects. Sometimes the goal is straight documentation: Figures like Dorothea Lange in the United States and Galina Sanko in the Soviet Union recorded the worlds they moved through, often at the request of their governments. But many of their sisters prefer the aggressive viewpoints and radical lightings of what was then called the New Vision, as developed at the Bauhaus and other hot spots of modern style. It was to sight what jazz was to sound.

That made the New Vision a perfect fit for the New Woman, a term that went global early in the 20th century to describe all the many women who took on roles and responsibilities – new personas and even new powers – they’d rarely had before. When a New Woman took up photography, she often turned her New Vision on herself, as one of the modern world’s most striking creations.

A self-portrait by American photographer Alma Lavenson leaves out everything but her hands and the camera they’re holding; the only thing we need to know is that Lavenson is in control of this machine, and therefore of the vision it captures.

German photographer Ilse Bing shoots into the hinged mirrors on a vanity, giving us both profile and head-on views of her face and of the Leica that almost hides it. Since antiquity, the mirror had been a symbol of woman and her vanities; Bing claims that old symbol for herself, making it yield a new image.

The mirror deployed by the German Argentine photographer Annemarie Heinrich is a silvered sphere; capturing herself and her sister in it, she depicts the fun-house pleasures, and distortions, of being a woman made New.

Heinrich’s European peers sometimes go further in disturbing their self-presentation. In “Masked Self-Portrait (No. 16),” Gertrud Arndt double- or maybe triple-exposes her face, as though to convey the troubled identity she’s taken on as a woman who dares to photograph. (Multiple exposure is almost a hallmark of New Woman photographers; maybe that shouldn’t surprise us.) In a collage titled “I.O.U. (Self-Pride),” French photographer Claude Cahun presents herself as 11 different masked faces, surrounded by the words “Under this mask, another mask. I’ll never be done lifting off all these faces.”

It’s as though the act of getting behind a camera turns any New Woman into an ancestor and avatar of Cindy Sherman, trying on all sorts of models for gender.

If there’s one problem with this show, it’s that it mostly gives us women who succeeded in achieving the highest levels of excellence, barely hinting at the much greater number of women who were prevented from reaching their creative goals by the rampant sexism of their era: talented women whose places in a photo school were given to men instead, or who were streamed into the lowest or most “feminine” tiers of the profession – retouching, or cheap kiddie portraits – or who were never promoted above studio assistant.

It’s a problem that bedevils all attempts at recovering the lost art of the disadvantaged: By telling the same stories of success that you do with white males, you risk making it look as though others were given the same chance to rise.

A quite straight shot of Chinese photojournalist Niu Weiyu may best capture what it really meant for the New Woman to start taking pictures. As snapped by her colleague Shu Ye, Niu stands perched with her camera at the edge of a cliff. Every female photographer adopted this daredevil pose, at least in cultural terms, just by clicking a shutter.

Several of the women featured at the Met actually took over studios originally headed by husbands or fathers. In the Middle East and Asia, this gave them access to a reality that men could not document: Taken in 1930s Palestine, a photo by an entrepreneur who styled herself as “Karimeh Abbud, Lady Photographer” shows three women standing before the camera with complete self-confidence – the youngest smiles broadly into the lens – in a relaxed shot that a man would have been unlikely to capture.

Gender was almost as powerfully in play for women in the West. If taking up a camera was billed as “mannish,” many a New Woman in Europe was happy to go with that billing: Again and again, they portray themselves coiffed with the shortest of bobs, sometimes so short they read as male styles. Cahun, who at times was almost buzz-cut, once wrote “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.”

Margaret Bourke-White, an American photographer who achieved true celebrity, shoots herself in a bob long enough to just about cover her ears, but this almost girlish style is more than offset by manly wool slacks. (In the 1850s, Rosa Bonheur had to get a police license to wear pants when she went to draw the horse-breakers of Paris. As late as 1972, my grandmother, born into the age of the New Woman, boasted of the courage she’d recently mustered to start wearing pants to work.)

A New Woman clicking the shutter might seem almost as much on display as any subject before her lens. Bourke-White’s photo of the Fort Peck dam graced the cover of Life magazine’s first modern issue, in 1936, and it got that play in part because it had been shot by her: The editors go on about that “surprising” fact as they introduce their new magazine, and how they were “unable to prevent Bourke-White from running away with their first nine pages.”

When a subject is in fact another woman, shooter and sitter can collapse into one. Lola Álvarez Bravo, the great Mexican photographer, once took a picture of a woman with shadows crisscrossing her face, titling it “In Her Own Prison.” As a photographic Everywoman, Álvarez Bravo comes off as in that same jail.

To capture the predicament of women in Catholic Spain, Kati Horna double-exposed a girl’s face onto the barred windows beside a cathedral; it’s hard not to see the huge eye that looks out at us from behind those bars as belonging to Horna herself, peering through the viewfinder.

For centuries before they went New, women had been objectified and observed as few men were likely to be. Picking up the camera didn’t pull eyes away from a New Woman; it could put her all the more clearly on view. But thanks to photography, she could begin to look back, with power, at the world around her.

Blake Gopnik. “Women Who Shaped Modern Photography,” on The New York Times website July 11, 2021 [Online] Cited 16/07/2021

 

Bernice Kolko (American born Poland, 1905-1970) 'Photogram' c. 1944

 

Bernice Kolko (American born Poland, 1905-1970)
Photogram
c. 1944
Gelatin silver print
9 3/4 × 11 1/2 in. (24.8 × 29.2cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

 

Bernice Kolko (American born Poland, 1905-1970)

Bernice Kolko (1905-1970) was a Polish-American photographer. During World War II, she joined the Women’s Army Corps as a photographer. In 1953 she became friends with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, who she had met when they visited Chicago. They invited her to Mexico, where she travelled, taking pictures of the women of Mexico. She and Kahlo travelled frequently, with Kolko taking photos of Kahlo in the two years before Kahlo’s death. In 1955 she became the first woman to exhibit at the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rebecca Lepkoff (American, 1916–2014) '14th Street, New York City' 1947-48

 

Rebecca Lepkoff (American, 1916–2014)
14th Street, New York City
1947-48
Gelatin silver print
10 5/8 × 12 9/16 in. (27 × 31.9cm)
Purchase, Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation Gift, 2012
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Rebecca Lepkoff (American, 1916–2014)

Rebecca Lepkoff (born Rebecca Brody; 1916-2014) was an American photographer. She is best known for her images depicting daily life in the Lower East Side neighbourhood of New York City in the 1940s. …

Fascinated by the area where she lived, she first photographed Essex and Hester Street which, she recalls, “were full of pushcarts.” They no longer exist today but then “everyone was outside: the mothers with their baby carriages, and the men just hanging out.” Her photographs captured people in the streets, especially children, as well as the buildings and the signs on store fronts.

In 1950, she also photographed people at work and play in Vermont. The images were used to illustrate the book Almost Utopia: The Residents and Radicals of Pikes Falls, Vermont, 1950, published by the Vermont Historical Society. They present the area before its character was changed with paved roads and vacationers. In the 1970s, she photographed the next generation of inhabitants in a series she called Vermont Hippies.

Rebecca Lepkoff was an active member of the Photo League from 1947 until 1951 when it was dissolved as a “communist organisation” in the McCarthy era.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Grete Stern (Argentinian, born Germany, 1904-1999) 'Sueño No. 1: "Articulos eléctricos para el hogar" (Dream No. 1: "Electrical Household items")' c. 1949

 

Grete Stern (Argentinian born Germany, 1904-1999)
Sueño No. 1: “Articulos eléctricos para el hogar” (Dream No. 1: “Electrical Household items”)
1949
Gelatin silver print
18 1/4 × 15 11/16 in. (46.4 × 39.8 cm)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2012
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

In 1948 the Argentine women’s magazine Idilio introduced a weekly column called “Psychoanalysis Will Help You,” which invited readers to submit their dreams for analysis. Each week, one dream was illustrated with a photomontage by Stern, a Bauhaus-trained photographer and graphic designer who fled Berlin for Buenos Aires when the Nazis came to power. Over three years, Stern created 140 photomontages for the magazine, translating the unconscious fears and desires of its predominantly female readership into clever, compelling images. Here, a masculine hand swoops in to “turn on” a lamp whose base is a tiny, elegantly dressed woman. Rarely has female objectification been so erotically and electrically charged.

 

Alice Brill (Brazilian born Cologne, 1920-2013) 'Street Vendor at the Chá Viaduct, São Paulo' c. 1953

 

Alice Brill (Brazilian born Cologne, 1920-2013)
Street Vendor at the Chá Viaduct, São Paulo
c. 1953
Gelatin silver print
32 × 32cm (12 5/8 × 12 5/8 in.)
Instituto Moreira Salles

 

 

Alice Brill (Brazilian born Germany, 1920-2013)

Alice Brill (December 13, 1920 – June 29, 2013) was a German-born Brazilian photographer, painter, and art critic.

Alice Brill Czapski was born in Cologne, Germany, in 1920. She was Jewish, the daughter of the painter Erich Brill [de] and the journalist Martha Brill [de]. In 1934 she and her parents left Germany to escape the National Socialist (Nazi) regime; her mother, long divorced from Erich Brill, emigrated to Brazil, and in 1935 Alice Brill and her father also emigrated there. Influenced by a schoolteacher, she recorded in a diary the trips made during exile, with a photographic camera given to her by her father. She passed through Spain, Italy and the Netherlands before landing in Brazil. Her father returned alone to Germany in 1936. He was subsequently imprisoned and died, a Holocaust victim, in 1942 at the Jungfernhof concentration camp.

At age 16 she studied with the painter Paulo Rossi Osir, who influenced her production of photographs and batik paintings. She participated in the Santa Helena Group, an informal association of painters from São Paulo, maintaining contact with artists such as Mario Zanini and Alfredo Volpi. In 1946, she won a Hillel Foundation scholarship to study at the University of New Mexico and the Art Students League of New York where she studied photography, painting, sculpture, engraving, art history, philosophy and literature.

After returning to Brazil in 1948, she worked as a photographer for Habitat magazine, coordinated by architect Lina Bo Bardi. She documented architecture, fine arts and made portraits of artists, as well as recording works and exhibitions of the São Paulo Art Museum and Sao Paulo Museum of Modern Art He also participated in an expedition in Corumbá organised by the Central Brazil Foundation, photographing the Carajás people. In 1950, she performed the essay at the Psychiatric Hospital of Juqueri at the invitation of the plastic artist Maria Leontina da Costa, registering the wing of the Free Art Workshop. In the same year, Pietro Maria Bardi commissioned an essay on São Paulo for the city’s fourth centennial. It portrayed the process of modernisation of the city between 1953 and 1954, but the publication project was not completed.

In addition to being a photographer, she worked as a painter, participating in the I and IX Bienal de São Paulo (1951 and 1967 respectively), as well as several individual and collective exhibitions. Her subjects involved urban landscapes and abstractionism, performing watercolours and batik paintings. She graduated in philosophy from PUC-SP in 1976, graduating in 1982 and a doctorate in 1994 and worked as an art critic, writing articles for the culture section of the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, which were later collected in the book “Da arte e da linguagem” (Perspectiva, 1988).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Frieda Gertrud Riess (German, 1890-1957) 'The Sculptor Renée Sintenis' 1925, printed 1925-35

 

Frieda Gertrud Riess (German, 1890-1957)
The Sculptor Renée Sintenis
1925, printed 1925-35
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 × 6 13/16 in. (22.6 × 17.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Bequest of Gertrude Palmer, by exchange

 

 

Frieda Gertrud Riess (German, 1890-1957)

Frieda Gertrud Riess (1890 – c. 1955) was a German portrait photographer in the 1920s with a studio in central Berlin.

In 1918, she opened a business on the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin; it became one of the most popular studios in the city. Partly as a result of her marriage to the journalist Rudolf Leonhard in the early 1920s, she extended her clientele to celebrities such as playwright Walter Hasenclever, novelist Gerhart Hauptmann and actors and actresses including Tilla Durieux, Asta Nielsen and Emil Jannings. This group extended to include dancers, music-hall stars and fine artists: Anna Pavlova, Mistinguett, Lil Dagover, Renée Sintenis, Max Liebermann and Xenia Boguslawskaja. Other clients included representatives of the old aristocracy, diplomats, politicians and bankers. Boxers (and nudes thereof) were a notable group in which she specialised, including Erich Brandl, Hermann Herse, Max Schmeling, Ensor Fiermonte.

Such was her renown that she became known simply as Die Reiss. While on a trip to Italy in 1929, she was invited to photograph Benito Mussolini. In addition, she contributed to the journals and magazines of the day including Die Dame, Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, Der Weltspiegel, Querschnit and Koralle. In 1932, after falling in love with Pierre de Margerie, the French ambassador in Berlin (1922-31). She moved to Paris with him, and he died in 1942. She disappeared from the public eye during the Occupation. Even the date of her death cannot be clearly established and her place of burial remains unknown.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Renée Sintenis (German, 1888-1965)

Renée Sintenis, née Renate Alice Sintenis (March 20, 1888, Glatz – April 22, 1965, West Berlin), was a German sculptor, medalist and graphic artist who worked in Berlin. She created mainly small-sized animal sculptures, female nudes, portraits (drawings and sculptures) and sports statuettes. …

In 1928 Sintenis won the bronze medal in the sculpture section of the art competition for the Summer Olympics in Amsterdam; she is thought to be the first LGBTQ+ Olympic medallist. Renée Sintenis took part in the 1929 exhibition of the German Association of Artists in the Cologne State House, with five small-format animal sculptures. In 1930 she met the French sculptor Aristide Maillol in Berlin. In 1931 she was appointed as the first sculptor, and second woman after Käthe Kollwitz, together with 13 other artists, to join the Berlin Academy of the Arts – Fine Arts section, although the National Socialists forced her to leave in 1934.

Due to her body size, slim figure, charisma, her self-confident, fashionable demeanor and androgynous beauty, she was often portrayed by artists like her husband, Emil Rudolf Weiß and Georg Kolbe, and by photographers, like Hugo Erfurth, Fritz Eschen and Frieda Riess. She embodied perfectly the type of the ‘new woman’ of the 1920s, even if she appeared rather reserved.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Renée Sintenis’ work was included in the Schwules Museum’s exhibition LESBIAN VISIONS – Artistic positions from Berlin, May – August 2018.

The exhibition conceptualised a utopian and melancholic gallery that follows the tracks of lesbian forms of pleasure and experience as well as lesbian identity constructions and lifestyles. In this context, the exhibition understood and recognised the term “lesbian” in its broadest sense, which is to say that desire and gender can be fluid.

 

Yevonde Cumbers Middleton (British, 1893–1975) 'Lady Bridget Poulett as 'Arethusa'' 1935

 

Yevonde Cumbers Middleton (British, 1893–1975)
Lady Bridget Poulett as ‘Arethusa’
1935
Vivex colour print
14 3/4 × 10 3/4 in. (37.5 × 27.3cm)
National Portrait Gallery, London, Given by Madame Yevonde, 1971

 

 

Yevonde Philone Middleton (English, 1893-1975)

Yevonde Philone Middleton (English, 1893-1975) was an English photographer, who pioneered the use of colour in portrait photography. She used the professional name Madame Yevonde. …

Cumbers sought, and was given, a three-year apprenticeship with the portrait photographer Lallie Charles. With the technical grounding she received from working with Charles, and a gift of £250 from her father, at the age of 21 Yevonde set up her own studio at 92 Victoria Street, London, and began to make a name for herself by inviting well-known figures to sit for free. Before long her pictures were appearing in society magazines such as the Tatler and The Sketch. Her style quickly moved away from the stiff “pouter pigeon” look of Lallie Charles, toward a still formal, but more creative, style. Her subjects were often pictured looking away from the camera, and she began using props to creative effect.

By 1921 Madame Yevonde had become a well-known and respected portrait photographer, and moved to larger premises at 100 Victoria Street. Here she began taking advertising commissions and also photographed many of the leading personalities of the day, including A.A. Milne, Barbara Cartland, Diana Mitford, Louis Mountbatten and Noël Coward.

In the early 1930s, Yevonde began experimenting with colour photography, using the new Vivex colour process from Colour Photography Limited of Willesden. The introduction of colour photography was not universally popular; indeed photographers and the public alike were so used to black-and-white pictures that early reactions to the new process tended toward the hostile. Yevonde, however, was hugely enthusiastic about it and spent countless hours in her studio experimenting with how to get the best results. Her dedication paid huge dividends. In 1932 she put on an exhibition of portrait work at the Albany Gallery, half monochrome and half colour, to enthusiastic reviews.

In 1933, Madame Yevonde moved once again, this time to 28 Berkeley Square. She began using colour in her advertising work as well as her portraits, and took on other commissions too. In 1936, she was commissioned by Fortune magazine to photograph the last stages in the fitting out of the new Cunard liner, the Queen Mary. This was very different from Yevonde’s usual work, but the shoot was a success. People printed twelve plates, and pictures were exhibited in London and New York City. One of the portraits was of artist Doris Zinkeisen who was commissioned together with her sister Anna to paint several murals for the Queen Mary. Another major coup was being invited to take portraits of leading peers to mark the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. She joined the Royal Photographic Society in 1933, and became a Fellow in 1940. The RPS Collection holds examples of her work.

Yevonde’s most famous work was inspired by a theme party held on 5 March 1935, where guests dressed as Roman and Greek gods and goddesses. Yevonde subsequently took studio portraits of many of the participants (and others), in appropriate costume and surrounded by appropriate objects. This series of prints showed Yevonde at her most creative, using colour, costume and props to build an otherworldly air around her subjects. She went on to produce further series based on the signs of the zodiac and the months of the year. Partly influenced by surrealist artists, particularly Man Ray, Yevonde used surprising juxtapositions of objects which displayed her sense of humour.

This highly creative period of Yevonde’s career would only last a few years. At the end of 1939, Colour Photographs Ltd closed, and the Vivex process was no more. It was the second major blow to Yevonde that year – her husband, the playwright Edgar Middleton, had died in April. Yevonde returned to working in black and white, and produced many notable portraits. She continued working up until her death, just two weeks short of her 83rd birthday, but is chiefly remembered for her work of the 1930s, which did much to make colour photography respectable.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lady Bridget Elizabeth Felicia Henrietta Augusta Poulett (English, 1912-1975), was an English socialite, sometime model of Cecil Beaton.

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942) 'La técnica [or, Mella's Typewriter]' 1928

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
La técnica [or, Mella’s Typewriter]
1928
Gelatin silver print
24 × 19.2cm (9 7/16 × 7 9/16 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Anonymous gift

 

Irene Bayer-Hecht (American, 1898-1991) 'Female Student with Beach Ball' c. 1925

 

Irene Bayer-Hecht (American, 1898-1991)
Female Student with Beach Ball
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print
4 1/8 × 3 1/16 in. (10.5 × 7.8cm)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Irene Bayer-Hecht (1898-1991) was an American born photographer involved in the Bauhaus movement. Her photographs “feature experimental approaches and candid views of life at the Bauhaus.”

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Jean Cocteau with Gun, Paris' c. 1926

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Jean Cocteau with Gun, Paris
c. 1926
From Faces of the 20’s
Gelatin silver print
34 x 25.5cm (13.4 x 10 in.)

 

Berenice Abbott in an undated photo. Photographer and source unknown 1930s

 

Berenice Abbott in an undated photo. Photographer and source unknown 1930s
Public domain

 

Annelise Kretschmer (German, 1903–1987) 'Young Woman' 1928

 

Annelise Kretschmer (German, 1903–1987)
Young Woman
1928
Gelatin silver print
18 3/8 × 15 11/16 in. (46.7 × 39.8cm)
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Museum Folkwang Essen – ARTOTHEK

 

 

Annelise Kretschmer (1903-1987) was a German portrait photographer. Kretschmer is best known for her depictions of women in Germany in the early 20th century and is credited with helping construct the ‘Neue Frau’ or New Woman image of modern femininity.

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'I.O.U. (Self-Pride) in Aveux non avenus' 1930

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
I.O.U. (Self-Pride) in Aveux non avenus
1930
Book
Open: 8 3/4 × 12 1/2 in. (22.2 × 31.8cm)
Closed: 8 3/4 × 6 3/4 in. (22.2 × 17.2cm)
National Gallery of Art Library, Washington, DC,

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'Self-portrait (reflected image in mirror with chequered jacket)' 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (reflected image in mirror with chequered jacket)
1927
Silver gelatin print

 

Ruth Harriet Louise (American, 1906-1944) 'Carmel Myers' 1925-30

 

Ruth Harriet Louise (American, 1906-1944)
Carmel Myers
1925-30
Gelatin silver print
12 7/16 × 9 1/4 in. (31.6 × 23.5cm)
The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

 

 

Ruth Harriet Louise (American, 1906-1944)

Ruth Harriet Louise (born Ruth Goldstein, January 13, 1903 – October 12, 1940) was an American photographer. She was the first woman photographer active in Hollywood, and she ran Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s portrait studio from 1925 to 1930.

Ruth Harriet Louise was born Ruth Goldstein in New York City and raised in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She was the daughter of Klara Jacobson Sandrich Goldstein, who was born in Rajec, Hungary (present-day Slovakia) and Jacob Goldstein, who was a rabbi originally from England. Her brother was director Mark Sandrich, and she was a cousin of silent film actress Carmel Myers.

Louise began working as a portrait photographer in 1922, working out of a music store down the block from the New Brunswick temple at which her father was a rabbi. Most of her photographs from this period are of family members and members of her father’s temple congregation.

In 1925 she moved to Los Angeles and set up a small photo studio on Hollywood and Vine. Louise’s first published Hollywood photo was of Vilma Banky in costume for Dark Angel, and appeared in Photoplay magazine in September 1925. When Louise was hired by MGM as chief portrait photographer, she was twenty-two years old, and the only woman working as a portrait photographer for the Hollywood studios. In a career that lasted only five years, Louise photographed all the stars, contract players, and many of the hopefuls who passed through the studio’s front gates, including Greta Garbo (Louise was one of only seven photographers permitted to make portraits of her), Lon Chaney, John Gilbert, Joan Crawford, Marion Davies, Anna May Wong, Nina Mae McKinney, and Norma Shearer. It is estimated that she took more than 100,000 photos during her tenure at MGM. Today she is considered an equal with George Hurrell Sr. and other renowned glamour photographers of the era.

In addition to paying close attention to costume and setting for studio photographs, Louise also incorporated aspects of modernist movements such as Cubism, futurism, and German expressionism into her studio portraits.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Carmel Myers (American, 1899-1980)

Carmel Myers (American, 1899-1980) was an American actress who achieved her greatest successes in silent film.

Myers left for New York City, where she acted mainly in theatre for the next two years. She was signed by Universal, where she emerged as a popular actress in vamp roles. Her most popular film from this period – which does not feature her in a vamp role – is probably the romantic comedy All Night, opposite Rudolph Valentino, who was then a little-known actor. She also worked with him in A Society Sensation. By 1924, she was working for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, making such films as Broadway After Dark, which also starred Adolphe Menjou, Norma Shearer, and Anna Q. Nilsson.

In 1925, she appeared in arguably her most famous role, that of the Egyptian vamp Iras in Ben-Hur, who tries to seduce both Messala (Francis X. Bushman) and Ben-Hur himself (Ramón Novarro). This film was a boost to her career, and she appeared in major roles throughout the 1920s, including Tell It to the Marines in 1926 with Lon Chaney, Sr., William Haines, and Eleanor Boardman. Myers appeared in Four Walls and Dream of Love, both with Joan Crawford in 1928; and in The Show of Shows (1929), a showcase of popular contemporary film actors.

Myers had a fairly successful sound career, mostly in supporting roles, perhaps due to her image as a vamp rather than as a sympathetic heroine. Subsequently, she began giving more attention to her private life following the birth of her son in May 1932. Amongst her popular sound films are Svengali (1931) and The Mad Genius (1931), both with John Barrymore and Marian Marsh, and a small role in 1944’s The Conspirators, which featured Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Hildegard Rosenthal (Brazilian born Zürich, 1913-1990) 'Street Scene, São Paulo' c. 1940, printed later

 

Hildegard Rosenthal (Brazilian born Switzerland, 1913-1990)
Street Scene, São Paulo
c. 1940, printed later
Gelatin silver print
24 × 36cm (9 7/16 × 14 3/16 in.)
Instituto Moreira Salles

 

 

Hildegard Rosenthal (Brazilian born Switzerland, 1913-1990)

Hildegard Baum Rosenthal (March 25, 1913 – September 16, 1990) was a Swiss-born Brazilian photographer, the first woman photojournalist in Brazil. She was part of the generation of European photographers who emigrated during World War II and, acting in the local press, contributed to the photographic aesthetic renovation of Brazilian newspapers.

Rosenthal was born in Zurich, Switzerland. Until her adolescence, she lived in Frankfurt (Germany), where she studied pedagogy from 1929 until 1933. She lived in Paris between 1934 and 1935. Upon her return to Frankfurt, she studied photography for about 18 months in a program led by Paul Wolff [de]. Wolff emphasised small, portable cameras that used 35 mm film. These were a recent innovation at the time, and could be used unobtrusively for street photography. She also studied photographic laboratory techniques at the Gaedel Institute.

In this same period, she had entered a relationship with Walter Rosenthal. Rosenthal was Jewish, and Jews were increasingly persecuted in Germany in the 1930s under the National Socialist (Nazi) regime that took power in 1933. Walter Rosenthal emigrated to Brazil in 1936. Hildegard joined him in São Paulo in 1937. That same year she began working as a laboratory supervisor at the Kosmos photographic materials and services company. A few months later, the agency Press Information hired her as a photojournalist and she did news reports for national and international newspapers. During this period, she took photographs of the city of São Paulo and the state countryside of Rio de Janeiro and other cities in southern Brazil, as well as portraying several personalities from the São Paulo cultural scene, such as the painter Lasar Segall, the writers Guilherme de Almeida and Jorge Amado, the humorist Aparicio Torelly (Barão de Itararé) and the cartoonist Belmonte. Her images sought to capture the artist at his moment of creation, in obvious connection with his spirit of reporter. She interrupted her professional activity in 1948, after the birth of her first daughter. And in 1959, after her husband died, she took over the management of her family’s company.

Her photographs remained little known until 1974, when art historian Walter Zanini [pt] held a retrospective of her work at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo. The following year the Museum of Image and Sound of São Paulo (MIS) was opened with the exhibition Memória Paulistana, by Rosenthal. In 1996 the Instituto Moreira Salles acquired more than 3,000 of her negatives, in which urban scenes of São Paulo from the 1930s and 1940s stood out, during which time the city underwent a vertiginous growth, both material and cultural. Other negatives were donated by her during her life to the Lasar Segall Museum.

“Photography without people does not interest me,” she said at the Museum of Image and Sound of São Paulo in 1981.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Marta Astfalck-Vietz (German, 1901-1994) 'Ohne Titel (Marta Vietz, Akt mit Spitze)' c. 1927

 

Marta Astfalck-Vietz (German, 1901-1994)
Self-Portrait (Marta Vietz, Akt mit Spitze)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
Berlinische Galerie – Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur
© 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Marta Astfalck-Vietz (German, 1901-1994)

Astfalck-Vietz‘s works offer a “range of her personal responses to the social, sexual and political transformations that shaped the German metropolis after World War One. Inspired by film and dance, they are all mediated realities in which human figures imply the figurative: a black dancer embraces a white woman, stirring Germany’s fears and fascinations about blackness and the primitive; a woman’s decapitated head conjures gutter-press reports of the grisly stigmata borne by victims of Berlin’s seedy underworld. Comprising mostly self-portraits, this show is a rich microcosm of creative registers: courage, black humour and sexual passion. In Astfalck-Vietz’s erotic images, domestic objects take on a powerful fantasy life – with a piece of lace she becomes a high society lady, a remote goddess, a masked seductress. The erotic atmosphere in these photographs encompasses dream and loneliness, joie de vivre and the mourning of lost love. Berlin, oft mythologised as a mercurial woman, is reflected in this romantic, bittersweet array of female fortunes; through it, Marta Astfalck-Vietz makes the city her own.

Almost all of her archive was lost when her Berlin home was bombed in 1943. What remains was discovered by the curator Janos Frecot in 1989 and is now housed at the Berlinische Galerie in Berlin. Sadly, her original photographs are in bad condition and rarely travel. This show, however, is a precious opportunity to see reproduction prints. These works are a valuable addition to the history of Berlin’s avant-garde, but they have wider significance. They add a new facet to the practice of female self-portraiture in photography. Like Lady Hawarden before her and Cindy Sherman after, Marta Astfalck-Vietz is model, stylist and creative director in images that provocatively examine the construction of identity. As she once put it:Only when your self is no longer visible, may you be as you are.

Anonymous text from The Glasgow School of Art website 2012 [Online] Cited 22/07/2021.

 

Dorothy Wilding (English, 1893-1976) 'Diana Wynyard' 1937

 

Dorothy Wilding (English, 1893-1976)
Diana Wynyard
1937

 

 

Dorothy Frances Edith Wilding (10 January 1893 – 9 February 1976) was an English professional portrait photographer from Gloucester, who established successful studios in both London and New York. She is known for her portraits of the British Royal Family, some of which were used to illustrate postage stamps, and in particular for her studies of actors and celebrities which fused glamour with modernist elegance. The historian Val Williams noted Wilding’s combination of business savvy and deep understanding of aesthetic impact: ‘nobody knew better than Dorothy Wilding the power of the photograph to create or destroy the desired image’.

Diana Wynyard, CBE (born Dorothy Isobel Cox, 16 January 1906 – 13 May 1964) was an English stage and film actress.

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer-Simon) (German, 1900-1944) 'Fashion Photograph' c. 1930

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer-Simon) (German, 1900-1944)
Fashion Photograph
c. 1930
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection

 

 

Yva (26 January 1900 – 31 December 1944) was the professional pseudonym of Else Ernestine Neuländer-Simon who was a German Jewish photographer renowned for her dreamlike, multiple exposed images. She became a leading photographer in Berlin during the Weimar Republic.

When the Nazi Party came to power, she was forced into working as a radiographer. She was deported by the Gestapo in 1942 and murdered, probably in the Majdanek concentration camp during World War II.

 

Marianne Breslauer (German, 1909-2001) 'Circus, Berlin' 1931

 

Marianne Breslauer (German, 1909-2001)
Circus, Berlin
1931

 

 

Marianne Breslauer (German, 1909-2001)

Marianne Breslauer (married surname Feilchenfeldt, 20 November 1909 – 7 February 2001) was a German photographer, photojournalist and pioneer of street photography during the Weimar Republic.

Marianne was born in Berlin, the daughter of the architect Alfred Breslauer (1866-1954) and Dorothea Lessing (the daughter of art historian Julius Lessing). She took lessons in photography in Berlin from 1927 to 1929, and she admired the work of the then well-known portrait photographer Frieda Riess and later of the Hungarian André Kertész.

In 1929 she travelled to Paris, where she briefly became a pupil of Man Ray, whom she met through Helen Hessel, a fashion correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung and family friend. Man Ray encouraged Breslauer to “go her own way without his help.” A year later she started work for the Ullstein photo studio in Berlin, headed up by Elsbeth Heddenhausen, where she mastered the skills of developing photos in the dark-room. Until 1934 her photos were published in many leading magazines such as the Frankfurter Illustrierten, Der Querschnitt, Die Dame, Zürcher Illustrierten, Der Uhu and Das Magazin.

In the early 1930s, Breslauer travelled to Palestine and Alexandria, before traveling with her close friend, the Swiss writer, journalist, and photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach, whom she met through Ruth Landshoff and whom she photographed many times. She described Schwarzenbach as: “Neither a woman nor a man, but an angel, an archangel.” In 1933 they travelled together to the Pyrenees to carry out a photographic assignment for the Berlin photographic agency Academia. This led to Marianne’s confrontation with the anti-Semitic practices then coming into play in Germany. Her employers wanted her to publish her photos under a pseudonym, to hide the fact that she was Jewish. She refused to do so and left Germany. However her photo Schoolgirls won the “Photo of the Year” award at the “Salon international d’art photographique” in Paris in 1934.

She emigrated in 1936 to Amsterdam where she married the art dealer Walter Feilchenfeldt [de] – he had previously left Germany after seeing Nazis break up an auction of modern art. Her first child, Walter, was born here. Family life and work as an art dealer hindered her work in photography, which she gave up to concentrate on her other activities. In 1939 the family fled to Zurich where her second son, Konrad, was born.

After the war, in 1948, the couple set up an art business specialising in French paintings and 19th-century art. When her husband died in 1953 she took over the business, which she ran with her son Walter from 1966 to 1990. She died in Zollikon, near Zurich.

Breslauer’s work demonstrates an interest in overlooked or marginalised subjects. Her earlier work in Paris, encouraged by the surrealist photographer Man Ray, focused on the homeless along the river Seine.

Her portraits show influence from the photographic experiments of Bauhaus students and the contemporary style Neues Sehen. Nonetheless, her photography conveys a strong personal interest in and approach to capturing dynamic motion, conveyed partially through her selection of bustling urban settings.

Breslauer ended work in her photographic career in 1936 due to the rise of Nazism.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985) 'Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris at the Opening Night Party for "The Member of The Wedding," New York City' 1950

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985)
Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris at the Opening Night Party for “The Member of The Wedding,” New York City
1950
Gelatin silver print
39.7 × 49.5cm (15 5/8 × 19 1/2 in.)
Purchase, Dorothy Levitt Beskind Gift, 1980
Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Ruth Orkin

 

Sandra Weiner (American, 1921-2014) 'Boy Smoking' c. 1948

 

Sandra Weiner (Polish-American, 1921-2014)
Boy Smoking
c. 1948
Gelatin silver print
6 1/4 x 9 3/8in (16.58 x 24.7cm)

 

 

Sandra Weiner (née Smith; 1921-2014) was a Polish-American street photographer and children’s book author.

Weiner was born in Drohiczan, Poland, and emigrated to the United States in 1928. She joined the Photo League in 1942. There, she first studied under photographers Paul Strand, and Dan Weiner whom she would later marry. Following the dissolution of the Photo League in 1951, she was a commercial photographer in the 1950s and later wrote four published children’s books.

 

Lola Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1903-1993) 'The Freeloaders' c. 1955

 

Lola Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1903-1993)
The Freeloaders
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 11 3/4 in. (24.4 × 29.8cm)
Collection of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

 

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23
Sep
21

Exhibition: ‘Dawoud Bey: An American Project’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 17th April – 3rd October 2021

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021). From left to right: Fresh Coons and Wild Rabbits, Harlem, NY, 1975; A Boy in Front of the Loew’s 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976; A Woman and a Child in the Doorway, Harlem, NY, 1975; Clockwise, from top left: Four Children at Lenox Avenue, Harlem, NY, 1977; A Woman and Two Boys Passing, Harlem, NY, 1978; Deas McNeil, the Barber, Harlem, NY, 1976; A Woman Waiting in the Doorway, Harlem, NY, 1976; Two Girls at Lady D’s, Harlem, NY, c. 1976; A Young Boy from a Marching Band, Harlem, NY, 1977; Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, 1978; A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

 

To fit it in with other exhibitions closing soon, a mid-week posting on this strong exhibition – Dawoud Bey: An American Project – this time at the Whitney Museum of American Art, with further media images, audio and installation photographs. The first posting with my comments about the exhibition was at the High Museum of Art.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

 

 

Dawoud Bey: An American Project

Since the mid-1970s, Dawoud Bey (b. 1953) has worked to expand upon what photography can and should be. Insisting that it is an ethical practice requiring collaboration with his subjects, he creates poignant meditations on visibility, power, and race. Bey chronicles communities and histories that have been largely underrepresented or even unseen, and his work lends renewed urgency to an enduring conversation about what it means to represent America with a camera.

Spanning from his earliest street portraits in Harlem to his most recent series imagining an escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad, Dawoud Bey: An American Project attests to the artist’s profound engagement with the Black subject. He is deeply committed to the craft of photography, drawing on the medium’s specific tools, processes, and materials to amplify the formal, aesthetic, and conceptual goals of each body of work. Bey views photography not only as a form of personal expression but as an act of political responsibility, emphasising the necessary and ongoing work of artists and institutions to break down obstacles to access, convene communities, and open dialogues.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project is co-organised by the Whitney Museum of American Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition is co-curated by Elisabeth Sherman, Assistant Curator at the Whitney, and Corey Keller, Curator of Photography at SFMOMA.

 

Room 800 Introduction

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Two Girls at Lady D's, Harlem, NY' c. 1976, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Two Girls at Lady D’s, Harlem, NY
c. 1976, printed 2019
From Harlem, U.S.A.
Gelatin silver print
11 × 14 in. (27.9 × 35.6cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
Image courtesy the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Four Children at Lenox Avenue, Harlem, NY' 1977, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Four Children at Lenox Avenue, Harlem, NY
1977, printed 2019
From Harlem, U.S.A.
Gelatin silver print
11 × 14 in. (27.9 × 35.6cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

1

.
Harlem, U.S.A.

Bey began photographing in Harlem in 1975, at the age of twenty-two. Although he was raised in Queens, Bey was intimately connected to the neighbourhood: his parents had met there, and members of his extended family still made it their home. Drawn to the neighbourhood as both a symbol of and a wellspring for Black American culture, Bey wanted to portray its residents as complex individuals in images free of stereotype. These works all come from the series Harlem, U.S.A. (1975-79).

Bey used a 35mm camera with a slightly wide-angle lens, which required him to get close to his subjects while grounding them in the cityscape behind them. His set-up was nimble and discreet, and let the artist carefully control the framing. In 1979, the series was exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem, a museum dedicated to the arts of the African diaspora. Even at this very early moment in his career, it was critical to Bey that the works be shown in the community where they were made, allowing the people he was representing to have access to the work they inspired.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman Waiting in the Doorway, Harlem, NY' 1977, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman Waiting in the Doorway, Harlem, NY
1977, printed 2019
From Harlem, U.S.A.
Gelatin silver print
14 × 11 in. overall (35.6 × 27.9cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Four Teenagers after Church Service, Syracuse, NY' 1985, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Four Teenagers after Church Service, Syracuse, NY
1985, printed 2019
Gelatin silver print
20 × 24 in. (50.8 × 61cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York
Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021). Clockwise, from top left: Two Boys, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Man with a Bus Transfer, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Two Boys at a Syracuse Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Car in Backyard, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Woman Waiting for the Bus, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Man at the Bus Stop, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Four Teenagers After Church Service, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986; Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Woman and Three Children, Syracuse, NY, 1985. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY' 1985, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY
1985, printed 2019
Gelatin silver print
20 × 24 in. (50.8 × 61cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York
Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
Image courtesy the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

2

.
Syracuse, NY

For much of the 1980s Bey continued to use the same slightly wide-angle lens and 35mm camera that he had used to make Harlem, U.S.A. Increasingly attuned to the formal and expressive geometries of the camera’s rectangular frame, he explored new ways to make use of shadow and light to help define a dynamic and improvisational composition. These aesthetic choices were deeply informed by the photographers he knew and studied, most importantly Roy DeCarava (1919-2009).

In 1985 Bey had a residency at Light Work in Syracuse, New York. Residencies and the projects that grew out of them would become a key aspect of his career, allowing him to focus on one place or organisation and incorporate that specificity into his work. In this series of photographs made in Syracuse, Bey portrays the city’s Black community. He noted: “It was a deliberate choice to foreground the Black subject in those photographs, giving them a place not only in my pictures … but on the wall[s] of galleries and museums when that work was exhibited.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Woman Waiting for the Bus, Syracuse, NY' 1985, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Woman Waiting for the Bus, Syracuse, NY
1985, printed 2019
Gelatin silver print
20 × 24 in. (50.8 × 61cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Ask a Curator: Dawoud Bey: An American Project

Join assistant curator Elisabeth Sherman and curatorial assistant Ambika Trasi for an overview of the exhibition Dawoud Bey: An American Project. For more than four decades, Dawoud Bey has used the camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, power, and race, chronicling communities and histories that have largely been underrepresented or even unseen. The exhibition traces continuities across Bey’s major series, from his earliest street portraits in Harlem through his most recent project imagining an escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad.

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021). From left to right: A Couple in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, 1990; A Woman at Fulton Street and Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 1988; A Man at Fulton Street and Cambridge Place, Brooklyn, NY, 1988; A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988; Max, Celia, Ramon, and Candida, New York, NY, 1992; Martina and Rhonda, Chicago, IL, 1993. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Man at Fulton Street and Cambridge Place, Brooklyn, NY' 1988, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Man at Fulton Street and Cambridge Place, Brooklyn, NY
1988, printed 2019
Pigmented inkjet print
30 × 40 in. (76.2 × 101.6cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

3

.
Type 55 Polaroid Street Portraits

After more than a decade of using a handheld 35mm camera, in 1988 Bey chose to slow down his process, moving to a larger and more conspicuous tripod-mounted 4 × 5-inch-format camera to make this series of street portraits. Like many other photographers working at that time, Bey was increasingly concerned with the ethics of traditional street photography, “which privileged the photographer at the expense of the subject,” and sought more equitable, reciprocal relationships with his sitters.

He began openly approaching strangers he wished to photograph in order to give “the Black subjects [a space] to assert themselves and their presence in the world, with their gaze meeting the viewer’s on equal footing.” He used Polaroid Type 55 film, which produced both instant pictures that he gave to the sitters and negatives that could be used later to make additional prints. Printing technologies have advanced in the decades since Bey made the photographs; the images here have been reprinted at nearly life-size, realising his original intention of creating a more heightened encounter between subject and viewer.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Boy Eating a Foxy Pop, Brooklyn, NY' 1988, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Boy Eating a Foxy Pop, Brooklyn, NY
1988, printed 2019
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 30 in. (101.6 × 76.2cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Room 803 Young Man at a Tent Revival, Brooklyn, NY

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Young Man at a Tent Revival, Brooklyn, NY' 1989, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Young Man at a Tent Revival, Brooklyn, NY
1989, printed 2019
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 30 in. (101.6 × 76.2cm)
Courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021). From left to right: (clockwise, from top left) Two Boys, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Man with a Bus Transfer, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Two Boys at a Syracuse Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Car in Backyard, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Woman Waiting for the Bus, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Man at the Bus Stop, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Four Teenagers After Church Service, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986; Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Woman and Three Children, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Kenosha II, 1996; Hilary and Taro, Chicago, IL, 1992; A Girl with School Medals, Brooklyn, NY, 1988; A Boy Eating a Foxy Pop, Brooklyn, NY, 1988; A Girl with a Knife Nosepin, Brooklyn, NY, 1990. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Hilary and Taro, Chicago, IL' 1992

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Hilary and Taro, Chicago, IL
1992
Two dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroids)
30 1/8 × 44 in. overall (76.5 × 111.8cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art; purchase, with funds from the Photography Committee
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Max, Celia, Ramon and Candida, New York, NY' 1992

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Max, Celia, Ramon and Candida, New York, NY
1992
Three dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroid)
30 × 67 7/8 in. overall (76.2 × 167.64cm)
Collection of Candida Alvarez
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

4

.
20 × 24 Polaroids

In 1991, Bey began using the 20 × 24-inch camera that the Polaroid Corporation made available to artists through its Artist Support Program. The camera was gargantuan and cumbersome – more than two hundred pounds and over six feet tall and five feet wide – and required two people to operate it, the photographer and a technician. Unlike the chance, and often brief, encounters with his subjects outside when using a 35mm camera, the Polaroid camera studio sessions offered Bey the opportunity to orchestrate all the conditions of the image and to have a more contemplative and sustained engagement with each sitter.

His earliest subjects were his artist friends; later he photographed teenagers that he met through a series of residencies at high schools and museums around the country. Over the course of Bey’s eight-year engagement with the 20 × 24-inch Polaroid camera, he increasingly explored the possibilities of multi-panel portraiture as a way of conveying a sense of the length of a portrait session as well as acknowledging the reality that no one image can fully portray an individual’s complexity.

 

Room 804 Lorna, New York, NY

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Lorna, New York, NY' 1992

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Lorna, New York, NY
1992
Two dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroid)
30 × 44 in. overall (76.2 × 111.76cm)
Collection of Eileen Harris Norton
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Martina and Rhonda, Chicago, IL' 1993

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Martina and Rhonda, Chicago, IL
1993
Six dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroid)
48 × 60 in. overall (121.9 × 152.4cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art; gift of Eric Ceputis and David W. Williams
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

 

Reimagining History: Dawoud Bey in conversation with Jason Moran and Sarah M. Broom

On the occasion of the exhibition Dawoud Bey: An American Project, this conversation brings Dawoud Bey together with artist and musician Jason Moran and writer Sarah M. Broom to discuss their shared interest in specific histories and shared memories as the ground for their respective practices.

Inspired by Bey’s The Birmingham Project (2012) – a tribute to the victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, AL, in 1963 – and Night Coming Tenderly, Black (2019), which imagines the flight of enslaved Black Americans along the final leg of the Underground Railroad, the three speakers reflect on how an artwork can become an act of commemoration and radical reinvention.

Jason Moran is an interdisciplinary artist, musician, and composer who draws on and celebrates the history of Black music and musicians such as James Reese Europe, Thelonious Monk, and Fats Waller, among others.

Sarah M. Broom is the author of The Yellow House, a memoir that weaves the story of her family in New Orleans across multiple generations.

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021). From left to right, from Class PicturesKevin, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, 2005; Simone, Kenwood Academy, Chicago, IL, 2003; Danny, Fashion Industries High School, New York, NY, 2006. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Kevin, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA' 2005

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Kevin, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
2005
From Class Pictures
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 32 in. (101.6 × 81.3cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

5

.
Class Pictures

Bey has long understood that the act of representation – as well as the corollary act of being seen – is both powerful and political. In Class Pictures (1992-2006) he once again turned his attention to teenagers, a population he felt was underrepresented and misjudged, seen either as “socially problematic or as engines for a certain consumerism.” The series originated during a residency at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago, where Bey began working with local high-school students; during residencies at other museums and schools around the country, he expanded the project to capture a geographically and socioeconomically diverse slice of American adolescence.

Working in empty classrooms between class periods, Bey made careful and tender formal colour portraits of teens. He then invited them to write brief autobiographical statements to accompany their images, giving his subjects voice as well as visibility. Many of the residencies also included a curatorial project with the students using works in the museums’ collections. While the photographs and texts are what remain of these projects, it is the collaborative undertaking that Bey considers the work of Class Pictures.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Jordan, School of the Arts, San Francisco, CA' 2006

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Jordan, School of the Arts, San Francisco, CA
2006
From Class Pictures
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 32 in. (101.6 × 81.3cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Omar, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA' 2005, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Omar, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
2005, printed 2019
From Class Pictures
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 32 in. (101.6 × 81.3cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Room 805 Omar, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Omar, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA' 2005, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Omar, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA (detail)
2005, printed 2019
From Class Pictures
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 32 in. (101.6 × 81.3cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Braxton McKinney and Lavone Thomas, Birmingham, AL' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Braxton McKinney and Lavone Thomas, Birmingham, AL
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Pigmented inkjet prints
40 × 32 in. each (101.6 × 81.3cm each)
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

6

.
The Birmingham Project

On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, murdering four Black girls – Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley – inside. Two Black boys – Johnny Robinson and Virgil Ware – were also killed in racially motivated violence later that day. Bey’s series The Birmingham Project (2012) commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of this horrific event. The artist made formal portraits of Birmingham residents, pairing children the same ages as the victims with adults fifty years older – the ages the victims would have been had they lived.

Bey said of the experience making these works: “To think of someone striking such a young life down with impunity is a renewed horror each time a young person sits in front of my camera. To see the older men and women, having lived rich full lives, reminds me constantly of the tragically abbreviated lives of those six young people.” Bey made the portraits in two locations: Bethel Baptist Church, an early headquarters for the civil rights movement in Birmingham, and the Birmingham Museum of Art, which in 1963 was a segregated space that admitted Black visitors only one day a week. The resulting works both honour the tragic loss of the six children and make plain the continued impact of violence, trauma, and racism.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Betty Selvage and Faith Speights, Birmingham, AL' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Betty Selvage and Faith Speights, Birmingham, AL
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Pigmented inkjet prints
40 × 32 in. each (101.6 × 81.3cm each)
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021). From left to right, from The Birmingham Project: Braxton McKinney and Lavon Thomas, 2012; Betty Selvage and Faith Speights, 2012; Jean Shamburger and Kyrian McDaniel, 2012. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021). Mathis Menefee and Cassandra Griffin, from The Birmingham Project, 2012. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Room 103 Mathis Menefee and Cassandra Griffin

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Mathis Menefee and Cassandra Griffin, Birmingham, AL' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Mathis Menefee and Cassandra Griffin, Birmingham, AL
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Pigmented inkjet prints
40 × 64 in. each (101.6 × 162.56cm each)
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'West 124th Street and Lenox Avenue, NY' 2016, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
West 124th Street and Lenox Avenue, NY
2016, printed 2019
From Harlem Redux
Pigmented inkjet print
40 3/8 × 48 1/4 × 2 in. overall (102.6 × 122.6 × 5.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

7

.
Harlem Redux

In 2014, Bey began the series of which this work is a part, Harlem Redux. It marked a return to the neighbourhood, where four decades earlier he had made his first critically acclaimed body of work, Harlem, U.S.A. If the earlier series is a love letter to the historic epicentre of Black community and culture in the United States, Harlem Redux (2014-17) is an incisive and elegiac look at its recent, rapid transformation and gentrification. Bey used a medium-format camera and made the pictures large scale and in colour, techniques common to contemporary photography practices, in order to signal that these changes are taking place now, and not in a historical moment.

This series commemorates sites of cultural significance in Harlem – such as the legendary jazz club the Lenox Lounge, which was demolished not long after Bey’s photograph was made – and makes evident the impacts of otherwise invisible socioeconomic forces. In his words, Harlem is now a neighbourhood “increasingly defined by a sense of ‘erase and replace’, wherein pieces of social and cultural history, along with memory itself, are routinely discarded.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Young Man, West 127th Street, Harlem, NY' 2015, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Young Man, West 127th Street, Harlem, NY
2015, printed 2019
From Harlem Redux
Pigmented inkjet print
40 3/8 × 48 1/4 × 2 in. overall (102.6 × 122.6 × 5.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Room 801 Girls, Ornaments, and Vacant Lot

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Girls, Ornaments, and Vacant Lot, NY' 2016, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Girls, Ornaments, and Vacant Lot, NY
2016, printed 2019
From Harlem Redux
Pigmented inkjet print
40 3/8 × 48 1/4 × 2 in. (102.6 × 122.6 × 5.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #21 (Farmhouse and Picket Fence II)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #21 (Farmhouse and Picket Fence II)
2017
from Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
44 × 54 5/8 in. (111.8 × 138.7cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Photography Committee, in honour of Sondra Gilman
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

8

.
Night Coming Tenderly, Black

Bey’s most recent work imagines the flight of enslaved Black Americans along the leg of the Underground Railroad that operated in Ohio – the last fifty or so miles before they reached the vast expanse of Lake Erie, on the other side of which lay Canada, and freedom. As a covert network of safe houses and churches, the sites of the Underground Railroad were by necessity secret. Bey’s photographs suggest the experience of the journey and the landscapes and buildings that may have provided protection along the way. Night Coming Tenderly, Black (2017) marks the first time in his career that Bey turned completely to landscape photography, removing the presence of the figure entirely.

Nonetheless, the images imply the perspective of the individuals whose invisibility was requisite for their safety. Their large scale and rich black tones invite the viewer to engage their own body in the act of looking, taking time for their eyes to adjust and moving around to register the entirety of each image. The series pays homage to two Black American artists, the photographer Roy DeCarava and the poet Langston Hughes. DeCarava’s influence can be seen in the lush and protective darkness of the prints, while the project’s title is drawn from the final couplet of Hughes’s “Dream Variations”: “Night coming tenderly / Black like me.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #24 (At Lake Erie)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #24 (At Lake Erie)
2017
from Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
48 × 55 in. (121.9 × 139.7cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Photography Committee, in honour of Sondra Gilman
© Dawoud Bey

 

Room 806 Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)
2017
From Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
44 × 55 in. (111.8 × 139.7cm)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Accessions Committee Fund purchase
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

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Phone: (212) 570-3600

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12
Sep
21

Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Protest’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 29th June – 10th October, 2021

Curator: Mazie Harris

 

 

David Wojnarowicz in 1988

 

David Wojnarowicz in 1988
Please note, this photograph is not in the exhibition

 

 

Speaking up when others are silent

This one-room exhibition seems like a missed opportunity.

I note the observation of Anne Wallentine: “In Focus: Protest, a one-room exhibition at the Getty Center, focuses on palatable images of protest. There are no disturbing images of the police’s violent attacks on protesters during the June 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, for example, or of self-immolations protesting the Vietnam War. On the one hand, we don’t need to see violence to understand injustice. But this subject deserves a much deeper and broader show to explore the important power dynamics of protest – and of documenting it – than the Getty’s somewhat muddled march through the lowlights of American history.”1

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Although I haven’t seen the exhibition I have been able to gather together numerous photographs from installation shots of the show. The exhibition focuses heavily on the civil rights photographs of the 1960s with sporadic abortion, women’s lib, Vietnam War, contemporary Black Lives Matter and metaphorical images standing in for actual protest photographs (such as the photographs of Robert Frank). As Wallentine observes, the subject deserves a much deeper and broader show to explore the important power dynamics of protest, and of documenting it.

America has a long history of protest stretching back to its very beginning, such as the Boston Tea Party in 1773. But thinking about the photography of protest in America – where are the cartes de visit of slavery abolitionists such as Sojourner Truth or Frederick Douglass, the photographs of protests for women’s suffrage, after the Stonewall Riots, against the lack of funding for HIV/AIDS, for gun legislation, photographs of protests for Native American enfranchisement, marches for equal rights, anti-nuclear protests, Iraq War protests, climate change protests, and the worldwide Occupy movement?

What are issues and the politics involved with documenting protest, both for an against, as an expression of the photographers own beliefs? How does the presence of photographers affect how people “play up” to the camera? Does the photographer participate in the protest or stand aside and just document? How is documenting a form of protest in itself? How are these images then made propaganda and to what ends? What is the difference between the vernacular photography of protest and that of a professional photojournalist? How are both disseminated and what is the difference of this impact?

How is the framing of protest photography undertaken in a system – and here I am thinking, for example, of the selective cropping, editing and addition of text in photo essays by professional photographers such as Gordon Parks for Life magazine – and how do we, as viewers, recognise that the systems in which the works are viewed often obscure the networks in which they are created and operate… that is, structures that sit around those pictures re/presentation in galleries or newspapers, journals.

Essentially, in the power of the image, what lies in and beyond the frame of reference – in terms of the technologies of production, technologies of sign systems, technologies of power and technologies of the self2 – has an “affect” upon the reception and interpretation of images, their inculcation in memory through repetition, their performativity, their intertextuality and their promulgation in the world as acts of resistance and freedom, both from the point of view of the photographer and the viewer.

The one image that is my favourite protest photograph “of all time” can be seen above. To my knowledge, this photograph is not included in the exhibition. Taken by an anonymous photographer in 1988 it shows an anonymous man at a protest rally (evidenced by the placard in the background top right) wearing a jacket emblazoned with words in white capital letters “IF I DIE OF AIDS – FORGET BURIAL – JUST DROP MY BODY ON THE STEPS OF THE F.D.A” over the pink triangle, symbol of homosexuals in the Nazi concentration camps later reclaimed as a positive symbol of self-identity for various LGBTQ identities. The F.D.A. referred to is the United States Food and Drug Administration which is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs and biological products… at the time dragging their feet over AIDS research.

The anonymous man is, in fact, American artist and activist David Wojnarowicz who died at the age of 37 in 1992, four years after the photograph was taken, of AIDS-related complications.

“… during the plague years, he watched his best friends die horribly, while religious leaders pontificated against safe-sex education and politicians mooted quarantine on islands.

It filled him with rage, the brutality and the waste. He writes: “I want to throw up because we’re supposed to quietly and politely make house in this killing machine called America and pay taxes to support our own slow murder, and I’m amazed that we’re not running amok in the streets and that we can still be capable of gestures of loving after lifetimes of all this.” …

“It is exhausting, living in a population where people don’t speak up if what they witness doesn’t directly threaten them,” he writes. Long before the word intersectionality was in common currency, Wojnarowicz was alert to people whose experience was erased by what he called “the pre‑invented world” or “the one-tribe nation”. Politicised by his own sexuality, by the violence and deprivation he had been subjected to, he developed a deep empathy with others, a passionate investment in diversity. During the course of Close to the Knives he touches repeatedly on other struggles, from fighting police brutality towards people of colour to standing up to the erosion of abortion rights. …

As the rallying cry of Aids activists made clear, “Silence = Death”. From the very beginning of his life Wojnarowicz had been subjected to an enforced silencing, first by his father and then by the society he inhabited: the media that erased him; the courts that legislated against him; and the politicians who considered his life and the lives of those he loved expendable.

In Knives he repeatedly explains his motivation for making art as an acute desire to produce objects that could speak, testifying to his presence when he no longer could. “To place an object or piece of writing that contains what is invisible because of legislation or social taboo into an environment outside myself makes me feel not so alone,” he writes. “It is kind of like a ventriloquist’s dummy – the only difference is that the work can speak by itself or act like that magnet to attract others who carried this enforced silence.””3

.
The jacket that he made and the photograph of it form an intertextual art work, one both (physically) sculptural and photographic, objects that could visibly speak in the world by transgressing the taboo of invisibility, of silence. The photograph was taken by an anonymous photographer of an initially (to the viewer) anonymous man. It then proceeds to transcend its subject … through the projection of the voice of the artist through time, through the knowledge of the story of his own vitality and resistance, now his absence/presence. His protest stands “in eternity” where there is no time. Standing with others, speaking up when others are silent. That is the essence of protest. I just wonder where that jacket is now?

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

    1. Anne Wallentine. “A History of Protest Photography That Plays It Too Safe,” on the Hyperallergic website August 18, 2021 [Online] Cited 12/09/2021
    2. Michel Foucault, “Technologies of the Self,” quoted in Luther Martin, Huck Gutman, Patrick Hutton (eds.). Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. Tavistock Publications, London, 1988, p. 18.
    3. Olivia Laing. “David Wojnarowicz: still fighting prejudice 24 years after his death,” on the Guardian website, Friday 13 May 2016 [Online] Cited 12/09/2021

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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.

 

We are reminded frequently of the power of photographs to propel action and inspire change. During demonstrations photographers take to the streets to record fast-moving events. At other times they bear witness to daily injustices, helping to make them more widely known. This exhibition of images made during periods of social struggle in the United States highlights the myriad roles protest photographs play in shaping our understanding of American life.

 

 

In Focus: Protest, a one-room exhibition at the Getty Center, focuses on palatable images of protest. There are no disturbing images of the police’s violent attacks on protesters during the June 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, for example, or of self-immolations protesting the Vietnam War. On the one hand, we don’t need to see violence to understand injustice. But this subject deserves a much deeper and broader show to explore the important power dynamics of protest – and of documenting it – than the Getty’s somewhat muddled march through the lowlights of American history. …

… depicting individuals carries new risks now. Contemporary protest photographers have to navigate the dangers of photo recognition technology for their subjects – notably, Kris Graves’s 2020 photo depicts a luminous memorial to George Floyd projected and graffitied onto a Confederate statue, rather than an image of identifiable marchers [see below]. At the very least, the issue deserves mention in the wall text to contextualize current photography amid this threat to human rights and the tricky role photographers have to navigate while recording and participating in protests. Documenting can be a form of protest, but it can be used against its subjects, too. The exhibition text, however, tends to swerve away from engaging with the complexities of history, mentioning the passage of the 19th Amendment and Voting Rights Act 1965 without referencing the continued struggles to ensure voting access in marginalized communities. It does provide images of counter-protest during the Vietnam War and women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, but these only sharpen the desire for a better understanding of the ebb and flow of human rights efforts into the present.

.
Anne Wallentine. “A History of Protest Photography That Plays It Too Safe,” on the Hyperallergic website August 18, 2021 [Online] Cited 12/09/2021

 

 

Underwood & Underwood (American, founded 1881, dissolved 1940s) '[Women's Campaign Train for Hughes]' 1916

 

Underwood & Underwood (American, founded 1881, dissolved 1940s)
[Women’s Campaign Train for Hughes]
1916
Gelatin silver print
18.7 × 24.9cm (7 3/8 × 9 13/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936) 'Malcolm X Speaks at a Rally in Harlem at 115th St. & Lennox Ave., New York' September 7, 1963

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936)
Malcolm X Speaks at a Rally in Harlem at 115th St. & Lennox Ave., New York
September 7, 1963
Gelatin silver print
16.2 × 23.5cm (6 3/8 × 9 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Adger Cowans

 

Bruce Davidson (American, born 1933) 'Birmingham, Alabama' Negative 1963; print 1970-1979

 

Bruce Davidson (American, born 1933)
Birmingham, Alabama
Negative 1963; print 1970-1979
Gelatin silver print
19.9 × 31.1 cm (7 13/16 × 12 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

An African-American woman is arrested by two Caucasian police officers, each holding her by her arms. In the background is a theatre marquee, bearing the signs for the movies, “Back Street” and “Damn the Defiant.”

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006) 'March on Washington, Washington, D.C.' August 28, 1963

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006)
March on Washington, Washington, D.C.
August 28, 1963
Gelatin silver print
26.5 × 38.7cm (10 7/16 × 15 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos

 

Robert (Bob) Adelman (American, 1930-2016) 'Washington, D.C., Cheering crowd during speeches at historic March on Washington' 1963

 

Robert (Bob) Adelman (American, 1930-2016)
Washington, D.C., Cheering crowd during speeches at historic March on Washington
1963
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 35.6cm (11 × 14 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Bob Adelman/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'March from Selma, Alabama' Negative 1965; printed later

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
March from Selma, Alabama
Negative 1965; printed later
Gelatin silver print
21.7 × 32.8cm (8 9/16 × 12 15/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Photographs not only capture a nation’s values and beliefs but also help shape them. Camera in hand, photographers often take to the streets, recording protests and demonstrations or bearing witness to daily injustices to make them more widely known. Such images have inspired change for generations.

The late United States Congressman John Lewis emphasised the crucial role photography played in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. “The unbelievable photographs published in newspapers and magazines… brought people from around the globe to small Southern towns to join the movement,” he said. “These photographs told us that those who expressed themselves by standing in unmovable lines… must be looked upon as the found mothers and fathers of a new America.”

This exhibition highlights how photographers have recorded periods of social struggle and transformation in the United States. Amid the country’s current and ongoing efforts to address and rectify injustice and systemic racism, and as the United States continues to grapple with how best to forge a new and better future, these images help us consider the myriad roles photography plays in shaping our understanding of American life.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Voting Rights Act 1965

Voting Rights Act, U.S. legislation (August 6, 1965) that aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote under the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) to the Constitution of the United States. The act significantly widened the franchise and is considered among the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history.

In the 1950s and early 1960s the U.S. Congress enacted laws to protect the right of African Americans to vote, but such legislation was only partially successful. In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed and the Twenty-fourth Amendment, abolishing poll taxes for voting for federal offices, was ratified, and the following year Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson called for the implementation of comprehensive federal legislation to protect voting rights. The resulting act, the Voting Rights Act, suspended literacy tests, provided for federal approval of proposed changes to voting laws or procedures (“preclearance”) in jurisdictions that had previously used tests to determine voter eligibility (these areas were covered under Sections 4 and 5 of the legislation), and directed the attorney general of the United States to challenge the use of poll taxes for state and local elections. An expansion of the law in the 1970s also protected voting rights for non-English-speaking U.S. citizens. Sections 4 and 5 were extended for 5 years in 1970, 7 years in 1975, and 25 years in both 1982 and 2006.

The Voting Rights Act resulted in a marked decrease in the voter registration disparity between white and Black people. In the mid-1960s, for example, the overall proportion of white to Black registration in the South ranged from about 2 to 1 to 3 to 1 (and about 10 to 1 in Mississippi); by the late 1980s racial variations in voter registration had largely disappeared. As the number of African American voters increased, so did the number of African American elected officials. In the mid-1960s there were about 70 African American elected officials in the South, but by the turn of the 21st century there were some 5,000, and the number of African American members of the U.S. Congress had increased from 6 to about 40. In what was widely perceived as a test case, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder, et al. (2009), the Supreme Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), however, the Court struck down Section 4 – which had established a formula for identifying jurisdictions that were required to obtain preclearance – declaring it to be unjustified in light of changed historical circumstances. Eight years later, in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee (2021), the Court further weakened the Voting Rights Act by finding that the law’s Section 2(a) – which prohibited any voting standard or procedure that “results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color” – was not necessarily violated by voting restrictions that disproportionately burden members of racial minority groups.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Voting Rights Act,” on the Britannica website last updated July 30, 2021 [Online] Cited 12/09/2021.

 

John Simmons (American, b. 1950) 'Unite or Perish, Chicago, Illinois' 1968

 

John Simmons (American, b. 1950)
Unite or Perish, Chicago, Illinois
1968
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© John Simmons

 

 

Simmons began his career at 15 as a photographer for the oldest African American-owned newspaper, The Chicago Daily Defender in 1965. Over his decades long career, he’s photographed icons of the Civil Rights Movement, turbulent protests and demonstrations, famed musicians and poignant intimate moments of everyday life. “I’m glad to see photographs I took back in my teens are still relevant today,” he says. …

Two of Simmons’ photographs are featured in “In Focus: Protest,” “an exhibition featuring images made during periods of social struggle in the U.S. and highlighting the myriad roles protest photographs play in shaping our understanding of American life,” says Mazie Harris, assistant curator in the department of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “With this exhibition we aim to give visitors a place to think about some of the ways photographers have brought attention to efforts to address and rectify injustice.” …

“My position on protest is interesting,” says Simmons. “My father was much older than my mother and when Harriet Tubman died my father was around 12 or 13 so that puts me in close relationship to slavery and to people who were arounds slaves. My great grandmother saw Abraham Lincoln and my great aunt was babysat by former slaves. I picked up a camera in 1965, the first year African Americans were allowed to vote. That was behind those eyes the first day I pressed a shutter. So in reality, every photograph I take is a protest photo.”

John Simmons quoted in Steve Simmons. “Photographer John Simmons, ‘Chronicler Of The Civil Rights Movement,’​ Featured In Three Exhibits,” on the Linkedin website August 4, 2021 [Online] Cited 11/09/2021.

 

Robert Flora (American, 1929-1986) 'A Women's Liberation Marcher Is Temporarily Overwhelmed by a Group of Women Marching against the Women's Liberation Movement in Downtown Los Angeles' August 26, 1970

 

Robert Flora (American, 1929-1986)
A Women’s Liberation Marcher Is Temporarily Overwhelmed by a Group of Women Marching against the Women’s Liberation Movement in Downtown Los Angeles
August 26, 1970
Gelatin silver print with typed caption
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of the Flora Family
Reproduced with permission via Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

 

Bill Owens (American, born 1938) 'Untitled' early 1970s

 

Bill Owens (American, born 1938)
Untitled
early 1970s
Gelatin silver print
19.2 × 21.5cm (7 9/16 × 8 7/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Robert Shimshak and Marion Brenner
© Bill Owens

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'American Flag' 1977

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
American Flag
1977
Gelatin silver print
35.3 × 35.3cm (13 7/8 × 13 7/8 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

“Mapplethorpe evoked the frayed character of American ideals during a period when equal rights for gay men and women in the United States seemed nearly unimaginable.”

 

 

The J. Paul Getty Museum presents In Focus: Protest, an exhibition featuring images made during periods of social struggle in the United States, and highlighting the myriad roles protest photographs play in shaping our understanding of American life. The exhibition is on view at the Getty Center Museum June 29 – October 10, 2021.

Photographs not only capture a nation’s values and beliefs but also help shape them. Camera in hand, photographers often take to the streets, recording protests and demonstrations or bearing witness to daily injustices to make them more widely known. Such images have inspired change for generations.

In Focus: Protest reminds us of the ability of photographs to both document and propel action,” says Mazie Harris, assistant curator of photographs at the Museum. “With this exhibition we aim to give visitors a place to think about some of the ways that photographers have brought attention to efforts to address and rectify injustice.” Among the works on view are images by well-known artists including Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965), Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989), and L.A.-based cinematographer and artist John Simmons (American, born 1950). The exhibition also includes resonant images by photographers Robert Flora (American, 1929-1986), William James Warren (American, born 1942), An-My Lê (American, born 1960), and a 2020 photograph by Kris Graves (American, born 1982).

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Pledge of Allegiance, Raphael Weill Elementary School, San Francisco' Negative April 20, 1942; print about 1960s

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Pledge of Allegiance, Raphael Weill Elementary School, San Francisco
Negative April 20, 1942; print about 1960s
Gelatin silver print
34 × 25.6cm (13 3/8 × 10 1/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Children’s symbol of hope and innocence can also be tied to their shielding from the “outside world”. Here we have a young Japanese girl reciting the American pledge of allegiance with much determination and passion, all while the United States government would take Japanese Americans into internment camps weeks later, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

 

Robert Frank. 'Trolley - New Orleans' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Trolley – New Orleans
1955
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

“America is an interesting country… but there is a lot here that I do not like and that I would never accept. I am also trying to show this in my photos.” ~ Robert Frank

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019) 'Railway Station, Memphis, Tennessee' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Railway Station, Memphis, Tennessee
1955
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Fred W. McDarrah (American, 1926-2007) 'Jose Rodriguez-Soltero Burned a Flag in a New York Happening' April 8, 1966

 

Fred W. McDarrah (American, 1926-2007)
Jose Rodriguez-Soltero Burned a Flag in a New York Happening
April 8, 1966
Gelatin silver print
34.8 × 25.8cm (13 11/16 × 10 3/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Estate of Fred W. McDarrah

 

William James Warren (American, b. 1942) 'Robert F. Kennedy and César Chávez Celebrate Mass as Chávez Breaks a Twenty-Five Day Fast, Delano, California' 1968

 

William James Warren (American, b. 1942)
Robert F. Kennedy and César Chávez Celebrate Mass as Chávez Breaks a Twenty-Five Day Fast, Delano, California
1968
Gelatin silver print
31.2 × 21.6cm (12 5/16 × 8 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of William James Warren
© William James Warren

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Vietnam Pro Demonstration' 1968

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Vietnam Pro Demonstration
1968
Gelatin silver print
24.3 × 16.7cm (9 9/16 × 6 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

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

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Fannie Lou Hamer, Mississippi
1971
Gelatin silver print
22.86 × 15.56cm (9 × 6 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

In 1971 Essence magazine sent Draper on assignment to Mississippi to photograph civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. This portrait appeared with the article “Fannie Lou Hamer Speaks Out,” in the October issue. Known for her fearlessness and strength in the midst of violence and intimidation, Hamer had been arrested and severely beaten by police in 1963 for her work on voter registration drives. She gained national attention when she returned to her activism in the mid-1960s, and this photograph visually distills her voice: “Today I don’t have any money, but I’m freer than the average white American ’cause I know who I am. I know what I’m about, and I know that I don’t have anything to be ashamed of.”

Anonymous text from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts website

 

Anthony Friedkin (American, b. 1949) 'These Are the Thoughts that Set Fire to Your City' 1993

 

Anthony Friedkin (American, b. 1949)
These Are the Thoughts that Set Fire to Your City
1993
Gelatin silver print
32.6 × 22cm (12 13/16 × 8 11/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Sue and Albert Dorskind
© Anthony Friedkin

 

This photograph was taken following the 1992 Rodney King Riots that happened across Los Angeles.

 

 

Rodney King (American, 1965-2012)

Rodney Glen King (April 2, 1965 – June 17, 2012) was an African-American man who was a victim of police brutality. On March 3, 1991, King was beaten by LAPD officers during his arrest, after a high-speed chase, for driving while intoxicated on I-210. An uninvolved individual, George Holliday, filmed the incident from his nearby balcony and sent the footage to local news station KTLA. The footage showed an unarmed King on the ground being beaten after initially evading arrest. The incident was covered by news media around the world and caused a public furor.

At a press conference, announcing the four officers involved would be disciplined, and three would face criminal charges, Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates said: “We believe the officers used excessive force taking him into custody. In our review, we find that officers struck him with batons between fifty-three and fifty-six times.” The LAPD initially charged King with “felony evading”, but later dropped the charge. On his release, he spoke to reporters from his wheelchair, with his injuries evident: a broken right leg in a cast, his face badly cut and swollen, bruises on his body, and a burn area to his chest where he had been jolted with a stun gun. He described how he had knelt, spread his hands out, and slowly tried to move so as not to make any “stupid moves”, being hit across the face by a billy club and shocked. He said he was scared for his life as they drew down on him.

Four officers were eventually tried on charges of use of excessive force. Of these, three were acquitted, and the jury failed to reach a verdict on one charge for the fourth. Within hours of the acquittals, the 1992 Los Angeles riots started, sparked by outrage among racial minorities over the trial’s verdict and related, longstanding social issues. The rioting lasted six days and killed 63 people, with 2,383 more injured; it ended only after the California Army National Guard, the Army, and the Marine Corps provided reinforcements to re-establish control.

The federal government prosecuted a separate civil rights case, obtaining grand jury indictments of the four officers for violations of King’s civil rights. Their trial in a federal district court ended on April 16, 1993, with two of the officers being found guilty and sentenced to serve prison terms. The other two were acquitted of the charges. In a separate civil lawsuit in 1994, a jury found the city of Los Angeles liable and awarded King $3.8 million in damages.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Glenn Ligon (American, b. 1960) 'Screen' 1996

 

Glenn Ligon (American, b. 1960)
Screen
1996
Silkscreen on canvas
213.36 x 365.76cm (84 x 144 in.)

 

 

Taking up an entire wall of a four-walled exhibit is Ligon’s “Screen”, where he took and enlarged a newspaper photograph from the Million Man March in Washington, DC. “Ligon has noted that while the march was meant to inspire African American unity, women and gay men were excluded,” says the photograph’s blurb. Ligon states, “I’m interested in what citizenship is in a democratic country… and the responsibilities that come with it.” On the video screen is Louis Farrakhan, a controversial organiser of the Million Man March.

Text from Julianna Lozada. “”In Focus Protest”: A Close Look at the New Getty Center Exhibit,” on the Karma Compass website July 14, 2021 [Online] Cited 11/09/2021

 

Million Man March

The Million Man March was a large gathering of African-American men in Washington, D.C., on October 16, 1995. Called by Louis Farrakhan, it was held on and around the National Mall. The National African American Leadership Summit, a leading group of civil rights activists and the Nation of Islam working with scores of civil rights organisations, including many local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (but not the national NAACP) formed the Million Man March Organizing Committee. The founder of the National African American Leadership Summit, Dr. Benjamin Chavis Jr. served as National Director of the Million Man March.

The committee invited many prominent speakers to address the audience, and African American men from across the United States converged in Washington to “convey to the world a vastly different picture of the Black male” and to unite in self-help and self-defence against economic and social ills plaguing the African American community.

The march took place in the context of a larger grassroots movement that set out to win politicians’ attention for urban and minority issues through widespread voter registration campaigns. On the same day, there was a parallel event called the Day of Absence, organised by women in conjunction with the March leadership, which was intended to engage the large population of black Americans who would not be able to attend the demonstration in Washington. On this date, all blacks were encouraged to stay home from their usual school, work, and social engagements, in favour of attending teach-ins, and worship services, focusing on the struggle for a healthy and self-sufficient black community. Further, organisers of the Day of Absence hoped to use the occasion to make great headway on their voter registration drive.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

An-My Lê (American born Vietnam, b. 1960) 'Fragment VI: General Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard Monuments, Homeland Security Storage, New Orleans, Louisiana' 2017

 

An-My Lê (American born Vietnam, b. 1960)
Fragment VI: General Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard Monuments, Homeland Security Storage, New Orleans, Louisiana
2017
Inkjet print
142.2 × 100.3cm (56 × 39 1/2 in.)
Pier 24 Photography, San Francisco
© An-My Lê courtesy of the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery

 

John Simmons (American, b. 1950) 'Fight Like a Girl, Los Angeles' Negative 2019; print 2020

 

John Simmons (American, b. 1950)
Fight Like a Girl, Los Angeles
Negative 2019; print 2020
Pigment print
24.1 × 38.1cm (9 1/2 × 15 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© John Simmons

 

Kris Graves (American, b. 1982) 'George Floyd Projection, Richmond, Virginia' 2020

 

Kris Graves (American, b. 1982)
George Floyd Projection, Richmond, Virginia
2020
Inkjet print
40 × 50.1cm (15 3/4 × 19 3/4 in.)

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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05
Sep
21

Exhibition: ‘Tobias Zielony: The Fall’ at Museum Folkwang, Essen

Exhibition dates: 25th June – 26th September, 2021

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Andrej' 2016

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Andrej
2016
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

 

A German artist who pictures the intersection between youth culture, identity and (self) representation.

Unlike the work of Michael Schmidt with that artist’s intimate association with the city of Berlin, Zielony’s photographs could have been taken anywhere in the world. With their contextless backgrounds Zielony’s figures – whether strangely lit and configured automatons, eerie apartment blocks that inhabit an alien world or anonymous humanoids fixed in mundane urban spaces – seem to be more about the artist and how he perceives the world than about the subject itself.

Having said that, these memorable photographs of introspective youths seem to hover in space between the preter/natural – suspended between the mundane and the miraculous.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. My friend and mentor said to me, “What I am interested in, is how Zielony came to make such interesting aesthetic decisions – his work is the most interesting in terms of appearance for a long time. It is so easy to make things messy but he manages to remain so clean. What does he do, what does he say to himself to make this happen?”

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

 

 

 

 

TOBIAS ZIELONY. The Fall – Trailer

With The Fall, the Folkwang Museum is showing the first overview exhibition of works by the photo and video artist Tobias Zielony (b. 1973 in Wuppertal). A total of eleven video works, seven photo series, two room installations and a digital slide show with around 150 photographs alone allow for the first time a comprehensive look at Zielony’s artistic work over the past twenty years.

In his work, Tobias Zielony repeatedly deals with the concept of youth culture in relation to origin, representation and fashion and the associated definition of identity in the changing media reality. The emergence of social networks and the exchange of countless photographic images have fundamentally changed the idea of ​​the self and the forms of (self) representation. Zielony shows his protagonists: inside as self-confident participants in this interplay, who act despite cultural and social differences in a global cosmos of social codes and self-portraits.

Tobias Zielony stands in a long line of tradition in artistic photography and is considered by many younger picture makers to be pioneering. Few photographers of his generation have observed social and media developments as carefully and translated them into a contemporary visual language as he has. For the first time, “The Fall” offers the opportunity to read Zielony’s imagery, which is located in the most diverse regions of the world, as global phenomena in their specific forms.

 

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Glow' 2001

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Glow
2001
From Curfew, Bristol, Newport
C-print
41.4 x 42cm
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Hochhaus' 2003

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Hochhaus
2003
From Ha Neu
C-print
46 x 69cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Aral-1' 2004

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Aral-1
2004
From Tankstelle
C-Print
48 x 72cm
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Park' 2006

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Park
2006
From Big Sexyland
C-print
67 x 100cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Skandalous' 2007

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Skandalous
2007
From The Cast
C-print
84 x 56cm
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Jay' 2007

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Jay
2007
From The Cast
C-print
56 x 84cm
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Untitled' 2008

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Untitled
2008
From the series Trona Armpit of America
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Dirt Field' 2008

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Dirt Field
2008
From the series Trona Armpit of America
C-print
56 x 84cm
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Two boys' 2008

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Two boys
2008
From the series Trona Armpit of America
C-print
56 x 84cm
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Ball 13' 2008

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Ball 13
2008
From Trona
C-print
84 x 56cm
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'BMX' 2008

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
BMX
2008
From Trona
C-Print
56 x 84cm
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Vela Azzurra' 2010

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Vela Azzurra
2010
From the series Vele
C-print
150 x 120cm
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

 

With The Fall, Museum Folkwang is presenting the first major overview exhibition of the work of Tobias Zielony (June 25 – September 26, 2021). Zielony stands in a long lineage of artistic photography. His visual world is seen as paving the way for a younger generation. Few photographers have observed developments in society and the media as keenly and translated these into a contemporary visual language as he has. His work The Citizen, on the topic of migration, was shown in the German Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennial and viewed by a broad international public. The largest presentation of his photographs and video works to date offers a comprehensive insight into Zielony’s work of the last 20 years.

The people and spaces that attract Tobias Zielony are not on the margins of society, but the places in deprived areas where adolescents meet, hang out and show off: be this in Wuppertal, Trona, Naples, Osaka, Halle-Neustadt or Kiev. The youths and young adults whom Zielony accompanies with his camera as a confidant and observer belong to the Techno, LGBTQIT*​ or skater scene, amongst others. Zielony operates globally and allows himself to be guided by his curiosity, which affords him ever new encounters with young people in their respective social contexts. In all of this he explores the intersection between fictional and documentary assertions and investigates the political and aesthetic potential as well as the boundaries of authentic self-representation. His photographic works and films are characterised by a critical understanding of the genre and the quest for self-determination and emancipation of those portrayed in them.

The show The Fall combines well-known photography series and early video works ranging from Curfew (2001), Big Sexyland (2006), the well-known stop-motion videos Vele (2009-10), Maskirovka (2016-17), to the video work Hansha (2019) created in Japan. The exhibition is the first to bring together Zielony’s visual worlds from different parts of the world and show them as global phenomena with specific characteristics. A symbolic city space is created in the exhibition;s central space, which offers a space to meet and sojourn. Encounters, situations and places exist alongside and enter into relationship with each other, and in their spatial consolidation cite the ever-present flood of images on social media.

In his work, Tobias Zielony has time and again addressed youth culture with a view to background, representation and fashion and the definition of identity in a world changing in terms of the media used. Social networks and the exchange of photographic images they entail have fundamentally changed the notion of the self and the forms of (self-)representation. Everyone – and this includes his protagonists – now uses the photographic medium with their smart phone in order to send and receive images. In this interplay, Zielony shows his subjects as confident participants acting in a global cosmos of social codes and self-portraits – in spite of cultural and social differences.

Spector Books is publishing a series of essays: selected works by Tobias Zielony are paired with texts by Sophia Eisenhut, Joshua Groß, Dora Koderhold, Enis Maci, Mazlum Nergiz and Jakob Nolte.

Press release from the Museum Folkwang

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Al-Akrab' (filmstill) 2014

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Al-Akrab (filmstill)
2014
HD Video & Stop Motion, 4:52 min
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'The Citizen' 2015

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
The Citizen
2015
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'The Citizen' 2015

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
The Citizen
2015
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Cover' 2017

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Cover
2017
From Maskirovka
Inkjet print
84 x 56cm
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Secret' 2017

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Secret
2017
From Maskirovka
Inkjet print
56 x 84cm
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Make Up' 2017

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Make Up
2017
From Maskirovka
Inkjet print
70 x 105cm
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Maskirovka' (installation view) 2017

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Maskirovka (installation view)
2017
HD Video, Stop Motion, 8:46 min
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Red Mask' 2019

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Red Mask
2019
Inkjet print
100 x 75cm
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Hansha' (installation view) 2019

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Hansha (installation view)
2019
HD Video, 6:01 min
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Snakepool' 2020

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Snakepool
2020
Inkjet print
120 x 80cm
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Yusuke' 2020

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Yusuke
2020
Inkjet print
120 x 80cm
Courtesy KOW, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony

 

Halina Kliem. 'Portrait of Tobias Zielony' 2021

 

Halina Kliem
Portrait of Tobias Zielony
2021

 

 

Museum Folkwang
Museumsplatz 1, 45128 Essen

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 6pm
Thursday – Friday 10am – 8pm

Museum Folkwang website

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29
Aug
21

Exhibition: ‘Michael Schmidt: A new German Perspective’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 8th June – 29th August 2021

Curators: Thomas Weski and Laura Bielau

 

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder' 1981-82

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder (Berlin-Kreuzberg. Cityscapes)
1981-82
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Dark atmosphere of a grey reality

The contribution of German photographers to the development of photography in the 20th century cannot be underestimated. When we think of quantum leaps in the development of the medium and its languages, we can think of Wilhelm von Gloeden, August Sander, Lisette Model, Germaine Krull, Ilse Bing, Erich Salomon, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Bernd and Hiller Becher, Wolfgang Tillmans, Aenne Biermann, Erwin Blumenfeld, Bill Brandt, Candida Höfer, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Demand and many more too numerous to mention. And then we have the (mainly Jewish) photographers of the German diaspora of the 1920s-1940s who emigrated to all parts of Europe, South America, America and Australia and who went on to influence photographers in their adopted countries.

Perhaps there is something inherent in the German psyche which promotes a certain awareness, a certain understanding of the mechanics of photography. Perhaps this is a link between German psychology (such as Urformen: the original, archetypal form1), psychoanalysis (such as Freud’s term Das Unheimliche: “the uncanny” in the sense of something that produces unease and is disturbing) and photography – a relationship which promotes objective seeing, seeing things in new and unexpected ways. Perhaps this ability to perceive in new ways has something to do with Germany’s European roots and that continent’s history of war, destruction and reclamation, where the archetypes are constantly being dissolved and constructed – in a circle which leads us back to the roots of German psychology. These are only thoughts which are slowly forming, nascent thoughts in a long process of research, which could possibly be interesting, or not.

.
Added to these many German photographers is another intelligent, inventive artist that I admire – an artist that also redefined the language of photography in the 20th century. His name is Michael Schmidt.

Much as Bill Brandt considered “atmosphere” a term fundamental in his images (“I only know it is a combination of elements … which reveals the subject as familiar and yet strange”) in order to capture the very essence of a place, so Schmidt’s inimitable understanding of his environment and its people, namely his beloved Berlin, allowed him to dissect and disseminate the dystopian “atmosphere” and habitus of its inhabitants.

Schmidt (and here I précis a lot of people) perceives and reacts to the world, offering through “fragmentation, condensation, abstraction” a “sense of space distorted in depth”, in which “existence is hollowed out to its extremes” that “take his subjects out of their historical anchorage” to offer a “harsh and completely unique view of the fragility of human existence” – “a subjective, deeply felt work of the life and suffering of people in the shadow of Berlin.”

“This is the strength of Michael Schmidt’s work. An ability to transcend the present – its present – and to fragment it in order to better represent it. Creations with shallow backgrounds, which play with nuances and break free from simple black and white to offer a shade of grey, evoking the rainy sky of Berlin. A true love letter, tortured, raw, deep and complex, to the city where it was born, grew and disappeared.”2

As Joe Lloyd has observed of Schmidt’s masterpiece Waffenruhe (Ceasefire) (1985-87) “It is difficult to imagine a future for these anxious youths, whose lives are encircled by an evil empire on the cusp of dissolution. The Berlin Wall appears on the verge of subsiding. Vegetation grows unbidden, new life to replace the old. Schmidt turns his camera on the city’s insignificant minutiae, a shadowy realm between the sights and, in doing so, captures its liminality.”3

Liminality is one of the key words I associate with the work of Michael Schmidt… the other being language.

Liminality is a term used to describe the psychological process of transitioning across boundaries and borders. The term “limen” comes from the Latin for threshold; it is literally the threshold separating one space from another. It is the place in the wall where people move from one room to another.4

As he probed and prodded the threshold of existence in his photography, Schmidt transited the line between representation and abstraction, photographing the ever mutable spaces of Berlin and the people that were stationed there, under the Wall – even as the subject matter he chose transitioned from dour city to blank officer workers, from women to children, old people and disaffected youths.

Schmidt sought new ways to transition across the boundaries and borders of both the city and his mind in order to create a “new reality” of visual language, not to reproduce real things as he said, but to show how things really are. As the curator Thomas Weski has observed, “”Every time he finished a series, he went through periods of turmoil where he looked for new ways to approach reality…”5

The liminal, interstitial spaces the artist creates, these fragments of time, these “shards of reality” are tough, gritty photographs – of love, desire, work, destitution, despair, loneliness, sadness and fortitude – realities expressed in sombre tones of grey that recite a sense of foreboding. Forty years after the end of the war, the clash of cultures between stoicism and rebellion, between rich and poor, between communism and freedom is still in full flight in a divided Berlin… for here (unlike Brandt’s photographs where the fragments are part of the whole) there is no unity, no ceasefire, no holistic healing, there is only a language of dissolution and despair. Here, there is no way hope can be deployed to distort one’s relationship with reality.

Schmidt’s relationship between photography and subject is always about the artist metaphorically “becoming naked” and open, pushing the boundaries of the possible when looking for new ways to approach reality. Schmidt’s language of the fragmentation bomb shows the benefits of working on language to break any self-imposed limits – to picture the ‘deep time’6 so intimately linked with the life of the city.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. “The original, archetypal form… the first form of a narrative from which all known variants emerged; the archetype version that provides a model and pattern for all variants (alternatively, Urform). The term comes from the German Urform (plural Urformen), meaning primitive form, original form, or archetype, and is derived from Ur, the mythological first city.
    Randal S. Allison. “Ur-Form,” in Thomas A. Green (ed.,). Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music and Art Volume 1, ABC-CLIO, 1997, p. 823.
  2. Lou Tsatsas. “Michael Schmidt décompose Berlin au Jeu de Paume,” on the Fisheye Magazine website June 2021 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021
  3. Joe Lloyd. “Michael Schmidt Retrospective: Photographs 1965-2014,” on the Studio International website 12/10/202 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021
  4. Larson, P. “Liminality,” in Leeming, D.A. (eds). Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. Springer, Boston, MA, 2014
  5. Thomas Weski quoted in Laure Etienne. “Michael Schmidt: A New German Perspective,” on the Bind Magazine website 17 June 2021 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.
  6. “As the Anangu people of Uluru explain, the land contains proof of a spoken narrative, like a photograph. The land’s markings are the archives, the inscriptions revealing and proving deep history stories.”
    Ann McGrath. “‘All things will outlast us’: how the Indigenous concept of deep time helps us understand environmental destruction,” on The Conversation website, August 19, 2020 [Online] Cited 29/08/2021.

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

 

 

“Realism consists not in reproducing real things, but in showing how things really are.”

“Black and white are always the darkest grey and the lightest grey.”

.
Michael Schmidt

 

“His language is a language of precision and his tool is the most simple one: a small, 35mm camera, and a few rolls of films. His pictures look simple at first glance, and their anti-sentimentality, their refusal of all the tricks of the usual seduction, their concision and their clarity, give them great efficiency. They show what they show but they manage to retain an opacity, a mystery, and they become a support for our imagination.”

“Schmidt does not accuse, he simply reveals, and the interpretation is left to the viewer. He can do so because he has confidence in the power of his medium and confidence in the intelligence of the viewer.”

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Luc Delahaye

 

“His photography no longer follows a means of pure documentation, but rather formulates a dystopian attitude towards the life of a generation shortly before the fall of the wall in surprising image contexts. Schmidt develops a world of breaks and gaps that defies any claim to a sovereign overview.”

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Einar Schleef

 

“Amongst the pages of photographer Michael Schmidt’s seminal book, ‘Waffenruhe’ – a fragmented psychological portrait of West Berlin shot between 1985 and 1987 – is an image of an outstretched wrist, the camera’s flash igniting a jagged scar across its milky skin. The space opposite is obscured with a blank pull-out page that expands to reveal a tree in full bloom, bright flowers swelling between branches. The Berlin Wall looms in the background, like a shadow sunshine can’t dispel. In Schmidt’s Waffenruhe, life and death cohabitate – existence is hollowed out to its extremes. Four decades after the end of World War II, Waffenruhe (German for “ceasefire”) captured the gloom of a bisected city as it waited for the smoke to clear.”

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Ashleigh Kane. “Why Michael Schmidt is the perfect photographer for our dystopia,” on the Highsnobiety website February 2021 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021

 

 

 

 

Exposition “Michael Schmidt. Une autre photographie allemande” 

 

Berlin-Wedding 1976-78

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Müller-Ecke Seestrasse, Berlin-Wedding' (Berlin-Wedding) 1976-78

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Müller-Ecke Seestrasse, Berlin-Wedding (Berlin-Wedding)
1976-78
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'City Inspector at the Wedding District Office' 1976-78

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
City Inspector at the Wedding District Office
1976-78
From Berlin-Wedding
Silver gelatin print
43.4 x 46cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'City Inspector at work in his Wedding District Office' 1976-78

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
City Inspector at work in his Wedding District Office
1976-78
From Berlin-Wedding
Silver gelatin print
43.4 x 46cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Schüler der 4. Klasse, Grundschule, Berlin-Wedding' (Pupil, elementary school, Berlin-Wedding) 1976-78

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Schüler der 4. Klasse, Grundschule, Berlin-Wedding (Pupil, elementary school, Berlin-Wedding)
1976-78
From Berlin-Wedding
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Schüler der 4. Klasse, Grundschule, Berlin-Wedding' (CM1 pupil, primary school, Berlin-Wedding) 1976-78

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Schüler der 4. Klasse, Grundschule, Berlin-Wedding (CM1 pupil, primary school, Berlin-Wedding)
1976-78
From Berlin-Wedding
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Berlin-Wedding' 1976-78

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Berlin-Wedding
1976-78
Silver gelatin print
24 x 30cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Jeu de Paume in Paris is the second venue of the major retrospective of Michael Schmidt’s work. Michael Schmidt (1945-2014) occupies a unique position in contemporary German photography and internationally. Born in Berlin and with no formal training in photography, he discovered the medium as a mode of artistic expression in the mid-1960s. For each of his themes he developed his own approach to reality. His oeuvre owing to continual exploration and innovation has been seminal for a younger generation of photographers. The exhibition, the most comprehensive to date, offers a complete overview of his oeuvre from 1965 to 2014.

After the presentation at Jeu de Paume, Paris (2021) and Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwartskunst Berlin (2020), the exhibition will be on view at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid (September 22–February 28, 2022) and the Albertina Museum in Vienna (March 24–June 12, 2022).

Michael Schmidt (1945-2014) occupies a unique position in contemporary German photography. Born in Berlin, he was self-taught, adopting photography as his artistic medium in the mid-1960s. For each of his themes, he developed his own approach to reality. The Michael Schmidt retrospective at the Jeu de Paume, the most comprehensive to date, offers a complete overview of his oeuvre from 1965 to 2014.

Press release from Jeu de Paume

 

“At the end of the 1970s, with the series ‘Berlin-Wedding’, Michael Schmidt imposed a very rigid set of rules on himself in order to achieve a form of neutrality, if such a thing is possible… He later said he felt like he had pushed himself into a corner with these rules, and in the early 1980s he struggled to relax them. He went back to shooting spontaneously, camera in hand and no longer on a tripod. This led to “Waffenruhe (Ceasefire),” where he broke free from those rules. It became less a question of delivering a precise description than of communicating a feeling.”

~ Thomas Weski quoted in Laure Etienne. “Michael Schmidt: A New German Perspective,” on the Bind Magazine website 17 June 2021 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

“Every time he finished a series, he went through periods of turmoil where he looked for new ways to approach reality… He described himself as a “dead-end photographer” who would get into one lane and needed a long time to get out of it. ”

~ Thomas Weski quoted in Laure Etienne. “Michael Schmidt: A New German Perspective,” on the Bind Magazine website 17 June 2021 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

“Michael Schmidt’s raw, harsh, and fragmented photographs of Waffenruhe are less documents of the existing situation at that time than they are creating a certain dark atmosphere, which echoed the ‘no future’-feeling of my generation.”

~ Thomas Weski

 

“Man is at the centre of the environment. He is shaped by it and he shapes it… As such, I don’t want to show him isolated, but in his environment, I want to show how he lives, where he works, what he does in his free time.”

~ Michael Schmidt quoted in Laure Etienne. “Michael Schmidt: A New German Perspective,” on the Bind Magazine website 17 June 2021 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

 

Berlin nach 1945

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Berlin nach 1945' (Berlin after 1945) 1980

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Berlin nach 1945 (Berlin after 1945)
1980
Silver gelatin print
23.4 x 29.2cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

In 1980 Michael Schmidt photographed his series “Berlin after 1945”. West Berlin already had a reputation as a young and rebellious city. Schmidt portrayed his hometown quite differently: grey on grey, barren, if not dreary. With his approach of portraying the human-shaped living environment instead of untouched nature, Schmidt became a representative of the New Topographics movement, which had recently emerged in the USA: these photographers no longer focused on an ideal conception of landscape, but rather on human intervention.

Google translated from Michael Schmidt. “So fühlte sich das Leben in Berlin an,” on the Zeit Online website 17 October 2020 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Berlin nach 1945' (Berlin after 1945) 1980

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Berlin nach 1945 (Berlin after 1945)
1980
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Berlin nach 1945' (Berlin after 1945) 1980

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Berlin nach 1945 (Berlin after 1945)
1980
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Berlin-Kreuzberg 1969-1973

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder' 1981-82

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder (Berlin-Kreuzberg. Urban views)
1981-82
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

How Schmidt broke away from the strict image structure of his photographs can be seen in his series “Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder 1981-82”. The camera moves closer to the sitter and no longer locks them in a strict composition.

Google translated from Michael Schmidt. “So fühlte sich das Leben in Berlin an,” on the Zeit Online website 17 October 2020 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder' (Berlin-Kreuzberg. Urban views) 1982

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder (Berlin-Kreuzberg. Urban views)
1982
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder' 1981-82

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder (Berlin-Kreuzberg. Urban views)
1981-82
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder' 1981-82

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder (Berlin-Kreuzberg. Urban views)
1981-82
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder' 1981-82

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder (Berlin-Kreuzberg. Urban views)
1981-82
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

The bulk of Schmidt’s work in the 70s and early 80s was commissioned by local authorities, and served as a survey of West Berlin’s crumbing Wall-side districts. If they wanted straightforward documentation, they should have turned elsewhere. In Kreuzberg, Schmidt captured two tree trunks rising from the ground as if a pair of legs, and in Wedding an empty phone box, the pages of its directory left open. Schmidt’s Berlin is riddled with holes. We see a row of tenements from behind, naked and exposed by the loss of their adjoining street. A similar – or perhaps the same – row is glimpsed diagonally through a gap in a scaffolding platform. This is a city scrambled, quite unlike the straight-ahead perspectives of Struth’s near-contemporaneous Unconscious Places series. When we see council employees, the walls of their chintzy apartments and spartan offices seem like armour against the bleak outside.

Text from Joe Lloyd. “Michael Schmidt Retrospective: Photographs 1965-2014,” on the Studio International website 12/10/202 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg' (Berlin-Kreuzberg) 1969-1973

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Berlin-Kreuzberg (Berlin-Kreuzberg)
1969-1973
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Foreword

Michael Schmidt (1945-2014) occupies a unique position in contemporary German photography. Born in Berlin, he was self-taught, adopting photography as his artistic medium in the mid- 1960s. For each of his themes, he developed his own approach to reality. The Michael Schmidt retrospective at the Jeu de Paume, the most comprehensive to date, offers a complete overview of his oeuvre from 1965 to 2014.

Schmidt initially focused on Berlin in his work, receiving commissions in the early 1970s from district offices and from the Berlin Senate on districts such as Kreuzberg and Wedding and on social themes. The Waffenruhe (Ceasefire) book and exhibition project, a visually stunning psychological study of the still divided city, which was shown in Berlin for the first time in 1987, brought Schmidt international renown. With Ein-heit/U-ni-ty, a group of works examining the unification process, he shifted his focus away from the world of his native city.

Schmidt’s oeuvre comprises portraits, self-portraits, landscapes and still lifes. His work highlights the importance of urban space, the continued relevance of history, female identity, the role of the province and the significance of nature. In his last project, he highlighted the contemporary food industry.

In addition to providing a glimpse of sometimes very rich ensembles through original prints, this retrospective also includes work prints, book projects and archive documents. As far as possible, it respects Schmidt’s own approach to presenting and displaying his works. His career was exemplary for the way he endlessly refined his photographic practice and explored new publication formats. The exhibition thus reveals a unique approach to photography in the context of German post-war and contemporary photography, at odds with the Subjective Photography of Otto Steinert and the Düsseldorf School centred around Bernd and Hilla Becher. Schmidt’s oeuvre is now seen as one of the outstanding pillars of photography in the history of German twentieth-century art. As well as celebrating the work he produced in the course of his lifetime, the exhibition seeks to cover the development of photography as a mode of artistic expression since the 1970s.

Thomas Weski, curator of the exhibition

 

Introduction

On the occasion of the reopening, Jeu de Paume offers for the first time in France a large dedicated exhibition to photographer Michael Schmidt, considered one of the major figures of 20th century German art. This large chronological retrospective pays tribute to the artist through original prints, unpublished works and a vast corpus of archives that illustrate the evolution of his work spanning nearly five decades.

A Model

Michael Schmidt wrote a section of the history of photography. Through his work as a photographer and teacher he notably influenced artists like Andreas Gursky, with whom he befriends at the end of the 1970s. He is still a model for a whole generation of young photographers.

West Berlin

Self-taught photographer born in Berlin in 1945, Michael Schmidt devoted most of from his photography to his hometown, more particularly in West Berlin, where he will live until his death in 2014. The districts of Kreuzberg and, more particularly Wedding, were his favourite places. Initially portrayed in a purely documentary style (most often of order), Schmidt will detach himself from traditional visual language and in the 1980s look for a more daring vocabulary.

Postwar

Beginning in the middle of 1960s the postwar work of Michael Schmidt can be considered as a process of the quest for artistic identity, and also as an illustration of the development artistic photography in postwar Germany.

Grey

In the late 1970s, grey becomes the chromatic element central to the photographer’s work, which he considers a full colour. Wishing to describe the world around him, the artist cannot be limited to the use of black and white, who are too Manichean for his taste. The world is undefined, not so neat and clear. Schmidt is looking for more nuance, he has need a wider palette. He draws, then, in these grey tones that we find in the skies of Berlin, the cityscapes and interior views where characters appear weakly illuminated.

 

On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the birth of Michael Schmidt, Jeu de Paume presents a large retrospective of this artist, considered one of the major pillars of the history of 20th century German art.

A tribute to a great photographer, this exhibition will present originals, unpublished work prints, book projects and other archives illustrating the evolution of his artistic work. The exhibition also highlights the process of recognising photography as a form of artistic expression in Germany and Europe from the 1970s.

Like Bernd and Hilla Becher, Michael Schmidt is among the most influential post-war photographers. He tirelessly developed his work for five decades. Through the publication of his work in the form of books and installations, always in dialogue with their place of exhibition, he developed different types of innovative presentation. By the incessant renewal of its formal language and by the choice of its themes, Michael Schmidt wrote a part of the history of photography and is today a role model for a whole generation of young photographers.

Born in Berlin on October 6, 1945, it was in this city that he lived and worked until his death in 2014. This autodidact works as a photographer from the mid-1970s, initially exclusively in his hometown. This is where the series dedicated to Kreuzberg and Wedding saw the light of day, – two districts of West Berlin –, which already go beyond the simple description of a neighbourhood, taking on a broader meaning. It is with the project, book and exhibition developed in collaboration with the director and playwright Einar Schleef, Waffenruhe (Ceasefire), first presented in Berlin in 1987, that Michael Schmidt does undeniably artistic work.

This series is made up of raw images with a loaded atmosphere, which draw a very personal portrait of the city near the end of the cold war – and of its youth – a city still cut in half, shortly before the change of epoch.

Michael Schmidt abandons this focus on the thematic universe of Berlin with the series Ein-heit (Uni-té), in which he explores the visual languages ​​of the different forms of society and different political systems that marked Germany in the 20th century. He uses on this occasion already mediatised images that he mixes with photographs taken by himself, publishing everything in a book without text. The first exhibition of this series is in 1996 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Schmidt was thus the first German photographer for decades to have personal exposure in this place. Subsequently, he devotes other work to the image of the woman, to the role of regions and the importance of nature. His last big series, Lebensmittel (Foodstuffs), in which he explores contemporary food production, has earned him the Pictet Prize just a few days before his death.

 

The exhibition

First photographs, commissioned works and series, 1965-1985

Michael Schmidt discovered an interest in photography when he was working in the West Berlin police force. Although he joined amateur photography clubs, he was chiefly self-taught, working hard to improve his technique. In the mid-1960s, he took the first photographs that he did not reject later on. Although the motifs in these early photographs vary greatly, they all defy the quick readability that is usually associated with the medium.

From his earliest photographic work of the mid-1960s to Germany’s reunification, Schmidt chose his native city of Berlin as his main subject, examining it from various angles. By 1973 he was working as a professional photographer, having been commissioned by the district office in Kreuzberg to do a book on the neighbourhood. It was published in the same year, with a second edition being printed almost immediately. It was followed by commissions from other city districts and Berlin’s Senate. In Die berufstätige Frau in Kreuzberg (The Working Woman in Kreuzberg) he depicted a typical day in the life of two women juggling work and leisure.

In the early 1970s he began teaching photography courses at colleges of further education. In 1976, he founded the Werkstatt für Photographie (Workshop for Photography) at the Volkshochschule Kreuzberg, which continued until 1986. Works by contemporary American photographers were exhibited there that had not previously been accessible to the German public. From 1976 to 1978, he photographed the Berlin-Wedding district and its inhabitants in a strictly documentary style. He made prints in rich shades of grey and published the series in 1978.

Between 1978 and 1980 he photographed Berlin’s Friedrichstadt neighbourhood in the south of the city, which was badly damaged during the Second World War. These photographs capture the mood of post-war West Berlin, a city scarred by gaps between buildings, brownfield sites and fire walls. Dominant motifs include urban wastelands and utility buildings, which he photographed in diffuse light using a large plate camera. In these works, Schmidt found pictorial solutions that straddle the boundary between documentation and abstraction. His Berlin nach 45 (Berlin after 1945) was not published until 2005, twenty-five years after the photographs were taken.

In 1980 in another project funded by the Berlin Senate he documented the everyday lives of four people dealing with chronic illness or disability. This work was published under the title Benachteiligt (Disadvantaged).

With the photo book Berlin-Kreuzberg. Stadtbilder, published in 1983, he began turning away from the traditional documentary idiom, experimenting with a more subjective approach.

In the mid-1990s, Schmidt identified his archive as a potent new source for reinterpreting earlier work. It assumed growing importance for him and he returned to it with increasing regularity in order to subject his early work to a critical re-examination and to make new prints. In the late 1990s, for example, for his project Menschenbilder (Ausschnitte) (Pictures of People (Excerpts)), he presented re-framed versions of an older series of portraits. Divorced from their previous context, the portraits became emblems of the human condition.

At that time, Schmidt also published Selbst (Self), a series of self-portraits dating from the mid-1980s, in which he appeared directly and unsparingly, in a self-critical attitude.

 

Waffenruhe (Ceasefire), 1985-1987

Unlike the studiedly sober photos of his earlier series, the portrait of the still divided city that Schmidt created in the mid-1970s in the book and exhibition project Waffenruhe, with its condensed, fragmentary, strongly contrasting black and white photographs, is highly subjective and multifaceted. With this work group, the photographer used a more evocative approach to convey the complex and moribund political situation in Berlin.

Here Schmidt eschewed a documentary approach in favour of unexpected pictorial sequences that express the dystopian attitude of a generation living before the fall of the Wall. Schmidt creates a picture of a world marked by fragmentation and discontinuity which remains open to interpretation. The photographs in the artist’s book are interwoven with a text by theatre director and writer Einar Schleef, which offers a very personal and uncompromising take on the fragility of human existence.

The project, funded with public money as part of the celebrations marking Berlin’s 750th anniversary, was first shown in the Berlinische Galerie at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in the immediate vicinity of the Wall. When the Waffenruhe series was included in a group exhibition at MoMA in New York, in 1988, it brought Schmidt immediate international notoriety.

 

Portraits, 1987-1994
Natur (Nature), 1987-1997
89/90, 1989-1990
Architektur (Architecture), 1989-1991

In between his major series, Michael Schmidt created work of more modest scope, which afforded him more artistic freedom and enabled him to hone his photographic method and pictorial language. The works that followed Waffenruhe (Ceasefire) are characterised by their tight framing, shallow depth of field and formats that were unusually large for the time. In them Schmidt focused increasingly on architecture and portraiture, unrestrained by any concern for intelligibility. Motifs became detached from their urban or personal contexts, functioning as emblems of metropolitan life, history and society. The series Architektur (Architecture) and Portraits are distinguished by the presence and materiality of their objects and the immediacy of encounter.

In 1989, Schmidt turned his attention to his native city for one last time, recording visual traces of German unification. He found many of his motifs in what used to be the border zone between the wall and no man’s land. This work, entitled 89/90, was not published until 2010.

Similarly, the photos he was taking around the same time of the rural landscape near his second home in Lower Saxony were not published until much later, when he assembled them in the artist book Nature shortly before his death. The book testifies to the importance he attached to landscape during this part of his life.

 

Ein-heit (U-ni-ty), 1989-1994

This series, which took shape during reunification, is concerned with history and the universal symbolism of the dominant social systems in Germany since 1933: National Socialism, Socialism and Democracy. This is the context for the photographer’s examination of the individual’s essential role in society and the stand they choose to take.

For Schmidt, a published image was an integral part of objective reality and no less worthy of being photographed than, say, a person or a building. In Ein-heit/U-ni-ty, he took this approach further. His photographs of photographs, which account for roughly one third of this series, comprise severely cropped and occasionally inverted photographs together with straightforward renderings of existing photographic material, which he typically combined with his own photographs. In so doing, Schmidt reformulates the content of the original photographs for his own purposes, depriving them of their unambiguousness and added further layers of possible meaning. He also used the technique of repeating and varying motifs he had deployed in some of his early works. Arranged in this way, the photographs form the grammar of a unique visual idiom, one that is challenging for viewers, but rich in associations. Ein-heit/U-ni-ty premiered in 1996 at MoMA in New York, where it was the first solo exhibition devoted to a German photographer for several decades.

 

Frauen (Women), 1997-1999

In the late 1990s, Michael Schmidt embarked on a series of portraits of young men and women. He eventually focused on women from the younger generation, shooting portraits and photographs of their bodies, both fully dressed and in the nude. In Schmidt’s view, these young women’s own sense of self-worth was increasingly reflected in their relationship to their own bodies. His photographs examined how a sense of individuality was being affected by socially mediated norms and ideals. The phenomenon made itself felt in a wide range of spheres, from the choice of outer garments and underwear to the stylisation of the body, even the private parts. He reveals the traces left by this growing imposition of uniformity on physical appearance in the form of posture and bearing, scars and lesions.

Schmidt interpreted these phenomena as the formative collective experience of an entire generation, as was evident in his exhibitions of the Frauen group of works. He presented the works as a block or tableau, emphasising what this age group had in common instead of the individual. Closer inspection reveals that this group of works added another facet to the photographer’s preoccupation with the role of the individual in society.

In 2000, Schmidt published the Frauen series in an eponymous artist’s book. At the 6th Berlin Biennale in 2010, he showed extracts in the form of full-page ads in a national newspaper and as posters in public spaces.

 

Irgendwo (Somewhere), 2001-2004
Lebensmittel (Foodstuff), 2006-2010

Following Germany’s reunification, Michael Schmidt never photographed Berlin again. Instead, he developed an interest in provincial scenes, as these were in his view both interchangeable and conducive to a sense of identity. Having acquired a caravan, he and his wife set off on tours across Germany – sixteen in all. He published the resulting images in an artist’s book entitled Irgendwo (Somewhere). They were exhibited outside Germany’s big cities. The experiences he gained on these trips and his increasing interest in eating and drinking, mirroring that of German society as a whole, led to a series entitled Lebensmittel (Foodstuff). For this, Schmidt carried out research in Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy and Spain, where he visited sausage, pasta and cheese factories, fish farms, fruit and vegetable farms, fattening farms and abattoirs, green houses, olive plantations, insect farms and food processing plants.

In Lebensmittel (Foodstuff), Michael Schmidt used colour for the first time in his work, in addition to his customary black and white. The pictures are untitled and make no reference to location, making it impossible to pin them down geographically. Schmidt developed further the method he first used in Ein-heit/U-ni-ty, creating unsettling works that sometimes fuse two different halves or contain repeated images or shapes, or else variations of motifs. The result undermines belief in the documentary power of photography and the universal validity of the isolated shot.

Often it remains unclear what foodstuff is actually being presented. Both failsafe identification and seasonality have become things of the past, with production now oriented towards standardisation, alienation and globalisation rather than individuality, transparency and regional context. Schmidt critiques the excesses of an economic system that is notorious for its wastefulness. Today’s crises make it clear that we have arrived at the limits of agricultural growth. Schmidt’s photographs reflect this fact and the loss of confidence in the idea of permanent growth.

For this series, he was awarded the prestigious Prix Pictet only a few days before his death in 2014.

 

Waffenruhe (Ceasefire), 1985-1987

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
90 x 69.6cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Waffenruhe (Ceasefire) (1985-87), inaugurated the second act of Schmidt’s career. It remains his masterpiece, and one of the most intoxicating photographic projects of the late-20th century. Laying aside the realism of his first two decades, Schmidt instead shot voraciously without quarter, before embarking on an intensive process of editing and ordering. The final works were then exhibited like a continuous reel, a sequence whose parts combine in the mind to construct a place, an atmosphere and narratives. …

This is the Berlin of Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, except without that film’s passage to hope. Schmidt’s greyscale world never erupts into technicolour. It is difficult to imagine a future for these anxious youths, whose lives are encircled by an evil empire on the cusp of dissolution. The Berlin Wall appears on the verge of subsiding. Vegetation grows unbidden, new life to replace the old. Schmidt turns his camera on the city’s insignificant minutiae, a shadowy realm between the sights and, in doing so, captures its liminality.

Text from Joe Lloyd. “Michael Schmidt Retrospective: Photographs 1965-2014,” on the Studio International website 12/10/202 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021

 

“This is the strength of Michael Schmidt’s work. An ability to transcend the present – its present – and to fragment it in order to better represent it. Creations with shallow backgrounds, which play with nuances and break free from simple black and white to offer a shade of grey, evoking the rainy sky of Berlin. A true love letter, tortured, raw, deep and complex, to the city where it was born, grew and disappeared.”

Lou Tsatsas. “Michael Schmidt décompose Berlin au Jeu de Paume,” on the Fisheye Magazine website June 2021 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
90 x 69.6cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

With “Waffenruhe” from 1985-87, Schmidt moved away from the documentary and found a new photographic language. He blocked the viewer’s view of the subject – here with a black line – and made the visual obstacle itself the motif. Schmidt continued to take photos in Berlin, only that his photographs increasingly irritated the view of the city.

Google translated from Michael Schmidt. “So fühlte sich das Leben in Berlin an,” on the Zeit Online website 17 October 2020 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
90 x 69.6cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Schmidt also revised the imagery of his portraits in the “Ceasefire” series: the surroundings disappear, and the direct expression of the sitter takes its place. The blurring reinforces the impression that this is a spontaneous snapshot.

Google translated from Anonymous. “Michael Schmidt. So fühlte sich das Leben in Berlin an,” on the Zeit Online website 17 October 2020 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
90 x 69.6cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Schmidt increasingly photographed surfaces and materials such as the many graffiti that have long characterised Berlin’s aesthetics. He was interested in how people and time inscribe themselves on it.

Google translated from Anonymous. “Michael Schmidt. So fühlte sich das Leben in Berlin an,” on the Zeit Online website 17 October 2020 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
90 x 69.6cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
90 x 69.6cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

“Through Schmidt’s dramatic perspective and keen eye for telling details and subtle nuances, he creates an air of inconsolable emptiness in his images of the Wall and those affected by it. These photographs will leave you speechless.”

.
Martin Parr. The Photobook: A History Volume 2 2006

 

 

In the following decades, his approach became more impressionistic. He would shoot thousands of frames for each project without thinking too much about the end result, which would emerge later out of rigorous editing. Increasingly, he was drawn to series over single images, atmosphere over documentary representation. The Berlin that emerges out of Waffenruhe is a darkly atmospheric place, where nothing is quite what it seems and everything – a bandaged tree, a bank of earth beneath a wall, a stuffed toy criss-crossed by barbed wire – is loaded with ominous suggestion. The Wall is a looming presence, but there are images that evoke an altogether more intimate kind of dislocation, not least the stark portraits of Schmidt’s sad-looking daughter – in one, she has a bandaged wrist.

Sean O’Hagan. “Michael Schmidt obituary,” on the Guardian website 29 May, 2014 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
90 x 69.6cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
90 x 69.6cm
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Waffenruhe swerved any explicit documentation of West Berlin’s political stasis for haunting photographs of its dilapidated buildings, unkempt nature, a defaced Swastika, the inside of a watchtower, cityscapes obscured by shadowy figures, and portraits of disillusioned young people. While the wall is occasionally present, its presence is unwavering. Waffenruhe was a collaboration with Einar Schleef, a playwright and theatre director who left East for West Germany in 1976. For his part, Schleef penned the inner thoughts of a divorced man living with his estranged daughter’s rabbit in the now-empty family house. As historian and fellow photographer Janos Frecot writes in the book’s closing pages: “The text itself does not simply tell a story, but instead narrates a finding, a wounding, a consciousness of a dully nagging pain in an apparent stillness: Berlin 1987.” Structured as one long-running paragraph, Schleef’s text cuts through the book’s centre, like the wall itself. The lack of white space around the text is oppressive, almost suffocating.

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'Untitled' from 'Waffenruhe' (Ceasefire) 1985-87

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
Untitled from Waffenruhe (Ceasefire)
1985-87
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Portraits 1987-1994

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Portraits' (Portraits) 1987-1994

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Portraits (Portraits)
1987-1994
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Schmidt’s portraits from the 1980s are reminiscent of private photos. Their meaning does not arise from complex picture contexts, but from the direct expression, the presence of the portrayed and the associations of the viewers.

Google translated from Anonymous. “Michael Schmidt. So fühlte sich das Leben in Berlin an,” on the Zeit Online website 17 October 2020 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021.

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Portraits' (Portraits) 1989

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Portraits (Portraits)
1989
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Architektur 1989-1991

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Architektur' (Architecture) 1989-1991

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Architektur (Architecture)
1989-1991
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Ein-heit (Uni-ty) 1991-94

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Ein-heit' (Uni-ty) 1991-94

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)
1991-94
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

For U-nit-y, made between 1991 and 1994, Schmidt turned his eye on his newly reunited city, this time using found images from newspapers, magazines and propaganda material from Nazi and communist pamphlets alongside his own photographs. The end result is a highly personal evocation of a reborn city still haunted by unresolved issues from the recent past and a collective anxiety about the future. His images evoke both the weight of history and the pulse of the everyday, summoning up a Berlin of the imagination that is both solid and dreamlike.

Sean O’Hagan. “Michael Schmidt obituary,” on the Guardian website 29 May, 2014 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)' 1991-94

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)
1991-94
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)' 1991-94

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)
1991-94
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Although unforeseen at the time, two years after Waffenruhe was published, the Berlin Wall was torn down. For Schmidt’s next book, he explored East and West Germany’s reunification in Ein-heit (or U-Ni-Ty) – signalled to in its split title. The country was beginning to heal from its deep and bloody ideological divisions, five decades after the Nazis took power in 1933. Ein-heit, made between 1991 and 1994, surveyed the relationship between the individual and the state, and the grappling of national identity. For the first time in his career, Schmidt moved beyond Berlin and reckoned with Germany’s past and present through found and new photography (around half of the Ein-heit‘s 163 images were repurposed from old newspapers, propaganda materials, and magazine clippings).

Ashleigh Kane. “Why Michael Schmidt is the perfect photographer for our dystopia,” on the Highsnobiety website February 2021 [Online] Cited 12/08/2021

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)' 1991-94

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)
1991-94
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)' 1991-94

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)
1991-94
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)' 1991-94

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)
1991-94
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014) 'No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)' 1991-94

 

Michael Schmidt (German, 1945-2014)
No title, Ein-heit (Uni-ty)
1991-94
Silver gelatin print
© Michael Schmidt, Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive

 

 

Biography

1945

Born in Berlin-Kreuzberg on 6 October.

1950

His family moves several times between West Berlin and Erkner, which is near East Berlin.

1963

Joins the West Berlin riot police.

1965

Starts taking photographs.

1969

Teaches a photography course at the Volkshochschule Kreuzberg, a local adult education centre.

1970

Teaches photography courses at adult education centres, with an emphasis on encouraging personal expression in his students.

1973

Leaves the police force and starts working as a freelance photographer while continuing to teach at various adult education centres. His exhibition Kreuzberger Motive is organised by the Berlin Museum and the Bezirksamt Kreuzberg (district office). His book Berlin Kreuzberg is published.

1974

He organises the exhibition Ausländische Mitbürger (Foreign Fellow Citizens in Kreuzberg), which features his own work together with photographs submitted by Kreuzberg residents from migrant backgrounds. Commission for a book on his hometown, which is published in 1978 under the title Berlin. Stadlandschaft und Menschen (Berlin. Urban Landscape and People).

1975

Exhibits his series Senioren in Berlin (Senior Citizens in Berlin), commissioned by the Berlin Senate, in a U-Bahn station. Develops the concept for his Werkstatt für Photographie (Photography Workshop) in West Berlin. He is assigned by the Senate to photograph Die berufstätige Frau in Kreuzberg (The Working Woman in Kreuzberg), which is exhibited at the Rathaus Kreuzberg.

1976

Stops working in the field of applied photography in order to focus on his own photographic projects. Opens the Werkstatt für Photographie at the adult education centre in Kreuzberg, taking over artistic and organisational management. With its intensive programme of exhibitions, workshops and specialised courses, the Werkstatt achieves international renown. It would host the first solo exhibitions in Germany, and in some cases Europe, of American photographers like Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, Lewis Baltz, Larry Clark, William Eggleston and John Gossage.

1977

Quits as director of the Werkstatt für Photographie, but continues to teach and give advice there.

1978

His series Berlin-Wedding is shown at the Rathaus Wedding, in conjunction with the release of his book Berlin-Wedding. 1979 Teaches courses in documentary photography at the University of Essen. 1980 He applies to the Senate to photograph people with disabilities and is accepted. The series is published in a small book titled Benachteiligt (Disadvantaged). Photographs post-war architecture in the area around Anhalterbahnhof, West Berlin, which suffered massive destruction in the war. The topic would be the focus of the Internationale Bauausstellung (International Building Exposition) in 1984. Berlin nach 45 would not be published until 2005.

1981

Stops his activities at the Werkstatt für Photographie, which closes in 1986.

1984

Receives the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach – Foundation Grant for Contemporary Photography.

1985-88

Teaches at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste (Academy of Fine Arts), Berlin.

1987

His book Waffenruhe (Ceasefire), a collaboration with theatre director and writer Einar Schleef, is published and the work group is exhibited at Martin-Gropius-Bau as part of the 750th anniversary celebrations of Berlin.

1988

Waffenruhe is shown as part of the group exhibition New Photography 4 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

1989

He starts working on a project, in which he examines the repercussions of reunification and which he later titled Ein-heit/U-ni-ty.

1995

First retrospective of his photographic career at the Museum Folkwang, Essen. He uses the exhibition to go through his archive spanning his life’s work and selecting works that are of particular importance to him. In the future, he returns regularly to his archive in order to generate new works.

1996

Ein-heit/U-ni-ty is exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and published as an artist’s book. It is the first solo exhibition of a German photographer at MoMA for several decades.

1999

Appointed to the Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts), Berlin. He co-founds the Foundation for Photography and Media Art with the Michael Schmidt Archive.

2000

Publishes his portrait series Frauen (Women).

2005

Exhibits and publishes Irgendwo (Somewhere), which he photographed on 16 trips across Germany examining the relevance of the provinces.

2006

Takes part in the 5th Berlin Biennale and shows Ein-heit at Kunst-Werke, Berlin.

2010

Is invited to participate in the 6th Berlin Biennale and shows Frauen in public and in the media in the form of placards and full-page advertisements. Major exhibition Grau als Farbe. Fotografien bis 2009 (Grey as colour. Photographs until 2009) at the Haus der Kunst, Munich.

2013

Exhibits Lebensmittel as part of the main exhibition Il Palazzo Enciclopedico at the Venice Biennale. After returning to Berlin, he is diagnosed with cancer. While receiving treatment he edits and designs the artist’s book Natur (Nature).

2014

Wins the Fifth Prix Pictet Award, the prestigious international award for photography and sustainability. Michael Schmidt dies on 24 May in Berlin.

 

 

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18
Jul
21

Exhibition: ‘Mary Ellen Mark: Girlhood’ at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington

Exhibition dates: 3rd March – 8th August 2021

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Tashara and Tanesha Reese, Twins Days Festival, Twinsburg, Ohio' 1998 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Tashara and Tanesha Reese, Twins Days Festival, Twinsburg, Ohio
1998 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
20 x 24 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke; Photo by Lee Stalsworth
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

I have always liked Mary Ellen Mark’s work.

Photographing subjects living outside of mainstream society, there is something of the spirit of Diane Arbus present in her photographs (see Tashara and Tanesha Reese, Twins Days Festival, Twinsburg, Ohio 1998, above) but pushed further, photographed with more sensitivity and compassion for subject matter.

As a photographer Mark blends into the background leaving her subjects to speak for themselves. Intimate moments, abandoned youths, institutionalised patients and child prostitutes are all documented with a sensitive eye. She does not judge.

Her work is not about developing novels ways of representation. As an artist it is not always about being “fashionable” or “contemporary” or coming up with new ways to represent things. With her subjects comfortable in her presence and before her lens, she records what she sees. She lets her subjects tell their own stories.

Sumeja Tulic states that the photograph Falkland Road, Mumbai, India (1978, below) “leaves one uncomfortable at the sight of girls and women performing their sexuality before her lens.” I don’t feel uncomfortable, do you?

I understand the circumstances of the photograph, I feel sadness that this is happening, I feel anger that this girl has to sell her body to men to survive. I feel the injustice of the world. I want there to be fairness and equity in the world not men controlling women… and I feel the empathy of the photographer towards her subject.

“I don’t like to photograph children as children,” Mark said. “I like to see them as adults, as who they really are. I’m always looking for the side of who they might become.”

Through her vision we might be able to access some of the many paths that life may take: from teen runaway to sex worker, to drug addict, to mother of ten.

Unbounded steps on the precious path of life.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Emine Dressed Up for Republic Day. Trabzon, Turkey' Nd

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Emine Dressed Up for Republic Day. Trabzon, Turkey
Nd
© Mary Ellen Mark/The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

In 1965, Mark was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to photograph in Turkey. She took this portrait in the courtyard of Emine’s home. Mark gave minimal direction, encouraging the girl to pose herself. With a hand on her hip, Emine mimics an older teen, but her unbuckled, dirt-stained shoes and hair loosening from its bow reveal markers of childhood. Calling this “the first strong photograph I made,” Mark captured a young girl’s eagerness to grow up.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Women and Children in a Doorway, Mexico' 1965

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Women and Children in a Doorway, Mexico
1965
Vintage gelatin silver print
11 x 14 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Jill and Jeffrey Stern
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation
Photo by Lee Stalsworth

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Laurie in the Bathtub, Ward 81, Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon' 1976 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Laurie in the Bathtub, Ward 81, Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon
1976 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
20 x 24 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Susan and Earl Cohen
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation
Photo by Lee Stalsworth

 

 

In 1975, Mark visited the hospital in which Milos Forman’s film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next (1975) was being shot, on assignment for The Pennsylvania Gazette. The living conditions inside Women’s Ward 81 greatly affected Mark, and she returned a year later, living inside the facility for 36 days. During this time, she made a body of work about the institutionalised patients. The exhibition includes one of these photographs: a girl, Laurie, submerged in a bathtub [featured image]. Her hair rests on the bathtub’s rim, and her eyes gaze out at Mark. The photograph excludes the institutional surroundings, transforming the frame into a scene of deceptive domesticity.

Text from Sumeja Tulic. “Mary Ellen Mark’s distinct depictions of girlhood reflect the diverse realities of that word,” on the 1854 website March 2021 [Online] Cited 03/04/2021.

 

Mark approached her subjects with sensitivity and compassion. While photographing on the set of the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), shot at the Oregon State Hospital, Mark encountered young women living in a high-security ward for patients considered dangerous to themselves or others. Interested in getting to know the residents, Mark gained temporary permission to live in an adjacent ward. Laurie’s open expression in this portrait reveals little of the institutional environment, as Mark strove to capture the women’s inner selves beyond their diagnoses.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Girl Jumping over a Wall, Central Park. New York City' Nd

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Girl Jumping over a Wall, Central Park. New York City
Nd
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Falkland Road, Mumbai, India' 1978

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Falkland Road, Mumbai, India
1978
Dye transfer print
20 x 24 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Jean Rossall
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

Mark was not always successful in challenging stereotypes or developing novel ways of representation. An image depicting a woman applying lipstick to the lips of a girl sitting on a bed in a dimly-lit room is a jarring example of this. There is synchronicity between the unbuttoned buttons on the girl’s dress and her slightly open mouth. Mark’s caption states that she made the photograph in a brothel, where villagers brought the girl after her husband left her. The image is part of Falkland Road (1981), a book about sex workers in Bombay, India. Although Mark invested deeply in making the series, the work leaves one uncomfortable at the sight of girls and women performing their sexuality before her lens.

Text from Sumeja Tulic. “Mary Ellen Mark’s distinct depictions of girlhood reflect the diverse realities of that word,” on the 1854 website March 2021 [Online] Cited 03/04/2021.

 

Mark spent three months photographing the brothels that line Falkland Road in Mumbai, India. Though she typically worked in black and white, for this project she used colour film. The vibrant saturation of the jewel-toned walls, curtains, and clothing heightens the intensity of this somber scene in which a teenage sex worker is made up for a client. Mark portrayed each of her subjects with dignity and empathy. Her photographs called international attention to the injustices faced by these overlooked young women.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Jeanette and Victor, Brooklyn, New York' 1979 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Jeanette and Victor, Brooklyn, New York
1979 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Shaun Lucas
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation
Photo by Lee Stalsworth

 

 

This portrait of Jeanette and her boyfriend, Victor, captures the tenderness of young love. Mark met fifteen-year-old Jeanette when she was five months pregnant. Several times a week for the remainder of the teen’s pregnancy, Mark visited and photographed the couple and their families in Brooklyn, eventually documenting the birth of their daughter. “Photographing Jeanette was a great learning experience for me,” Mark said. “I learned that you can capture more intimate moments by blending into the background.”

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Runaway Girls on Pike Street, Seattle, Washington' 1983

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Runaway Girls on Pike Street, Seattle, Washington
1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

In 1983, Mark traveled to Seattle to document runaway and abandoned youths living on the streets for Life magazine. That assignment became the basis for Streetwise, a photographic series and film documenting the challenges, complexities, and occasional joys in the lives of these children and teenagers. Many of the youths Mark photographed in Seattle fled violent homes or were forced to the streets by poverty. In this image, two girls rest against a graffitied wall on Pike Street, a popular gathering place for the city’s homeless youth.

 

 

An icon of modern photography, Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) created compassionate and candid portraits of subjects living outside of mainstream society. From street children in Seattle to circus performers in India, Mark captured the lives and stories of individuals with empathy, humour, and candour. Through the lens of her camera, she cut through social and societal barriers to champion overlooked communities in the United States, India, Mexico, the former Soviet Union, and other countries.

Mary Ellen Mark: Girlhood examines Mark’s depictions of girls and young women living in a variety of circumstances around the globe. While Mark photographed people from all walks of life, she was particularly interested in children. “I don’t like to photograph children as children,” Mark said. “I like to see them as adults, as who they really are. I’m always looking for the side of who they might become.”

Made possible by a recent donation from the Photography Buyers Syndicate of more than 160 Mary Ellen Mark works, this presentation includes approximately 30 photographs that span the artist’s 50-year career – from her earliest work in Turkey in the 1960s to images taken on Polaroid film in the early 2000s. Mary Ellen Mark: Girlhood highlights some of the artist’s best-known series, including “Prom,” “Streetwise,” and “Twins,” offering viewers an intriguing glimpse into the artist’s wondrous and uncanny vision of girlhood.

Text from the National Museum of Women in the Arts website

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Classroom, Kiev, Ukraine' 1987 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Classroom, Kiev, Ukraine
1987 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Lakeisha, South Dallas' 1988 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Lakeisha, South Dallas
1988 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
20 x 16 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation
Photo by Lee Stalsworth

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Child Acrobat with Two Children in Peacock Costumes, Great Royal Circus, Himmatnagar, India' 1989 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Child Acrobat with Two Children in Peacock Costumes, Great Royal Circus, Himmatnagar, India
1989 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Jill and Jeffrey Stern
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

In 1968, during her first visit to India, Mark encountered the Indian circus. Her photographs of the events hint at strange and wondrous sights – including this fantastically costumed trio – but focus on the performers in their down time. Mark said, “I wanted to document the lives of the people when they weren’t performing… If I had photographed from the audience’s point of view, I would have just been a spectator.”

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Batman and Little Barbies at the Toys "R" Us Holiday Parade, New York' 2002 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Batman and Little Barbies at the Toys “R” Us Holiday Parade, New York
2002 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
20 x 16 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Susan and Earl Cohen
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation
Photo by Lee Stalsworth

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Idesha and Mikayla Preston, 8 Years Old, Idesha Older by 10 Minutes, Twinsburg, Ohio' 2002

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Idesha and Mikayla Preston, 8 Years Old, Idesha Older by 10 Minutes, Twinsburg, Ohio
2002
Polaroid, 28 ¼ x 22 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Susan and Earl Cohen
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Ursula Phillips and Gregg Whitlock Jr., Malcolm X Shabazz Prom' 2006

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Ursula Phillips and Gregg Whitlock Jr., Malcolm X Shabazz Prom
2006
Polaroid
28 1/4 x 22 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Frieder K. Hofmann
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Lucas Nathan and Grace Bush-Vineberg, Palisades Charter High School Prom, Los Angeles, California' 2008

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Lucas Nathan and Grace Bush-Vineberg, Palisades Charter High School Prom, Los Angeles, California
2008
Polaroid
28 1/4 x 22 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

From 2006 to 2009, Mark traveled the United States documenting high school proms. A rite of passage for American teens, the prom symbolises an impending transition to adulthood. Mark’s subjects exhibit a range of reactions; some pose seriously with their dates, while others affect more playful mannerisms. Mark used a six-foot-high, 240-pound Polaroid 20 x 24 Land Camera for these portraits. As with the smaller, more familiar Polaroid instant cameras, each shot produces just one unique print with no negative.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'J'Lisa Looks Through the Blinds, Streetwise Revisited' Nd

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
J’Lisa Looks Through the Blinds, Streetwise Revisited
Nd
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

The exhibition also includes one photograph, which Mark took the year before her death. In J’Lisa Looks Through the Blinds (2014), a child gazes through broken window blinds. The subject is the daughter of Erin Blackwell, better known as, Tiny. Mark first photographed Tiny in 1983 while working on her most influential body of work, Streetwise. When Mark met Tiny, she was a teen sex worker. By the end of Mark’s life, Tiny was a mother of 10 children and a recovered drug addict. Streetwise also became a film in 1984, documenting runaway children living on the streets of Seattle.

Text from Sumeja Tulic. “Mary Ellen Mark’s distinct depictions of girlhood reflect the diverse realities of that word,” on the 1854 website March 2021 [Online] Cited 03/04/2021.

 

Mark often took personal interest in those she met and photographed, and in some instances she formed lasting connections with her subjects. Mark’s involvement with Erin Blackwell (nicknamed “Tiny”) began in 1983 while filming the Streetwise (1984) documentary, when the girl was just thirteen. Over the next thirty-two years, Mark documented Tiny’s transition from teen runaway to sex worker, to drug addict, to mother of ten. In this image, Tiny’s daughter J’Lisa peers out of a window, her expression brimming with anticipation and skepticism.

 

 

National Museum of Women in the Arts
1250 New York Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20005

Opening hours:
Exhibition hours
Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm
Sunday 12 – 5pm

National Museum of Women in the Arts website

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27
Jun
21

Exhibition: ‘Friedrich Seidenstücker – Life in the City: Photographs from the 1920s to 1940s’ at the Käthe Kollwitz Museum, Cologne