Archive for the 'surrealism' Category

28
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Luces y Sombras: Images of Mexico | Photographs from the Bank of America Collection’ at the Tacoma Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 15th October 2022 – 5th February 2023

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'Mr. Municipal President' (Señor presidente municipal) 1947

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Mr. Municipal President (Señor presidente municipal)
1947 (negative); printed before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 3/8 x 9 1/8 inches (18.7 x 23.1cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

 

After last week’s long piece of writing something more succinct this week…

Luces y Sombras translates as Lights and Shadows. The exhibition reflects many themes: the landscape, urban life, fantasy and, especially among younger generations, gender and invented situations infused with symbolism. It begins with works by photographers active at the conclusion of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), notably Manuel Álvarez Bravo, considered Mexico’s first truly modern photographer. It also includes visiting artists such as the Americans Paul Strand and Edward Weston.

Later works by such figures as Manuel Carrillo, Mariana Yampolsky, and Graciela Iturbide reveal the ongoing emphasis by Mexican photographers on everyday life and Mexico’s Indigenous communities. Recent generations of photographers have found new purpose in documenting how ways of life in Mexico continue to be changed by urbanisation, migration, and the pervasive influence of popular Western culture and mass media.” (Exhibition text from the TAM)

It is interesting to hear British photographer Chris Killip’s thoughts on Mexico through a foreign lens. This quote from an upcoming posting on Killip’s work:

He says he stayed [in Newcastle] because he liked it, and that he might never have left had the Harvard job not come along – but he was also inspired by the Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka, who came to visit him early on and “talked about the importance of being in one place, to get under the surface of things”. He was also interested in how differently Paul Strand and Manuel Alvarez Bravo photographed Mexico, he says, despite Strand’s sympathetic, card-carrying Communist credentials.

“Strand beautifies poverty and simplifies the Mexican people into ‘the poor Mexicans, but isn’t this wonderful visually’,” he says. “But Alvarez Bravo was Mexican, his pictures are very complicated because he was able to accept ambiguities and contradictions, which Strand couldn’t… I think because I lived in Newcastle for so long I was able to accept ambiguities and not worry about them, just accept them and show them. I wanted to be there and be more accepting.”1

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As I have said in a previous posting on Mexican photography there is something so essential and grounded, so darkly soulful about Mexican photography. They never pull their punches, not just interested in the beauty of people and place but also the rituals, traditions and politics of Mexican society.

As ever, it is the work of Mexican artist Manuel Álvarez Bravo that steals my heart. His work exudes the spirit of the country through its sensitivity and connection to the earth from which he was born. The light and form in Bravo La Siesta de los Peregrinos; the light and form in Retrato de lo Eterno (1935, below). I have studied his work quite closely. He is the blessed one. Through his music, he captures the light and life of Mexico, the spirit of the eternal, “the sunlight [as] a discreet veil that turns the shadows into velvet.” His work is the art of the People.

Further,

“One of my early heroes in photography was Manuel Alvarez Bravo whom I rate as one of the best photographers that has ever lived, up there with Atget and Sudek. His photograph Parabola optica (Optical Parable, 1931, below) lays the foundation for an inherent language of Mexican photography: that of a parable, a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson. Many Mexican photographs tell such stories based on the mythology of the country: there are elements of the absurd, surrealism, macabre, revolution, political and socio-economic issues, also of death, violence, beauty, youth, sexuality and religion to name but a few – a search for national identity that is balanced in the photographs of Bravo by a sense of inner peace and redemption. This potent mix of issues and emotions is what makes Mexican photography so powerful and substantive. In the “presence” (or present, the awareness of the here and now) of Mexican photography there is a definite calligraphy of the body in space in most of the work. This handwriting is idiosyncratic and emotive; it draws the viewer into an intimate narrative embrace.

Unlike most Australian documentary photography where there is an observational distance present in the photographs – a physical space between the camera/photographer and the subject – Mexican documentary photography is imbued with a revolutionary spirit and validated by the investment of the photographer in the subject itself, as though the image is the country is the photographer. There is an essence and energy to the Mexican photographs that seems to turn narrative on its head, unlike the closed loop present in the tradition of Australian story telling. The intimate, swirling narratives of Mexican photography could almost be termed lyrical socio-realist.”2

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What is a revelation to me in this posting is work by two Mexican photographers who I have never heard of before and I should have because they are very good: Manuel Carrillo and Flor Garduño. Carillo joined the Club Fotográfico de México at the age of 49. As James McArdle observes the politics of Carrillo’s photographic work is anchored to his own cultural identity as a Mexican by birth and his time spent in America.

“He quickly found his voice by making images of everyday life throughout Mexico, celebrating local culture and the human spirit. His work is an extension of Mexicanidad, a movement begun in the 1920s to forge a Mexican national identity free of foreign influence… His interest in indigenous cultures and his use of bright sunlight to create compositions with dramatic shadows and bold geometric forms has roots in the photographic work of Edward Weston and Paul Strand, American modernist photographers active in Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s. Rather than idealising, aestheticising, or moralising, Carrillo portrays Mexico from the perspective of an affectionate observer, transforming ordinary moments into expressions of quiet eloquence.”3

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A certain paradox can be noted here: the wish for a Mexican identity free of foreign influence and photographs forged in the American modernist tradition. Interesting. It doesn’t stop the visceral photographs being very “Mexican” for all that.

“Garduño’s photographs create a bridge between the present and the past by portraying natural elements such as water, trees, earth, animals, and atmosphere. Garduño worked for the Department of Public Education in her native Mexico, traveling to rural areas to work with indigenous communities. From this she developed her style and got to know what she has referred to as the “profound truth” of the countryside in the Americas. Her work was also influenced by artists Kati Horna, who worked in a surrealistic vein, and Manuel Álvarez Bravo, who attended carefully to the tonal qualities of his photographs. Garduño similarly uses compositional and darkroom techniques to achieve moody, evocative images.”4

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In the work of Mexican photographers – Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Graciela Iturbide, Manuel Carrillo and Flor Garduño – you can palpably feel the essentialness of the Mexican people and begin to understand their connection to the land from which they come. Much as in the work of Chris Killip in England with his embeddedness5 with the people of North Yorkshire … there is an honesty, integrity and openness to their work which, in the case of Mexican photography, has continuous strands (like a river) running through it: that is, a synthesis of aesthetics, politics, land and spirit. Their work is of the people for the people offering a “profound truth” about the nature of their existence in the countryside in the Americas.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

1/ Diane Smyth. “Now Then: Chris Killip and the Making of In Flagrante, on the British Journal of Photography website 6 June 2017 [Online] Cited 26/01/2023

2/ Marcus Bunyan. “Photography in Mexico: Selected Works from the Collections of SFMOMA and Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser,” on the Art Blart website 4th July 2012 [Online] Cited 28/01/2023

3/ Anonymous. “Manuel Carrillo: Mexican Modernist,” on the New Mexico Museum of Art website Nd [Online] Cited 28/01/2023

4/ Anonymous. “Get to know the work of Flor Garduño,” on the Getty Twitter website Oct 6, 2021 [Online] Cited 28/01/2023

5/ Embeddedness: an exchange that takes place within and is regulated by society rather than being located in a social vacuum.

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Many thankx to the Tacoma Art Museum, Mark I. Chester and Steven Miller for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'In the Temple of Red Tiger' (En el templo del tigre rojo) 1949

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
In the Temple of Red Tiger (En el templo del tigre rojo)
1949 (negative); print before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image overall: 9 3/4 × 6 3/4 in. (24.8 x 17.1cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'Portrait of the Eternal' (Retrato de lo eterno) 1935

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Portrait of the Eternal (Retrato de lo eterno)
1935 (negative); print before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 5/8 × 7 3/8in. (24.4 x 18.7cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'The Daydream' (El ensueño) 1931

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
The Daydream (El ensueño)
1931 (negative); print before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 1/4 × 7 in. (23.5 x 17.8cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'Optic Parable' (Parábola óptica) 1931

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Optic Parable (Parábola óptica)
1931 (negative); print before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 1/4 × 7 in. (23.5 x 17.8cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'The Big Fish Eats the Little Ones' (El pez grande se come a los chicos) 1932

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
The Big Fish Eats the Little Ones (El pez grande se come a los chicos)
1932 (negative); print before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 × 7 in. (22.9 x 17.8cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

 

Graciela Iturbide on Manuel Álvarez Bravo 

Graciela Iturbide, Hasselblad Award Winner in 2008, talks about her friend and teacher Manuel Álvarez Bravo who received the Hasselblad Award in 1984.

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)' 1939, printed c. 1970s

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
The Good Reputation, Sleeping (La buena fama, durmiendo)
1938 (negative); print before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 3/8 × 9 5/8 in. (18.7 x 24.4cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'The Maria' (La María) 1972

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
The Maria (La María)
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 × 9 1/4 in. (17.8 x 23.5 cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'Las lavanderas sobreentendidas / The Washerwomen Implied' 1932

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
The Washerwomen Implied (Las lavanderas sobreentendidas)
1932 (negative); print before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 1/2 × 6 in. (24.1 x 15.2cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'The Obstacles' (Los obstáculos) 1929

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
The Obstacles (Los obstáculos)
1929 (negative); print before 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 1/4 × 9 1/4 in. (18.4 x 23.5cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'Frida Kahlo with Globe' (Frida Kahlo con globo) c. 1930s

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Frida Kahlo with Globe (Frida Kahlo con globo)
c. 1930s (negative); print before 1992
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 3/8 × 7 1/4 in. (23.8 x 18.4cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'The Daughter of the Dancers' (La hija de los danzantes) 1933

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
The Daughter of the Dancers (La hija de los danzantes)
1933
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 × 6 1/2 in. (22.9 x 16.5cm)
Bank of America Collection
© Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C

 

 

More than 100 photographs spanning more than 85 years of Mexican culture and history are coming to Tacoma Art Museum in the exhibition Luces y Sombras: Images of Mexico I Photographs from the Bank of America Collection.

Luces y Sombras reflects a broad span of Mexico’s modern history, beginning with work by photographers active in the 1920s, not long after the conclusion of the Mexican Revolution. A struggle for political power that began with the overthrow in 1911 of Mexico’s authoritarian president, Porfirio Díaz, became the catalyst for a popular uprising of campesinos, agrarian indigenous and mestizo (mixed race) people who fought for agrarian and social reform. Revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata’s rallying cry, “Tierra y Libertad” (Land and Liberty), not only galvanised the hundreds of thousands of campesinos who joined the revolt but in its wake, came to represent the affirmation of rural people, whose lives were inextricably tied to the land.

Many images in this exhibition manifest the cultural values that came to the fore in the decades following the Revolution, when politicians and intellectuals alike endeavoured to reconstruct and, indeed, re-envision their nation. In the cultural sphere, Mexico’s new leadership sought to purge the nation of the European influence favoured by the Díaz regime. Nationalist ideals and a broad-based exploration of Mexicanidad (the quality of being Mexican) were accompanied by a new reverence for Mexico’s indigenous roots and for everyday men and women. Photographs made throughout the last century of indigenous and mestizo people reflect not only the survival of indigenous communities and traditions, but also the realities of poverty and social marginalisation that persist for a large lower class up to the present day.

Luces y Sombras reflects many other themes embraced by photographers in Mexico, both native and foreign-born – the landscape, urban life and, especially among younger generations, gender and invented situations infused with symbolism. The inclusion of such foreign photographers as Paul Strand, Elliott Erwitt, Aaron Siskind, Danny Lyon, and Nan Goldin speaks to another key component of the history of photography in Mexico – the significance of a nation seen through foreign eyes.

In gathering work by such a diversity of voices, Luces y Sombras provides vivid testimony to the character of life in a nation in the throes of reinvention, modernisation and continued change over the course of the last century.

Text from the TAM website

 

Ana Casas Broda (Mexican born Spain, b. 1965) 'Milk III (2)' (Leche III (2)) 2010

 

Ana Casas Broda (Mexican born Spain, b. 1965)
Milk III (2) (Leche III (2))
2010
from the series Kinderwunsch (The Desire to Have Children)(El deseo de tener hijos)
Inkjet print on cotton paper
Image Overall: 23 5/8 × 35 1/2 in. (60 x 90.2cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Mendicant girl – close up, Guanajuato, Guanajuato' (Sin título (Pordiocerita – close up, Guanajuato, Guanajuato)) 1930

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Mendicant girl – close up, Guanajuato, Guanajuato (Sin título (Pordiocerita – close up, Guanajuato, Guanajuato))
1930
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 1/2 × 9 1/4 in. (19.1 x 23.5cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Man inside store, contrasted, baskets on the wall, Zacapoaxtla, Pueblo)' (Sin título (Hombre dentro tienda, contrastada, canastas, pared, Zacapoaxtla, Pueblo)) 1975

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Man inside store, contrasted, baskets on the wall, Zacapoaxtla, Pueblo) (Sin título (Hombre dentro tienda, contrastada, canastas, pared, Zacapoaxtla, Pueblo))
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 3/4 × 10 in. (19.7 x 25.4cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

 

Manuel Carrillo worked in Mexico in the middle of the 20th century, a time in Mexico that witnessed great political changes and social transformations and a moment in the country’s history when it was establishing its strong cultural identity.

Carrillo’s work, along with the well-known Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Tina Modotti and the American photographer Edward Weston, among others, was a contributing force as to how Mexico saw itself and how the rest of the world came to perceive that complex country. A bit of the understanding and empathy for the daily life of the Mexican people seen in Carrillo’s work would be of great help in how Mexico is perceived today.

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Seller of ropes and belts, Oaxaca, Oaxaca)' (Sin título (Vendedor reatas y cinturónes, Oaxaca, Oaxaca)) Nd

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Seller of ropes and belts, Oaxaca, Oaxaca) (Sin título (Vendedor reatas y cinturónes, Oaxaca, Oaxaca))
Nd
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 3/8 × 9 5/8 in. (18.7 x 24.4cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Shawl in the air, Oaxaca, Oaxaca)' (Sin título (Rebozo al aire, Oaxaca, Oaxaca)) 1958

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Shawl in the air, Oaxaca, Oaxaca) (Sin título (Rebozo al aire, Oaxaca, Oaxaca))
1958
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 1/2 × 8 5/8 in. (24.1 x 21.9cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Dog on grave, cemetery, Dolores, Mexico City)' (Sin título (Perro sobre tumba, panteon, Dolores, México D.F.) 1930

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Dog on grave, cemetery, Dolores, Mexico City) (Sin título (Perro sobre tumba, panteon, Dolores, México D.F.)
1930
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 8 × 10 3/4 in. (20.3 x 27.3cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

 

Mexican photographer Manuel Carrillo (1906-1989) turned to the camera fairly late in life, joining the Club Fotográfico de México at the age of 49. He quickly found his voice by making images of everyday life throughout Mexico, celebrating local culture and the human spirit. His work is an extension of Mexicanidad, a movement begun in the 1920s to forge a Mexican national identity free of foreign influence. Stylistically, however, Carrillo was inspired by Mexican artists trained abroad and international artists who converged on Mexico during that fertile period. His interest in indigenous cultures and his use of bright sunlight to create compositions with dramatic shadows and bold geometric forms has roots in the photographic work of Edward Weston and Paul Strand, American modernist photographers active in Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s. Rather than idealising, aestheticising, or moralising, Carrillo portrays Mexico from the perspective of an affectionate observer, transforming ordinary moments into expressions of quiet eloquence.

Anonymous. “Manuel Carrillo: Mexican Modernist,” on the New Mexico Museum of Art website Nd [Online] Cited 28/01/2023

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Sick woman on bench, San Miguel Allende)' (Sin título (Enferma en banca, San Miguel Allende)) 1970

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Sick woman on bench, San Miguel Allende) (Sin título (Enferma en banca, San Miguel Allende))
1970
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 8 × 10 3/4 in. (20.3 x 27.3cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Camila from above, two faces – close up), Mexico City' (Sin título (Camila desde arriba, dos cars – close up), México D.F.)) 1961

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Camila from above, two faces – close up), Mexico City (Sin título (Camila desde arriba, dos cars – close up), México D.F.))
1961
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 3/4 × 7 in. (19.7 x 17.8cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

 

By contrast, one might consider the mobility of framing in the work of Mexican Manuel Carrillo (b. 1906) who died on this date in 1989. The influence of American Modernist photographers and artists of his time, and of his better-known compatriot and contemporary Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1902-2002), is evident in this extreme point of view.

The aerial angle presents the tops of subjects’ heads, but with sufficient offset to allow a reading of the faces; the curiosity of the young boy and the protectiveness of the mother, both enclosed within a continuous ribbon of cloth and embraced by the square camera frame. The top-down view gives privileged entrée into that intense maternal relationship, encompassed by the geometry of the tiled background that contrasts with the cloth, set at an angle that enhances the figures’ complementary emotional impulses.

Aside from aesthetics, the politics of Carrillo’s photographic work is anchored to his own cultural identity as a Mexican by birth and as an American through his crossing into that country at the age of 16, when in 1922 he left Mexico for New York, becoming an Arthur Murray waltz and tango champion. When in 1930 he returned to Mexico City, he remained until his retirement. Taking up photography in 1955, he joined, at age 49, the Club Fotografico de Mexico and the Photographic Society of America, and within 5 years held his first international exhibition titled, Mi Pueblo (“My People”) in 1960 at the Chicago Public Library. Like influential writers, photographers, and artists, such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Carrillo identified with Mexicanidad, a nationalist and anti-colonial cultural movement that emerged in the 1920s after Mexico’s Revolution. He was inducted as an honorary citizen of EL Paso, Texas in 1980 by the Photographic Society of America.

James McArdle. “January 20: Angle,” on the On This Date in Photography website 20/01/2018 [Online] Cited 31/12/2022

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Cross, human shadow, Tepeapulco, Mexico)' (Sin título (Cruz, sombra humana, Tepeapulco, México)) 1973

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Cross, human shadow, Tepeapulco, Mexico) (Sin título (Cruz, sombra humana, Tepeapulco, México))
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 × 7 in. (22.9 x 17.8cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Old lady, alley, pyramidal shadows, Guanajuato)' (Sin título (Viejita, callejón, sombras piramidales, Guanajuato)) Nd

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Old lady, alley, pyramidal shadows, Guanajuato) (Sin título (Viejita, callejón, sombras piramidales, Guanajuato))
Nd
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 × 7 in. (22.9 x 17.8cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989) 'Untitled (Toluca pulque bar (Drunken Barrels)), Toluca, Mexico)' (Sin título (Pulquería de Toluca Barriles beodos)), Toluca, México)) 1970

 

Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989)
Untitled (Toluca pulque bar (Drunken Barrels)), Toluca, Mexico) (Sin título (Pulquería de Toluca Barriles beodos)), Toluca, México))
1970
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 3/4 × 9 3/4 in. (19.7 x 24.8cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

 

The photographs in Luces y Sombras span the post-Revolutionary era of the 1920s up until the present day. With work by 28 photographers, both Mexican and other nationalities, this exhibition provides vivid testimony to the character of life in a nation in the throes of reinvention, modernisation and continued change, over the course of the last century. …

Luces y Sombras reflects a wide range of modern Mexican history, beginning with the works of photographers active in the 1920s, shortly after the conclusion of the Mexican Revolution. A struggle for political power that began with the 1911 overthrow of Mexico’s authoritarian President Porfirio Díaz and became a catalyst for a popular uprising of peasants, agrarian Indians, and mestizos (of mixed race) who fought for land and social reform. The rallying cry of peasant leader Emiliano Zapata, “Land and Liberty,” not only galvanised the hundreds of thousands of peasants who joined the revolt, but became the affirmation of the rural people, whose lives were inextricably linked to the earth.

Many images in this exhibition manifest the cultural values ​​that emerged in the decades after the Revolution, as politicians and intellectuals strove to rebuild, and indeed, disimagine their nation. In the cultural sphere, Mexico’s new leadership sought to purge the nation of the European influence favored by the Díaz regime. Nationalist ideals and a broad exploration of mexicanidad (the quality of being Mexican), were accompanied by a new reverence for Mexico’s indigenous roots and for ordinary men and women. The photographs taken throughout the last century of indigenous and mestizo peoples reflect not only the survival of indigenous communities and traditions, but also the reality of poverty and social marginalisation that persist for a large lower class to this day.

Luces y Sombras translates as Lights and Shadows. The exhibition reflects many themes: the landscape, urban life, fantasy and, especially among younger generations, gender and invented situations infused with symbolism. It begins with works by photographers active at the conclusion of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), notably Manuel Álvarez Bravo, considered Mexico’s first truly modern photographer. It also includes visiting artists such as the Americans Paul Strand and Edward Weston.

Later works by such figures as Manuel Carrillo, Mariana Yampolsky, and Graciela Iturbide reveal the ongoing emphasis by Mexican photographers on everyday life and Mexico’s Indigenous communities. Recent generations of photographers have found new purpose in documenting how ways of life in Mexico continue to be changed by urbanisation, migration, and the pervasive influence of popular Western culture and mass media. Alongside these images, photographs by artists such as Alejandra Laviada, Karina Juárez, and Humberto Ríos explore contemporary issues or convey the artist’s personal reactions to the world around them.

This exhibition and gallery texts have been provided by the Bank of America Art in our Communities® program.

 

Luces y Sombras refleja una amplia gama de la historia moderna de México, comenzado con las obras de fotógrafos activos en la década de 1920, poco después de la conclusión de la Revolución Mexicana. Una lucha por el poder político que comenzó con el derrocamiento en 1911 del presidente autoritario de México, Porfirio Díaz, y que se convirtió en catalizador de un levantamiento popular de campesinos, indígenas agrarios y mestizos (de raza mixta) que lucharon por la reforma agraria y social. El grito de guerra del líder campesino Emiliano Zapata, “Tierra y Libertad“, no solo galvanizó a los cientos de miles de campesinos que se unieron a la revuelta, sino que se convirtió en la afirmación de la gente rural, cuyas vidas estaban inextricablemente vinculadas a la tierra.

Muchas imágenes en esta exposición manifiestan los valores culturales que surgieron en las décadas posteriores a la Revolución, cuando políticos e intelectuales se esforzaron por reconstruir, y de hecho, desimaginar su nación. En la esfera cultural, el nuevo liderazgo de México busco purgar la nación de la influencia europea favorecida por el régimen de Díaz. Los ideales nacionalistas y una amplia exploración de la mexicanidad (la cualidad de ser mexicano), fueron acompañados por una nueva reverencia por las raíces indígenas de México y por los hombres y mujeres comunes. Las fotografías realizadas a lo largo del último siglo de los pueblos indígenas y mestizos refleja no solo la supervivencia de las comunidades y tradiciones indígenas, sino también la realidad de la pobreza y marginación social que persisten para una gran clase baja hasta el presente día.

Luces y Sombras refleja muchos otros temas abarcados por los fotógrafos en México, tanto nativos como extranjeros: el paisaje, la vida urbana y, especialmente entre las generaciones mas jóvenes, el género y situaciones inventadas infundidas de simbolismo. La inclusión de fotógrafos extranjeros como Paul Strand, Elliot Erwitt, Aaron Siskind, Danny Lyon y Nan Goldin habla de otro componente clave de la historia de la fotografía en México: el significado de una nación vista a travéz de ojos extranjeros.

Al recopilar las obras de una diversidad de voces, Luces y Sombras brinda un testimonio vívido del carácter de la vida en una nación en pleno proceso de invención, modernización y cambio continuo a lo largo del siglo pasado.

Esta exhibición y los textos de esta galería fueron brindados por el programa Bank of America Art in our Communities®.

 

Mexico Through a Foreign Lens

Mexico became a magnet for American artists and photographers in the post-Revolutionary era, an idealistic period when artists, musicians, writers and other intellectuals sought to forge a cohesive nationalist identity through the arts. This cultural renaissance, led by such celebrated figures as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, if not for the country’s sheer exoticism to foreigners, endowed Mexico with an allure similar to that of Paris for earlier generations of artists.

Mexico held great appeal for figures such as Edward Weston and his partner, the Italian Tina Modotti, who arrived in Mexico City in 1923 in search of bohemian freedom and new creative possibilities. During his few years in Mexico, Weston transformed his artistic vision, articulating a modernist aesthetic that veered away from the picturesque, soft-focus style of photography prevalent at the turn of the century, in favour of an approach that emphasised sharp resolution and form. the details, or as he once wrote, “the quintessence of the thing itself.” Both photographers had a lasting impact in Mexico – Weston by promoting an aesthetic that decisively influenced the course of modern photography, and Modotti, as a pioneering photographer and model of the socially and politically engaged artist.

Another key early figure in Mexico is Paul Strand, who took a deeply humanistic approach in photographing indigenous people and their environments while traveling around the country in the 1930s. This exhibition also contains work by American photographers active in the 1950s and 1960s. Mexico remained a destination for artists and free spirits in these years, including members of the Beat Generation, counter-culture writers and musicians active at mid-century who found in Mexico ample opportunity for both creative inspiration and debauchery. Such photographers who are now considered leading figures of this era, including Elliott Erwitt, Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan and Danny Lyon, spent extended time in Mexico and created significant bodies of work.

 

México a travéz de una lente extranjera

México se convirtió en un imán para los artistas y fotógrafos americanos en la era posrevolucionaria, un período idealista en el que artistas, músicos, escritores y otros intelectuales buscaron forjar una identidad nacionalista cohesiva a través de las artes. Este renacimiento cultural, liderado por figuras tan célebres como Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo – sino fuera por el exotismo del país para los extranjeros – dotó a México un atractivo similar al de París para los artistas de generaciones anteriores.

México tuvo un gran atractivo para figuras como Edward Weston y su compañera, la italiana Tina Modotti, que llegaron a la Ciudad de México en 1923 en busca de libertad bohemia y nuevas posibilidades creativas. Durante sus pocos años en México, Weston transformó su visión artística, articulando una estética modernista que se apartó del estilo pintoresco de enfoque suave de la fotografía que prevalecía a principios del siglo, en favor de un enfoque que enfatizaba la forma y la resolución nítida de los detalles, o como escribió una vez, “la quintaesencia de la cosa misma.” Ambos fotógrafos tuvieron un impacto duradero en México – Weston al promover una estética que influyó decisivamente en el curso de la fotografía moderna, y Modotti, como una fotógrafa pionera y modelo del artista social y políticamente comprometido.

Otra figura clave en México es Paul Strand, quien adoptó un enfoque profundamente humanista al fotografiar a los indígenas y sus entornos mientras viajaba por el país en la década de 1930. Esta exposición también contiene las obras de fotógrafos americanos activos en las décadas de 1950 y 1960. México siguió siendo un destino para artistas y espíritus libres en estos años, incluidos los miembros de Beat Generation, escritores de contracultura y músicos activos a mediados de siglo que encontraron en México una gran oportunidad tanto de inspiración creativa. Tales fotógrafos que ahora se consideran figuras destacadas de esta era como Elliott Erwitt, Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan y Danny Lyon, pasaron mucho tiempo en México y crearon importantes obras.

 

Contemporary Voices

Photography made in Mexico over the last twenty years or so encompasses distinct tendencies. There exists, on the one hand, the continued vitality of an aesthetic that can be traced as far back as the 1920s, favouring sharp-focus black-and-white photography and a preoccupation with recording everyday life. But especially since the 1980s, photographers have approached the medium with a sense of freedom, embracing forms of image that radically depart from long-established modes. This kind of experimentation with the medium, although a lesser recognised aspect of photography in Mexico, is not new. As early as the 1920s, smaller numbers of photographers created images with unconventional approaches, whether through darkroom manipulation, photomontage or constructing scenes for the camera. Younger generations have extended this spirit of experimentation, deploying the medium in conceptual projects and elaborately staging images to craft pointed statements about race, gender and political issues. As a result, the current photography scene in Mexico is remarkably diverse. Its practitioners respect the medium’s remarkable history in their country while illuminating timely subject matter and devising new modes of working with the camera and with digital means.

This exhibition contains the work of younger photographers whose work examines the complex construction of identity in the millennial era, whether with Ana Casas Broda’s idiosyncratic explorations of childhood, or portrayals of gender by Luis Arturo Aguirre, Nelson Morales and Roberto Tondopó. Photographs by Alejandra Laviada and Humberto Ríos reflect another mode in contemporary photography: to stage scenes, whether with individuals or with objects, for the camera – often a means of evoking dreams, the subconscious and psychological states.

 

Voces contemporáneas

La fotografía realizada en México durante los últimos veinte años abarca distintas tendencias. Por un lado, existe le vitalidad continúa de una estética que se remonta a la década de 1920, favoreciendo la fotografía en blanco y negro con enfoque nítido y la preocupación por la grabación de la vida cotidiana. Pero especialmente desde la década de 1980, los fotógrafos se ha acercado al medio con un sentido de libertad, abrazando formas de imagen que se alejan radicalmente de los modos establecidos desde hace mucho tiempo. Este tipo de experimentación con el medio, aunque es un aspecto menos reconocido de la fotografía en México, no es nuevo. Ya en la década de 1920, un número menor de fotógrafos crearon imágenes con enfoques no convencionales, ya sea a través de la manipulación en el cuarto oscuro, el fotomontaje o la construcción de escenas para la cámara. Las generaciones más jóvenes han ampliado este espíritu de experimentación, desplegando el medio en proyectos conceptuales y elaborando imágenes para hacer declaraciones puntuales sobre cuestiones de raza, género y problemas políticos. Como resultado, la escena fotográfica actual en México es notablemente diversa. Sus profesionales respetan la extraordinaria historia del medio en su país al tiempo que ilustran temas oportunos y diseñan nuevos modos de trabajar con la cámara y con medios digitales.

Esta exposición contiene las obras de fotógrafos mas jóvenes, que examina la compleja construcción de la identidad en la era del milenio, ya sea con las idiosincrásicas exploraciones de la infancia de Ana Casas Broda, o representaciones del género de Luis Arturo Aguirre, Nelson Morales y Roberto Tondopó. Las fotografías de Alejandra Laviada y Humberto Ríos reflejan otro modo en la fotografía contemporánea: crear escenas, ya sea con individuos o con objetos, para la cámara, a menudo un medio de evocar sueños, estados subconscientes y psicológicos.

Before the Conquest, all art was of the people, and popular art has never ceased to exist in Mexico. The art called popular is fugitive in character, with less of the impersonal and intellectual characteristics of the schools. It is the work of talent nourished by personal experience and that of the community – rather than being taken from the experiences of painters in other times and other cultures. ~ Manuel Álvarez Bravo

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The perspective of Mexicanidad, the quality of being Mexican, sought to remove colonial influences from Mexican art. After the Mexican Revolution of 1910–1920, artists and intellectuals came together to forge a new Mexican culture, one that placed new value on Mexico’s indigenous, working-class and agrarian roots as a repudiation of dictator Porfirio Díaz’s focus on wealthy, powerful and often white individuals. Known as the Mexican Cultural Renaissance, this movement gave rise to art that defined a new sense of Mexican identity. Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Latin America’s best-known photographer, made visually sophisticated photographs with a formally complex approach often including symbolic elements. He didn’t identify as such, but many viewers have seen surrealist aspects in his work. His work often looks at Mexico’s traditional cultures as they experience significant and rapid change.

Artists active in the decades after the Mexican Revolution, examined what it meant to be Mexican, without the colonial, European focus of the dictatorship. Manuel Carrillo documented street scenes, workers and children with empathy and care, seeking to record a cultural identity with attention to form and composition. Graciela Iturbide makes documentary photographs that are rich with metaphor and grace, finding spirituality and beauty in traditions and everyday life.

Antes de la Conquista, todo el arte era popular. El arte nunca ha dejado de existir en México. El arte llamado popular es de carácter fugitivo, con menos de las características impersonales e intelectuales de las escuelas. Son obras de talento alimentado por la experiencia personal y la de la comunidad – en lugar de ser tomado de las experiencias de los pintores en otros tiempos y otras culturas. ~ Manuel Álvarez Bravo

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La perspectiva de la mexicanidad, la cualidad de ser mexicano, buscaba eliminar las influencias coloniales del arte mexicano. Después de la revolución mexicana de 1910-1920, los artistas e intelectuales se unieron creando una nueva cultura mexicana dieron un nuevo valor a las raíces indígenas, de la clase trabajadora y agrarias de México como un repudio al enfoque del dictador Porfirio Díaz en los individuos ricos, poderosos y a menudo blancos. Este movimiento, conocido como el Renacimiento Cultural Mexicano, dio lugar a un arte que le atribuyó un nuevo sentido a la identidad mexicana. Manuel Álvarez Bravo, el fotógrafo mas conocido de América Latina, hizo fotografías visualmente sofisticadas con un enfoque formalmente complejo que a menudo incluye elementos simbólicos. No se identificó como tal, pero muchos espectadores han visto elementos surrealistas en sus obras. Estas a menudo analizan las culturas tradicionales de México a medida que experimentan un cambio significativo y rápido.

Artistas activos en las décadas posteriores a la Revolución Mexicana, examinaron lo que significaba ser mexicano, sin el enfoque colonial y europeo de la dictadura. Manuel Carrillo documentó escenas callejeras, trabajadores y niños con empatía y cuidado, buscando registrar una identidad cultural con atención a la forma y composición. Graciela Iturbide hace fotografías documentales que son ricas en metáfora y gracia, encontrando espiritualidad y belleza en las tradiciones y en la vida cotidiana.

Exhibition text from the TAM

 

Elliott Erwitt (American born France, b. 1928) 'Guanajuato, Mexico' 1957

 

Elliott Erwitt (American born France, b. 1928)
Guanajuato, Mexico
1957
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 8 1/2 × 13 1/2 in. (21.6 x 34.3cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b.1957) 'Cloud, Mexico' (Nube, México) 1982

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b.1957)
Cloud, Mexico (Nube, México)
1982
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 13 × 17 in. (33 x 43.2cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957) 'Tree of Life, Mexico' (Arbol de la vida, México) 1982

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957)
Tree of Life, Mexico (Arbol de la vida, México)
1982
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 13 × 17 in. (33 x 43.2cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

 

Garduño’s photographs create a bridge between the present and the past by portraying natural elements such as water, trees, earth, animals, and atmosphere. Garduño worked for the Department of Public Education in her native Mexico, traveling to rural areas to work with indigenous communities. From this she developed her style and got to know what she has referred to as the “profound truth” of the countryside in the Americas. Her work was also influenced by artists Kati Horna, who worked in a surrealistic vein, and Manuel Álvarez Bravo, who attended carefully to the tonal qualities of his photographs. Garduño similarly uses compositional and darkroom techniques to achieve moody, evocative images.

Anonymous. “Get to know the work of Flor Garduño,” on the Getty Twitter website Oct 6, 2021 [Online] Cited 28/01/2023

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957) 'Zinacantec Wedding, Mexico' (Matrimonio Zinacanteco, México) 1987

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957)
Zinacantec Wedding, Mexico (Matrimonio Zinacanteco, México)
1987
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 17 5/8 × 13 1/2 in. (44.8 x 34.3cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

 

 

Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico

The photographs of Graciela Iturbide not only bear witness to Mexican society but express an intense personal and poetic lyricism about her native country. One of the most influential photographers active in Latin America today, Iturbide captures everyday life and its cultures, rituals, and religions, while also raising questions about paradoxes and social injustice in Mexican society. Her photographs tell a visual story of Mexico since the late 1970s – a country in constant transition, defined by the coexistence of the historical and modern as a result of the culture’s rich amalgamation of cultures. For Iturbide, photography is a way of life and a way of seeing and understanding Mexico and its beauty, challenges, and contradictions.

In the summer of 2018, Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs, and members of the exhibition team visited Graciela Iturbide at her home and studio in Mexico City. In this documentary, produced by the MFA, the artist discusses the different series and themes explored in this exhibition, as well as her creative process.

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942) 'Cemetery, Juchitán, Oaxaca' (Cementerio, Juchitán, Oaxaca) 1992

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942)
Cemetery, Juchitán, Oaxaca (Cementerio, Juchitán, Oaxaca)
1992
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 12 1/4 × 8 3/4 in. (31.1 x 22.2cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942) 'Los Pollos, Juchitán, México' (Chickens, Juchitán, Mexico) 1979

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942)
The Chickens, Juchitán, México (Los pollos, Juchitán, México)
1979 (negative); print c. 1992
Image Overall: 11 3/4 × 7 3/4 in. (29.8 x 19.7cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942) 'Sponge Vendor, Oaxaca' (Vendedora de zacate, Oaxaca) 1974

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942)
Sponge Vendor, Oaxaca (Vendedora de zacate, Oaxaca)
1974 (negative); print 1992
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 18 1/8 × 12 1/2 in. (46 x 31.8cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942) 'The Sacrifice, La Mixteca, Oaxaca' (El sacrificio, la Mixteca, Oaxaca) 1992

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942)
The Sacrifice, La Mixteca, Oaxaca (El sacrificio, la Mixteca, Oaxaca)
1992
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 16 7/8 × 12 1/4 in. (42.9 x 31.1cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942) 'Angel Woman, Sonora Desert, Mexico' (Mujer ángel, desierto de Sonora, México) 1979

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942)
Angel Woman, Sonora Desert, Mexico (Mujer ángel, desierto de Sonora, México)
1979 (negative); printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 1/2 × 13 in. (24.1 x 33cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Kenro Izu (Japanese, b. 1949) 'Tajín #13' 1987

 

Kenro Izu (Japanese, b. 1949)
Tajín #13
1987 (negative and print)
From the series Sacred Places
Platinum palladium print
Image Overall: 7 3/4 × 9 3/4 in. (19.7 x 24.8cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Alejandra Laviada (Mexican, b. 1980) 'Stacking' (Apilado) 2007

 

Alejandra Laviada (Mexican, b. 1980)
Stacking (Apilado)
2007
From the series Juarez 56
Pigment print on lustre paper
24 x 20 inches (60.9 x 50.8cm)
Bank of America Collection
© 2022 Alejandra Laviada

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942) 'Truck in Nueva Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, Mexico' (Camión en nuevas casas grandes, Chihuahua, México) 1975

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Truck in Nueva Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, Mexico (Camión en nuevas casas grandes, Chihuahua, México)
1975 (negative and print)
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 8 × 12 in. (20.3 x 30.5cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Church, Cuapiaxtla, Mexico' (Iglesia, Cuapiaxtla, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Church, Cuapiaxtla, Mexico (Iglesia, Cuapiaxtla, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
from The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 6 1/4 × 4 7/8 in. (15.9 x 12.4cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Woman, Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico' (Mujer, Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Woman, Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico (Mujer, Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
from The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 6 3/8 × 5 in. ( 16.2 x 12.7cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Women of Santa Ana, Michoacán, Mexico' (Mujeres de Santa Ana, Michoacán, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Women of Santa Ana, Michoacán, Mexico (Mujeres de Santa Ana, Michoacán, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 5 5/8 × 6 1/8 in. (14.3 x 15.6cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Woman and Baby, Hidalgo, Mexico' (Mujer y bebe, Hidalgo, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Woman and Baby, Hidalgo, Mexico (Mujer y bebe, Hidalgo, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
from The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 5 1/2 × 6 1/2 in. (14 x 16.5cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Near Saltillo, Mexico' (Cerca de Saltillo, Mexico) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Near Saltillo, Mexico (Cerca de Saltillo, Mexico)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 5 3/8 × 6 3/4 in. (13.7 x 17.1cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Young Woman and Boy, Toluca de Lerdo, Mexico' (Mujer joven y niño, Toluca de Lerdo, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Young Woman and Boy, Toluca de Lerdo, Mexico (Mujer joven y niño, Toluca de Lerdo, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
from The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 5 1/2 × 6 1/2 in. (14 x 16.5 cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Men of Santa Ana, Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán' (Hombres de Santa Ana, Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacá) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Men of Santa Ana, Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán (Hombres de Santa Ana, Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacá)
1933 (negative); print 1967
from The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 6 7/8 × 5 1/4 in. (17.5 x 13.3cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'White Plaza, Puebla, Mexico' (Plaza blanca, Puebla, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
White Plaza, Puebla, Mexico (Plaza blanca, Puebla, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
from The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 5 1/2 × 6 1/2 in. (14 x 16.5cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Boy, Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico' (Niño, Uruapan, Michoacán, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Boy, Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico (Niño, Uruapan, Michoacán, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 10 × 7 7/8 in. (25.4 x 20cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand. 'Man - Tenancingo' 1933 

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Man, Tenancingo de Degollado, Mexico (Hombre, Tenancingo de Degollado, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 6 3/8 × 5 in. (16.2 x 12.7cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Boy, Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico (Niño, Uruapan, Michoacán, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 6 1/2 × 5 1/4 in. (16.5 x 13.3cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Virgin San Felipe, Oaxaca, Mexico' (Virgen San Felipe, Oaxaca, Mexico) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Virgin San Felipe, Oaxaca, Mexico (Virgen San Felipe, Oaxaca, Mexico)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 10 1/4 × 7 7/8 in. (26 x 20cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Cristo, Oaxaca, Mexico' (Cristo, Oaxaca, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Cristo, Oaxaca, Mexico (Cristo, Oaxaca, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 11 × 8 1/2 in. (27.9 x 21.6cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Church Gateway, Hidalgo, Mexico' (Puerta de iglesia, Hidalgo, México) 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Church Gateway, Hidalgo, Mexico (Puerta de iglesia, Hidalgo, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 10 1/2 × 8 1/4 in. (26.7 x 21cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Paul Strand. 'Cristo with Thorns - Huexotla' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Cristo with Thorns, Huexotla, Mexico (Cristo con espinas, Huexotla, México)
1933 (negative); print 1967
From The Mexican Portfolio
Photogravure
Image Overall: 10 1/8 × 7 7/8 in. (25.7 x 20cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Andrés Juárez Troncoso (Mexicano, b. 1972) 'The Virgin of the Heights' (La virge n de las alturas) 2016

 

Andrés Juárez Troncoso (Mexicano, b. 1972)
The Virgin of the Heights (La virge n de las alturas)
2016
From the series The Spotless Others
Digital print
Image Overall: 20 1/8 × 29 1/2 in. (51.1 x 74.9cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Pyramid of the Sun, Mexico' (Pirámide del Sol, México) 1923

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Pyramid of the Sun, Mexico (Pirámide del Sol, México)
1923
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 7 1/2 × 9 3/8 in. (19.1 x 23.8cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, b. 1925) 'Stable' (Caballeriza) 1982

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, b. 1925)
Stable (Caballeriza)
1982 (negative); print c. 1992
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 13 × 17 3/4 in. (33 x 45.1cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, b. 1925) 'Caress, San Simón de la Laguna' (Caricia, San Simón de la Laguna) 1989

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, b. 1925)
Caress, San Simón de la Laguna (Caricia, San Simón de la Laguna)
1989
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 9 × 12 1/4 in. (22.9 x 31.1cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, b. 1925) 'Head Cover, Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca' (Huipil de tapar, Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca) 1989

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, b. 1925)
Head Cover, Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca (Huipil de tapar, Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca)
1989
Gelatin silver print
Image Overall: 13 1/2 × 13/12 in. (34.3 x 34.3cm)
Bank of America Collection

 

 

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02
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Ilse Bing’ at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 23rd September 2022 – 8th January 2023

Curator: Juan Vicente Aliaga

 

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Scandale' 1947

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Scandale
1947
Gelatin silver print
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Estate of Ilse Bing / Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

The first exhibition for Art Blart in 2023!

The Art Blart archive has been going since November 2008. This is the first time I have posted on the avant-garde artist Isle Bing and her documentary humanism. Elements of Modernism, movement, New Vision, Bahuas, Surrealism, abstraction, form, geometry are all spontaneously and intuitively, precisely and poetically expressed in the artist’s work. Manipulation, solarisation, enlargement of fragments and cropping in the darkroom enhance the original negative.

“In addition to numerous portraits, Ilse Bing was primarily interested in urban motifs. They were fascinated by architectural elements and structures as well as urban hustle and bustle. Her way of working repeatedly explores the tracing of symmetry and rhythm in the experience of everyday situations.”1

“In Paris, Ilse Bing forged her style [using a Leica], combining poetry and realism, dreamlike enchantment and the clarity of modernity. She sought contrasts and original juxtapositions that transformed the banal reality of daily life into a new idea.”2

“Ilse Bing was once amongst the very first few women photographers to influentially master the avant-garde handheld Leica 35mm camera in the 1930s. She was also amongst the first to use solarisation, electronic flash and night photography, and established her own distinctive photographic style adoring romanticism, symbolism and dream imagery of surrealism.”3

“It was a time of exploration and discovery. … We wanted to show what the camera could do that no brush could do, and we broke every rule. We photographed into the light – even photographed the light, used distorted perspective, and showed movement as a blur. What we photographed was new, too – torn paper, dead leaves, puddles in the street—people thought it was garbage! But going against the rules opened the doors to new possibilities.” ~ Ilse Bing

Magnificent. Enjoy!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. Many more works can be viewed on the MoMA website.

 

  1. Anonymous. “Ilse Bing,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2023
  2. Anonymous. “Ilse Bing. Photographs 1928-1935,” on the Galerie Karsten Greve website [Online] Cited 02/01/2023
  3. Anonymous. “Ilse Bing: Paris and Beyond,” on the Exibart street website [Online] Cited 02/01/2023

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

 

Ilse Bing (Frankfurt, 1899 – New York, 1998) was born into a well-off Jewish family. Having discovered her true vocation while preparing the illustrations for her academic thesis, in 1929 she abandoned her university studies in order to focus entirely on photography. The medium would be her chosen form of expression for the following thirty years of her fascinating life and career.

In 1930 Bing moved to Paris where she combined photojournalism with her own more personal work, soon becoming one of the principal representatives of the modernising trends in photography which emerged in the cultural melting pot of Paris during those years. With the advance of the Nazi forces, in 1941 she and her husband, the pianist Konrad Wolff, went into exile in New York. Two decades later the sixty-year-old Bing gave up her photographic activities in order to channel her creativity into the visual arts and poetry until her death in 1998.

Bing’s work cannot be ascribed to any of the movements or tendencies that influenced her. She worked in almost all the artistic genres, from architectural photography to portraiture, self-portraits, images of everyday objects and landscapes. The diversity of styles which she employed reflect her significant and notably individual interpretation of the different cultural trends that she assimilated, from the German Bauhaus and New Objectivity to Parisian Surrealism and the ceaseless dynamism of New York.

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE website

 

 

“I felt the camera grow as an extension of my eyes and move with me.”

.
Ilse Bing

 

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Dead Leaf and Tramway Ticket On Sidewalk, Frankfurt' 1929

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Dead Leaf and Tramway Ticket On Sidewalk, Frankfurt
1929
Gelatin silver print
17.1 x 22.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Budgeheim' 1930

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Budgeheim
1930
Gelatin silver print
27.9 x 21.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Laban Dance School, Frankfurt' 1929

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Laban Dance School, Frankfurt
1929
Gelatin silver print
9.7 x 16.6cm
Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Orchestra Pit, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Orchestra Pit, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris
1933
27.9 × 35.6cm
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography, New York
Donation of Ilse Bing, 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Pommery Champagne Bottles' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Pommery Champagne Bottles
1933
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 19.7cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'French Can-Can Dancer' 1931, printed 1941

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
French Can-Can Dancer
1931, printed 1941
Gelatin silver print
35.6 x 27.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Dancer Gerard Willem van Loon' 1932

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Dancer Gerard Willem van Loon
1932
Gelatin silver print
49.2 x 34.6cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) '"It was so Windy on the Eiffel Tower", Paris' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
“It was so Windy on the Eiffel Tower”, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
22.2 x 28.2cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection
Donation of Jean and Julien Levy 1977
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence

 

 

Ilse Bing’s photographic oeuvre, created between 1929 and the late 1950s, was influenced by the different cities where she lived and worked: Frankfurt prior to the 1930s, Paris in that decade and post-war New York where above all she experienced the situation of an enforced emigré. Her work cannot, however, be easily located within the photographic and cultural trends that she encountered, although it was certainly enriched by all of them. Bing’s output was influenced by Moholy-Nagy’s Das Neue Sehen (The New Vision) and the Weimar Bauhaus, by André Kertész and by the Surrealism of Man Ray, which she encountered when she moved to Paris in 1930. At the time of her arrival the French capital was a melting pot of artistic and intellectual trends and the setting for the emergence of a number of movements that would be crucial for the evolution of the avant-gardes. Surrealist echoes are evident in Bing’s photographs of objects and in her approach to the framing of her shots of chairs, streets and public spaces, images that transmit a sense of strangeness and almost of alienation.

The Bauhaus was an extremely important influence on Bing’s work via both El Lissitzky’s theories and those of Moholy-Nagy’s New Vision, which promoted the fusion of architecture and photography and the autonomy of photography as a medium in relation to painting. New Vision offered infinite possibilities and Bing took full advantage of them, employing some of them in her work, such as abstraction, close-ups, plunging viewpoints, di sotto in sù, photomontages and overprinting, all to be seen in the images on display in the exhibition.

Ilse Bing belonged to a generation of women photographers who achieved unprecedented visibility. It was not the norm that women should be artists in a field habitually occupied by men, who regarded their presence as active agents in the social and cultural realm with disdain and even hostility. Like many of her contemporaries – Germaine Krull, Florence Henri, Laure Albin-Guillot, Madame d’Ora, Berenice Abbott, Nora Dumas and Gisèle Freund – Bing’s camera became an essential tool of self determination and a means to confirm her own identity.

Ilse Bing was born in Frankfurt on 23 March 1899 to a middle-class Jewish family. She took her first photographs at the age of fourteen. Self-taught in this field, she realised that this would become her principal activity when she began photographing in order to illustrate her doctoral thesis. She studied mathematics and physics before opting for art history. In 1929 she gave up her university studies and, armed with her inseparable Leica, devoted herself to photography for the next thirty years. In 1930 she moved to Paris, where she continued active as a photojournalist while also producing her own more creative work, gradually becoming one of the leading representatives of modern French photography. In 1941 and with the advance of National Socialism, Bing moved to New York with her husband, the pianist Konrad Wolff. Two decades later, at the age of 60, she ceased taking photographs and focused her attention on making collages, abstract works, drawings and also poetry writing. Ilse Bing died in New York in 1998.

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE exhibition brochure

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Champ de Mars from the Eiffel Tower' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Champ de Mars from the Eiffel Tower
1931
Gelatin silver print
19.3 x 28.2cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing. 'Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1931' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Poverty in Paris' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Poverty in Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
27.8 x 35.3cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlín
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Three Men Sitting on the Steps by the Seine' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Three Men Sitting on the Steps by the Seine
1931
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 35.6 cm
International Center of Photography, Nueva York
Donation of Ilse Bing, 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998) 'French Can Can Dancers, Moulin Rouge' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
French Can Can Dancers, Moulin Rouge
1931
Gelatin silver print
6 1/4 × 9 in. (15.9 × 22.9cm)
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg
Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Greta Garbo Poster, Paris' 1932

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Greta Garbo Poster, Paris
1932
Gelatin silver print
22.3 × 30.5 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago
Donation of David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence

 

 

Overview

Ilse Bing (Frankfurt, 1899 – New York, 1998) was born into a well-off Jewish family. Having discovered her true vocation while preparing the illustrations for her academic thesis, in 1929 she abandoned her university studies in order to focus entirely on photography. The medium would be her chosen form of expression for the following thirty years of her fascinating life and career.

In 1930 Bing moved to Paris where she combined photojournalism with her own more personal work, soon becoming one of the principal representatives of the modernising trends in photography which emerged in the cultural melting pot of Paris during those years. With the advance of the Nazi forces, in 1941 she and her husband, the pianist Konrad Wolff, went into exile in New York. Two decades later the sixty-year-old Bing gave up her photographic activities in order to channel her creativity into the visual arts and poetry until her death in 1998.

Bing’s work cannot be ascribed to any of the movements or tendencies that influenced her. She worked in almost all the artistic genres, from architectural photography to portraiture, self-portraits, images of everyday objects and landscapes. The diversity of styles which she employed reflect her significant and notably individual interpretation of the different cultural trends that she assimilated, from the German Bauhaus and New Objectivity to Parisian Surrealism and the ceaseless dynamism of New York.

 

The exhibition

Featuring around 200 photographs and a range of documentary material, the exhibition presents a chronological and thematic survey of Ilse Bing’s career, divided into ten sections: “Discovering the world through a camera: the beginnings”, “The life of still lifes”, “The dancing body and its circumstances”, “Lights and shadows of modern architecture”, “The hustle and bustle of the street: the French years”, “The seduction of fashion”, “The United States in two phases”, “Self-image revelations”, “Portrait of time”, and “Live nature”.

 

Four keys

The Bauhaus. From 1910 onwards Frankfurt became the prototype of modern urban design thanks to the architect Ernst May, and the city’s medieval layout was gradually modified in a transformation based on its different societal requirements. This new architecture soon began to echo the ideas of El Lissitzky’s Constructivism, partly via the Dutch architect Mart Stam, a friend of Ilse Bing. Stam and the theories of the Bauhaus had a major influence on her works. László Moholy-Nagy, who taught at the Bauhaus, had promoted the union of architecture and photography as well as the independence of the latter in relation to painting. The possibilities of Das Neue Sehen (The New Vision) seemed endless and Bing applied some of its concepts and devices to her work: abstraction, immediate close-ups, plunging and di sotto in sù viewpoints, photo-montage and overprinting.

Surrealism, the spirit of an era. When Ilse Bing moved to Paris in 1930 the city was a melting pot of artistic and intellectual trends and the setting for the emergence of some of the key movements in the evolution of the avant-gardes. One of them – Surrealism – had a particular influence on her and its echoes are clearly discernible in her photographs of accessories taken for fashion magazines which reflect Surrealist theories on fetishism. It is also evident in the framing she chose for her images of chairs, streets and public spaces, which transmit a sense of strangeness and almost of alienation. Finally, this influence also arose from Bing’s relationship with prominent figures associated with the movement, such as Elsa Schiaparelli.

Movement. Despite her fascination with abstraction and pure compositions, evident in many of her photographs of architecture and her still lifes, Ilse Bing was also captivated by the dynamism and movement of life and changing reality. She expressed this in her photographs of the Moulin Rouge and its surrounding area and in her investigation of dance. Bing captured the dynamism of the dancers twirling their skirts but also the expressivity of their bodies as they moved, jumping into the air or doing the splits.

Woman photographer. Ilse Bing belonged to a generation of women photographers who achieved unprecedented visibility. It was not the norm that women should be artists in a field habitually occupied by men, who regarded their presence as active agents in the social and cultural realm with disdain and even hostility. Like many of her contemporaries – Germaine Krull, Florence Henri, Laure Albin-Guillot, Madame d’Ora, Berenice Abbott, Nora Dumas and Gisèle Freund – Bing’s camera became an essential tool of self-determination and a means to confirm her own identity.

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE website

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Prostitutes, Amsterdam' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Prostitutes, Amsterdam
1931
Gelatin silver print
25.5 x 34cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Self-portrait with Leica' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Self-portrait with Leica
1931
Gelatin silver print
26.5 × 30.7cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Pantaloons for Sale, Amsterdam' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Pantaloons for Sale, Amsterdam
1931
Gelatin silver print
28 x 22cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection
Donation of Jean and Julien Levy 1977
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Street Fair, Paris' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Street Fair, Paris
1933
Gelatin silver print
28.2 × 22.3cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C.
Donation of Ilse Bing Wolff
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Equine butcher shop' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Equine butcher shop
1933
Gelatin silver print
19.2 × 28.2cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlín
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'The Honorable Daisy Fellowes, Gloves by Dent in London for Harper's Bazaar' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
The Honorable Daisy Fellowes, Gloves by Dent in London for Harper’s Bazaar
1933
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 35.6cm
International Center of Photography, New York
Donation of Ilse Bing 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Self-portrait' 1934

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Self-portrait
1934
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 21.6cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998) 'Study for "Salut de Schiaparelli" (Lily Perfume), Paris' 1934

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Study for “Salut de Schiaparelli” (Lily Perfume), Paris
1934
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 28.2 x 22.3cm (11 1/8 x 8 3/4 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 43.18cm (21 x 17 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Ilse Bing Wolff
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Gold Lamé Evening Shoes' 1935

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Gold Lamé Evening Shoes
1935
Gelatin silver print
22.2 × 27.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Between France and the USA (Seascapes)' 1936

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Between France and the USA (Seascapes)
1936
Gelatin silver print
21 × 28.3 cm
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Legacy of Ilse Bing Wolff 2001
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 Digital image Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'New York, the Elevated, and Me' 1936

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
New York, the Elevated, and Me
1936
Gelatin silver print
Galerie Le Minotaure, Paris
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'New York' 1936

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
New York
1936
Gelatin silver print
19.8 x 22.2cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlín
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

 

The artistic career of Ilse Bing (Frankfurt, 1899-New York, 1998) can be located within a particularly complex temporal and socio-cultural context. This German photographer principally lived and worked in three places: in Frankfurt prior to the 1930s, in Paris in that decade and in post-war New York where she above all experienced the status of enforced emigré. Bing also visited other places, including Switzerland, Italy and Holland, but they never became decisive spaces that significantly influenced her way of working with regard to photography.

Analysed with the distance and perspective offered by the passing of time, Ilse Bing’s artistic corpus cannot easily be located within the various photographic trends she encountered during her lifetime, particularly in her initial German phase and the decade in Paris. While her work is charged with elements associated with both Das Neue Sehen (The New Vision) and the Bauhaus, which emerged during the Weimar Republic, as well as with the Surrealism she assimilated during her years in France, Bing’s position evades any strict norm or visual orthodoxy. In this sense it could be said that hers is a notably unique photographic gaze and approach in which modernity and formal innovation are indissolubly linked to a humanist approach involving a social conscience.

It is also important to emphasise that Ilse Bing’s career within the context of relatively difficult times was marked by a resolute determination to make her way in a world which viewed the presence of women as active agents in the social and thus the cultural realm with disdain or even hostility. Bing belonged to a generation of female photographers that achieved a previously unattainable visibility. The camera became for an essential tool of self-determination for numerous women artists, including figures such as Germaine Krull, Florence Henri, Laure Albin-Guillot, Madame d’Ora, Berenice Abbott, Nora Dumas and Gisèle Freund.

Juan Vicente Aliaga
Curator

 

Discovering the World Through A Camera: The Beginnings

With the exception of a few photographs of an amateur type, nothing indicated that Ilse Bing, who was born into a prosperous Jewish family in Frankfurt, would dedicate much of her life to the practice of photography. After an initial focus on scientific subjects and a period studying art history, Bing decided to illustrate her doctoral thesis with images taken in different museums. From that moment onwards and following a study trip to Switzerland when she discovered the work of Vincent van Gogh, she took the decision to focus her attention on photography. While she initially made use of a Voigtländer plate camera, she soon acquired a Leica which she would continue to use for much of her career. This was the camera she employed for the commissions she received from newspapers such as the Frankfurter Zeitung, work that gave her a degree of financial independence during the turbulent years of the Weimar Republic.

At the outset Bing covered a range of subjects, doing so with ease and formal audacity. Everything seemed to attract her attention: men at work, the spatial simplicity of a gallery, the organic lines of a roof, the leg and arm movements of the ballerinas of the Rudolf von Laban company, the modern architecture which she had discovered through her friend the Dutch architect Mart Stam, and more. Bing’s gaze sought out unusual angles, it looked upwards and downwards, at times encountering normally overlooked elements of no monetary value and ones brought together by chance, as in Dead Leaf and Tramway Ticket on Sidewalk, Frankfurt (1929).

 

The Life of Still Lifes

Objects from daily life are frequently present in modern art: a bottle, a newspaper, a letter, a collage-like fragment of a label, a jug, etc. Surrealism marked a revolution with regard to the representation of the object, which is never literal but rather filled with hidden aspects. The insertion of external objects into the visual space combined with other ones favours the emergence of the imaginary. By the time Ilse Bing arrived in Paris in 1930 she was already captivated by the chance encounter of often humble elements. Her French period served to accentuate her interest in a wide range of cast-off possessions and objects that seemed to allude to a universe in flux. Bing’s gaze always came to rest on real elements. The chairs she photographed existed but the framing she employed, the closeness or distance of the shot, the fact that the chairs are unoccupied and that the floor on which they stand has the silvery darkness of rain are all the result of her choices, adding an air of melancholy to the image.

Over the course of her career Bing used a range of different techniques in parallel while remaining constantly fascinated by inanimate objects. During her Paris years and despite financial difficulties her work is generally characterised by a poetic gaze in which the imagination moves towards undefined, almost dream-like realms. In contrast, in the period of exile in the United States a degree of coolness emerges, with the appearance of formal and symbolic traits such as a closing-in or enclosing of the depicted scene.

 

The Dancing Body and Its Circumstances

During her initial phase, in 1929 Ilse Bing established contacts with the dance and gymnastics school founded by Rudolf von Laban. She was struck by the way in which he aimed to draw a parallel between geometry and human movements and gestures.

Soon after arriving in Paris, Bing was commissioned to photograph the Moulin Rouge waxworks museum. The old Parisian dance hall where La Goulue and Toulouse-Lautrec had been leading attractions had lost much of its splendour. Bing spent time there and was attracted by numerous aspects of the place: its daily life on and off stage, including the couples who enjoyed a drink there, the boxing matches taking place, a dancer cheering up a weary boxer, the interesting nature of the clients, and the boredom of the doorman at the entrance to the cabaret. Aside from these aspects, what really caught the attention of the Paris photography world were Bing’s images of dancers in movement. Her restless eye was able to represent the vibration of the circular twists and turns, the complex, effortful open leg movements of a dancer captured in action, the troupe of dancers energetically waving their skirts, and more.

Another group of images of the troupe centres around the dancer Gerard Willem van Loon.

The third and last series of images focusing on dance was commissioned in relation to the ballet L’Errante, choreographed by the American George Balanchine and with set designs and libretto by the Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchew. Bing demonstrated her skill at capturing movement without making it seem frozen or trapped in time. Her eye translated the weightlessness of dreamlike fantasies to her images through the dynamic way in which she captured shadows.

 

Lights and Shadows of Modern Architecture

The architecture of Paris is generally reflected in Bing’s photography through images of middle- or working-class houses or walls and façades of dilapidated buildings. There was one notable exception, namely the Eiffel Tower. This emblematic work, constructed for the Universal Exhibition of 1889, was nothing less than a revelation for Bing. The Tower’s imposing metal structure had been captured by various photographers, including László Moholy-Nagy in 1925, followed by Erwin Blumenfeld, André Kertész, François Kollar and Germaine Krull.

Bing chose to locate herself inside the structure and take shots at different heights, the majority looking downwards. Using this method, the reality of the space occupied by passers-by becomes perfectly visible. In other words, the intention is not to emphasise the abstract core, pure geometry and beauty of the forms, girders, mainstays, braces and other constructional elements but rather to show that this architectural marvel was also located in a specific place, in this case the gardens of the Champ de Mars.

At a later date, New York’s modern architecture astonished Bing for its display of power expressed as imposing constructions. She translated her amazement into a group of images primarily characterised by a distanced and simultaneously critical gaze on the architectural spectacle before her eyes. Her position was not simply an uncritical and admiring one, as evident in various photographs of skyscrapers abutting on poor areas of the city. The thrust of the symbolic power of vertical architecture is called into question by being juxtaposed with humble spaces and buildings, as we see with Chrysler Building (1936).

 

The Hustle and Bustle of the Street: The French Years

When Ilse Bing arrived in Paris in late November 1930 the city’s cultural context was particularly favourable in terms of the number of illustrated publications that made use of images taken by a large group of male and female photographers. These publications included Vu, Voilà, Marianne, Regards, L’Art Vivant, Arts et Métiers Graphiques and Urbanisme.

One of the commissions that Bing received allowed her to delve into an evident reality: the existence of poverty in certain parts of a major capital such as Paris. She focused her work on portraying the soup kitchens where large numbers of destitute people gathered.

The artist revealed her abilities in Paris, rue de Valois (1932), an image that allows for a questioning of the supposedly objective truth habitually associated with photography. On an inner city street Bing’s gaze focuses on a puddle in which the roofs of an adjacent building are reflected. She shows us the paradox of something that is located above and high up appearing below, on the ground.

While Bing’s Parisian photography has a melancholy, even sombre tone to it, it also looked at areas of human activity characterised by lively bustle and social interaction, such as her images of a gingerbread fair.

These years in France provided the setting for a veritable laboratory of ideas in which the influence of Bing’s Frankfurt years is still evident. It was also a time when the emergence of Surrealism was occupying the Parisian cultural scene, with its exploration of the unconscious and of hidden desires. It can be detected in the ghostly feel of the solarised photographs that Bing took on the Place de la Concorde.

In this context, and thanks to an invitation from the Dutch-born Hendrick Willem van Loon, Bing discovered the Netherlands, visiting places such as Veere and Amsterdam and capturing different moments of daily life. The country’s nature as a terrain regained from the sea also led the artist to reflect this geographical reality in a number of snapshots.

 

The Seduction of Fashion

During her Paris years Bing experienced financial difficulties, a recurrent problem for her over the years, for which reason in November 1933 she began to contribute to the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, an American publication noted for its modern style. She secured this work with a recommendation from the editor of the French edition, Daisy Fellowes, a fashion-world figure brought up in aristocratic circles. Some of Bing’s photographs are in fact of accessories that belonged to Fellowes, including the grey felt hat and an elegant pair of gloves. In these and other images Bing applied a highly innovative approach in which she brought out the texture of the objects and the sheen of the surfaces by cropping the frame in such a way that the various garments acquired a sensual touch as well as suggesting the attractiveness of a coveted object.

During these years Bing also met Elsa Schiaparelli, the celebrated Italian fashion designer with links to Surrealism. Bing took photographs as advertisements for perfumes such as Salut and Soucis, both of 1934. The aim of these images was to encourage the viewer to desire the product with all its sensual resonances without renouncing a modern aesthetic.

 

The United States in Two Stages

Bing’s experiences in New York can be divided into two quite distinct phases. The first was a visit in 1936 while the second came in 1941 with her forced departure from France following the Nazi occupation. She continued to live there until her death in 1998, although she brought her photographic activity to an end forty years earlier.

The first American trip lasted from April to June 1936. Bing was impressed by the colossal dimensions of the city’s architecture while her restless gaze also focused on other aspects of the metropolis: the harsh life of down-and-outs (Variation on Dead End), the dirtiness of the streets, a circus show with acrobats and animals, and more.

In these difficult circumstances and experiencing isolation, Bing transferred her sense of solitude to the reality that surrounded her, observing it attentively. The result is a number of desolate images in which her own feelings are transmuted into melancholy landscapes and objects: scrawny, leafless tree branches, picket fences enclosing plots, and a fire hydrant in a snowy landscape next to a fallen tree.

From 1941 onwards, still suffering from the effects of exile and in need of earning a living in a hostile environment, Bing turned her activities to various different jobs, taking passport photographs for immigrants, portrait photographs on commission and even working as a dog groomer, among other things. The illustrated magazine world clearly turned its back on her at this period.

 

Self-Image Revelations

In 1913 the teenage Bing took what she considered to be her first self-portrait. She poses in her bedroom in the family home in Frankfurt, sitting sideways at a desk and resting her feet on a chair. What we see in reality is her reflection in a cupboard mirror, which shows the young Ilse with her long hair. In front of a background of paintings, she looks out attentively and places her hand on the camera – a Kodak box model. She was unaware at the time that this device (albeit not this make) would become her principal working tool.

Throughout her life as an artist Bing repeated the exercise of portraying herself (usually indoors) with the aim of leaving a record of a specific moment of her existence. Through these self-portraits she forged her own identity as an emancipated and independent woman in times of enormous patriarchal pressure.

During her first visit to New York Bing conceived an image that is a clear indication of the sense of estrangement and alienation she felt at seeing herself so small before the immensity of the mecca of skyscrapers, as in New York, the Elevated, and Me (1936).

Bing would later make the representation of shadow a stark extension of her life and personality, frequently using it throughout her American years.

During the course of her lifetime Ilse Bing explored the transitory states of her own identity, sometimes presenting herself as firm and decided, at times as vulnerable and anxious and on other occasions as a fleeting shadow cast on a wall.

 

Portrait of Time

In addition to seeking out the intricacies of her subjectivity in her own image, from almost the outset Bing engaged in an intensive photographic activity in which she combined commissions for portraits, especially of children, with the desire to explore the human psyche.

With regard to childhood, Bing saw children as complete beings on the same level as adults, with their own internal struggles and issues. During her own childhood the prevailing view was that they were not fully formed but Bing was uncomfortable with this perception and over time she learned to see adulthood and childhood as two phases of life that had much more in common than was generally thought.

Similarly, she did not share the view that women should be conceived on the male model as if they were a mere accompaniment to their tune. She considered that “the human being can be represented and symbolised by women”, albeit without aiming to idealise them. These concepts, which clearly reflect an underlying feminist attitude, seem to allude to a holistic vision of existence devoid of hierarchies or fixed categories.

Bing went beyond merely capturing the moment, the temporal space in which her models pose. Rather, with both her child sitters and adults she aimed to show them engaged in an activity, extracting aspects of their character and personality from them.

 

Live Nature

Any assessment of Ilse Bing’s work must necessarily emphasise the impact on her career of her urban experiences in Frankfurt, Paris and New York. While this assertion seems indisputable, an analysis of her corpus would be diminished without a consideration of the close relationship she maintained with nature, both the untamed natural world and nature designed and organised by human hand, as in the case of the gardens of Versailles.

The natural world was also the locus in which Bing’s emotions and feelings took hold. The photographs taken on the banks of the Loire, for example, generally exude an air of calm and balance comparable to that which she felt in her own life at the time, contrasting strongly with the landscapes of wild and rugged places such as those she captured in the mountains of Colorado at a period of greater personal tension.

In 1959 Ilse Bing gave up photography for good. After three decades as a photographer and long before her work started to be recognised in museums in the United States, France and Germany, with exhibitions and publications of her work in Paris, New Orleans, Aachen and New York, the artist, who had proved herself able to represent the vibration of life, considered that she no longer had anything new to say or contribute in this medium.

Fundación MAPFRE exhibition texts

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Street Cleaner, Paris' 1947

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Street Cleaner, Paris
1947
Gelatin silver print
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Antigone with Teacher' 1950

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Antigone with Teacher
1950
Gelatin silver print
33.7 × 26.7cm
International Center of Photography
Donation of Ilse Bing, 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Nancy Harris' 1951

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Nancy Harris
1951
Gelatin silver print
50.3 × 40.3cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C.
The Marvin Breckinridge Patterson Fund for Photography 2000
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'All of Paris in a Box' 1952

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
All of Paris in a Box
1952
Gelatin silver print
40.1 x 48.4cm
James Hyman Gallery, London
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Picket Fence' 1953

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Picket Fence
1953
Gelatin silver print
50.5 × 40.6cm
International Center of Photography, New York
Donation of Steven Schwartz 2013
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Without Illusion, Flea Market, Paris' 1957

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Without Illusion, Flea Market, Paris
1957
Gelatin silver print
49.5 x 40cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

 

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Phone: +34 915 81 61 00

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28
Dec
22

Exhibition: ‘Boris Mikhailov: Ukrainian Diary’ at Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP), Paris

Exhibition dates: 7th September 2022 – 15th January 2023

Curator: Laurie Hurwitz

 

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Luriki' (Coloured Soviet Portrait) 1971-1985

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Luriki (Coloured Soviet Portrait)
1971-1985
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
61 x 81cm
© Boris Mikhailov. Collection Pinault. Courtesy Guido Costa Projects, Orlando Photo

 

 

This is the last posting for the year 2022, and what a year it has been… personally, now retired, surviving an appendicitis where they had trouble stabilising me after the operation, and in terms of the world: living with COVID, further destruction of habitat and species, global warming, and the invasion of the sovereign country of Ukraine by a Russian aggressor, and let’s call it what it really is – the war in Ukraine.

Can you imagine a creative, dissident, free-thinking political artist like Boris Mikhaïlov existing, being alive, under the dictatorship of Putin’s Russia if that country were to conquer Ukraine. He’d either be dead or packed off to a forced-labour camp in Siberia, quick smart, unless he escaped to the West.

“Since the 1960s, he has been creating a haunting record of the tumultuous changes in Ukraine that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disastrous consequences of its dissolution. …

Early in his career, he was given a camera in order to document the state-owned factory where he was employed; he used it to take nude photographs of his wife. He developed them in the factory’s laboratory, and was fired after they were found by KGB agents.

Determined to take up the camera full-time, he eked out a living making photographs on the black market, in parallel creating a body of experimental personal work in reaction to the idealised images of Soviet life. He showed his work in “dissident kitchens”, clandestine exhibitions organised among friends in private flats, and became an active member of a collective of non-conformist photographers that would later become the core of the Kharkiv School of Photography.

At the time, taking images of the naked body or unflattering images of daily life, of people who were poor, ill, or in distress, was utterly taboo. Artists whose work did not conform to the official USSR aesthetic risked arrest, interrogation, even imprisonment. Under constant surveillance, Mikhailov was frequently harassed, his cameras broken and his rolls of film destroyed.” (Press release)

Speaking to Le Figaro, Mikhailov reflects on the early years of his career working in the former Soviet Union: “The most terrifying thing was on the street: anyone could call the police just because you took a photo, and you would be questioned. There was a very strong climate of mistrust, an omnipresent spy hunt.” (Lydia Figes)

.
Mikhailov’s lack of formal training as a photographer has served him well for he was able to experiment freely and was not beholden to any aesthetic or photographic style. Through irony, the artist subversively undermined official art, notably “art and its history under the Soviet Union, from the avant-garde montages of Alexander Rodchenko to the kitsch propagandist images of Socialist Realism.” (Lydia Figes) His photographs “range from political scenes to staged photos, landscapes, self-portraits and erotic images, often soiled and blemished by scratches, tears, blotches and hand-colouring.” (Exhibition text)

His surreptitious photographs are full of overlappings, slippages, collages, assemblages, and links to early photographic processes (sepia and cyanotype); full of introduced dust and scratches, application of fixer and hand-colouring; and full of concepts which deconstruct, dissect and disrupt the “official” reading of an image. “By allowing chance to connect disparate images, Mikhailov wants to bring ‘together several topics into a single, common world view inextricably linked to mass culture, memory and the collective unconscious of Soviet people in the 1960 and 1970s’.” (Boris Mikhailov quoted in Lydia Figes)

“Mikhailov has constructed his own distinct artistic language in series that vary enormously in terms of technique, format and approach. In an extraordinarily rich body of work that defies categorisation, he challenges visual codes, and uses documentary photography to conceptual ends. Combining numerous working methods, he alternately creates a dialogue between photography and text as well as between the images themselves, in superimpositions and diptychs and with blur, cropping or hand-colouring, giving them a feeling of irony, poetry or nostalgia.” (Exhibition text)

.
Mikhailov has constructed his own distinct artistic language, one in which “he combines humour and tragedy, consistently defending a wild and energetic artistic freedom as both a means of resistance to oppression and potential emancipation. For the artist, even the most serious subjects have a deep comedy, and every joke is deadly serious.” (Exhibition text)

His photographs are emotionally powerful, politically astute and uncannily effective conversations with the world… about subjects that should matter to all of us: war, destitution, poverty, oppression, and the power of an authoritarian state to control the thoughts and actions of human beings under its control. They are about the freedom of individual people to live their lives as they choose; and they are about the freedom of a group of people which form a country to not be subjugated under the rule of another country to which they are historically linked. His photographs are about choice and difference, they are about life. They perform a task, that is, they bring into consciousness … the ground on which we stand together, against oppression, for freedom. Of course, no country is without its problems, its historical traumas, prejudices and corruption but the alternative is being ruled over without a choice, which is totally unacceptable.

Against the “failed promises of both communism and capitalism” and the “economic history that is written on the flesh” of the poor, Boris Mikhaïlov’s Ukrainian diary documents day after day the dis-ease and fragility, but also resilience, of his subjects and the world in which they live. He uses his art as a visual tool for cultural resistance. And the thing about his images is: you remember them. They are unlike so much bland, conceptual contemporary photography because these are powerful, emotional images. In their being, in their presence, they resonate within you. Photographs such as those from my favourite series Case History remain with you as a reminder, no, not a reminder, as a prick to your consciousness – never forget! This can so easily happen to you!

Happy New Year to you all.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

PS. What I find so ironic about the current war in Ukraine is the Russian pronouncement that they were invading the country to “denazify” it… to discredit Ukrainian nationalism as Nazism. When they themselves fought to rid themselves of a tyrannical, invading regime.

“One of the Kremlin’s most common disinformation narratives to justify its devastating war against the people of Ukraine is the lie that Russia is pursuing the “denazification” of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has referred to Ukraine’s democratically elected government as a “gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis,” while Russian state media and propagandists have repeatedly called for the “denazification” of the entire population of Ukraine.

By evoking Nazism and the horrors associated with World War II and the Holocaust, the Kremlin hopes to delegitimize and demonize Ukraine in the eyes of the Russian public and the world. The Kremlin attempts to manipulate international public opinion by drawing false parallels between Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine and the Soviet fight against Nazi Germany, a source of pride and unity for many people of the former Soviet republics who made enormous sacrifices during World War II, including both Ukrainians and Russians.

More than 140 international historians have denounced Russia’s “equation of the Ukrainian state with the Nazi regime to justify its unprovoked aggression,” calling Moscow’s propaganda “factually wrong, morally repugnant and deeply offensive” to the “victims of Nazism and those who courageously fought against it.””

Anonymous. “To Vilify Ukraine, The Kremlin Resorts to Antisemitism,” on the U.S. Department of State website July 11, 2022 [Online] Cited 28/12/2022

 

A lengthy list of historians signed a letter condemning the Russian government’s “cynical abuse of the term genocide, the memory of World War II and the Holocaust, and the equation of the Ukrainian state with the Nazi regime to justify its unprovoked aggression.”

They pointed to a broader pattern of Russian propaganda frequently painting Ukraine’s elected leaders as “Nazis and fascists oppressing the local ethnic Russian population, which it claims needs to be liberated.”

And while Ukraine has right-wing extremists, they add, that does not justify Russia’s aggression and mischaracterization. …

Laura Jockusch, a professor of Holocaust studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, told NPR over email that Putin’s claims about the Ukrainian army allegedly perpetrating a genocide against Russians in the Donbas region are completely unfounded, but politically useful to him.

“Putin has been repeating this ‘genocide’ myth for several years and nobody in the West seems to have listened until now,” she says. “There is no ‘genocide,’ not even an ‘ethnic cleansing’ perpetrated by the Ukraine against ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers in the Ukraine. It is a fiction that is used by Putin to justify his war of aggression on the Ukraine.”

Rachel Treisman. “Putin’s claim of fighting against Ukraine ‘neo-Nazis’ distorts history, scholars say,” on the NPR website March 3, 2022 [Online] Cited 28/12/2022

 

 

The MEP is proud to present, from the 7th of September, 2022 to the 15th of January, 2023, the most important retrospective to date devoted to the Ukrainian artist Boris Mikhailov (born in 1938 in Kharkiv): Boris Mikhaïlov – Ukrainian diary. Considered one of the most influential contemporary artists from Eastern Europe, he has been developing a body of experimental photographic work exploring social and political subjects for more than fifty years.

 

 

“A photographer is not a hero. He has no great desire to be there at the end of the world to document the most important, the most interesting and the hardest things. A photographer is not a hero.”

“Art can compromise an ideology by aesthetic means.”

“A photographer’s task is to always find this subtle and vague border between the permitted and the prohibited. This border is constantly changing, like life itself.”

.
Boris Mikhailov

 

“”Boris Mikhailov: Ukrainian Diary,” which opened recently at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (M.E.P.) in Paris, is the biggest show of his life and – to spell it out – arrives as Ukrainian culture receives attention for the worst possible reason. It includes no fewer than 800 photographs, covering almost all of the series he undertook before and after the fall of the Soviet Union. There are burlesque self-portraits, but also straight reportage from the 2013-14 Maidan Uprising in Kyiv. Conceptual mockery of “lousy” Soviet pictures, as well as aching collages of poetry and everyday snaps. Preparations for the show were well underway when Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, and the war has reformatted “Ukrainian Diary” into a show of improbable resistance: to Soviet repression and now to Russian historical revisionism, to the fraudulence of official Communist art and to the global market’s appetite for trauma porn. …

I’d stood there in Kyiv this past summer, looking up at that kitschy angel, who looked back down onto the square that the invading army planned to parade through and never reached. To see it again, through Mikhailov’s eyes, was to see at last how all of the parts fit together: the trashy and the conceptual, the heroic and the parodic, the busted utopias of the past century and the Ukrainian bravery of 2022.

“Soviet history gave us a common culture, and we had a connection to Moscow, but less and less with time,” Mikhailov told me. “And this is why Maidan happened: because people waited and waited and did not get anything.” He showed me a photo from Kyiv, one more ironic record from a lifetime spent under misrule, and said: “Whatever system there might have been, it was broken, and it brought a lot of grief. But on the other hand, that grief made the country.””

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Jason Farago. “The Life’s Work of Photography’s Great Trickster, and Ukraine’s Greatest Artist,” on The New York Times website Oct. 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/2022

 

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Luriki' (Coloured Soviet Portrait) 1971-1985

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Luriki (Coloured Soviet Portrait)
1971-1985
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
61 x 81cm
© Boris Mikhailov. Collection Pinault. Courtesy Guido Costa Projects, Orlando Photo

 

 

The MEP is proud to present the most important retrospective to date devoted to the Ukrainian artist Boris Mikhailov (born in 1938 in Kharkiv). Considered one of the most influential contemporary artists from Eastern Europe, he has been developing a body of experimental photographic work exploring social and political subjects for more than fifty years.

 

The exhibition

Boris Mikhailov’s pioneering practice encompasses documentary photography, conceptual work, painting and performance. Since the 1960s, he has been creating a haunting record of the tumultuous changes in Ukraine that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disastrous consequences of its dissolution. Conceived in close collaboration with the artist, the exhibition brings together more than 800 images drawing on more than twenty of his most important series, up to his most recent work.

In an extraordinarily rich body of work that defies categorisation, Mikhailov unsettles visual codes. Inventing his own distinct artistic language in series that vary enormously in terms of technique, format and approach, he bears witness to the harsh social realities and absurdities of his time.

Combining humour and tragedy, Boris Mikhailov unceasingly defends artistic freedom as both a means of resistance. Through his uncompromising treatment of controversial subjects, he demonstrates the subversive power of art.

For more than half a century, he has been bearing witness to the grip of the Soviet system on his country, constructing a complex and powerful photographic narrative on Ukraine’s contemporary history that in light of current events, is all the more poignant and enlightening.

 

The artist

Born in 1938 in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and trained as an engineer, Boris Mikhailov is a self-taught photographer. Early in his career, he was given a camera in order to document the state-owned factory where he was employed; he used it to take nude photographs of his wife. He developed them in the factory’s laboratory, and was fired after they were found by KGB agents.

Today seen as one of the most important figures on the international art scene, he has received many prestigious awards, among them the 2015 Goslar Kaiserring Award, the Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize (now the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Award) in 2001 and the Hasselblad Award in 2000. He represented Ukraine at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and again in 2017.

His work has been exhibited in major international venues, including the Tate Modern in London, MoMA in New York, and more recently, the Berlinische Galerie and C/O Berlin in Berlin, the Pinchuk Art Center in Kyiv, the Sprengel Museum in Hannover and the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Baden Baden.

Boris Mikhailov is represented in Paris by the Suzanne Tarasieve Gallery. He also shows his work at the Sprovieri Gallery in London, Guido Costa Projects in Turin, Barbara Gross in Munich and Galerie Barbara Weiss in Berlin.

He lives between Berlin and Kharkiv with his wife, Vita.

Text from the MEP website

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) 'Untitled' 1997-1998 From the series 'Case History'

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
Untitled
1997-1998
From the series Case History
Chromogenic colour print
93″ x 49 15/16″ (236.2 x 126.8cm)
© Boris Mikhailov. Collection Pinault. Courtesy Guido Costa Projects, Orlando Photo

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) 'Untitled' 1997-1998 From the series 'Case History'

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
Untitled
1997-1998
From the series Case History
Chromogenic colour print
93″ x 49 15/16″ (236.2 x 126.8cm)
© Boris Mikhailov. Collection Pinault. Courtesy Guido Costa Projects, Orlando Photo

 

 

Boris Mikhailov’s pioneering practice encompasses documentary photography, conceptual work, painting and performance. Since the 1960s, he has been creating a haunting record of the tumultuous changes in Ukraine that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disastrous consequences of its dissolution. Conceived in close collaboration with the artist, the exhibition brings together more than 800 images that draw on more than twenty of his most important series, up to his most recent work.

Mikhailov has constructed his own distinct artistic language in series that vary enormously in terms of technique, format and approach. In an extraordinarily rich body of work that defies categorisation, he challenges visual codes, and uses documentary photography to conceptual ends. Combining numerous working methods, he alternately creates a dialogue between photography and text as well as between the images themselves, in superimpositions and diptychs and with blur, cropping or hand-colouring, giving them a feeling of irony, poetry or nostalgia.

The series produced while Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union deconstruct propaganda images and question collective memory, and reflect the societal contradictions that existed at the time. In “Yesterday’s Sandwich”, starting in 1965, the artist shows a dual reality, ambiguous and poetic, juxtaposing beauty and ugliness. In “Red” (1968-1975), he underlines the omnipresence of the colour red, evoking the pervasive presence of the communist regime and the way it introduced itself into individual consciousness and collective memory. The series “Luriki” (1971-1985) and “Sots Art” (1975-1986) are a cynical reflection on the way propaganda images artificially idealise reality. The underside of the proselytised utopia is also revealed in “Salt Lake” (1986), images of bathers taken clandestinely on the shore of a lake in southern Ukraine.

Boris Mikhailov also frequently uses humour as a weapon, a means of resistance to oppression and of potential emancipation. In provocative self portraits, he uses self-deprecation and irony in series such as “Crimean Snobbism” (1982), “I am not I” (1992), “National Hero” (1992) and “If I were a German” (1994), rather than making a more frontal critique of society.

Other series realised during and after the collapse of the USSR bear witness to the failure of both communism and capitalism in Ukraine and shed light on the roots of war, from “By the ground” (1991) and “At Dusk” (1993) to “Case History” (1997-1998), “Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino” (2000-2010) and “The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out” (2013). The iconic series “Case History” depicts a devastating portrayal of the disenfranchised in Kharkiv, left homeless by the new capitalist society; while “The Theater of War” powerfully documents the occupation of Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the central square in Kyiv, during violent protests that are inextricably linked to the current conflict.

Through his uncompromising treatment of controversial subjects, Boris Mikhailov demonstrates the subversive power of art. For more than half a century, he has been bearing witness to the grip of the Soviet system on his country, constructing a complex and powerful photographic narrative of Ukraine’s contemporary history that in the light of current events, is all the more poignant and enlightening.

The exhibition gathers more than twenty series, most being shown in France for the first time, in loaned works from major institutions and from the artist’s personal collection. From projected images and large-scale installations to small-format vintage prints or artist’s books in display cases, the hanging reflects his indefatigable investigations of photographic techniques and styles as well as his frequent oscillation between conceptual and documentary work as he explores the shifting landscape of his native Ukraine.

The exhibition is curated by Laurie Hurwitz in collaboration with Boris and Vita Mikhailov.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue in French and English published by Morel Books, London, with an introduction by Simon Baker, director of the MEP.

Text from the MEP website

 

 

Reality, aesthetic innovations and the dissolution of the USSR

The first half of the exhibition introduces a number of the artist’s most important aesthetic innovations from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s – black-and-white documentary, conceptual work, superimpositions of slides, hand-colouring prints, combinations of text and image, “bad” photography – in an experimental visual language that is poetic, playful and uncompromising. At certain moments, the order of the works is non-chronological, in order to highlight connections or contrasts between the series.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Luriki' (Coloured Soviet Portrait) 1971-1985

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Luriki (Coloured Soviet Portrait)
1971-1985
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
61 x 81cm
© Boris Mikhailov. Collection Pinault. Courtesy Guido Costa Projects, Orlando Photo

 

 

“Ironically, it was the Ukrainian’s lack of photographic training that led to his success, providing him with a unique and peripheral perspective. “As an unofficial photographer, I discover, I observe, I clandestinely stalk,” he said. Mikhailov’s proclivity for risk underpinned his career, though it came at a price. Speaking to Le Figaro, Mikhailov reflects on the early years of his career working in the former Soviet Union: “The most terrifying thing was on the street: anyone could call the police just because you took a photo, and you would be questioned. There was a very strong climate of mistrust, an omnipresent spy hunt.” He became known for showing his work in “dissident kitchens”, clandestine exhibitions organised in private flats, and became an active member of a collective of non-conformist photographers, later known as the Kharkiv School of Photography. In the words of his long-term friend and fellow artist Ilya Kabakov, “From the way that Boris takes pictures, I have the complete impression of a catastrophic shot on the verge of self-destruction”.”

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Lydia Figes. “The MEP opens a retrospective of one of the most influential photographers from Eastern Europe, Boris Mikhailov,” on the British Journal of Photography website 22 September 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/2022.

 

“Mikhailov’s series “Luriki” (1971-85) took found black-and-white photographs of anonymous soldiers and sailors, or of happy families who are all alike, and overpainted them with hand coloring – a common technique in the Soviet Union, where color printing was expensive. These were probably the first artworks in the Soviet Union to use found imagery to capture the Soviet zeitgeist and tweak the regime. Yet their garishness gave him an out with irony-blind censors, to whom he could always explain that he was just trying to make the sitters look prettier.”

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Jason Farago. “The Life’s Work of Photography’s Great Trickster, and Ukraine’s Greatest Artist,” on The New York Times website Oct. 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/2022

 

 

Luriki, 1971-1985

Starting in the late 1960s, Mikhailov worked as a commercial photographer and earned extra money enlarging, retouching and hand-colouring family snapshots of weddings or newborns, or of someone lost during the war. In what is considered the first use of found material in contemporary Soviet photography, Mikhailov appropriated the photos in order to conceptualise this technique and create ironic works of art. Often using kitsch colours, he made them more “beautiful” while mocking the way Soviet propaganda glorified mundane events.

 

Sots Art, 1975-1986

The title “Sots Art” refers to a movement created in 1972 by the Moscow born duo Vitally Komar and Alexander Melamid, who deconstructed Socialist Realism and combined it with elements of Western Pop art. Boris Mikhailov took photographs depicting sanctioned socialist imagery (parades, students in military training, athletic youth…), then subverted them using garish colours that reflect his disillusionment with false Soviet ideals.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Yesterday's Sandwich' 1966-1968

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Yesterday’s Sandwich
1966-1968
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

“A photographer’s task is to always find this subtle and vague border between the permitted and the prohibited. This border is constantly changing, like life itself.”

 

 

Yesterday’s Sandwich, late 1960s – late 1970s

While developing colour slide film, the artist nonchalantly threw it on the bed and two slides accidentally stuck together “like a sandwich,” he says. “Suddenly, I saw a totally new, metaphoric image”. He began randomly exploring combinations in what he called “programmed accidentality” to create surreal, highly poetic images that act as a metaphor for the duality of Soviet life, between the idealised images imposed by those in power and the drab reality. “Yesterday’s Sandwich” fuses opposites or unrelated images as a way of introducing forbidden imagery, conflating beauty and the grotesque, and visualising the world of memory and the collective unconscious in a visual language not unrelated to the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky. “I made these compositions at a time when, given the scarcity of real news, everyone was on the lookout for the smallest piece of new information, hoping to uncover a secret or read between the lines. Encryption was the only way to explore forbidden subjects such as politics, religion, nudity”, Mikhailov explains. The MEP exhibition presents the work in a large-scale projection set to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, which for the artist explores the “exaggeration of beauty” and “a paradise lost”, along with individual prints.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Yesterday's Sandwich' 1966-1968

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Yesterday’s Sandwich
1966-1968
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Black Archive' 1968-1979

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Black Archive
1968-1979
Black-and-white print
24 x 18cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

“By adding something previously unacceptable to my photos, I was violating the canons of Soviet photography: I was shooting allegedly wrong things in an allegedly wrong way…”

“As a photographer without official credentials, I discover, I observe, I clandestinely stalk.”

.
Boris Mikhailov

 

“These unofficial pictures were printed on cheap paper; they incorporated blurs and backlighting and too much headroom; the nudes, especially, could have gotten him packed to Siberia. Mikhailov, along with other artists of what’s now known as the Kharkiv School of Photography, could exhibit only in private, usually in friends’ kitchens. (“They were free artists,” Vita said, “because they didn’t think, ‘We should sell for money’.”) And the lack of public opportunities, not to mention a market, inspired a self-sufficiency guarded long after the Soviet censors faded from view.”

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Jason Farago. “The Life’s Work of Photography’s Great Trickster, and Ukraine’s Greatest Artist,” on The New York Times website Oct. 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/202

 

 

Black Archive, 1968-1979

Small-format black-and-white vintage prints, “Black Archive” documents everyday life in Kharkiv, often revealing the disparity between outside and inside. In the public space, images taken clandestinely (at the time, anyone making photos on the street could be taken for a spy, and Mikhailov’s studio was frequently searched by the KGB) capture solitary pedestrians, often from behind and at odd angles, while in contrast, the private sphere is seen as a space of liberty, as in joyful shots of naked woman proudly showing off their curves.

The series introduces another of Boris Mikhailov’s concept of “bad” photography: unlike his fellow photographers, who sought technical perfection, his prints were deliberately low-contrast, blurry, full of visible flaws, on poor-quality paper. While it was quite difficult to procure high-quality Soviet-made film, paper or chemicals, these defects more importantly express Mikhailov’s very personal idea of beauty. They were also a way of subverting the glorified imagery of social realism; he felt glossy, impeccably crafted photographs could never reflect the hardships of the life he saw around him.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Black Archive' 1968-1979

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Black Archive
1968-1979
Black-and-white print
24 x 18cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Dance' 1978

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Dance
1978
Gelatin silver print
16.2 x 24.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Dance' 1978

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Dance
1978
Gelatin silver print
16.2 x 24.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

Dance, 1978

“Dance” captures light-hearted moments of open-air dancing in Kharkiv. These scenes reflecting Mikhailov’s interest in photographing very ordinary subjects and anti-heroes, “some sort of general uniqueness, a group of people that could easily be from anywhere.” In many images, women dance together as if preparing subconsciously for war, when the men would be sent away again.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Series of four' 1982-1983

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Series of four
1982-1983
Silver gelatin print, unique copy
From a 20-part series
Each 18 x 23.80cm

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Series of four' 1982-1983

 

Boris Mikhailow (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Series of four
1982-1983
Silver gelatin print, unique copy
From a 20-part series
Each 18 x 23.80cm

 

 

Series of Four, early 1980s

In “Series of Four” Boris Mikhailov printed four small-format, black-and-white pictures on the same sheet, as if creating a single image. Once again an accident, here due to a technical constraint – a shortage of photographic paper – is conceptualised. Multiple viewpoints become a metaphor for a complex reality, an ambiguous, fragmented view of a world in constant flux, one that invites viewers to look for connections between them. Taken in the suburbs of Kharkiv, these “bad” images, poorly aligned and full of imperfections, depict a series of non-events.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Viscidity' 1982

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Viscidity
1982
Gelatin silver print with hand-colouring and handwritten texts
© Boris Mikhailov. VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

 

Viscidity, 1982

Combining text and image in a conceptual way, Mikhailov created a new kind of artist’s book, one that would have an enormous influence on his peers and on generations of younger artists. Mikhailov carelessly pasted his photographs onto pieces of paper, then scribbled thoughts – banal, poetic or philosophical – in the margins. His fragmentary thoughts were not meant as captions, nor as an interpretation or elucidation of the photos, and did not even necessarily relate to them; they were also meant to be as important as the images and to inspire unexpected associations. “Viscidity” for Mikhailov talks about a period he calls viscous, “at the threshold of something unknown… no catharsis nor nostalgia – only frozen dayto- dayness”. In this time of “deep political stagnation”, he said “nothing is happening – nothing at all is interesting… There was a kind of certainty that society was at the threshold of something unknown, something everyone was anticipating”.

 

Unfinished Dissertation, 1984

On the back of each yellowed page of a tattered university thesis found in the bin, Mikhailov pasted in two messily printed, black-and-white photographs of insignificant moments, often taken just a few moments apart, then jotted down his thoughts on art and life in the margins. Totally subjective (as its subtitle, “discussions with oneself”, suggests) and bereft of any scientific value, in this project, in which he says the “text gives new life to boring pictures”, Mikhailov puts forth his own “dissertation” about a new aesthetic.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Red' 1968-1975

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Red
1968-1975
Digital chromogenic print
45.5 x 30.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

“The word ‘red’ in Russian contains the root of the word for beauty. It also means the Revolution and evokes blood and the red flag. Everyone associates red with Communism. Maybe that’s enough. But few people know that red suffused all our lives, at all levels.”

.
Boris Mikhailov

 

Mikhailov’s work is a rich and self-referential homage to art and its history under the Soviet Union, from the avant-garde montages of Alexander Rodchenko to the kitsch propagandist images of Socialist Realism. The series Red appropriates the old-fashioned technique of making hand-coloured prints. The colourful overlaid slides in Yesterday’s Sandwich, to a degree, echo the uncanny montages of the Surrealists. By allowing chance to connect disparate images, Mikhailov wants to bring “together several topics into a single, common world view inextricably linked to mass culture, memory and the collective unconscious of Soviet people in the 1960 and 1970s.”

.
Lydia Figes. “The MEP opens a retrospective of one of the most influential photographers from Eastern Europe, Boris Mikhailov,” on the British Journal of Photography website 22 September 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/2022

 

 

Red, 1965-1978

Bridging documentary and conceptual art, the “Red” series brings together 84 colour photographs taken in Kharkiv between 1968 and 1975. All contain the colour red – a powerful symbol of the revolution and the Soviet empire – either in patriotic objects (a flag, a billboard, a military parade) or mundane details (a tomato, a garage door, painted toenails, a headscarf). For the artist, together they showed the extent to which everyday life was permeated by communist ideology. Printed in small format and left unframed, the photographs are hung together in a loose, pseudo-organised grid several meters long, in random order. Drawing visitors into a disjointed vision made up of small, disparate moments, this immersive installation invites viewers to become active participants in the work.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Red' 1968-1975

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Red
1968-1975
Digital chromogenic print
45.5 x 30.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Red' 1968-1975

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Red
1968-1975
Digital chromogenic print
45.5 x 30.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

Performance, social documentary and the roots of war

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'By the Ground' 1991

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series By the Ground
1991
Gelatin silver print, toned sepia
11.5 x 29.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

By the Ground, 1991

In two seminal series created before and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Mikhailov wandered the streets with a Russian-made swing-lens Horizon camera with a rotating lens that took in a 120-degree panoramic view. Holding the camera at hip height, the artist guides the viewer’s gaze downward, as if to bring us closer to the experience of destitute figures queuing for food or lying in the street.

In “By the Ground”, Mikhailov hand-painted the silver prints with sepia, evoking dirt and dust, while imbuing the pictures with a sense of nostalgia. The bleak street scenes reminded him of Maxim Gorki’s play The Lower Depths (1901-1902) and the extreme poverty of Russia’s lower class it depicts. The artist’s protocol for installation accentuates this effect: hung low, in a single row, they force viewers to stoop down, symbolising the new, destabilising social order.

 

 

“Everything fell, collapsed, died: both the environment and human beings. Space was destroyed, people fell to the ground… I tried to express this photographically, in sepia toned, aged panoramic images.”

.
Boris Mikhailov

 

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'At Dusk' 1993

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series At Dusk
1993
Chromogenic print
66 x 132.9 cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

At Dusk, 1993

Taken shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this series is toned with cobalt blue, the colour of twilight, the transition from day into night, alluding to Ukraine’s transition to independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For the artist, the colour blue is also linked to the artist’s traumatic memories from World War II, when at age three he was awakened by the wailing of air-raid sirens in the middle of the night: “Blue for me is the colour of the blockade, hunger and the war… I can still remember the bombings, the howling sirens and the searchlights in the wonderful, dark-blue sky…”

A related work, “Green”, a monumental triptych of hand-coloured silver prints, shows a world falling apart: an abandoned factory, surrounded by an overgrown landscape with a figure attempting to reactivate a rusty tractor.

The second part of the exhibition introduces Mikhailov’s performative work. We see him using irreverence and humour as tools for corrosive social criticism, for revealing our fragility and the lies of Soviet propaganda – mise en scène reflects a world in which everyone seems to be playing a role. This part of the exhibition also includes Mikhailov’s best known social photography, bridging documentary work and a conceptual approach, and evoking the failures and tensions that have since led to war.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'At Dusk' 1993

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series At Dusk
1993
Chromogenic print
66 x 132.9 cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

“In the Soviet Union, heroism had already been destroyed by ideology. So there could only be an anti-hero.”

.
Boris Mikhailov

 

 

I Am Not I, 1992

In provocative, dramatically-lit black-and-white images, the naked artist plays the role of anti-hero in burlesque, self-deprecating self-portraits that mock the traditional masculine stereotype idealised by the Soviet regime. At times recalling Buster Keaton or pantomime artist Marcel Marceau, he dons a curly black wig, brandishing a sword or artificial phallus or holding an enema bag; exposing his ageing, vulnerable body, “trying on the icons of Western mass culture, like Rambo,” he assumes pseudo-athletic or contemplative poses that call to mind works by Rodin or Caravaggio. The images are presented here in a composition imagined by the artist especially for the MEP with vintage prints from his archives.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'I am not I' 1992

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series I am not I
1992
Sepia silver print
30 x 20 cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'National Hero' 1991

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series National Hero
1991
Chromogenic print
120 x 81cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

National Hero, 1992

Dressed in Soviet military garb with Ukrainian insignia, Mikhailov creates a seemingly simple portrait of troubling ambiguity, in which the face’s delicate beauty and the pink background challenge classic images of masculinity.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Crimean Snobbism' 1982

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Crimean Snobbism
1982
Gelatin silver print, toned sepia
15 x 20cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Tate: Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee and the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2016

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Crimean Snobbism' 1982

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Crimean Snobbism
1982
Gelatin silver print, toned sepia
20 x 15cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Tate: Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee and the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2016

 

 

Crimean Snobbism, 1982

Mikhailov turned the camera on himself for the first time in tongue-in-cheek snapshots of his holidays with his wife Vita and their friends in Gursuf, a seaside resort on the Crimean Peninsula and a popular destination for Russian intellectuals in the 19th century. Sepia-toned images, like photos from another era, capture the carefree protagonists swimming, sunbathing on the rocks, spouting seawater, frolicking in the park or on the pier. But their idyllic vacation is also a game, “playing at being bourgeois”; on closer inspection, the poses feel forced, exaggerated, as if mimicking the luxurious and carefree lifestyle of the West that was inaccessible to Ukrainians at the time.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Crimean Snobbism' 1982

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Crimean Snobbism
1982
Gelatin silver print, toned sepia
20 x 15cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Tate: Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee and the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2016

 

 

If I Were a German, 1994

In the early 1990s, Mikhailov, his wife Vita founded a group called “Fast Reaction” with their artist friends Sergei Bratkov and Sergei Solonski. In this controversial series, they engaged in darkly provocative, satirical role play, staging scenes inspired by interviews with Ukrainians who had witnessed the country’s wartime occupation by the Germans during World War II. At times donning Nazi uniforms, the artists pose in tableaux vivants, some with captions quoting Goethe or Dürer, in scenarios that explore how they might have felt as either victim or oppressor, and probe difficult questions about guilt, accountability and shame: “What if we had been a German? How would we have treated others? Who or what is the real enemy?”

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Salt Lake' 1986

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Salt Lake
1986
Chromogenic print toned sepia
75.5 x 104.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

Salt Lake, 1986

Mikhailov’s large-format sepia prints of bathers were taken on the edge of a lake in Sloviansk, his father’s native city, in the Donbass region of southern Ukraine, whose inhabitants, he was told, were convinced the warm, salty water had healing properties. He found a popular bathing spot where little suggested anything salubrious: a murky, heavily polluted industrial site surrounded by factories. Mikhailov’s clandestine photographs of these scenes in which families enjoying their “freedom” with total indifference to their surroundings are both compassionate and scathing.

 

Promzona, 2011

A guest at the first Kyiv Biennale, Mikhailov returned to abandoned industrial sites in Donetsk, in the Donbass region, long famous as a centre for mining, steel production and machine manufacturing, largely left behind by socioeconomic transformations. The former engineer explores a constructivist aesthetic in compositions that at times echo works by Rodchenko, with their sharp, unusual camera angles and rigid geometry. “For me, these pictures are an anthem to the technologies of a past age,” says the artist.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Salt Lake' 1986

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Salt Lake
1986
Chromogenic print toned sepia
75.5 x 104.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino' 2000-2010

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino
2000-2010
Chromogenic print
25.5 x 80cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino' 2000-2010

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino
2000-2010
Chromogenic print
25.5 x 80cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

“Only when one sees misery in a picture, does one begin to notice it in the street.”

.
Boris Mikhailov

 

 

Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino, 2000-2010

In a continuation of “By the Ground”, “At Dusk” and “Case History”, the artist photographs Kharkiv nearly two decades after the fall of the USSR, in an independent Ukraine that has adopted the Western capitalist model. Colourful advertisements and billboards, McDonald’s, an ocean of cheap plastic objects and tote bags, anonymous figures waiting at tram stops, and the cries of street vendors who once sold only tea or coffee, but now propose cappuccino as well – they capture a moment of transition, in between east and west, past and present, and a new era of “doing business” in which “anything can be bought and sold, even children,” says Mikhailov.

Part of “Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino” was first presented in the Ukrainian Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino' 2000-2010

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino
2000-2010
Chromogenic print
25.5 x 80cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino' 2000-2010

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino
2000-2010
Chromogenic print
25.5 x 80cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out, 2013

In late December 2013, Boris Mikhailov and his wife Vita documented those who had pitched their tents a few weeks earlier on the central square in Kyiv, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, to protest the Ukrainian government’s sudden decision not to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union – a key moment in the ongoing tensions that recently led to war. In photographs of the protestors’ everyday life behind the barricades, their faces express a palpable sense of anxiety. Some of the images recall 19th-century Russian realist paintings. “Emotions were so high”, the artist explains, “that at first glance, the scenes almost felt as if they had been staged”.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out' 2013

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out
2013
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Collection Akademie der Künste, Berlin

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out' 2013

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out
2013
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Collection Akademie der Künste, Berlin

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Case History' 1997-1998

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Case History
1997-1998
Chromogenic print
172 x 119cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

 

“Now the war has sent Ukraine into an economic tailspin, and Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s electrical grid threaten millions with scarcity and worse. Mikhailov never shied from misfortune and crisis, especially in the first years of Ukrainian independence, when the country fell into a spiral of hyperinflation that peaked at 10,000 percent. A new underclass of homeless people appeared in Kharkiv’s city parks, without any state aid to help them.

Out of that misery came the unshrinking “Case History,” for which Mikhailov photographed Kharkiv’s most desperate people and printed them at billboard size. He frequently had them pose nude, laughing or crying in the snow. He posed them in positions that recall a Pietà or the Descent from the Cross. He showed their chapped, burned, infected skin, their tumorous bellies and misshaped genitals; economic history is written on the flesh. Boris and Vita paid these subjects, and often invited them into their home – the 400 or so pictures of “Case History” were not reportage. They were a requiem for all of the failed promises of both communism and capitalism, a danse macabre on the grave of the 20th century.

The “Case History” pictures have compelled, disturbed and enraged viewers for two decades now, with a corpus of academic literature now trailing behind them. They certainly defy Ukraine’s current projection of itself through viral propaganda, though with their indictment of local corruption, the images in “Case History” also call forward to Ukraine’s two revolutions of the 2000s: the Orange Revolution of 2004 and especially the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, which pushed the whole country, Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking alike, into a new democratic era.”

.
Jason Farago. “The Life’s Work of Photography’s Great Trickster, and Ukraine’s Greatest Artist,” on The New York Times website Oct. 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/202

 

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Case History' 1997-1998

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Case History
1997-1998
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

 

Case History, 1997-1998

After spending a year in Berlin on a stipend from DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service), Mikhailov returned to Kharkiv and saw that the city had changed drastically post-communism. A new ruling elite of millionaires had emerged, but a considerable part of the population had been plunged into poverty, and the number of homeless people, or bomzhes, had swollen dramatically. A series of some 400 raw, difficult, deeply empathetic portraits, “Case History” is Mikhailov’s requiem; it documents the deeply troubling situation of this disenfranchised community. Some embrace in poignant moments of tenderness or gesticulate drunkenly; others pose in compositions that allude to scenes in paintings by Leonardo da Vinci or Rembrandt or evoke actors in a passion play; many openly exhibit their wounded bodies for the camera.

While these photographs may look like traditional photojournalism (the title even evokes the clinical detachment of a medical history), they also distance themselves from this genre – Mikhailov and his wife Vita paid their subjects, often taking them home to feed them and give them baths, in exchange for posing. Mikhailov intentionally subverted the codes of photojournalism, exploring the limits of objective representation. While this approach was controversial and perceived by some as unethical, he argued that his often theatrical shots might help draw attention to the degradation and suffering of his subjects.

For this exhibition, the artist proposed to show a selection of large-format works along with small-scale prints of the series and medium-format works specially created by the artist for the MEP collection.

 

“The work itself can be difficult to look at. The colour, life-size prints are unsparing in their documentation of the disease and frailty of Mikhailov’s subjects, and the grit and grime of their humble surroundings. Directed to stand naked, clothes in hand, some appear, in his words, ‘like people going to gas chambers.’ Others share heartbreaking moments of tenderness, while a few appear comatose with drink” (Little).

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Case History' 1997-1998

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Case History
1997-1998
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Case History' 1997-1998

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Case History
1997-1998
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

 

Temptation of Death, 2017-2019

This elegiac installation, composed of more than 150 diptychs, was awarded Shevchenko National Prize, the first official recognition of Mikhailov’s work in Ukraine in 2021. The project was inspired by an unfinished building for a working crematorium in Kyiv, where construction, begun in 1968, was fraught with conflict. Sensitive to the fact that the subject of cremation could provoke memories of the mass killing of Ukrainian Jews during World War II, the architects proposed a modernist design that also included a park and a huge bas-relief, “The Wall of Remembrance”. But after more than ten years of work, the government buried the wall under a layer of concrete, calling it inconsistent with the “principles of socialist realism”. Boris Mikhailov juxtaposed new photographs of the structure with images made throughout his career in a dialogue about past and present, raising questions about transformation, vulnerability and mortality.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Diary' 1973-2016

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Diary
1973-2016
Black-and-white print with hand colouring
29.5 x 21cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

Diary, 1973-2016

In 2016, Boris Mikhailov published “Diary”, bringing together five decades of his work presented as an intimate scrapbook. “Diary” was not conceived in a retrospective manner; and there is no obvious historical narrative or linear progression. The selection of images, many of which are outtakes from his different series, range from political scenes to staged photos, landscapes, self-portraits and erotic images, often soiled and blemished by scratches, tears, blotches and hand-colouring.

In work often marked by irony and self-mockery, Boris Mikhailov plays with a wide range of everyday and propaganda imagery to bear witness, in uncompromising terms, to both the harsh social realities and absurdities of his time. He combines humour and tragedy, consistently defending a wild and energetic artistic freedom as both a means of resistance to oppression and potential emancipation. For the artist, even the most serious subjects have a deep comedy, and every joke is deadly serious. The interplay of these haunting images – by turns beautiful and ugly, disturbing and poignant, brutal and tender – gives rise to a compelling and unique view of history that resonates today more than ever before.

 

Boris Mikhailov

 

Boris Mikhailov
© Nobuyoshi Araki

 

 

Boris Mikhailov a dissident artist

A key figure of the Kharkiv School of Photography (KSOP)

In 1971, Boris Mikhailov was one of eight photographers who established the Vremya group in Kharkiv, an experimental non-conformist art collective that is considered the core of the Kharkiv School of Photography. The group’s members (Boris Mikhailov, Evgeniy Pavlov, Jury Rupin, Anatoliy Makiyenko, Oleg Malyovany, Oleksandr Sitnichenko, Oleksandr Suprun, and Gennadiy Tubalev), thus formalised an underground movement sparked in an informal photo club in the 1960s, to create a visual tool for cultural resistance. Although the name Vremya (Time) sounds banal, it was a call for revolution – a statement of defiance against a painful system from the past. They called their artistic objective the “blow theory”, to produce works whose impact would strike the viewer hard and fast. Boris Mikhailov, who emerged as their informal leader, was the driving force for much of their shared aesthetic.

Vremya developed a diverse but recognisable photographic language that frequently depicted nudes and an unseemly Soviet reality. Persecuted by the party’s ideological watchdogs, routinely searched by the KGB, its only public exhibition of their works, held in Kharkiv in 1983, shut down on opening day, the Vremya collective dissolved in the 1980s. The group nevertheless formed the basis for the school established a few years later.

The group’s influence was far-reaching and continues to be deeply felt throughout Ukraine; a second and third wave of younger artists are still inspired by their ideas today. Boris Mikhailov continues to be a beloved mentor for many of them. In 2018, the Museum of Kharkiv School of Photography was also founded through the initiative of Sergiy Lebedynskyy, a member of the Shilo Group, in close collaboration with Boris and Vita Mikhailov.

 

Biography

Born in 1938 in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and trained as an engineer, Boris Mikhailov is a self-taught photographer. Early in his career, he was given a camera in order to document the state-owned factory where he was employed; he used it to take nude photographs of his wife. He developed them in the factory’s laboratory, and was fired after they were found by KGB agents.

Determined to take up the camera full-time, he eked out a living making photographs on the black market, in parallel creating a body of experimental personal work in reaction to the idealised images of Soviet life. He showed his work in “dissident kitchens”, clandestine exhibitions organised among friends in private flats, and became an active member of a collective of non-conformist photographers that would later become the core of the Kharkiv School of Photography.

At the time, taking images of the naked body or unflattering images of daily life, of people who were poor, ill, or in distress, was utterly taboo. Artists whose work did not conform to the official USSR aesthetic risked arrest, interrogation, even imprisonment. Under constant surveillance, Mikhailov was frequently harassed, his cameras broken and his rolls of film destroyed.

Today seen as one of the most important figures on the international art scene, he has received many prestigious awards, among them the 2015 Goslar Kaiserring Award, the Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize (now the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Award) in 2001 and the Hasselblad Award in 2000. He represented Ukraine at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and again in 2017.

His work has been exhibited in major international venues, including the Tate Modern in London, MoMA in New York, and more recently, the Berlinische Galerie and C/O Berlin in Berlin, the Pinchuk Art Center in Kyiv, the Sprengel Museum in Hannover and the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Baden Baden.

Boris Mikhailov is represented in Paris by the Suzanne Tarasiève Gallery. He also shows his work at the Sprovieri Gallery in London, Guido Costa Projects in Turin, Barbara Gross in Munich and Galerie Barbara Weiss in Berlin.

His work is currently on display in the exhibition This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia in Venice, as part of the official program accompanying the Venice Biennale.

Text from the press pack from the MEP website

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Case History' 1997-1998

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Case History
1997-1998
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

 

Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP)
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75004 Paris
Phone: +33 (0)1 44 78 75 00

Opening hours:
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Thursday 11am – 10pm
Weekend 10am – 8pm (Only for MEP members on Sunday 10 am – 11 am)
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays

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28
Aug
22

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

Exhibition dates: 16th April – 2nd October 2022

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

Text from the MoMA website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)

Germaine Krull was a pioneer in the fields of avant-garde photomontage, the photographic book, and photojournalism, and she embraced both commercial and artistic loyalties. Born in Wilda-Poznań, East Prussia, in 1897, Krull lived an extraordinary life lasting nine decades on four continents – she was the prototype of the edgy, sexually liberated Neue Frau (New Woman), considered an icon of modernity and a close cousin of the French garçonne and the American flapper. She had a peripatetic childhood before her family settled in Munich in 1912. She studied photography from 1916 to 1918 at Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Lichtbildwesen (Instructional and Research Institute for Photography), and in 1919 opened her own portrait studio. Her early engagement with left-wing political activism led to her expulsion from Munich. Then, on a visit to Russia in 1921, she was incarcerated for her counterrevolutionary support of the Free French cause against Hitler. In 1926, she settled in Paris, where she became friends with artists Sonia and Robert Delaunay and intellectuals André Malraux, Jean Cocteau, Colette, and André Gide, who were also subjects of her photographic portraits.

Krull’s artistic breakthrough began in 1928, when she was hired by the nascent VU magazine, the first major French illustrated weekly. Along with photographers André Kertész and Éli Lotar, she developed a new form of reportage rooted in a freedom of expression and closeness to her subjects that resulted in intimate close-ups, all facilitated by her small-format Icarette, a portable, folding bed camera. During this period, she published the portfolio, Metal (Métal) (1928), a collection of 64 pictures of modernist iron giants, including cranes, railways, power generators, the Rotterdam transporter bridge, and the Eiffel Tower, shot in muscular close-ups and from vertiginous angles. Krull participated in the influential Film und Foto, or Fifo, exhibition (1929-1930), which was accompanied by two books, Franz Roh’s and Jan Tschichold’s Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) and Werner Gräff’s Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!). Fifo marked the emergence of a new critical theory of photography that placed Krull at the forefront of Neues Sehen or Neue Optik (New Vision) photography, a new direction rooted in exploring fully the technical possibilities of the photographic medium through a profusion of unconventional lens-based and darkroom techniques. After the end of World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia, and then moved to India, where, after a lifetime dedicated to recording some of the major upheavals of the twentieth century, she decided to live as a recluse among Tibetan monks.

Introduction by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, 2016

 

Ruth Orkin. 'American Girl in Italy' 1951

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985)
American Girl in Florence, Italy
1951
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 × 11 15/16″ (21.6 × 30.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Although this photograph appears to be a street scene caught on the fly-an instance of what Henri Cartier-Bresson called the “decisive moment”  – it was actually staged for the camera by Orkin and her model. “The idea for this picture had been in my mind for years, ever since I had been old enough to go through the experience myself,” Orkin later wrote. While traveling alone in Italy, she met the young woman in the photograph at a hotel in Florence and together they set out to reenact scenes from their experiences as lone travellers. “We were having a hilarious time when this corner of the Piazza della Repubblica suddenly loomed on our horizon,” the photographer recalled. “Here was the perfect setting I had been waiting for all these years… And here I was, camera in hand, with the ideal model! All those fellows were positioned perfectly, there was no distracting sun, the background was harmonious, and the intersection was not jammed with traffic, which allowed me to stand in the middle of it for a moment.” The picture, with its eloquent blend of realism and theatricality, was later published in Cosmopolitan magazine as part of the story “Don’t Be Afraid to Travel Alone.”

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Three Harps' 1935

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Three Harps
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 7 1/2″ (24.4 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978) 'School Girl, St. Croix' 1963

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)
School Girl, St. Croix
1963
Gelatin silver print
12 13/16 × 8 15/16″ (32.5 × 22.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000) 'Untitled (Masked Self-Portrait, Dessau)' 1930

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000)
Untitled (Masked Self-Portrait, Dessau)
1930
Gelatin silver print
9 × 5 5/8 in. (22.9 × 14.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000)

Gertrud Arndt (born Gertrud Hantschk in Upper Silicia) set out to become an architect, beginning a three-year apprenticeship in 1919 at the architecture firm of Karl Meinhardt in Erfurt, where her family lived at the time. While there, she began teaching herself photography by taking pictures of buildings in town. She also attended courses in typography, drawing, and art history at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of design). Encouraged by Meinhardt, a friend of Walter Gropius, Arndt was awarded a scholarship to continue her studies at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Enrolled from 1923 to 1927, Arndt took the Vorkurs (foundation course) from László Moholy-Nagy, who was a chief proponent of the value of experimentation with photography. After her Vorkurs, Georg Muche, leader of the weaving workshop, persuaded her to join his course, which then became the formal focus of her studies. Upon graduation, in March 1927, she married fellow Bauhaus graduate and architect Alfred Arndt. The couple moved to Probstzella in Eastern Germany, where Arndt photographed buildings for her husband’s architecture firm.

In 1929, Hannes Meyer invited Alfred Arndt to teach at the Bauhaus, where Arndt focused her energy on photography, entering her period of greatest activity, featuring portraits of friends, still-lifes, and a series of performative self-portraits, as well as At the Masters’ Houses, which shows the influence of her studies with Moholy-Nagy as well as her keen eye for architecture. After the Bauhaus closed, in 1932, the couple left Dessau and moved back to Probstzella. Three years after the end of World War II the family moved to Darmstadt; Arndt almost completely stopped making photographs.

Introduction by Mitra Abbaspour, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, 2014

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954) 'M.R.M (Sex)' c. 1929-1930

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954)
M.R.M (Sex)
c. 1929-1930
Gelatin silver print
6 × 4 in. (15.2 × 10.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Juliet Jacques: I’m Juliet Jacques. I am a writer and filmmaker based in London. You’re looking at a photomontage by the French artist Claude Cahun, entitled M.R.M (Sex). It’s a photomontage of Cahun’s self-portraits.

Claude Cahun was born in 1894 in France into a family of prominent Jewish intellectuals and began making photomontages in 1912 when she was 18. The works were often exploring Cahun’s own identity in terms of gender and sexuality, but also this sense of a complex and fragmented personhood. Nonbinary pronouns, as we’d understand them now, weren’t officially in existence in the 1920s. Cahun actually wrote “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” So, I think either she or they is appropriate.

M.R.M was published as one of the illustrations in Cahun’s book Aveux non Avenus in 1930. Throughout the book you see this playing with the possibilities of gender expression that are kind of funny, sometimes melancholic, but are very emotionally complicated and do really speak to a sense of sometimes being trapped by the confines of gender and sometimes finding these very playful and beautiful ways to break out of it.

Artists and writers, we’re supposed to be dreamers, I think, and people who want to come up with a better world. And of course Cahun’s work is really suggesting different possibilities of free expression.

It’s hard to know how Cahun might have felt about being included in an exhibition of women artists. But, I think Cahun definitely deserves a place within this feminist canon, if not a strictly female one.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954) 'Aveux non avenus' (Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions) 1930

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954)
Aveux non avenus (Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions)
1930
Illustrated book with photogravures
Cover (closed) approx. 8 11/16 × 6 11/16″ (22 × 17cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Juliet Jacques: My name is Juliet Jacques.

You’re looking at Claude Cahun’s book Aveux non Avenus, which has been translated variously as “denials” or “disavowals” or “cancelled confessions.”

It’s an autobiographical text that doesn’t just refuse the conventions of memoir, it also really refuses to open up to the reader in a clearly understandable way. It’s this mixture of photography and aphorisms and longer prose-poetic passages. It doesn’t have a formalised narrative. It’s rather just exploring the fragmented and somewhat chaotic nature of their own consciousness and what they are able to access.

I’ve just flipped to page 91. Cahun writes:

“Consciousness. The carver. My enthusiasms, my impulses, my little passions were irksome. … Come on, then. … By a process of elimination, what is necessary about me? … The material is badly cut. I want it to be straightened up. A clumsy snip with the scissors. Bach! Let’s even it up on the other side. … A stain? We’ll cover it up. Let’s trim it again. I no longer exist. Perfect. Now nothing can come between us.”

.
The affinity I felt with Cahun is because I ended up doing a lot of writing that got bracketed as confessional or sort of first-person autobiographical writing. You can get yourself into a situation where you’re constantly expected to give away details about your personal life. And what I have always found really interesting about Cahun is the refusal of that trap, even in the project of putting oneself on the page.

I was always looking for queer and trans writers, and Cahun’s work gave me this gender non-conforming take on art that I thought always should have been there.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (Native American (Seminole-Muscogee-Navajo)) 'Vanna Brown, Azteca Style' 1990

 

Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (Native American (Seminole-Muscogee-Navajo))
Vanna Brown, Azteca Style
1990
Photocollage
15 11/16 × 22 13/16″ (39.9 × 58cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Veronica Passalacqua: My name is Veronica Passalacqua, and I’m a curator at the C.N. Gorman Museum at the University of California Davis. My research focus is upon contemporary Native American art with a specialty in photography. This is a work called Vanna Brown, Azteca Style by the Navajo-Tuskegee artist Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie.

It’s a hand collage that depicts Tsinhnahjinnie’s friend, dressed in her Azteca dancing regalia within the frame of a Philco television set. It was the beginning of a series of works and videos related to a project called NTV, or Native Television. She wanted to create her own vision of what she’d like to see on television.

Curator, Roxana Marcoci: The photograph makes reference to Wheel of Fortune, a televised game show where contestants guess words and phrases one letter at a time. Vanna White has been the show’s co-host for 40 years.

Veronica Passalacqua: Vanna White was always dressed in these elaborate gowns to show the letters of the enduring game show. She was there really as a symbol of the idealised beauty that television was portraying. Tsinhnahjinnie changes the name from Vanna White to Vanna Brown, addressing the beauty that she sees in her friend. What Tsinhnahjinnie wanted to focus on was this notion that you can create these beautiful images when you have a relationship with the sitter.

I’d like to read you a quote by Tsinhnahjinnie: “No longer is the camera held by an outsider looking in, the camera is held with brown hands opening familiar worlds. We document ourselves with a humanising eye, we create new visions with ease, and we can turn the camera to show how we see you.”

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Laura Gilpin (American, 1881-1979) 'Navajo Weaver' 1933

 

Laura Gilpin (American, 1881-1979)
Navajo Weaver
1933
Platinum print
13 1/8 × 9 3/8 in. (33.3 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Lola Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1907-1993) 'Frida Kahlo' c. 1945

 

Lola Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1907-1993)
Frida Kahlo
c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 × 6 1/4″ (21.3 × 15.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Prague, 1894-1989) 'Frau Finsler' 1926

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Prague, 1894-1989)
Frau Finsler
1926
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 × 10″ (20 × 25.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'Woman, Locket, Georgia' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Woman, Locket, Georgia
1936
Gelatin silver print
13 × 9 3/4″ (33 × 24.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Margrethe Mather (American, 1885-1952) 'Buffie Johnson, Painter' 1933

 

Margrethe Mather (American, 1885-1952)
Buffie Johnson, Painter
1933
Gelatin silver print
3 3/4 × 2 7/8″ (9.5 × 7.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Meridel Rubenstein (American, b. 1948) 'Fatman with Edith' 1993

 

Meridel Rubenstein (American, b. 1948)
Fatman with Edith
1993
Palladium print
18 1/2 × 22 1/2″ (47 × 57.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Helen Kornblum: I’m Helen Kornblum. If there’s a theme in my collection, I’d say it’s people. My interest in people, meeting people, knowing people, learning about people.

I have felt about my photographs almost like a third child. Each one actually has its own story for me. Where I found them, who led me to them. I’ve just attached myself in different ways to each one.

One, for instance, is Fatman with Edith by Meridel Rubenstein. With this photograph she conflates war with the feminine. She has the inhumanly destructive warhead, the plutonium bomb, called Fatman, dropped on Nagasaki, juxtaposed with a portrait of a woman, Edith Warner, and a nurturing, warm cup of tea.

Curator, Roxana Marcoci: In the early 1940s Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist in charge of The Manhattan Project developed the first atomic bomb.This photograph belongs to a series that explores encounters in New Mexico between indigenous communities and the scientists who created the bomb. These two worlds collided in the home of Edith Warner, who ran a tearoom in Los Alamos.

Helen Kornblum: Oppenheimer knew Edith Warner, who lived near Santa Fe. And when he came to create the bomb at Los Alamos, he asked Edith if he could bring scientists to her home for a place away from the creation of this bomb, and he would come with them for dinner, all during the Manhattan Project.

Roxana Marcoci: By pairing two seemingly dissimilar images, Rubenstein said she hopes “to enlarge the lives of ordinary people, and strip the mythic characters of history down to their ordinariness.”

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Edith Warner (1893-1951), also known by the nickname “The Woman at Otowi Crossing”, was an American tea room owner in Los Alamos, New Mexico, who is best known for serving various scientists and military officers working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory during the original creation of the atomic bomb as a part of the Manhattan Project. Warner’s influence on the morale and overall attitude of the people there has been noted and written about by various journalists and historians, including several books about her life, a stage play, a photography exhibition, an opera, and a dance.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rosemarie Trockel (German, b. 1952) 'Untitled' 2004

 

Rosemarie Trockel (German, b. 1952)
Untitled
2004
Chromogenic print
20 3/4 × 19″ (52.7 × 48.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Tatiana Parcero (Mexican, b. 1967) 'Interior Cartography #35' 1996

 

Tatiana Parcero (Mexican, b. 1967)
Interior Cartography #35
1996
Chromogenic print and acetate
9 3/8 × 6 3/16 in. (23.8 × 15.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Artist, Tatiana Parcero

My name is Tatiana Parcero. I’m from Mexico and I’m a visual artist and a psychologist. The work is called Interior Cartography #35, and belongs to the series of the same name.

Cartography is a science that deals with maps. I am interested in working with the body as a territory, where I can explore different paths at a physical and also in a symbolic level.

I am the one that appears in all the photographs. When I did this specific shot, I wanted to show a moment of introspection and calm. And when you see my hands near my cheeks, I wanted to represent a way to be in touch with myself, not just in a physical way, but in a more spiritual way.

The image superimposed on the face is from the Codex Tudela of the 16th century. The codices are documents that were created by ancient civilisations, like Mayans, Aztecs, that represent the pre-Columbian cultures of Mexico, their amazing universe, and the way that they lived.

When I moved to New York from Mexico, I was feeling a little bit out of place and I wanted to recreate a sense of belonging. The work is a way to connect myself with my country and the ancient cultures that are before me.

I decided to study psychology because I wanted to help people. I wanted to be able to understand emotions and be able to translate personal experiences into images and make them more accessible. It’s important for me to give the viewer several layers so that you can really explore the image and make your own interpretations and reflections. I think art can transform you and take you to a parallel universe. That is where I feel that you can be able to heal and to cure.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Lorie Novak (American, b. 1954) 'Self-Portraits' 1987

 

Lorie Novak (American, b. 1954)
Self-Portraits
1987
Chromogenic print
22 1/2 × 18 9/16″ (57.2 × 47.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art announces Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum, an exhibition that will present 90 photographic works by female artists from the last 100 years, on view from April 16 to October 2, 2022. Drawn exclusively from the Museum’s collection, thanks to a transformative gift of photographs from Helen Kornblum in 2021, the exhibition takes as a starting point the idea that the histories of feminism and photography have been intertwined. Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum is organised by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator, with Dana Ostrander, Curatorial Assistant, and Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, MoMA.

Rather than presenting a chronological history of women photographers or a linear account of feminist photography, the exhibition prompts new appraisals and compelling dialogues from a contemporary, intersectional feminist perspective. African-diasporic, queer, and postcolonial / Indigenous artists have brought new mindsets and questions to the canonical narratives of art history. Our Selves will reexamine a host of topics, countering racial and gender invisibility, systemic racial injustice, and colonialism, through a diversity of photographic practices, including portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, advertising, avant-garde experimentation, and conceptual photography. Highlighting both iconic and rare or lesser-known images, the exhibition’s groupings and juxtapositions of modern and contemporary works will encourage unexpected connections in the Museum’s fifth-floor collection galleries, which are typically devoted to art from the 1880s through the 1940s.

Our Selves will open with a wall of self-portraits and portraits of female artists by such modernist photographers as Lola Álvarez Bravo, Gertrud Arndt, Lotte Jacobi, and Lucia Moholy, alongside contemporary practitioners including Tatiana Parcero, Rosemarie Trockel, and Lorie Novak. Inviting viewers to consider the structural relationship between knowledge and power, Frances Benjamin Johnston’s Penmanship Class (1899) – a depiction of racially segregated education at the turn of the 20th century in the United States – will hang near Candida Höfer’s Deutsche Bucherei Leipzig IX (1997) – a part of Höfer’s series documenting library interiors weighted by forms of social inequality and colonial supremacy. Lorna Simpson’s Details (1996), a portfolio of 21 found photographs, signals how both the camera and language can culturally inscribe the body and reinforce racial and gender stereotypes.

Works by Native artists including Cara Romero and Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie, and non-Native practitioners such as Sharon Lockhart and Graciela Iturbide, explore indigeneity and its relationship to colonial history. Photographs by Flor Garduño, Ana Mendieta, Marta María Pérez Bravo, and Mariana Yampolsky attest to the overlapping histories of colonialism, ethnographic practice, and patriarchy in Latin America.

Our Selves is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue that features more than 100 colour and black-and-white photographs. A critical essay by curator Roxana Marcoci asks the question, “What is a Feminist Picture?” and a series of 12 focused essays by Dana Ostrander, Caitlin Ryan, and Phil Taylor address a range of themes, from dance to ecology to perception. The catalogue offers both historical context and critical interpretation, exploring the myriad ways in which different photographic practices can be viewed when looking through a feminist lens.

Press release from the MoMA website

 

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

 

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

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1943) 'Mujercita' 1981

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1943)
Mujercita
1981
Gelatin silver print
10 1/8 × 6 3/4″ (25.7 × 17.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, 1925-2002) 'Mujeres Mazahua' 1989

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, 1925-2002)
Mujeres Mazahua
1989
Gelatin silver print
13 5/8 × 18 1/2″ (34.6 × 47cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957) 'Reina (Queen)' 1989

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957)
Reina (Queen)
1989
Gelatin silver print
12 1/4 × 8 3/4″ (31.1 × 22.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992) 'Corn Stalks Growing' 1945

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992)
Corn Stalks Growing
1945
Gelatin silver print
12 3/16 × 9″ (31 × 22.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Sonya Noskowiak (American born Germany, 1900-1975) 'Plant Detail' 1931

 

Sonya Noskowiak (American born Germany, 1900-1975)
Plant Detail
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 11/16 × 7 1/2″ (24.6 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Agave Design I' 1920s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Agave Design I
1920
Gelatin silver print
12 7/8 × 9 13/16″ (32.7 × 24.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Florence Henri (Swiss born United States, 1893-1982) 'Composition Nature Morte' 1931

 

Florence Henri (Swiss born United States, 1893-1982)
Composition Nature Morte
1931
Gelatin silver print
3 3/8 × 4 1/2″ (8.6 × 11.4cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989) 'Eucalyptus Leaves' 1933

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989)
Eucalyptus Leaves
1933
Gelatin silver print
12 × 9″ (30.5 × 22.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Ruth Bernhard (American born Germany, 1905-2006) 'Angel Wings' 1943

 

Ruth Bernhard (American born Germany, 1905-2006)
Angel Wings
1943
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 6 1/4″ (24.4 × 15.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Nelly (Elli Sougioultzoglou-Seraidari) (Greek born Turkey, 1899-1998) 'Elizaveta "Lila" Nikolska in the Parthenon, Athens, Greece' November 1930

 

Nelly (Elli Sougioultzoglou-Seraidari) (Greek born Turkey, 1899-1998)
Elizaveta “Lila” Nikolska in the Parthenon, Athens, Greece
November 1930
Gelatin silver print
6 × 8 1/2″ (15.2 × 21.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

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

 

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

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Laurie Simmons (American, b. 1949) 'Three Red Petit-Fours' 1990

 

Laurie Simmons (American, b. 1949)
Three Red Petit-Fours
1990
Chromogenic print
23 × 35″ (58.4 × 88.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000) 'Figurines' c. 1933

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000)
Figurines
c. 1933
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 × 8″ (21.6 × 20.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Dora Maar (French 1907-1997) 'Mannequin in Window' 1935

 

Dora Maar (French 1907-1997)
Mannequin in Window
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 6″ (24.1 × 15.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002) 'Siesta of a Lottery Ticket Vendor, Plaza Mayor, Madrid' 1955

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002)
Siesta of a Lottery Ticket Vendor, Plaza Mayor, Madrid
1955
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 4 3/4″ (18.3 × 12.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Ringl + Pit (German) Grete Stern (Argentine born Germany, 1904-1999) Ellen Auerbach (German, 1906-2004) 'Columbus' Egg' 1930

 

Ringl + Pit (German)
Grete Stern (Argentine born Germany, 1904-1999)
Ellen Auerbach (German, 1906-2004)
Columbus’ Egg
1930
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 × 7 1/2″ (22.2 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer) (German, 1900-1942) 'Untitled' 1935

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer) (German, 1900-1942)
Untitled
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 × 6 11/16″ (23 × 17cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Marie Cosindas (American, 1923-2017) 'Masks, Boston' 1966

 

Marie Cosindas (American, 1923-2017)
Masks, Boston
1966
Dye transfer print
10 × 7″ (25.4 × 17.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000) 'Man and Candlesticks' c. 1933

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000)
Man and Candlesticks
c. 1933
Gelatin silver print
8 × 7 3/4″ (20.3 × 19.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Barbara Probst (German, b. 1964) 'Exposure #78, NYC, Collister and Hubert St.' 2010

 

Barbara Probst (German, b. 1964)
Exposure #78, NYC, Collister and Hubert St.
2010
Two inkjet prints (diptych)
18 3/4 × 28″ (47.6 × 71.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Barbara Probst (German, b. 1964)

Artist, Barbara Probst: I am Barbara Probst. I’m an artist working with photography. I’m born in Munich, in Germany, and I live in New York.

I’m interested in photography as a phenomenon that seemingly and supposedly depicts reality. But maybe it is the subjectivity of the photographer, which determines the image. And not the objectivity of the world.

I get a set of pictures from the same moment. By comparing these pictures, it becomes quite clear that the link between reality and photography is very thin and fragile because every picture from this moment gives a different take of this moment.

None of these images is more true or more false than any others. They are equally truthful. The viewpoints and angles and settings of the cameras and the framing and all these things determine the picture.

It’s not what is in front of the camera that determines the picture. It’s the photographer behind the camera that decides how reality is translated into an image.

Audio of Barbara Probst from the video “Elles X Paris Photo: Barbara Probst.” © Fisheye l’Agence 2021

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

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

 

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

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup)' 1990

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup)
1990
Gelatin silver print
27 3/16 × 27 3/16″ (69.1 × 69.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

“My work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition.”

.
Carrie Mae Weems

 

What does it mean to bear witness to history? The artist Carrie Mae Weems has asked this question for decades through photography, video, performance, installation, and social practice. For Weems, to examine the past is to imagine a different future. “In one way or another, my work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition,” she declared in an interview with her friend, the photographer Dawoud Bey. “I’m determined to find new models to live by. Aren’t you?”1

Weems was trained as both a dancer and a photographer before enrolling in the folklore studies program at the University of California, Berkeley, in the mid-1980s, where she became interested in the observation methods used in the social sciences. In the early 1990s, she began placing herself in her photographic compositions in an “attempt to create in the work the simultaneous feeling of being in it and of it.”2 She has since called this recurring figure an “alter-ego,” “muse,” and “witness to history” who can stand in for both the artist and audience. “I think it’s very important that as a Black woman she’s engaged with the world around her,” Weems has said, “she’s engaged with history, she’s engaged with looking, with being. She’s a guide into circumstances seldom seen.”3

In her 1990 Kitchen Table series – 20 gelatin silver prints and 14 texts on silkscreen panels – Weems uses her own persona to “respond to a number of issues: woman’s subjectivity, woman’s capacity to revel in her body, and the woman’s construction of herself, and her own image.”4 Weems, or rather her protagonist, inhabits the same intimate domestic interior throughout the series. Anchored around a wooden table illuminated by an overhead light, scenes such as Untitled (Man smoking) and Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup) portray the protagonist alongside a rotating cast of characters (friends, children, lovers) and props (posters, books, playing cards, a birdcage). In Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup), for example, the woman sits at the table with a young girl; they gaze into mirrors at their own reflections, applying lipstick in parallel gestures. The photograph shows that gender is a learned performance, at the same time tenderly centering its Black women subjects.

With projects such as From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995), the act of witnessing is suggested in the first-person title. The J. Paul Getty Museum commissioned the work in 1994, inviting the artist to respond to 19th-century photographs of African American subjects collected by the lawyer Jackie Napoleon Wilson. In 28 chromogenic photographic prints overlaid with text on glass, Weems appropriated images from a variety of sources: Wilson’s collection, museum and university archives, The National Geographic, and the work of photographers like Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Garry Winogrand. The artist cropped and reformatted these photographs, adding blue and red tints, text, and circular mats resembling a camera lens. Through this reframing, Weems poses a question about power: Who is doing the looking, and for what reasons?

Among the rephotographed images are four daguerreotypes by photographer J. T. Zealy of enslaved men and women – two father-and-daughter pairs, named Renty, Delia, Jack, and Drana – commissioned as racial types by Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz in 1850. Weems exposes Agassiz’s racist pseudoscience and the violence of the white Anglo-American gaze through the addition of texts that address the subjects: “You became a scientific profile,” “a negroid type,” “an anthropological debate,” “& a photographic subject.” Discussing the daguerreotypes, the artist has described the sitters as agents of resistance and refusal: “In their anthropological way, most of these photographs were meant to strip the subjects of their humanity. But if you look closely, what you see is the evidence of a contest of wills over contested territory, contested terrain – contested by the by the owner of the Black body and the photographer’s attempt to conquer it vis-à-vis the camera.”5

Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, 2021

 

  1. “Carrie Mae Weems by Dawoud Bey,” BOMB, July 1, 2009, https://bombmagazine.org/articles/carrie-mae-weems/
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Weems, quoted in Carrie Mae Weems: The Kitchen Table Series (Houston: Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 1996), 6.
  5. Weems to Deborah Willis, “In Conversation with Carrie Mae Weems,” in To Make Their Own Way in the World: The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerreotypes, eds. Ilisa Barbash, Molly Rogers, and Deborah Willis (Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum Press; New York, NY: Aperture, 2020), 397.

 

Curator, Roxana Marcocci: We’re looking at a photograph from Carrie Mae Weems’s larger body of work, the Kitchen Table series.

Artist, Carrie Mae Weems: About 1990, I think, I had been really thinking a lot about what it meant to develop your own voice. And so I made this body of work.

It started as a kind of response to my sense of what needed to happen, what needed to be and these ideas about the sort of spaces of domesticity that have historically belonged to women.

Roxana Marcoci: In this image, Weems applies makeup in front of a mirror while a young girl seated in front of another mirror, puts on lipstick and looks at her own reflection. The two enact beauty in a synchronised performance, through posing, mirroring, and self-empowerment.

Carrie Mae Weems: I made them all in my own kitchen, using a single light source hanging over the kitchen table. It just swung open this door of what I could actually do in my own environment. What I’m suggesting really is that the battle around the family, the battle around monogamy, the battle around polygamy, the social dynamics that happens between men and women, that war gets carried on in that space.

The Kitchen Table series would not be simply a voice for African-American women, but more generally for women.

Audio of Carrie Mae Weems in the Art21 digital series Extended Play, “Carrie Mae Weems / ‘The Kitchen Table Series.'” © Art21, Inc. 2011

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Cara Romero (Native American (Chemehuevi), b. 1977) 'Wakeah' 2018

 

Cara Romero (Native American (Chemehuevi), b. 1977)
Wakeah
2018
Inkjet print
52 × 44″ (132.1 × 111.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Artist, Cara Romero: My name is Cara Romero, and this photograph is called Wakeah.

The inspiration for the First American Girl series was a lifetime of seeing Native American people represented in a dehumanised way. My daughter was born in 2006 and I really wanted her self image to be different. But all of the dolls that depict Native American girls were inaccurate. They lacked the detail. They lacked the love. They lacked the historical accuracy. So the series began with Wakeah.

Wakeah is Wakeah Jhane Myers and she is an incredible artist in her own right. She descends from both the Kiowa and Comanche tribes of Oklahoma. We posed Wakeah in the doll box much like you would find on the store shelves, placing all of her cultural accoutrement around her. She is wearing a traditional Southern Buckskin dress. She has a change of moccasins and her fan that she uses in dance. A lot of people ask me about the suitcase, and this is an inside joke between Native people, many of us carry our regalia in a suitcase as a way to keep it safe.

It took five family members over a year to make her regalia that she wears to compete at the pow wow dance. These contemporary pieces of regalia are really here against all odds. They exist through activism, through resistance.

A lot of what I’m doing is constructing these stories about resisting these ideas of being powerless, of being gone. Instead, I’m constructing a story of power and of knowledge and of presence. I want the viewer to fall in love. I want them to see how much I love the people that I’m working with.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Angela Scheirl' 1993

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Angela Scheirl
1993
Silver dye bleach print
19 5/16 × 15″ (49.1 × 38.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Louise Lawler (American, b. 1947) 'Sappho and Patriarch' 1984

 

Louise Lawler (American, b. 1947)
Sappho and Patriarch
1984
Silver dye bleach print
39 3/4 × 27 1/2″ (101 × 69.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

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

 

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

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Deutsche Bücherei Leipzig IX' 1997

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Deutsche Bücherei Leipzig IX
1997
C-print
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Sharon Lockhart (American, b. 1964) 'Untitled' 2010

 

Sharon Lockhart (American, b. 1964)
Untitled
2010
Chromogenic print
37 × 49″ (94 × 124.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

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

 

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

The images below are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Tiny, Halloween, Seattle' 1983

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Tiny, Halloween, Seattle
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 5/16 × 9″ (33.8 × 22.9cm)
Sheet: 14 × 11″ (35.6 × 27.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Mother and Child, San Joaquin Valley' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Mother and Child, San Joaquin Valley
1938
Gelatin silver print
7 × 9 1/2″ (17.8 × 24.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Anne Noggle (American, 1922-2005) 'Shirley Condit de Gonzales' 1986

 

Anne Noggle (American, 1922-2005)
Shirley Condit de Gonzales
1986
Gelatin silver print
18 1/8 × 13″ (46 × 33cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Nell Dorr (American, 1893-1988) 'Mother and Child' 1940

 

Nell Dorr (American, 1893-1988)
Mother and Child
1940
Gelatin silver print
13 15/16 × 10 13/16″ (35.4 × 27.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'Carnival Strippers' book cover 1975

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
Carnival Strippers
1976
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'Tentful of marks, Tunbridge, VT' 1974

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
Tentful of Marks, Tunbridge, Vermont
1974, printed c. 2000
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 × 11 3/4″ (19.5 × 29.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Wary of photography’s power to shape our understanding of social, political and global issues and of the potentially complex ethical relationship between photographer and subject, Susan Meiselas has developed an immersive approach through which she gets to know her subjects intimately. Carnival Strippers is among her earliest projects and the first in which she became accepted by the community she was documenting. Over the summers of 1972 to 1975, she followed an itinerant, small-town carnival, photographing the women who performed in the striptease shows. She captured not only their public performances, but also their private lives. To more fully contextualise these images, Meiselas presents them with audio recordings of interviews with the dancers, giving them voice and a measure of control over the way they are presented.

Additional text from “Seeing Through Photographs online course”, Coursera, 2016

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)

Artist, Susan Meiselas: My name is Susan Meiselas. I’m a photographer based in New York.

Carnival Strippers is my first real body of work. The idea of projecting a self to attract a male gaze was completely counter to my sense of culture, what I wanted for myself. So I was fascinated by women who were choosing to do that. I just felt, magnetically, I need to know more.

The feminists of that period were perceiving the girl shows as exploitative institutions that should be closed down. I actually was positioned in the place of feeling these voices should be heard. They should self-define as to who they are and what their economic realities are.

Getting to know the women was very much one by one, obviously I’m in the public fairgrounds making this photograph so there are many other people surrounding me. There weren’t many other cameras. I mean, if we were making this picture today, it’s interesting the differences of how many people would have been with cameras, iPhones, etc. So I don’t think she’s performing for me. She’s performing for the public.

The girl show moves around from town to town. My working process was to be somewhere on a weekend, go back to Boston, which at the time was my base, and process the work and bring back the contact sheets and show whoever was there the following weekend, what the pictures were. And they left little initials saying, I like this one, I don’t like that one.

This negotiated or collaborative space with photography really still fascinates me. It’s a kind of offering, it’s a moment in which someone says, I want you to be here with us. The challenge of making that moment, creating that moment, that’s what still intrigues me, I think, and keeps me engaged with photography.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'Traditional Indian dance mask from the town of Monimbó, adopted by the rebels during the fight against Somoza to conceal identity, Nicaragua' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
Traditional mask used in the popular insurrection, Monimbo, Nicaragua
1978
Chromogenic print
23 1/2 × 15 3/4″ (59.7 × 40cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Traditional Indian dance mask from the town of Monimbó, adopted by the rebels during the fight against Somoza to conceal identity, Nicaragua

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'A Funeral Procession in Jinotepe for Assassinated Student Leaders. Demonstrators Carry a Photograph of Arlen Siu, an FSLN Guerilla Fighter Killed in the Mountains Three Years Earlier' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
A Funeral Procession in Jinotepe for Assassinated Student Leaders. Demonstrators Carry a Photograph of Arlen Siu, an FSLN Guerilla Fighter Killed in the Mountains Three Years Earlier
1978
Chromogenic print
15 3/8 × 23 1/4″ (39.1 × 59.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

“The camera…gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.”

.
Susan Meiselas

 

“The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong,” said the photographer Susan Meiselas. “It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.” Meiselas studied anthropology before turning to teaching and photography, and her photographic work has remained firmly rooted in those early interests.

Beginning in 1972, Meiselas spent three consecutive summers documenting women who performed stripteases as part of itinerant, small-town carnivals throughout New England. She not only photographed them at work and during their down time, but she made audio recordings of interviews she conducted with the dancers (and the men who surrounded them), to add context and give her subjects a voice. Meiselas later reflected, “The feminists of that period were perceiving the girls’ shows as exploitative institutions that should be closed down, and so I actually was positioned in the place of feeling these voices should be heard, they should self-define as to who they are and what their economic realities are.”1 Meiselas travelled with the dancers from town to town, eventually becoming accepted by the community of women. This personal connection comes across in the intimacy of the scenes. Her photo book Carnival Strippers2 was published in 1976, the same year that Meiselas was invited to join the international photographic cooperative Magnum Photos.

Over the last 50 years, Meiselas has remained dedicated to getting to know her subjects, and she maintains relationships with them, sometimes returning to photograph them decades after the initial project. One place she has photographed again and again is Nicaragua, starting with the burgeoning Sandinista revolution. From June 1978 to July 1979, she documented the violent end of the regime of dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. In 1990 she returned to the country with her book of photographs made at that time, Nicaragua3, and used it as a tool to track down as many subjects of those photographs as she could: “Now I want to retrace my steps, to go back to the photos I took at the time of the insurrection, and search for the people in them. What brought them to cross my path at the moment they did? What’s happened to them since? What do they think now? What do they remember?”4 She gathered their testimonies and co-directed a film, Pictures from a Revolution 5, that explored the Nicaraguan people’s hardships after the revolution. She went back to Nicaragua yet again in 2004, on the 25th anniversary of Somoza’s overthrow, and worked with local communities to install murals of her photographs on the sites where they were taken.6 It is the job of a photojournalist to bear witness, but Meiselas also considers ways in which she can challenge and confront future communities with the scenes she has witnessed.

In 1997, Meiselas completed a six-year-long project about the photographic history of the Kurds, working to piece together a collective memory of people who faced extreme displacement and destruction. She gathered these memories in a book – Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History7 – an exhibition and an online archive that can still be added to today. Throughout this project Meiselas worked with both forensic and historical anthropologists who added their own specialised context; the innumerable oral accounts from the Kurdish people themselves provide a perspective often left out of history books.

Referring to her early studies in anthropology, Meiselas said, “Those very primary experiences of diversity led me to be more curious about the world, putting me into a certain mode of exploration and openness to difference at a young age.” She has long understood the importance of giving a voice to her often little-known and marginalised subjects, and through her work she draws attention to a wide variety of human rights and social justice issues. Meiselas constantly considers the challenging relationship between photographer and subject, and the relationship of images to memory and history, always looking for new cross-disciplinary and collaborative ways to evolve the medium of documentary storytelling.

Jane Pierce, Carl Jacobs Foundation Research Assistant, Department of Photography

 

  1. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, “Seeing Through Photographs,” YouTube video, 5:03. February 13, 2019 https://youtu.be/HHQwAkPj8Bc
  2. Susan Meiselas, Carnival Strippers (New York: Noonday Press, 1976) and a revised second edition with bonus CD (New York: Steidl, 2003).
  3. Susan Meiselas, Nicaragua (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981).
  4. Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti and Richard P. Rogers, Pictures from a Revolution, DVD (New York: Kino International Corp., 1991).
  5. Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti, and Richard P. Rogers, Pictures from a Revolution, DVD (New York: Kino International Corp., 1991).
  6. Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti, and Pedro Linger Gasiglia, Reframing History, DVD (2004).
  7. Susan Meiselas, Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History (New York: Random House, 1997).

 

Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952) 'Penmanship Class' 1899

 

Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952)
Penmanship Class
1899
Platinum print
7 3/8 × 9 3/8 in. (18.7 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952)

After setting up her own photography studio in 1894, in Washington, D.C., Frances Benjamin Johnston was described by The Washington Times as “the only lady in the business of photography in the city.”1 Considered to be one of the first female press photographers in the United States, she took pictures of news events and architecture and made portraits of political and social leaders for over five decades. From early on, she was conscious of her role as a pioneer for women in photography, telling a reporter in 1893, “It is another pet theory with me that there are great possibilities in photography as a profitable and pleasant occupation for women, and I feel that my success helps to demonstrate this, and it is for this reason that I am glad to have other women know of my work.”2

In 1899, the principal of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia commissioned Johnston to take photographs at the school for the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. The Hampton Institute was a preparatory and trade school dedicated to preparing African American and Native American students for professional careers. Johnston took more than 150 photographs and exhibited them in the Exposition Nègres d’Amerique (American Negro Exhibit) pavilion, which was meant to showcase improving race relations in America. The series won the grand prize and was lauded by both the public and the press.

Years later, writer and philanthropist Lincoln Kirstein discovered a leather-bound album of Johnston’s Hampton Institute photographs. He gave the album to The Museum of Modern Art, which reproduced 44 of its original 159 photographs in a book called The Hampton Album, published in 1966. In its preface, Kirstein acknowledged the conflict inherent in Johnston’s images, describing them as conveying the Institute’s goal of assimilating its students into Anglo-American mainstream society according to “the white Victorian ideal as criterion towards which all darker tribes and nations must perforce aspire.”3 The Hampton Institute’s most famous graduate, educator, leader, and presidential advisor Booker T. Washington, advocated for black education and accommodation of segregation policies instead of political pressure against institutionalised racism, a position criticised by anti-segregation activists such as author W. E. B. Du Bois.

Johnston’s pictures neither wholly celebrate nor condemn the Institute’s goals, but rather they reveal the complexities of the school’s value system. This is especially clear in her photographs contrasting pre- and post-Hampton ways of living, including The Old Well and The Improved Well (Three Hampton Grandchildren). In both images, black men pump water for their female family members. The old well system is represented by an aged man, a leaning fence, and a wooden pump that tilts against a desolate sky, while the new well is handled by an energetic young boy in a yard with a neat fence, a thriving tree, and two young girls dressed in starched pinafores. Johnston’s photographs have prompted the attention of artists like Carrie Mae Weems, who has incorporated the Hampton Institute photographs into her own work to explore what Weems described as “the problematic nature of assimilation, identity, and the role of education.”4

Johnston’s photographs of the Hampton Institute were only a part of her long and productive career. Having started out by taking society and political portraits, she later extensively photographed gardens and buildings, hoping to encourage the preservation of architectural structures that were quickly disappearing. Her pictures documenting the changing landscape of early-20th-century America became sources for historians and conservationists and led to her recognition by the American Institute for Architects (AIA). At a time when photography was often thought of as scientific in its straightforwardness, Johnston recognised its expressive power. As she wrote in 1897, “It is wrong to regard photography as purely mechanical. Mechanical it is, up to a certain point, but beyond that there is great scope for individual and artistic expression.”5

Introduction by Kristen Gaylord, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography, 2016

 

  1. “Washington Women with Brains and Business,” The Washington Times, April 21, 1895, 9.
  2. Clarence Bloomfield Moore, “Women Experts in Photography,” The Cosmopolitan XIV.5 (March 1893), 586.
  3. Lincoln Kirstein, “Introduction,” in The Hampton Album: 44 photographs by Frances B. Johnston from an album of Hampton Institute (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1966), 10.
  4. Quoted in Denise Ramzy and Katherine Fogg, “Interview: Carrie Mae Weems,” Carrie Mae Weems: The Hampton Project (New York: Aperture, 2000), 78.
  5. Frances Benjamin Johnston, “What a Woman Can Do with a Camera,” The Ladies’ Home Journal (September 1897): 6-7.

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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14
Aug
22

Review: ‘WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture’ at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 25th March – 21st August 2022

 

Entrance of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Entrance of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The black and white show

This is a challenging and stimulating exhibition at NGV Australia, Federation Square that attempts to answer the question: “who are you” when coming to terms with what it is to be an Australian.

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is one of the most comprehensive explorations of portraiture ever mounted in Australia and the first exhibition to bring together the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra… [it] considers portraiture in Australia across time and media, as well as the role of the portraiture genre in the development of a sense of Australian national identity… The exhibition also questions what actually constitutes portraiture by examining the surprising and sometimes unconventional ways of representing likeness… Presented across five thematic sections, the exhibition raises challenging and provocative questions about who we are and how we view others – historically, today and into the future…

The exhibition opens by considering the connection between people and place, reflecting on the relationship between artists, sitters and the environment, as well as the personification of the natural world… A further section explores the artistic tradition of the self-portrait and portraits of artists, as well as how this convention has been subverted or challenged by contemporary artists working today… Ideas of intimacy and alienation are juxtaposed through images of family and community presented alongside those of vulnerability and isolation… The exhibition also explores portraiture’s surprising capacity to reveal the inner worlds and mindsets of both the sitter and the artist… The final section of the exhibition interrogates Australian icons, identities and how we construct them.” (Press release)

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This is an ambitious agenda for several large exhibitions, let alone cram so many ideas into one exhibition. And in the end the central question “who are you” is unknowable, unanswerable in any definitive way… for it all depends on your ancestry, and from what point of view you are looking and in what context – and these conditions can change from minute to minute, day to day, and era to era. Identity is always partially fixed and fluid at one and the same time. It is always a construction, a work in progress, governed by social and cultural relations.

“Identity is formed by social processes. Once crystallized, it is maintained, modified, or even reshaped by social relations. The social processes involved in both the formation and the maintenance of identity are determined by the social structure. Conversely, the identities produced by the interplay of the organism, individual consciousness and social structure react upon the given social structure, maintaining it, modifying it, or even reshaping it.”1

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Identity construction is a self-referential system where identities are produced out of social systems. They (identities) then act upon those very systems to alter them, and then those systems re-act again forming anew, an ever changing identity. “The task of identity formation is to develop a stable, coherent picture of oneself that includes an integration of one’s past and present experiences and a sense of where one is headed in the future.”2 But that identity formation, while seeking to be stable, is both multiple and contestatory. It is through those contests that a future sense of self can challenge hegemonic power differentials. As Judith Butler observes,

“Thus every insistence on identity must at some point lead to a taking stock of the constitutive exclusions that reconsolidate hegemonic power differentials, exclusions that each articulation was forced to make in order to proceed. This critical reflection will be important in order not to replicate at the level of identity politics the very exclusionary moves that initiated the turn to specific identities in the first place … It will be a matter of tracing the ways in which identification is implicated in what it excludes, and to follow the lines of that implication for the map of future community that it might yield.”3

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In other words, learn from the mistakes of the past and don’t let them repeat themselves in future identities! Do not exclude others in order to reconsolidate the hegemonic status quo. But people always form identities based on the “norm” – how can you change that? As A. David Napier states, “We rely, sometimes almost exclusively it seems, upon the construction and reconstruction of an evolutionary(?) sequence of events that simultaneously excludes outsiders and provides some basis for justifying our social rules and actions. Thus, we minimize diversity by reflecting on who we are, by achieving, that is, a self-conscious state that is not only accepted but considered desirable…”4

Critical reflection is thus so important in challenging who we are, both individually and collectively. In this sense, an exhibition like WHO ARE YOU is important in helping to reshape social relations, helping to challenge hegemonic power differentials, which in turn affects our personal identity construction by reflecting on who we are and changing our point of view, so that we become more informed, and more empathetic, towards different cultures and different people. So that we do not exclude other people and other points of view.

But all is not roses and light in this exhibition with regard to exclusion.

Whilst a lot of people acknowledge and empathise with First Nations people we can have NO IDEA of the ongoing pain and hurt centuries of invasion, disenfranchisement, genocide, massacres, Stolen Generation, lack of health care, massive incarceration, suicide rates and shorter life expectancy, land loss, cultural loss that the violence of the white Anglo gaze has inflicted on the oldest living culture on Earth. While there are moves afoot (as there have been for years) for Aboriginal constitutional recognition through a Voice to Parliament, a permanent body representing First Nations people that would advise government on Indigenous policy; and a treaty that would help secure sovereignty and self-determination, enabling First Nations people make their own decisions and control their own lives, economy and land, free from the effects of changing governments – personally I believe until there is a complete acknowledgement of the pain invasion has caused Aboriginal people by the whole of Australia, nothing will ever change.

Having said that, contemporary Australia is now the most multicultural country it as ever been. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021 Census, 27.6 per cent of the population were born overseas and the top 5 countries of birth (excluding Australia) were, in order, England, India, China, New Zealand and the Philippines.5 In Australia, 812,000 people identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in the 2021 Census of Population and Housing. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represented 3.2% of the population.6

It is interesting to note that when looking through the art works in this exhibition – nearly all of which can be seen in this posting – how much of it is (historical) white art and how much of it is contemporary Aboriginal art, with a sop being made to art made by, or mentioning, other people including Chinese, Afghan, Muslim and Sudanese. Chinese people have been living in Australia for centuries, Afghan people similarly. Greek and Italian people arrived in droves in the 1950s-1960s, Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s, Sudanese, Indian and Sri Lankan people in the late 20th century. More (historical and contemporary) work from these people was needed in this exhibition because they inform the construction of modern Australian identities.

Obviously the inclusion of so much contemporary Aboriginal work is a deliberate curatorial decision, but its disproportionate representation in this exhibition makes it feel like a “catch all”. Why do the curators feel the need to include so much Indigenous work? Is that how they truly see Australian identity? Also, does the inclusion of this art mean it is the best contemporary art that is available in Australia at the moment, or does its inclusion simply exclude other voices from different nationalities and ethnic and religious backgrounds that are just as important in the construction of contemporary Australian identities? While there is no denying the historical significance of invasion there needs to be a balance in such representation, especially in an exhibition purporting to investigate “who are you” over a broad range of references. As it stands the inclusion of so much Indigenous work feels like an agenda, a set point of departure, perhaps even an apologia for white guilt. As the critic John McDonald noted recently, we are living “at a time when museums and commercial galleries have gone completely gaga for such [that is, Aboriginal] work.”

Personally, I would have liked to have seen a greater range of voices expressing themselves in this exhibition. It struck me that the inclusion of so much (historical) white art and so much contemporary Aboriginal art formed a rather limited framework in which to examine “who are you”. Rather, I would have liked a more balanced representation through art of the many voices that contribute to the formation of evolving Australian identities, which ultimately could lead to a greater insight into the construction of our own self-portrait. That is the truly important aspect of any navel gazing exercise.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,450

 

  1. Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Allen Lane, London, 1967, p. 194.
  2. Erickson, E. Identity: Youth in Crisis. Norton, New York, 1968
  3. Judith Butler. Bodies That Matter. Routledge, New York, 1993, pp. 118-119
  4. A. David Napier. Foreign Bodies: Performance Art, and Symbolic Anthropology. University of California press, Berkeley, 1992, p.143.
  5. “Cultural diversity: Census” 2021 on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website 28/06/2022 [Online] Cited 12/08/2022
  6. “Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population summary” 2021 on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website 28/06/2022 [Online] Cited 12/08/2022

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Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish some of the photographs in the posting. All installation images © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing from left to right, Polixeni Papapetrou’s Magma Man (2012, below); Karla Dickens’ Mrs Woods and ‘Ere (2013, below); and Kaylene Whiskey’s Seven Sisters Song (2021, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (Australian, 1960-2018) 'Magma Man' 2012

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (Australian, 1960-2018)
Magma Man
2012
From the series The Ghillies 2013
Inkjet print
120.0 x 120.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013
© Polixeni Papapetrou/Administered by VISCOPY, Sydney
Photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Polixeni Papapetrou’s series The Ghillies shows the artist’s son wearing extreme camouflage costumes that are used by the defence forces to blend in with their environment. The photographs reflect on the passing of childhood, and the journey out of a maternally centred world into a wider existence. Papapetrou proposes that this is a significant moment for many young men as they seek to separate themselves from their mothers, and assume the costumes and identities of masculine stereotypes, often hiding themselves in the process. Papapetrou photographed her children fro most of her career, and explored a range of stereotypes that surround childhood. These works examine the placement of children and adolescents in a society which is determined and defined by adults.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Karla Dickens (Australian / Wiradjuri, b. 1967) 'Mrs Woods and 'Ere' 2013

 

Karla Dickens (Australian / Wiradjuri, b. 1967)
Mrs Woods and ‘Ere
2013
Inkjet print on paper, ed. 3/10
Image: 66.0 x 100.cm
Sheet: 76.5 x 110.0 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2019
© Karla Dickens/Copyright Agency, 2022

 

 

Tjayanka Woods (c. 1935-2014) was a senior Pitjantjatjara artist, born near Kalaya Pirti (Emu Water) near Mimili and Wataru, South Australia. She was a cultural custodian, leader and held significant knowledges regarding cultural law and medicine. As an artist, Woods often referred to the Kungkarrangkalpa Tjurkurpa (Seven Sisters) within her artworks. The Kungkarrangkalpa Tjurkurpa is an epic and ancient creation story revolving around the start cluster, also known as Pleiades. In 2013, Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens, spent several weeks with Woods and other senior Pitjantjatjara artists research the creation story. During her time in Pitjantjatjara Country, Dickens photographed Woods as the aware and intelligent cultural leader she was, with dignity and strength.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Kaylene Whiskey (Australian / Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, b. 1976) 'Seven Sisters Song' 2021

 

Kaylene Whiskey (Australian / Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, b. 1976)
Seven Sisters Song
2021
Enamel paint on road sign
120.0 x 180.0cm irreg.
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2021
© Kaylene Whiskey. Courtesy of the artist, Iwantja Arts and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Kaylene Whiskey seamlessly combines references to daily life in Indulkana with popular culture. Painted on an old road sign, Seven Sisters Song celebrates Whiskey’s witty sense of humour and personal reflection of Kungkarangkalpa Tjukurpa, the Seven Sisters creation story. Imbued within the work themes of sisterhood and kinship bonds, Whiskey brings together two vastly different worlds. Strong female characters including Wonder Woman, Whoopi Goldberg and Dolly Parton are situated within a desert landscape and seen interacting with native plants and wildlife, including traditional Anangu activities like hunting, collecting bush tucker, and cultivating mingkulpa (a native tobacco plant).

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Johannes Heyer (Australian, 1872-1945) 'William Barak at work on the drawing 'Ceremony' at Coranderrk' 1902

 

Johannes Heyer (Australian, 1872-1945)
William Barak at work on the drawing ‘Ceremony’ at Coranderrk
1902
Gelatin silver photograph, sepia toned on paper
8.7 x 8.7cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with the assistance of the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society 2000

 

 

Wurundjeri artist and ngurungaeta (Head Man) William Barak was an important cultural leader, diplomat and activist. Barak lived near Coranderrk Aboriginal Station, near Healesville, from 1863 until 1903, becoming an influential spokesman for the rights of his people and an informant on Wurundjeri cultural lore. The people of Coranderrk, however, were officially forbidden from observing traditional practices, so Barak began recording them in drawings, often using ochre and charcoals to depict ceremonies and aspects of Wurundjeri culture before colonisation. His artworks are significant expressions of cultural practice, and he is regarded as an important figure int he history of Indigenous Australian art.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Beruk (William Barak) (1824-1903), an elder of the Wurundjeri clan of the Woi-worung, was the most famous Aboriginal person in Victoria in the 1890s. After attending the Reverend George Langhorne’s mission school, Barak joined the Native Police in 1844 and remained there until at least 1851. From 1863 until his death he lived at the government reserve at Coranderrk, at a site near the Yarra River in Victoria. The history of the reserve is one of official interference and mismanagement, and Barak played a significant part in representing the wishes of his community to the government. In the decade of the 1880s he made many paintings and artefacts, mostly of Aboriginal ceremonial subjects.

 

Beruk (1824-1903), artist, activist, leader and educator, was a Wurundjeri man of the Woiwurrung people, one of the five Kulin Nations whose Country encompasses Narrm (Melbourne). It is said that Beruk was present at the signing of the so-called treaty with which John Batman reckoned he’d acquired 240,000 hectares of Wurundjeri land in 1835. In reality, the men with whom Batman negotiated, including one of Beruk’s uncles, had not transferred ownership, but merely given Batman permission to stay temporarily. Beruk was given the name William Barak (a European mispronunciation) in 1844 when he joined the Native Police. He was among the group of people from across Victoria who were the first to join the settlement at Coranderrk, near Healesville, established by the Aboriginal Protection Board in 1863 following several years of petitioning by community leaders. Beruk emerged as a leader at Coranderrk, which developed into a self-sufficient agricultural settlement. Following the passing of his cousin Simon Wonga in 1874, Beruk became Ngurungaeta (head man) of the Wurundjeri people. During the same period, when European pastoral interests started lobbying for Coranderrk to be broken up and sold off, Beruk led the campaign to prevent the settlement’s closure. It was gazetted as a ‘permanent reservation’ in 1881.

By this time, Beruk was recognised as a leader of his people and as a revered custodian of language and cultural knowledge. As the people at Coranderrk were officially forbidden from observing their traditional ceremonies, including corroborees, Beruk began recording his knowledge in drawings, utilising introduced methods and materials including paper, cardboard, and watercolour to preserve and communicate important stories and aspects of culture and spirituality. On the one hand, his drawings and the artefacts he made functioned as a commodity and were sold as souvenirs to increasing numbers of tourists. Museums in Europe began acquiring examples of his work in the late nineteenth century. On the other hand, and more significantly, Beruk’s drawings represent a profound assertion of pride in his heritage and identity, and the survival of a rich and complex culture in the face of concerted attempts to diminish it. As Wurundjeri elder and Beruk’s great-great niece Aunty Joy Wandin Murphy says: “We believe that what he wanted was for people to remember those ceremonies, so that if he painted them … then people would always know about the ceremonies on Coranderrk and of Wurundjeri people.”

This photograph of Beruk was taken by Johannes Heyer, a Presbyterian clergyman called to the parish of Yarra Glen and Healesville in 1900. The drawing that Beruk is shown working on in the photograph is now in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

Anonymous text. “William Barak at work on the drawing ‘Ceremony’ at Coranderrk,” on the National Portrait Gallery website Nd [Online] Cited 18/06/2022

 

David Moore (Australia 1927-2003) 'Migrants arriving in Sydney' 1966

 

David Moore (Australia 1927-2003)
Migrants arriving in Sydney
1966
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1961

 

 

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is the first exhibition to comprehensively bring together the rich portrait holdings of both the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. Revealing the artistic synergies and contrasts between the two institutions’ collections, this co-curated exhibition considers portraiture in Australia across time and media.

Through the examination of diverse and sometimes unconventional ways of representing likeness, WHO ARE YOU will question what actually constitutes portraiture – historically, today and into the future. Examples of some of the more abstract notions of portraits in the exhibition include John Nixon’s Self-portrait, (1990), and Boris Cipusev’s typographic portrait of Jeff from The Wiggles, titled Jeff the wiggle, 2009-2013. Polixeni Papapetrou’s Magma man, 2013, a photograph that merges sitter and landscape until the two are almost indecipherable, and Shirley Purdie’s multi-panelled evocation of biography and Country, Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe, 2018, further challenge the conventions of the genre and touch upon the intimate connection between artist, sitter and land. NGV Collection highlights include new acquisitions: Kaylene Whiskey’s Seven Sisters Song, 2021 – a playful take on portraiture by a living artist and Joy Hester’s Pauline McCarthy,1945, a rare example of Hester producing a portrait in oil.

WHO ARE YOU is the largest exhibition of Australian portraiture ever mounted by either the NGV or NPG, and is the first time the two galleries have worked collaboratively on such a large-scale project.

Text from the NGV International website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing Lloyd Rees' 'Portrait of some rocks' 1948

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing Lloyd Rees’ Portrait of some rocks (1948, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lloyd Rees. 'Portrait of some rocks' 1948

 

Lloyd Rees (Australian, 1895-1988)
Portrait of some rocks
1948
Oil on canvas
76.6 x 102.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1948
© Lloyd Rees/Licensed by Copyright Agency, Australia

 

 

One of Australia’s leading landscape artists of the mid-twentieth century, Lloyd Rees studied at Brisbane Technical College before moving to Sydney in 1917, where he worked as a commercial illustrator. In the early 1930s he concentrated solely on drawing, particularly the rocky landscapes around Sydney, but by the late 1930s he began painting in an increasingly romantic manner. Rocks were a meaningful subject for Rees because they evoked permanency and represented the constitution of the earth. Rees humanises his subject matter by using the word ‘portrait’ in the title, which suggests the rocks have shifted from inorganic to animate objects.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at right, Marshall Claxton’s An emigrant’s thoughts of home (1859, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at right, Marshall Claxton’s An emigrant’s thoughts of home (1859, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Marshall Claxton (English, 1813-1881, worked in Australia 1850-1854) 'An emigrant's thoughts of home' 1859

 

Marshall Claxton (English, 1813-1881, worked in Australia 1850-1854)
An emigrant’s thoughts of home
1859
Oil on cardboard
60.7 × 47.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by the National Gallery Women’s Association, 1974

 

 

Immigration underlies the European history of Australia. Between 1815 and 1840, more than 58,000 people, predominately from the British Isles, came to Australia in search of a better life. Women migrants were also assisted to curb a gender imbalance in the colonies, to work as domestic servants and to foster marriages and childbirth.

Text from the National Gallery of Victoria website

 

Immigration is central to the history of Australia. The wistful tilt of this young woman’s head and her thoughtful expression are powerful symbols of the intense nostalgia and fear of the unknown experienced by those in search of a new homeland. Despite its apparent simplicity and sentimentality, the painting captures the issues of poverty, deprivation and emigration that people, especially women, faced in the middle decades of the nineteenth century.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Peter Drew (Australian, b. 1983) 'Monga Khan 1916' 2016, printed 2019

 

Peter Drew (Australian, b. 1983)
Monga Khan 1916
2016, printed 2019
From the Aussie series 2016
Brush and ink on screenprint
Image: 114.5 x 80.5cm
Sheet: 117.5 x 83.5cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, NGV Supporters of Prints and Drawings, 2020
© Peter Drew

 

 

Monga Khan was a hawker, and one of the thousands of people who applied for an exemption to the White Australia Policy, a law which came into effect in 1901. Exemptions were considered for cameleers, hawkers and other traders who were considered essential workers. Drew created this poster and others in the Aussie series using photographs from the National Archives of Australia, and pasted them around Australia’s cities.

He explains: ‘When you address the public through the street you’re entering into a tradition that emphasises our fundamental freedom of expression, over the value of property. I enjoy examining our collective identities and my aim is always to emphasise the connections that bind us, rather than the fractures that divide us’.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, Maree Clarke’s Walert – gum barerarerungar (2020-2021, below); and at right, Uta Uta Tjangala’s Ngurrapalangu (1989, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Uta Uta Tjangala (Australian / Puntupi, c. 1926-1990) 'Ngurrapalangu' 1989 (installation view)

 

Uta Uta Tjangala (Australian / Puntupi, c. 1926-1990)
Ngurrapalangu (installation view)
1989
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Elizabeth and Colin Laverty, Governors, 2001
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Uta Uta Tjangala forged a new art form at Papunya during 1971-1972 with startling works such as this one. Working for the first time on a discarded scrap of composition board, artists at Papunya rendered visible and permanent ephemeral designs, formerly made only for use in closed and secret ceremonial contexts on bodies, objects or the ground. The painted designs are closely connected to the artist’s cultural identity, his understanding of Country, and of sacred men’s business, unknowable to uninitiated members of the community.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Maree Clarke (Australian / Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung, b. 1961) 'Walert – gum barerarerungar: Tipperary, Ireland Dunstable, Britain Yorta Yorta Trawlwoolway Boonwurrung, Muttu Mutti, Wamba Wamba' 2020-2021 (installation view)

 

Maree Clarke (Australian / Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung, b. 1961)
Walert – gum barerarerungar: Tipperary, Ireland Dunstable, Britain Yorta Yorta Trawlwoolway Boonwurrung, Muttu Mutti, Wamba Wamba (installation view)
2020-2021
Possum pelts
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchase, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2021
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Maree Clarke is recognised as one of the most respected possum skin cloak makers and teachers in the world. This work represents the first time Clarke produced a cloak to represent her own ancestral identity. Depicted on the cloak are seven important places, which her ancestors come from: Yorta Yorta Country, Trawlwoolway Country, Boonwurrung Country, Muttu Mutti Country and Wamba Wamba Country, as well as Tiperrary in Ideland, and Dunstable in Britain. Clarke has used a rare green ochre to represent her European ancestors. Together, these seven ancestral sites of significance inform Clarke’s identity.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Maree Clarke (Australian / Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung, b. 1961) 'Walert – gum barerarerungar: Tipperary, Ireland Dunstable, Britain Yorta Yorta Trawlwoolway Boonwurrung, Muttu Mutti, Wamba Wamba' 2020-2021 (installation view detail)

 

Maree Clarke (Australian / Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung, b. 1961)
Walert – gum barerarerungar: Tipperary, Ireland Dunstable, Britain Yorta Yorta Trawlwoolway Boonwurrung, Muttu Mutti, Wamba Wamba (installation view detail)
2020-2021
Possum pelts
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchase, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2021
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Portraiture

In its uniting of artist and sitter, the self-portrait is an intriguing facet of portraiture. The self-reflection is a format that appears to grant the viewer the assurance of revelation and intimate access to the artist’s psyche. However, what the artist intends to communicate to their audience through portraiture is highly varied, and the message each artist conveys is as individual as the artist themselves. Additionally, there is room for the viewer to question how the artist has chosen to depict their image.

Self-portraiture is a diverse genre: there are myriad ways an artist can present themselves. A typical way for the artist to portray themselves is in the role of ‘the artist’, including in the work a visual clue to their profession – for instance holding a brush or paint palette – or showing themselves at work in the studio. As part of an investigation of self, these representations can also communicate the complexities of status and gender. This selection of works explores what the artists intend to reveal or exclude about themselves through their self-representations, considering he environment in which the artists are placed, and the props and imagery they choose to include in the works.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Pamela See (Australian, b. 1979) 'Making Chinese Shadows (sixteen silhouette portraits)' 2018 (installation view)

 

Pamela See (Australian, b. 1979)
Making Chinese Shadows (sixteen silhouette portraits) (installation view)
2018
Twelve of sixteen papercut silhouette drawings
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2019
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Brisbane-born Pamela See (Xue Mei-Ling) studied at the Queensland College of Art from 1997 to 1999. She began papercutting during a period when she was without access to a studio, and was subsequently awarded grants that enabled her to study the technique in several centres throughout China. Her method and style resemble Foshan papercutting, which is widely practices in the home of her maternal grandparents, in Guangdong province. These papercuts are from a series investigating the lives of Chinese-Australians who flourished prior to the introduction of the White Australia policy. The works connect and juxtapose European silhouette portraiture and Chinese papercutting traditions, exploring the notion that a silhouette profile provides a means of ‘measuring’ a sitter’s character with the totemic and floral symbols evoking personal narratives, identity and professions.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Pamela See (Australian, b. 1979) 'Making Chinese Shadows (sixteen silhouette portraits)' 2018 (installation view detail)

 

Pamela See (Australian, b. 1979)
Making Chinese Shadows (sixteen silhouette portraits) (installation view detail)
2018
Twelve of sixteen papercut silhouette drawings
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2019
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Various unknown photographers (Australian) William and Martha Mary Robertson and their children 1860s-1870s (installation view)

Various unknown photographers (Australian) William and Martha Mary Robertson and their children 1860s-1870s (installation view)

Various unknown photographers (Australian) William and Martha Mary Robertson and their children 1860s-1870s (installation view)

 

Various unknown photographers (Australian)
William and Martha Mary Robertson and their children (installation views)
1860s-1870s
Eight cartes de visite, hand-coloured, contained in red leather presentation case
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Malcolm Robertson in memory of William Thomas Robertson 2018
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

LIU Xiao Xian (Australian born China, b. 1963) 'My other lives, #7' 2000

 

LIU Xiao Xian (Australian born China, b. 1963)
My other lives, #7
2000
From the My other lives series 2000
Type C photograph
102.0 × 145.2cm irreg.
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2002
© LIU Xiao Xian

 

 

Popular in nineteenth-century Australia, stereographs gave the illusion of three dimensions when placed in a handheld viewer. In this work, Liu Xiao Xian enlarges a typical example of this historical form of photographic portraiture and replaces the sitter’s face with his own on one side. Through this double-take, and the playful invitation to imagine an ‘other life’ for this sitter, this work is both a subtle self-portrait and a pointed reminder of the invisibility of the Chinese migrant experience in mainstream conceptions of Australian history and identity.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

A. D. Colquhoun (Australian, 1894-1983) 'Artist and sitter' c. 1938 (installation view)

 

A. D. Colquhoun (Australian, 1894-1983)
Artist and sitter (installation view)
c. 1938
Oil on canvas
122.0 × 94.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1940
© Dr Quentin Noel Porter
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

A. D. Colquhoun (Australian, 1894-1983) 'Artist and sitter' c. 1938

 

A. D. Colquhoun (Australian, 1894-1983)
Artist and sitter
c. 1938
Oil on canvas
122.0 × 94.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1940
© Dr Quentin Noel Porter

 

 

Brush in hand, there is no mistaking A. D. Colquhoun’s occupation or the studio setting. The young, glamorous model is an essential part of this carefully orchestrated self-portrayal. By also including his painting of the model on the easel, Colquhoun presents himself in the company of not one, but two women whose presence asserts his own dominant masculinity. The artist’s gaze meets the viewer, placing them as the subject of the painter’s attention, creating a complex network of visual relationships between the artist, model and viewer.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at right, Shirley Purdie’s Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe (2018, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Shirley Purdie (Australian / Gija, b. 1947) 'Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe' 2018 (installation view)

 

Shirley Purdie (Australian / Gija, b. 1947)
Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe (installation view)
2018
Natural ochre and pigments on canvas (36 parts)
Each: 45.0 x 45.0cm
Overall: 225.0 x 525.0cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2019
© Shirley Purdie/Copyright Agency, 2022
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Shirley Purdie (b. 1947) is a senior Gija artist at the Warmun Art Centre who has been painting for more than twenty years. Purdie has lived on her Country, Western Australia’s East Kimberley, all her life. Inspired by senior Warmun artists, including her late mother, Madigan Thomas, she began to paint sites and narratives associated with her Country in the early 1990s. A prominent leader in the Warmun community, her cultural knowledge and artistic skill allow her to pass on Gija stories and language to the younger generations.

In 2018, Purdie was selected to contribute to the National Portrait Gallery’s 20th anniversary exhibition, So Fine: Contemporary Women Artists Make Australian History. Composed of 36 paintings, Purdie’s self-portrait Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngaginbe is an eloquent and stunning visualisation of personal history, identity and connection to Country. ‘It’s good to learn from old people. They keep saying when you paint you can remember that Country, just like to take a photo … When the old people die, young people can read the stories from the paintings. They can learn from the paintings and maybe they want to start painting too.’ Using richly textured ochres collected on her Country, Purdie’s work is a kaleidoscope of traditional Gija stories and Ngarranggarni passed down to her.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Shirley Purdie is senior Gija woman and a prominent leader within the Warmup Community in Western Australia’s East Kimberley. Combining her cultural knowledge with her art, Purdie creates visual depictions of Gija life and culture. Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe, meaning ‘from my women’, is informed by Aboriginal ways of seeing, knowing and understanding oneself within the world. Each of the thirty-six panels shares a story about personal history, identity and Country to produce a non-representational self-portrait of the artist and her ongoing connection to women’s stories. By drawing on the significant women in her life, their relationships and histories, Purdie describes herself through these cultural connections and stories.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing Sam Jink’s Divide (Self portrait) (2011, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Sam Jinks (Australian, b. 1973) 'Divide (Self portrait)' 2011 (installation view)

Sam Jinks (Australian, b. 1973) 'Divide (Self portrait)' 2011 (installation view)

 

Sam Jinks (Australian, b. 1973)
Divide (Self portrait) (installation views)
2011
Silicone, resin, horse hair
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2015
© Sam Jinks
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Sam Jinks developed a talent for drawing and constructing his ideas alongside his father, a Melbourne cabinetmaker. Jinks worked as an illustrator before turning to sculpture. He worked in film and television special effects before becoming a fabricator for artist Patricia Piccinini. For the last ten years he has sculpted independently, working in silicone, fibreglass, resin and hair – human, animal and synthetic.

 

Max Martin (Australian, 1889-1965) 'Portrait group' 1922

 

Max Martin (Australian, 1889-1965)
Portrait group
1922
Oil on canvas
152.8 x 102.2cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 1995
© Veronica Martin

 

Max Martin (Australian, 1889-1965) 'Portrait group' 1922 (installation view detail)

 

Max Martin (Australian, 1889-1965)
Portrait group (installation view detail)
1922
Oil on canvas
152.8 x 102.2cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 1995
© Veronica Martin
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Herbert Badham (Australian, 1899-1961) 'Self portrait with glove' 1939 (installation view)

 

Herbert Badham (Australian, 1899-1961)
Self portrait with glove (installation view)
1939
Oil on canvas board
Frame: 44.4 x 40.7cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 1999
© Estate of Herbert Badham
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Herbert Badham was an artist, writer and teacher who specialised in figures, urban life and beach scenes. Having studied for many years at the Julian Ashton School in the 1920s and 1930s, he produced a body of painting that typified the gentle, realist aspect of Sydney modernism of the prewar years. Head of the intermediate art department at East Sydney Tech from 1938 to 1961, he published the populist Study of Australian Art in 1949, and A Gallery of Australian Art in 1954. Badham’s work underwent a minor revival in the late 1980s, with a retrospective show held in Wollongong and Sydney, and three of his urban scenes were selected for the National Gallery’s Federation exhibition of 2001. Arguably the most interesting of several self-portraits of the artist, this painting was featured on the cover of the catalogue of the 1987 retrospective.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Herbert Badham (Australian, 1899-1961) 'Self portrait with glove' 1939

 

Herbert Badham (Australian, 1899-1961)
Self portrait with glove
1939
Oil on canvas board
Frame: 44.4 x 40.7cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 1999
© Estate of Herbert Badham

 

Janet Dawson (Australian, b. 1935) 'Self Portrait' Between 1951 and 1953

 

Janet Dawson (Australian, b. 1935)
Self Portrait
Between 1951 and 1953
oil on cardboard
Frame: 57.0 x 47.5cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2000
© Janet Dawson/Copyright Agency, 2022

 

 

Janet Dawson (b. 1935) is best known for her contribution to abstract art in Australia. Following her family’s relocation from Forbes to Melbourne in the early 1940s, Dawson attended the private art school run by Harold Septimus Power. In 1951, aged sixteen, she enrolled at the National Gallery School and attended night classes with Sir William Dargie. Five years later, Dawson won a National Gallery of Victoria Travelling Scholarship and went to London, where she studied at the Slade School and the Central School. Returning to Melbourne in 1961, she held her first solo exhibition the same year and in 1963 set up an art school and workshop. Dawson was one of only three women included in the influential exhibition of Australian abstraction, The Field, at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1968. Her work is represented in all major public collections in Australia, and has been the subject of exhibitions at the NGV and the National Gallery of Australia.

Outside of her lyrical abstract work, Dawson always practised portraiture and won the Archibald Prize in 1973 with a portrait of her husband, the late writer, actor and playwright Michael Boddy. Painted during an evening class at the National Gallery School, this self portrait shows Dawson wearing an artist’s work shirt over her elegant day clothes, gazing confidently at the viewer.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, Lina Bryans’ The babe is wise (1940, below); at middle, Janet Cumbrae Stewart’s Portrait of Jessie C. A. Traill (1920, below); and at right, Evelyn Chapman’s Self portrait (1911, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lina Bryans (Australian born Germany, 1909-2000) 'The babe is wise' 1940 (installation view)

 

Lina Bryans (Australian born Germany, 1909-2000)
The babe is wise (installation view)
1940
Oil on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Jean Campbell, 1962
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Lina Bryans was an important part of the modern movement and a member of literary and artistic circles in Melbourne during the late 1930s and 1940s. Her vibrant paintings are characterised by bold brushwork and the expressive use of colour. In 1937, Bryans began painting portraits of her friends. Her most famous work, The babe is wise, is a portrait of the writer Jean Campbell, who had recently published a novel of the same name.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Lina Bryans (Australian born Germany, 1909-2000) 'The babe is wise' 1940

 

Lina Bryans (Australian born Germany, 1909-2000)
The babe is wise
1940
Oil on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Jean Campbell, 1962

 

Janet Cumbrae Stewart (Australian, 1883-1960) 'Portrait of Jessie C. A. Traill' 1920

 

Janet Cumbrae Stewart (Australian, 1883-1960)
Portrait of Jessie C. A. Traill
1920
Pastel
Image and sheet: 55.5 × 45.4cm irreg.
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Jessie Traill, 1961
© Courtesy of the copyright holder

 

 

Chiefly known for her use of pastel, Janet Cumbrae Stewart devoted the most significant part of her career to producing sensuous studies of the female nude and portraits of women. Her portrait of fellow artist Jessie Traill shows Traill in the dress uniform of a Queen Alexandra Imperial Nurse. Nursing was one of the few options open to women wanting to serve in the First World War. Traill, who was living in France, volunteered and was stationed in Rouen in Northern France for three and a half years. Cumbrae Stewart and Traill were friends, both having grown up in Brighton, Victoria, and attended the National Gallery School alongside one another in the early 1900s.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Evelyn Chapman (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Self portrait' 1911 (installation view)

 

Evelyn Chapman (Australian, 1888-1961)
Self portrait (installation view)
1911
Oil on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Pamela Thalben-Ball 2007
© Estate of Evelyn Chapman
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 Evelyn Chapman (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Self portrait' 1911

 

Evelyn Chapman (Australian, 1888-1961)
Self portrait
1911
Oil on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Pamela Thalben-Ball 2007
© Estate of Evelyn Chapman

 

 

Evelyn Chapman, artist, studied with Antonio Dattilo Rubbo in Sydney and travelled overseas to paint in Paris, where she exhibited at the Salon. A few weeks after the end of World War 1 she took up the opportunity to visit the battlefields of France with her father, who was attached to the New Zealand War Graves Commission. Thus, she became the first Australian female artist to depict the devastated battlefields, towns and churches of the western front. Chapman remained overseas with her father, an organist who played in Dieppe, Venice and elsewhere, and married a brilliant organist, George Thalben-Ball, herself. After she married, she gave up painting, but she encouraged her daughter, Pamela, to pursue art. For the rest of her life, Chapman lived in England, only returning to Australia for a visit in 1960. The Art Gallery of New South Wales has her 1911 portrait of Dattilo Rubbo and a number of her paintings of France, Belgium and England. The Australian War Memorial, too, has several of her evocative French scenes.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, William Yang’s Self Portrait #2 (2007, below); and at centre in case, Alan Constable’s earthenware cameras (see below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Life Lines #3 – Self portrait #2 (1947)' 1947/2008

 

William Yang (Australian, b. 1943)
Self Portrait #2
2007
From the Self Portrait series
Inkjet print
Sheet: 84.0 x 50.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Ms Cora Trevarthen and Professor Andrew Reeves, 2013
© William Yang

 

 

William Yang shares childhood memories in this self-portrait. He recently reflected: ‘… I cal myself Australian, but I claim my Chinese heritage because that’s the way I look. Central to my art practice is my own story, which I tell in performances with projected images and music in theatres. My story is told against a backdrop of the times. This keys into my documentary-style photography. I have done a series of self-portraits of the same stories for exhibition in galleries. So my art and my life have become entwined and they both feed into each other. And I’ve come to terms with the way I look … It’s a great relief to feel comfortable in your own skin’.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, Alan Constable’s Green large format camera (2013, below); and at right Alan Constable’s Not titled (Black Mamiya large format camera) (2013, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956) 'Not titled (Green large format camera)' 2013

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956)
Not titled (Green large format camera)
2013
Earthenware
16.5 × 24.0 × 9.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Courtesy of the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956) 'Not titled (Black Mamiya large format camera)' 2013

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956)
Not titled (Black Mamiya large format camera)
2013
Earthenware
25.0 × 29.0 × 26.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Courtesy of the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956) 'Not titled (Box Brownie)' 2013

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956)
Not titled (Box Brownie)
2013
Earthenware
17.0 × 24.5 × 18.5cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Courtesy of the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

 

 

Alan Constable’s lifelong fascination with cameras began when he was just eight years old, as he sculpted the objects picture on cereal boxes. Legally blind, Constable’s sculptural practice sometimes extends to other optical objects, such as binoculars and video recorders. Constable’s method involves holding the camera millimetres from his eyes, as he scans and feels the object, before quickly rendering his impressions in clay. Constable has worked at Arts Project Australia since 1991 and held his first solo show in 2011. His works speak to the processes of seeing and looking, and self-reflexively capture the objects that capture the image.

Display case text from the exhibition

 

Christian Thompson. 'Othering the Explorer, James Cook' 2016

 

Christian Thompson (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1978)
Authoring the explorer, James Cook
2015, printed 2016
From the Museum of Others series 2015-2016
Type C photograph on metallic paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of an anonymous donor through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2017

 

 

‘Today, we are still conditioned by historical tropes such as the bust-style portraits of colonial men who had roles in furthering the position of colonial Britain at the height of the imperial pursuit for claiming new frontiers, at the expense of the Indigenous custodians of countries including Australia. However, as famous as these colonial figures still are, I try to demonstrate that it is never too late to pierce, subvert and re-stage the spectres of history to gain agency from the position of the other. Through the work, I am proposing: let us scrutinise your history, your identities, your flaws.’ ~ Christian Thompson, 2017

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is one of the most comprehensive explorations of portraiture ever mounted in Australia and the first exhibition to bring together the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. The exhibition will be on display in Melbourne from 25 March to 21 August 2022 and Canberra from 1 October 2022 to 29 January 2023.

Revealing the rich artistic synergies and contrasts between the two institutions’ collections, this co-curated exhibition considers portraiture in Australia across time and media, as well as the role of the portraiture genre in the development of a sense of Australian national identity.

Featuring more than two-hundred works by Australian artists including Patricia Piccinini, Atong Atem, Howard Arkley, Vincent Namatjira and Tracey Moffatt, and featuring sitters including Cate Blanchett, Albert Namatjira, Queen Elizabeth II, Eddie Mabo and David Gulpilil, the exhibition explores our inner worlds and outer selves, as well as issues of sociability, intimacy, isolation, celebrity and ordinariness.

The exhibition also questions what actually constitutes portraiture by examining the surprising and sometimes unconventional ways of representing likeness, such as the abstract self-portrait by John Nixon and Boris Cipusev’s typographic portrait of Jeff from The Wiggles. Polixeni Papapetrou’s Magma Man, a photograph which merges sitter and landscape until the two are almost indecipherable, and Shirley Purdie’s multi-panelled evocation of biography and Country further challenge the conventions of the genre and touch upon the intimate connection between artist, sitter and land. Alongside these works, iconic self-portraits will also be displayed by artists including John Brack, Nora Heysen and William Yang.

Tony Ellwood AM, Director, NGV, said: “This exhibition marks the first major partnership between the NGV and the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. By combining our respective portraiture collections and curatorial expertise in this area, we have been able to stage the largest thematic portraiture exhibition in the history of either institution. This presentation will no doubt offer audiences an unprecedented insight into the genre and its place in Australian art history.”

Karen Quinlan AM, Director, National Portrait Gallery, said: “The NPG is thrilled to work with the NGV on this extensive exploration of Australian portraiture. The exhibition comes at a time when, in the current global COVID environment, stories from home, about home, and the artists and identities who have shaped and continue to shape our nation are more compelling and important than ever. It is a privilege to be able to present our collection in conversation with the NGV’s and to explore the idea of Australian identity and its many layers and facets through the lens of portraiture.”

Presented across five thematic sections, the exhibition raises challenging and provocative questions about who we are and how we view others – historically, today and into the future. The exhibition opens by considering the connection between people and place, reflecting on the relationship between artists, sitters and the environment, as well as the personification of the natural world. Highlight works include a conceptual map depicting self and Country by Wawiriya Burton, Ngayaku Ngura (My Country) 2009, as well as the NGV’s recent acquisition Seven Sisters Song 2021 by Kaylene Whiskey, a painted road sign that is filled with personally significant, autobiographical references to pop culture.

A further section explores the artistic tradition of the self-portrait and portraits of artists, as well as how this convention has been subverted or challenged by contemporary artists working today. Works include Hari Ho’s Dadang Christanto 2005, which depicts the artist buried to the neck in sand, referencing the brutal killings of Indonesians in the failed military coup of September 1965, and Alan Constable’s Not titled (Green large format camera) 2013, personifying the act of photography with a hand modelled, ceramic camera.

Ideas of intimacy and alienation are juxtaposed through images of family and community presented alongside those of vulnerability and isolation. Works include Pat Larter’s Marty 1995, a graphic collage depicting a male sex worker, challenging the ease with which society consumes images of female nudity, and Naomi Hobson’s Warrior without a weapon 2019, a photographic series in which the artist challenges stereotypes about Indigenous men from her home community in Coen, by using flowers as a metaphor for male vulnerability.

The exhibition also explores portraiture’s surprising capacity to reveal the inner worlds and mindsets of both the sitter and the artist, as exemplified by Eric Thake’s satirical vignettes of figures in dream-like settings, and Hoda Afshar’s Remain 2018, a video exploring Australia’s controversial border protection policy and the human rights of those seeking asylum.

The final section of the exhibition interrogates Australian icons, identities and how we construct them. Works featured in this section include Michael Riley’s Maria 1986 and Polly Borland’s HM Queen Elizabeth II 2002, two works displayed side by side, drawing connections between archetypal imagery of royalty, with negative renderings of ‘otherness’ found in historical ethnographic portraiture.

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is presented by the NGV and the National Portrait Gallery and will be on display at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Fed Square from 25 March to 21 August 2022 and the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra from 1 October 2022 to 29 January 2023.

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is generously supported by Major Partner, Deakin University.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria International

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at centre left, Bert Flugelman’s self portrait (1985, below). The legend of the artworks on the wall is below…
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Bert Flugelman (Australian born Austria, 1923-2013, Australia from 1938) 'Self portrait' c. 1985

 

Bert Flugelman (Australian born Austria, 1923-2013, Australia from 1938)
Self portrait
c. 1985
Stainless steel
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2009
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Bert Flugelman/Copyright Agency, 2022

 

 

Herbert ‘Bert’ Flugelman, sculptor, painter and lecturer, came to Australia from his native Vienna in 1938, aged fifteen. In the late 1940s he trained at the National Art School; he travelled and studied overseas through the first half of the 1950s. In 1967 he won first prize at the Mildura Sculpture Triennial with a large cast-iron equestrian piece. His subsequent public commissions include the untitled copper and ceramic mosaic fountain at Bruce Hall at the Australian National University; Spheres 1977 (known locally as Bert’s Balls) for the Rundle Street Mall, Adelaide; and the Dobell Memorial 1978 for Martin Place, Sydney. Controversially, Tumbling cubes (Dice) (Untitled) 1978/1979, originally made for Cameron Offices in Belconnen ACT, was some years ago moved to a nearby park, according to the artist a ‘hopelessly inappropriate site’. Cones 1982 dominates the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Australia, and the Winged figure (Lawrence Hargrave memorial) 1988 towers 6m high at Mt Keira, near Wollongong. Flugelman taught from 1973 to 1983 at the South Australian School of Art, and from 1984 to 1990 at the University of Wollongong, from which he received an honorary doctorate. There was a retrospective exhibition of his five decades’ work at the Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University in 2009.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 23/06/2022

 

Lewis Morley (Hong Kong 125 - Australia 2013, England 1945-1971, Australia from 1971) 'Self portrait in reflection' 1973 (installation view)

 

Lewis Morley (Hong Kong 125 – Australia 2013, England 1945-1971, Australia from 1971)
Self portrait in reflection (installation view)
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2003
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lewis Morley (Hong Kong 125 - Australia 2013, England 1945-1971, Australia from 1971) 'Self portrait in reflection' 1973

 

Lewis Morley (Hong Kong 125 – Australia 2013, England 1945-1971, Australia from 1971)
Self portrait in reflection
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2003
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Lewis Morley Archive LLC

 

 

Lewis Morley OAM (1925-2013), photographer, was born in Hong Kong and went to the United Kingdom with his family at the end of World War 2. He studied commercial art in London and spent time in Paris before taking up photography in 1954, initially working for magazines like Tatler, London Life and She. In 1961, he founded Lewis Morley Studios in Peter Cook’s London club, The Establishment. Here, he built his reputation with photographs of the celebrities that defined the hip spirit of London in the 1960s, among them Cook, Dudley Moore, Charlotte Rampling, Twiggy, Vanessa Redgrave and Jean Shrimpton. In 1963, Morley took one of the world’s most famous photographic portraits – that of Christine Keeler, short-term shared mistress of a British politician and a Soviet diplomat, naked on a Scandinavian chair. By 1971, Morley’s magazine and theatre work in London was petering out, and he emigrated to Australia, where, he said, ‘bingo! there was the sixties all over again’. Shooting increasingly in colour, Morley took many photographs for Dolly, POL, Belle and other publications that now afford an evocative record of changing Australian culture through the 1970s and 1980s. Many of Morley’s portraits from this era were shown in the National Portrait Gallery’s retrospective exhibition Lewis Morley: Myself and Eye in 2003. His work was also the subject of a major exhibitions staged by the National Portrait Gallery, London, in 1989-1990; and the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2006.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 23/06/2022

 

William Dargie (Australian, 1912-2003) 'Albert Namatjira' 1958 (installation view)

 

William Dargie (Australian, 1912-2003)
Albert Namatjira (installation view)
1958
Oil on canvas laid on composition board
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds donated by Marilyn Darling AC and the assistance of Philip Bacon Galleries 2000
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Albert Namatjira was a descendant of the Western Arrant people of the Northern Territory. Inspired by the spectacular landforms and vivid colours around his home at the Hermannsuburg Mission in the 1930s, Namatjira fused Western-influenced style of watercolour with unique expressions of traditional sites and sacred knowledge. Sir William Dargie CBE described Namatjira as having ‘tremendous inner dignity’ and within this portrait, he located Namatjira in his country in the MacDonnell Ranges. Holding one of his own landscapes, the portrait represents the intrinsic connection between the artist’s painting and identity. Namatjira was, and still is, an important presence in Australian art and a leading figure in the development of Aboriginal rights.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

William Dargie (Australian, 1912-2003) 'Albert Namatjira' 1958 (installation view detail)

 

William Dargie (Australian, 1912-2003)
Albert Namatjira (installation view detail)
1958
Oil on canvas laid on composition board
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds donated by Marilyn Darling AC and the assistance of Philip Bacon Galleries 2000
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003) 'Sharpies, Melbourne' 1973

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Sharpies, Melbourne
1973, printed c. 1977-1978
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2006

 

 

‘Rather than capturing the subjects unawares I have encouraged them to pause, and even pose, from the camera. In this way they have an opportunity to communicate directly with me and to project whatever image they believe suits them best.’ ~ Rennie Ellis

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992) 'Hera Roberts' 1936 (installation view)

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Hera Roberts (installation view)
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 cm x 21.4cm
Gift of Rex Dupain 2003
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992) 'Hera Roberts' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Hera Roberts
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 cm x 21.4cm
Gift of Rex Dupain 2003
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

Hera Roberts (life dates unknown) was a painter, illustrator, designer, commercial artist and milliner. During the 1920s and 30s she produced many covers for the Home magazine, and arranged photo spreads for the magazine promoting fashionable interiors and furniture. She designed a complete room for the Burdekin House exhibition of 1929, including furniture, and also designed furniture for her companion Sydney Ure Smith. Roberts was regarded as an authoritative commentator on matters of style. She was the student and cousin of the artist Thea Proctor, who was also part of the network of ‘lady artists’ who were able to make their careers in interior decorating and taste arbitration. Co-owner of a millinery shop in Pitt Street called ‘June’, Roberts was also one of the finest female fencers in the Southern Hemisphere, operating out of the Sydney Swords Club.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 23/06/2022

 

Trevor Turbo Brown (Australian / Latje Latje, 1967-2017) 'Self-portrait, 'I am the Dingo Spirit'' 2015 (installation view)

 

Trevor Turbo Brown (Australian / Latje Latje, 1967-2017)
Self-portrait, ‘I am the Dingo Spirit’ (installation view)
2015
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Trevor Turbo Brown, or ‘Turbo’ as he was known, was born in Mildura and grew up on Latje Latje Country. In 1981, Turbo moved to Melbourne were he became a celebrity in the Koori community. He trained as a boxer at the Fitzroy Stars Gym from 1986 to 1991 and would do breakdance street performances throughout Melbourne during the 1980s and 1990s. It was here that he got his nickname. Turbo was a regular character on the streets of Brunswick before he passed away in 2017. In this self-portrait Turbo impinges himself as a dingo, wild and free in the night.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Trevor Turbo Brown (Australian / Latje Latje, b. 1967) Self-portrait, 'I am the Dingo Spirit' 2015

 

Trevor Turbo Brown (Australian / Latje Latje, b. 1967)
Self-portrait, ‘I am the Dingo Spirit’
2015
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
122.3 x 102.2cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Vince Sinni in memory of Trevor Turbo Brown through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2018
© the artist’s estate

 

John Brack. 'Self-portrait' 1955

 

John Brack (Australian, 1920-1999)
Self-portrait
1955
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the National Gallery Women’s Association, 2000

 

 

John Brack created images that explore the social rituals and realities of everyday living. Rendered in a subtle but complex colour scheme, with its subject stripped of vanity and dressed in early-morning attire, Self-portrait is a piercing study of a man engaged in the intimacy of shaving. Although images of women at their toilette have been recently depicted by both male and female Australian artists, it is unusual for men to be shown or to show themselves in this context.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne with second from left, Michael Cook’s Tunnel No. 2 (2014, below); at third from left, Ron Mueck’s Two Women (2005, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Michael Cook (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1968) 'Tunnel No. 2' 2014 (installation view)

 

Michael Cook (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1968)
Tunnel No. 2 (installation view)
2014
From the series Majority Rule
Inkjet print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Ybonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

‘In Majority Rule I created staged scenarios that question Australian history and the dominance of those in power. The series features the same anonymous Indigenous Man, multiplied over and over in each image. Australia’s Indigenous population comprises around three or four percent of our total population. My images seek to defy this reality and ask the viewer to speculate about an Australia where Aboriginal people constitute the majority of the country’s population; they paint a picture of a societal structure reversed … The works also serve as reminders fo the lack of Indigenous representation within Parliament, the judicial system and the business world.’ ~ Michael Cook, 2017

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Michael Cook (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1968) 'Tunnel No. 2' 2014

 

Michael Cook (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1968)
Tunnel No. 2
2014
From the series Majority Rule
Inkjet print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Ybonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Courtesy of the artist

 

Ron Mueck. 'Two woman' 2005

 

Ron Mueck (Australian born England, b. 1958)
Two women
2005
Polyester resin, fibreglass, silicone, polyurethane, aluminium, wire, steel, cotton, nylon, synthetic hair, plastic, metal
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2007

 

Ron Mueck. 'Two woman' 2005 (detail)

 

Ron Mueck (Australian born England, b. 1958)
Two women (detail)
2005
Polyester resin, fibreglass, silicone, polyurethane, aluminium, wire, steel, cotton, nylon, synthetic hair, plastic, metal
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2007

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, Pierre Mukeba’s Impartiality (2018, below); at second right, William Frater’s Reclining nude (c. 1933, below); and at right, Pat Larter’s Marty (1995, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Pierre Mukeba (Australian born Democratic Republic of the Congo, b. 1995, Australia from 2006) 'Impartiality' 2018

 

Pierre Mukeba (Australian born Democratic Republic of the Congo, b. 1995, Australia from 2006)
Impartiality
2018
Fibre-tipped pen and printed fabric on cotton
245.0 × 270.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Anne Ross, 2018
© Pierre Mukeba, courtesy of GAGPROJECTS

 

 

Pierre Mukeba was a child when he fled with his family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Zambia, where they lived in a refugee camp before joining family in Zimbabwe. Following the Mugabe regime’s arrest order for non-nationals, the family applied for asylum through the Australian Embassy and relocated to Adelaide in 2006. In this work, Mukeba uses patterned Dutch wax print fabrics commonly perceived as being ‘African’, while in reality, they were appropriated from traditional Javanese bark by Dutch colonisers in the nineteenth century, mass produced in Europe and exported to Africa. This painting is part of a group of works by Mukeba, in which he draws on sociocultural standards of beauty and representations of his community.

Wall text rom the exhibition