Archive for the 'surrealism' Category

25
Jun
16

Exhibition: ‘Brett Weston: Significant Details’ at Pasadena Museum of California Art

Exhibition dates: 17th April – 11th September 2016

Curator: Erin Aitali, PMCA Director of Exhibitions and Registrar

 

 

If your subject is essentially unrecognizable – a defining characteristic of many of Weston’s photographs – devoid of sentimentality, featuring an explosion of geometry as a form of Western expressionism, able to extract the microcosm from the macrocosm through an absence of human presence and apparent narrative – then your previsualisation must be spot on otherwise you loose clear focus as to just what it is you are trying to communicate. It’s all very well being obsessed with capturing the intricacies and rhythms of form, light and shadow, visual poetry in photography, but if that obsession has no ‘feeling’ outcome then you are doomed to failure.

Imagine (if you can) that master of documentary realism Eugène Atget placing his camera in just the wrong position for one of his photographs. The tripod just a little too low, the position a metre to the left of where it should have been. The resulting image would not feel like an Atget, the angles would not feel right, the mixture of objective and subjective would not be present, the magic of his photographs – recognisably his photographs – would be missing. What Atget does so convincingly is to combine the aesthetic with the documentary or representational. As G.H. Saxon Mills observes in his essay ‘Modern photography’ ‘”modern” photography means photography whose aim is partly or wholly aesthetic, as opposed to photography which is merely documentary or representational.’ Atget proves that both were possible within the same frame.

This is not the case with the photographs by Brett Weston in this posting. Although I have commented elsewhere on this website that, “Brett Weston’s pictures are ageing well – the decorative aesthetic seems to have more currency today than previously when the values of his father were predominant,” and admired the reductive minimalism of his photographs … this is not the case with these ‘significant details’. In this instance they are just representation, poor relations to the photographs of Minor White and Aaron Siskind. I think that the best of his work is very fine – a sort of celebration of all that had gone before with a layer of super-fineness added. However he made many images that were a bit like a preacher rather than an artist. In some of his portfolios the choice of images is just plain weird, catering to the market rather than takng the chance to make a powerful statement. And photography aficionados remain unconvinced by his work, shying away from collecting it. Perhaps they know, or feel a lack of something, some spirit or other, or a seeming unevenness in the quality of his artistic production.

Perhaps it is his printing, which is a bit “Kodak meets EW” in the darkroom (even as his father entrusted him with printing some of his negatives). Weston achieved his good results because he was a careful craftsman, not an experimenter. Someone, I forget who, said that you never looked at his work when desperate for sustenance – and I think a lot of “connoisseurs” think that – and in a Brett Weston you can too often argue yourself out of the celebration. There is a certain dourness that is hard to overcome. I challenge you, now, to say one meaningful good thing about any of the images presented here. They take you nowhere. They are either too tightly cropped (that lack of true previsualisation / placing the camera in the wrong position / lack of context) or rely on pattern and representation, and only that, to do the heavy lifting.

My feeling about his work is that he saw and felt many great things that he used in his work – but at the final hurdle, his implementation was always handled a little directly, or not a well as might have been… or is sometimes absent. Perhaps it’s just his viewpoint which seems to be too limited in a psychological sense. If Atget had photographed the city without those magnificent tripod positions and understanding of space, then they would have been dead. That’s how BW’s work sometimes feels. Instead of the space feeling larger than the camera can contain, on occasions his photographs feel enclosed and stilted.

Weston said, “There are a million choices for shot. At its simplest, photography is very complex. So I try to keep it simple and focus on things I can master.”

Sometimes, keeping things simple does not result in preternatural outcomes.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

“My father was driven and so am I. You’re ruthless. You brush off your friends and women. He was much kinder than me. I don’t verbalize well and I don’t socialize much. Too time consuming. And I’m not a good salesman of my work. I love people, but they can be a drain. Some are stimulating; some are leeches. So I seek people on my own terms. Most artists are loners. I guess they have to be.”

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Brett Weston

 

“Weston isn’t really a nature photographer… He was obsessed with capturing the intricacies and rhythms of form, light and shadow. Weston is as fascinated by close-ups of the exfoliating bark of a bristlecone pine or the spikes of a Joshua Tree as he is with the visual poetry of peeling paint on the side-panel of a rusted out truck.”

.
Jeffrey St. Clair

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brett Weston: Significant Details' at the Pasadena Museum of California Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brett Weston: Significant Details' at the Pasadena Museum of California Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brett Weston: Significant Details' at the Pasadena Museum of California Art

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Brett Weston: Significant Details at the Pasadena Museum of California Art
Photos: © 2016 Don Milici

 

 

“Although Brett Weston (1911-1993) is best known for his striking scenic photographs, the majority of his work ranges from middle-distance scenes to close-up abstractions. These concentrated images share the high-contrast and graphic qualities of Weston’s panoramas while emphasizing his affinity for “significant details” and the unprecedented attention to form, texture, shadow, and light that he explored throughout his nearly-seventy-year career.

Weston took up photography at the age of fourteen. Although he received basic technical instruction from his father, renowned photographer Edward Weston, Brett’s early efforts owed much to his intuition and innate eye. His elemental talent coupled with an unflagging commitment to his photographic vision – often at the expense of personal relationships and fiscal well-being – carried him from early critical acclaim, through difficult periods, to eventual financial success within his own lifetime.

By the age of twenty-five, Weston’s photographs were included in significant exhibitions both nationally and internationally, but despite early recognitition he served as a WPA photographer during the Great Depression and as a Signal Corps photographer during World War II. By neccessity, he also worked intermittently in the first half of his career as an industrial and portrait photographer. However, when he achieved prosperity beginning in the 1970s, he devoted himself exclusively to the photography and intercontinental expeditions that fulfilled him. His initial interest in abstracted details continually revealed itself, especially once he began using a new, smaller camera after health problems in the late 1960s forced him to abandon the bulky equipment he had used for over thirty years.

Early and continuing critical success notwithstanding, following Brett’s death, the comparison to his famed father left the younger Weston on the wrong side of a narrowing modern canon of photography. Reaffirming Weston’s legacy and his exceptional contributions to modernist photography, these uncharted, close-up images – more than half of which are on view for the first time – demonstrate the major themes present in Weston’s work: a focus on natural and urban landscapes and the objects therein, the absence of human presence and apparent narrative, and an extraordinary ability to extract the microcosm from the macrocosm.”

Introduction text from the exhibition

 

Brett Weston. 'Untitled (Worm Wood, California)' c. 1937 (printed c. 1970)

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Worm Wood, California
c. 1937 (printed c. 1970)
Silver gelatin print
10 1/2 x 13 3/4 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

Although Weston’s wife Cicely provided the couple with a steady income, she became pregnant with the pair’s first (and only) child in 1937, providing Weston impetus to generate additional means of support. Hoping to replicate the financial success of Ansel Adams’s portfolio of limited edition original photographs, Weston produced one of his own. His first portfolio San Francisco (1937) consisted of twelve 8 x 10 original prints. Unlike the photograph Staircase, San Francisco (1928) included in this exhibition, the portfolio photos were panoramic vistas. However, without the robust support of a collector like Albert Bender, who both promoted and purchased enough of Adams’s portfolios to assure commercial success, Weston didn’t profit from his portfolio. He lacked not only the promotional skills and collector base but also refused gallery sales owing to his deep distrust and outrage at their commissions.

 

Brett Weston. 'Wood' 1972

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Wood
1972
Silver gelatin print
7 1/2 x 8 5/8 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

“One of the most celebrated and prolific photographers of the twentieth century, Brett Weston (1911-1993) is best known for his striking scenic images, yet the bulk of his work ranges from middle-distance scenes to closeup abstractions. The Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) is proud to present Brett Weston: Significant Details, the first museum exhibition to focus on Weston’s close-up photography. The works – over half of which are on view for the first time – share the high-contrast and graphic qualities of Weston’s panoramic photographs while emphasizing the “significant details,” the tendency toward abstraction and extremes in tonality that Weston explored through his nearly 60-year career. The exhibition further contextualizes Weston within the pivotal Group f/64 and highlights how intuition and a dedication to photography in its purest form guided his practice.

Although the teaching of his father, famed modernist photographer Edward Weston, was invaluable and his influence undeniable, Weston’s practice was largely shaped by instinct and informal training. He took up photography at the age of 14 when, on an extended trip to Mexico with his father, he started photographing the crew of the SS Oaxaca with the elder Weston’s Graflex camera. This trip also coincided with the end of his formal education; he was enrolled at an English-speaking school, but dropped out within two weeks. While in Mexico, Weston became part of the modernist mileu, socializing with and viewing the work of some of the greatest artists of the time, including David Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, and José Clemente Orozco.

Weston’s professional entry into the world of photography occurred during a shift from the East Coast Pictorialists and their accentuation of romantic effects to the West Coast photographic movement, which coalesced with Group f/64 and their sharp images that captured daily life. Like the members of Group f/64, which included Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, Brett Weston focused primarily on two types of images: close-ups and the scenic view. However, Weston’s approach was distinct, tending toward highly graphic images, with intense areas of dark and highlights, rather than midgray tones used by many, including his father.

By the age of 25, Weston’s work had been included in the landmark international photography exhibition Film und Foto and in a solo exhibition at the M. H. de Young Museum in San Francisco. Though he received critical acclaim and  his reputation grew, Weston remained dedicated to art for art’s sake and to creating pure, elemental photographs. He was a simple man and used the same equipment for most of his career. However, when health problems forced him to switch to a smaller camera – the Rollei – in 1968, he further experimented with close-up photographs, and his work became even more intent on exploring specific details and abstract qualities. In Torn Leaf, Hawaii (1978, below), for example, the brittle, curling leaf appears monumental on a black ground. It exists as a singular object, not fully contained within the composition, and the size is indeterminable without context.

The uncharted, close-up images that are the focus of Significant Details demonstrate the major themes present in Weston’s work: a play on scale, the absence of the human presence, and a refrain from imposed order. This exhibition features approximately 40 works taken over a period of 55 years, ranging from 1929 to 1984, and brings to the forefront the unprecedented attention to form, texture, shadow, and light that was the distinctive characteristic of Weston’s oeuvre.”

Press release from the Pasadena Museum of California Art

 

Brett Weston. 'Wall, Europe' 1971

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Wall, Europe
1971
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

In 1971 Brett returned to Europe for the third time. While there, he captured both abstract images, like this one, and panoramas. Notably, this trip resulted in the photograph of Holland Canal, which Weston grew to hate, despite its commercial success or perhaps because of it, “I’m so sick of the thing but people love it. I could retire on sales of this print alone. I’d hate to tell you how many of these I’ve printed.” Although this scenic print wasn’t the legacy Weston desired for himself, it led to an overall increased attention from collectors interested in his work, including his abstractions.

 

Brett Weston. 'Untitled (Cracked Mud, High Sierra, California)' 1960

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Cracked Mud, High Sierra, California
1960
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

Direct evidence of human presence was rare in Weston’s photos. But here, two playful sets of handprints on the mud provide scale, which would otherwise be indeterminable in the image.

 

Brett Weston. 'Electrical Towers, Metal' c. 1975

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Electrical Towers, Metal
c. 1975
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

Brett Weston: Significant Details

Brett Weston, born in 1911 in Tropico, CA (now Glendale), took up photography at the age of fourteen while on an extended trip to Mexico with his father, famed photographer Edward Weston. In Mexico for just over a year, his time there was pivotal in many ways, not only marking the start of his photography career, but also the end of his formal education. His father allowed him to drop out of the international school after two short weeks and provided the younger Weston with basic instructions in photography. Still, Brett relied heavily on his innate sensibilities toward form and tonality, evident in Tin Roof, Mexico, an early photograph from 1926 featuring a cropped view of a jagged roofline with dramatic dark shadows splitting the image. Weston also benefited from a social education of sorts. Through connections of his father’s mistress, photographer Tina Modotti, Weston became a part of the Mexican modernist milieu, socializing with and viewing the work of some of the greatest artists of the time, including Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

During his nearly-seventy-year career, Weston’s talent and unique vision developed into two related types of works, panoramic landscapes and abstracted close-ups. The image most associated with Weston was and probably still is Holland Canal from 1971. The photograph of a tree-lined canal with still water reflecting a flawless image of the surrounding landscape is sensual and magnificently balanced. However, the photographer bemoaned his connection to this particular work and its extreme popularity saying, “I’m so sick of the thing, but people love it.” Although this print and other panoramic images, such as Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska (1973), came to typify his work in the public’s mind, the bulk of Weston’s photographs range from middle-distance scenes to close-ups, which became increasingly abstract beginning in the 1950s. Brett Weston: Significant Details focuses on the close-up works that epitomize his unique and unwavering vision. These images share the high-contrast and graphic qualities of Weston’s well-known scenic photographs while emphasizing what the photography historian Beaumont Newhall characterized as his affinity for “significant details.” Weston applied this penchant for details to natural and urban environments alike. Another early image, Stairway, Grandview Park, San Francisco from 1928, offers a fragmented view of a San Francisco stairwell. Without context, the unpopulated image’s narrative possibilities are limited; instead, the emphasis is on the orderly, graphic form of the staircase.

From the beginning of his career, Weston’s work was celebrated by institutions and peers. The year following Stairway, Weston’s work was included in the landmark 1929 German photography exhibition Film und Foto, and the early 1930s saw his association with Group f/64, a distinctly West Coast movement of “straight” photographers (as opposed to the East Coast Pictorialist tradition, which was waning at this time) that comprised Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, and others. Brett’s work appeared in their 1932 inaugural exhibition at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. The following year, both San Francisco Stairway and Tin Roofs (presumably the same works discussed in this essay) were included with forty-three other photographs in a solo exhibition at the de Young.

Although Weston saw early success with his work included in major exhibitions, this did not translate into a steady income. Like most artists during the Great Depression, the Federal Art Project – a branch of the Works Progress Administration – employed Weston, first as a sculptor and then later as a photographer. He quit the FAP in December of 1936 after about two and half years because he had no passion for the documentary nature of the work and it impinged upon time for his personal projects, something that he could not bear for long. Throughout the thirties and forties, he worked intermittently – and discontentedly – as a portrait and industrial photographer to stave off poverty and support his daughter who was born in 1938. In complete contrast to the realistic, documentary style of his FAP and commissioned works, an untitled photograph from 1937 is an extreme close-up of paint that is almost organic in appearance, with leaf-like veins in the upper portion of the image. The subject is essentially unrecognizable, which is a defining characteristic of many of Weston’s photographs.

The slim Depression years segued into the tumultuousness of World War II, during which Weston served in the US Army before a much-requested transfer to the US Signal Corps stationed him to work as a photographer in New York. At the end of the war, when Brett returned to Carmel, CA, where the Weston family had made their long-time home, he found his father beginning to show marked symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, which would increasingly debilitate the elder Weston in the last decade of his life. Before Edward’s death in 1958, he enlisted his sons Brett and Cole and a small group of trusted assistants to secure his lasting legacy by making thousands of prints under his supervision. In addition to printing work for his father, during this time, Brett also worked on his Guggenheim fellowship project and his second and third portfolios, White Sands (1949) and New York (1954).

Besides photographing the beaches of Carmel, one of which was dubbed “Weston Beach,” Brett also traveled up and down the California coast countless times over the decades. He repeatedly returned to capture the dunes of Oceano, and these images range from sweeping vistas to striking abstractions. An image from 1952, Dune, Oceano, although not technically a detail, falls into the latter category. The dunes appear wave-like and swirling, and a dark, somewhat-menacing shadow at the centre – similar to the roofline image taken in Mexico – provides graphic force. Jellyfish, California, another beach image, taken in 1967, is a close-up of one of the bulbous marine animals washed ashore. In contrast to the ethereal and weightless appearance jellyfish take underwater, it looks monumental and grotesquely beautiful. The curving form expands beyond the picture’s boundaries and in place of luminescence is a gradation of pure white reflections to jet-black striated patterns on the bell.

Although the tendency to work close-up had always been present in Weston’s work, it became much more pronounced and obvious after health issues necessitated a change in camera equipment. For over thirty years, Weston worked with a large format 8 x 10 camera and preferred contact prints (versus enlarging from smaller negatives). However, a heart attack  in 1967 and an ongoing battle with angina forced Weston to switch to a smaller camera because he could no longer manage the bulky equipment. In 1968, he began using the Rollei SL-66 almost exclusively. The camera used roll film that produced small, square negatives and allowed the artist to work close-up with ease. As a result, his work became even more intent on exploring specific elements and abstract qualities. Sand and Kelp from around 1970 is a lyrical example of this. Individual grains of sand are visible and marked by traces of implied movement, both in the dancing shadows of the kelp and the trailing patterns lightly indented into the surface.

While Weston had traveled steadily and as often as he could afford to in his younger years – expeditions that included Europe, Japan, the Pacific Northwest, Baja California, and Mexico – his later years were spent primarily in Hawaii. The tropical climate was beneficial for his health, and the varied terrain provided limitless visual appeal. In 1979, the photographer purchased land there on the slopes of a volcanic mountain. He became especially engrossed with the lava formations and the verdant and spectacular plant life, which he photographed until his death in 1993.

Weston achieved, within his lifetime, the recognition and financial comforts of a highly esteemed photographer. Even so, following his death, Brett’s reputation was eclipsed in favor of his father, due in part to the notion that there wasn’t room for two Westons in the canon of modernist photography. The 2008 exhibition Out of the Shadow (Oklahoma City Museum of Art and The Phillips Collection) and his biography A Restless Eye (2011) have begun to remedy this situation. Significant Details furthers that work by centering on the uncharted, closeup images that characterize Weston’s innate and distinctive eye. These photographs reveal the major themes present in his oeuvre: a focus on natural and urban landscapes and the objects therein, the absence of human presence and apparent narrative, and an extraordinary ability to extract the microcosm from the macrocosm.

Erin Aitali, Director of Exhibitions and Registrar

 

Brett Weston. 'Broken Glass, California' 1954

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Broken Glass, California
1954
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

Brett Weston. 'Torn Leaf, Hawaii' 1978

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Torn Leaf, Hawaii
1978
Silver gelatin print
10 3/4 x 12 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

Brett Weston. 'Jellyfish, California' 1967

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Jellyfish, California
1967
Silver gelatin print
7 5/8 x 9 5/8 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

Brett Weston. 'Cracked Paint' 1937 (printed later)

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Cracked Paint
1937 (printed later)
Silver gelatin print
12 1/2 x 10 1/8 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

Like Broken Glass, California (1954, above), this image of cracked paint is an extreme close-up to the point that the subject is indistinguishable. Instead pure form becomes the focus. This intense focus also characterizes Weston’s approach to life; he prioritized his photography above all else, often at the expense of both financial stability and personal relationships (he was married four times and had countless lovers).

In 1937 Weston was living with his first wife, Cicely, in San Francisco who was employed as a violinist in the WPA symphony. Weston had recently quit the WPA because, as he explained in a letter to his father in December 1936, “It has been a good thing in many ways but after 2 1/2 years I feel that I have had enough experience of this kind. I feared it was beginning to tell on me as well as my work. I would rather divorce, starve, anything, than have this happen. The actual work I’ve been doing for the work program has been child’s play but the sacrifice of one’s priceless days… has become too much.”

 

Brett Weston. 'Snow' 1954

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Snow
1954
Silver gelatin print
9 1/2 x 7 5/8 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

Pasadena Museum of California Art
490 East Union Street
Pasadena, CA 91101
Tel: (626) 568-3665

Opening hours:
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Third Thursday of each month 12.00 – 8. 00pm
Closed Monday, Tuesday, July 4, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

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22
Jun
16

Exhibition: ‘RealSurreal. Masterpieces of Avant-Garde Photography’ at Museum Bellerive, Zurich

Exhibition dates: 1st April 2016 – 24th July 2016

 

I loved putting the Florence Henri and the skull together. Too exhausted after a long day at work to say much else!

Marcus

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

 

 

“I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak.”

.
André Breton

 

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch. 'Self portrait' 1926/27

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch
Self portrait
1926/27
Gelatin silver paper
16.9 x 22.8 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© Albert Renger Patzsch Archiv / Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Köln / 2015, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

František Drtikol. 'Circular segment (arch)' 1928

 

František Drtikol
Kreissegment [Bogen] / Circular segment (arch)
1928
Pigment print
21.3 x 28.7 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© František Drtikol – heirs, 2015

 

Brassaï. 'Occasional magic (Germinating potato)' 1931

 

Brassaï
Gelegenheitsmagie (Keimende Kartoffel) / Occasional magic (Germinating potato)
1931
Foto: © ESTATE BRASSAÏ – RMN

 

Grete Stern. 'The Eternal eye / Das Ewige Auge' c. 1950

 

Grete Stern
The Eternal eye / Das Ewige Auge
c. 1950
Photomontage
Gelatin silver paper
39.5 x 39.5 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© Estate of Grete Stern Courtesy Galeria Jorge Mara – La Ruche, Buenos Aires, 2015

 

Hans Bellmer. 'The Doll / Die Puppe' 1935

 

Hans Bellmer
The Doll / Die Puppe
1935
Gelatin silver paper
17.4 x 17.9 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© 2015, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

 

Avant-garde photographs seem like pictures from a dream world. From new kinds of compositions and perspectives to photomontage, technical experiments, and staged scenes, Real Surreal offers a chance to rediscover the range and multifacetedness of photography between the real and the surreal. The exhibition leads the visitor through the Neues Sehen (New Vision) movement in Germany, Surrealism in France, and the avant-garde in Prague. Thanks to rare original prints from renowned photographers between 1920 and 1950, this exhibition offers a chance to see these works in a new light. In addition to some 220 photographs, a selection of historical photography books and magazines as well as rare artists’ books allow visitors to immerse themselves in this new view of the world. Furthermore, examples of films attest to the fruitful exchanges between avant-garde photography and cinema during this time.

An exhibition in cooperation with the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg.

 

Florence Henri. 'Porträtkomposition (Erica Brausen)' 1931

 

Florence Henri
Porträtkomposition (Erica Brausen)
1931
Foto: © Galleria Martini and Ronchetti, Genova, Italy

 

Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Totenschädel / Skull' 1932/33

 

Erwin Blumenfeld
Totenschädel / Skull
1932/33
Foto: © The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

 

Man Ray. 'Electricity' 1931

 

Man Ray
Electricity
1931
Photoengraving
26 x 20.6 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© Man Ray Trust / 2015, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Man Ray. 'Rayograph (spiral)' 1923

 

Man Ray
Rayograph (spiral)
1923
Photogram
Gelatin silver paper
26.6 x 21.4 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© Man Ray Trust / 2015, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Josef Sudek. 'Gipskopf / Plaster head' c. 1947

 

Josef Sudek
Gipskopf / Plaster head
c. 1947
Foto: © Estate of Josef Sudek

 

Herbert Bayer. 'Einsamer Grossstädter / Lonely city slickers' 1932/1969

 

Herbert Bayer
Einsamer Grossstädter / Lonely city slickers
1932/1969
Photomontage
Gelatin silver paper
35.3 x 28 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© 2015, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Herbert Bayer. 'Self portrait' 1932

 

Herbert Bayer
Self portrait
1932
Photomontage
Gelatin silver paper
35.3 x 27.9 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© 2015, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Genia Rubin. 'Lisa Fonssagrives. Robe : Alix (Madame Grès)' 1937

 

Genia Rubin
Lisa Fonssagrives. Robe : Alix (Madame Grès)
1937
Gelatin silver paper
30.3 x 21.5 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder / Sammlung Siegert, München
© Sheherazade Ter-Abramoff, Paris

 

Atelier Manassé. 'Mein Vogerl / My bird' c. 1928

 

Atelier Manassé
Mein Vogerl / My bird
c. 1928
Foto: © IMAGNO/Austrian Archives

 

 

Museum Bellerive
Höschgasse 3, CH-8008 Zürich
Phone: +41 43 446 44 69

Opening hours:
Tue – Sun 10am – 5pm
Thu 10am – 8pm

Museum Bellerive website

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13
May
16

Exhibition: ‘François Kollar. A Working Eye’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 9th February – 22nd May 2016

Curators: Matthieu Rivallin, collections officer, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine, Paris, and Pia Viewing, curator – researcher at the Jeu de Paume, Paris.

 

 

François Kollar is a magnificent photographer. He produced strong images that possess few histrionics, even less ego. They simply just are.

People quoted in this posting comment that in his photographs “human measure is omnipresent”; that you never loose the sense of scale; that there are “frequent contrasts between near and far, the intimate and the monumental”; that his photographs are “an anthropological investigation into the behaviour, gestures and postures of people at work”; that “Men and women and their functions and roles in the production process are recurrent elements.”

All these statements are true.

Further, his images are sensitive, beautiful, show no traces of any social movements, and little sign of emotion. As Dominique Vautrin observes, “François Kollar is a photographer who resembles his images: somewhat mysterious, beautiful, and discreet…” And as the text from Jeu de Paume states, “He revealed himself to be a temperate photographer, somewhere between the barebones modernism of Bauhaus and a humanist approach to photography.” Other photographers who could fit into this playlist could be Bill Brandt in England, Walker Evans in America and Wolfgang Sievers in Australia.

But what a splendid description – a “temperate photographer”. Showing moderation and self-restraint… there is far too little of that in contemporary photography. A humanist with an avant-garde edge, a photographer whose vision was clear and consistent throughout his oeuvre, who could turn his hand to anything: advertising, fashion, avant-garde, double exposures, solarisation, photomontage, documentary reportage, surrealism, constructivism, modernism.

Joseph Nechvatal comments that Kollar’s work is poignant. This is an incorrect word to describe the work, for the photographs never evoke a keen sense of sadness or regret. They are of a different order altogether. Let me explain.

There is a wonderful stoicism about the people who Kollar chooses to photograph, who inhabit his world of work. The endurance of work without the display of feelings and without complaint. Labour is not represented in any glorified way, not as a noble undertaking, and certainly not heroic (although the worker can be represented as intimate and monumental). The workers are represented as an adjunct to the machine but not in a cyborg fashion. In his photographs there is a distinctness about the worker which sets the human apart from the machine, even as he is “deeply embedded within their functions and roles in the production process.” I don’t believe that people understand this separation, preferring instead to comment on the embedding of the human within machine processes. But something was bothering me when I looked at these images and I have pondered long and hard over how to interpret them. There was something I could not put my finger on and it is this…

In the work of Lewis Hine, the workers are in the present looking to the future. In the work of François Kollar there is no justification for the work it is just work… being there in the present. No ego, no elevation of experience or emotion, and the photographs are just so. Just being in the world. The thing itself. Nothing more, nothing less. It seems simple when you say it like that, but the concept is very complex – to allow the photograph to materialise from consciousness, as a sort of previsualisation of experience – of being a poor, working class immigrant (which Kollar was) picturing his own.

That he achieved such photographs “with his 5 x 7 large-format camera and cumbersome lighting equipment” is a testament to the dedication to his craft, to his work, and to his roots – a connection to the working man and woman. These are honest and forthright photographs of what most humans do for most of their life: work at a job they may not like – to pay the bills, to put food on the table. The lighting is superb, the compositions eloquent, the characters in his images unforgettable (Kollar particularly likes portraits of men shot from below with their arms folded) but it is the balance between the subjective and objective which is so finely honed in his work. The dispationate nature of humans when at work is balanced by the aesthetics of the artist and the humanity of the individual.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

View an interesting video of the exhibition and the work of François Kollar on Vimeo. More photographs from La France travaille.

 

This retrospective features an ensemble of 130 vintage prints, some of which are previously unseen, as well as others from the photographer’s family’s bequest to the state. It puts Kollar’s work in the spotlight and shows how he managed to lift the veil on the working world in the 20th century. As visitors discover the documentary, artistic and historical qualities of the material on show, they will be able to observe how individuals found their place in society by the means of their occupation and realise the profound changes that took place in industry between the 1930s and the 1960s.

 

“Without falling into hammy Socialist Realism style, Kollar rendered French working class heroes in beautiful, discreet, lush black-and-white tones. These images of the working person endow them with qualities of excellence, nobility, and respect, and evoked in me mixed sensations of hard materialistic capability and human tenderness. These images of men and women, such as “Nettoyage des lampes. Société des mines de Lens, Lens (Pas-de-Calais)” (1931-34, below), show people deeply embedded within their functions and roles in the production process. In that sense, they contrast with Dorothea Lange’s famous and beautiful Migrant Mother series and the uninhabited, rigorously stark industrial scenes photographed by Bernd and Hilla Becher…

Kollar’s distinctive aesthetic provides a strong, sweet spot amid the sour struggles for employment taking place today in economies shaped by histories of slavery, colonialism, union-busting, sexual exploitation, and corporate capitalism. His artistic style, one that colorlessly abstracts, unifies, and embeds the worker within his or her technological environment, broadens the social politics of employment beyond the heroic human. Rather, he depicts through his unifying, ashen tones the conjunction of laborer and machine. In these photographs, the human worker is bound up with non-human apparatuses in cyborg fashion, depicting a complex technological laborer who is no less real and worthy of our aesthetic delectation.”

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Joseph Nechvatal. “A Photographer Who Captured Workers Without Romanticizing Them,” on the Hyperallergic website May 4, 2016 [Online] Cited 11/05/2016

 

 

François Kollar. Courtesy Jeu de Paume

 

François Kollar. Courtesy Jeu de Paume

 

François Kollar. 'Porteur de rails. Arles' 1933

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Porteur de rails. Arles
1933
Reproduction d’après négatif original sur plaque de verre
Print from the original glass plate negative
13 x 18 cm
Bibliothèque Forney. Ville de Paris
© François Kollar / Bibliothèque Forney / Roger-Viollet

 

François Kollar. 'Nettoyage des lampes. Société des mines de Lens. Lens (Pas-de-Calais)' 1931-1934

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Nettoyage des lampes. Société des mines de Lens. Lens (Pas-de-Calais)
Cleaning lamps. The mining company of Lens. Lens (Pas-de-Calais)
1931-1934
From the booklets La France travaille
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
18 x 24 cm
Bibliothèque Forney. Ville de Paris
© François Kollar / Bibliothèque Forney / Roger-Viollet

 

François Kollar. 'Construction des grands paquebots, Rivetage de tôles d‘un pont de navire, chantier et ateliers de Saint-Nazaire à Penhoët' 1931-1932

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Construction des grands paquebots, Rivetage de tôles d’un pont de navire, chantier et ateliers de Saint-Nazaire à Penhoët
Construction of large ships, riveting the sheets of a ships deck, site workshops of Saint Nazaire Penhoët
1931-1932
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
28.9 x 23.5 cm.
Donation François Kollar, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine

 

François Kollar. 'Dans le port, à bord. Super Ile de France: cisaillage au chalumeau oxhydrique' 1931

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Dans le port, à bord. Super Ile de France: cisaillage au chalumeau oxhydrique. Société des chantiers et ateliers de Saint-Nazaire à Penhoët
In port, on board. Super Ile de France: cutting using the welding torch. Company building sites and workshops of Saint Nazaire Penhoët

1931
Vintage silver gelatin photograph

 

François Kollar. 'Dans le port, à bord. Champlain : grattage du pont' 1931

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Dans le port, à bord. Champlain: grattage du pont. Société des chantiers et ateliers de Saint-Nazaire à Penhoët
In port, on board. Champlain: scraping the bridge. Company building sites and workshops of Saint Nazaire Penhoët

1931
Vintage silver gelatin photograph

 

François Kollar. 'Dans le port, à bord. "Negre" soutier, Bordeaux (Gironde)' 1931

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Dans le port, à bord. “Negre” soutier, Bordeaux (Gironde)
In port, on board. “Negro” help, Bordeaux (Gironde)
1931
Vintage silver gelatin photograph

 

 

“François Kollar was born in Szenc, Hungary in 1904 (now the Slovakian town of Senec) and died in Créteil, France in 1979. He was first employed on the railways in his native country and then worked as a lathe operator at Renault’s Boulogne-Billancourt factory, before becoming a professional photographer at the age of 24 after gaining solid experience as a studio manager at the Parisian printer’s, Draeger. His in-depth knowledge of the world of work, in sectors as diverse as advertising, fashion, industry, handicrafts and agriculture, allowed him to portray tools, materials and gestures with exceptional professional expertise.

This retrospective features an ensemble of 130 vintage prints, some of which are previously unseen, as well as others from the photographer’s family’s bequest to the state. It puts Kollar’s work in the spotlight and shows how he managed to lift the veil on the working world in the 20th century. As visitors discover the documentary, artistic and historical qualities of the material on show, they will be able to observe how individuals found their place in society by the means of their occupation and realise the profound changes that took place in industry between the 1930s and the 1960s.

In 1930 Kollar got married and set up his own studio in Paris. His wife, who was his first model, worked faithfully by his side throughout his life. He worked for advertising agencies and famous luxury brands and excelled in showcasing the qualities of his models, forms and fabrics thanks to his feeling for light and texture. François Kollar worked with several fashion magazines, notably Harper’s Bazaar for which, over the course of more than fifteen years, he produced many photographic series, particularly images shot on location. Whether he was photographing the period’s fashion celebrities (Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Pierre Balmain) or models and adverts for the major fashion houses (Hermès, Molyneux, Oméga, Christofle and Worth et Coty perfumes…), he experimented with a wide variety of modern photographic techniques, freely creating original compositions using backlighting, double exposures, overprinting and solarisation…

In 1930, after exhibiting at “Das Lichtbild”, an international photography exhibition in Munich alongside Florence Henri, André Kertész, Germaine Krull and Ergy Landau, François Kollar received a major commission from a publishing company, Horizons de France entitled La France travail (1931-1934) that would establish his reputation as one of the period’s greatest industrial reporters. During the war he refused to collaborate with the powers that be during the German occupation and left the public eye, moving with his wife and three children to the Poitou-Charentes region and only returning to photography in 1945 on his return to Paris. In the 1950s and 1960s, Kollar covered numerous industrial subjects in France and abroad.”

Text from the Jeu de Paume website

 

François Kollar. 'La Tour Eiffel' 1930

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
La Tour Eiffel (The Eiffel Tower)
1930
Montage of a negative and interpositive, period photomontage
18 x 24 cm
Donation François Kollar, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine

 

François Kollar. 'Aux sources de l‘énergie. Enseignes lumineuses. Paris' 1931

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Aux sources de l’énergie. Enseignes lumineuses. Paris
The sources of energy. Neon signs. Paris
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
18 x 24 cm
Bibliothèque Forney. Ville de Paris
© François Kollar / Bibliothèque Forney / Roger-Viollet

 

François Kollar. 'Bouche du tunnel Sainte-Catherine, Sotteville-lés-Rouen' 1931-1932

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Bouche du tunnel Sainte-Catherine, Sotteville-lés-Rouen
St. Catherine tunnel mouth, Sotteville-lés-Rouen
1931-1932
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
Donation François Kollar, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine

 

François Kollar. 'Étude publicitaire pour Magic Phono, portrait de Marie Bell en photomontage' 1930

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Étude publicitaire pour Magic Phono, portrait de Marie Bell en photomontage
Advertising study for Magic Photo, Marie Bell portrait photomontage

1930
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
Donation François Kollar, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine

 

François Kollar. 'Publicité pour machine à écrire Hermès' 1930

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Publicité pour machine à écrire Hermès
Advertising for the Hermes typewriter
1930
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
30.1 x 23.7 cm.
Donation François Kollar, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine

 

François Kollar. 'Escalier chez Chanel' 1937

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Escalier chez Chanel
Staircase at Chanel

1937
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
Donation François Kollar, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine

 

François Kollar (1904 - 1979) 'Gabrielle Chanel' 1938

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Gabrielle Chanel
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

François Kollar. 'Le mannequin Muth, Balenciaga' 1930

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Le mannequin Muth, Balenciaga
The model Muth, Balenciaga
1930
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
Donation François Kollar, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine

 

François Kollar. 'Haute couturière Elsa Schiaparelli in a window of her showroom at 21 Place Vendôme in Paris' 1938

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Haute couturière Elsa Schiaparelli in a window of her showroom at 21 Place Vendôme in Paris
1938
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
Courtesy Jeu de Paume

 

 

“The design of the three large exhibition halls, which sometimes suffers from inadequate lighting, is completed by numerous documents (leaflets, magazines, personal albums) and an extensive slide show. The rooms are color-coded: white, blue-grey, and light beige, corresponding to the curators’ pedagogical intention. The beige in the last room is particularly interesting because it nearly blends in with the wooden frames, thereby intensifying the magical black-and-white tones in François Kollar’s work.

In addition to the documentary dimension of his work, the power of this photographer lies in his evocation of a “journey”: hence the exhibition walls are brimming with gems such as Les enseignes lumineuses (“Illuminated signs”, above), La bouche du tunnel (“The entrance of the tunnel”, above), or La fabrique à papier (“Paper factory”), advertisements for Hermès or Chanel (above), and many other photographs which, I have no doubt, will resonate with the visitor.

François Kollar is a photographer who resembles his images: somewhat mysterious, beautiful, and discreet, such as his small picture of a river outside the city of Abidjan. A Working Eye which conveys the nobility of men who, one day, had to travel far from home to earn their living.”

Dominique Vautrin. “Paris : Francois Kollar, A Working Eye,” on The Eye of Photography website February 18, 2016 [Online] Cited 12/05/2016.

 

François Kollar. 'Alsthom: assemblage des volants alternateurs de Kembs. Société Alsthom. Belfort (Territoire de Belfort)' 1931-1934

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Alsthom: assemblage des volants alternateurs de Kembs. Société Alsthom. Belfort (Territoire de Belfort)
Alsthom: assembly of alternator flywheels at Kembs. Société Alsthom. Belfort
1931-1934
Reproduction d’après négatif original sur plaque de verre
Print from the original glass plate negative
13 x 18 cm
Bibliothèque Forney. Ville de Paris
© François Kollar / Bibliothèque Forney / Roger-Viollet

 

François Kollar. 'Automobiles Renault. D'une main l'ouvrier fait tomber le sable. Billancourt (Hauts-de-Seine)' 1931-1934

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Automobiles Renault. D’une main l’ouvrier fait tomber le sable. Billancourt (Hauts-de-Seine)
Renault automobiles. Using his hand the worker brings down the sand. Billancourt (Hauts-de-Seine)
1931-1934
Reproduction d’après négatif original sur plaque de verre
Print from the original glass plate negative
13 x 18 cm
Bibliothèque Forney. Ville de Paris
© François Kollar / Bibliothèque Forney / Roger-Viollet

 

François Kollar. 'Untitled' 1931-1934

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Untitled
1931-1934
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
Courtesy Jeu de Paume
© Photo Éric Simon

 

 

LA FRANCE TRAVAILLE, 1931-1934

François Kollar was commissioned by the publishers Horizons de France for a major documentary investigation into the world of work. He took a large number of photos, a part of which were published in a work that has since become famous: La France travaille. This ensemble comprises the main part of the exhibition. The photographer criss-crossed the whole of France, observing the country through the prism of work. Kollar delivered more than 2,000 images covering agricultural and industrial activity in twenty regions of France, including Paris and its suburbs. Horizons de France published La France travaille between 1932 and 1934 in the form of fifteen separate booklets, which are presented in the exhibition in relation to a selection of around sixty prints. The images are organised by theme. Each theme corresponds to a type of raw material used in industry: coal, iron, products of the sea, glass, textiles etc. Slideshows are used to underline the extent of this archive and the variety of photos it contains, as well as analysing it from a contemporary point of view.

The fifteen booklets that comprise La France Travaille constitute “an anthropological investigation into the behaviour, gestures and postures of people at work” (Jean-François Chevrier, ‘La France travaille: les vertus de l’illustration’, Jeu de Paume, Editions de La Martinière). These fifteen volumes touch on the revolutions taking place across the country – factories, hydroelectric installations etc – as well as the place of the workers in these infrastructures. Apart from the recognition that he had earned in the world of fashion and luxury products, it was through his work to fulfil this commission, the most important in France in the 1930s, that Kollar distinguished himself as a photographer and an ‘industrial reporter’.

Text from Jeu de Paume

 

François Kollar. 'La trieuse reste coquette. Lens, Pas-de-Calais. Société des mines de Lens' 1931-1934

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
La trieuse reste coquette. Lens, Pas-de-Calais. Société des mines de Lens
The sorter remains coquette. Lens, Pas-de-Calais. Mining company of Lens
1931-1934
Reproduction d’après négatif original sur plaque de verre
Print from the original glass plate negative
13 x 18 cm
Bibliothèque Forney. Ville de Paris
© François Kollar / Bibliothèque Forney / Roger-Viollet

 

François Kollar (1904 - 1979) 'Untitled [mine worker]' 1931-1934

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Untitled [mine worker]
1931-1934
Reproduction d’après négatif original sur plaque de verre
Print from the original glass plate negative
13 x 18 cm
Bibliothèque Forney. Ville de Paris
© François Kollar / Bibliothèque Forney / Roger-Viollet

 

François Kollar. 'Pêcheurs, femme de pêcheurs Sardinier Breton, Audiernes' 1931

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Pêcheurs. Femme de pêcheurs, Sardinier Breton. Audiernes
Fishermen. Woman fishing, sardine canner Breton. Audiernes

1931
Reproduction d’après négatif original sur plaque de verre
Print from the original glass plate negative
13 x 18 cm
Courtesy Jeu de Paume
© Photo Éric Simon

 

 

From 1931 to 1934, just before the major protests led by the Popular Front, François Kollar (1904 – 1979) traveled across France meeting its working population. This wide-ranging survey of the working world, which featured 1400 illustrations, was published in 1934 in booklets entitled La France Travaille (France at Work). With his 5 x 7 large-format camera and cumbersome lighting equipment, this Slovak immigrant of humble origins convinced miners, winemakers, boatmen and railroad men to pose for him during their daily routines. The images from La France Travaille, negatives and positives, are preserved at the Bibliothèque Forney and distributed exclusively by the Agence Roger-Viollet. (Text from The Eye of Photography website)

 

François Kollar. 'Le bâtiment. Pose des ardoises. Paris. Entreprise Ch. Lavillauguet' 1931

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Le bâtiment. Pose des ardoises. Paris. Entreprise Ch. Lavillauguet
Building. Laying slate. Paris. Company Ch. Lavillaugouet

1931
Reproduction d’après négatif original sur plaque de verre
Print from the original glass plate negative
13 x 18 cm
Bibliothèque Forney. Ville de Paris
© François Kollar / Bibliothèque Forney / Roger-Viollet

 

François Kollar. 'Vignerons. Porteurs de bénatons. Bourgogne, Morey-Saint-Denis (Côte- d'Or)' 1931

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Vignerons. Porteurs de bénatons. Bourgogne, Morey-Saint-Denis (Côte- d’Or)
Winemakers. Carriers of grapes. Burgundy Morey-Saint-Denis (Côte- d’Or)

1931
Reproduction d’après négatif original sur plaque de verre
Print from the original glass plate negative
13 x 18 cm
Bibliothèque Forney. Ville de Paris
© François Kollar / Bibliothèque Forney / Roger-Viollet

 

 

François Kollar’s body of work covers two major periods in photographic history and the history of the 20th century: the 1930s and the 1950s-1960s. This retrospective at the Jeu de Paume is part of a cycle of exhibitions devoted to the emblematic photographers of the period, such as Laure Albin Guillot, André Kertész, Claude Cahun and Germaine Krull. The exhibition gives pride of place to the photographer’s three children’s bequest of negatives, prints, magazines, press cuttings and advertising pamphlets that was accepted by the French state in 1987.

The exhibition is organised chronologically following the photographer’s life and career, starting with his experimentations in the 1930s (self-portraits and photomontages) with his wife and close collaborator, Fernande. Right from the start of his photographic work in the field of advertising and fashion, François Kollar asserted his talent with photo shoots for Oméga, Christofle, Hermès and Worth et Coty perfumes. For many years he worked with such magazines as Harper’s Bazaar, L’Illustration, VUVoilà, Le Figaro Illustré and Plaisir de France. Following his coverage of the transformation of the working world in the 1930s, during the 1950s and 60s industrial reports in French West Africa and in France set the tempo for the later years of his career.

Thanks to his experience as a manual worker in Renault, François Kollar’s photography demonstrates his awareness of the world of industry and industrial spaces. ‘Un ouvrier du regard’ bears witness to his high level of technical expertise, both in the studio and on location and his deep-seated interest for industrial trades. It highlights the wide variety of subjects photographed by François Kollar throughout his career, a variety that is mirrored in the techniques he used, as well as the evolutions in the working world as it transitioned from handicrafts and cottage industries to industrial production.

The central part of the exhibition is devoted to the high point of François Kollar’s career, La France travaille. This commission from the publishing company Horizons de France comprises some fifteen booklets produced between 1931 and 1934. The reports, indexed by sector – from agriculture to the steel industry, including the maritime industry and electricity production – were produced with the aim of showcasing France’s leading companies and the figure of the working man, contributing in this way to idealising the image of men and women at work. Taken as a whole, these reports constitute a unique chronicle in images of the world of work and French society from the beginning of the 1930s up until the 1960s. During this entire period, François Kollar endeavoured to photograph the mechanised world of serial production, standardisation and the rationalisation of production.

Through a play with light, transparency and chiaroscuro effects, as well as compositions that highlighted different textures, François Kollar managed to reveal a sensitive side to industrial landscapes. He revealed himself to be a temperate photographer, somewhere between the barebones modernism of Bauhaus and a humanist approach to photography. At the beginning of his career, François Kollar had immortalised dresses, jewellery and objets d’art for Harper‘s Bazaar in a manner that demonstrated his attention to the gesture and the ‘intelligence of the hand’. Kollar’s work is characterised by an approach that is simultaneously sensitive and distant: sensitive to shape and light in the situations in which objects and human bodies are portrayed; distant because of this lens between him and the general population. The camera’s lens distanced him from the ordinary men and women and their demands, which explains why his work shows no traces of any social movements, although they were frequent at the time (1929 and 1931-1936).

The retrospective provides the means to fully-apprehend the diversity of a photographer who was himself a ‘worker’ (ouvrier) at the service of his clients – whether advertising companies, clients from the world of fashion and the media, or industrialists – but who nevertheless managed to preserve a strong photographic identity and a unique view on his times. Throughout his body of work, François Kollar bears witness to the ideology of progress that drives the capitalist economy, whilst preserving his characteristic objectivity.

First part

The first part of the exhibition features Kollar’s experimental period including self-portraits taken in his Parisian studio, as well as his work for advertising firms and the fashion industry. This section is made up of photos that reflect the spirit of the modern world he lived in and bear witness to Kollar’s desire to develop an experimental and expressive style of photography through an almost playful approach to his models, objects, lighting and composition. Detailed documentary resources enable visitors to understand the context of his advertising work and the photos for the blossoming illustrated magazine sector, which were published in L’Illustration, Vu, Voilà, Art et Médecine and Plaisir de France, amongst others.

Second part

The central part of the exhibition, devoted to La France travaille (1931-1934), features vintage prints and slideshows, as well as archives and publications. This photographic commission constitutes a unique record of the world of work in the 1930s. Kollar photographed every sector of activity: industry, agriculture, aviation, handicrafts, as well as the automobile, maritime and railway industries. Men and women and their functions and roles in the production process are recurrent elements in François Kollar’s images. Published in the form of fifteen themed booklets, printed in photogravure by Editions Horizons de France, Kollar’s photographs were used to illustrate texts by popular authors from the period (Paul Valéry, Pierre Hamp, Lucien Favre…) dealing with the main professions in French industry.

Third part

The third part of the exhibition presents works by Kollar from the period following on from La France travaille, notably fashion photography and commissions for industrial reporting assignments. Thanks to his reputation as a talented advertising photographer, François Kollar was much in demand for portrait work and he notably photographed Coco Chanel, Elisa Schiaparelli and the Duchess of Windsor. Although his collaboration with Harper’s Bazaar came to an end in 1955, Kollar continued to enjoy a successful career in industrial photography. Amongst his numerous photographic series, the Jeu de Paume has chosen to show in particular the 1951 commission from the French State for a report on French West Africa (now Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal), as well as a series of photos showing the workshops of the Union Aéromaritime de Transport. In this way, the exhibition highlights the transformations in the world of work during the 20th century and the place occupied by men and women at a time when the world was in a state of upheaval because of global conflicts, as well as in the midst of rebuilding itself.

Text from Jeu de Paume

 

François Kollar. 'Untitled' 1930

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Untitled
1930

 

François Kollar (1904 - 1979) 'Untitled' 1930

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Untitled
1930

 

François Kollar. 'Ciel' 1931

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Ciel (Sky)
1931
Courtesy Jeu de Paume
© Photo Éric Simon

 

François Kollar. 'Fleur d'ail' (Garlic flower) 1930

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Fleur d’ail (Garlic flower)
1930
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
29.4 x 22.6 cm
Donation François Kollar, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine

 

François Kollar (1904 - 1979) 'Untitled' Nd

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Untitled
Nd
Silver gelatin photograph
Courtesy Jeu de Paume
© Photo Éric Simon

 

François Kollar (1904 - 1979) 'Untitled' Nd

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Untitled
Nd
Silver gelatin photograph
Courtesy Jeu de Paume
© Photo Éric Simon

 

Portrait of François Kollar

 

Portrait of François Kollar

 

 

FRENCH WEST AFRICA (A.O. F.) COMMISSION ED BY THE FRENCH STATE, 1951

When France invested massively in the 1950s in the construction of infrastructures in French West Africa, Kollar went to document this milestone in the relationship between France and its colonies, notably today’s Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal. His photos were published in the magazines of French West Africa to portray France’s initiatives in a positive light. Continuing to play his part in the ‘manufacture’ of consensual, positive images, Kollar continued his career by taking photos of men and women at work in factories, building roads or on ships plying their trade… “What François Kollar wants to portray is a sort of gradual disengagement of the colonial power, (…) but also how behind the ‘modernity’ (which is the subject of his remit) lies a form of tradition, rather as if he wanted to show how the two aspects are in contradiction with each other” (Pascal Blanchard, ‘Francois Kollar. Afrique 50. Dans l’oeil de la propagande’, Jeu de Paume, Editions de La Martinière).

Text from Jeu de Paume

 

INDUSTRIAL REPORTS 1950-1960

Back in Paris in 1945, François Kollar re-established his contacts and started receiving commissions from French industry once more. His photos powerfully document the relationship between the human body, the machine and the working environment. “In Kollar’s images, the human measure is omnipresent; one almost never loses the sense of scale […] with frequent contrasts between near and far, the intimate and the monumental”. (Jean-François Chevrier, ‘La France travaille: les vertus de l’illustration’, Jeu de Paume, Editions de La Martinière). Indeed the design of new industrial buildings took the question of ergonomics into account, which went hand-in-hand with the evolutions in the roles and tasks of factory workers. Amongst others, François Kollar worked for the Union Aéromaritime de Transport, (an airline that mainly served Africa, and French West Africa in particular, later to become UTA); the potash mines of Alsace; Moulinex; Christofle; and Poliet-et-Chausson. Kollar, who learnt how to use colour photography techniques early on, used this new medium for some of these reports.

Text from Jeu de Paume

 

François Kollar. 'Chaussures Bata, Rufisque, Senegal' 1951

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Chaussures Bata, Rufisque, Senegal
Bata Shoes, Rufisque, Senegal
1951
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
22.6 x 24.8 cm
Donation François Kollar, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine

 

François Kollar. 'Poliet et Chausson, Gargenville' 1957-1958

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Poliet et Chausson, Gargenville
1957-1958
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
29.7 x 21.6 cm
Donation François Kollar, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine

 

François Kollar. 'Untitled [Emplacement de traverses, usine Cima, Croix]' c. 1954

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Untitled [Emplacement de traverses, usine Cima, Croix] [Replacement of sleepers, Cima factory, Croix]
c. 1954
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
29.7 x 21.6 cm
Donation François Kollar, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine

 

François Kollar. 'Type de laiterie dans une ferme Normande' 1950

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Type de laiterie dans une ferme Normande
Type of dairy farm in Normandy
1950
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
15.5 x 11.5 cm
Donation François Kollar, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine

 

François Kollar. 'Fabrication de corps de chauffe de chauffe-eau, usine Brandt, France' 1950

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Fabrication de corps de chauffe de chauffe-eau, usine Brandt, France
Manufacturing water heater, heater factory Brandt, France
1950
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
13.6 x 8.9 cm
Donation François Kollar, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine

 

François Kollar. 'Untitled [Fabrication des moulins à légumes, usine Moulinex, Alençon]' 1950

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Untitled [Fabrication des moulins à légumes, usine Moulinex, Alençon] [Production of vegetable mills, Moulinex factory, Alençon]
1950
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
29.6 x 21.6 cm
Donation François Kollar, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine

 

François Kollar. 'Untitled [Emboutissage des couverts, Christofle, France]' 1957-1958

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Untitled [Emboutissage des couverts, Christofle, France] [Stamping cutlery, Christofle, France]
1957-1958
Vintage silver gelatin photograph
30 x 21.6 cm
Donation François Kollar, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine

 

 

Other François Kollar photographs

 

François Kollar. 'Untitled' 1931

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Untitled
1931
Silver gelatin photograph

 

François Kollar. 'Untitled' 1936

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Untitled
1936
Silver gelatin photograph

 

François Kollar. 'Construction' 1936

 

François Kollar (1904 – 1979)
Construction
1936
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
Tel: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 11.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Sunday: 11.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website

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26
Apr
16

Exhibition: ‘Roger Ballen’s Theatre of the Mind’ at SCA Galleries, Sydney College of the Arts, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 16th March – 7th May 2016

 

Taken as a whole, the artist Roger Ballen’s body of work is exceptionally strong. From his early documentary series Dorps (1986) and Platteland (1996) which featured alienated and poverty poverty stricken whites in South Africa struggling with their place in the world after Apartheid; through my favourite series Outland (2001), Shadow Chamber (2005) and Boarding House (2009) which portrayed down and out whites on the fringe of South African society in a surrealist, performative art; to the more recent Animal Abstraction (2011), I Fink U Freeky (2013) and Asylum of the Birds (2014) … through each of these series you can trace the development of this preternatural artist, whose work seems to exist almost beyond nature itself.

The move from documentary photographer to director/collaborator/actor/observer was critical to the development of Ballen’s art. As the text on the Outland web page on Roger Ballen’s website states, “Where previously his pictures, however troubling, fell firmly into the category of documentary photography, these pictures move into the realms of fiction. Ballen’s characters act out dark and discomfiting tableaux, providing images which are exciting and disturbing in equal measure. One is forced to wonder whether they are exploited victims, colluding directly in their own ridicule, or newly empowered and active participants within the drama of their representation.” From the videos included in this posting, it is obvious that the latter statement is the correct interpretation. Through this thematic development, the viewer may come to understand the nature of the artist’s collaboration with the people, places and things that he photographs. The empathy that these photographs and videos evidence, the interchangeable director/actor roles, and the connection that he has with his subject matter gives insight into the compassion of this man. He never judges anyone. He accepts them for who they are and works with them to create these challenging art works.

Apparently these photographs, “have a singular ability to cause disquiet to the viewer.” Personally, they have never caused me disquiet for I find them quite fascinating. They follow on from a long line of photographers who have observed the marginalised in society, from the circus freak show photographs, through Diane Arbus and Arthur Tress (who also has a book called Theater of the Mind) to Joel Peter-Witkin and Roger Ballen. Much like the earlier Robert Frank’s seminal book The Americans, which featured an outsider photographing a world from a different point of view, Ballen moved to South Africa from America in 1982 and has never fully lost that outsider status. As John McDonald observes, “He has been there long enough to be an insider, but retains the probing eye of an outsider, able to see a side of life that native-born can’t see, or don’t wish to see.” And that is the point: all of these artists, with their probing eyes, can perceive difference and accept it on its own terms. They portray the world through a horizontal consciousness (an equal “living field” if you like), not a heirarchical system of privilege, power and control, where some are better, more worthy than others.

But what nature is he investigating? Is it human nature and its ability to survive under the most dire circumstances? Is it the nature of the relationship of the body to its environment, or the human to animals, or the relationship between our souls and our subconscious? It’s all of these and more. Ballen probes these nexus, the strands that connect and link our lives together: our dreams, nightmares and desires. His photographs act as a form of binding together, bringing the periphery of society into the centre (of attention). He creates an extant reality in which we are asked to question: how do we feel towards these people and how do we feel about our own lives?

He achieves this creation through the use of what I call “heightened awareness” – both situationally and subconsciously. Ballen is fully aware and receptive towards the conditions of his environment and his dreams. Instead of a desire to possess the object of his longing and then to be possessed by that desire (desire to possess / possessed by desire) Ballen has learnt, as Krishnamurti did, not to make images out of every word, out of every vision and desire. Ballen understands that he must be attentive to the clarity of not making images – of desire, of prejudice, of flattery – because only then might you become aware of the world that surrounds us, just for what it is and nothing more. He accepts what he can create and what is given to him by being fully aware. Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action.1 His images become a blend of the space of intimacy and world-space as he strains toward, “communion with the universe, in a word, space, the invisible space that man can live in nevertheless, and which surrounds him with countless presences.”2

His photographs become an enveloping phenomenon in which the viewer is draped in their affect… this ‘wearing of images’ is both magical and all encompassing.

We are the people in his pictures. We are their dreams.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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Many thankx to SCA Galleries for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.
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  1. Concepts from KrishnamurtiBeginnings of Learning. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1978, pp. 130-131.
  2. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. (trans Maria Jolas). Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, p. xxxv.

 

 

“Archetypal levels of the deeper subconscious pervade my photographs… When I create my photographs I often travel deep into my own interior, a place where dreams and many of my images originate. I see my photographs as mirrors, reflectors, connectors into the mind… The light comes from the dark.”

 

“These pictures are a very complex way of seeing, a very complex way of viewing the world and you know perhaps this went back to the time I was in my mother’s stomach… I can’t really say what exactly is the primary cause of what I do.”

 

“So the thing is is my pictures, my better pictures or a lot of my pictures, embed themselves deeply in the subconscious, because the mind isn’t ready for those photographs, they don’t have any corresponding experience in some way or another, so the pictures tend to have more of an impact on the person’s deeper mind than something we would normally think of as disturbing because the pictures get into the mind. People aren’t used to having things get in there and stay in there and threaten their image of themselves in some way or another and so that’s why they call them disturbing, they’re not actually disturbing a better way of saying it is that if somebody has some kind of consciousness they’re actually enlightening.”

.
Roger Ballen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“His raw, black & white images are alluring, fascinating and disturbing. He is one of the most important and exciting photographers of the 21st century. The intriguing work of Roger Ballen is coming to Australia, to Sydney College of the Arts (SCA), this March in the artist’s first major Sydney exhibition. Staged to coincide with the 20th Biennale of Sydney, Roger Ballen’s Theatre of the Mind is a provocative exhibition of 75 contemporary works created by the artist over the last two decades.

Professor Colin Rhodes, Dean of the University of Sydney’s contemporary art school and curator of the exhibition, said: “For a long time Roger Ballen’s photography has trodden a path where others are too timid to tread, toying with our innermost dreams, nightmares and desires. The raw, atmospheric exhibition spaces at Sydney College of the Arts [the site of the former Rozelle Psychiatric Hospital] are the ideal setting to articulate this core aspect of Ballen’s work.”

Born in New York in 1950, Ballen has lived in Johannesburg since the 1970s. His work as a geologist took him across the countryside and led him to explore, through the camera lens, the smaller South African towns. His early photographs of the hidden lives of people living on the fringes of society made considerable impact, receiving acclaim from American writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag among others.

Through the medium of black and white photography, Ballen has achieved a unique integration of drawing, painting and installation that have been compared to the masters of art brut. His peculiar and somewhat shocking imagery confronts the viewer and drags them into the work. Viewers are participants in the work – not merely observers – taking them on a journey into the recesses of their minds, as Ballen explores his own.

Roger Ballen’s Theatre of the Mind consists of five sections that see people, birds, animal and inanimate subjects become the ‘cast’ in an exhibition that is hard-hitting, psychological theatre. The Sydney exhibition includes a new installation work created onsite at SCA by Ballen in response to the site’s mental health history, in the labyrinth of underground cells of the former Rozelle hospital.

The show includes Ballen’s award-winning music video ‘I Fink U Freeky’ (2012) by South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord, which has received over 76 million hits on YouTube and earned a cult following. In addition, the public will be able to access his equally remarkable video works Outland and Asylum of the Birds.

The worldwide impact of Ballen’s work was celebrated in major retrospective exhibition at Washington DC’s Smithsonian National Museum of African Art from 2013 to 2014. It was this exhibition that drove Rhodes’ interest to bring Ballen’s work to Australia.

“When I first saw Ballen’s work en masse, I was struck by the role of drawing in his photos and what seemed to me a relationship with Art Brut or Outsider Art. The artist’s interest in and knowledge of Outsider Art is a key part of understanding the growth of Ballen’s identity as an international artist,” said Professor Rhodes.

Roger Ballen will present a public talk in Sydney at SCA on 9 March, ahead of the official opening of his Sydney exhibition on Tuesday 15 March. Roger Ballen’s Theatre of the Mind is showing at SCA Galleries from 16 March to 7 May 2016. A 96-page book will accompany the exhibition featuring Ballen’s photography and an essay by Professor Rhodes.”

Press release from SCA Galleries

 

Roger Ballen. 'Caged' 2011

 

Roger Ballen
Caged
2011
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Bewitched' 2012

 

Roger Ballen
Bewitched
2012
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Untitled' 2015

 

Roger Ballen
Untitled
2015
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Twirling Wires' 2001

 

Roger Ballen
Twirling Wires
2001
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Mirrored' 2012

 

Roger Ballen
Mirrored
2012
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

 

“Ballen has no qualms about creating dramatic scenarios in his search for “archetypal” symbols that speak to the viewer’s subconscious. He began as a documentary photographer but over the years his pictures have become filled with drawings, paintings and sculptural brac-a-brac, created by the artist himself, or by his subjects. In works such as Collision (2005) or Deathbed (2010), there are no figures, but the human presence is implied by a face drawn on a pillow or the broken head of a doll. The walls in both photos are covered in crude drawings and dirty marks – signs of previous occupation…

[Ballen] argues that these images are primarily psychological, not sociological. He wants to address that deep, dark part of the mind that Freud called “the Id”. As a concept it’s more poetic than biological – a shared repositary of instinctive drives that remains buried under the trappings of civilisation…

Despite the extreme nature of her work, Diane Arbus remained within the documentary tradition, whereas a figure such as Joel-Peter Witkin constructs his own theatrical tableaux in the studio. Ballen’s work is somewhere between these two poles. The subjects of his photographs are society’s misfits, but his approach is shamelessly theatrical. His figures are not posing passively, they are collaborating with someone who has won their trust, creating a form of ad hoc performance art in bare, filthy rooms…

It’s more interesting to ask what Ballen feels when he enters such environments. To take these photos he has immersed himself in a world of violence and madness. If he has built up a rapport with his subjects it is by treating them not as freaks, but as people with their own sense of dignity. He refuses to buy into conventional distinctions about what is normal and abnormal, presumably as a legacy of his early exposure to the counterculture and the anti-psychiatry movement.”

John McDonald. “Roger Ballen,” on the John McDonald website April 7, 2016 [Online] Cited 25/04/2016

 

Roger Ballen. 'Lunchtime' 2001

 

Roger Ballen
Lunchtime
2001
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Take off' 2012

 

Roger Ballen
Take off
2012
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Cat and Mouse' 2001

 

Roger Ballen
Cat and Mouse
2001
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'School Room' 2003

 

Roger Ballen
School Room
2003
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Portrait of sleeping girl' 2000

 

Roger Ballen
Portrait of sleeping girl
2000

 

Roger Ballen. 'Deathbed' 2010

 

Roger Ballen
Deathbed
2010

 

Roger Ballen. 'Three hands' 2006

 

Roger Ballen
Three hands
2006

 

Roger Ballen. 'Head inside shirt' 2001

 

Roger Ballen
Head inside shirt
2001

 

 

SCA Galleries
Sydney College of the Arts (University of Sydney)
Kirkbride Way, off Balmain Road, Lilyfield (enter opposite Cecily Street)
Tel: +61 2 9351 1008

Opening hours:
Monday to Friday, 11am – 5pm
Saturday, 11am – 4pm (during exhibitions)

SCA Galleries website

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21
Apr
16

Exhibition: ‘Provoke: Between Protest and Performance – Photography in Japan 1960 – 1975’ at the Albertina, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 29th January – 8th May 2016

 

I absolutely love Japanese photography from this period.

Subjective photographs with a gutsy pictorial language: rough, grainy, and blurred intimations of a postwar reality mated with “the search for a new Japanese identity.” An identity (pop!) art with a elemental, chthonic twist – containing a dark sensuality – producing images that pull no punches. Wonderful stuff.

Marcus

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

 

The Japanese photo magazine Provoke, which ran for three issues in 1968 and 1969, is viewed as a one-of-a-kind agglomeration of post-war artistic efforts. In the world’s first-ever exhibition on this topic, the Albertina examines the complex genesis of this magazine and thereby presents a representative cross-section of photographic trends present in Japan between the 1960s and 1970s.

With around 200 objects, this showing unites works by Japan’s most influential photographers including Daidō Moriyama, Yutaka Takanashi, Shomei Tomatsu, and Nobuyoshi Araki. In light of the massive protest movements active in Japan during this period, their photographs arose at a historical turning point between societal collapse and the search for a new Japanese identity. These images thus represent both an expression of this political transformation and the renewal of prevalent aesthetic norms.

This exhibition is a coproduction between Albertina, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Le Bal (Paris), and Art Institute of Chicago.

 

 

Daido Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, Okada Takahiko, Yukata Takanashi, Kōji Taki. 'Provoke 3' cover, 1969

 

Daido Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, Okada Takahiko, Yukata Takanashi, Kōji Taki
Provoke 3 cover
1969
© Nakahira Gen/Moriyama Daido/Takahiko Okada/Takanashi Yukata/Taki Koji

 

 

The three numbers of Provoke were printed in small editions of only one thousand copies each. Takuma Nakahira, Yutaka Takanashi, Kōji Taki, and Takahiko Okada founded the magazine; Daidō Moriyama joined the group with the magazine’s second issue. While the first two numbers were dedicated to the subjects Summer 1968 and Eros, the last issue had no focal theme.

The photographers of Provoke worked spontaneously and dynamically, often without looking through the viewfinder of their small-format cameras. This made for a rough, grainy, and blurred (“are,” “bure,” “boke”) pictorial language influenced by Ed van der Elsken and William Klein. This language broke with traditional photography defined by sophisticated compositions, perfect tonal values, and the vintage print. The tonal quality of pictures reproduced through printing differed from that of traditional photographic prints, and the pictures were regarded as independent works in their own right. Contrary to the objectives of the traditional matter-of-fact documentary photography, they mirrored their authors’ subjective experience of Japan’s postwar reality. The manifesto in the first Provoke issue defined photography as an autonomous medium independent of spoken language and aimed at “provoking” thoughts and ideas. The title of the magazine Provoke: Provocative Materials for Thought expresses this intention. (Wall text)

 

Takuma Nakahira (1938-2015) | For a Language to Come

The photographer, theorist, and critic Takuma Nakahira and Kōji Taki were responsible for the discursive orientation of Provoke. Nakahira’s works rejected the rules of photojournalism and its claim of rendering facts in a generally valid, objective way. They were also critical of the visual mass media which increasingly pervaded the everyday life of Japan’s consumerist society. According to Nakahira, the media, having lost all relation to reality through the information explosion, were only concerned with presenting a virtual reality. Nakahira did not regard the photograph as an artist photographer’s means of expression but as a mere mechanical document of his subjective perception.

It is the relationship between photography and language which is central for Nakahira’s photography. This is not only evident in Provoke but also in his book For a Language to Come published in 1970. This volume assembles a non-linear and unhierarchical sequence of snapshots evoking imaginary, post-apocalyptic sceneries which not least reveal the photographer’s skepsis about the US consumerist culture spreading throughout Japan. (Wall text)

 

Three Waves of Protest Books

The protest books can be divided into three groups. From the 1960s, mainly collective publishing projects highlighted social unrest such as mass demonstrations and strikes organized by the trade unions against the ratification of the Security Treaty. The trade union publication Rope Ladder and Iron Helmet, for example, documents the occupation of a publishing house by its employees. The second wave saw primarily individual publications by various photographers such as Kazuo Kitai’s book Resistance. It depicts the students’ activities, and its rough and grainy pictorial language became important for Provoke. The third wave of protest books, generally designed by students and published from 1967 on, focused on violent street fights in Tokyo directed against the Vietnam War. The collectively produced volume Sanrizuka – The Hokusō Plateau on Fire. Document 1966-71 deals with the protests against the construction of the airport in Sanrizuka, in which students joined forces with the local farmers. (Wall text)

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Photography in Japan 1960 - 1975' at the Albertina, Vienna

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Photography in Japan 1960 - 1975' at the Albertina, Vienna

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Photography in Japan 1960 - 1975' at the Albertina, Vienna

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Photography in Japan 1960 - 1975' at the Albertina, Vienna

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Provoke: Between Protest and Performance – Photography in Japan 1960 – 1975 at the Albertina, Vienna

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu. 'Blood and Rose, Tokyo, 1969' 1969

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu
Blood and Rose, Tokyo, 1969
1969
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna; permanent loan of the Austrian Ludwig Foundation for Art and Science
© Shōmei Tōmatsu Estate, courtesy | PRISKA PASQUER, Cologne

 

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu (1930-2012)

Shōmei Tōmatsu is seen as a key figure for Provoke. He photographed the sociopolitical changes in Japan from the 1950s on, depicting US military bases, the consequences of dropping a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, and the student protests in a new, symbolic documentary style. The pictures’ subjective approach revolutionized traditional documentary and reportage photography, which strove to convey a comprehensible story and a clear social message. The strategies developed by Tōmatsu are to be found in the Provoke artists’ works in a pointed form.

Tōmatsu also supported the Provoke photographers as an exhibition organizer and editor. Together with Takuma Nakahira and Kōji Taki, he prepared the first major exhibition of Japanese photography in 1968, which was to stimulate the founders of the magazine to explore the medium. Tōmatsu and Nakahira edited the photo galleries I am a King in the magazine Gendai no me (The Contemporary Eye), which for the first time assembled works by the photographers who would form the Provoke group. (Wall text)

 

Eikoh Hosoe. '"Kamaitachi" #31' 1968

 

Eikoh Hosoe
“Kamaitachi” #31
1968
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna – permanent loan of the Austrian Ludwig Foundation for Art and Science
© Eikoh Hosoe/Taka Ishii Gallery

 

 

Performance

Pictures taken in the context of performances breach the boundary between photographic documentation and live action and emphasize performative aspects of the medium like the brief act of pictorial production and the materiality of the picture. For his series Kamaitachi, Eikō Hosoe portrayed the butoh and performance artist Tatsumi Hijikata from 1965 on. The performer incorporated the demon Kamaitachi in scenes specifically staged for the camera, visualizing the photographer’s memories of World War II. As Hosoe used his camera in a very dynamic way, the shooting may be seen as a happening involving two artists.

Competing with Provoke, Nobuyoshi Araki produced a number of Xerox photography books from 1970 on. Araki and his assistants xeroxed photographs and sent the copies bound between black covers to colleagues and friends. The production process resembling a happening, the use of technically inadequate means, and the preference of copies over the original defied classical photography in ways to be found in the Provoke magazines.

Also inspired by Provoke, Jirō Takamatsu turned to conceptual photography. For Photograph of Photograph he employed a photographer to take pictures of pictures from his family albums. The snapshot-like pictorial language manifesting itself in reflections and random image sections defamiliarizes the album pictures. Like in Daidō Moriyama’s series Accident, processes connected with the production of prints become a visible element of work that questions the supposed factuality of the medium. (Wall text)

 

Anonym (Bild 1) 'Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport' c. 1969

 

Anonym (Bild 1)
Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport
c. 1969
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago © AIC

 

 

Protest

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Japan was shaken by massive, partly violent waves of protests. The key event was the ratification of the Security Treaty between Japan and the United States in 1960. Japan’s role as a military base for the war against Vietnam, the construction of Narita Airport in Sanrizuka, and the neoliberal activities of big concerns also led to protests. The years between 1960 and 1975 saw the publication of about eighty publications on the protests and the assessment of Japan’s recent history, particularly the US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, connected with it.

Published by artist photographers, student associations, trade unions, and professional photo journalists, the protest books were produced in different ways. They were aimed at spreading information and mobilizing people for further protests. The strategies of subversive self-representation were characterized by an innovative design: appeal-like combinations of texts and images, suggestive sequences, dynamic croppings, and an interplay of inferior materials and sophisticated layouts.

Though the members of Provoke, excepting Moriyama, were active politically, they held the opinion that the possibilities of protest photography had been exhausted and that it could not bring about political change. Nevertheless, Provoke followed the models developed by it. The most striking feature next to layout and printing techniques is the protest photographers’ abstract and blurry aesthetic resulting from technical shortcomings. (Wall text)

 

Anonym (Bild 2) 'Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport' c. 1969

 

Anonym (Bild 2)
Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport
c. 1969
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago © AIC

 

 

“The Japanese photo magazine Provoke, which ran for three issues in 1968 and 1969, is regarded as a highlight of post-war photography. The Albertina, in the world’s first-ever exhibition on this topic, is taking a close look at this publication’s creators and its long genesis. The presentation encompasses a representative cross-section of Japanese photographic trends during the 1960s and 1970s. With around 200 objects, the exhibition Provoke unites works by Japan’s most influential photographers – including Daidō Moriyama, Yutaka Takanashi, Shōmei Tōmatsu, and Nobuyoshi Araki. Before the backdrop of the massive protest activities in Japan during this period, they created their images out of an awareness of being at a historical turning point between societal collapse and the search for a new Japanese identity. These works thus represent both an expression of this political transformation and a renewal of prevalent aesthetic norms.

This exhibition places Provoke in a historical context, focussing on the dialogue between the group’s photography in particular and contemporary protest photography and performance art in general.

Photography is examined as a document of – and/or a call to – protest against injustice: the period around 1960 saw numerous books published in connection with the first great wave of protests in Japan against renewal of the alliance with the USA. A few of them document the demonstrations themselves, while others deal with related themes – above all with the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The years during which Provoke was published saw these protests, which were staged employing great creativity, give rise to a captivating visual world of resistance to the illegal actions of large corporations and the despotism of the neoliberal Japanese state.

As the 1960s wore on, the protest movements intensified, leading to a flood of photo volumes and prints. The makers of Provoke – critic Kōji Taki, author Takuma Nakahira, critic and photographer Takuma Nakahira, and photographers Yutaka Takanashi and Daidō Moriyama – were of the opinion that journalistic photography had exhausted itself and that it was impossible to effect long-term change through direct political action. But even so, in their texts and their photos, they oriented themselves on the aesthetic strategies to which Japan’s protest photography had given rise: their works feature strikingly innovative graphic design that employs image sequences, pithy text/image combinations, dynamic outtakes, and the interplay of specifically chosen cheap materials (rough paper, low-resolution printing) with fold-outs and unusual formats.

The exhibition concludes by examining the Japanese photography of its chosen period as a variant of performance art and/or as documentation of live actions: Daidō Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, and Nobuyoshi Araki are among those photographers who, around 1970, developed great interest in portraying darkroom work or other processes connected to the production of photographic prints as visible and active components of photographic creativity. They were preceded in their efforts by dance performers such as Tatsumi Hijikata, who worked with filmmakers and photographers, as well as by groups like the Hi-Red Center, which blurred the distinctions between photographic documentation and live actions in which photography and other media played a role.

But such influences worked both ways: directly inspired by the activities of the photographers of Provoke, Hi-Red Center member Jiro Takamatsu and Koji Enokura turned to photographic conceptual art in the early 1970s.”

Press release from the Albertina

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu. 'Editor, Takuma Nakahira, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1964' 1964

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu
Editor, Takuma Nakahira, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1964
1964
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago
© Shōmei Tōmatsu Estate – INTERFACE

 

Yutaka Takanashi. 'The Beatles' 1965

 

Yutaka Takanashi
The Beatles
1965
From the series Tokyoites
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna
© Takanashi Yutaka

 

 

Yutaka Takanashi (b. 1935) | Towards the City

From the mid-1960s, Yutaka Takanashi focused on the urban change of the metropolis. Tokyo’s massive expansion, the modernization of its infrastructure, and its ruthless industrialization were captured in spontaneous pictures often shot from a driving car. Unlike his Provoke colleagues’ works, Takanashi’s photographs are easier to read, less pessimistic, and show a stronger affinity to classical documentary photography. He composed all his pictures by looking through the viewfinder.

In close collaboration with the book designer Kōhei Sugiura, Takanashi published the artist book Toshi e (Towards the City). Embedded in a cardboard box, its two volumes comprise a number of different, partly overlapping work groups: while the smaller one, titled Tokyo-jin (Tokyoites) contains pictures of the city’s inhabitants from 1966, the larger one explores Tokyo’s new topography, documenting its outlying districts. Shot in the Provoke era, the pictures’ blurriness and apparent exposure mistakes testify to the group’s influence. (Wall text)

 

Yutaka Takanashi. 'Ohne Titel (Toshi-e)' 1969

 

Yutaka Takanashi
Ohne Titel (Toshi-e)
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Takanashi Yutaka/Taka Ishii Gallery

 

Yutaka Takanashi. 'Untitled (Tatsumi Hijikata)' 1969

 

Yutaka Takanashi
Untitled (Tatsumi Hijikata)
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Takanashi Yutaka / Taka Ishii Gallery
© Keio University Art Center / Courtesy of Butoh Laboratory Japan

 

Daidō Moriyama. 'Untitled' from the series 'Akushidento (Accident)' 1969

 

Daidō Moriyama
Untitled, from the series Akushidento (Accident)
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Daidō Moriyama / Shadai Gallery, Tokyo Polytechnic University

 

 

Daidō Moriyama (geb. 1938) | Accident

Daidō Moriyama’s series Accident interlinks sociopolitical subjects, references to Western art, and media-analytical considerations. Against the background of Japan’s strengthening consumerist culture, Moriyama, inspired by Andy Warhol’s pop art pictures, relied on everyday mass media. Next to demonstrations and pop culture motifs, Moriyama, alluding to Warhol’s work Silver Car Crash of 1963, photographed police posters that campaigned for safe driving with deterrent pictures of car accidents. Reflections on the material and blurs resulting from the pictures’ enlargement emphasize the reproduction process. Moriyama questions the illusionary nature of photography and underlines their material quality. Regarding contents, the series investigates the conflict between the US consumerist culture’s attraction and the quest for a Japanese identity. (Wall text)

 

 

Albertina
Albertinaplatz 1
1010 Vienna, Austria
T: +43 (0)1 534 83-0

Opening hours:
Daily 10 am – 6 pm
Wednesday 10 am – 9 pm

Albertina website

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08
Apr
16

Exhibitions: ‘Werner Bischof: Point of View’ and ‘Helvetica’ at the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Exhibition dates: 27th January – 1st May 2016

Curators: Marco Bischof, Werner Bischof Estate, for the exhibition Point of View and Daniel Girardin, Musée de l’Elysée, for the exhibition Helvetica.

 

 

After seven years of constructing this website, finally I can talk about an exhibition on one of my favourite humanist/social documentary photographers. This fact alone shows how rare it is to get to see his photographs in an exhibition, let alone display them online, such is the control that agencies have over the artist’s work.

Personally, I prefer the earlier, more avant-garde work around the time of the Second World War which has more bite, more of a cutting edge. But then again how can you argue against the sheer beauty and formalism of Harbour of Kowloon (1952, below) or the “atmosphere” of that wondrous photograph Courtyard of the Meiji shrine (below) where the snow has been falling since 1951. I remember starting out as an artist, seeing this image and staring in disbelief at this vision.

Perhaps that is a good metaphor for Bischof’s work: that of a visionary, for you never sense the presence of the photographer in his work (unless he wants you to!) but always know that it is a Bischof photograph. The photographs are almost ego-less, which is one reason I suppose that they are so damn good. The artist gets physically close to the subject matter (as in Stallion Remus, 1944 and On the road to Cuzco, 1954) and then lets the subject reveal itself. This is such an art, to be present and absent in the work at the same time.

It is a great sadness that Bischof died so young (at age 38, when the jeep in which he was travelling plunged off  a cliff in the area of Peña de Águila, in the Peruvian Andes) and that the work of such a sympathetic photographer is not as well known as the work of that other Swiss photographer, Robert Frank. Bischof’s work lives and breathes in the top echelons of photography but somehow, you never hear of him. In my humble opinion, one of the great photographers of all time.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Musée de l’Elysée for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Werner Bischof, Point de vue et Helvetica

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Werner Bischof: Point of View' and 'Helvetica' at the Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Werner Bischof: Point of View' and 'Helvetica' at the Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Werner Bischof: Point of View' and 'Helvetica' at the Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Werner Bischof: Point of View' and 'Helvetica' at the Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Werner Bischof: Point of View' and 'Helvetica' at the Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Werner Bischof: Point of View and Helvetica at the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne
Photo: © Yannick Lüthy / Musée de l’Elysée

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Plants' Zürich c. 1941

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Plants
Zurich, c. 1941
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Oak Tree' Switzerland, c. 1941

 

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Oak Tree
Switzerland, c. 941
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Demonstration on the Piazza del Duomo' Milan, Italy 1946

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Demonstration on the Piazza del Duomo
Milan, Italy, 1946
© Werner Bischof / Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Enfants des rues (Street children)' Naples, Italy 1946

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Enfants des rues (Street children)

Naples, Italy, 1946
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'The Swiss Worker at the steelworks of Winterthur' 1943

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
The Swiss Worker at the steelworks of Winterthur
1943
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Stallion Remus' Avenches, Switzerland 1944

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Stallion Remus
Avenches, Switzerland, 1944
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Brandenburg Gate' Berlin 1946

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Brandenburg Gate
Berlin, 1946
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof 'Streams' (darkroom drawing), 1941

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Streams (darkroom drawing)
1941
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Zebra Woman' 1942

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Zebra Woman
1942
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Breast with grid' Zurich, Switzerland 1941

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Breast with grid
Zurich, Switzerland, 1941
© Werner Bischof / Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Army Boot' Zürich, Switzerland c. 1941

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Army Boot
Zurich, Switzerland, c. 1941
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos
From the exhibition Helvetica

 

 

To mark the centenary of the birth of Swiss photographer Werner Bischof (1916-1954), the Musée de l’Elysée is presenting a retrospective of his work entitled Point of View, produced by Magnum Photos (Paris). The exhibition offers almost 200 original and sometimes unpublished prints selected from the Werner Bischof Estate (Zurich). The exhibition will also display contact sheets, books, magazines and private letters. Several projections will give a contemporary approach to his work. The exhibition will present his work in Switzerland (1934-1944), Europe (1945-1950), Asia (1951-1952), and North and South America (1953-1954).

A second exhibition, produced by the Musée de l’Elysée and entitled Helvetica focuses exclusively on Bischof’s Swiss years, the period of training, studio work fashion and advertising and then the war years in Switzerland during which he became a press photographer working for the magazine DU. The exhibition Helvetica is the subject of the first publication of the “Collection – Musée de l’Elysée”.

Text from the Musée de l’Elysée website

 

“The Swiss genius is an exceptional photographer possessing tremendous technical knowledge and experience for his age (he’s only 32 years old), being able to make great pictures, both inside studio (a sphere in which she gets superb results thanks to his lighting mastery, the control on the depth of field, etc) and with persons in outdoor assignments, where by means of his great humanistic sensitiveness, intuition, precision in the timing on pressing the release shutter button of his cameras, outstanding grasping to capture the most representative moments and passion for his trade, also creates very powerful and meaningful images once and again, taking care of the most minute details, even when working under the most extreme contexts, since he’s a great perfectionist… Throughout all of his career as a professional photographer, Bischof proved to be an accomplished master of medium format made using a 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 (6 x 6 cm) Rolleiflex medium format cameras. He also used a rangefinder 35 mm Leica IIIc camera with Leitz Elmar 5 cm f/3.5 lens with which he likewise got great photographs.”

Extract from José Manuel Serrano Esparza. “Werner Bischof: A Master of Photography whose work goes on being very alive,” 23rd July 2013 [Online] Cited 07/04/2016.

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Americana, USA' 1954

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Americana, USA
1954
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Aerial view of New York City' 1953

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Aerial view of New York City
1953
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Penguins of Edinburgh Zoo on a walk' 1950

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Penguins of Edinburgh Zoo on a walk
1950
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Harbour of Kowloon' Hong Kong, China 1952

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Harbour of Kowloon
Hong Kong, China, 1952
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'On the road to Cuzco' Valle Sagrado, Peru 1954

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
On the road to Cuzco
Valle Sagrado, Peru, 1954
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

“Another timeless photographic icon in which stands out the lavish level of detail in the garment of the boy and his typical hat, along with the intricate texture of the sack he is wearing on his back, the impression of volume of his right hand, the fibrous musculature in his calves, the soft bokeh in the mountainous area which can be seen in the background and above all a millenary synergy between man and nature that Werner Bischof realized was endangered.”  – José Manuel Serrano Esparza

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'A pleasant sleeping' Island of Kau Sai 1952

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
A pleasant sleeping
Island of Kau Sai, 1952
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Courtyard of the Meiji shrine' Tokyo, Japan 1951

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Courtyard of the Meiji shrine
Tokyo, Japan, 1951
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

“Bischof creates a kind of living landscape highlighted by its unmatched formal and compositive precision, masterfully using the natural light, obtaining plentiful details and exceedingly delicate transitions and hues of gray scales, exploiting the capacities of square medium format to the utmost. The very pure whites of the snow on the ground, the temple roof and the tree tops are likewise worth being mentioned.” – José Manuel Serrano Esparza

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Famine stricken area' State of Bihar, India, April 1951

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Famine stricken area
State of Bihar, India, April 1951
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

 

The Musée de l’Elysée
18, avenue de l’Elysée
CH - 1014 Lausanne
T: + 41 21 316 99 11

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm
Closed Monday, except for bank holidays

The Musée de l’Elysée website

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24
Mar
16

Exhibition: ‘Cosa Mentale: Art and Telepathy in the 20th century’ at the Centre Pompidou-Metz, Paris

Exhibition dates: 28th October 2015 – 28th March 2016

 

Telepathic art in the 20th century. What a fascinating subject for a spiritual, phantasmagoric exhibition which explores artists’ fascination with the direct transmission of thought and emotion. A lot of phenomena – for example telepathy, X-rays, psychoanalysis – were named or discovered in the last half of the nineteenth century or are concepts and things that began to gain popularity in the collective consciousness at that time, such as the unconscious mind, the anima and animus, the study of signs, photographs of thought, photographs of hysteria (Charcot) and notes and photographs on unexplained paranormal experiences.

“The exhibition enables the spectator to understand how, throughout the 20th century, attempts to give material and visible form to thought processes coincide with the experiments of avant-garde artists. This fantasy of a direct projection of thought not only had a decisive impact on the birth of abstraction but also influenced surrealism and its obsession with the collective sharing of creation and, in the post war period, it gave rise to numerous visual and sound installations inspired by the revolution in information technology, leading to the declaration of “the dematerialisation of art” in conceptual practices.”

Love the work of Émile Cohl and Len Lye, both a revelation to me.

Marcus

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

 

 

Louis Darget. 'Fluidic Thought-Image Photography' 1896

 

Louis Darget
Fluidic Thought-Image Photography
1896

(L) Inscribed: “Photo… of thought. Head obtained by Mr. Henning, having a plate wrapped in black paper on his forehead while he played the piano. Opposite him on the piano was a portrait of Beethoven. Could this be that [same] portrait reflected by the brain onto the plate through the black paper. Comt. Darget”

(R) “Photograph of a Dream: The Eagle.” 25 June, 1896.
Inscribed: “Obtained by placing a photographic plate above the forehead of Mme Darget while she was asleep.”

 

Edvard Munch. 'Madonna' 1895

 

Edvard Munch
Madonna
1895
Paris, Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’Art moderne
© Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Georges Meguerditchian

 

Odilon Redon. 'Portrait de Paul Gauguin' 1903-1906

 

Odilon Redon
Portrait of Paul Gauguin
1903-1906
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

 

 

Émile Cohl
Le retapeur de cervelles (The creators brain)
1910

 

Auguste Rodin. 'Le Penseur [The Thinker]' 1903

 

Auguste Rodin
Le Penseur [The Thinker]
1903
Plâtre patiné / patinated plaster
72 x 37 x 57,50 cm
© Photographe : Christian Baraja
© Musée Rodin, Paris

 

 

When conceived in 1880 in its original size (approx. 70 cm) as the crowning element of The Gates of Hell, seated on the tympanum, The Thinker was entitled The Poet. He represented Dante, author of the Divine Comedy which had inspired The Gates, leaning forward to observe the circles of Hell, while meditating on his work. The Thinker was therefore initially both a being with a tortured body, almost a damned soul, and a free-thinking man, determined to transcend his suffering through poetry. The pose of this figure owes much to Carpeaux’s Ugolino (1861) and to the seated portrait of Lorenzo de Medici carved by Michelangelo (1526-31).

While remaining in place on the monumental Gates of Hell, The Thinker was exhibited individually in 1888 and thus became an independent work. Enlarged in 1904, its colossal version proved even more popular: this image of a man lost in thought, but whose powerful body suggests a great capacity for action, has became one of the most celebrated sculptures ever known. Numerous casts exist worldwide, including the one now in the gardens of the Musée Rodin, a gift to the City of Paris installed outside the Panthéon in 1906, and another in the gardens of Rodin’s house in Meudon, on the tomb of the sculptor and his wife. (Text from the Rodin Museum website)

 

Stephen Haweis and Henry Coles. 'Le Penseur' c. 1903-1904

 

Stephen Haweis and Henry Coles
Le Penseur
c. 1903-1904
Epreuve au charbon / Charcoal
23 x 16,60 cm
© Musée Rodin, Paris

 

 

“Cosa Mentale  is a unique exhibition that offers a re-reading of the history or art from 1990 to modern day by exploring artists’ fascination with the direct transmission of thought and emotion. It invites the spectator to re-live one of the unexpected adventures of modernity: telepathic art in the 20th century. This exhibition traces a chronological path from symbolism to conceptual art with a collection of some one hundred works by major artists, ranging from Edvard Munch to Vassily Kandinsky, and from Joan Miró to Sigmar Polke. These artists provide innovative ways of communicating with spectators that take us beyond conventional linguistic codes.

The exhibition enables the spectator to understand how, throughout the 20th century, attempts to give material and visible form to thought processes coincide with the experiments of avant-garde artists. This fantasy of a direct projection of thought not only had a decisive impact on the birth of abstraction but also influenced surrealism and its obsession with the collective sharing of creation and, in the post war period, it gave rise to numerous visual and sound installations inspired by the revolution in information technology, leading to the declaration of “the dematerialisation of art” in conceptual practices.

The exhibition begins with the invention of the term “telepathy” in 1882, at a time when the study of psychology interacted with rapid developments in telecommunications. Endeavours ranged from the creation of “photographs of thought” in 1895 to the first “encephalograms” in 1924 (the year when the Surrealist Manifesto was published) and it was the actual activity of the brain which was to be shown in all its transparency, which encouraged artists to reject the conventions of representation by suppressing all restrictions of translation. Telepathy was far from remaining an obscure paranormal fantasy and consistently intrigued and enthralled artists throughout the 20th century. Always present in the world of science fiction, it resurfaced in psychedelic and conceptual art in the period from 1960 to 1970 before reappearing today in contemporary practices enraptured by technologies of “shared knowledge” and the rapid development of neuroscience.

Curator

Pascal Rousseau, professor of contemporary history of art at the University of Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne. Pascal Rousseau has also curated Robert Delaunay exhibitions: From impressionism to abstraction, 1906-1914, at the Centre Pompidou (1999) and To the origins of abstraction (1800-1914) at the Musée d’Orsay (2003).”

Press release from the Centre Pompidou-Metz

 

Joan Miró. 'La Sieste' July-September 1925

 

Joan Miró
La Sieste
July – September 1925
© Successió Miró/ ADAGP, Paris, 2015

 

Vassily Kandinsky. 'Bild mit rotem Fleck [Tableau à la tache rouge / Image with red spot]' 25 February 1914

 

Vassily Kandinsky
Bild mit rotem Fleck [Tableau à la tache rouge / Image with red spot]
25 February 1914
Paris, Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art moderne
© Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Adam Rzepka

 

Frantisek Kupka. 'Facture robuste' 1920

 

Frantisek Kupka
Facture robuste
1920
Strasbourg, Musée d’Art moderne et contemporain
© ADAGP, Paris, 2015
© Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jacques Faujour

 

 

Len Lye (New Zealand/America, 1901-1980)
Tusalava
1929
Film
10 min. 5 sec.

 

 

As a student, Lye became convinced that motion could be part of the language of art, leading him to early (and now lost) experiments with kinetic sculpture, as well as a desire to make film. Lye was also one of the first Pākehā artists to appreciate the art of Māori, Australian Aboriginal, Pacific Island and African cultures, and this had great influence on his work. In the early 1920s Lye travelled widely in the South Pacific. He spent extended periods in Australia and Samoa, where he was expelled by the New Zealand colonial administration for living within an indigenous community.

Working his way as a coal trimmer aboard a steam ship, Lye moved to London in 1926. There he joined the Seven and Five Society, exhibited in the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition and began to make experimental films. Following his first animated film Tusalava, Lye began to make films in association with the British General Post Office, for the GPO Film Unit. He reinvented the technique of drawing directly on film, producing his animation for the 1935 film A Colour Box, an advertisement for “cheaper parcel post”, without using a camera for anything except the title cards at the beginning of the film. It was the first direct film screened to a general audience. It was made by painting vibrant abstract patterns on the film itself, synchronizing them to a popular dance tune by Don Baretto and His Cuban Orchestra. A panel of animation experts convened in 2005 by the Annecy film festival put this film among the top ten most significant works in the history of animation (his later film Free Radicals was also in the top 50). (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Rudolf Steiner. 'Untitled (drawing on blackboard at a conference of 14 May 1924)' Dornach, 14 May 1924

 

Rudolf Steiner
Untitled (drawing on blackboard at a conference of 14 May 1924)
Dornach, 14 May 1924
Chalk on black paper
Rudolf Steiner Archive, Dornach
© Rudolf Steiner Archiv, Dornach
© ADAGP, Paris, 2015

 

 

A room of the exhibition features ten blackboards by Rudolf Steiner. They are the instructions of a new design language that the artist wants to develop. Steiner believes in the development of a supersensible consciousness, a big change for the future of humanity. He gives many lectures in which he details his research on the concept of transmission and its influence on the social. Whether true or not, artists such as Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky and others are interested in the complex graphics of Steiner and his research. Mondrian will even write: “Art is a way of development of mankind.” (Text from the Culture Box website translated from French)

 

Victor Brauner. 'Signe' 1942-45

 

Victor Brauner
Signe
1942-45
© ADAGP, Paris, 2015

 

 

Exhibition layout

Introduction

The exhibition starts with a version of the famous figure of Rodin’s Thinker, set off against a sequence of seven photographs from the start of the century, in which the pictorialist dimension seems to attempt to show lighting emissions produced by the cerebral concentration of the subject. This collection is presented opposite TV Rodin, a video installation created by the artist Nam June Paik who, in the 1970s, reinterpreted electromagnetic animation of closed-circuit thought, when interest in cybernetics was at its peak.

Auras

The direct visualisation of thought and emotional states and the impact of this on the beginnings of abstraction at the start of the 20th century.

The first room focuses on the passion during the century for “photography of thought.” As a direct response to the discovery of radiography by Röntgen, in 1895, numerous amateur researchers attempted to produce images of the brain on photosensitive plates. Since it was possible to see through opaque bodies, why not try to see through the skull, which was now transparent? A curiosity cabinet presents the photographic experiments of Hippolyte Baraduc and Louis Darget with “psychic ones” or “images of thought.” This selection of photographs interacts with two film animation extracts by Émile Cohl, showing, with some humour, the direct projection of thought onto the big screen with the arrival of the cinema.

In the second room, a collection of engravings from the theosophical works of Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater, presented by the American artist Christian Sampson, reveals the close relationship between the representation of emotional states (thought-patterns) and early abstract painting. They inspired many pioneers of abstract painters, including Kupka and Kandinsky. A group of auras and halos is shown, associated with a colour code for different effects, captured by Kandinsky in order to paint authentic abstract (auto) portraits. In the same vein, paintings by Wilhelm Morgner, Janus de Winter and Jacob Bendien present “psychic portraits” which illustrate a psychological range of emotions by means of chromatic signs.

The third room presents a sequence of ten “blackboards” by Rudolph Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy (the “science of the mind” that was a major influence on some of the members of the avant-garde abstract movement), showing how he developed his theories of the “mental body” and “psychic force”. Next to this is a collection of watercolours by the Swedish painter Hilma af Klint, a pioneer of abstract art. Around this area a multimedia installation by the artist Tony Oursler has been specially created for this exhibition reinterpreting the historical imagination of these “mental projections”.

Magnetic fields

The spread of telepathy in the inter-war period and its influence on surrealism.

In 1924, André Breton published the Surrealist Manifesto (1924) just when the neurologist Hans Berger invented the first electroencephalogram as a result of experimental research into telepathy: this being a less than accidental coincidence, relating to automated transcriptions of the mind. The “exquisite corpses” or “communicated drawings” of the surrealists are linked to experiments that took place at that time into the telepathic transfer of images.

The first room presents a sequence of photographs of the surrealist group in poses in which heads and bodies communicate with each other to produce a collective work under the mysterious influence of “magnetic fields.” Tusalava (1929), a film by the Australian artist Len Lye, illustrates the cinematographic solution found to make mental activity visible, in the form of abstract ideograms taken from aboriginal language.

The second room shows a collection of photographs from the 1920s, some of which are presented by the artist Frédéric Vaesen, relating to the materialisation of psychic entities, the famous “ectoplasms” which give a more tangible reality to imponderable thought. Next to this is a series of works by Joan Miró, in which the painter depicts coloured auras, including a mental map of emotional states, a “photograph of his dreams”.

Mind expander

With the reconstruction of the post war period, divided between the cybernetic model and psychedelic liberation, telepathy remained more than ever a creative horizon for artists in search of perception extended to the electromagnetic manifestations of consciousness.

The New Age spirit of the 1960s witnessed the curious revival of “photographs of thought” (Ted Serios and Salas Portugal), which influenced experimental cinema and psychedelic video (Jordan Belson), a well as some photographic practices (Anna and Bernhard Blume, Dieter Appelt, Suzanne Hiller, John Baldessari and Sigmar Polke).

Under the influence of psychotropic drugs or immersed in highly intense audiovisual devices, electric thought in motion is captured with a penetrating eye. Experimental and radical architectural patterns embody “expanded consciousness”, as is seen in the Mind Expander project (1967) by the Austrian group Haus Rucker Co, which invites the spectator to venture into “superception.” Music has its role here, with the rise in “biomusic” at the end of the 1960s, led by Alvin Lucier, Pierre Henry and David Rosenboom, who produced authentic “brain symphonies,” by means of the sound transcription of the activity of electric waves emitted by the brain, directly captured by electrodes.

Telepathy

The establishment of telepathic art in the 1970s influenced by conceptual practices.

On the margins of pop art, avant-garde artists in the 1970s produced a critique of both form and the art market, by means of strategies that emphasised language and sociological discourse. This also involved a major project in the dematerialisation of art works in which telepathy could be an ideal model for a new non-standard form of communication.

The American artist Robert Morris produced his own Autoportrait in the form of an encephalogram (EEG Portrait) at the same time as his compatriot Robert Barry, a central figure in conceptual art, produced Telepathic Pieces (1969) and Vito Acconci explored extra sensory perception through the form of video (Remote Control, 1971). Against this backdrop, we see considerable new interest in a utopia of shared creation (Robert Filliou and Marina Abramovic) in the era of global communication and the “noosphere” prophetically declared by Teilhard de Chardin and Marshall McLuhan.

The exhibition ends with a vast installation by the artist Fabrice Hyber, a major figure of contemporary art in France, with experimental telepathic booths, paintings, drawings and “prototypes of operating objects” (POF). Hyber invites the spectator to participate, alone or in groups, in an experience which has several surprises, reminding us how, today, under the influence of information networks, neuroscience and the globalised internet, telepathy (ultra democratic and utopian yet also obscure) is more topical than ever and can be explored by artists with the same spirit of derision or anticipation.”

Press release from the Centre Pompidou-Metz

 

Haus-Rucker-Co. Laurids, Zamp and Pinter with 'Environment Transformern (Flyhead, Viewatomizer and Drizzler)' 1968, from the 'Mind Expander project'

 

Haus-Rucker-Co
Laurids, Zamp and Pinter with Environment Transformern (Flyhead, Viewatomizer and Drizzler)
1968
From the Mind Expander project
Photo: Gert Winkler

 

 

Taking their cue from the Situationist’s ideas of play as a means of engaging citizens, Haus-Rucker-Co created performances where viewers became participants and could influence their own environments, becoming more than just passive onlookers. These installations were usually made from pneumatic structures such as Oase No. 7 (1972), which was created for Documenta 5 in Kassel, Germany. An inflatable structure emerged from the façade of an existing building creating a space for relaxation and play, of which contemporary echoes can be found in the ‘urban reserves’ of Santiago Cirugeda. The different versions of the Mind Expander series (1967-69), consisted of various helmets that could alter the perceptions of those wearing them, for example the ‘Fly Head’ disoriented the sight and hearing of the wearer to create an entirely new apprehension of reality; it also produced one of their most memorable images.

Haus-Rucker-Co’s installations served as a critique of the confined spaces of bourgeois life creating temporary, disposable architecture, whilst their prosthetic devices were designed to enhance sensory experience and highlight the taken-for-granted nature of our senses, seen also in the contemporaneous work of the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark. Contemporary versions of such work can be found in the pneumatic structures favoured by Raumlabor and Exyzt. (Text from the Spatial Agency website)

 

Installation view of Haus-Rucker-Co, 'Mindexpander 1' 1967 in the exhibition 'Cosa mentale' at the Centre Pompidou-Metz

 

Installation view of Haus-Rucker-Co, Mindexpander 1 1967 in the exhibition Cosa mentale at the Centre Pompidou-Metz.
Photo Pompidou Centre. MNAM CCI-distrib. RMN / G. Meguerditchian.

 

 

In 1968, the Austrian collective Haus-Rucker-Co designed the Mind Expander as an immersive capsule propelling the audience into a new mode of perception of reality: the “Superception”. This, then, is a synthesis of avant-garde utopias, throughout the twentieth century, influenced by the imagination that gave rise to the development of telecommunications, seeking to develop a way of live transmission of emotion. Its aim was to invent a new, immediate, relationship between the artist and the viewer.

 

Haus-Rucker-Co. 'Mind Expander' 1967

 

Haus-Rucker-Co
Mind Expander
1967 Vienna
Epreuve gélatino-argentique
Photo: Michael Plitz. Haus-Rucker-Co.

 

David Rosenboom. 'Portable Gold and Philosophers' Stones in Paris 1' 1975

 

David Rosenboom
Portable Gold and Philosophers’ Stones in Paris 1
1975
© David Rosenboom 1975
All rights reserved.

 

 

Pianist-composer J.B. Floyd, a long-time collaborator with David Rosenboom is seen with electrodes attached to his head while performing a solo version of Rosenboom’s brainwave music composition Portable Gold and Philosophers’ Stones at Centre Culturel Americain in Paris on 7 January 1975. The equipment shown includes a brainwave monitoring device and an ARP 2600 Synthesizer. The performance occurred simultaneously with a lecture given by David Rosenboom in a presentation titled Biofeedback and the Arts. Artist Jacqueline Humbert, who also participated in the performance, is seated off to the right of the picture frame.

 

Nam June Paik. 'TV Rodin' 1976-1978 (detail)

 

Nam June Paik (American, b. 1932 – 29-01-2006)
TV Rodin (detail)
1976-1978
Plaster, video camera, tripod, monitor, pedestal
132 x 110 x 115 cm

 

 

Long considered the most important video artist since the advent of the form in the late 1960s, Nam June Paik’s TV Rodin is one of several related works that involve sculpture – in this case, a cast of Auguste Rodin’s Thinker, studying itself in a small video monitor via closed circuit television. As museum visitors walk around the work and look over the sculpture’s shoulder, their image also appears on the screen. Paik’s influential vision of television as a global cultural force found intelligent and witty form in his videotapes, video sculptures, and intercontinental satellite performances. (Text from the Carnegie Museum of Art website)

 

Nam June Paik. 'TV Rodin' 1976-1978

 

Nam June Paik (American, b. 1932 – 29-01-2006)
TV Rodin
1976-1978
Plaster, video camera, tripod, monitor, pedestal
132 x 110 x 115 cm
Photo: Primae / Claude Germain. The Estate of Nam June Paik

 

Marina Abramovic and Ulay. 'That Self - Point of Contact' 1980

 

Marina Abramovic and Ulay
That Self – Point of Contact
1980
Performance au De Appel Art Centre, Amsterdam
© Adagp, Paris 2015
Courtesy Marina Abramovic Archives

 

Sigmar Polke. 'Untitled (Blue)' 1992

 

Sigmar Polke
Untitled (Blue)
1992
Set of 10 Cibachromes trials
61 cm x 51
The estate of Sigmar Polke / ADAGP, Paris, 2015

 

Fabrice Hyber. 'screen+télépathy' 2013

 

Fabrice Hyber
screen+télépathy
2013
Watercolor, charcoal on paper
76 x 57 cm
Collection of the artist
© Photographie Marc Domage

 

Susan Hiller. 'Homage to Marcel Duchamp: Aura (Blue Boy)' 2011

 

Susan Hiller
Homage to Marcel Duchamp: Aura (Blue Boy)
2011
© Susan Hiller

 

 

Centre Pompidou-Metz
1, parvis des Droits-de-l’Homme
CS 90490
F-57020 Metz Cedex 1
Tel: +33 (0)3 87 15 39 39

Opening hours:
Monday 10 am – 6 pm
Tuesday closed
Wednesday 10 am – 6 pm
Thursday 10 am – 6 pm
Friday 10 am – 7 pm
Saturday 10 am – 7 pm
Sunday 10 am – 7 pm

Centre Pompidou-Metz website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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