Archive for the 'video' Category

19
Jun
20

Exhibition: ‘Masculinities: Liberation through Photography’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 20th February – 17th May 2020? Coronavirus

Participating artists: Bas Jan Ader, Laurie Anderson, Kenneth Anger, Knut Åsdam, Richard Avedon, Aneta Bartos, Richard Billingham, Cassils, Sam Contis, John Coplans, Jeremy Deller, Rienke Dijkstra, George Dureau, Thomas Dworzak, Hans Eijkelboom, Fouad Elkoury, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Hal Fischer, Samuel Fosso, Anna Fox, Masahisa Fukase, Sunil Gupta, Peter Hujar, Liz Johnson Artur, Isaac Julien, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Karen Knorr, Deana Lawson, Hilary Lloyd, Robert Mapplethrope, Peter Marlow, Ana Mendieta, Anenette Messager, Duane Michals, Tracey Moffat, Andrew Moisey, Richard Mosse, Adi Nes, Catherine Opie, Elle Pérez, Herb Ritts, Kalen Na’il Roach, Collier Schorr, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Clarie Strand, Michael Subotzky, Larry Sultan, Hank Willis Thomas, Wolfgang Tillmans, Piotr Uklański, Andy Warhol, Karlheinz Weinberger, Marianne Wex, David Wojnarowicz, Akram Zaatari.

 

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953) 'Untitled #22' 1976

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953)
Untitled #22
1976
From the series Christopher Street
Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery
© Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019

 

 

As a writer Berger recognised that experience – whether it be personal, historical or aesthetic – will never conform to theories and systems. To read him today is to accept his failures and detours as a unique willingness to take risks.

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John MacDonald. “John Berger,” in the Sydney Morning Herald, 6 June, 2020

 

 

D-Construction: deliberate masculinities in a discontinuous world

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Reviewers of this exhibition (see quotations below) have noted the preponderance of images of “traditional masculinity” – defined as “idealised, dominant (and) heterosexual” – and the paucity of images that show men as working, intelligent, sensitive human beings, “that men ever earned a living, cooked a meal or read a book… scarcely anything about the heart or intellect. Men are represented here almost entirely in terms of their bodies, sexuality or supposed type.” I need make no further comment. What I will say is that I believe the title of the exhibition to be a misnomer: a person cannot be “liberated” through photography, for photography is only a tool of a personal liberation. Liberation comes through an internal struggle of acceptance (thence liberation), one that is foremost FELT (for example, the double life one leads before you acknowledge that you are gay; or experiencing discrimination aimed at others and by proxy, yourself) and SEEN (the bashing of a mother as seen by a small child). Photographs picture the outcomes of this struggle for liberation, are a tool of that process not, I would argue, liberation itself.

What I can say is that I believe in masculinities, plural. Fluid, shifting, challenging, loving, working, intimate, spiritual masculinities that challenge normalcy and hegemonic masculinity, which is defined as “a practice that legitimises men’s dominant position in society and justifies the subordination of the common male population and women, and other marginalised ways of being a man.”

What I don’t believe in is masculinities, plural, that seek to fit into this [dis]continuous world (for we are born and then die) through the stability of their outward appearance, conforming to theories and systems – personal, historical or aesthetic – without reference to subversion, small intimacies, the toil of work, love and the passion of sexual bodies. In other words, masculinities that are not afraid to push the boundaries of being and becoming. To take risks, to experience, to feel.

While I was overjoyed at the “YES” vote on gay marriage that took place in December 2017 in Australia because I felt it was a victory for love, and equality… another part of me rejected as anathema the concept of a gay person buying into a historically patriarchal, heterosexual and monogamous institution such as marriage – too honour and obey. This is an untenable concept for a person who wants to be liberated. Coming out as I did in 1975, only 6 short years after the Stonewall Riots, the last thing I EVER wanted to be, was to be the same as a “straight” person. I was different. I fought for my difference and still believe in it.

Of course, in 2020 it’s another world. Today we all mix in together. But there is still something about “masculinities”, which in some varieties, have a sense of privilege and entitlement. Of power and control over others; of violence towards women, trans, other men and anyone who threatens their little ego, who leaves them, or jilts them. Their jealousy, their ego, bruised – they are so insecure, so insular, that they can only see their own world, their own minuscule problems (but massive in their eyes), and enforce their will on others.

My advice to “masculinities’, in fact any human being, is to go out, get yourself informed, experience, accept, and be the person that nobody thinks you can be. Be a human being. Examine your inner self, look at your dark side, your other side, your empathetic side, and try and understand the journey that you are on. Then, and only then, you might begin on that great path of personal enlightenment, that golden path on which there is no turning back.

Below I discuss some of these ideas with my good friend Nicholas Henderson, curator and archivist at the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives.

 

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography is a major group exhibition that explores how masculinity is experienced, performed, coded and socially constructed as expressed and documented through photography and film from the 1960s to the present day.

Through the medium of film and photography, this major exhibition considers how masculinity has been coded, performed, and socially constructed from the 1960s to the present day. Examining depictions of masculinity from behind the lens, the Barbican brings together the work of over 50 international artists, photographers and filmmakers including Laurie Anderson, Sunil Gupta, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Isaac Julien and Catherine Opie.

In the wake of #MeToo the image of masculinity has come into sharper focus, with ideas of toxic and fragile masculinity permeating today’s society. This exhibition charts the often complex and sometimes contradictory representations of masculinities, and how they have developed and evolved over time. Touching on themes including power, patriarchy, queer identity, female perceptions of men, hypermasculine stereotypes, tenderness and the family, the exhibition shows how central photography and film have been to the way masculinities are imagined and understood in contemporary culture.

 

 

In fact, while there are a few gender-fluid figures here, they’re vastly outnumbered by manifestations of “traditional masculinity” – defined as “idealised, dominant (and) heterosexual”. Lebanese militiamen (in Fouad Elkoury’s perky full-length portraits from 1980), US marines (in Wolfgang Tillmans’ epic montage Soldiers – The Nineties), Taliban fighters, SS generals, Israel Defence Force grunts, footballers, cowboys and bullfighters fairly spring out of the walls from every direction. And what’s evident from the outset isn’t so much their diversity, as a unifying demeanour: a threatening intentness that comes wherever men are asked to perform their masculinity, but also a childlike vulnerability.  …

Masculinity, the viewer is made to feel, criminalises men (Mikhael Subotzky’s images of South African gangsters on morgue slabs); isolates them (Larry Sultan’s poignant image of his elderly father practising his golf swing in his sitting room); renders them stupid (Richard Billingham’s excruciating, but now classic photo essay on his alcoholic father, ‘Ray’s a Laugh’). To be a man, it seems, is to be condemned to endlessly act out archetypal “masculine” behaviour, whether you’re an elderly drunk in a Birmingham high-rise or the elite American students taking part in the shouting competition staged by Irish photographer Richard Mosse.

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Mark Hudson. “Does the Barbican’s Masculinities exhibition have important things to say about men?” on the Independent website Friday 21 February 2020 [Online] Cited 03/03/2020

 

There is not much here about work – unless you count the wall of Hollywood actors playing Nazis. You would never think, from this show, that men ever earned a living, cooked a meal or read a book (though there is a sententious vitrine of ‘Men Only’ magazines). Beyond the exceptions given, there is scarcely anything about the heart or intellect. Men are represented here almost entirely in terms of their bodies, sexuality or supposed type.

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Laura Cumming. “Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography review – men as types,” on the Guardian website Sun 23 Feb 2020 [Online] Cited 03/03/2020

 

“The body can be taken as a reflection of the self because it can and should be treated as something to be worked upon … in order to produce it as a commodity. Overweight, slovenliness and even unfashionability, for example, are now moral disorders,” notes Don Slater

“The state of the body is seen as a reflection of the state of its owner, who is responsible for it and could refashion it. The body can be taken as a reflection of the self because it can and should be treated as something to be worked upon, and generally worked upon using commodities, for example intensively regulated, self-disciplined, scrutinized through diets, fitness regimes, fashion, self-help books and advice, in order to produce it as a commodity. Overweight, slovenliness, and even unfashionability, for example, are now moral disorders; even acute illnesses such as cancer reflect the inadequacy of the self and indeed of its consumption. One gets ill because one has consumed the wrong (unnatural) things and failed to consume the correct (‘natural’) ones: self, body, goods and environment constitute a system of moral choice.”

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Slater, Don. Consumer Culture and Modernity. London: Polity Press, 1997, p. 92.

 

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing John Coplans’ work Self-portrait, Frieze No 2, Four Panels 1994
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

John Coplans (British, emigrated America 1960, 1920-2003) 'Self-portrait, Frieze No 2, Four Panels' 1994

 

John Coplans (British, emigrated America 1960, 1920-2003)
Self-portrait, Frieze No 2, Four Panels
1994
Tate
Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery 2001
Photograph: © John Coplans Trust

 

 

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography

 

Plan of the 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' exhibition spaces

 

Plan of the Masculinities: Liberation through Photography exhibition spaces

 

 

Introduction

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography explores the diverse ways masculinity has been experienced, performed, coded and socially constructed in photography and film from the 1960s to the present day.

Simone de Beauvoir’s famous declaration that ‘one is not born a woman, but rather becomes one’ provides a helpful springboard for considering what it means to be a male in today’s world, as well as the place of photography and film in shaping masculinity. What we have thought of as ‘masculine’ has changed considerably throughout history and within different cultures. The traditional social dominance of the male has determined a gender hierarchy which continues to underpin societies around the world.

In Europe and North America, the characteristics and power dynamics of the dominant masculine figure – historically defined by physical size and strength, assertiveness and aggression – though still pervasive today, began to be challenged and transformed in the 1960s. Amid a climate of sexual revolution, struggle for civil rights and raised class consciousness, the growth of the gay rights movement, the period’s counterculture and opposition to the Vietnam War, large sections of society argued for a loosening of the straitjacket of narrow gender definitions.

Set against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, when manhood is under increasing scrutiny and terms such as ‘toxic’ and ‘fragile’ masculinity fill endless column inches, an investigation of this expansive subject is particularly timely, especially given current global politics characterised by male world leaders shaping their image as ‘strong’ men.

Touching on queer identity, race, power and patriarchy, men as seen by women, stereotypes of dominant masculinity as well as the family, the exhibition presents masculinity in all its myriad forms, rife with contradictions and complexities. Embracing the idea of multiple ‘masculinities’ and rejecting the notion of a singular ‘ideal man’, the exhibition argues for an understanding of masculinity liberated from societal expectations and gender norms.

 

Room 1-4

Disrupting the Archetype

Over the last six decades, artists have consistently sought to destabilise the narrow definitions of gender that determine our social structures in order to encourage new ways of thinking about identity, gender and sexuality. ‘Disrupting the Archetype’ explores the representation of conventional and at times clichéd masculine subjects such as soldiers, cowboys, athletes, bullfighters, body builders and wrestlers. By reconfiguring the representation of traditional masculinity – loosely defined as an idealised, dominant heterosexual masculinity – the artists presented here challenge our ideas of these hypermasculine stereotypes.

Across different cultures and spaces, the military has been central to the construction of masculine identities – which has been explored through the work of Wolfgang Tillmans (below) and Adi Nes (below) among others, while Collier Schorr (below) and Sam Contis’s powerful works (below) address the dominant and enduring representation of the lone cowboy. Athleticism, often perceived as a proxy for strength which is associated with masculinity, is called into question by Catherine Opie’s and Rineke Dijkstra’s tender portraits (below). The male body, a cornerstone for artists such as John Coplans (above), Robert Mapplethorpe and Cassils (below), is meanwhile exposed as a fleshy canvas, constantly in flux.

Historically, the non-western male body has undergone a complex process of subjectification through the Western gaze – invariably presented as either warlike or sexually charged. Viewed against this context, the work of Fouad Elkoury and Akram Zaatari, as well as the found photographs of Taliban fighters that Thomas Dworzak discovered in Afghanistan (below), can be read as deconstructing the Orientalist gaze.

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing a detail from Wolfgang Tillmans’ epic montage Soldiers – The Nineties
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing a detail from trans masculine artist Cassils’ series Time Lapse, 2011
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing at left a detail from trans masculine artist Cassils’ series Time Lapse, 2011, and at right the work of Rineke Dijkstra
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Rineke Dijkstra. 'Montemor, Portugal, May 1, 1994' 1994

 

Rineke Dijkstra (Dutch, b. 1959)
Montemor, Portugal, May 1, 1994
1994
Chromogenic print
90 x 72 cm
© Rineke Dijkstra

 

Rineke Dijkstra (Dutch, b. 1959) 'Vila Franca de Xira, Portugal, May 8, 1994' 1994

 

Rineke Dijkstra (Dutch, b. 1959)
Vila Franca de Xira, Portugal, May 8, 1994
1994
Chromogenic print
90 x 72 cm
© Rineke Dijkstra

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation views of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Adi Nes’ series Soldiers, 1999
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Adi Nes (Israeli, b. 1966) 'Untitled' 2000

 

Adi Nes (Israeli, b. 1966)
Untitled
2000
From the series Soldiers
Courtesy Adi Nes & Praz-Delavallade Paris, Los Angeles

 

Adi Nes (Israeli, b. 1966) 'Untitled' 1999

 

Adi Nes (Israeli, b. 1966)
Untitled
1999
From the series Soldiers
Courtesy Adi Nes & Praz-Delavallade Paris, Los Angeles

 

 

Adi Nes was born in Kiryat Gat. His parents are Jewish immigrants from Iran. He is openly gay. Nes is notable for series “Soldiers”, in which he mixes masculinity and homoerotic sexuality, depicting Israeli soldiers in a fragile way.

Nes creates cinematic images that reference war, sexuality, life, and death with the kind of stylised polish you might expect from a photographer whose images have appeared in the pages of Vogue Hommes. His partially autobiographical work is deliberate and staged in an attempt to raise questions about sexuality, masculinity and identity in Israeli culture. “The beginning point of my art is who I am,” he says. “Since I’m a man and I’m an Israeli, I deal with issues of identity with ‘Israeli-ness’ and masculinity, but my photographs are multi-layered.”

“The challenge of the photographer is to catch the viewer for more than one second in front of the picture,” says Nes, explaining his provocative images. “If you catch the viewer in front of the picture, it can touch the viewer.”

Anonymous text “Adi Nes on masculinity, sexuality and war,” from the Phaidon website 2012 [Online] Cited 07/03/2020

 

Thomas Dworzak (Germany, b. 1972) 'Taliban portraits' 2002

Thomas Dworzak (Germany, b. 1972) 'Taliban portraits' 2002

 

Thomas Dworzak (Germany, b. 1972)
Taliban portraits
2002
Kandahar, Afghanistan

 

 

While covering the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Magnum photographer Thomas Dworzak came across a handful of photo studios in Kandahar which despite the Taliban’s ban on photography had been authorised to remain open, for the sole purpose of taking identity photos. Complicating the conventional image of the hypermasculine soldier, the colour portraits Dworzak found in the back rooms of these studios depict Taliban fighters variously posing in front of scenic backdrops, holding hands, using guns or flowers as props or enveloped in a halo of vibrant colours, their eyes heavily made up with black kohl. These stylised photographs directly contradict the public image of the soldier in this overwhelmingly male-dominated patriarchal society.

 

Sam Contis (American, b. 1982) 'Untitled (Neck)' 2015

 

Sam Contis (American, b. 1982)
Untitled (Neck)
2015
© Sam Contis

 

'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' catalogue cover

 

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography catalogue cover

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Catherine Opie’s series High School Football, 2007-2009
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Stephen' 2009

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Stephen
2009
From the series High School Football, 2007-2009
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Thomas Dane Gallery, London
© Catherine Opie

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Rusty' 2008

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Rusty
2008
From the series High School Football, 2007-2009
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Thomas Dane Gallery, London
© Catherine Opie

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Football Landscape #17 (Waianae vs. Leilehua, Waianae, HI)' 2009

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Football Landscape #17 (Waianae vs. Leilehua, Waianae, HI)
2009
From the series High School Football, 2007-2009
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Thomas Dane Gallery, London
© Catherine Opie

 

 

Kenneth Anger (American, b. 1927)
Kustom Kar Kommandos
1965
3 mins 22 secs

 

Collier Schorr (American, b. 1963) 'Americans #3' 2012

 

Collier Schorr (American, b. 1963)
Americans #3
2012
© Collier Schorr, courtesy 303 Gallery, New York

 

 

Room 5-6

Male Order: Power, Patriarchy and Space

‘Male Order’ invites the viewer to reflect on the construction of male power, gender and class. The artists gathered here have all variously attempted to expose and subvert how certain types of masculine behaviour have created inequalities both between and within gender identities. Two ambitious, multi-part works, Richard Avedon’s The Family, 1976, and Karen Knorr’s Gentlemen, 1981-83, focus on typically besuited white men who occupy the corridors of power, while foregrounding the historic exclusion not only of women but also of other marginalised masculinities.

Male-only organisations, such as the military, private members’ clubs and college fraternities, have often served as an arena for the performance of ‘toxic’ masculinity, as chronicled in Andrew Moisey’s The American Fraternity: An Illustrated Ritual Manual, 2018. This startling book charts the misdemeanours of fraternity members alongside an indexical image bank of US Presidents, alongside leaders of government and industry who have belonged at one time or another to these fraternities. Richard Mosse’s film, Fraternity, 2007, takes a different tack by painting a portrait of male rage that is both playful and alarming.

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Richard Avedon’s series The Family (1976)
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Early  in 1976, with both the post-Watergate political atmosphere and the approaching bicentennial celebration in mind, Rolling Stone asked Richard Avedon to cover the presidential primaries and the campaign trail. Avedon counter-proposed a grander idea – he had always wanted to photograph the men and women he believed to have constituted political, media and corporate elite of the United States.

For the next several months, Avedon traversed the country from migrant grape fields of California to NFL headquarters in Park Avenue and returned with an amazing portfolio of soldiers, spooks, potentates, and ambassadors that was too late for the bicentennial but published in Rolling Stone’s Oct. 21, 1976, just in time for the November elections.

Sixty-nine black-and-white portraits … were in Avedon’s signature style – formal, intimate, bold, and minimalistic. Appearing in them are President Ford and his three immediate successors – Carter, Reagan, and Bush. Other familiars of the American polity such as Kennedys and Rockefellers are here, and as are giants who held up the nation’s Fourth Pillar during that challenging decade: A. M. Rosenthal of the New York Times who decided to publish the Pentagon Papers, and Katharine Graham who led Woodward and Bernstein at Washington Post.

Alex Selwyn-Holmes. “The Family, 1976; Richard Avedon” on the Iconphotos website May 18, 2012 [Online] Cited 03/03/2020

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation views of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Karen Knorr’s series Gentlemen, 1981-83
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Karen Knorr (American, born Germany 1954) 'Newspapers are no longer ironed, Coins no longer boiled So far have Standards fallen' 1981-83

 

Karen Knorr (American, born Germany 1954)
Newspapers are no longer ironed, Coins no longer boiled So far have Standards fallen
1981-83
From the series Gentlemen
Tate: Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013
© Karen Knorr

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing Piotr Uklanski’s Untitled (The Nazis), 1998, a collage of actors dressed as Nazis, courtesy of Massimo De Carlo
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Room 7-8

Too Close to Home: Family and Fatherhood

Since its invention photography has been a powerful vehicle for the construction and documentation of family narratives. In contrast to the conventions of the traditional family portrait, the artists gathered here deliberately set out to record the ‘messiness’ of life, reflecting on misogyny, violence, sexuality, mortality, intimacy and unfolding family dramas, presenting a more complex and not always comfortable vision of fatherhood and masculinity.

Loss and the ageing male figure are central to the work of both Masahisa Fukase and Larry Sultan (both below). Their respective projects marked a new departure in the way men photographed each other, serving as a commentary on how old age engenders a loss of masculinity. An examination of everyday life, Richard Billingham’s tender yet bleak portraits of his father, as chronicled in Ray’s a Laugh, cast a brutally honest eye on his alcoholic father Ray against a backdrop of social decline (below).

Anna Fox’s disturbing autobiographical work undermines expectations of the traditional family album while revealing the mechanics of paternalistic power. Meanwhile, the father-daughter relationship is brought into sharp focus in Aneta Bartos’s sexually charged series Family Portrait which unsettles traditional family boundaries (below).

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012) 'Masahisa and Sukezo' 1972

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012)
Masahisa and Sukezo
1972
From the series Family, 1971-90
© Masahisa Fukase Archives

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012) 'Upper row, from left to right: A, a model; Toshiteru, Sukezo, Masahisa. Middle row, from left to right: Akiko, Mitsue, Hisashi Daikoji. Bottom row, from left to right: Gaku, Kyoko, Kanako, and a memorial portrait of Miyako' 1985

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012)
Upper row, from left to right: A, a model; Toshiteru, Sukezo, Masahisa. Middle row, from left to right: Akiko, Mitsue, Hisashi Daikoji. Bottom row, from left to right: Gaku, Kyoko, Kanako, and a memorial portrait of Miyako
1985
From the series Family, 1971-90
© Masahisa Fukase Archives

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012) 'Masahisa and Sukezo' 1985

 

Masahisa Fukase (Japan, 1934-2012)
Masahisa and Sukezo
1985
From the series Family, 1971-90
© Masahisa Fukase Archives

 

‘A magnificent memorial to paternal love’.

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing the photographs of Larry Sultan from the series Pictures from Home
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Larry Sultan (American, 1946-2009) 'Dad on Bed' 1984

 

Larry Sultan (American, 1946-2009)
Dad on Bed
1984
From the series Pictures from Home
Chromogenic print
Courtesy the Estate of Larry Sultan, Yancey Richardson, Casemore Kirkeby, and Galerie Thomas Zander
© Estate of Larry Sultan

 

Larry Sultan (American, 1946-2009) 'Practicing Golf Swing' 1986

 

Larry Sultan (American, 1946-2009)
Practicing Golf Swing
1986
From the series Pictures from Home
Chromogenic print
Courtesy the Estate of Larry Sultan, Yancey Richardson, Casemore Kirkeby, and Galerie Thomas Zander
© Estate of Larry Sultan

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing Richard Billingham’s photographs from the series Ray’s a Laugh
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing the photographs of Aneta Bartos’s sexually charged series Family Portrait
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Aneta Bartos (Born Poland, lives New York) 'Mirror' 2015

 

Aneta Bartos (Born Poland, lives New York)
Mirror
2015
From the series Family Portrait
Archival inkjet print
30 x 30.65 inches

 

Aneta Bartos (Born Poland, lives New York) 'Apple' 2015

 

Aneta Bartos (Born Poland, lives New York)
Apple
2015
From the series Family Portrait
Archival inkjet print
30 x 30.65 inches

 

 

Since 2013 New York based artist Aneta Bartos has been traveling back to her hometown Tomaszów Mazowiecki, where she was raised by her father as a single parent from the age of eight until fourteen. Then 68 years old, and having spent a lifetime as a competitive body builder, Bartos’ father asked her to take a few shots documenting his physique before it degenerated and inevitably ran its course. The original request of her father inspired Bartos to transform his idea into a long-term project called Dad. A few summers later Dad developed into a new series of portraits, titled Family Portrait, exploring the complex dynamics between father and daughter.

Text from the Antwerp Art website [Online] Cited 01/03/2020

 

“The pastoral setting is a romanticised portal to Bartos’s past. Her father’s poses are often heroic; at times the pictures are playful and flirty, almost seductive. Seen together, they display the sadness of a man who knows he is ageing, with the subtext of his waning sexuality. They are bittersweet, images of time passing and memories being preserved.”

Elisabeth Biondi quoted on the Postmasters website 2017 [Online] Cited 01/03/2020

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation views of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Peter Hujar’s series Orgasmic Man 1969 (see below)
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Room 9-12

Queer Masculinity

In defiance of the prejudice and legal constraints against homosexuality in Europe, the United States and beyond over the last century, the works presented in ‘Queering Masculinity’ highlight how artists from the 1960s onwards have forged a new politically charged queer aesthetic.

In the 1970s, artists such as Peter Hujar (below), David Wojnarowicz, Sunil Gupta (below) and Hal Fischer (below) photographed gay lifestyles in New York and San Francisco in a bid to claim public visibility and therefore legitimacy at a time when homosexuality was still a criminal offence. Reflecting on their own queer experience and creating sensual bodies of work, artists such as Rotimi Fani-Kayode (below) and Isaac Julien (below) portrayed black gay desire while Catherine Opie’s seminal work Being and Having, 1991 (below), documented members of the dyke, butch and BDSM communities in San Francisco playing with the physical attributes associated with hypermasculinity in order to overturn traditional binary understandings of gender.

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation views of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs by Karlheinz Weinberger
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Karlheinz Weinberger (Swiss, 1921-2006) 'Horseshoe buckle' 1962

 

Karlheinz Weinberger (Swiss, 1921-2006)
Horseshoe buckle
1962
Courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff
© Karlheinz Weinberger

 

Karlheinz Weinberger (Swiss, 1921-2006) 'Sitting boy with elvis necklace in KHW studio, Zurich' 1961

 

Karlheinz Weinberger (Swiss, 1921-2006)
Sitting Boy with Elvis Necklace in KHW studio, Zurich
1961
Courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff
© Karlheinz Weinberger

 

Peter Hujar. 'Orgasmic Man' 1969

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Orgasmic Man
1969
Gelatin silver print

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Orgasmic Man (I)' 1969

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Orgasmic Man (I)
1969
Gelatin silver print

 

Peter Hujar. 'Orgasmic Man (II)' 1969

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Orgasmic Man (II)
1969
Gelatin silver print

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'David Brintzenhofe Applying Makeup (II)' 1982

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
David Brintzenhofe Applying Makeup (II)
1982
Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing photographs from Sunil Gupta’s series Christopher Street 1976
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953) 'Untitled #21' 1976

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953)
Untitled #21
1976
From the series Christopher Street
Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery
© Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019

 

 

Gupta went on to study under Lisette Model at the New School and take his place among the most accomplished photographers, editors, and curators of his generation, exploring the way identities flower under various sexual, geographical, and historical conditions. But Christopher Street is where it all began. His subjects are engaged in an unprecedented moment in which it seemed possible to build a world of their own. He shows inner lives, barely concealed within the downturned face of a mustachioed man with his hands in his pockets, and outer ones as well, as other men cruise the lens right back, or laugh with each other, unbothered by the stranger with the camera. They were often just engaged in the everyday and extraordinary act of simply existing as gay. In each photograph, Gupta somehow projects a protective and versatile desire: to remember and be remembered at once.

Extract from Jesse Dorris. “Christopher Street Revisited,” on the Aperture website May 30th, 2019 [Online] Cited 29/02/2020

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953) 'Untitled #56' 1976

 

Sunil Gupta (Indian, b. 1953)
Untitled #56
1976
From the series Christopher Street
Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery
© Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019

 

 

The 1976 Christopher Street series marks the first set of photographs Gupta made as a practicing artist, using the camera as a tool for open expression. His decision to use black and white film was partly aesthetic, yet also practical, as he was developing the prints in his bathroom. Although he uses a documentarian style, Gupta was by no means an impartial observer behind the camera, he was a participant, enthralled by his subjects.

The series … captures a specific moment in history – a cross section of a thriving community in one of New York’s most dynamic areas – Manhattan’s Christopher Street. Dressed in the latest fashions, moving confidently and relaxing on street corners, their visible presence is a signifier of a specific period of public consciousness. Un-staged and spontaneous, most of the artist’s subjects are unaware of the camera and are simply going about their day. Now, with hindsight, Gupta is struck by the routineness of the images, stating:

‘There is a poignancy they never had at the time… A few years later, the AIDS crisis took hold. The public nature of gay life was forced back into the shadows. Thousands of men died. New York shut down its bathhouses, gay parties became private, and this whole world became hidden again.’

Fusing the public with the personal, the Christopher Street series reflects the openness of the gay liberation movement, as well as Gupta’s own “coming out” as an artist. More than a nostalgic time capsule, the photographs reveal a community that shaped Gupta as a person and cemented his lifelong dedication to portraying people who have been denied a space to be themselves.

Extract from Anonymous. “Sunil Gupta: Christopher Street,” on the Monovisions website 24 May 2019 [Online] Cited 29/02/2020

 

Hal Fischer (American, b. 1950) 'Handkerchiefs' 1977

 

Hal Fischer (American, b. 1950)
Handkerchiefs
1977
From the series Gay Semiotics
Gelatin silver print

 

Hal Fischer (American, b. 1950) 'Street Fashion Jock' 1977

 

Hal Fischer (American, b. 1950)
Street Fashion Jock
1977
From the series Gay Semiotics
Gelatin silver print

 

Rotimi Fani-Kayode (Nigerian, 1955-1989) 'Untitled' c. 1985

 

Rotimi Fani-Kayode (Nigerian, 1955-1989)
Untitled
c. 1985
Courtesy of Autograph, London
© Rotimi Fani-Kayode

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing at left, photographs from Isaac Julien’s series After Mazatlàn, 1999/2000
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Isaac Julien (British, b. 1960) From 'After Mazatlàn III - VI' 1999/2000

 

Isaac Julien (British, b. 1960)
From After Mazatlàn III – VI
1999/2000
Colour photogravures
33 x 43.2 cm; 13 x 17 in
Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
© Isaac Julien

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing Catherine Opie’s series Being and Having 1991
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Bo from "Being and Having"' 1991

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Bo from “Being and Having”
1991
Collection of Gregory R. Miller and Michael Wiener
© Catherine Opie, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Thomas Dane Gallery, London; and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

 

 

The exhibition brings together over 300 works by over 50 pioneering international artists, photographers and filmmakers such as Richard Avedon, Peter Hujar, Isaac Julien, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Robert Mapplethorpe, Annette Messager and Catherine Opie to show how photography and film have been central to the way masculinities are imagined and understood in contemporary culture. The show also highlights lesser-known and younger artists – some of whom have never exhibited in the UK – including Cassils, Sam Contis, George Dureau, Elle Pérez, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Hank Willis Thomas, Karlheinz Weinberger and Marianne Wex amongst many others. Masculinities: Liberation through Photography is part of the Barbican’s 2020 season, Inside Out, which explores the relationship between our inner lives and creativity.

Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican, said: ‘Masculinities: Liberation through Photography continues our commitment to presenting leading twentieth century figures in the field of photography while also supporting younger contemporary artists working in the medium today. In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the resurgence of feminist and men’s rights activism, traditional notions of masculinity has become a subject of fierce debate. This exhibition could not be more relevant and will certainly spark conversations surrounding our understanding of masculinity.’

With ideas around masculinity undergoing a global crisis and terms such as ‘toxic’ and ‘fragile’ masculinity filling endless column inches, the exhibition surveys the representation of masculinity in all its myriad forms, rife with contradiction and complexity. Presented across six sections by over 50 international artists to explore the expansive nature of the subject, the exhibition touches on themes of queer identity, the black body, power and patriarchy, female perceptions of men, heteronormative hypermasculine stereotypes, fatherhood and family. The works in the show present masculinity as an unfixed performative identity shaped by cultural and social forces.

Seeking to disrupt and destabilise the myths surrounding modern masculinity, highlights include the work of artists who have consistently challenged stereotypical representations of hegemonic masculinity, including Collier Schorr, Adi Nes, Akram Zaatari and Sam Contis, whose series Deep Springs, 2018 draws on the mythology of the American West and the rugged cowboy. Contis spent four years immersed in an all-male liberal arts college north of Death Valley meditating on the intimacy and violence that coexists in male-only spaces. Complicating the conventional image of the fighter, Thomas Dworzak‘s acclaimed series Taliban consists of portraits found in photographic studios in Kandahar following the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, these vibrant portraits depict Taliban fighters posing hand in hand in front of painted backdrops, using guns and flowers as props with kohl carefully applied to their eyes. Trans masculine artist Cassils‘ series Time Lapse, 2011, documents the radical transformation of their body through the use of steroids and a rigorous training programme reflecting on ideas of masculinity without men. Elsewhere, artists Jeremy Deller, Robert Mapplethorpe and Rineke Dijkstra dismantle preconceptions of subjects such as the wrestler, the bodybuilder and the athlete and offer an alternative view of these hyper-masculinised stereotypes.

The exhibition examines patriarchy and the unequal power relations between gender, class and race. Karen Knorr‘s series Gentlemen, 1981-83, comprised of 26 black and white photographs taken inside men-only private members’ clubs in central London and accompanied by texts drawn from snatched conversations, parliamentary records and contemporary news reports, invites viewers to reflect on notions of class, race and the exclusion of women from spaces of power during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. Toxic masculinity is further explored in Andrew Moisey‘s 2018 photobook The American Fraternity: An Illustrated Ritual Manual which weaves together archival photographs of former US Presidents and Supreme Court Justices who all belonged to the fraternity system, alongside images depicting the initiation ceremonies and parties that characterise these male-only organisations.

With the rise of the Gay Liberation Movement through the 1960s followed by the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, the exhibition showcases artists such as Peter Hujar and David Wojnarowiz, who increasingly began to disrupt traditional representations of gender and sexuality. Hal Fischer‘s critical photo-text series Gay Semiotics, 1977, classified styles and types of gay men in San Francisco and Sunil Gupta’s street photographs captured the performance of gay public life as played out on New York’s Christopher Street, the site of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. Other artists exploring the performative aspects of queer identity include Catherine Opie‘s seminal series Being and Having, 1991, showing her close friends in the West Coast’s LGBTQ+ community sporting false moustaches, tattoos and other stereotypical masculine accessories. Elle Pérez‘s luminous and tender photographs explore the representation of gender non-conformity and vulnerability, whilst Paul Mpagi Sepuya‘s fragmented portraits explore the studio as a site of homoerotic desire.

During the 1970s women artists from the second wave feminist movement objectified male sexuality in a bid to subvert and expose the invasive and uncomfortable nature of the male gaze. In the exhibition, Laurie Anderson‘s seminal work Fully Automated Nikon (Object/Objection/Objectivity), 1973, documents the men who cat-called her as she walked through New York’s Lower East Side while Annette Messager‘s series The Approaches, 1972, covertly captures men’s trousered crotches with a long-lens camera. German artist Marianne Wex‘s encyclopaedic project Let’s Take Back Our Space: ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures, 1977, presents a detailed analysis of male and female body language and Australian indigenous artist Tracey Moffatt‘s awkwardly humorous film Heaven, 1997, portrays male surfers changing in and out of their wet suits.

Further highlights include New York based artist Hank Willis Thomas, whose photographic practice examines the complexities of the black male experience; celebrated Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase‘s The Family, 1971-1989, chronicles the life and death of his family with a particular emphasis on his father; and Kenneth Anger‘s technicolour experimental underground film Kustom Kar Kommandos, 1965, explores the fetishist role of hot rod cars amongst young American men.

Press release from the Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing Hank Willis Thomas’ series Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008 2005-08 (below)
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Room 13-14

Reclaiming the Black Body

Giving visual form to the complexity of the black male experience, this section foregrounds artists who over the last five decades have consciously subverted expectations of race, gender and the white gaze by reclaiming the power to fashion their own identities.

From Samuel Fosso’s playfully staged self-portraits, taken in his studio, in which he performs to the camera sporting flares and platforms boots or flirtatiously revealing his youthful male physique (below) to Kiluanji Kia Henda’s fictional scenarios in which he adopts the troubled personas of African men of power, the works presented here reflect on how black masculinity challenges the status quo (below).

The representation of black masculinity in the US is born out of a violent history of slavery and prejudice. Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008 by Hank Willis Thomas (below) draws attention to the ways in which corporate America has commodified the African American male experience while simultaneously perpetuating and reinforcing cultural stereotypes. Similarly, Deana Lawson’s powerful work Sons of Cush, 2016, highlights how the black male figure is often ‘idealised (in their physical beauty) and pathologised by the culture (as symbols of violence or fear)’.

 

Hank Willis Thomas (American, b. 1976) 'The Johnson Family' 1981/2006

 

Hank Willis Thomas (American, b. 1976)
The Johnson Family
1981/2006
From the series Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008
2005-08

 

 

Concerned with the literal and figural objectifications of the African American male body, in his complex series Unbranded Hank Willis Thomas redeploys magazine adverts featuring African Americans made between 1968 – a pivotal moment in the struggle for civil rights – and 2008, which witnessed the accession of Barack Obama to the US presidency. By digitally stripping the ads of all text, branding and logos, Thomas draws attention to the ways in which corporate America has commodified the African American experience while simultaneously perpetuating and reinforcing cultural stereotypes.

 

Hank Willis Thomas (American, b. 1976) 'It's the Real Thing!' 1978/2008

 

Hank Willis Thomas (American, b. 1976)
It’s the Real Thing!
1978/2008
From the series Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008
2005-08

 

Samuel Fosso (Cameroonian, b. 1962) 'Self-portrait' 1975-7

 

Samuel Fosso (Cameroonian, b. 1962)
Self-portrait
1975-7
From the series 70s lifestyle
Courtesy Jean Marc Patras, Paris
© Samuel Fosso

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing a photograph from Kiluanji Kia Henda’s series The Last Journey of the Dictator Mussunda Nzombo Before the Great Extinction Act I
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Hilary Lloyd (British, b. 1964) 'Colin #2' 1999

 

Hilary Lloyd (British, b. 1964)
Colin #2
1999
Courtesy Galerie Neu, Berlin; Sadie Coles HQ, London; Greene Naftali, New York
© Hilary Lloyd

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing part of Marianne Wex’s encyclopaedic project Let’s Take Back Our Space: ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures, 1977
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Room 15-16

Women on Men: Reversing the Male Gaze

As the second-wave feminist movement gained momentum through the 1960s and ’70s, female activists sought to expose and critique entrenched ideas about masculinity and to articulate alternative perspectives on gender and representation. Against this background, or motivated by its legacy, the artists gathered here have made men their subject with the radical intention of subverting their power, calling into question the notion that men are active and women passive.

In the early 1970s pioneers of feminist art such as Laurie Anderson (below) and Annette Messager consciously objectified the male body in a bid to expose the uncomfortable nature of the dominant male gaze. In contrast, filmmakers such as Tracey Moffatt (below) and Hilary Lloyd (above) turn the tables on male representations of desire to foreground the power of the female gaze.

In his humorous series The Ideal Man, 1978 (below), Hans Eijkelboom invited ten women to fashion him into their image of the ‘ideal’ man. Through this act Eijkelboom reverses the male to female power dynamic and inverts the traditional gender hierarchy.

 

Laurie Anderson (American, b. 1947) 'Man with a Cigarette' 1973

 

Laurie Anderson (American, b. 1947)
Man with a Cigarette
1973
From the series Fully Automated Nikon (Object/Objection/Objectivity)

 

Laurie Anderson (American, b. 1947) 'Two men in a car' 1973

 

Laurie Anderson (American, b. 1947)
Two men in a car
1973
From the series Fully Automated Nikon (Object/Objection/Objectivity)

 

 

Anderson photographed men who called to her or whistled her on the street.  In her artist statement she writes about one experience,

“As I walked along Houston Street with my fully automated Nikon. I felt armed, ready. I passed a man who muttered ‘Wanna fuck?’ This was standard technique: the female passes and the male strikes at the last possible moment forcing the woman to backtrack if she should dare to object. I wheeled around, furious. ‘Did you say that?’ He looked around surprised, then defiant ‘Yeah, so what the fuck if I did?’ I raised my Nikon, took aim began to focus. His eyes darted back and forth, an undercover cop? CLICK.

As it turned out, most of the men I shot that day had the opposite reaction. When i confronted them, the acted innocent, then offended, like some nasty invisible ventriloquist had ticked them into saying dirty words against their will. By the time I took their pictures they were posing, like taking their picture was the least I could do.”

“I decided to shoot pictures of men who made comments to me on the street. I had always hated this invasion of my privacy and now I had the means of my revenge. As I walked along Houston Street with my fully automated Nikon, I felt armed, ready. I passed a man who muttered ‘Wanna fuck?’ This was standard technique: the female passes and the male strikes at the last possible moment forcing the woman to backtrack if she should dare to object. I wheeled around, furious. ‘Did you say that?’ He looked around surprised, then defiant. ‘Yeah, so what the fuck if I did?’ I raised my Nikon, took aim, began to focus. His eyes darted back and forth, an undercover cop? CLICK.”

Anderson takes the power from her male pursuers, allowing them nothing more than the momentary fear that their depravity has just been captured in a picture.

 

Tracey Moffatt (Australian, b. 1960) 'Heaven' (still) 1997

 

Tracey Moffatt (Australian, b. 1960)
Heaven (still)
1997
Video tape (28 minutes)
© Tracey Moffatt / DACS Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, Australia

 

 

“A playful video that glories in the female gaze and objectification of men. It zeros in on the Australian national sport, surfing, and in particular on several dozen good-looking muscular men changing into or out of their swimming trunks. This ritual is usually conducted in parking lots or on sidewalks, always near cars and sometimes inside them; it usually but not always involves a beach towel wound carefully around the torso. Ms Moffatt begins by shooting her subject unseen from inside a house and gradually moves closer and closer, engaging some in conversations that are never heard. The soundtrack alternates between the ocean surf and the sounds of drumming and chanting, male rituals of another, more authentic Australian culture. By the tape’s end, the artist’s voyeurism has shifted to participation; the camera shows her free hand, the one not holding the camera, darting into view, trying to undo the towel of the last surfer.”

New York Times

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation view of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England showing part of Hans Eijkelboom’s series The Ideal Man, 1978

 

 

Glossary of Terms by CN Lester

Homosociality: Typically non-romantic and/or non-sexual same-sex relationships and social groupings – may sometimes include elements of homoeroticism, as they are frequently interdependent phenomena.

Normativity: The process by which some groups of people, forms of expression and types of behaviour are classified according to a perceived standard of what is ‘normal’, ‘natural’, desirable and permissible in society. Inevitably, this process designates people, expressions and behaviours that do not fit these norms as abnormal, unnatural, undesirable and impermissible.

Hegemonic Masculinity: ‘Hegemonic’ means ‘ruling’ or ‘commanding’ – hegemonic masculinity, therefore, indicates male dominance and the forms of masculinity occupying and perpetuating this dominant position. The term was coined in the 1980s by the scholar R. W. Connell, drawing on the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s notion of cultural hegemony.

Hierarchy: Across many cultures throughout history, and continuing into the present moment throughout large parts of the world, gender functions as a hierarchy: some gender categories and gender expressions are granted higher value and more power than others. Men are often higher up the gender hierarchy than women, but the gender hierarchy is affected by racism, disablism, ageism, transphobia and other factors; in the West, men in their thirties are likely to be considered higher up the gender hierarchy than men in their eighties, for example.

Gender roles: Specific cultural roles defined by the weight of gendered ideas, restrictions and traditions. Men and women are often expected, sometimes forced, to occupy oppositional gender roles: aggressor versus victim, protector versus nurturer and so on. Many gender roles are specific to intersections of race, class, sexuality, religion and disabled status – examples of these types of gender roles can be seen in the stereotypes of the Jezebel or the Dragon Lady.

Patriarchy: Literally ‘the rule of the father’, a patriarchy is a society or structure centred around male dominance and in which women (and those of other genders) are not treated as or considered equal.

Queer: A slur, a term of reclamation and a specific and radical site of community and activism in solidarity with many kinds of difference, and specifically opposed to heteronormativity and cisnormativity. Queer studies and queer theory are important emerging fields of study.

Gender identity: Identity refers to what, who, and how someone or something is, both in the way this is understood as selfhood by an individual, and also the self as it is shaped and positioned by the world. Gender identity can be a surprisingly difficult term to pin down and is perhaps best understood as the stated truth of a person’s gender (or lack of gender), which is in itself the sum of many different factors.

Fetishisation: To turn the subject into a fetish, sexually or otherwise. Fetishisation in terms of gender and desire frequently occurs in conjunction with objectification and power. Men and women of colour are frequently fetishised by white people, in society and in artistic practice, through different stereotypes and limitations. Trans and disabled people are also subject to fetishisation, particularly in bodily terms. Kobena Mercer’s critical essay on Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Reading Radical Fetishism’,1 and David Henry Hwang’s play and afterword to M. Butterfly (1988) both explore the notion of fetishisation.

1. Kobena Mercer, ‘Reading Racial Fetishism: The Photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe’, in Emily Apter and William Pietz, eds, Fetishism as Cultural Discourse (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), pp. 307-29.

Critical race theory: A branch of scholarship emerging from the application of critical theory to the study of law in the 1980s, critical race theory (CRT) is now taken as an approach and theoretical foundation across both academic and popular discourse. CRT names, examines and challenges the social constructions and functions of race and racism. Rejecting the idea of race as a ‘natural’ category, CRT looks instead to the cultural, structural and legal creation and maintenance of difference and oppression. Scholars working in this field include Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Patricia Williams.

Me Too movement: ‘#MeToo is a movement that was founded in 2006 to support survivors of sexual violence, in particular black and brown girls, who were in the program that we were running. It has grown since then to include supporting grown people, women, and men, and other survivors, as well as helping people to understand what community action looks like in the fight to end sexual violence’ – Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too movement.

Male gaze: A term coined by film critic Laura Mulvey, the notion of the male gaze develops Jean-Paul Sartre’s concept of le regard (the gaze) to take into account the power differentials and gender stereotyping inherent in ways of looking within patriarchal, sexist culture. The male gaze refers to how the world – and women in particular – are looked at and presented from a cisgender, straight, frequently white male perspective. In visual art the male gaze can be understood in multiple ways, from the male creator of the work, to men within the work viewing women or the world around them, to the (assumed) male viewer of the work itself. Many women artists have countered the male gaze through deconstruction and through the creation and promotion of works that centre the ‘female gaze’.

 

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

Installation view of 'Masculinities: Liberation through Photography' at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England

 

Installation views of Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery on February 19, 2020 in London, England
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

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16
May
20

European photographic research tour: V&A Photography Centre, London

Visited October 2019 posted May 2020

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photograph of Allied War exhibition, Serbian Section, V&A' 1917

 

Unknown photographer
Photograph of Allied War exhibition, Serbian Section, V&A (installation view)
1917
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The older I grow, the more exponentially I appreciate and love these early photographs. Imagine having a collection like this!

Wonderful to see Edward Steichen’s Portrait – Lady H (1908, below) as I have a copy of Camera Work 22 in my collection.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All iPhone images by Dr Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

 

The V&A has been collecting photographs since 1856, the year the Museum was founded, and it was one of the first museums to present photography exhibitions. Since then the collection has grown to be one of the largest and most important in the world, comprising around 500,000 images. The V&A is now honoured to have added the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) collection to its holdings, which contains around 270,000 photographs, an extensive library, and 6,000 cameras and pieces of equipment associated with leading artists and photographic pioneers.

Take a behind-the-scenes look at our world class photography collection following the transfer of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) Collection, which has enabled a dramatic reimagining of the way photography is presented at the V&A. The photographs curators introduce a series of five highlights that are on display in the new Photography Centre, which opened on 12th October 2018. The first phase of the centre will more than double the space dedicated to photography at the Museum.

Text from the V&A and YouTube websites

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photograph of Allied War exhibition, Serbian Section, V&A' 1917

 

Unknown photographer
Photograph of Allied War exhibition, Serbian Section, V&A (installation view)
1917
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The V&A has been collecting and exhibiting photographs since the 1850s. This image shows part o a photographic exhibition held over 100 years ago in the same galleries you are standing in today. The exhibition presented a densely packed display of images depicting the Allied Powers during the First World War.

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation views of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (French, 1765-1833) 'Christ Carrying his Cross' 1827

 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (French, 1765-1833) 'Christ Carrying his Cross' 1827

 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (French, 1765-1833)
Christ Carrying his Cross (installation views)
1827
Heliograph on pewter plate
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The French inventor Niépce made the earliest surviving photographic images, which he called ‘heliographs’ or ‘sun-writing’. Only 16 are thought to still exist. Although Niépce experimented with light-sensitive plates inside a camera, he made most of his images, including this one, by placing engravings of works by other artists directly onto a metal plate. He would probably have had the resulting heliographs coated in ink and printed.

 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (French, 1765-1833) 'Christ Carrying his Cross' 1827

 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (French, 1765-1833)
Christ Carrying his Cross (installation view)
1827
Heliograph on pewter plate
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

David Octavius Hill (Scottish, 1802-70) and Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-48) 'The Adamson Family' 1843-45

 

David Octavius Hill (Scottish, 1802-70) and Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-48)
The Adamson Family (installation view)
1843-45
Salted paper print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The partnership between Scottish painter Hill and chemist Adamson merged the art and science of photography. The pair initially intended to create preliminary studies for Hill’s paintings, but soon recognised photography’s artistic potential. With Hill’s knowledge of composition and lighting, and Adamson’s considerable sensitivity and dexterity in handling the camera, together they produced some of the most accomplished photographic portraits of their time.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-77) 'The Haystack' 1844

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-77)
The Haystack
1844
From The Pencil of Nature
Salted paper print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Benjamin Brecknell Turner (British, 1815-94) 'Hedgerow Trees, Clerkenleap' 1852-54

 

Benjamin Brecknell Turner (British, 1815-94) 'Hedgerow Trees, Clerkenleap' 1852-54

 

Benjamin Brecknell Turner (British, 1815-94)
Hedgerow Trees, Clerkenleap (installation views)
1852-54
Albumen print; Calotype negative
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Turner took out a licence to practice ‘calotype’ photography from Talbot in 1848. He contact-printed positive images from paper negatives. The negative (below) and its corresponding positive (above) are reunited here to illustrate this process, but the pairing as you see them would not have been the photographer’s original intention for display. Although unique negatives were sometimes exhibited in their own right, only showing positive prints was the norm.

 

Benjamin Brecknell Turner (British, 1815-94) 'Hedgerow Trees, Clerkenleap' 1852-54

 

Benjamin Brecknell Turner (British, 1815-94)
Hedgerow Trees, Clerkenleap (installation view)
1852-54
Albumen print; Calotype negative
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Road to Chailly, Forest of Fontainebleau' 1852

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Road to Chailly, Forest of Fontainebleau (installation view)
1852
Albumen print from a collodion glass negative
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation views of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792), by Francois Rude, 1833-35, Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, Paris' 1852

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792), by Francois Rude, 1833-35, Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, Paris (installation view)
1852
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792), by Francois Rude, 1833-35, Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, Paris' 1852

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792), by Francois Rude, 1833-35, Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, Paris (installation view)
1852
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup' 1860

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup (installation view)
1860
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Fenton was one of the most versatile and technically brilliant photographers of the 19th century. He excelled at many subjects, including war photography, portraiture, architecture and landscape. He also made a series of lush still lives. Here, grapes, plums and peaches are rendered in exquisite detail, and the silver cup on the right reflects a camera tripod.

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup' 1860

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup (installation view)
1860
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup' 1860

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup (installation view)
1860
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup' 1860 (detail)

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup (installation view detail)
1860
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Still Life with Fruit and Decanter' 1860

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Still Life with Fruit and Decanter
1860
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (British, born Sweden 1813-75) 'Head of St John the Baptist on a Charger' c. 1856

 

Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (British, born Sweden 1813-75)
Head of St John the Baptist on a Charger (installation view)
c. 1856
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Rejlander probably intended this photograph to be part of a larger composition telling the biblical story of Salome, in which the severed head of John the Baptist was presented to her on a plate. Rejlander never made the full picture, however, and instead produced multiple prints of the head alone.

 

Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (British, born Sweden 1813-75) 'Head of St John the Baptist on a Charger' c. 1856

 

Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (British, born Sweden 1813-75)
Head of St John the Baptist on a Charger (installation view)
c. 1856
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98) 'Th', from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith 1858 (published 1860 or 1862)

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98)
The Pyramids of Dahshoor [Dahshur], from the East, from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith (installation view)
1858 (published 1860 or 1862)
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Frith’s photographs were popular and circulated widely, both because of their architectural interest and because they often featured sites mentioned in the Bible. Photographs of places described in biblical stories brought a new level of realism to a Christian Victorian audience, previously only available through the interpretations of a painter or illustrator.

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98) 'Th', from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith 1858 (published 1860 or 1862)

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98)
The Pyramids of Dahshoor [Dahshur], from the East, from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith (installation view)
1858 (published 1860 or 1862)
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98) 'The Pyramids of Dahshoor [Dahshur], from the East, from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith' 1858 (published 1860 or 1862)

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98)
The Pyramids of Dahshoor [Dahshur], from the East, from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith
1858 (published 1860 or 1862)
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'Solar Effect in the Clouds – Ocean' 1856-59

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
Solar Effect in the Clouds – Ocean (installation view)
1856-59
Albumen Print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'Solar Effect in the Clouds – Ocean' 1856-59

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
Solar Effect in the Clouds – Ocean
1856-59
Albumen Print
Art Institute of Chicago
Creative Commons Zero (CC0)

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre' 1856-57

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre (installation view)
1856-57
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre' 1856-57

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre (installation view)
1856-57
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre' 1856-57

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre
1856-57
Albumen print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'Pavilion Richelieu, Louvre, Paris' 1857-59

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
Pavilion Richelieu, Louvre, Paris (installation view)
1857-59
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'Pavilion Richelieu, Louvre, Paris' 1857-59

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
Pavilion Richelieu, Louvre, Paris (installation view)
1857-59
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Balaclava from Guard’s Hill, the Crimea' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Balaclava from Guard’s Hill, the Crimea (installation view)
1855
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Balaclava from Guard’s Hill, the Crimea' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Balaclava from Guard’s Hill, the Crimea (installation view)
1855
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879) 'Lucia' 1864-65

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879)
Lucia (installation view)
1864-65
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98) 'Tea Merchant (On Duty)' and 'Tea Merchant (Off Duty)' 1873

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98)
Tea Merchant (On Duty) and Tea Merchant (Off Duty) (installation view)
1873
Albumen prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Lewis Carroll is best known as the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but he was also an accomplished amateur photographer. Approximately half of his photographs are portraits of children, sometimes wearing foreign costumes or acting out scenes. Here, Alexandra ‘Xie’ Kitchen, his most frequent child sitter, poses in Chinese dress on a stack of tea chests.

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98) 'Tea Merchant (On Duty)' 1873

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98)
Tea Merchant (On Duty) (installation view)
1873
Albumen prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98) 'Tea Merchant (Off Duty)' 1873

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98)
Tea Merchant (Off Duty) (installation view)
1873
Albumen prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879) 'Pomona' 1887

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879)
Pomona (installation view)
1887
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The South Kensington museum (now the V&A) was the only museum to collect and exhibit Julia Margaret Cameron’s during her lifetime. This is one of several studies she made of Alice Liddell, who as a child had modelled for the author and photographer Lewis Carroll and inspired his novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Cameron, Carroll and Liddell moved in overlapping artistic and intellectual circles. Here, surrounded by foliage, a grown-up Alice poses as the Roman goddess of orchards and gardens.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879) 'Pomona' 1887

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879)
Pomona (installation view)
1887
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966) 'Frederick Holland Day' 1900

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966)
Frederick Holland Day (installation view)
1900
Gum platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The British-American photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn enjoyed success on both sides of the Atlantic. Active in the early 20th century, he gained recognition from a young age as a talented photographer. His style ranged from the painterly softness of Pictorialism to the unusual vantage points and abstraction of Modernism. As well as being a practising photographer, Coburn was an avid collector. In 1930 he donated over 600 photographs to the Royal Photographic Society. The gift included examples of Coburn’s own work alongside that of his contemporaries, many of whom are now considered to be the most influential of their generation. Coburn also collected historic photographs, and was among the first in his time to rediscover and appreciate the work of 19th-century masters like Julia Margaret Cameron and Hill and Adamson.

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia' 1905

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia (installation view)
1905
Gum platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Day made this portrait when he visited the Hampton Institute in Virginia, which was founded after the American Civil War as a teacher-training school for freed slaves. The institute’s camera club invited Day to visit the school and critique the work of its students. Day’s friend and fellow photographer, Frederick Evans, donated this strikingly modern composition to the Royal Photographic Society in 1937.

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia' 1905

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia (installation view)
1905
Gum platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia' 1905

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia (installation view)
1905
Gum platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia' 1905

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia
1905
Gum platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Gertrude Käsebier (American, 1852-1934) 'The Letter' 1906

 

Gertrude Käsebier (American, 1852-1934)
The Letter
1906
Platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Käsebier studied painting before opening a photography studio in New York. Her Pictorialist photographs often combine soft focus with experimental printing techniques. These sisters were dressed in historic costume for a ball, but their pose transforms a society portrait into a narrative picture. In a variant image, they turn to look at the framed silhouette on the wall.

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation views of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Francis James Mortimer (British, 1874-1944) 'Alvin Langdon Coburn at the Opening of His One-Man Exhibition the Royal Photographic Society, London' 1906

 

Francis James Mortimer (British, 1874-1944)
Alvin Langdon Coburn at the Opening of His One-Man Exhibition the Royal Photographic Society, London (installation view)
1906
Carbon print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Annie Wardrope Brigman (American, 1869-1950) 'The Spirit of Photography' c. 1908

 

Annie Wardrope Brigman (American, 1869-1950)
The Spirit of Photography
c. 1908
Platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966) 'Kensington Gardens' 1910

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966)
Kensington Gardens
1910
Platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Cover of 'Camera Work'

 

Cover of Camera Work Number XXVI (installation view)

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973) 'Portrait – Lady H' 1908

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Portrait – Lady H (installation view)
1908
Camera Work 22
1908
Photogravure
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973) 'Portrait – Lady H' 1908

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Portrait – Lady H
1908
Camera Work 22
1908
Photogravure
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'New York' 1916

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
New York (installation view)
1916
Camera Work 48
1916
Photogravure
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) was an American photographer, publisher, writer and gallery owner. From 1903-1917, he published the quarterly journal Camera Work, which featured portfolios of exquisitely printed photogravures (a type of photograph printed in ink), alongside essays and reviews. Camera Work promoted photography as an art form, publishing the work of Pictorialist photographers who drew inspiration from painting, and reproducing 19th-century photographs. It also helped to introduce modern art to American audiences, including works by radical European painters such as Matisse and Picasso.

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966) 'Vortograph' 1917

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966)
Vortograph (installation view)
1917
Bromide print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Rudolph Koppitz. 'Movement Study' 1925

 

Rudolph Koppitz (American, 1884-1936)
Bewegungsstudie (Movement Study)
1926
Carbon print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Koppitz was a leading art photographer in Vienna between the two World Wars, as well as a master of complex printing processes, including the pigment, gum and broccoli process of transfer printing. Tis dynamic and sensual composition captures dancers from the Vienna State Opera Ballet frozen mid-movement.

 

Herbert Bayer (Austrian American, 1900-85) 'Shortly Before Dawn' 1932-39

 

Herbert Bayer (Austrian American, 1900-85)
Shortly Before Dawn (installation view)
1932-39
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Bayer had a varied and influential career as a designer, painter, photographer, sculptor, art director and architect. He taught at the Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany, and later began to use photomontage, both in his artistic and advertising work. Using this process, he combined his photographs with found imagery, producing surreal or dreamlike pictures.

 

Herbert Bayer (Austrian American, 1900-85) 'Shortly Before Dawn' 1932-39

 

Herbert Bayer (Austrian American, 1900-85)
Shortly Before Dawn (installation view)
1932-39
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Bernard Eilers (Dutch, 1878-1951) 'Reguliersbreestraat, Amsterdam' 1934

 

Bernard Eilers (Dutch, 1878-1951)
Reguliersbreestraat, Amsterdam (installation view)
1934
Foto-choma Eilers
Given by Joan Luckhurst Eilers

 

 

In the 1930s, the Dutch photographer Bernard Eilers developed an experimental new photographic colour separation process known as ‘Foto-chroma Eilers’. Although the process was short-lived, Eilers successfully used this technique to produce prints like this of great intensity and depth of colour. Here, the misty reflections and neon lights create an atmospheric but modern view of a rain-soaked Amsterdam at night.

 

Bernard Eilers (Dutch, 1878-1951) 'Reguliersbreestraat, Amsterdam' 1934

 

Bernard Eilers (Dutch, 1878-1951)
Reguliersbreestraat, Amsterdam (installation view)
1934
Foto-choma Eilers
Given by Joan Luckhurst Eilers

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Valentine to Charis' 1935

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Valentine to Charis (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

When Weston met the model and writer Charis Wilson in 1934, he was immediately besotted. This valentine to her contains a cluster of objects arranged as a still life, including the photographer’s camera lens and spectacles. Some of the objects seem to hold a special significance that only the lovers could understand. The numbers on the right possibly refer to their ages – there were almost thirty years between them.

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999) 'Portrait of Gabrielle ('Coco') Chanel' 1937

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Portrait of Gabrielle (‘Coco’) Chanel
1937
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

Variant, American Vogue, 1 December 1937, p. 86: ‘Fashion: Mid-Season Prophecies’

Caption reads: Chanel in her fitted, three-quarters coat / Mademoiselle Chanel, in one of her new coats that are making the news – a three quarters coat buttoned tightly and trimmed with astrakham like her cap. 01/12/1937

 

Nickolas Muray (American, 1892-1965) 'Women with headscarf, 'McCall’s' Cover, July 1938' 1938

 

Nickolas Muray (American, 1892-1965)
Women with headscarf, McCall’s Cover, July 1938 (installation view)
1938
Tricolour carbro print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Hardware Store' 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Hardware Store (installation view)
1938
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Between 1935 and 1939, the Federal Art Project emptied Abbott to make a series of photographs entitled Changing New York, documenting the rapid development and urban transformation of the city. This picture shows the facade of a downtown hardware store, its wares arranged in a densely-packed window display with extend onto the pavement.

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Hardware Store' 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Hardware Store (installation view)
1938
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Hardware Store' 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Hardware Store
1938
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75) 'Photographs of African masks, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York' 1935

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75)
Photographs of African masks, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

In 1935, the Museum of Modern Art commissioned Evans to photograph objects in its major exhibition of African art. Using his 8 x 10 inch view camera, he highlighted the artistry and detail of the objects, alternating between front, side and rear views. In total, Evans produced 477 images, and 17 complete sets of them were printed. Several of these sets were donated to colleges and libraries in America, and the V&A bought one set in 1936 to better represent African art in its collection.

The term ‘negro’ is given here in its original historical context.

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75) 'Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York' 1935

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75)
Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75) 'Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York' 1935

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75)
Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75) 'Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York' 1935

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75)
Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Bill Brandt (British, 1904-83) 'Dubuffet’s Right Eye, Alberto Giacometti’s Left Eye, Louise Nevelson’s Eye, Max Ernst’s Left Eye' 1960-63

 

Bill Brandt (British, 1904-83)
Dubuffet’s Right Eye
Alberto Giacometti’s Left Eye
Louise Nevelson’s Eye
Max Ernst’s Left Eye (installation view)
1960-63
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Bill Brandt (British, 1904-83) 'Dubuffet’s Right Eye' 1960-63

 

Bill Brandt (British, 1904-83)
Dubuffet’s Right Eye (installation view)
1960-63
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

German-born Brandt moved to London in the 1930s. In his long and varied career, he made many compelling portraits of people including Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas, the Sitwell family, Robert Graves and E.M. Forster. For this series he photographed the eyes of well-known artists over several years, creating a substantial collection of intense and unique portraits. The pictures play upon ideas of artistic vision and the camera lens, which acts as a photographer’s ‘mechanical eye’.

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976) 'Simple Still Life, Egg' 1950

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Simple Still Life, Egg (installation view)
1950
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Throughout his career, Sudek used various photographic styles but always conveyed an intensely lyrical vision of the world. Here, his formal approach to a simple still life presents a poetic statement, and evokes an atmosphere of contemplation. Sudek’s motto and advice to his students – ‘hurry slowly’ – encapsulates his legendary patience and the sense of meditative stillness in his photographs.

 

Otto Steiner (German, 1915-78) 'Luminogram' 1952

 

Otto Steiner (German, 1915-78)
Luminogram (installation view)
1952
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Otto Steiner (German, 1915-78) 'Luminogram' 1952

 

Otto Steiner (German, 1915-78)
Luminogram (installation view)
1952
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943) 'True Color' 1974-87

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943) 'True Color' 1974-87

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943)
True Color (installation views)
1974-87
Portfolio of thirty dye transfer prints, printed in 2007
American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of The Michael G. and C. Jane Wilson 2007 Trust

 

 

Known for his dynamic street photography, Cohen’s work presents a fragmented, sensory image of his hometown of Wiles-Barre, Pennsylvania. This set of pictures was taken at a time when colour photography was just beginning to be recognised as a fine art. Until the 1970s, colour had largely been associated with other advertising or family snapshots, and was not thought of as a legitimate medium for artists. Cohen and other photographers like William Eggleston transferred this perception using the dye-transfer printing process. Although complicated and time-consuming, the technique results in vibrant and high quality colour prints.

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943) 'True Color' 1974-87

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943)
True Color (installation view detail)
1974-87
Portfolio of thirty dye transfer prints, printed in 2007
American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of The Michael G. and C. Jane Wilson 2007 Trust

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943) 'True Color' 1974-87

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943)
True Color (installation view detail)
1974-87
Portfolio of thirty dye transfer prints, printed in 2007
American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of The Michael G. and C. Jane Wilson 2007 Trust

 

Graham Smith (British, b. 1947) 'What she wanted & who she got' 1982

 

Graham Smith (British, b. 1947)
What she wanted & who she got (installation view)
1982
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Since the 1980s, Graham Smith has been photographing his hometown of South Bank near Middlesbrough. His images convey his deep sensitivity towards the effects of changing working conditions on the former industrial north-east. In this photograph, despite the suggested humour of the title, we are left wondering who the couple are and what the nature of their relationship might be.

 

Jan Kempenaers (b. 1968) 'Spomenik #3' 2006

 

Jan Kempenaers (b. 1968)
Spomenik #3
2006
C-type print

The Kosmaj monument in Serbia is dedicated to soldiers of the Kosmaj Partisan detachment from World War II.

 

Jan Kempenaers (b. 1968) 'Spomenik #4' 2007

 

Jan Kempenaers (b. 1968)
Spomenik #4
2007
C-type print

This monument, authored by sculptor Miodrag Živković, commemorates the Battle of Sutjeska, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II in the former Yugoslavia.

 

 

Kempenaers toured the balkans photographing ’Spomeniks’ – monuments built in former Yugoslavia in the 1960s and ’70s on the sites of Second World War battles and concentration camps. Some have been vandalised in outpourings of anger against the former regime, while others are well maintained. In Kempenaers’ photographs, the monuments appear otherworldly, as if dropped from outer space into a pristine landscape.

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

 

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road
London
SW7 2RL
Phone: +44 (0)20 7942 2000

Opening hours:
Daily 10.00 – 17.30
Friday 10.00 – 21.30

V&A website

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23
Apr
20

Video: Albert Camus ‘La Peste’ (The Plague) 1947

April 2020

 

There is no more important book to understand our times than Albert Camus’s The Plague, a novel about a virus that spreads uncontrollably from animals to humans and ends up destroying half the population of a representative modern town. Camus speaks to us now not because he was a magical seer, but because he correctly sized up human nature. As he wrote: ‘Everyone has inside it himself this plague, because no one in the world, no one, can ever be immune.’

Text from the YouTube website

 

 

 

Albert Camus
La Peste (The Plague)
1947

 

 

What does plague mean for humanity – in his philosophy… we are all, unbeknownst to us, already living through a plague. That is, a widespread, silent invisible disease that may kill any of us at any time and destroy the lives we assumed were solid [death].

The actual historical incidents we call plagues are merely concentrations of a universal precondition, they are dramatic instances of a perpetual rule: that we are vulnerable to being randomly exterminated, by a bacillus, an accident or the actions of our fellow humans. Our exposure to plague is at the heart of Camus’s view that our lives are fundamentally on the edge of what he termed ‘the absurd’.

For Camus, when it comes to dying, there is no progress in history, there is no escape from our frailty; being alive always was and will always remain an emergency, as one might put it, truly an inescapable ‘underlying condition’.

Plague or no plague, there is always – as it were – the plague, if what we mean by this is a susceptibility to sudden death, an event that can render our lives instantaneously meaningless. 

Life is a hospice, never a hospital.

Camus writes: ‘Pestilence is so common, there have been as many plagues in the world as there have been wars, yet plagues and wars always find people equally unprepared.’

In one of the most central lines of the book, Camus writes: ‘This whole thing is not about heroism. It’s about decency. It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency.’

In the words of one of his characters, Camus knew, as we do not, that ‘everyone has inside it himself this plague, because no one in the world, no one, can ever be immune.’

Full text of the video can be found on The School of Life website [Online] Cited 23/03/2020

 

 

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14
May
19

Exhibition: ‘The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day’ at ONE Gallery, West Hollywood, California

Exhibition dates: 1st March – 17th May 2019

Curator: David J. Getsy

 

 

Greg Day. 'Stephen Varble in the Suit of Armor' October 1975, printed 2018

 

Greg Day (American, b. 1944)
Stephen Varble in the Suit of Armor
October 1975, printed 2018
Digital print
© Greg Day 2019

 

 

“Varble’s total irreverence is no more evident than in his willingness to “cross party lines,” as he did when he wore his Suit of Armor, constructed with gold VO labels from Seagram’s boxes, to both the 1975 Easter Parade and to West Village leather bars! He was an equal opportunity offender, rubbing up against conformity in all forms.”

Bob Nickas. “Stephen Varble: Now More Than Ever,” on the Affidavit website [Online] Cited 10/04/2019

 

 

Confusing queen reigns, on parade

In an era of reactionary religious and right wing hypocrisy – Christian sleaze and paedophilia anyone, anti-Muslim and gay Facebook posts in the Australian election, murderous right wing rampage in New Zealand – now more than ever, we need artists like Stephen Varble.

I love doing these posts on artists that certainly I, and I suspect a lot of the readers of this website, would have never have heard of. Artists full of spunk, full of daring-do, artists who rise to challenge the patrons of patriarchy, and the colluders of capitalism (Varble became ever-more critical of commodification and capitalism). Artists who declaim the value of the individual, who shine a light on the plight of the downtrodden and discriminated against. Can you not once bring yourself to utter the word “AIDS” you bigoted president?

“Varble made the recombination of signs for gender a central theme in his increasingly outrageous costumes and performances… [He] sought to make a place for himself outside of art’s institutions and mainstream cultures all the while critiquing them both.” Australian artists such as Leigh Bowery and Brenton Heath-Kerr have a lot to thank Varble for.

He might have risen from the gutter, but his intentions were full of stars.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

 

Varble’s work wasn’t drag in the conventional cross-dressing sense, or “gay art,” which was often defined from a predominantly masculine perspective in the immediate post-Stonewall years. His intention was to stretch and break down the very idea of binary identities, confuse the concept of gender, leave it optional. And this goal puts him well in the framework of queer and transgender thinking now. …

For a series of mid-1970s performances he called “Gutter Art,” he would arrive, elaborately dressed, by limousine (paid for by a Japanese patron, Miyazaki Morihiro) in front of luxury stores on the Upper East Side. Once parked, he unloaded old kitchen utensils from the trunk and started washing them with black ink, as if referring to the domestic life of sweatshop labor. He soon gained notoriety as a kind of cultural terrorist. (Tiffany’s hired guards to keep him out.) He turned up, uninvited, at red carpet events – film premieres, the Met’s Costume Institute gala – to dazzle and deride the guests.

.
Holland Cotter. “Stephen Varble: The Street Was His Stage, the Dress Was His Weapon,” on The New York Times website January 10, 2019 [Online] Cited 10/04/2019

 

 

Greg Day. 'Stephen Varble in the Demonstration Costume with Only One Shoe (for the Chemical Bank Protest)' 22 March 1976, printed 2018

 

Greg Day (American, b. 1944)
Stephen Varble in the Demonstration Costume with Only One Shoe (for the Chemical Bank Protest)
22 March 1976, printed 2018
Digital print
© Greg Day 2019

 

 

“A chauffeured Rolls Royce glides glacially to the curb in front of the Chemical Bank at New York’s Sheridan Square. The uniformed driver, out in an instant, holds open the passenger door. Rather than a well-heeled person to which such a car would belong, a more hallucinatory sight will emerge, equally glamorous and ridiculous. Two legs appear, only one of which has a shoe. The full length of the body gradually appears, improbably covered in netting and not much else, the entwined nets adorned with crumpled bills. What seem to be bare breasts droop from the chest of a figure of otherwise unidentifiable gender, further confused by a toy fighter jet, poised for takeoff, at crotch level. While no words are spoken, a cartoon speech bubble overhead proclaims, cheerily but with a disgruntled undertow: Even Though You May Be Forged, Chemical Still Banks Best!”

Bob Nickas. “Stephen Varble: Now More Than Ever,” on the Affidavit website [Online] Cited 10/04/2019

 

The Chemical Bank Protest was Varble’s most notorious and widely reported disruption, and it encapsulated his disdain for commerce, capitalism, and propriety. To contest a forgery against him, Varble went to the Sheridan Square bank to demand his money returned. He created his Demonstration Costume with Only One Shoe from Christmas tree packaging, gold leaf wrappers, and fake money. His costumes often combined different signs of gender, and here he wore tow condoms filled with cow’s blood for breasts and a toy jet fighter as a codpiece. The toy referenced the plane ticket the forger purchase with the money, and one shoe was missing to “symbolise his economic loss.” Hovering over his head, a speech bubble touted, “Even Though You May Be Forged, Chemical Still Banks Best!”

Varble’s performances often affected an ironic enthusiasms for his targets (be it a bank, a boutique, a gallery, or a presidential candidate), and his insincere flattery was meant to provide cover for his disruption of business as usual.

Arriving in a borrowed limousine, Varble boldly entered to make his demands as the line of customers at the teller window gawked. On being told by the manager that he could not be helped, Varble punctured the blood-filled condoms and dipped a pen in the spilled blood to write checks (for “none-million dollars”) in his dramatic, mime-like movements before sweeping out to the sound of applause from the customers.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

“Varble began to truly set himself apart from other gender-focused 1970s performance artists with his outré 1976 performance at Chemical Bank in Sheridan Square. After hearing that someone had forged his signature and emptied out his bank account, Varble walked into the bank dressed in fake money, with breasts made out of condoms and filled with cow’s blood. He demanded his money back. When the bank teller could not comply, Varble punctured his condom-breasts, spilling blood all over the floor, and wrote checks in blood for “none-million dollars,” which he addressed to his companion at the bank, Peter Hujar. The exhibition includes a photograph Hujar took that day, evoking a time when the lax security in banks allowed artists to perform and express themselves, however outrageously (although Varble was then escorted out of the cow’s blood-filled bank by security).”

Extract from Michael Valinsky. “A Forgotten Precursor of Genderqueer Performance Art,” in Hyperallergic website [Online] Cited 14/05/219

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery showing, at left top, Greg Day’s Stephen Varble with the Enormous Pink Satin and baby Doll (1975); left below Stephen Varble Performing in a Garbage Can at his Loft on Franklin Street (1975); and at centre, Closing Party with Varble’s Enormous Pink Satin Skirt (1975)

 

 

Franklin Street Exhibition and Party Performance

in 1976, Varble organised an exhibition of his own work in the loft her share with Jim McWilliams on Franklin Street. He painted the interiors pink, built large decorations, and displayed all his costumes on cut-out mannequins mounted on the walls. The largest piece in the exhibition was a new work the Enormous Pink Satin Skirt, some fifteen feet in length. The object played a central role in the “Gala Ending” party that closed the exhibition, as can be seen in the photograph (main above). For this major event Varble enlisted the help of established gender non-conforming performers such as Mario Montez, Jackie Curtis, and Taylor Mead to act as living mannequins for his most iconic costumes. Modelling Varble’s art they paraded with his satin silhouette dolls through the crowd and did impromptu performances – such as when Agusta Machado enacted a campy drama of claustrophobia in Varble’s refrigerator. Day was there to capture the wild party, managing to take individual portraits of some of the major performers in attendance…

In the midst of the playful chaos, Varble gathered these Warhol stars and others (such as Paul Ambrose and New York drag personality Ruth Truth) inside the Enormous Pink Satin Skirt, and at a designated time they al burst forth dancing. As the exhibition gave attendees a retrospective view of his output the performance provided a testament to Varble’s place in the queer performance culture of New York. As the art critic Gregory Battock remarked, “It was the kind of event only Stephen Varble could have planned: chaotic, meandering, spurious and very New York […] Even though invitations were hard to come by, everybody was there.”

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery with, from left, Greg Day’s Stephen Varble Destroying his Blue and Green Corrugated Paper Dress from the Camera (October 1975); Stephen Varble in the Elizabethan Farthingale; and Stephen Varble in the Suit of Armor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery

 

'Stephen Varble, Gutter Art flyer' [recto] 1975

 

Stephen Varble, Gutter Art flyer [recto]
1975
Xerographic print on paper
Courtesy Greg Day and the Leslie-Lohman Museum
Photo: Courtesy Greg Day and the Leslie-Lohman Museum

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery

 

Greg Day. 'Stephen Varble in the Elizabethan Farthingale' October 1975, printed 2018

 

Greg Day (American, b. 1944)
Stephen Varble in the Elizabethan Farthingale
October 1975, printed 2018
Digital print
© Greg Day, 2019

 

 

In costumes made from street trash, food waste, and stolen objects, Stephen Varble (1946-1984) took to the streets of 1970s New York City to perform his “Gutter Art.” With disruption as his aim, he led uninvited costumed tours through the galleries of SoHo, occupied Fifth Avenue gutters, and burst into banks and boutiques in his gender-confounding ensembles. Varble made the recombination of signs for gender a central theme in his increasingly outrageous costumes and performances. While maintaining he/him as his pronouns, Varble performed gender as an open question in both his life and his work, sometimes identifying as a female persona, Marie Debris, and sometimes playing up his appearance as a gay man. Only later would the term “genderqueer” emerge to describe the kind of self-made, non-binary gender options that Varble adopted throughout his life and in his disruptions of the 1970s art world.

At the pinnacle moment of Varble’s public performances, the photographer Greg Day (b. 1944) captured the inventiveness and energy of his genderqueer costume confrontations. Trained as an artist and anthropologist and with a keen eye for documenting ephemeral culture as it flourished, Day took hundreds of photographs of Varble’s trash couture, public performances, and events in 1975 and 1976. Varble understood the importance of photographers, and Day was his most important photographic collaborator. This exhibition brings together a selection of Day’s photographs of Varble performing his costume works and also includes Day’s photographs of Varble’s friends and collaborators such as Peter Hujar, Jimmy DeSana, Shibata Atsuko, Agosto Machado, and Warhol stars Jackie Curtis, Taylor Mead, and Mario Montez.

Varble sought to make a place for himself outside of art’s institutions and mainstream cultures all the while critiquing them both. The story of Varble told through Day’s photographs is both about their synergistic artistic friendship and about the queer networks and communities that made such an anti-institutional and genderqueer practice imaginable. Together, Varble and Day worked to preserve the radical potential of Gutter Art for the future.

The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble builds upon the 2018 retrospective exhibition of Stephen Varble’s work at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, titled Rubbish and Dreams: The Genderqueer Performance Art of Stephen Varble, as featured in the New York Times on January 11, 2019. The new ONE Gallery exhibition, with its focus on the collaboration of Varble with the photographer Greg Day, will explore the ways in which Varble’s disruptive guerrilla performance art has lived on primarily through vibrant photographs that captured his inventive costumes, transformed trash, and public confrontations.

The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s photographs by Greg Day is curated by David J. Getsy, Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Professor of Art History at the  School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble is organised by the ONE Archives Foundation, Inc. Generous support is provided by the City of West Hollywood.

About the ONE Archives Foundation, Inc.

The ONE Archives Foundation, Inc. is an independent 501(c)(3) dedicated to telling the accurate and authentic stories of LGBTQ people, history and culture through public exhibitions, educational projects and trainings, and community outreach programs. Our exhibitions, school programs, and community outreach programs are free. We depend entirely on members of the public and private foundations for support.

Press release from the ONE Gallery [Online] Cited 10/04/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery showing, at left, a still from Stephen Varble’s video Journey to the Sun (1978-1983); and at right Greg Day’s Stephen Varble in the Piggy Bank Dress (1975)

 

Stephen Varble (American, 1946-1984)
Journey to the Sun
1978-1983
U-matic video transferred to digital, 2018
Courtesy David J. Getsy

 

 

Varble receded from the art world and from street performance around 1977, becoming ever-more critical of commodification and capitalism. As he told an interviewer that year, “This is the age of pornography and contempt. The dollar is good. […] The end of capitalism is coming.” Varble instead began to develop private performances and videos about his private mythologies and messianic dreams. His last five years were consumed with working on an epic, operatic work of video art: Journey to the Sun. It started in 1978 as a performance about the mythology of Greta Garbo, and Varble invited friends to his Riverside Drive apartment to view his monologues accompanied by project slides. His ambitions soon outgrew this format, and he turned to video for its ability to combine text, image and performance. He considered these videos to be revivals of illuminated Medieval manuscripts with their rich visual play between words and pictures, and he called his group of collaborators in the video the “Happy Arts School of Manuscript Illumination.” The aim of the “school” was to promote Varble’s vision of societal transformation through the making of modern fables in the form of videos, books, and prints. His “video books,” as he called the tapes, offered an “antidote to nature’s ruin on this heavenly globe.”

Journey to the Sun tells the story of a musician, the Grey Crowned Warbler, who undergoes tribulation and metamorphosis on a journey to transcendence. The tale is a loosely autobiographical fable of an artist who encounters a stern mystical teacher, Sage Purple Pythagoras (played by his partner, Daniel Cahill) who tests the Warbler. Many of Varble’s iconic costumes feature in the video, and he combined elements of his own history with references to literature, religion, and popular culture (notably, Garbo). Combining heavily scripted monologues with improvised performances. Journey to the Sun does not offer a tidy or easily understood narrative. Rather, it sketches a fantastic and surreal visual world in which dreams are realised through the transformations of everyday objects, popular imagery, and rubbish.

To make this “rodeo-paced” video, Varble filled his apartment with drawings and writings on the walls, blacked out the windows, and began filming scenes both scripted and improvised with collaborators. Journey to the Sun is remarkable for its time due to the complexity and density of the video editing – all of which was done by Varble in his apartment. He only completed about thirty percent of his planned work before his death from AIDS-related complications in January 1984. This screening copy presents a continuous segment of around 80 minutes that has been selected from the three surviving U-matic master tapes, but no changes have been made other than the choice of where to begin and end this combined excerpt. This is but a fragment of the much longer video epic Varble hoped would be his major contribution.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery showing Stephen Varble’s Blue Boy

 

 

“One afternoon, Stephen invited me to accompany him to a performance in midtown Manhattan. He bought Blue Boy with him. We took the F train uptown from Washington Square. Sitting on the subway car bench and wearing his Chemical Bank Protest attire. Stephen hugged, kissed, fondled and poked Blue Boy. He spoke to him in an affectionate and sometimes argumentative language of moans, “ohs” and clicks. I sat across from him and watched as people entered the car. They stared, laughed, gasped, and made disparaging remarks about his sanity before moving to another part of the subway car. Even riding the train was an opportunity for Stephen to shock.”

Greg Day
Wall text from the exhibition

 

Gutter Art: Stephen Varble and Genderqueer Performance on the Streets of 1970s New York with David J. Getsy from Leslie-Lohman Museum on Vimeo.

 

Gutter Art: Stephen Varble and Genderqueer Performance on the Streets of 1970s New York with David J. Getsy

 

Greg Day. 'Stephen Varble at the 12th Annual Avant-Garde Festival' 1975

 

Greg Day (American, b. 1944)
Stephen Varble at the 12th Annual Avant-Garde Festival
1975
Digital print
© Greg Day 2019

 

 

ONE Gallery, West Hollywood
626 N. Robertson Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Opening hours:
Thursday – Sunday: 11.00 am – 2.00 pm and 3.00 pm – 6.00 pm
Closed Monday – Wednesday

ONE Archives website

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09
Mar
19

Exhibition: ’68. Pop and Protest’ at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG)

Exhibition dates: 18th October 2018 – 17th March 2019

Artists: Eero Aarnio | Jefferson Airplane | Michelangelo Antonioni | Richard Avedon | Günter Beltzig | Wolf Biermann | Big Brother and the Holding Company | Roman Brodmann | Pierre Cardin | Joe Colombo | Gerd Conradt | André Courrèges | Harun Farocki | Rainer Werner Fassbinder | Peter Handke | Haus-Rucker-Co | Jimi Hendrix | Helmut Herbst | Dennis Hopper | Theo Gallehr | Rudi Gernreich | Jean-Luc Godard | Gerhard von Graevenitz | F.C. Gundlach | Jasper Johns | Günther Kieser | Alexander Kluge | Yves Saint Laurent | Scott McKenzie | Egon Monk | Werner Nekes & Dore O. | Verner Panton | D.A. Pennebaker | Gaetano Pesce | Rosa von Praunheim | Paco Rabanne | Otis Redding | Kurt Rosenthal | Helke Sander | Ettore Sottsass | The Mamas & the Papas | The Who | Thomas Struck | Bernd Upnmoor | Roger Vadim | Valie Export | Agnès Varda | Wolf Vostell | Andy Warhol | Peter Weiss | Hans-Jürgen Wendt | Charles Wilp et al.

 

 

 

 

1968: the year that changed the world through radical action

From a posting about one revolutionary year in the 20th century (1918/19), we move 50 years in time to a another revolutionary year in that century: 1968.

I had wanted to do a posting on this exhibition and the 1968: Changing Times exhibition at the National Library of Australia (1st March 2018 – 12th August 2018) to compare and contrast what was happening in Australia and around the world in this most revolutionary year. But the six crappy press images that the National Library of Australia supplied were not worthy of a posting. Australian galleries in general and those in Canberra more particularly (I’m talking about you National Gallery of Australia!), really need to lift their game supplying media images. They are way behind the times in terms of understanding the importance of good media images to independent writers and critics.

In Australia, Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared in the surf at Cheviot Beach, Victoria, presumed drowned in December 1967. A new prime minister, John Gorton, was sworn in in January 1968. Australians were dying in greater numbers in Vietnam; Aboriginal land rights issues vexed the Australian cabinet; and the White Australia policy of Old Australia, soon to be swept away in 1973, was still in full force. “Billy Snedden, the Minister for Immigration, said that Australians, and certainly the government, did not want a multiracial society. Sir Horace Petty, the Victorian Agent-General in London, explained that ‘the trouble comes when a black man marries a white woman. No one worries if a white man is silly enough to marry a black woman’.” (Text from the National Archives of Australia website)

Around the world, 1968 seemed to be the year where all the stars aligned in terms of protest against hegemonic masculinity, racism, war and social inequality.

  1. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr (civil rights movement) and Robert F. Kennedy (engagement with youth, social change, civil rights) shocked the world. Race riots rock America including the Orangeburg massacre, and riots in Baltimore, Washington, New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Miami. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968
  2. The frustrations of youth boiled over in the Paris student riots of 1968 (protests against capitalism, consumerism, American imperialism and traditional institutions, values and order), leading to a “volatile period of civil unrest in France during May 1968 was punctuated by demonstrations and major general strikes as well as the occupation of universities and factories across France”
  3. The Chinese Cultural Revolution of 1968 called for revolutionary committees to be established to help preserve the ideological purity of the Chinese Revolution
  4. Muhammad Ali toured American student campuses giving hundreds of anti-Vietnam war speeches; protestors massed outside the White House at all hours. Eventually 4 students were killed at the Kent State Shootings by the U.S. National Guard during a demonstration on 4 May 1970
  5. A Viet Cong officer named Nguyễn Văn Lém is executed by Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, a South Vietnamese National Police Chief. The event is photographed by Eddie Adams (Saigon Execution (General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon). The photo makes headlines around the world, eventually winning the 1969 Pulitzer Prize, and sways U.S. public opinion against the war
  6. The Polish 1968 political crisis, also known in Poland as March 1968 or March events pertains to a series of major student, intellectual and other protests against the government of the Polish People’s Republic. Student protests also start in Belgrade, Yugoslavia
  7. The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalisation and mass protest in Czechoslovakia as a Communist state after World War II. It began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Alexander Dubček was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ), and continued until 21 August 1968, when the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact invaded the country to suppress the reforms during the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia
  8. In the following year, the Stonewall riots took place, a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay (LGBT) community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of Manhattan, New York City. They are widely considered to constitute the most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States, the official starting point of gay liberation, a movement that had been building momentum since the 1950s

.
(R)evolution was in the air.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

Paris Riots (1968)

 

Günter Zint (German, b. 1941) 'Berlin, 1968 (Class struggle demonstration APO)'

 

Günter Zint (German, b. 1941)
Berlin, 1968 (Class struggle demonstration APO)
Silver gelatin print
© Panfoto, Hamburg

 

Günter Zint (German, 1941) 'Hamburg, 1968'

 

Günter Zint (German, 1941)
Hamburg, 1968
Silver gelatin print
© Panfoto, Hamburg

 

Günter Zint (German, 1941) 'Paris, 1968 (Horst Wolf on car)'

 

Günter Zint (German, 1941)
Paris, 1968 (Horst Wolf on car)
Silver gelatin print
© Panfoto, Hamburg

 

 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (West German, 1945-1982) 'Katzelmacher' 1969 (still)

 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (West German, 1945-1982)
Katzelmacher (film still)
1969
Scene with Hanna Schygulla, Hans Hirschmüller, Rudolf Waldemar Brem, Lilith Ungerer and Hannes Gromball
Black and white film, 88 min.
© RWFF Fotoarchiv

 

 

Katzelmacher is a 1969 West German film directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The film centres on an aimless group of friends whose lives are shaken up by the arrival of an immigrant Greek worker, Jorgos (played by Fassbinder himself, in an uncredited role).

In this unflinching German drama by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, a group of young slackers, including the couple Erich (Hans Hirschmuller) and Marie (Hanna Schygulla), spend most of their time hanging out in front of a Munich apartment building. When a Greek immigrant named Jorgos (played by Fassbinder), moves in, however, their aimless lives are shaken up. Soon new tensions arise both within the group and with Jorgos, particularly when Marie threatens to leave Erich for the outsider.

 

 

Trailer for Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1969 film Katzelmacher

 

 

The exhibition 68. Pop and Protest brings together all the defining pictures, movies, texts and sounds of this era forming a complex atmospheric picture. The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG) will display about 200 objects including music installations, fashion, movies, photos, posters, design objects, historical documents and spatial ensembles such as Verner Panton’s Spiegel canteen, which show what moved and motivated people in 1968 – in Hamburg, Germany and the rest of the world: awareness of their own rights, and the possibility to advocate their opinions publically through protest and revolt. The year 1968 is shaken by dramatic events which lead to protests, and promote revolutionary ideas. At the same time, a global cultural revolution is initiated that imaginatively revolts against conservative authoritarian structures, propagates sexual freedom, and demands equality for all people. Various avant-garde forms of expression in all artistic departments are the non-violent weapons of the time: progressive music, unconventional styles, bold designs, contentious theatre, and socio-critical cinema d’auteur. Furthermore, there is an unprecedented desire for critical discourse, public discussion, and civil disobedience. A common thread is hope; hope that the world will turn into a fairer place, that society will get more just, and that people will become better; hope that political suppression will stop, that borders will be overcome, walls will get torn down, and that sexuality will be non-exploitative. It is more important than ever to once again consolidate these ideas of freedom and self-determination in our collective memory. Current events show that central aspects of a free and democratic way of life are at stake (again): individual development of the self, fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press, democratic participation, and first and foremost open-mindedness towards what and whom we don’t know.

Text from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg [Online] Cited 11/02/2019

 

Ronald Traeger (1936-1968) 'Twiggy' June 1966

 

Ronald Traeger (American, 1936-1968)
Twiggy
June 1966
© Tessa Traeger

 

 

Fashion as a statement

When maladjusted outfits become consumer society, materialism and conventionality are put to the test. After short time, the looks can be found in the department stores: the protest mode is moving from subculture to mainstream. In haute couture, designs are related to the changing society set, in which gender assignments stumble and a relaxed handling of physicality and sexuality is propagated.

 

Installation views of the exhibition '68. Pop and Protest' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG)

Installation views of the exhibition '68. Pop and Protest' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG)

Installation views of the exhibition '68. Pop and Protest' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG)

Installation views of the exhibition '68. Pop and Protest' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG)

Installation views of the exhibition '68. Pop and Protest' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG)

 

Installation views of the exhibition 68. Pop and Protest at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG)
Photos: Michaela Hille

 

 

The exhibition 68. Pop and Protest brings together all the defining pictures, movies, texts and sounds of this era forming a complex atmospheric picture. The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG) will display about 200 objects including music installations, fashion, movies, photos, posters, design objects, historical documents and spatial ensembles such as Verner Panton’s Spiegel canteen, which show what moved and motivated people in 1968 – in Hamburg, Germany and the rest of the world: awareness of their own rights, and the possibility to advocate their opinions publically through protest and revolt. The year 1968 is shaken by dramatic events which lead to protests, and promote revolutionary ideas. At the same time, a global cultural revolution is initiated that imaginatively revolts against conservative authoritarian structures, propagates sexual freedom, and demands equality for all people. Various avant-garde forms of expression in all artistic departments are the non-violent weapons of the time: progressive music, unconventional styles, bold designs, contentious theatre, and socio-critical cinema d’auteur. Furthermore, there is an unprecedented desire for critical discourse, public discussion, and civil disobedience. A common thread is hope; hope that the world will turn into a fairer place, that society will get more just, and that people will become better; hope that political suppression will stop, that borders will be overcome, walls will get torn down, and that sexuality will be non-exploitative. It is more important than ever to once again consolidate these ideas of freedom and self-determination in our collective memory. Current events show that central aspects of a free and democratic way of life are at stake (again): individual development of the self, fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press, democratic participation, and first and foremost open-mindedness towards what and whom we don’t know.

 

Atelier Populaire. 'La base continue le combat' 1968

 

Atelier Populaire
La base continue le combat
1968
Silk screen
65.4 x 50 cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

La révolution est dans la rue – The revolution is on the street

In 1968, France is experiencing serious unrest, with a general strike. In the democratically organised Atelier Populaire, rehearsing artists and workers have productive co-operation: hundreds of protest motifs are printed in their thousands as posters, which create and shape the Parisian cityscape. La beauté est dans la rue – not only the revolution, but also the beauty of the road reached.

 

Gert Wiescher (German, b. 1944) 'Che Guevara' 1968

 

Gert Wiescher (German, b. 1944)
Che Guevara
1968
Offset print
86 x 61 cm
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018

 

 

Straße als Massenmedium – Street as Mass Medium

Public space becomes a central place of expression, the protesters getting their messages to the mass media and conveyed to the general public. But strong pictures are needed: the political actions offer in their skilful staging, great visual attraction potential. All means of expression unites an understanding of democracy, the current rules and power structures in the (media) public, performatively questioned.

 

Street as Mass Medium

In May 1968, France experiences severe riots. Students and workers take a stand for mutual political demands for reforms as well as for cries for international solidarity which leads to a “wild general strike”: They occupy factories and public facilities such as faculties of Paris’ art college Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The printing workshop is opened as an Atelier Populaire to give everyone the chance to publically express their own views by creating posters. Artists and workers productively collaborate in this democratically structured space: the community collectively consults about how the protest messages should look like, and everyone can be a printer. Within a few weeks, hundreds of protest pictures – printed thousand fold – are spread across the city and can be seen everywhere. Universities are breeding grounds for protests; this is also true for the Federal Republic of Germany. Here, students discuss controversial opinions in an academic discourse, and organise resistance. In the light of global protests against the Vietnam War and Western economic colonialism, they express basic criticism of the political landscape. Their criticism also addresses education policy, elitist structures, emergency laws, and the German media landscape. The street is the place for the non-parliamentary opposition to utter their opinions. In the fight for political recognition and public attention, performative actions are more and more successful. Sit-ins, teach-ins, rallies, happenings and demonstrations offer creative provocation, and civil disobedience in combination with well-known forms of protest such as flyers and posters, all of which arouses high visual sensations and great media response. These different forms of action range from giving out paper bags with caricatures depicting the ruling Persian couple, which Kommune 1 does in 1967 at a demonstration against their visit in Berlin, to the famous banner saying “Unter den Talaren – Muff von 1000 Jahren” (“underneath their robes – fustiness of a thousand years”), with which undergraduates demand university reforms on the 9th November in 1967 at the University of Hamburg; these protests also include knocking down the monument of colonial civil servant Hermann von Wissmann in Hamburg as a statement against the “ongoing exploitation of the Third World.”

 

Manfred Sohr. 'Rektoratswechsel im Audimax der Universität Hamburg' Change of rectorate in the main auditorium of the University of Hamburg 1967

 

Manfred Sohr
Rektoratswechsel im Audimax der Universität Hamburg
Change of rectorate in the main auditorium of the University of Hamburg
“Unter den Talaren – Muff von 1000 Jahren” (“underneath their robes – fustiness of a thousand years”)

1967
Photographic agency Conti-Press
© Staatsarchiv Hamburg

 

 

Die Wahrheit ist radikal – The truth is radical

The universities are the germ cells of the protest: right and left groups claim the opinion of (academic) youth and the interests of society for themselves. Each as truth, propagated views are sometimes radically represented. In the fight for attention and political perception, actions are used that are between creation and provocation and cause civil disobedience.

 

Rainer Hachfeld (German, b. 1939) Distribution: Kommune 1 Karikatur / caricature: 'Schah-Masken (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Farah Pahlavi) / Shah masks' 1967

Rainer Hachfeld (German, b. 1939) Distribution: Kommune 1 Karikatur / caricature: 'Schah-Masken (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Farah Pahlavi) / Shah masks' 1967

 

Rainer Hachfeld (German, b. 1939)
Distribution: Kommune 1
Karikatur / caricature: Schah-Masken (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Farah Pahlavi) / Shah masks
1967
Paper
Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung
Photo: MKG

 

 

Harun Farocki (German, 1944-2014)
Die Worte des Vorsitzenden (The words of the chairman)
1967
Black and White film
16mm, 3 min.
© Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen, Berlin

 

Harun Farocki (1944-2014) 'Die Worte des Vorsitzenden' (The words of the chairman) (videostill) 1967

 

Harun Farocki (German, 1944-2014)
Die Worte des Vorsitzenden (The words of the chairman) (videostill)
1967
Black and White film
16mm, 3 min.
© Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen, Berlin

 

Diana Davies (American, b. 1938) 'Protestor at Weinstein Hall demonstration for the rights of gay people on campus' 1970

 

Diana Davies (American, b. 1938)
Protestor at Weinstein Hall demonstration for the rights of gay people on campus
1970
Silver gelatin print
Diana Davies, The New York Public Library Digital Collections
© Diana Davies

 

 

Power to the people

The social discourse is characterised by civil rights movements, including feminist groups, the gay movement and the Civil Rights Movement of the African American population in the US. Racism, intolerance and discrimination are systematically and openly denounced. The means of protest range from demonstrations and information campaigns about civil disobedience to partly artistic, partly militant actions up to armed resistance.

 

Talking ’bout my Generation

In the 1960s, a pop revolution conquers the Western hemisphere, starting in Great Britain and the USA which conclusively establishes rock music as a generation-defining phenomenon and expression of an international way of life. This marks a paradigm shift in entertainment music that defines rock and pop as an essential part of youth and subculture with an existential identity-establishing function. For adolescents, English music also means separating themselves from the generation of their parents and the (fake) bourgeois Schlager music idyll. In only a short time, bands rise from playing in underground clubs to performing on big stages. One of the reasons is the growing festival scene that starts in 1967 with the Monterey Pop Festival and peaks in 1969 with Woodstock. The exhibition will feature the concert movie Monterey Pop that shows ground breaking performances by Jimi Hendrix, as he sets his guitar on fire, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, The Mamas & the Papas and more, which will give visitors the chance to dive into the festival atmosphere of the time. Concert posters, record covers and audio stations with the most famous songs bring the world of 68 to life. Already established musical genres are mixed, psychedelic rock captures the hippies‘ drug influenced style of life, experimental arrangements and instrumentation produce completely new electronically amplified and distorted sounds. Records are conceptualised as complete art works. As a consequence, a visual cross-media language evolves that includes psychedelic poster or album cover designs and extravagant style presentations of the rock stars themselves. Pop culture becomes the international language of an entire generation.

 

D.A. Pennebaker (American, b. 1925) 'Monterey Pop' (filmstill) 1968

 

D.A. Pennebaker (American, b. 1925)
Monterey Pop (filmstill)
1968
16mm
© 1982 Pennebaker Hegedus Films, Inc. and The Monterey International Pop Festival, Inc.

 

 

Talking ’bout my generation

Rock music finally establishes itself as generation-determining phenomenon and an expression of an international lifestyle. This is accompanied by a cross-media visual language, from psychedelic poster and cover design to extravagant fashion staging of the rock stars. Pop Culture becomes the international language of a whole generation, that is in turn incorporated by the cultural industry.

 

 

Monterey Pop Official Trailer

 

The Monterey Pop Festival ran for three days in June 1967. For most of the five shows, the arena was jammed to bursting with perhaps as many as 10,000 people. The live performances were spectacularly successful. Janis Joplin, who was singing with Big Brother and the Holding Company, pulled out all the stops with a raw, powerful performance that helped establish her as the preeminent female rock singer of her day.

The Who climaxed a brilliant set by smashing their equipment at the conclusion of “My Generation”. Jimi Hendrix (in the American debut of the Jimi Hendrix Experience) offered an awesome display of his virtuosity as a guitarist and as a showman, humping his Marshall amplifiers and then setting his Stratocaster ablaze. Another highlight was Ravi Shankar’s meditative afternoon of Indian ragas. And then there was Otis Redding, the dynamic soul man turned in what many present believe was the festival’s best performance. ABC offered $400,000 for network rights to Pennebaker’s film (which was released in theatres after ABC decided it was too far out for the TV audience).

 

Günther Kieser (German, b. 1930) 'Jimi Hendrix Experience' 1969

 

Günther Kieser (German, b. 1930)
Jimi Hendrix Experience
1969
Offset print
118,9 x 84,1 cm
Photo: Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Günther Kieser

 

 

Stages of Revolt

The performing arts are said to have a great political clout, and the stage becomes the place for social debates. Classical plays are reviewed regarding its political messages, and newly written plays accuse the bourgeois establishment. The shrine-like status of museums is challenged by wearing jeans to openings, no evening dresses, no champagne. The theatre leaves established institutions behind; companies are formed that take their messages to the streets. They no longer respect the division between actor/actress and spectator, exaggerated in Peter Handke’s Publikumsbeschimpfung (1966, Offending the Audience), or in Hans Werner Henze’s oratory Floß der Medusa (The raft of the Medusa) in which he criticises “the authority of humans over humans”. For its premiere with the NDR radio symphony orchestra, Henze puts a portrait of Che Guevara and a red flag on stage. Actors/actresses exit erratically, there is tumult, cries for Ho Chi Minh, an overwhelming police presence, and arrests – the show is stopped eventually. Art and life merge into each other, as can be seen in collectives like Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s antiteater in Munich. Such creative communities see themselves as antitheses to the middle-class, which could never give birth to any relevant art, because of its saturated complacency.

 

Filmstill from 'Publikumsbeschimpfung', premiere in Frankfurt am Main, 1966

 

Filmstill from Publikumsbeschimpfung, premiere in Frankfurt am Main, 1966
Director: Claus Peymann , Aufzeichnung des HR

 

 

Bühnen der Revolte – Stages of revolt

The performing arts have major political clout and the stage becomes more about sociable Debates. The theatre leaves the institution, new pieces emerge and bring charges against the educated middle class Establishment. The border between actor and spectator is no longer respected, the audience is called to action. Art and life merge into collectives like Fassbinders antiteater and Steins Schaubühne.

 

 

Publikumsbeschimpfung (Offending the Audience)
A speech piece by Peter Handke
World premiere in the Frankfurt Theater am Turm 1966
Director: Claus Peymann

 

 

Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012)
Das Floß der Medusa (1968)
The Raft of the Frigate “Medusa”

 

 

Abschied von gestern (Yesterday Girl), Alexander Kluge, 1966

 

 

The Old Film is Dead

In 1962, a young generation of filmmakers demands the aesthetic, thematic and economical reorientation of the German cinematic landscape, as expressed in their Oberhausener Manifest. The economic crisis of the film industry in the 1960s and international innovative movements like the Nouvelle Vague, lead them to clearly distance themselves from both the NS history and sentimental films with regional background (Heimatfilm) as well as the Karl May and Edgar Wallace franchise and the like. The 26 signers seek intellectual liberation through radically turning to film d’auteur and to independent productions apart from already established studio business. These filmmakers reject the conventional uplifting entertainment conventions of the time, and like to provoke the audience – impressively shown in Alexander Kluge’s Abschied von gestern (Yesterday Girl). Thus, the critical avant-garde of the Neuer Deutscher Film, including the works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and others, is internationally successful. In 1967, in the wake of the American experimental and underground cinema, the Hamburger Filmmacher Cooperative is founded. Without any state funding or need to submit to corporate profit values, the partly autodidactic filmmakers realize unconventional projects, distribute them through their independent network, and establish their own public sphere of the Andere Kino (Other Cinema) with their several days long film-ins. Inexpensive substandard films and super 8 cameras forward a vital underground scene, which primarily produces short films that fathom the dividing lines between visual arts and filmic experiments.

 

Alexander Kluge (German, b. 1932) 'Abschied von gestern' (Yesterday Girl) (videostill) 1966

 

Alexander Kluge (German, b. 1932)
Abschied von gestern (Yesterday Girl) (videostill)
1966
Black and White film, 88 min.
Courtesy/Copyright: Alexander Kluge

 

 

Der alte Film ist tot – The old film is dead

1962 calls a young generation of filmmakers with the Oberhausen Manifesto the aesthetic, content and economic realignment of German film. The collective project borders on the Nazi-film-burdened past and the presence marked by Heimatfilm. Many of the films refuse entertainment conventions, but provoke the emotional and sociopolitical reflection in the audience.

 

Gerd Conradt (b. 1941) 'Farbtest - Rote Fahne' (Colour test - Red Flag) (videostill) 1968

 

Gerd Conradt (b. 1941)
Farbtest – Rote Fahne (Colour test – Red Flag) (videostill)
1968
Colour film 16 mm, 12 min.
© Gerd Conradt, Mandala Vision

 

Gerd Conradt (born May 14, 1941 in Schwiebus) is a German cameraman, director, author and lecturer in video practice. His films and video programs are mostly portraits – conceptually designed time pictures, often as long-term documentaries.

 

Werner Nekes (German, 1944-2017), Dore O. (German, b. 1946) 'Jüm Jüm' (videostill) 1967

 

Werner Nekes (German, 1944-2017), Dore O. (German, b. 1946)
Jüm Jüm (videostill)
1967
Experimental film
© Ursula Richert-Nekes

 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (German, 1945-1982) 'Katzelmacher' 1969

 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (German, 1945-1982)
Katzelmacher
1969
Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Hanna Schygulla
Black and White film, 88 min.
© RWFF Fotoarchiv

 

 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder Katzelmacher 1969 trailer

 

Valie Export (Austrian, b. 1940) 'Tapp und Tastkino' / 'Tap and Touch Cinema' (detail) 1968

 

Valie Export (Austrian, b. 1940)
Tapp und Tastkino / Tap and Touch Cinema (detail)
1968
© sixpackfilm

 

 

“As usual, the film is ‘shown’ in the dark. But the cinema has shrunk somewhat – only two hands fit inside it. To see (i.e. feel, touch) the film, the viewer (user) has to stretch his hands through the entrance to the cinema. At last, the curtain which formerly rose only for the eyes now rises for both hands. The tactile reception is the opposite of the deceit of voyeurism. For as long as the citizen is satisfied with the reproduced copy of sexual freedom, the state is spared the sexual revolution. Tap and Touch Cinema is an example of how re-interpretation can activate the public.”

Valie Export

.
This outdoor action on Munich’s Stachus square translates the concept of expanded cinema and the cinema’s fairground roots into the ‘first immediate women’s film’, as the artist describes her ‘Tap and Touch Cinema’. ‘Public’ accessibility – restricted to 30 seconds per person – is noisily proclaimed by Peter Weibel. A direct demonstration of cinema as a projection space for male fantasies, this still ironic transgression of the border between art and life is an early indication of Valie Export’s often risky, but always resolute, deployment of her own body in later works.

Text by Martina Boero from the YouTube website

 

At age twenty-eight, Waltraud Hollinger changed her name to VALIE EXPORT, in all uppercase letters, to announce her presence in the Viennese art scene. Eager to counter the male-dominated group of artists known as the Vienna Actionists including Günter Brus, Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler she sought a new identity that was not bound by her father’s name (Lehner) or her former husband’s name (Hollinger). Export was the name of a popular cigarette brand. This act of provocation would characterise her future performances, especially TAPP und TASTKINO (TOUCH and TAP Cinema) and Aktionhose: Genitalpanik (Action Pants: Genital Panic). Challenging the public to engage with a real woman instead of with images on a screen, in these works she illustrated her notion of “expanded cinema,” in which film is produced without celluloid; instead the artist’s body activates the live context of watching. Born of the 1968 revolt against modern consumer and technical society, her defiant feminist action was memorialised in a picture taken the following year by the photographer Peter Hassmann in Vienna. VALIE EXPORT had the image screen printed in a large edition and fly-posted it in public spaces.

Text from the MoMA website, gallery label from Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960-1980, September 5, 2015 – January 3, 2016 [Online] Cited 12/02/2019

 

F.C. Gundlach (German, b. 1926) 'Grace Coddington wearing red blouse and mini skirt by Missoni' 1969

 

F.C. Gundlach (German, b. 1926)
Grace Coddington wearing red blouse and mini skirt by Missoni
1969
Cibachrome
50.1 x 38.8 cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© F.C. Gundlach

 

 

Mündig und mobil – Of age and mobile

The design scene responds to the urge for freedom with a colourful drive during 1968. Right angles, hard edges and solid colour do not fit the modern attitude to life. Individual home accessories solve the interior design problem, from the assembly line. Furniture is no longer made for eternity; uncomplicated and practical is the new design ethos and above all, it is mobile. Design is no longer used for status determination; this also applies to fashion. Originality is more important than noble material and refined cuts.

 

 

Fashion as a Statement

The different clothing styles of the generation of 1968 express more than a mere taste of fashion. Fashion becomes a political statement. Elements of hippie and ethnic looks, pieces of uniforms, or uncommon revealing styles challenge society’s conventions. In many families, the generation conflict shows itself in arguments about the mini skirt, ascribed to fashion designer Mary Quant. While parents are worried about indecent provocation and for their daughters to carelessly sexualise themselves, for adolescents, the mini skirt expresses their desire for autonomy and a form-fitting style of clothes. Soon, these outfits can also be found in the shop windows of department stores: Protest fashion finds its way from subculture into mainstream. Originally designed as a promotional tool for the paper industry, the paper dress achieves an enthusiastic success in 1966 in the USA and Europe. Women’s magazines distribute these inexpensive A-line mini dresses which are used as a vehicle for advertising in electoral campaigns throughout the USA in 1968. Designed as Poster Dresses by graphic designer Harry Gordon, they represent the new and fast-paced fashion world showing the growing impact of pop art and pop culture. All-over prints range from everyday motifs to poems by leftist writer Allen Ginsberg, and even the portrait of Bob Dylan – the voice of a young critically thinking generation. The fashion avant-garde is interested in the social function of fashion and its normative effects. Designs such as the business pants suit for women by Yves Saint Laurent and Rudi Gernreich’s unisex bathing suit reflect a changing society, question gender norms, and propagate a free approach to body and sexuality.

 

Paper Dress "Campaign Dress" 1966-68

 

Paper Dress “Campaign Dress”
1966-68
Cellulose/Nylon non-woven
Acquired with funds of the Campe’schen Historischen Stiftung
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Paper Dress "Big Ones for 68" 1966-68

 

Paper Dress “Big Ones for 68”
1966-68
Cellulose/Nylon non-woven
Acquired with funds of the Campe’schen Historischen Stiftung
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Paper Dress 1966-68

 

Paper Dress
1966-68
Cellulose/Nylon non-woven
Acquired with funds of the Campe’schen Historischen Stiftung
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

Art: Up against the Wall!

Global mass protests also mobilise visual artists. Andy Warhol, Wolf Vostell, Jasper Johns and others use posters, the artistic mass medium of the time, to criticise world events. Their poster aesthetics reflect contemporary artistic trends such as pop art and Fluxus, drawing on an unlimited repertoire of forms of expression: They use montages, collages, photography and xylography; a multifacetedness that matches their diverse voices and their political agendas.

 

Wolf Vostell (German, 1932-1998) 'Umfunktionierungen' (Reinterpretations) 1969

 

Wolf Vostell (German, 1932-1998)
Umfunktionierungen (Reinterpretations)
1969
Offset printing
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018

 

 

Art: up against the wall!

The political trouble spots find global resonance and motivate prominent artists to political opinions. Posters, the artistic mass medium of the time, articulate a critical attitude. The aesthetics includes different expressions: from montages and collages via photographic cut-up to woodcut techniques. This multifariousness, artistic practice corresponds to the polyphony of the actors and their political concerns.

 

Wolf Vostell

Wolf Vostell (14 October 1932 – 3 April 1998) was a German painter and sculptor, considered one of the early adopters of video art and installation art and pioneer of Happening and Fluxus. Techniques such as blurring and Dé-coll/age are characteristic of his work, as is embedding objects in concrete and the use of television sets in his works.

Wolf Vostell was born in Leverkusen, Germany, and put his artistic ideas into practice from 1950 onwards. In 1953, he began an apprenticeship as a lithographer and studied at the Academy of Applied Art in Wuppertal. Vostell created his first Dé-collage in 1954. In 1955-1956, he studied at the École Nationale Superieur des Beaux Arts in Paris and in 1957 he attended the Düsseldorf Academy of Arts. Vostell’s philosophy was built around the idea that destruction is all around us and it runs through all of the twentieth century. He used the term Dé-coll/age, (in connection with a plane crash) in 1954 to refer to the process of tearing down posters, and for the use of mobile fragments of reality. Vostell’s working concept of décollage is as a visual force that breaks down outworn values and replaces them with thinking as a function distanced from media.

His first Happening, Theater is in the Street, took place in Paris in 1958, and incorporated auto parts and a TV. In 1958, he took part in the first European Happening in Paris and he produced his first objects with television sets and car parts. He was impressed by the work of Karlheinz Stockhausen, which he encountered in 1964 in the electronic studios of the German radio station WDR, and in 1959 he created his electronic TV Dé-coll/age. It marked the beginning of his dedication to the Fluxus Movement, which he co-founded in the early 1960s. Vostell was behind many Happenings in New York, Berlin, Cologne, Wuppertal and Ulm among others. In 1962, he participated in the Festum Fluxorum, an international event in Wiesbaden together with Nam June Paik, George Maciunas. In 1963 Wolf Vostell became a pioneer of Video art and Installation with his work 6 TV Dé-coll/age shown at the Smolin Gallery in New York, and now in the collection of the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid. The Smolin Gallery sponsored two innovative Wolf Vostell events on TV; the first, Wolf Vostell and Television Decollage, featured visitors to the gallery who were encouraged to create poster art on the walls. In 1967 his Happening Miss Vietnam dealt with the subject of the Vietnam war. In 1968, he founded Labor e.V., a group that was to investigate acoustic and visual events, together with Mauricio Kagel, and others.

Wolf Vostell was the first artist in art history to integrate a television set into a work of art. This installation was created in 1958 under the title The black room is now part of the collection of the art museum Berlinische Galerie in Berlin. Early works with television sets are Transmigracion I-III from 1958 and Elektronischer Dé-coll/age Happening Raum (Electronic Dé-coll/age Happening Room) an Installation from 1968.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Wes Wilson (b. 1937) 'Jefferson Airplane... at the Fillmore' 1966

 

Wes Wilson (American, b. 1937)
Jefferson Airplane… at the Fillmore
1966
Offset Print
56 x 35.5 cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Wes Wilson

 

 

Wes Wilson (born July 15, 1937) is an American artist and one of the leading designers of psychedelic posters. Best known for designing posters for Bill Graham of The Fillmore in San Francisco, he invented a style that is now synonymous with the peace movement, psychedelic era and the 1960s. In particular, he is known for inventing and popularising a “psychedelic” font around 1966 that made the letters look like they were moving or melting. His style was heavily influenced by the Art Nouveau movement. Wilson is considered to be one of “The Big Five” San Francisco poster artists, along with Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, and Stanley Mouse. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

Günter Beltzig (German designer, b. 1941) Brüder Beltzig, Wuppertal (manufacturer) 'Floris' 1967

 

Günter Beltzig (German designer, b. 1941)
Brüder Beltzig, Wuppertal (manufacturer)
Floris
1967
Polyester
Photo: Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

The international design avant-garde aspires to revolutionise the established Bauhaus guiding principle “form follows function”. The spirit of departure and the desire for creative innovation characterise the new generation of designers, often in artistic collective works. Nothing is more wrong than a standstill. Some seating furniture almost appears as socio-political statement and proverbially shows a new attitude. Form now follows the idea.

 

 

Form follows idea

In the 1960s, the international design avant-garde strives towards an opposition to the so far prevalent Bauhaus dogma “form follows function”. This new generation oftentimes works in artistic collectives with passion for creative innovation. Objects to sit on should no longer mean that people are forced into an unnatural posture, it is rather the furniture such as the slack beanbag chair Sacco by Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini and Franco Teodoro, or the unconventional chair Floris by Günter Beltzig that should adapt to forms and needs of people. These new approaches in product design show ideas and a new attitude towards life of a nonconformist, dynamic and critical generation. Some seating furniture seems to be a downright socio-political statement that proverbially presents a new stance. Now, form follows idea. In 1968, the publishing house Spiegel entrusts Danish architect and designer Verner Panton with the design of the interior of their new building in Hamburg. For every story, he uses a different colour of the rainbow, consistently designing everything in one tone – from the colour of the wall to the ashtray – and creates a pop art icon. In the course of the years, the colours of the offices get whitewashed. Only the red-orange-purple Spiegel canteen has survived unaltered, since 2011 it is located in the MKG as a Period Room.

 

Joe Colombo (designer) (Italian, 1930-1971) 'Elda' 1963/64

 

Joe Colombo (designer) (Italian, 1930-1971)
Elda
1963/64
Museum of Arts and Crafts Hamburg

 

Günter F. Ris (designer) (German, 1928-2005) and Herbert Selldorf (designer) (1929-2012) Rosenthal Möbel (manufacturer) 'Armchair "Sunball"' 1969-1971

 

Günter F. Ris (designer) (German, 1928-2005) and Herbert Selldorf (designer) (1929-2012)
Rosenthal Möbel (manufacturer)
Armchair “Sunball”
1969-1971
Polyester, Aluminium, polyurethane foam, cotton cord, synthetics
Property of the Stiftung Hamburger Kunstsammlungen
Photo: Hersteller

 

Gaetano Pesce (designer) (Italian, b. 1939) Fa. Cassina and Busnelli (manufacturer) 'Armchair Donna UP5 with Bambino UP6' 1969

 

Gaetano Pesce (designer) (Italian, b. 1939)
Fa. Cassina and Busnelli (manufacturer)
Armchair Donna UP5 with Bambino UP6
1969
Polyurethane foam and Nylon-jersey
Photo: Hersteller

 

Piero Gatti (designer) (Italian, b. 1940) Cesare Paolini (Italian, b. 1937) and Franco Teodoro (Italian, b. 1939) Fa. Zanotta, Milan (manufacturer) 'Italien Sacco' 1968

 

Piero Gatti (designer) (Italian, b. 1940) Cesare Paolini (Italian, b. 1937) and Franco Teodoro (Italian, b. 1939)
Fa. Zanotta, Milan (manufacturer)
Italien Sacco
1968
PVC and Polystyrene
Photo: Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

Between Consumption Binge and Space Age

While in the 1950s in the beginning of the Miracle on the Rhine, it was most important for the population to cover the basic needs, the following decades are characterised by a consumption binge. Growing prosperity and a rapidly expanding choice of goods increases the desire for more and more consumer items and luxuries. Changing life styles challenge the commodity producing and the advertising industry. Zeitgeist aspects such as mobility, belief in progress, emancipation, individualism, and cult of the body gain in importance, also in terms of consumer behaviour. Desires are pre-formulated by an advertising industry which has a broad audience across all media with its TV ads, press advertising, and poster campaigns. They draw a picture of a hedonistic society between materialism and alleged expansion of consciousness that ultimately combines lifestyle aspects of youth culture with contemporary product design. Advertisements for items such as Afri-Cola or the Astro-Lavalampe (Astro lava lamp) by Edward Craven-Walker promise ecstatic sensory impressions without the use of drugs. The lava lamp, inspired by the science fiction movie Barbarella, becomes a popular accessory in clubs and living rooms; and to this day, it is representative for the psychedelic look of the time.

The 1960s are characterised by technophilia and optimistic belief in progress. The “Race to the Moon” is a battle between the political system of the United States of America and communist Russia. The era of space travel influences futuristic aesthetics, produces innovative materials, thus, inspiring new consumerist ideas. Furniture, electronic devices, everyday objects and fashion use the Space Age look, and define a creative Zeitgeist. Paco Rabanne is the futuristic designer of the 1960s. The trained architect frees himself of the traditions of haute couture and uses unusual materials. His martial mini dress (1966) has no threads at all: metal rings link aluminium plates and only allow minimal flexibility for the wearer. André Courrèges’ space collection from 1964 to 1965 shows girls from the moon in angular clothes with helmet-like hats and glasses made out of plastic with curved eye-slits as a stylish protection against space radiation.

In 1968 on Christmas Eve, NASA’s snapshot of the earth forever changes the way we see her. For the first time, a world audience views an “Earthrise” over the horizon of the moon through the eyes of the Apollo 8 astronauts. The iconic picture is henceforth symbolic of the preciousness of planet earth and the uniqueness of earthly life; and it makes people think about how to responsibly treat this world that seems to be so small and fragile from a distance.

Press release from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg Cited 11/02/2019

 

Paco Rabanne (Spanish, b. 1934) 'Minidress' 1966

 

Paco Rabanne (Spanish, b. 1934)
Minidress
1966
Aluminium, metal rings, metal studs
L 74 cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe
Photo: Maria Thrun/MKG

 

Verner Panton (Danish, 1926-1998) 'Spiegel-Canteen, Snackbar' 1969

 

Verner Panton (Danish, 1926-1998)
Spiegel-Canteen, Snackbar
1969
Photo: Michael Bernhardi/Spiegel Verlag, 2011

 

Verner Panton (Danish, 1926-1998) 'Spiegel-Canteen, Orange Dining Room' 1969

 

Verner Panton (Danish, 1926-1998)
Spiegel-Canteen, Orange Dining Room
1969
Photo: Michael Bernhardi/Spiegel Verlag, 2011

 

 

Von “Rauschhülle” bis Filmkulisse – From “noise cover” to film set

In 1968, Spiegel-Verlag commissioned the Danish architect and designer Verner Panton with the interior design of the new publishing house in Hamburg. He declines the colour gamut of the rainbow – consistently he designs everything uniformly in one tone. But taste changes and the rooms are painted white. The canteen alone remains spared and is now a listed building. Since the move the publisher is in the Museum of Arts and Crafts Hamburg.

 

Verner Panton (13 February 1926 – 5 September 1998) is considered one of Denmark’s most influential 20th-century furniture and interior designers. During his career, he created innovative and futuristic designs in a variety of materials, especially plastics, and in vibrant and exotic colours. His style was very “1960s” but regained popularity at the end of the 20th century; as of 2004, Panton’s most well-known furniture models are still in production (at Vitra, among others).

 

 

Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Steintorplatz, 20099 Hamburg

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 10 am – 6 pm
Thursday 10 am – 9 pm
Closed Mondays

Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg website

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06
Jan
19

Exhibition: ‘Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image’ at the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati

Exhibition dates: 5th October 2018 – 10th February 2019

Curated by Steven Matijcio

 

 

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image' 2018

 

Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari' 2012

 

Akram Zaatari
Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari
2012
Made from 35mm scratched negative from the Hashem el Madani archive
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

“As a holistic specimen without fixed parameters, “An informed object,” Zaatari elaborates, “is an object that is conscious of the material and processes that produced it, conscious of its provenance, its morphology and displacement over time, conscious of its history in the sense that it is able to communicate it. An informed object is already materialised, activated.” His self-declared “displacement” of these objects is thusly not about post-colonial uprooting, but rather a deeper, wider recognition of the apparatus that informs the production, circulation and reception of such images in, and beyond their respective context/s. In this expanded field, negatives, contact sheets, glass plates, double exposures, mistakes, erosion and all that is habitually left on the cutting room floor are re-valued as revelatory anomalies with “something to say”.”

.
Akram Zaatari quoted in Steven Matijcio / 2018

 

 

Alternate readings / elisions / a damaged life

This is the first posting of 2019, a new year, a new year of history, memory and life. And what a cracker of an exhibition to post first up!

I have always admired the Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari for the ability of his work to critique the inevitable, referential history of photographs. Anyone who can shine a light on forgotten narratives, histories, contexts and memories, who enlightens the fixed gaze of the camera and the viewer to show the Other, and who empowers the disenfranchised and tells their stories… is excellent in my eyes. For this is what Art Blart has sought to do in the last ten years: build an archive that exposes underrepresented artists and forgotten histories to the world.

Photography, and life, is not all that it seems… and Zaatari implicitly understands the conundrums of the taking, viewing and collecting of photographs in archives. He understands the physical quality of the medium (the presence of the negative, the glass slide, the print and their manipulation by the photographer) as well as the truth of the medium, a kind of truth telling – through history, time, the personal and the collective – that obscures as much as it reveals. As his short biography notes, “Akram Zaatari is an artist whose work is tied to collecting and exploring photographic practices in the making of social codes and aesthetic forms. Regarding the present through a wealth of photographic records from the past… Zaatari investigates notions of desire, pursuit, resistance, memory, surveillance, the shifting nature of political borders and the production and circulation of images in times of war.” Indeed, a rich investigative field which Zaatari makes full use of in his work.

Simply put, the project that Zaatari is undertaking is one of archaeological excavation / re-animation of the many aspects of the cultural geography of Lebanon, his role as auteur in this process combining “image-maker, archivist, curator, filmmaker and critical theorist to examine the photographic record, its making, genealogy and the role photography plays in the production and performance of identity.” (Wall text) “I’m really interested in how the personal and the intimate meet history,” Zaatari says. “What I’m doing is to write history, or [fill in] gaps of history, by using photographic documents.”1

Zaatari “deconstructs the archival impunity of photography to cultivate an expanded architecture of interpretation,” (Wall text) exploring the fold as a catalyst, a narrative, a re-organisation, an enduring obfuscation, and the memory of a material. What a photograph missed and what is present; what an archive catalogues and how, and what it misses, elides or denigrates (the classification system of an archive). As Rebecca Close observes, “The question of what an archive of the image fails to commemorate is particularly relevant in a country marred by decades of civil war and invasion.”2

It is also particularly relevant in a country (and a world) where men are in control. Zaatari interrogates (if I may use that pertinent word) the partitioning of history (between Palestine and Israel), the poses of decorum between male and female, the power of men in marriage, the stigma of homosexuality, male normativity, and “Zaatari’s framing of these photos (particularly as diminutive contact sheets) suggests modern cracks in the visual codification of patriarchal rule…” (Steven Matijcio) The centre cannot hold the weight of these hidden his/stories, as invisible “non-collections” (E. Edwards) in institutions are opened up for critical examination. The damage that accrues through such obfuscation, through such wilful blindness to the stories embedded in photographs is boundless.

What we must remember is that, “photography always lies for the photograph only depicts one version of reality, one version of a truth depending on what the camera is pointed at, what it excludes, who is pointing the camera and for what reasons, the context of the event or person being photographed (which is fluid from moment to moment) and the place and reason for displaying the photograph. In other words all photographs are, by the very nature, transgressive because they have only one visual perspective, only one line of sight – they exclude as much as they document and this exclusion can be seen as a volition (a choice of the photographer) and a violation of a visual ordering of the world (in the sense of the taxonomy of the subject, an upsetting of the normal order or hierarchy of the subject). Of course this line of sight may be interpreted in many ways and photography problematises the notion of a definitive reading of the image due to different contexts and the “possibilities of dislocation in time and space.” As Brian Wallis has observed, “The notion of an autonomous image is a fiction” as the photograph can be displaced from its original context and assimilated into other contexts where they can be exploited to various ends. In a sense this is also a form of autonomy because a photograph can be assimilated into an infinite number of contexts. “This de and re-contextualisation is itself transgressive of any “integrity” the photograph itself may have as a contextualised artefact.” As John Schwartz has insightfully noted, “[Photographs] carry important social consequences and that the facts they transmit in visual form must be understood in social space and real time,” “facts” that are constructions of reality that are interpreted differently by each viewer in each context of viewing.”3

I have no problem with the ethics and politics of the use of photo archives by contemporary artists and the appropriation of archival images as a form of “ironic archivization” to open up new critical insights into culture, and the culture of making, reading and archiving photographs. Zaatari appropriates these images for his own concerns to shine a light on what I call “the space between.” His interdisciplinary practice mines the history of the image while simultaneously expanding its legacy and life. As he observes of his profound and sensitive work, “Every photograph hides parts to reveal others… What a photograph missed and what was present at the time of exposure will remain inaccessible. In those folds lies a history, many histories.” With this powerhouse of an artist, these histories will not remain hidden for long.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Venema, Vibeke . “Zaatari and Madani: Guns, flared trousers and same-sex kisses,” on the BBC News Magazine website 17 February 2014 [Online] Cited 07/12/2108
  2. Close, Rebecca. Akram Zaatari [online]. ArtAsiaPacific, No. 104, Jul/Aug 2017: 108. ISSN: 1039-3625 [Online] Cited 07/12/2108
  3. Bunyan, Marcus. “Transgressive Topographies, Subversive Photographies, Cultural Policies,” on Art Blart, October 2013 [Online] Cited 07/12/2108

.
Many thankx to Akram Zaatari and the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Acclaimed Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari combines the roles of image-maker, archivist, curator, filmmaker and critical theorist to explore the role photography plays in both instituting and fabricating identity. He is also co-founder of the Arab Image Foundation (AIF), an organisation established in Beirut to preserve, study and exhibit photographs from the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora from the 19th century to today. Within this endeavour Zaatari discovered the photographs of Hashem El Madani (1928-2017), who recorded the lives of everyday individuals inside and outside his humble studio in the late 1940s and 50s. Zaatari recontextualises this work, along with other archival photos and documents, in an interdisciplinary practice that mines the history of the image while simultaneously expanding its legacy and life. His work is both for and against photography, and the complex histories it cobbles.

For this exhibition he positions the seemingly simple fold as a narrative form, a reorganisation, an enduring obfuscation and the memory of material. In his words, “a photograph captures space and folds it into a flat image, turning parts of a scene against others, covering them entirely. Every photograph hides parts to reveal others… What a photograph missed and what was present at the time of exposure will remain inaccessible. In those folds lies a history, many histories.” The work on display will attempt to uncover and imagine these stories, undertaking a provocative archaeology that peers into the fissures, scratches, erosion and that which archives previously shed.

Presented in partnership with FotoFocus Biennial 2018. Text from the Contemporary Arts Center website

 

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portrait of an anonymous woman' 2012

 

Akram Zaatari
Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portrait of an anonymous woman
2012
Made from 35mm scratched negative from the Hashem el Madani archive
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari and her friend' 2012

 

Akram Zaatari
Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari and her friend
2012
Made from 35mm scratched negatives from the Hashem el Madani archive
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Hands at Rest' (video still) 2017

Akram Zaatari. 'Hands at Rest' (video still) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Hands at Rest (video stills)
2017
SD Video / Running time: 7:30
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

This film is a meditative study of a  selection of studio photographs culled from Lebanese photographer Hashem el Madani’s archives. In response to Madani’s maxim that “posing one’s hands on a flat surface such as a table, or a shoulder helps to straighten one’s shoulders,” Zaatari looks closely from one hand to the next, creating a portrait of Lebanese society that implicitly questions the politics embedded in poses of propriety and decorum. Fingers fitted with rings and bodies displaying the comfort and composure of a certain class are juxtaposed with others indicative of manual labor and untrained modelling. The slow, but precise inventory of the video, devoted to the most tactile limb in one’s body, also elicits the ever-present sensuality which circulates throughout Madani’s photographs. (Wall text)

 

Akram Zaatari. Najm (left) and Asmar (right) 1950-1959, Lebanon, Saida. Hashem el Madani From Akram Zaatari's 'Objects of Study/The archive of Studio Shehrazade/Hashem el Madani/Studio Practices' 2014

 

Akram Zaatari
Najm (left) and Asmar (right) 1950-1959, Lebanon, Saida. Hashem el Madani
From Akram Zaatari’s Objects of Study/The archive of Studio Shehrazade/Hashem el Madani/Studio Practices
2014
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
© A. Zaatari/Arab Image Foundation
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Zaatari says that was normal in the 1950s. “If you had your picture taken you would seize the opportunity to create something different of yourself,” he says. “They wanted to look at themselves as if they were looking at an actor in a film.” It was fun.

Movies were a great source of inspiration for Madani’s sitters. This included acting out a kiss – but only men kissing men and women kissing women. “In a conservative society such as Saida, people were willing to play the kiss between two people of the same sex, but very rarely between a man and a woman,” Madani told Zaatari. He remembers that happening only once.

“If you look at it today you think – is it gay culture? But in fact it is not,” says Zaatari. Social restrictions were different then. “If you wanted to kiss it had to be a same-sex kiss to be accepted.”

Men showed off their photos, but for women a picture was considered intimate and would only be shared with a trusted few. Madani had purposely found a studio space on the first floor, so that women could visit discreetly – seen entering at street level, their destination would not be obvious. Once inside, they could relax – but it did not always end well.

Extract from Vibeke Venema. “Zaatari and Madani: Guns, flared trousers and same-sex kisses,” on the BBC News Magazine website 17 February 2014 [Online] Cited 07/12/2108

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative' 2011

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative
2011
C-print
145 x 220cm
Ed 5 + 2AP
© Akram Zaatari

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders, Printed From A Damaged Negative Showing From Left To Right: Hassan El Aakkad, Munir El Dada And Mahmoud El Dimassy In Saida, 1948' 2011

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders, Printed From A Damaged Negative Showing From Left To Right: Hassan El Aakkad, Munir El Dada And Mahmoud El Dimassy In Saida, 1948
2011
C-print
145 x 220cm
Ed 5 + 2AP
© Akram Zaatari

 

 

American Psychological Association links ‘masculinity ideology’ to homophobia, misogyny

For the first time in its 127-year history, the American Psychological Association has issued guidelines to help psychologists specifically address the issues of men and boys – and the 36-page document features a warning.

“Traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behaviour, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict and negatively influence mental health and physical health,” the report warns.

The new “Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men” defines “masculinity ideology” as “a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.” The report also links this ideology to homophobia, bullying and sexual harassment.

The new guidelines, highlighted in this month’s issue of Monitor on Psychology, which is published by the APA, linked this ideology to a series of stark statistics: Men commit approximately 90 percent of all homicides in the U.S., they are far more likely than women to be arrested and charged with intimate partner violence in the U.S., and they are four times more likely than women to die of suicide worldwide. …

The report addresses the “power” and “privilege” that males have when compared to their female counterparts, but it notes that this privilege can be a psychological double-edged sword.

“Men who benefit from their social power are also confined by system-level policies and practices as well as individual-level psychological resources necessary to maintain male privilege,” the guidelines state. “Thus, male privilege often comes with a cost in the form of adherence to sexist ideologies designed to maintain male power that also restrict men’s ability to function adaptively.”

Extract from Tim Fitzsimons. “American Psychological Association links ‘masculinity ideology’ to homophobia, misogyny,” on the NBC News website [Online] Cited 10/01/2019

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders, Printed From A Damaged Negative Showing Hassan El Aakkad In Saida, 1948' 2007

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders, Printed From A Damaged Negative Showing Hassan El Aakkad In Saida, 1948
2007
C-print
220 x 145cm
Ed 5 + 2AP
© Akram Zaatari

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative' 2011

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative
2011
C-print
Ed 5 + 2AP
220 x 145cm
© Akram Zaatari

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative' 2011

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative
2011
C-print
220 x 145cm
Ed 5 + 2AP
© Akram Zaatari

 

 

The Fold

The fold is the pleat that results from turning or bending part of material against another such as in textile, paper or even earth strata. The fold is the trace that such an action leaves on material, the crease that marks the location of turning and pressing.

Inherent in the action of folding, is that material is turned or moved in three dimensions hence engages with space. Folding is the basic and simplest step in creating form or enclosure. It confines space within folds. It covers parts with other parts. Folding is editing. It is a construction that does not look like its original form.

Unfolding is undoing, deconstructing, turning material back to its initial form. The creases in an unfolded material inscribe its history and in a way save it from amnesia. History inscribes itself on material in creases and in other forms. When unfolded, material testifies that history has already found its way to it, through the fold.

The fold is the memory of material.

When the fold is intentional, it aims to reorganise material to reduce its volume, to create form, or confine space. When accidental or natural such as in geology, or due to ageing organic matter, the fold is a permanent deformation of matter the form of which remains little predictable.

When intentional, the fold is a creative action, like folding a paper sheet into a paper airplane or an origami, like folding several sheets into a book, or a sheet of cardboard into a box or even folding clothes to reduce their volume and store them on a shelf or in a box of specific dimensions.

The fold is a narrative form.

In a way every photograph is an exposure of a field of vision, of something somewhere. Like folding confines space, a photograph captures space and folds into a flat image, turning parts of a scene against others covering them entirely. Every photograph hides parts to reveal others. Every photograph reproduces in small what’s much larger in life, or brings close an image of somewhere far and out of sight. The impact of a fold in a photographed space is permanent, in the sense that hidden parts in a picture are irretrievable. What a photograph missed and that was present at the time of exposure will remain inaccessible. In those folds lies a history, many histories.

The fold in a photograph is a detail through which a narrative different from that narrated by the photograph unfolds. It is an element through which the initial construction of a photograph, its making, is undone. It is an element that bears the history of a photograph, its memory.

The fold in time is the representation of time shortened, like in literature, in illustration or typically in film. The fold in time is the ellipsis. The fold within a narrative is the jump-cut or the jump in time. The fold acknowledges the existence of hidden narratives covered by others. In a film, the cut is the fold.

Akram Zaatari

 

General installation views

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

 

Installation views, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Left
Akram Zaatari
[Unlabelled]
Cairo, Egypt 1940s
Inkjet print of gelatin silver negative on cellulose acetate film
Photographer: Alban
Courtesy of the Arab Image Foundation

 

A negative for photography is equivalent to an engraved zinc plate for traditional print-making. Not only does it allow for the reproduction of the image or print but it itself carrier traces of the tricks the photographer has used while making a picture. As such, photographers did not want their negatives to be displayed because they often carried details the studio might not want to share with the public. The portrait of a baby was made by the Cairo based photographer Alban in the 1940s. Access to the negative tells us that the baby was held by his mother and that she was later withdrawn from the picture (Wall text)

 

Right
Akram Zaatari
[Unlabelled]
Tripoli, Lebanon 1980s
Inkjet print of gelatin silver negative on cellulose acetate film
Photographer: Joseph Avedissian
Collection: Joseph Avedissian
Courtesy of the Arab Image Foundation

 

At at time when going to a photography studio was the only way for people to be photographed for ID or other official purposes, these spaces were shared by a wide spectrum of society. During the Lebanese civil war, they were sometimes employed by opposing militias and certainly by civilians as well. Joseph Avedissian set up his first studio in the late 1950s in al Tell in Tripoli, North Lebanon. Like most inner cities during the civil war in Lebanon, al Tell was the playground of numerous militias ranging from the different Palestinian factions and the Syrian army extending to the Al Tawheed Islamic group in the 1980s. Zaatari visited Avedissian’s with the photographer Randa Saath in 2002. Thousands of negative sheets covered the floor, from where he picked up this sheet that represents one member of the local militia posing with his machine gun. Because of poor preservation, however, a patch of emulsion coming from another exposed negative was accidentally bound to it depicting a woman. The result is an uneasy co-habitation in the shared frame. (Wall text)

 

The End of Love

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
The End of Love (installation view)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
The End of Love (installation view)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
The End of Love (installation view detail)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari

The End of Love (installation view detail)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
The End of Love (installation view detail)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Every photograph hides parts to reveal others…

.
Akram Zaatari

 

 

Desire for the archive as an unassailable repository of documents, testimony and truth seems to escalate despite, or perhaps because of, the more imminent reality that there is no singular history on which all peoples can agree. And while the “post-truth” era feels pandemic in North America, in other parts of the world this is an all too familiar paradigm where the manipulation of the past is a customary practice to administer the present, and influence the future. This is especially true of Lebanon, where fifteen years of malignant civil war from 1975-1990 has produced a knotty, contested history riddled with sectarian animosities, institutionalised amnesia, and ubiquitous uncertainty. And yet when nothing is solid, codified or certain, everything becomes possible. Across the Middle East where formal archives remain partial and at risk, an increasing number of artists employ the fragments as fodder for new forms of historical preservation and production. Akram Zaatari (b. 1966 Sidon, Lebanon) is a pioneer within this amorphous terrain, marrying personal experiences of the war, an abiding interest in the vernacular performance of identity via photo and film and a quasi-archaeological treatment of lens-based documents as artefacts. Beyond his individual practice, one of Zaatari’s greatest, most enduring contributions in this field may be the Arab Image Foundation (AIF) – an archival institution he co-founded with photographers Fouad Elkoury and Samer Mahdad in 1997 to self-declaredly “preserve, study and exhibit photographs from the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora from the 19th century to today.” And while the AIF has successfully amassed over 600,000 images from multiple countries and eras, Zaatari adamantly refutes the onset of institutionalisation – shunning the paralysing conservation practices of museums and libraries to double down on a more radical, generative employment of these materials. In his hands, this archive moves beyond a delicate commodity to circulate as a mutable constellation that partakes in an expanded field of histories with cumulative socio-cultural cargo. As such, the archive can be seen as both Zaatari’s medium and subject, and the AIF as both his fuel and foil – collecting and re-presenting photos as “a form,” in his words, “of creative un-making and re-writing that is no less important than the act of taking images.” Ensuing questions of authorship and appropriation yield to more multi-faceted strategies of displacement, where the re-framing of photos and films as living, changing vessels unfurls invigorating new layers and folds to mine and forage.

He does so, not as an iconoclast seeking to condemn archives as cogs in the machine of hegemony, but rather as a revitalising gesture that replaces rhetorical manipulations with emancipated re-assignment. For Zaatari, this frisson happens most intriguingly in the seemingly ordinary and banal, in the snapshots and mistakes archives historically diminish, where he argues, “It is a misconception that photographs testify to the course of history. It is history that inhabits photographs.” As such, Zaatari regularly subverts the canonical treatment of photos as evidentiary relics hidden away in cold storage to slow their inherent/inevitable chemical entropy. He instead treats images as susceptible material objects, and one could argue, as surrogates for the subjects and structures they depict. Much like the wrinkles, scars and repressions that the human body + mind collects, Zaatari reads the folds endemic to photography as a palimpsest of information and suggestion. Whether it be a purposeful edit or crop, an aesthetic gesture to redirect our viewing, or the natural degradation of materials over time, he argues that “The fold in a photograph is a detail through which a narrative different from that narrated by the photograph unfolds.” As fertile superstructures that expand the interpretive constitution of said photos, such folds are less obfuscations than nascent fonts for alternative narratives to percolate. “In these folds lies a history…” according to Zaatari, “many histories.” In this inclusive arena, the micro and macro flow into one another as citizen and state intermingle, and one discovers pockets of collective history in the pictures we have of ourselves and one another. These photos and their attendant folds do not float unattached in clouds, but instead coalesce as archives of their making, and lenses to look backward and forward.

In his position that “the traces that transactions leave on a photographic object become part of it,” Zaatari argues that the physical manufacture and decay of a photograph (or film) is as much a contribution to history as that which it depicts. He calls the ensuing composites “informed objects,” which, while partial or possibly broken, highlight the greater whole “like an exploded view of a machine,” or “a model of the human body used in anatomy class.” As a holistic specimen without fixed parameters, “An informed object,” Zaatari elaborates, “is an object that is conscious of the material and processes that produced it, conscious of its provenance, its morphology and displacement over time, conscious of its history in the sense that it is able to communicate it. An informed object is already materialised, activated.” His self-declared “displacement” of these objects is thusly not about post-colonial uprooting, but rather a deeper, wider recognition of the apparatus that informs the production, circulation and reception of such images in, and beyond their respective context/s. In this expanded field, negatives, contact sheets, glass plates, double exposures, mistakes, erosion and all that is habitually left on the cutting room floor are re-valued as revelatory anomalies with “something to say.” Zaatari’s poignant 2017 series A Photographer’s Shadow is a case in point, presenting a number of historical photos where the cameraman’s shadow has infiltrated the composition, which was historically reason to throw the picture away. In Zaatari’s revised appraisal, however, such discards are instead accentuated as elucidating nexus points where author and subject meet within the frame. A diptych of found photos Zaatari premieres in the CAC exhibition thickens this premise even further, displaying a malfunction in the camera of Hashem el Madani (1928-2017) that led to an in-frame doubling of men (presumably father and son) standing upon the rocks of a swelling shoreline. Evoking past hallmarks of romantic painting, a multiplicity gathers with equal muster across this pairing as the images coagulate with the residue and implication of generational, production and art historical lineage. The cresting physicality of this informed object is pushed even further in the 2017 work Against Photography, which removes the image from the equation to instead detail the natural patterns of environmental decay upon a series of 12 photo plates. By extracting the traditional focal point of the photographic process, Zaatari instead surveys iterations of deterioration that take on an uncanny beauty in multiple media – turning the archival chimera of folds and fracture into a verdant topography of patterns, avenues, and stories untold.

The continued consideration of the photograph as a physical entity with corresponding history, memory and lifespan connects to Zaatari’s ongoing exploration of the human body as it is performed for, and by the camera. As an index of experience and identity, the body and its photographic proxy find a surrogate-like relationship in the images he provocatively re-frames – where intimate narratives are gleaned from voluminous collections and otherwise numbing aggregates. And while we are only sometimes privy to the background and/or the names of those photographed, Zaatari is a long-standing student of the ways in which gender, sexuality and taboo are concurrently codified and obscured by indigenous photographic practices. By re-contextualising private photos in a public arena, Zaatari “frequently composes works,” according to Professor Mark Westmoreland, “that force the photographic medium to comment upon social aesthetics that it has been deployed to produce at different historical moments.” A compelling example is found in Zaatari’s 2011 re-presentation of Madani’s timeworn photographs of male bodybuilders performing feats of both physical strength and acrobatic agility in a showcase of masculine prowess. Inferences to homo-eroticism within this display were comparatively forbidden; and, while we must resist the temptation to define historical images through the lens of today, the entropic folds highlighted in Zaatari’s framing of these photos (particularly as diminutive contact sheets) suggests modern cracks in the visual codification of patriarchal rule, male normativity, and the stigma of homosexuality. Like the photographer’s shadow that interrupts the self-contained world of his subjects in Zaatari’s aforementioned work, the humbling eclipse that befalls many an ideology and monument creep over a pantheon of bravado here. The violent exercise of patriarchal custody is on frightening display in Zaatari’s 2012 diptych Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari and her friend, where otherwise benign photographs of two young women are marred by a flurry of black scratches. These disturbing scars are the product of a controlling husband who demanded Madani lacerate the negatives of a portrait session initiated by his wife before they were married. Years later, after Mrs. Baqari burned herself to death to escape his control, the widowed husband came back to Madani’s studio asking for enlargements of these photos. Their display decades later under the auspices of this exhibition demonstrates the extraordinary valence of the fold, which in this case manifests a tragic relationship, evokes the history of effigies and iconoclasm, embodies the systematic societal violence against women, and opens up a plethora of readings that could not exist without slashes that span both object and subject.

The social life of the informed objects that Zaatari presents thereby opens a larger sociological discourse which, in the case of Lebanon, speaks to the ways love and sexuality have been regulated – and liberated – via photography and film. He traces the visual trajectory of this contested history largely by way of Madani’s studio photography, which pictured thousands of people over the course of almost half a century in Zaatari’s hometown of Saida. The ensuing photos demonstrate a complex spectrum of desire as people moved across both sides of the state-sanctioned line, performing the love they coveted and that which they concealed. As a site of concurrent fantasy and societal uniformity, what genders, professions, events and relationships were prescribed to “look like” created an orthodoxy of both restrictions and their corresponding transgressions. In The End of Love (2013), Zaatari presents over 100 photos of wedding portraits taken in Madani’s studio that collectively illustrate the codes surrounding this classic trope. Kissing was forbidden for such a photo which, in Lebanon, was taken a week after the ceremony with the bride wearing her wedding dress, supplemented by a bouquet of plastic flowers and white gloves provided by the photographer. And while the ensuing images are stiff, sober and highly formulaic, this End of Love is not a cynical farewell to the romantic aura of marriage, but rather a site where ideals collect in the margins, in aspirations that exceed both the subject and frame. Much like Arthur Danto’s post-historical 1984 essay “The End of Art,” Zaatari’s collection implies the exhaustion of a particular lineage of love and the opening of a chaotic, open-ended eddy where de-regulated desire could be performed. Madani’s studio was the site and catalyst for many of these performances; but, in this exhibition Zaatari pairs The End of Love with the aspiration of his 2010 video Tomorrow Everything will be Alright, in which a proposed reunion of estranged lovers is told in the form of typewritten dialogue. The voices here remain anonymous throughout, much like the many couples in The End of Love, and we gradually learn that these contemporary, same-sex lovers speak in prose drawn from popular cinematic clichés. Their conflicted flirtation culminates in the familiar romantic trope of a sunset at seashore, and more specifically that portrayed in the 1986 film Le Rayon Vert in which a disillusioned woman’s faith in love is restored after she sees a green flash at twilight. And yet, despite the overt homage, the time stamp in the bottom corner of Zaatari’s version implies this is his personal footage. And, that amidst many formulae, clichés and the already said, in the seams between The End of Love and Tomorrow Everything will be Alright, something unique and human can be spoken.

In contrast to the charge that photos are moments plucked out of time – slowly staving off death in the airless preservation of archives – Zaatari re-situates photos entrusted to the AIF in a multiplied field that spans origins and invention. Rather than entrenching images with fixed historical assignments, he performs subtle interventions to uncover and suggest alternate readings that inject life into said objects. As a stirring case in point, Un-Dividing History (2017) merges historical images by Khalil Raad (1854-1957), a Palestinian from Jerusalem, and Yacov Ben Dov (1882-1968), a Zionist-Ukrainian filmmaker and photographer, who dually inhabited Jerusalem from 1907-1948 but “belonged,” in Zaatari’s words, “to completely different universes.” Glass photo plates from each of these men had been acquired into a private collection years later and stored against each other for over a half-century in the same position, slowly and mutually “contaminating” one another with the opposing image. Zaatari’s cyanotypes reveal these beautifully compromised hybrids, depicting “traces of one world inscribed into another,” and symbolically de-partitioning the tragic schisms/folds that have long scarred this population and place. This grid of 8 images is not one of easy, idealistic harmony, but rather a complex, messy, fundamentally human portrait of the way lives intersect and overlap, if only they are allowed. A related moment of extraordinary, stirring empathy is found in the 2013 project Letter to a Refusing Pilot, in which Zaatari realises the rumour of Hagai Tamir, an Israeli fighter pilot, who in 1982, during his country’s invasion of Lebanon, disobeyed the order to drop a bomb on what he knew to be a schoolhouse. The legend, and Zaatari’s ensuing interview with Tamir have taken multiple forms in the translation to art, most notably paper planes that have appeared in both video and physical form, floating across terrain that spans real and virtual, truth and myth. What in theory started as a description, or a document, or a letter, has thereby taken flight via multiple folds – transforming this story into a mutable vessel that lands often, but temporarily – its ultimate destination indeterminate. In this lightness of being and itinerant course, the paper plane embodies Zaatari’s affinity for ephemeral records rather than the weighted gravity of archives. These are images, objects, videos, memories and outtakes that bear creases, evince life, and find renewal in each and every reappraisal.

Steven Matijcio / 2018

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Tomorrow Everything will be Alright' 2010 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
Tomorrow Everything will be Alright
2010
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Tomorrow Everything will be Alright' (video still) 2010

 

Akram Zaatari
Tomorrow Everything will be Alright (video still)
2010
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Tomorrow Everything will be Alright' (video still) 2010

 

Akram Zaatari
Tomorrow Everything will be Alright (video still)
2010
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Tomorrow everything will be alright
2010

 

 

Akram Zaatari was born in 1966, in Sidon, Lebanon and currently lives in Beirut. Zaatari works in photography, video, and performance to explore issues pertinent to the Lebanese postwar condition, specifically the mediation of territorial conflicts and wars though television and media. Zaatari collects and examines a wide range of documents that testify to the cultural and political conditions of Lebanon’s postwar society. His artistic practice involves the study and investigation of the way these documents straddle, conflate, or confuse notions of history and memory. By analysing and recontextualising found audiotapes, video footage, photographs, journals, personal collections, interviews, and recollections, Zaatari explores the dynamics that govern the state of image-making in situations of war. The strength of Zaatari’s work lies in its ability to capture fractured moments in time, even if these sometimes confuse because of their disconnect from the audience and lack of context. Regardless, the stories hold their own as fascinating narratives, managing to reflect on such universal themes as love and lust, and sweet reminiscence, even amidst turbulent political realities. The indie film was nominated for the teddy award for best short film in 2011.

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot 1
2013

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot 2
2013

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot 3
2013

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot4
2013

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot 5
2013

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Letter to a Refusing Pilot' (installation view) 2013

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot (installation view)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

In the summer of 1982, a rumour made the rounds of a small city in South Lebanon, which was under Israeli occupation at the time. It was said that a fighter pilot in the Israeli air force had been ordered to bomb a target on the outskirts of Saida, but knowing the building was a school, he refused to destroy it. Instead of carrying out his commanders’ orders, the pilot veered off course and dropped his bombs in the sea. It was said that he knew the school because he had been a student there, because his family had lived in the city for generations, because he was born into Saida’s Jewish community before it disappeared. As a boy, Akram Zaatari grew up hearing ever more elaborate versions of this story, as his father had been the director of the school for twenty years. Decades later, Zaatari discovered it wasn’t a rumour. The pilot was real. Pulling together all of the different strands of Zaatari’s practice for the first time in a single work, Letter to a Refusing Pilot reflects on the complexities, ambiguities, and consequences of refusal as a decisive and generative act. Taking as its title a nod to Albert Camus’ four-part epistolary essay “Letters to a German Friend,” the work not only extends Zaatari’s interest in excavated narratives and the circulation of images in times of war, it also raises crucial questions about national representation and perpetual crisis by reviving Camus’s plea: “I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice.”

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Against Photography' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Against Photography (installation view)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

In an October 2012 interview with anthropologist Mark Westmoreland, Zaatari further probed whether emotions can be preserved with pictures. The difficulty in resolving the matter perhaps motivated the artist’s move into increasingly abstract terrain. The exhibition’s titular work confirms Zaatari’s current reticent position. Against Photography (2017) – 12 aluminium engravings produced from weathered negatives scanned and then put through a 3D scanner that records only surface texture – withdraws from the image entirely, leaving behind only the shine of relief.

Close, Rebecca. Akram Zaatari [online]. ArtAsiaPacific, No. 104, Jul/Aug 2017: 108. ISSN: 1039-3625. [cited 07 Dec 18]

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Against Photography' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Against Photography (installation view detail)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Akram Zaatari

Against Photography (installation view, right)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Against Photography' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Against Photography (installation view detail)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Against Photography' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Against Photography (installation view detail)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

 

Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image with at left, Un-Dividing History 2017
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Un-Dividing History' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Un-Dividing History (installation view)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

These cyanotypes merge two bodies of work from a collection which is no longer in the Arab Image Foundation’s custody, and which consisted of glass plates of Khalil Raad, a photographer from Jerusalem, and those of Yacov Ben Dov, a Zionist filmmaker and photographer of Ukrainian descent. Raad and Ben Dov shared the same city, Jerusalem, but belonged to completely different universes. Zaatari conceived this series as a statement against partitioning history. As the glass plates were stored against each other for over 50 years in the same position, each plate was contaminated by the plate it was leaning against. The cyanotypes depict traces of a world impressed onto another and speak of the ineluctable shared history of Palestine and Israel, safeguarded by a passionate collector. (Text from the Sfeir-Semler Gallery website)

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Un-Dividing History' (details) 2017

Akram Zaatari. 'Un-Dividing History' (details) 2017

Akram Zaatari. 'Un-Dividing History' (details) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Un-Dividing History (details)
2017

 

Akram Zaatari. 'History' (detail) 2018

 

Akram Zaatari
History (detail)
2018
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

History retraces Zaatari’s pursuit of damaged, erased, withdrawn or scrapped off photographic descriptions from the nineties until the present day. The earliest is a self-portrait he made in 1993, and the most recent are part of Photographic Phenomena, 2018 series.

 

 

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02
Nov
18

Text: Marcus Bunyan. ‘Death and the image’ 2018

November 2018

 

This text was written in 2017 for a special issue of the international magazine Text on the subject ‘Writing Trauma’. While the text was accepted, the peer-reviewers wanted heavy revisions, including reordering the piece and editing out my personal stories. At the time, I was going into hospital for an operation on my hand and such revisions were impossible to undertake.

Now, over a year later, I have reread the text… and I have amended and extended it, but otherwise I am going to leave it as I wrote it in the first place. I like the way I write and I like my personal stories. While it is a long read the writing addresses an important subject with, I hope, some interesting insights along the way.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 8,137

Download Death and the image (4.3Mb pdf)

 

 

Abstract

This text investigates how the act of photography visually writes trauma. Through an analysis of the context of images of death by artists such as Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, and Walker Evans the paper ponders how the camera captures human beings ante-mortem, at the death point, post-mortem and vita ad mortem.

It seeks to understand that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present. How does the act and performance of photography depict the trauma of death, this double death (for the photograph is a memento mori and/or the person in the photograph may already know that they are going to die).

“The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal” the pronouncement of the perfect paradox (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.”

Keywords

Trauma, photography, death, art, memento mori, war, execution, memory, victim, representation, Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, Walker Evans, ante-mortem, point of death, death point, post-mortem, punctum, empathy, vita ad mortem, life after death.

 

 

Death and the image

 

 

.
“Photography, because it stops the flow of life, is always flirting with death…”

.
John Berger1

 

“On the most fundamental level there are transitions from continuous to discontinuous or from discontinuous to continuous. We are discontinuous beings, individuals who perish in isolation in the midst of an incomprehensible adventure, but we yearn for our lost continuity. We find the state of affairs that binds us to our random and ephemeral individuality hard to bear. Along with our tormenting desire that this evanescent thing should last, there stands our obsession with a primal continuity linking us with everything that is.”

.
Georges Bataille2

 

 

German Gen. Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution

 

“German General Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade. The General was convicted and sentenced to death by an American military tribunal. Aversa, Italy.” Blomgren, December 1, 1945. 111-SC-225295. National Archives Identifier: 531326

 

 

Trial and Execution of General Anton Dostler

The still photograph (above) can be seen being taken by the flash from a still camera that occurs at 5.16 secs in the YouTube film. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.
* See additional image of Dostler’s execution taken from a different perspective in the Addendum section of this text.

 

 

1

One of life’s recurrent themes is mortality. As Bataille notes, we are discontinuous beings: we live, we breathe, and we die. Photography’s recurrent theme is also mortality. In a ghostly evocation, the medium possesses an odour of death that sticks in the throat. So how then does photography visually write the trauma of death – over time, through space, in different contexts, with multiple narratives and different points of view?

As a first point of reference, we need to define trauma. Trauma can be an injury to living tissue; a disordered psychic or behavioural state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury; an emotional upset and an agent, force or mechanism that causes all or any of these conditions.3 Atkinson and Richardson note that the work of theorists such as Nicolas Abraham, Maria Torok, Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, Dominick LaCapra, and Cathy Caruth in broad terms view trauma,

“… as the delayed manifestation of a psychic wound sustained during an experience that has happened too quickly to allow registration and processing of the event at the time of its occurrence. To study trauma in literary or cultural terms, then, is to be concerned with the tension between what is known and what is not known, and with the impact and dynamics of the woundedness and machinations of trauma – not only its purely physical instantiation, but in all its reverberations. This is what brings the study of trauma to the uncertainty of truth, the impossibility of bearing absolute witness to catastrophe, the multiplicity of historical narratives.”4

.
Constitutive of trauma and its affects is the “piercing of the psychic shield” which protects a fragile subjectivity leaving in its wake shattered individuals, communities and even whole nations.5 Further, Michalinos Zembylas citing Kaplan (2005) notes that “an important distinction that needs to be made here is one’s positioning and context of encountering trauma,”6 between being a primary or secondary witness. Personally, I believe that a testimony (a formal written or spoken statement that something is true) in the first instance… becomes a testament (something that serves as a sign or evidence of a specified fact) in the second.

When looking death in the face, we can state that death is a trauma not only for the physical body and the psyche of the person involved (the direct trauma victim), but also for the witness of the event, be they a primary witness – one who actually witnesses the traumatic event – or a secondary witness, a person “who has no personal connection to the victim but may encounter trauma through other sources such as the media and oral or written accounts of a catastrophe.”7

These secondary encounters can never be the actual experience of trauma but, acting through language (be it oral, written or visual), they may embody sensations that stimulate feelings and thoughts in the secondary observer. A social construction of a testament may produce an empathetic engagement in viewers as “secondary witnesses.”8 Through an understanding of spectatorship, experience, aesthetic effects, narrative strategies and temporal shifts in the polyvocal nature of language we can begin to understand how the affect of secondary traumatisation – on memory, history and the body – can break down the subject-object dichotomy, can break down the realist norms of representation to produce “a mode of cognition involving sensuous, somatic and tactile forms of perception.”9 Here language (the photograph in this case, reinforced by the title of the photograph) stands in for that which is absent, but it is not in opposition to an intensity of feeling. The language of the photograph can intensify the affect of the image, especially if the photograph becomes transcendent, embodied, in the vitality and “aliveness” of the viewer.10

This mimetic experience “promotes a critical and self-reflexive empathy” and knowledge in the secondary witness that LaCapra observes is a “virtual, not vicarious, experience … in which emotional response comes with respect for the other and the realization that the experience of the other is not one’s own.”11 Essentially, this is a social concept, a social construction of reality, a matrix-like view of the world that draws on relational and contextual dimensions for understanding trauma. This concept requires careful consideration of issues related to history, culture, race, gender, ideology, beliefs, agency and power.

“From a social constructionist and narrative perspective, people reconstruct their selves through the stories they tell about their past and the meaning they ascribe to the present in anticipation of the future. They shape their stories through active and creative interpretation of their lives and are in turn shaped by these stories. However, the self is not only a product of narratives. People are purposeful and moral beings, having the power and agency to change scripts, discourses and ideologies…”12

.
Here we can ask, what are the machinations of the image in the affective dynamics of photographs of trauma and how are they situated in a certain relation to trauma? What do photographs actually do that give rise to a way of thinking and feeling about trauma?

Although no representation can fully describe the first hand experience of trauma because of the partial nature of language – its gaps, elisions and impossibilities of speech13 – it is because of these very gaps that new spaces of interpretation can open up. Rather than just representing the perceived reality of trauma (this happened, at this time, in this location – an ordering of reality), images have the unique ability to transcend their indexical relationship to the real, pointing and touching (as if with the index finger) to the relationality of trauma as it touches human emotion. With its ability to police and regulate it subject, the implicit violence of photography is a predatory means of taking possession of both its victim (the subject) and its viewer.

Anna Gibbs has stated that we live, “in a more or less continuous state of mediatized emergency and traumatic aftermath, desensitized by the onslaught of images … to the affect we ought to feel.”14 I strongly disagree. I would argue that the traumatic numbing15 and supposed “death of experience”16 allegedly present in the world of image circulation, translation, and accumulation only occurs if the witness lets it be so.

Personally, I believe that something in the image is transferred to the witness pre-cognition – intuitively, imaginatively – which can then be interpreted cognitively and relationally with regard to history and memory, art and culture, politics and experience through an orthogonal movement through time and space. As viewers and interpreters, we are not fixed at a particular point in time and space, nor do we observe from one particular point of view. Our existential engagement provides a space to close the gap between affect and enunciation.

“Facts can vibrate; they can give of colors, sounds, smells, images. To talk of these facts with no recognition of this is to lack any awareness of the act of enunciation, of the gaps between language and experience and the unpredictable ways that sparks can break out of language, leap across the gap and ignite the tinderbox of traumatic memory.”17

 

2

Surfing Pinterest (a photo sharing website) recently, I absentmindedly clicked on an abstract image of three hanging black shapes from the pantheon of image tiles that presented itself to me. Up popped this horrific image of three Afro-Americans who had been lynched in the Southern United States in the 1920s. I was shocked and dismayed. I had such a strong emotional reaction to the image. But more than that, my feelings and memories of the bigotry that I had faced as a young gay man growing up in the 1970s swelled in my consciousness. This story is a example of how exposure to an image can bring to the surface unresolved aspects of being ‘Other’, of being different, and being persecuted for that difference. I thought about the lives of these people that had led them to that point, their families, their histories and the terror that they must have experienced on that day. You cannot begin to understand that, but you can have empathy and anger against the systems of racism and bigotry that exist in the world.

Then the cognitive part of my brain linked the image to a report I had only just seen a few days before on lynching, which told of the thousands of Afro-Americans who had been killed between 1882 and 1968.18 Mentally, I then linked this to a Facebook posting which put forward the analogy that the current killing of Afro-Americans by police in the United States was akin to a contemporary and publicly endorsed and enforced form of lynching. Finally, in my head I heard Billie Holiday singing that famous song Strange Fruit, “a dark and profound song about the lynching of African Americans in the Southern United States during the Jim Crow Era, “strange fruit,” as they hang from trees, rotting in the sun, blowing in the wind, and becoming food for crows upon being burned.”19 I watched the video of Billie Holiday singing this song on YouTube.20 Every time I think of this image I have these associations of animate thought intrinsic to the original experience,21 where the micro and macro conditions of production work to “embody and register trauma,”22 a communicable language of sensation and affect, time and time again.

 

 

Billie Holiday – Strange fruit

 

 

These chains of affect, the nexus between affect / feeling / emotion / cognition, are a form of synaesthesia where facts, emotions, feelings, memories, sounds and images vibrate against each other as an active and continuous engagement of the self with the world in which one lives. In a human being who is un/consciously aware, these real and mediated experiences may encourage a sensory intensification that elicits thought and empathic vision in the materiality of embodied experience, something (the punctum?) that takes us out of our selves into a higher register of being.

As part of this system of impressions, of an instantaneous, affective response triggered by an image,23 photographs force us to engage visually and involuntarily. “Impressions that force us to look, encounters which force us to interpret, expressions which force us to think.”24 Encounters which force us to comprehend. The conjunction of affect and critical awareness “constitute the basis of an empathy grounded … on a feeling for another that entails an encounter with something irreducible and different, often inaccessible.”25 This combination of affective and intellectual operations – about forcing oneself to look (and that process of looking/surrendering) but never forgetting your ‘point of view’, your memory, history and identity, is when empathy becomes that process of surrender, “but also the catch that transforms your perception.”26 How is this “catch” enunciated in photographs? I now want to look at a few images that explicate these phenomena.

 

Ante-mortem: present but absent

3

With the invention of photography in the late 1830s, the photograph as memento mori allows the spectator to observe death not at first hand, but through the representation of the image “taken from life.” Photographs provide a verification of reality through their apparent verisimilitude, while being woven into narratives – oral, textual, intertextual, spatial and temporal – that frame the event in multiple ways.

“Photographs … have come to stand in for reality … despite the fact that it is relatively easy to manipulate their meaning. As a result of their ability to project reality, images, and particularly those that depict death and destruction, are seen as potentially powerful pieces of documentary evidence…”27

.
Photographs are embedded in “a context of the cultural circumstances at the time, and therefore exist rarely in isolation or without meaning”28 and can be seen as having a denotative level (what they physically represent) and a connotative level (the meanings attached to that representation).29 Photography quickly changed how death was displayed because it introduced a “reality” and immediacy of representation that was democratic, personal and everyday.30

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Lewis Paine
26th April 1865
Albumen silver print from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

An example of the personal, everyday and documentary nature of photography can be seen in the photograph taken by Alexander Gardner in April 1865. This portrait is of Lewis Thornton Powell (aka Lewis Payne or Paine) who was one of the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln which occurred the same month. The photograph has a background of dark metal, and was taken on one of the ironclads U.S.S. Montauk or Saugus, where the conspirators were for a time confined. The reality is Paine was executed in July 1865 just eight short weeks after this photograph was taken, so in effect (and in the affect on us of this knowledge), he is (already) a dead man walking. This is a double death – that death buried in the very act of taking any photograph, La petite mort or “the little death,” an idiom and euphemism for the orgasm of the photographic time freeze; and the fact that we know that he was going to die, those short weeks later.

The photograph forms the central panel of a three-panel Renaissance-like altarpiece, the form in which the three photographs are usually displayed. The left and right hand photographs were taken within minutes of each other, with the camera in the same position, whereas in the centre photograph the camera has been lowered to show more of the body, and the image has been cropped at the top. In the central plate the figure of Paine has been raised up in the frame – almost prematurely brought back to life by his placement. The centre image is the only one where Paine stares directly at the camera. He surveys the viewer with a gaze I find enigmatic.

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Three photographs of Lewis Paine
26th April, 1865
Albumen silver prints from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

This is a very modern face, a very contemporary face. His hair is similar to Justin Beiber’s. Who brushed his hair across for this picture, and would it normally be this long, or has it just been ignored because of his fate? He still has good muscle tone – has he been exercising in his ironclad cell? And finally, his clothing – are they navy issue, as his top appears to have been given to him, perhaps the coarse, navy blue wool of the Northern states. If we were to place this image within the metaphysical school of photography which peaked with Paul Caponigro and Minor White we could say: Hovering above his head, has his spirit already begun to leave his body?

One reading of his gaze is that he is interested in what the photographer is doing – almost the gaze of an apprentice wanting to apply these skills in the future. Given his fate is he insane because of his interest? Another reading could be that he is looking out to the future in the hope of finding that he will be judged in another way. And another is the immediacy of his gaze – it is a gaze that is happening now!

The other thing that I find mysterious is the distance of the photographer from the subject. Was it fear or the presence of the guards that stopped Gardner getting any closer, or are there deck fittings we cannot see that prevented his approach. Imagine being Paine, having a photographer point a damn great view camera at you, documenting your countenance for prosperity. What was going on in Paine’s mind – what is his perspective on this performance by the photographer? And what brought Paine to this place?

Michel Foucault calls the methods and techniques by which human beings constitute themselves, “technologies of the self.” Foucault argued that we as subjects are perpetually engaged in processes whereby we define and produce our own ethical self-understanding. According to Foucault, technologies of the self are the forms of knowledge and strategies that “permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of immortality.”31 As we look into his eyes he knows that we know he is going to die, has already died but the intensity of that knowledge is brought into present time. In this instant, what Paine emanates is a form of i-mortality.

Roland Barthes in his seminal work Camera Lucida observes in Section 39:

“He is dead and he is going to die… The photograph is handsome, as is the boy: that is the studium. But the punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: this will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose, the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence.”32

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This is Barthes anterior future, a moment where truth is interpreted in the mind of the photographer, not out there but in here (your head and your heart), where past, present and future coalesce into a single point in time: his death and our death connected through his gaze, and the knowledge of our joint discontinuity. In this moment in time, what we are doing is making a list about the human condition when we talk about something that is remarkable. Language can never fully describe the human condition, much as it may try… and this is why this photograph is remarkable, because it is ineffable, unknowable. The photograph inhabits you; it haunts you like few others, because it is a memoriam to a young man and his present death. Here he is present but absent at one and the same time.

As such, this is an image as triple death – the death of the photograph (past time / memento mori / remembrance of death), the death of the person in the photograph and also a third death, the knowledge that Paine is going to die. Death, like life, can be cyclical. This is the catch that transforms your perception, in Barthes terms the punctum of the image, in which the wounding, personally touching detail (past pose, future death) establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.

“The punctum (a Latin word derived from the Greek word for trauma [my emphasis]) … inspires an intensely private meaning, one that is suddenly, unexpectedly recognized and consequently remembered (it “shoots out of [the photograph] like an arrow and pierces me”); it ‘escapes’ language (like Lacan’s real); it is not easily communicable through/with language. The punctum is ‘historical’ as an experience of the irrefutable indexicality of the photograph (its contingency upon a referent). The punctum is a detail or “partial object” that attracts and holds the viewer’s (the Spectator’s) gaze; it pricks or wounds the observer.”33

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This trauma, prick or wound that lifts the viewer out of themselves, out of their everyday existence, “points to those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognizable symbolic system. This kind of meaning is unique to the response of the individual viewer of the image.”34 This punctum also accounts for the importance of emotion and subjectivity in interacting with photographs; memory of that photograph displaces it from its moment of origin.35 Photography enacts the trauma of death even while being enacted upon.

Now we can read Eduardo Cadava’s comments on Walter Benjamin’s analysis of the photograph:

“As Benjamin suggests … the photograph, like the souvenir, is the corpse of an experience. A photograph therefore speaks as death, as the trace of what passes into history. I, the photograph, the spaced out limit between life and death, I, the photograph, am death. Yet, speaking as death, the photograph can be neither death nor itself. At once dead and alive, it opens the possibility of our being in time.”36

 

4

Photography then, can be seen as death taken away from itself.

Through the oscillation between studium (historical, social or cultural meanings extracted via semiotic analysis) and punctum (those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognisable symbolic system) the traumatic photograph of death, death’s afterimage, transcends the initial shock inducing signifier leading to a more extended form of engagement that addresses the duration of trauma in memory – through the images elisions, slippages, and conceptual, political and historical complexities. Our negotiation with imaging and imagining, therefore, takes place within ever-expanding contexts of meaning – some relating to the past and some to the present – which impact future interpretations.

I believe that these negotiations are, firstly, linked to what Deleuze calls the encountered sign, a “sign that is felt, rather than recognized, or perceived through cognition.”37 A feeling that is a catalyst for critical enquiry or deep thought. “For Deleuze, affect or emotion is a more effective trigger for profound thought because of the way in which it grasps us, forcing us to engage involuntarily…”38 Secondly, I believe that these negotiations are linked to what Barthes calls the images “third meaning.”

“In Barthes’ view, the image’s third meaning compels viewers after they encounter and deplete both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions. Barthes argued that the third meaning is difficult to locate, because it is not situated structurally or in a certain place of the image. It is similarly difficult to describe, because it involves what he called the image’s obtuseness, its accent or anaphoric side.”39

.
Again, we have this idea of the catch, accent, or punctum that grasps us and takes us out of ourselves, that modulates the images “voice” (which is how the image takes on an already provided meaning upon its initial appearance), a voice which then also “helps us to understand both the image’s third meaning and the role of contingency in visual memory.”40

 

Death point

5

 

.
“Ah, wretched as I am … to dwell not among the living, not among the dead.”

.
Sophocles, ‘Antigone’41

 

 

Commentators such as Barbie Zelizer observe that images, especially about-to-die images, easily “reduce complex issues and circumstances to memorable but simplistic visual frames.”42 The image,

“… depicts for its onlookers a moment in an event’s unfolding to which they attend while knowing where that unfolding leads. This means that visual work often involves catching the sequencing of events or issues midstream, strategically freezing it at its potentially strongest moment of meaningful representation.”43

.
Other writers such as Susan Sontag note that these images have the potential to stir public emotions, simply because they freeze a moment in time and can be looked at again and again… but at the same time the repeated viewing of images of atrocity can have a numbing effect.44 The pain and fear evidenced in the photograph as seen in the victim’s eyes (for example in the photograph of the shooting of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy), expands the literal / informational side and its symbolic dimensions (chivalry, love, devotion, hope – Camelot!) into a Barthes’ third space. While Kennedy is a victim twice over (the victim of the assassin and the camera) in a guttural interpretation of the image he is to remain a victim for eternity in the contingency of the future, as long as we continue to look at this photograph.

For me, this is sad and painful photograph. I remember the day it happened. I was ten years old at the time. It’s one of those events that you will remember for the rest of your life – where you were, who you were with – like the moon landings or 9/11. I was in a car outside a small newsagent when the news came on the radio. Robert F. Kennedy had been shot: first aural, then visual on the black and white TV that night, then textual in the newspapers and then visual again with this photograph, then associative. The pain of the loss of those heady days of hope lessens not.

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938) 'LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING' June 5, 1968

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938)
LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy Lies Gravely Wounded on the floor at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after midnight today, moments after he was shot during a celebration of his victory in yesterday’s California primary election
June 5, 1968
Gelatin silver print
17.2 x 21.1 cm (6 3/4 x 8 5/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2010

 

While photographs of the actual moment of death are rare I have been able to find around ten images that capture this vital moment, a freezing of reality at the point of death, the death point: that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present.

However, I would argue that in the contextual language of the photograph, there is no singular death point. I would propose the idea of an extended period of time and space embedded in the spatio-temporal matrix of the image, so that there is no single point, no singular resolution to the traumatic moment of death – either for the person involved, nor the witness or viewer.

Setting aside the concept that the image could have been staged, in Robert Capa’s famous photograph Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936 (below), there is something about this image where space or some basic element is being democratised at the moment of death – or maybe in the choice to struggle with death. In an ontological sense of becoming, perhaps it is this that becomes the pure representation of time. In contrapunto, there is an anonymous image of a German soldier at the point of death on the steppes of Russia that is totally unknown. Why has one become famous and the other not?

Has it to do with the fame of the photographer, the pose of the person, or the agency of photography itself, where one photograph regarding the pain of others is too damning a legacy and of too plain a purpose to bare contemplating, while the other – with its masked face, outflung arm and falling, quasi-religious nature – has become possibly the most famous of war photographs through its proliferation in newspapers and magazines.

Whatever the merits of each image, these death point photographs are noteworthy for what is not said: the violence that is being perpetrated on the victim every time a person looks, and looks again, at the photograph. The writing of trauma by photography never ends, is always and forever infinite.

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954) 'Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936' 1936

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954)
Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936
1936
Gelatin silver print
Photograph by Robert Capa © Cornell Capa / Magnum

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front' c. 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front
c. 1942
akg-images / Interfoto AKG138118

Caption: A German soldier pays the ultimate price of war. German casualties were less than those of the Red Army, but the steady attrition suffered by the Wehrmacht began to undermine its effectiveness.46

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942
1942
Rare Historical Photos website 2013

Caption: A Soviet spy laughs at his executioner in a picture taken in Rukajärvi, in East Karelia, in November 1942. It has been thought within the Finnish Defence Forces that the decision to withhold pictures of the fate of Russian POWs and spies may also have been prompted by concerns that pro-Soviet elements in Finnish society could have used the images for propaganda purposes. This picture was declassified by the Ministry of Defense of Finland in 2006, with the description: Unknown Soviet intelligence officer before being shot, Finland, 1942.

It’s a pretty amazing picture. To capture the last few moments of life. He knows he will die in a few seconds, in a forest in the snow. And there he will bleed out and be forgotten. His life, his experience, has come to an end. What else could he do but smile? That smile was his final defiance. Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.47

 

 

6

Here we might ask, is it possible, through the use of encountered signs, “voice”, punctum, catch or accent, to extend the unreal time of death?

Personally, I believe it is and I would argue for a sense of a Buddhist “no-time”. A transcendent time embedded into the fabric of the image. In Walker Evans’ terms an “unconscious phenomenon” that culminates in amazing accidents of composition, where things constantly rub up against each other “in the desire to create a type of friction that tests the boundaries of representation.”48 An example of this spatio-temporal dimensionality, third meaning or Thirdspace, can be seen in the interplay between the still image and film footage of the execution of German General Anton Dostler by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade December 1, 1945. By examining the film we see a flash of light at 5.16 secs, which is the still photograph at the top of this text being taken by the flash of a camera. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

The fluidity of Barthes’ third meaning, where the image’s obtuseness compels viewers, has obvious links to Edward Soja’s conceptualisation of “Thirdspace”, which emerged from the spatial trialectics established by Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space and Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia. Soja defines Thirdspace as, “an-Other way of understanding and acting to change the spatiality of human life, a distinct mode of critical spatial awareness that is appropriate to the new scope and significance being brought about in the rebalanced trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality.”49 In this amorphous space, “everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history.”50

A further example of the presence of a third meaning in a still photograph can be seen in the image by an unknown photographer Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans (1944, below). Caught like a rabbit in headlights, the flash illuminates the collaborator kneeling, bound, and masked but it is not quick enough to freeze the explosion of wood, the dynamic breaking of the rope or the slight movement of the hands. The body seems to float on a bed of leaves. The cheap, dirty shoes and striped trousers leading up to the material that covers the victim’s face. Is that his hair, or a hat or another hood over his head? Although we know the what, why, and where of the photograph – an encounter with both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions – the placing of the image, its accent and obtuseness is much more difficult to understand. The photograph and its protagonist seem to exist beyond time and space, the anonymous man surrounded by a death bed of leaves, bursting the bonds that wrapped him and held him tight. Like the mystery of Man Ray’s L’Enigme d’Isidore Ducasse (1920), the photograph has disturbed the trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality, destroying the imploring label, “Do not disturb.”

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944'

 

Unknown photographer
Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944
1944
Silver gelatin photograph
U.S. Army Signal Corps
National Archives Identifier (NAID)

 

 

Post-mortem: absent but present

7

 

Letherolfsvile Oct 29 AD 1859

This is the likeness of Catherine Christ

When I am dead and in my grave

And when my bones are rotten

Remember me

When this you see

Or I shall be forgotten

The grass is green The rose is red

here is my name when I am dead 51

 

 

This short poem written on a piece of paper hidden underneath an image in a daguerreotype case implores us to remember the person – a plea to the future to remember them – through a composite narrative of portrait and text. Through the creative addition of text, the language of photographs can be supplemented which adds to the functionality of the photograph as an effective memory object.52 But what if the scene of the text (the photograph) contains an absence, no depiction of the person who has died? What happens to the writing of trauma in images of the dead then?

If we acknowledge that a photograph of a person always prefigures its subjects passing then what we are doing “in reality” is deferring the death of an/other onto the foreseen death of ourselves. In this process, we must remember that every photograph is a construct, a performative act by the photographer. What the photographer chooses to record is an act of will, whether ethical or not. Photographers have the presence of mind to attend to a certain manufacture of history. When viewing this instant narrative the viewer must acknowledge a loss of a sense of time:

“This lost sense could manifest as reliving a traumatic episode as if it is taking place in the present … In the context of trauma… a loss of sense of time deprives one of the ability of remembering and telling one’s narrative in a chronological order.”53

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941) 'Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia' 1972

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941)
Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia
1972
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Emmet and Edith Gowin
© Edith and Emmet Gowin and courtesy of Pace MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

One way that artist’s upset this chronological order is by playing with the fragmentary nature of time, space and memory – of present absence/absent presence. In Emmet Gowin’s accidentally double-exposed negative, Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia, 1972 (above), the photograph combines “a funerary image of his wife’s grandmother, Rennie Booher, with the surface of a Neolithic monumental stone he had photographed in England a few days earlier.” Floating through eternity, encased in ancient rock that nourishes her spirit, Gowin’s photograph acts as a kind of testament of absent but present, neither here not there. This loss of sense of space and time can be deeply disturbing (like trauma) as it questions one’s physical presence in the world, but it can also have a transcendental dimension as both time and space are inextricably bound to the very specific conditions of the material world. Photographs like the one of Booher have the potential to draw together what would otherwise seem to be incompatible. To form what Jacob Bronowsi calls a “hidden likeness”, one that transcends time and space, one that is reactivated with every looking.

“The poem or the discovery exists in two moments of vision: the moment of appreciation as much as that of creation; for the appreciator must see the movement, wake to the echo which was started in the creation of the work. In the moment of appreciation we live again the moment when the creator saw and held the hidden likeness. When a simile takes us aback and persuades us together, when we find a juxtaposition in a picture both odd and intriguing, when a theory is at once fresh and convincing, we do not merely nod over someone else’s work. We re-enact the creative act, and we ourselves make the discovery again…”54

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An important fact about the nature of trauma is the compulsion of the human psyche to repeat traumatic events over and over again. The reproducibility of photographs and the ability to look at them again and again – their machine-like repeatability, their citationality or iterability to use Derrida’s signature term – feeds into this repetitive “death instinct” (Thanatos). However, Bronowsi’s “hidden likeness” (also the name of one of Emmet Gowin’s exhibitions and a form of punctum) is perhaps a liminal moment, one that may upset the death instinct. These liminal moments may occupy a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. By disrupting the threshold – between life and death, between past, present and future time – they are requisite of the ghost (the soul) in the machine (the camera).

As Derrida observes, building on the work of Barthes,

“It belongs to it without belonging to it and is unlocatable in it; it never inscribes itself in the homogenous objectivity of the framed space but instead inhabits, or rather haunts it: “it is the addition [supplement]: it is what I add to the photograph and what is none the less already there.” … Neither life nor death, it is the haunting of the one by the other … Ghosts: the concept of the other in the same, the punctum in the studium, the dead other alive in me.”57

 

8

In this scenario, perhaps the act of writing trauma through death in the image becomes the true act of learning, and the interpretation of that act becomes an act of creation rather than one of rote memorialisation. These are images that require contemplation, time, analysis, and sensation, where the subject of the photograph is transformed “from somebody merely seen to someone really felt,” which is, as Batchen says, “an emotional exchange transacted in the heart.”58

This emotional exchange can take many forms. It can be triggered when the dead body is only metaphorically represented in the image, when the physicality of death has been transmuted. For example, photographs such as Walker Evan’s Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama (1936, below), or the documentary image Place where the corpse was found (1901-8, below) by the French photographer Alphonse Bertillon, propose a re-imaging and re-imagining of the life of the person. They do so through an un/ambiguous photographic context, that is, through the marking of place in the photograph. In the latter case, this marking of a life is represented by two pieces of wood lying on the ground and two pieces of wood propped at 45 degrees against the wall. As though this is all that is left of the existence of Mademoiselle Mercier in a street (Rue de l’Yvette) that still exists in Paris to this day. A photograph of pieces of wood and an empty space.

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Child's grave, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Silver gelatin print
7 3/8 x 9 7/16″ (18.7 x 23.9 cm)
© 2016 Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914) 'Place where the corpse was found' 1st November 1902

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Place where the corpse was found
1st November 1902
From Album of Paris Crime Scenes
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 24.3 x 31 cm (9 9/16 x 12 3/16 in.)
Page: 23 x 29 cm (9 1/16 x 11 7/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2001

 

 

Other photographs picture the place of death nearly a century later in order to commemorate the traumatic death of “deserters” at the hands of a firing squad during the First World War. These are some of the most traumatic photographs of death I have seen, for they require me to imagine the mise en scène that was enacted at dawn almost 100 years ago, in the very place where these photographs were later “shot” at dawn.

The artist, Chloe Dewe Mathews, realised that “I was placing my tripod around the same spot where the firing squad had stood and looking directly at the place where the victim was placed.” It was, she says, “a solitary and sombre undertaking,” an undertaking (with that name’s etymological link to the word undertaker) which the viewer is invited to partake of, a re-imaging of those traumatic events that requires an active imagining, and thinking, in the neo-spectator. It is this duration of trauma in cultural memory which calls for an active negotiation in ways of seeing, a re-negotiation which can produce an empathic vision that “changes the terms of our engagement” with the image.

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews. 'Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais' 2013

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews (b. 1982)
Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais
2013
Eleven British soldiers were executed here between 1915-18
From the series Shot at Dawn
© Chloe Dewe Mathews

 

 

Vita ad mortem: life after death

9

 

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“… the life of spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself.”

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George Wilhelm Frederich Hegel61

 

 

The absence/presence contained within all photographs speaks to the ultimate affect: that of la petite mort – the “little death” – the sensation of orgasm as likened to death, a short period of melancholy or transcendence as a result of the expenditure of the “life force.” While Barthes metaphorically used the concept to describe the feeling one should get when experiencing any great literature, it can also be used when some undesired thing has happened to a person and has affected them so much that “a part of them dies inside.”

A photograph can also contain this melancholy transcendence, a catastrophe that has already occurred.

“Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe… This punctum, more or less blurred beneath the abundance and the disparity of contemporary photographs, is vividly legible in historical photographs: there is always a defeat of Time in them: that is dead and that is going to die… At the limit, there is no need to represent a body [in photographs] in order for me to experience this vertigo of time defeated.”63

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Barthes’ concept of an extended punctum may be useful here, when he states, “I now know that there exists another punctum (another ‘stigmatum’) than the ‘detail’. This new punctum, which is no longer of form but of intensity, is Time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme (‘that-has-been’), its pure representation.”64

Here Barthes is proposing a punctum of intensity; a punctum as lacerating “detail”; and/or “the vertigo of time defeated.” This “temporal hallucination” embedded and embodied in the photograph – the temporality of the “will-have-been”, they are dead (today), they are already dead (yesterday), Barthes’ anterior future – represents a symbolically mediated subject bound up in three extases of time (past, present, and future).65

The subject becomes lost in the language of the photograph, the intersection of Lacan’s the Imaginary (in which the human subject creates fantasy images of both himself and his ideal object of desire), the Symbolic (the social world of linguistic communication and inter-subjective relations), and the Real (defined as what escapes the Symbolic, the Real can be neither spoken nor written, it is impossible, but is ceaselessly writing itself). These concepts serve to situate subjectivity within a system of perception and a dialogue with the external world.

According to Lori Wike, the experience of punctum and the structure of iterability can be aligned to Lacan’s concept of the death drive (or death instinct) present in the Symbolic order, in which the signifier “materializes the agency of death.”66 This may account for the role of the photographic punctum as trauma, in which the punctum opens up “a kind of subtle beyond” where “a blind field is created (is divined)…”67 As Barthes notes, “Photography is a kind of primitive theater, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead.”68 Further, we can say that, “unlike the symbolic, which is constituted in terms of oppositions such as “presence” and “absence”, there is no absence in the real,” for the real is undifferentiated, “it is without fissure.”

“The symbolic introduces “a cut in the real,” in the process of signification: “it is the world of words that creates the world of things.” Thus the real emerges as that which is outside language: “it is that which resists symbolization absolutely.” The real is impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality.”69

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The “mark” of photography is eviscerated in the intensity of the real, a traumatic loss of time that confronts us with our own mortality and the knowledge that we will not be remembered. This is where images of death can take us once the initial affective connection is established – to a noumenal space where in the play of representation, the point of origin becomes ungraspable (Lacan’s différance).70

“In French, différance simultaneously contains within its neo-graphism the activities of differing and deferring, a distancing acted out temporally as well as spatially.”71 Where the moment (the time freeze of the shutter) turns in, on and around its own fulcrum, where there is always difference at the point of origin. For all of its instantaneous nature, in photography there is always a perverse moment of displacement and deferral. In its history, “a perverse complicity of continuity and resemblance with its supposed opposite, discontinuity and difference”72 … the latter only existing in a reciprocal relationship to the former.

The circle is closing and we return to where we started.

 

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Human beings in their longing for lost continuity are mirrored by their photographs which transition from continuous to discontinuous and back again. While we yearn for our lost continuity, we must acknowledge that death is an unedited event, one that we cannot look back on. There is no following event to blank out that moment… and the dead are always dying. But what images of death in photography do is this: they allow us to approach the noumenal, that state of being of which we can have knowledge of, but can never know. We can approach, touch, feel, analyse, and have empathy for traumatic events in the representation of an unknowable reality. The photograph has the ability to go beyond the symbolic, to approach the impossible, the real.

The photograph may proffer a ‘releasement toward things’,73 a coexistence between a conscious and unconscious way of perceiving which sustains the mystery of the object confusing the distinction between real time and sensual time, between inside and outside, input and output becoming neither here nor there. As Martin Jolly notes, citing John Thompson, “… images of death can be seen a form of “mediated, non-reciprocal intimacy, stretched across time and space” in which we are increasingly unconstrained by our location or our time.”74 Further, John Thompson observes, “While lived experience remains fundamental, it is increasingly supplemented by, and in some respects displaced by, mediated experience, which assumes a greater and greater role in the project of self-formation.”75

In the sense that the photograph becomes la petite mort, the little death, it embodies our desire for the soul to become eternal in the form of this mediated experience… the displacement of the soul via the ghost in the machine, the soul remembered throughout time in the traumatic trace of the photograph. Death in the language of photography is always postponed and deferred: into the physicality of the photograph; into cultural memory; into the gaze (of the photographer, the camera and the viewer); and into the body of the observer. Here, a relationship exists between an impossible reality (an encounter with an “outside” which is unknowable) and a floating referent in an image that is both formative and transformative. And in that relationship, as Donna Haraway observes, “Relationship is multiform, at stake, unfinished, consequential.”76

The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, i