Posts Tagged ‘20th century photography

12
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Japan’s Modern Divide: The Photographs of Hiroshi Hamaya and Kansuke Yamamoto’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 26th March – 25th August 2013

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According to the press release, “Hamaya focused inward toward rural life on the back coast of Japan, [while] Yamamoto found inspiration in the art of European Surrealists,” the two artists responding differently to upheaval in their country in two different ways.  While Yamamoto is more obviously influenced by the Surrealists, almost becoming the Japanese version of Man Ray, for me Hamaya’s photographs are equally if more subtly influenced by the cultural movement. Observe Woman Planting Rice, Toyama Prefecture (1955, below). I relate this image to the atomisation of bodies during the conflagration of Hiroshima, however subconsciously the artist is expressing this feeling. Similarly, the faceless humans in Rice Harvesting, Yamagata Prefecture (1955, below), blind musicians, disembodied man in a raincoat or poet thinking the void all have an essential quality, that of a disturbing psychological undertow which juxtaposes two more or less distant realities – reality and dream – to form images of great emotional and poetic power.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog on Google

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Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Japan’s Black Coast

“Knowledge of the back coast, along the Sea of Japan, is somewhat vague to those not living there, and in the minds of most people it is a country obscured by snow. In Japan, the back coast is where the old era still lingers on… The supporting industries of this back coast are primitive – agriculture, forestry, and fishing. The work involved is backbreaking physical labor. A narrow land, a heavy population, and climatic drawbacks invite a vicious circle of poverty. The basic Japanese foods are fish and rice. And they are obtained by these people only through hard labor.”

Hiroshi Hamaya, Ura Nihon (Japan’s Back Coast), 1957
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A Chronicle of Grief and Anger

In 1959 the proposed ten-year renewal of the United States-Japan Security Treaty of 1952 meant the continuation of the presence of U.S. troops and the persistence of U.S. political and cultural influence. When Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, with the aid of the police, forced the Japanese parliament to ratify the treaty in May 1960, the public upheaval was immense. Hamaya, a pacifist living outside Tokyo, entered the fray with his camera, chronicling the demonstrations. His pictures were published both individually and in the form of a quickly assembled paperback under the title Ikari to kanashimi no kiroku (A Chronicle of Grief and Anger).
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Portraiture

Japanese society had a pronounced respect for artists, authors, craftsmen, and scholars. As a freelance photographer, Hamaya was often enlisted to make portraits of them for publication. He compiled a selection of these portraits made since the 1940s for the 1983 book Japanese Scholars and Artists, which included the renowned poet, art historian, and calligrapher Yaichi Aizu. Hamaya also produced a series of genre studies that featured his wife, Asa Hamaya, who was a skilled master of the tea ceremony. After her death in 1985 Hamaya prepared a memorial to her in the form of a portfolio of prints, titled Calendar Days of Asa Hamaya, following the earlier ukiyo-e tradition of woodblock series such as bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women).
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Observing Nature

“I spent three years and four months on an extended walking tour to observe nature in Japan, from the drifting ice packs off the Shiretoko Peninsula to the coral reefs of Okinawa … Nature breathed, sometimes deeply and sometimes violently, with the climatic changes of the seasons, and with the changing face of daily weather, humidity, seasonal winds, and typhoons. In particular, the distribution of plants from the subarctic to the subtropical zones, and of lichen and mosses, was both complex and varied… I came to realize that natural features in Japan, like the nature of its people, were extremely diversified and complex. I intended to investigate this conclusion with my own eyes.”

Hiroshi Hamaya, My Fifty Years of Photography, 1982

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'The Village up on a Cay, Aomori Prefecture' 1955

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
The Village up on a Cay, Aomori Prefecture
1955
Gelatin silver print
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'The United States-Japan Security Treaty Protest, Tokyo, May 20, 1960' 1960

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
The United States-Japan Security Treaty Protest, Tokyo, May 20, 1960
1960
Gelatin silver print
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'New Year's Ritual, Niigata Prefecture' 1940-1946

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
New Year’s Ritual, Niigata Prefecture
1940-1946
Gelatin silver print
30.6 x 20.2 cm
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'Woman Planting Rice, Toyama Prefecture' 1955

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
Woman Planting Rice, Toyama Prefecture
1955
Gelatin silver print
42.1 x 28 cm
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'Rice Harvesting, Yamagata Prefecture' 1955

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
Rice Harvesting, Yamagata Prefecture
1955
Gelatin silver print print
29.5 x 19.7 cm (11 5/8 x 7 3/4 in.)
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'Blind Musicians, Niigata Prefecture' 1956

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
Blind Musicians, Niigata Prefecture
1956
Gelatin silver print print
30.1 x 20 cm (11 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.)
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'Man in a Traditional Minobashi Raincoat, Niigata Prefecture' 1956

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
Man in a Traditional Minobashi Raincoat, Niigata Prefecture
1956
Gelatin silver print print
30.6 x 19.8 cm (12 1/16 x 7 13/16 in.)
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'Yaichi Aizu, Poet, Calligrapher, and Japanese Art Critic' 1947

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
Yaichi Aizu, Poet, Calligrapher, and Japanese Art Critic
1947
Gelatin silver print print
24 x 16 cm (9 7/16 x 6 5/16 in.)
© Keisuke Katano
Estate of Hiroshi Hamaya, Oiso, Japan

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The Taishō era (1912-1926) was a brief but dynamic period in Japan’s history that ushered in a modern state with increased industrialization, shifting political parties, radical fashions, and liberal thinking in many areas. However, this era of heightened experimentation ended with the arrival of an international depression, the promotion of ultranationalism, and the country’s entry into what would become the Greater East Asia War.

Reflecting both sides of this dramatic transition, two disparate representations of modern Japan will be displayed together in Japan’s Modern Divide: The Photographs of Hiroshi Hamaya and Kansuke Yamamoto, on view March 26 – August 25, 2013, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center. Curated by Judith Keller, senior curator of photographs, and Amanda Maddox, assistant curator of photographs, the exhibition includes photographs from the Getty Museum’s permanent collection, the Toyko Metropolitan Museum of Photography, the estate of Hiroshi Hamaya, the Nagoya City Art Museum, and other public and private lenders.

Born during the Taishō era, photographers Hiroshi Hamaya (1915-1999) and Kansuke Yamamoto (1914-1987) responded to Japan’s rapidly-changing sociopolitical climate in very different ways. While Hamaya focused inward toward rural life on the back coast of Japan, Yamamoto found inspiration in the art of European Surrealists. As the ebb and flow of Japan’s political, economic, and social structures persisted across the 20th century, Hamaya and Yamamoto continued to pursue divergent paths, thus embodying both sides of modern Japanese life: the traditional and the Western, the rural and the urban, the oriental and the occidental.

“Much is known about the Surrealists living and working in Europe, as well as the celebrated documentary tradition of 20th-century photography, but the Japanese artists who embraced these movements remain relatively unknown in the West,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “This exhibition illuminates the extraordinary work of two artists who responded to upheaval in their country in two different, but equally powerful ways.”

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Hiroshi Hamaya

The son of a detective, Hamaya grew up in Tokyo’s Ueno neighborhood during the rise and decline of the Taishō era. After attending Kanto Junior College, he began his photographic career by taking aerial images for the Practical Aeronautical Institute. He later photographed downtown Tokyo from street level, and provided images of daily city life and local events to a number of magazines. In 1939, an assignment that took him to Ura Nihon, or the rural back coast of the Sea of Japan, changed his view of photography and society.

Known for its unforgiving winter snowstorms and the difficult lives of its impoverished inhabitants, Ura Nihon was a mystery to most of Japan and the world. Moved by the customs and lifestyles of a much older era, Hamaya shifted from journalism toward a more humanistic and ethnographic approach to photography, capturing the everyday life of the region’s residents. This included documenting laborers in fields and at sea, as fish and rice were the primary sources of nourishment throughout the year.

From 1940 to 1955 Hamaya pursued a long-term personal interest in the region of Echigo (now known as Niigata Prefecture). He recorded the people, traditions, and landscape of a district that was, at the time, Japan’s chief rice-producing region in spite of a four-month long snow season. Among his many subjects, Hamaya focused on the winter in Kuwatoridani, a small agricultural village that practiced elaborate, long-standing New Year’s Eve rituals. In New Year’s Ritual, Niigata Prefecture (1940-46), boys in the village are seated with their hands clasped and their eyes closed in prayer. The close-up of the boys’ faces in deep concentration emphasizes the respect for customs of the region.

In late 1959, the proposed ten-year renewal of the United States-Japan Security Treaty of 1952 raised doubts about Japan’s sovereignty and its future prosperity. When Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, with the aid of police, forced the Japanese parliament to ratify the treaty in May 1960, the political upheaval was immense. While Hamaya was a pacifist, he felt obligated to return to his journalistic roots and entered the fray with his camera. He chronicled the demonstrations day by day, sometimes hour by hour.

“These demonstrations profoundly affected Hamaya, causing him, in the 1960s, to turn from the social landscape to an investigation of nature,” explains Judith Keller. “His disillusionment with Japan’s political apparatus provoked a rejection of the human subject. Much of the work he created in his late career depicts the volcanoes, seas, mountains, forests, and other natural wonders of Japan and other small island nations.”

Hamaya’s career also included portraiture of noted artists and scholars. As a freelance photographer, he was often enlisted to make portraits of well-known men and women, and in 1983 published Japanese Scholars and Artists, a book that included prominent novelist Junichiro Tanizaki, woodcut artist Shiko Manakata, literary critic Kenichi Yoshida, and renowned poet, art historian, and calligrapher Yaichi Aizu. He also documented the daily life of his beloved wife, Asa, and upon her death in 1985 created a portfolio of these sensitive photographs, Calendar Days of Asa Hamaya.

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Kansuke Yamamoto

Kansuke Yamamoto (1914-1987) learned about photography from his father, an amateur pictorialist photographer and owner of the first photo supply store in the city of Nagoya. His interest in photography developed at a time when two movements based on experimentation and new modes of expression—Shinkō Shashin (New Photography) and Zen’ei Shashin (avant-garde photography) – were dominant. However, it was Surrealism – particularly Surrealist artists and writers such as René Magritte, Paul Éluard, Yves Tanguy, and Man Ray that appears to have made the most profound impact on his work.

Yamamoto was an influential figure in the avant-garde photography movement in Japan in the 1930s, helping to establish the group Nagoya Foto Avant-Garde by the end of that decade. In 1938 he created a journal, Yoru no Funsui (The Night’s Fountain), which promoted Surrealist poems, literature, ideas, and art in Japanese.

His first photographs date to the early 1930s and reveal an interest in myriad techniques and subjects, including abstract architectural studies, still life, and collage. From the outset, he created work suffused with mystery, provocation, and humor. He often utilized photography as a means to address controversial issues or express avant-garde ideas. For example, in Buddhist Temple’s Birdcage (1940), the telephone enclosed in the cage is possibly a metaphor for the control exercised by the Japanese government during the Showa Era (1926-1989), a theme that reappears in work produced throughout his career. The experience of being interrogated by the Tokkō (Thought Police) in 1939 for his journal, Yoru no Funsui, and its potentially subversive content made a profound impact on Yamamoto, but never deterred his avant-garde spirit.

Yamamoto remained part of the artistic vanguard in Japan during the 1940s and 1950s. He was a member of VOU, a club founded by poet Katue Kitasono that organized exhibitions and published a journal promoting visual “plastic” poetry, photography, literature, and other arts. In 1947 Yamamoto founded VIVI, a collective in Nagoya that allowed further dissemination and promotion of avant-garde ideologies. Yamamoto continued to produce innovative work during this period, experimenting with color photography, combination printing, photograms, and sculpture.

“At the end of his career in the 1970s, Yamamoto maintained his ardent nonconformist spirit, employing art as a means of criticism, dialogue, and rebellion,” explains Amanda Maddox. “He never failed to generate provocative imagery in an effort to represent his convictions concerning war, liberty, and avant-garde ideologies.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'My Thin-aired Room' 1956

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
My Thin-aired Room
1956
Gelatin silver print print
34.9 x 42.9 cm (13 3/4 x 16 7/8 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
Private collection, entrusted to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'Rose and Shovel' 1956

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
Rose and Shovel
1956
Gelatin silver print print
31.9 x 34.9 cm (12 9/16 x 13 3/4 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
Private collection, entrusted to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'A Forgotten Person' 1958

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
A Forgotten Person
1958
Chromogenic print
46.2 x 33 cm (18 3/16 x 13 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'Stapled Flesh' 1949

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
Stapled Flesh
1949
Gelatin silver print print
31.1 x 24.8 cm (12 1/4 x 9 3/4 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
From the Collection of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'Buddhist Temple's Bird Cage' 1940

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
Buddhist Temple’s Bird Cage
1940
Gelatin silver print
© Toshio Yamamoto
Private collection, entrusted to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'Butterfly' 1970

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
Butterfly
1970
Gelatin silver print print
16.4 x 11.4 cm (6 7/16 x 4 1/2 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
Private collection, entrusted to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'A Chronicle of Drifting' 1949

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
A Chronicle of Drifting
1949
Collage print
30 x 24.8 cm (11 13/16 x 9 3/4 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
Private collection, entrusted to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

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

Opening hours:
Tues – Friday 10 am – 5.30 pm
Saturday 10 am – 9 pm
Sunday 10 am – 9 pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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22
Jun
11

Review: ‘American Dreams: 20th century photography from George Eastman House’ at Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria

Exhibition dates: 16th April – 10th July 2011

 

Gertrude Käsebier. 'The Sketch (Beatrice Baxter)' 1903

 

Gertrude Käsebier (American, 1852-1934)
The Sketch (Beatrice Baxter)
1903
Platinum print
Gift of Hermine Turner
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

 

 

This is a fabulous survey exhibition of the great artists of 20th century American photography, a rare chance in Australia to see such a large selection of vintage prints from some of the masters of photography. If you have a real interest in the history of photography you must see this exhibition, showing as it is just a short hour and a half drive (or train ride) from Melbourne at Bendigo Art Gallery.

I talked with the curator, Tansy Curtin, and asked her about the exhibition’s gestation. This is the first time an exhibition from the George Eastman House has come to Australia and the exhibition was 3-4 years in the making. Tansy went to George Eastman House in March last year to select the prints; this was achieved by going through solander box after solander box of vintage prints and seeing what was there, what was available and then making work sheets for the exhibition – what a glorious experience this would have been, undoing box after box to reveal these magical prints!

The themes for the exhibition were already in the history of photography and Tansy has chosen almost exclusively vintage prints that tell a narrative story, that make that story accessible to people who know little of the history of photography. With that information in mind the exhibition is divided into the following sections:

Photography becomes art; The photograph as social document; Photographing America’s monuments; Abstraction and experimentation; Photojournalism and war photography; Fashion and celebrity portraiture; Capturing the everyday; Photography in colour; Social and environmental conscience; and The contemporary narrative.

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There are some impressive, jewel-like contact prints in the exhibition. One must remember that, for most of the photographers working after 1940, exposure, developing and printing using Ansel Adams Zone System (where the tonal range of the negative and print can be divided into 11 different ‘zones’ from 0 for absolute black and to 10 for absolute white) was the height of technical sophistication and aesthetic choice, equal to the best gaming graphics from today’s age. It was a system that I used in my black and white film development and printing. Film development using a Pyrogallol staining developer (the infamous ‘pyro’, a developer I tried to master without success in a few trial batches of film) was also technically difficult but the ability of this developer to obtain a greater dynamic range of zones in the film itself was outstanding.

“The Zone System provides photographers with a systematic method of precisely defining the relationship between the way they visualise the photographic subject and the final results… An expressive image involves the arrangement and rendering of various scene elements according to photographer’s desire. Achieving the desired image involves image management (placement of the camera, choice of lens, and possibly the use of camera movements) and control of image values. The Zone System is concerned with control of image values, ensuring that light and dark values are rendered as desired. Anticipation of the final result before making the exposure is known as visualisation.”1

Previsualisation, the ability of the photographer to see ‘in the mind’s eye’ the outcome of the photograph (the final print) before even looking through the camera lens to take the photograph, was an important skill for most of these photographers. This skill has important implications for today’s photographers, should they choose to develop this aspect of looking: not as a mechanistic system but as a meditation on the possibilities of each part of the process, the outcome being an expressive print.

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A selection of the best photographs in the exhibition could include,

1. An original 1923 Alfred Steiglitz Equivalent contact print – small (approx. 9cm x 12cm, see below), intense, the opaque brown blacks really strong, the sun shining brightly through the velvety clouds. In the Equivalents series the photograph was purely abstract, standing as a metaphor for another state of being, in this case music. A wonderful melding of the technical and the aesthetic the Equivalents “are generally recognised as the first photographs intended to free the subject matter from literal interpretation, and, as such, are some of the first completely abstract photographic works of art.”2

2. Paul Strand Blind (1915, printed 1945) – printed so dark that you cannot see the creases in the coat of the blind woman with a Zone 3 dark skin tone.

3. Lewis Hine [Powerhouse mechanic] see below, vintage 1920 print full of subtle tones. Usually when viewing reproductions of this image it is either cropped or the emphasis is on the body of the mechanic; in this print his skin tones are translucent, silvery and the emphasis is on the man in unison with the machine. The light is from the top right of the print and falls not on him directly, but on the machinery at upper right = this is the emotional heart of this image!

4. Three tiny vintage Tina Modotti prints from c. 1929 – so small, such intense visions. I have never seen one original Modotti before so to see three was just sensational.

5. Walker Evans View of Morgantown, West Virginia vintage 1935 print – a cubist dissection of space and the image plane with two-point perspective of telegraph pole with lines.

6. An Edward S. Curtis photogravure Washo Baskets (1924, from the portfolio The North American Indian) – such a sumptuous composition and the tones…

7. Ansel Adams 8″ x 10″ contact print of Winter Storm (1944, printed 1959, see above) where the blackness of the mountain on the left hand side of the print was almost impenetrable and, because of the large format negative, the snow on the rock in mid-distance was like a sprinkling of icing sugar on a cake it was that sharp.

8. A most splendid print of the Chrysler Building (vintage 1930 print, approx. 48 x 34  cm) by Margaret Bourke-White – tonally rich browns, smoky, hazy city at top; almost like a platinum print rather than a silver gelatin photograph. The bottom left of the print was SO dark but you could still see into the shadows just to see the buildings.

9. An original Robert Capa 1944 photograph from the Omaha Beach D Day landings!

10. Frontline soldier with canteen, Saipan (1944, vintage print) by W Eugene Smith where the faces of the soldiers were almost Zone 2-3 and there was nothing in the print above zone 5 (mid-grey) – no physical and metaphoric light.

11. One of the absolute highlights: two vintage Edward Weston side by side, the form of one echoing the form of the other; Nude from the 50th Anniversary Portfolio 1902 – 1952 (1936, printed 1951), an 8″ x 10″ contact print side by side with an 8″ x 10″ contact print of Pepper No. 30 (vintage 1930 print). Nothing over zone 7 in the skin tones of the nude, no specular highlights; the sensuality in the pepper just stunning – one of my favourite prints of the day – look at the tones, look at the light!

12. Three vintage Aaron Siskind (one of my favourite photographers) including two early prints from 1938 – wow. Absolutely stunning.

13. Harry Callahan. That oh so famous image of Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago (vintage 1953 print) that reminds me of the work of Jeffrey Smart (or is it the other way around). The wonderful space around the figures, the beautiful composition, the cobblestones and the light – just ravishing.

14. The absolute highlight: Three vintage Diane Arbus prints in a row – including a 15″ square image from the last series of work Untitled (6) (vintage 1971 print, see above) – the year in which she committed suicide. This had to be the moment of the day for me. This has always been one of my favourite photographs ever and it did not disappoint; there was a darkness to the trees behind the three figures and much darker grass (zone 3-4) than I had ever imagined with a luminous central figure. The joyousness of the figures was incredible. The present on the ground at the right hand side was a revelation – usually lost in reproductions this stood out from the grass like you wouldn’t believe in the print. Being an emotional person I am not afraid to admit it, I burst into tears…

15. And finally another special… Two vintage Stephen Shore chromogenic colour prints from 1976 where the colours are still true and have not faded. This was incredible – seeing vintage prints from one of the early masters of colour photography; noticing that they are not full of contrast like a lot of today’s colour photographs – more like a subtle Panavision or Technicolor film from the early 1960s. Rich, subtle, beautiful hues. For a contemporary colour photographer the trip to Bendigo just to see these two prints would be worth the time and the car trip/rail ticket alone!

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Not everything is sweetness and light. The print by Dorothea Lange Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California is a contemporary print from 2003, the vintage print having just been out on loan; the contemporary section, ‘The contemporary narrative’, is very light on, due mainly to the nature of the holdings of George Eastman House; and there are some major photographers missing from the line up including Minor White, Fredrick Sommer, Paul Caponigro, Wynn Bullock and William Clift to name just a few.

Of more concern are the reproductions in the catalogue, the images for reproduction supplied by George Eastman House and the catalogue signed off by them. The reproduction of Margaret Bourke-White’s Chrysler Building (1930, see below) bears no relationship to the print in the exhibition and really is a denigration to the work of that wonderful photographer. Other reproductions are massively oversized, including the Alfred Stieglitz Equivalent, Lewis Hine’s Powerhouse mechanic (see below) and Tina Modotti’s Woman Carrying Child (c. 1929). In Walter Benjamin’s terms (The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction) the aura of the original has been lost and these reproductions further erode the authenticity of the original in their infinite reproducability. Conversely, it could be argued that the reproduction auraticizes the original:

“The original artwork has become a device to sell its multiply-reproduced derivatives; reproductability turned into a ploy to auraticize the original after the decay of aura…”3

In other words, after having seen so many reproductions when you actually see the original –  it is like a bolt of lightning, the aura that emanates from the original. This is so true of this exhibition but it still begs the question: why reproduce in the catalogue at a totally inappropriate size? Personally, I believe that the signification of the reproduction (in terms of size and intensity of visualisation) is so widely at variance with the original one must question the decision to reproduce at this size knowing that this variance is a misrepresentation of the artistic interpretation of the author.

In conclusion, this is a sublime exhibition well worthy of the time and energy to journey up to Bendigo to see it. A true lover of classical American black and white and colour photography would be a fool to miss it!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Anon. “Zone System,” on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 13/06/2011
  2. Anon. “Equivalents,” on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 13/06/2011
  3. Huyssen, Andreas. Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia. London: Routledge, 1995, pp. 23-24

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Many thankx to Tansy Curtin, Senior Curator, Programs and Access at Bendigo Art Gallery for her time and knowledge when I visited the gallery; and to Bendigo Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Alfred Stieglitz. 'Equivalent' 1923

 

Actual size of print: 9.2 x 11.8 cm
Size of print in catalogue: 18.5 x 13.9 cm

These two photographs represent a proportionate relation between the two sizes as they appear in print and catalogue but because of monitor resolutions are not the actual size of the two prints.

 

Alfred Stieglitz. 'Equivalent' 1923

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Equivalent
1923
Gelatin silver print
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film 

 

Lewis Hine [Powerhouse mechanic] 1920 catalogue size

 

Actual size of print: 16.9 x 11.8 cm
Size of print in catalogue: 23.2 x 15.8 cm

These two photographs represent a proportionate relation between the two sizes as they appear in print and catalogue but because of monitor resolutions are not the actual size of the two prints.

 

Lewis Hine. [Powerhouse mechanic] 1920 catalogue size

 

Lewis Hine
[Powerhouse mechanic]
1920
Gelatin silver print
Transfer from the Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee, ex-collection Corydon Hine
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

 

Margaret Bourke-White. 'Chrysler Building' New York City, 1930

 

As it approximately appears in the exhibition (above, from my notes, memory and comparing the print in the exhibition with the catalogue reproduction)

Below, as the reproduction appears in the catalogue (scanned)

 

Margaret Bourke-White. 'Chrysler Building' New York City, 1930

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Chrysler Building
New York City
1930
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

An exhibition of treasures from arguably the world’s most important photographic museum, George Eastman House, has been developed by Bendigo Art Gallery. The exhibition American Dreams will bring, for the first time, eighty of some of the most iconic photographic images from the 20th Century to Australia.

The choice of works highlights the trailblazing role these American artists had on the world stage in developing and shaping the medium, and the impact these widely published images had on the greater community.

Curator Tansy Curtin, who worked closely with George Eastman House developing the exhibition commented, “Through these images we can recognise the extraordinary ability of these artists, and their pivotal role influencing the evolution of photography. Their far-reaching images helped shape American culture, and impacted on the fundamental role photography has in communications today. Even more than this we can see through these artists the burgeoning love of photography that engaged a nation.”

Through these images we can see not only the development of photography, but also as some of the most powerful social documentary photography of last century, we see extraordinary moments captured in the lives of a wide range of Americans. The works distil the dramatic transformation that affected people during the 20th century – the affluence, degradation, loss, hope and change – both personally and throughout society.

The role of photography in nation building is exemplified in Ansel Adams’ majestic portraits of Yosemite national park, Bourke-White’s Chrysler building and images of migrants and farm workers during the Depression. Tansy Curtin added, “We see the United States ‘growing up’ through photography. We see hopes raised and crushed and the inevitable striving for the American Dream.” Director of Bendigo Art Gallery Karen Quinlan said, “We are thrilled to have been given this unprecedented opportunity to work with this unrivalled photographic archive. The resulting exhibition American Dreams, represents one of the most important and comprehensive collections of American 20th Century photography to come to Australia.”

George Eastman House holds over 400,000 images from the invention of photography to the present day. George Eastman, one time owner of the home in which the archives are housed, founded Kodak and revolutionised and democratised photography around the world. Eastman is considered the grandfather of snapshot photography.

American Dreams is one of the first exhibitions from this important collection to have been curated by an outside institution. It will be the first time Australian audiences have been given the opportunity to engage with this vast archive.

Press release from the Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Alfred Steiglitz. [Georgia O'Keefe hand on back tire of Ford V8] 1933

 

Alfred Steiglitz (American, 1864-1946)
[Georgia O’Keefe hand on back tire of Ford V8]
1933
gelatin silver print
Part purchase and part gift from Georgia O’Keefe
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

 

Walker Evans. 'Torn Poster, Truro, Massachusetts' 1930

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Torn Poster, Truro, Massachusetts
1930
gelatin silver contact print
Purchased with funds from National Endowment for the Arts
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936, printed c. 2003

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
1936, printed c. 2003
Photogravure print
Gift of Sean Corcoran
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Kern County California' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Kern County California
1938
Gelatin silver print
Exchange with Roy Stryker
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

 

Ansel Adams. 'Winter Storm' 1942

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Winter Storm
1942
Gelatin silver print

 

Diane Arbus. 'Untitled (6)' 1971

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Untitled (6)
1971
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Bendigo Art Gallery
42 View Street Bendigo
Victoria Australia 3550
Phone: 03 5434 6088

Opening hours:
Bendigo Art Gallery is open daily 10 am – 5 pm

Bendigo Art Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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