Posts Tagged ‘African American artist

14
Jun
15

Exhibition: ‘Gordon Parks: Segregation Story’ at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Exhibition dates: 15th November 2014 – 21st June 2015

 

The more I see of this man’s work, the more I admire it.

A sense of history, truth and injustice; a sense of beauty, colour and disenfranchisement; above all, a sense of composition and knowing the right time to take a photograph to tell the story. It’s all there, right in front of us, in almost every photograph. Photographs of institutionalised racism and the American apartheid, “the state of being apart”, laid bare for all to see.

From the languid curl and mass of the red sofa on which Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama (1956) sit, which makes them seem very small and which forms the horizontal plane, intersected by the three generations of family photos from top to bottom – youth, age, family … to the blank stare of the nanny holding the white child while the mother looks on in Airline Terminal, Atlanta, Georgia (1956). I love the amorphous mass of black at the right hand side of the this image. From the neon delightful, downward pointing arrow of ‘Colored Entrance’ in Department Store, Mobile, Alabama (1956) to the ‘WHITE ONLY’ obelisk in At Segregated Drinking Fountain, Mobile, Alabama (1956). And so the story flows on like some great river, unstoppable, unquenchable…

But then we have two of the most intimate moments of beauty that brings me to tears as I write this, the two photographs at the bottom of the posting Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama (1956). Just look at the light that Parks uses, this drawing with light. And then the use of depth of field, colour, composition (horizontal, vertical and diagonal elements) that leads the eye into these images and the utter, what can you say, engagement – no – quiescent knowingness on the children’s faces (like an old soul in a young body). This is a wondrous thing.

Notice how the photographer has pre-exposed the sheet of film so that the highlights in both images do not blow out. Pre-exposing the film lessens the contrast range allowing shadow detail and highlight areas to be held in balance. Also notice how in both images the photographer lets the eye settle in the centre of the image – in the photograph of the boy, the out of focus stairs in the distance; in the photograph of the three girls, the bonnet of the red car – before he then pulls our gaze back and to the right of the image to let the viewer focus on the faces of his subjects. In both photographs we have vertical elements (a door jam and a telegraph post) coming out of the red colours in the images and this vertically is reinforced in the image of the three girls by the rising ladder of the back of the chair. Masterful image making, this push and pull, this bravura art of creation.

Surely, Gordon Parks ranks up there with the greatest photographers of the 20th century.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the High Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Many thanx also to Carlos Eguiguren for sending me his portrait of Gordon Parks taken in New York in 1985, which reveals a wonderful vulnerability within the artist.

 

 

Carlos Eguiguren. 'Gordon Parks, New York' 1985

 

Carlos Eguiguren
Gordon Parks, New York
1985
4 x 5 transparency film
© Carlos Eguiguren

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama
1956
Promised gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

This portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton Sr., aged 82 and 70, served as the opening image of Parks’s photo essay. The well-dressed couple stares directly into the camera, asserting their status as patriarch and matriarch of their extensive Southern family. Photography is featured prominently within the image: a framed portrait, made shortly after the couple was married in 1906, hangs on the wall behind them, while family snapshots, including some of the Thorntons’ nine children and nineteen grandchildren, are proudly displayed on the coffee table in the foreground.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Airline Terminal, Atlanta, Georgia' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Airline Terminal, Atlanta, Georgia
1956
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Department Store, Mobile, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Department Store, Mobile, Alabama
1956
Promised gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Joanne Wilson, one of the Thorntons’ daughters, is shown standing with her niece in front of a department store in downtown Mobile. The pair is impeccably dressed in light, summery frocks. The jarring neon of the “Colored Entrance” sign looming above them clashes with the two young women’s elegant appearance, transforming a casual afternoon outing into an example of overt discrimination. Notice the fallen strap of Wilson’s slip. Though this detail might appear discordant with the rest of the picture, its inclusion may have been strategic: it allowed Parks to emphasize the humanity of his subjects.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Outside Looking In, Mobile, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Outside Looking In, Mobile, Alabama
1956
Promised gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

A group of children peers across a chain-link fence into a whites-only playground with a Ferris wheel. Although they had access to a “separate but equal” recreational area in their own neighborhood, this photograph captures the allure of this other, inaccessible space. The children, likely innocent to the cruel implications of their exclusion, longingly reach their hands out to the mysterious and forbidden arena beyond. The pristinely manicured lawn on the other side of the fence contrasts with the overgrowth of weeds in the foreground, suggesting the persistent reality of racial inequality.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'At Segregated Drinking Fountain, Mobile, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
At Segregated Drinking Fountain, Mobile, Alabama
1956
Promised gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

The Jim Crow laws established in the South ensured that public amenities remained racially segregated. These laws applied to schools, public transportation, restaurants, recreational facilities, and even drinking fountains, as shown here. The photograph documents the prevalence of such prejudice, while at the same time capturing a scene of compassion. Here, a gentleman helps one of the young girls reach the fountain to have a refreshing drink of water.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Ondria Tanner and Her Grandmother Window-Shopping, Mobile, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Ondria Tanner and Her Grandmother Window-Shopping, Mobile, Alabama
1956
Promised gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

“RARE PHOTOS BY GORDON PARKS PREMIERE AT HIGH MUSEUM OF ART

Featuring works created for Parks’ powerful 1956 Life magazine photo essay that have never been publicly exhibited.

The High Museum of Art presents rarely seen photographs by trailblazing African American artist and filmmaker Gordon Parks in Gordon Parks: Segregation Story on view November 15, 2014 through June 21, 2015.

The exhibition, presented in collaboration with The Gordon Parks Foundation, features more than 40 of Parks’ color prints – most on view for the first time – created for a powerful and influential 1950s Life magazine article documenting the lives of an extended African-American family in segregated Alabama. The series represents one of Parks’ earliest social documentary studies on color film. The High will acquire 12 of the color prints featured in the exhibition, supplementing the two Parks works – both gelatin silver prints – already owned by the High. These works augment the Museum’s extensive collection of Civil Rights era photography, one of the most significant in the nation.

Following the publication of the Life article, many of the photos Parks shot for the essay were stored away and presumed lost for more than 50 years until they were rediscovered in 2012 (six years after Parks’ death). Though a small selection of these images has been previously exhibited, the High’s presentation brings to light a significant number that have never before been displayed publicly. As the first African-American photographer for Life magazine, Parks published some of the 20th century’s most iconic social justice-themed photo essays and became widely celebrated for his black-and-white photography, the dominant medium of his era. The photographs that Parks created for Life’s 1956 photo essay The Restraints: Open and Hidden are remarkable for their vibrant color and their intimate exploration of shared human experience.

The images provide a unique perspective on one of America’s most controversial periods. Rather than capturing momentous scenes of the struggle for civil rights, Parks portrayed a family going about daily life in unjust circumstances. Parks believed empathy to be vital to the undoing of racial prejudice. His corresponding approach to the Life project eschewed the journalistic norms of the day and represented an important chapter in Parks’ career-long endeavor to use the camera as his “weapon of choice” for social change. The Restraints: Open and Hidden gave Parks his first national platform to challenge segregation. The images he created offered a deeper look at life in the Jim Crow South, transcending stereotypes to reveal a common humanity.

“Parks’ images brought the segregated South to the public consciousness in a very poignant way – not only in color, but also through the eyes of one of the century’s most influential documentarians,” said Brett Abbott, exhibition curator and Keough Family curator of photography and head of collections at the High. “To present these works in Atlanta, one of the centers of the Civil Rights Movement, is a rare and exciting opportunity for the High. It is also a privilege to add Parks’ images to our collection, which will allow the High to share his unique perspective with generations of visitors to come.”
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A Day in the Life

For The Restraints: Open and Hidden, Parks focused on the everyday activities of the related Thornton, Causey and Tanner families in and near Mobile, Ala. The images present scenes of Sunday church services, family gatherings, farm work, domestic duties, child’s play, window shopping and at-home haircuts – all in the context of the restraints of the Jim Crow South.

Key images in the exhibition include:

  • Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile Alabama (1956)
  • Outside Looking In, Mobile, Alabama (1956)
  • Department Store, Mobile Alabama (1956)
  • Airline Terminal, Atlanta, Georgia (1956)
  • Willie Causey, Jr., with Gun During Violence in Alabama, Shady Grove, Alabama (1956)
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About Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks was born in Fort Scott, Kansas. He grew up poor and faced racial discrimination. Parks was initially drawn to photography as a young man after seeing images of migrant workers published in a magazine, which made him realize photography’s potential to alter perspective. Parks became a self-taught photographer after purchasing his first camera at a pawnshop, and he honed his skills during a stint as a society and fashion photographer in Chicago. After earning a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship for his gritty photographs of that city’s South Side, the Farm Security Administration hired Parks in the early 1940s to document the current social conditions of the nation.

By 1944, Parks was the only black photographer working for Vogue, and he joined Life magazine in 1948 as the first African-American staff photographer. In 1970, Parks co-founded Essence magazine and served as the editorial director for the first three years of its publication. Parks later became Hollywood’s first major black director when he released the film adaptation of his autobiographical novel The Learning Tree, for which he also composed the musical score, however he is best known as the director of the 1971 hit movie Shaft. Parks received the National Medal of Arts in 1988 and received more than 50 honorary doctorates over the course of his career. He died in 2006.
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About The Gordon Parks Foundation

The Gordon Parks Foundation permanently preserves the work of Gordon Parks, makes it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and electronic media and supports artistic and educational activities that advance what Gordon described as “the common search for a better life and a better world.” The Foundation is a division of The Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation.”

Press release from the High Museum of Art

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Alabama
1956
Collection of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama
1956
Collection of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Store Front, Mobile Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Store Front, Mobile Alabama
1956
Collection of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama
1956
Collection of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Willie Causey, Jr., with Gun During Violence in Alabama, Shady Grove, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Willie Causey, Jr., with Gun During Violence in Alabama, Shady Grove, Alabama
1956
Collection of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama
1956
Collection of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama
1956
Collection of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Black Classroom, Shady Grove, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Black Classroom, Shady Grove, Alabama
1956
Promised gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Although this photograph was taken in the 1950s, the wood-paneled interior, with a wood-burning stove at its center, is reminiscent of an earlier time. Parks’s photograph of the segregated schoolhouse, here emptied of its students, evokes both the poetic and prosaic: springtime sunlight streams through the missing slats on the doors, while scraps of paper, rope, and other detritus litter the uneven floorboards. One of the Thorntons’ daughters, Allie Lee Causey, taught elementary-grade students in this dilapidated, four-room structure. After Parks’s article was published in Life, Mrs. Causey, who was quoted speaking out against segregation, was suspended from her job. She never held a teaching position again.

 

 

High Museum of Art
1280 Peachtree Street,
N.E. Atlanta, GA 30309

Opening hours:
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Tuesday – 10 am – 5 pm
Wednesday – 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday – 10 am – 5 pm
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Sunday – 12 noon – 5 pm

High Museum of Art website

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15
May
14

Exhibition: ‘From the Village to Vogue: The Modernist Jewelry of Art Smith’ at the Cincinnati Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 22nd February – 18th May 2014

 

Very much of their time, these beautiful, understated pieces of anamorphic jewellery are exquisitely designed objets d’art.

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

 

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982) '"Modern Cuff" Bracelet' designed c. 1948

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982)
“Modern Cuff” Bracelet
designed c. 1948
Silver
1 5/8 x 2 1/2 x 4 in. (4.1 x 6.4 x 10.2 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Charles L. Russell

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982) '"Lava" Bracelet' designed c. 1946

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982)
“Lava” Bracelet
designed c. 1946
Silver
2 1/2 x 2 5/8 x 5 3/4 in. (6.4 x 6.7 x 14.6 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Charles L. Russell

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982) 'Autumn Leaves Brooch' 1974

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982)
Autumn Leaves Brooch
1974
Gold, jade
1/2 x 3 x 1 3/4 in. (1.3 x 7.6 x 4.4 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Charles L. Russell

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982) 'Untitled' 1948-1979

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982)
Untitled
1948-1979
Wood, paint, copper
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Charles L. Russell

 

 

“It will be a feast for the eyes of those who appreciate jewelry this Spring in the Queen City. The spirit of craft and its revival will shine through in large scale, highly sculpted pieces of jewelry created by Art Smith and his contemporaries in From the Village to Vogue: The Modernist Jewelry of Art Smith, February 22, 2014 through May 18, 2014.

This exhibition features twenty-four pieces of silver and gold jewelry created by African American artist Art Smith, as well as more than forty pieces by his contemporaries, including Sam Kramer, Margaret De Patta, and Harry Bertoia. Three pieces of jewelry by Alexander Calder, who influenced many of these artists/jewelers, will also be featured in this exhibition. This exhibition was organized by the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Cincinnati Art Museum is the first to host this exhibition. It will then continue to the Dallas Museum of Art and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.

Inspired by surrealism, biomorphism and primitivism, Art Smith (1917-1982) was one of the leading modernist jewelers of the mid-twentieth century. Early in his career, Smith met Talley Beatty, a young black dancer and choreographer, who introduced him to the world of dance, in particular the salon of Frank and Dorcas Neal. It was there that he met several prominent black artists, including writer James Baldwin, musician and composer Billy Strayhorn, singers Lena Horne and Harry Belafonte, actor Brock Peters, and painter Charles Sebree. Smith began to create pieces for dance companies, who in turn, encouraged him to design on a grander scale. This experience is evident in the scale of his mature work.

In 1946, Smith opened his own studio in Greenwich Village and started selling his jewelry. He soon caught the attention of buyers in Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago. In the early 1950s, Smith received pictorial coverage in both Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue and was mentioned in The New Yorker shoppers guide, On the Avenue”. Smith soon established business relationships with Bloomingdales, Milton Heffling in Manhattan, James Boutique in Houston, L’Unique in Minneapolis and Black Tulip in Dallas. While his earlier work was executed primarily in copper and brass, because it was less expensive, growing recognition increased sales and special commissions for custom designs. This allowed him to begin producing more work in silver. He received a prestigious commission from the Peekskill, New York chapter of the NAACP, for example, to design a brooch for Eleanor Roosevelt. He was even commissioned to design a pair of cufflinks for Duke Ellington, whose music he often listened to while working.

Included in the exhibition are major works by Smith including his famous Patina Necklace (c. 1959). Worked in silver, it is an example both of the large scale of his jewelry and of his use of asymmetry. Alexander Calder’s influence is also clear in this piece. From the curved structure that wraps the neck, two pierced ellipses dangle over the breastbone, giving the necklace a kinetic energy that enlivens the piece. With a sculptor’s sensitivity, Smith emphasized negative space in his designs and viewed the human body as an armature for his creations. He considered his jewelry incomplete until it rested on the human structure.

According to Cincinnati Art Museum interim Chief Curator Cynthia Amnéus, Working in the heart of Greenwich Village, Smith was influenced by jazz musicians like Charlie Parker, visual artists like Robert Motherwell, and the poetry readings of Beat Generation writers like Alan Ginsberg. Smith’s work, like that of his contemporaries, appealed to an artistic and intellectual clientele. These artisans were not concerned with making pretty jewelry. They created works of art that were meant to be worn on the body.”

Press release from the Cincinnati Art Museum website

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982) 'Linked Oval Necklace' designed by 1974

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982)
Linked Oval Necklace
designed by 1974
Silver, amethyst quartz
11 x 10 1/2 x 1/2 in. (27.9 x 26.7 x 1.3 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Charles L. Russell

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982) 'Triangle Necklace' c. 1969

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982)
Triangle Necklace
c. 1969
Silver, turquoise, lapis lazuli, rhodochrosite
16 1/8 x 5 1/8 x 1/2 in. (41.0 x 13.0 x 1.3 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Charles L. Russell

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982) 'Ellington Necklace' c. 1962

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982)
Ellington Necklace
c. 1962
Silver, turquoise, amethyst, prase, rhodonite
16 7/8 x 9 7/8 x 3/4 in. (42.9 x 25.1 x 1.9 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Charles L. Russell

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982) 'New Orleans Necklace' c. 1962

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982)
New Orleans Necklace
c. 1962
Silver, three semiprecious stones: Labradorite (?)
8 5/8 x 5 7/8 x 3/4 in. (21.9 x 14.9 x 1.9 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Charles L. Russell

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982) '"Bauble" Necklace' c. 1953

 

Art Smith (American, 1917-1982)
“Bauble” Necklace
c. 1953
Silver, colorless quartz
9 1/8 x 4 7/8 x 1/2 in. (23.2 x 12.4 x 1.3 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Charles L. Russell

 

2007.61.15Peter-Basch.-Model-Wearing-Art-Smith's-Modern-Cuff-Bracelet,-circa-1948.-Black-and-white-photograph,-13-34-x-1034-in.-(34.9-x-27.3-cm).-Courtesy-of-Brooklyn-Museum-WEB

 

Peter Basch
Model Wearing Art Smith’s “Modern Cuff” Bracelet
c. 1948
Black-and-white photograph
13 3/4 x 103/4 in. (34.9 x 27.3 cm)
Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

 

 

Cincinnati Art Museum

953 Eden Park Drive
Cincinnati, OH 45202
T: 513-639-2872

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Tuesday through Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm
The Art Museum is closed on Mondays

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25
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Lorna Simpson’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 28th May – 1st September 2013

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Fascinating practice!

Identity, memory, gender, representation, the body, the subject, felt, text, images, video, gesture, reenactment, concept and performance, all woven together seamlessly like a good wig made of human hair…

Marcus

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

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Lorna Simpson. 'Five Day Forecast [Prévisions à cinq jours]' 1988

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Lorna Simpson
Five Day Forecast [Prévisions à cinq jours]
1988
5 gelatin silver prints in a frame, 15 plates engraved plastic
24 ½ x 97 in (62.2 x 246.4 cm) overall
Lillian and Billy Mauer Collection
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. 'Stereo Styles [Styles stéréo]' 1988

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Lorna Simpson
Stereo Styles [Styles stéréo]
1988
10 dye-diffusion black-and-white Polaroid prints, 10 engraved plastic plaques
57 ¾ x 125 ¼ x 1 3/8 in (146.7 x 318.1 x 3.5 cm) overall
Collection of Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. 'Wigs II' 1994-2006

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Lorna Simpson
Wigs II
1994-2006
Serigraph on 71 felt panels (images and text)
98 x 265 in (248.9 x 673.1 cm) overall
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson surprised her audiences in 1994 when she began to print her photographs on felt, inspired by its materiality after seeing an exhibition of the sculpture of Joseph Beuys in Paris “where the piano and walls were covered for a beautiful installation.” Simpson questioned whether the medium might be appropriate in a far different way for her work given the perspective afforded her by the passage of time. With the felt pieces, Simpson turned away from photography’s traditional paper support, magnified the already larger-than-life-size of the images within her large photo-text pieces to extremely large-scale multi-part works, and, most critically, absented the figure, in particular, the black woman in a white shift facing away from the camera for which she had received critical acclaim.

Ever-present, nevertheless, were her thematic concerns. The first felts offered surrogates for the body in  a taxonomy of her own photographs of Wigs, with voicings “in and around gender,” and expanded upon the investigation of the role of coiffure in the construction of identity in Simpson’s photo-texts (such as Stereo Styles, Gallery 1). In the mid-1990s, such felts were succeeded by a series of photographs of interior and exterior scenes that were accompanied by long text passages printed on separate small felts. In these works the figure was replaced, as Okwui Enwezor wrote, “by the rumor of the body.”

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Lorna Simpson. 'Please remind me of who I am' (detail) 2009

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Lorna Simpson
Please remind me of who I am (detail)
2009
50 found photo booth portraits, 50 ink drawings on paper, 100 bronze elements
Overall installation dimensions variable
Collection of Isabelle and Charles Berkovic
© Lorna Simpson

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For each multi-part photo-booth piece, Simpson sets in bronze frames these small inexpensive shots as well as her drawings of selected details of the photographs. Self-styled and performed, these photographs were used for a variety of purposes by their now anonymous sitters, ranging from sober, formal ID photos to glamorous, often theatrically playful mementos. Encompassing photo booth shots of different sizes from the 1920s to the 1970s (a few in color), Simpson’s constellations of many images for each work offer a collective portrait of self-portraiture (Gather, 2009) and continue her ongoing explorations of identity and memory, explicitly phrased in the title of one of them: Please remind me of who I am (2009).

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Lorna Simpson. 'Waterbearer [Porteuse d'eau]' 1986

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Lorna Simpson
Waterbearer [Porteuse d’eau]
1986
Gelatin silver print, vinyl letters
59 x 80 x 2 ½ in (149.9 x 203.2 x 5.7 cm) overall
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris / Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Waterbearer shows a woman from the back, pouring water from an elegant silvery metallic pitcher in one hand and from an inexpensive plastic jug in the other, echoing art historical renderings of women at wells or in the domestic settings of Dutch still-life paintings. As if balancing the scales of justice, this figure also symbolically offers disjunctions of means and class. In the accompanying text, Simpson explicitly addresses memory and the agency of speakers: “She saw him disappear by the river, they asked her to tell what happened, only to discount her memory.”

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For her first European retrospective, the Jeu de Paume presents thirty years of Lorna Simpson’s work. For this Afro-American artist, born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1960, the synthesis between image and text is profound and intimate. If one were to consider Lorna Simpson as a writer, the textual element of her works could have an autonomous life as prose poems, very short stories or fragments of scripts. And yet, her texts are inseparable from her images; there is a dynamic between the two that is both fragile and energising, which links them unfailingly. Lorna Simpson became known in the 1980s and 90s for her photographs and films that shook up the conventions of gender, identity, culture and memory.

Throughout her work, the artist tackles the complicated representation of the black body, using different media, while her texts add a significance that always remains open to the spectator’s imagination. In her recent work, Lorna Simpson has integrated archive images, which she reinvents by positioning herself in them as subject. As the artist underlines: “The theme I turn to most often is memory. But beyond this subject, the underlying thread is my relationship to text and ideas about representation.” (Lorna Simpson)

This retrospective reveals the continuity in her conceptual and performative research. In her works linking photography and text, as well as in her video installations, she integrates – while continually shaking them up – the genres of fixed and moving images, using them to ask questions about identity, history, reality and fiction. She introduces complexity through her use of photography and film, in her exploitation of found objects, in the processes she develops to take on the challenges she sets herself and to spectators.

The exhibition gathers her large format photo-texts of the mid 1980s, which brought her to the attention of the critics (Gestures / Reenactments, Waterbearer, Stereo Styles), her work in screenprints on felt panels since the 1990s (Wigs, The Car, The Staircase, Day Time, Day Time (gold), Chandelier), a group of drawings (Gold Headed, 2013), and also her “Photo Booths,” ensembles of found photos and drawings (Gather, Please remind me of who I am…). The exhibition is also an opportunity to discover her video installations: multivalent narratives that question the way in which experience is created and perceived more or less falsely (Cloudscape, 2004, Momentum, 2010), among them, Playing Chess, a new video installation made especially for the occasion.

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About the exhibition

by Joan Simon

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In her critically acclaimed body of work spanning more than thirty years, Lorna Simpson questions identity and memory, gender and history, fact and fiction, playing eye and ear in tandem if not in synchrony to prompt consideration of how meaning is constructed. That she has often described herself as an observer and a listener informs an understanding of both her approach and her subjects. In her earliest black-and-white documentary street photographs (1978-80), Simpson isolated gestures that bespoke an intimacy between those framed in her viewfinder, recording what was less a decisive moment than one of coming into relation. Some of these photographs seem to capture crossed glances, pauses in an ongoing conversation. Others are glimpses of occasions, transitional events identifiable by a white confirmation or wedding dress, which convey a sense of palpable silence in exchanges between people just out of earshot.

When Simpson began to stage her own photographs in 1985 and to write accompanying texts, she came in closer. She allowed us to see a carefully framed black body, abstracted in gesture and in white clothing, yet also permitted us to read seemingly overheard comments that redirected and recomplicated the view. While her images captured gestures, her narratives imbued these images frozen in a never-changing present with memory, a past. The title of her first photo-text work, made in 1985, and of the exhibition of that year in which it was first exhibited was Gestures / Reenactments, and one can argue that all Simpson’s work is built on the juxtaposition of gestures and reenactments, creating meaning in the resonant gap between the two. It is a gap that invites the viewer / reader to enter, all the while requiring an active reckoning with some inalienable truths: seeing is not necessarily believing, and what we might see is altered not only by our individual experiences and assumptions but also, critically, by what we might hear.

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The exhibition

Whether for still or moving picture productions, Lorna Simpson (b. 1960) uses her camera as catalyst to question identity and gender, genres and history, race and class, fact and fiction, memory and meanings. Assumptions of photographic “truth” are challenged and qualified – indeed redirected – by the images she creates that are inseparable from the texts she writes to accompany them, by the soundings she chooses  for videos, or by her pairings of vintage photographs with newly made renderings. The Jeu de Paume presents lorna Simpson’s first large-scale exhibition in europe beginning with her earliest photo-text pieces of the 1980s through her newest video installation, Chess, 2013, which makes its debut in Paris.

Works in the exhibition show the artist drawing on traditional photo techniques such as gelatin silver prints in an intimate synthesis with speakerly texts (Gallery 1). They also show Simpson’s creation of new combines, among them serigraphs on felt with writings and images invoking film noir (Gallery 2), a video installation of three projections based on historic photographs and her own prior still photos (Gallery 3), constellations of recuperated photo-booth photos with her drawings isolating details from them as well as vintage photographs together with those re-staged by the artist (Gallery 4), and a video focusing on performance as well as time itself and its reversal (Gallery 5).

The exhibition’s parcours reveals turning points in Simpson’s oeuvre as well as thematic continuities. The earliest pieces in the show are Simpson’s performative proto-cinematic photo-texts, beginning with the 1985 Gestures/ Reeactments, a title literally evocative of the work’s visual/verbal aspect while also paradigmatically descriptive of what would be her conceptual practice for the next three decades. Simpson herself makes a rare appearance in her work in two related pieces in the show: the 2009 epic still photo work 1957-2009 (Gallery 4), for which the artist re-enacted scenes from vintage photos, and Chess, 2013, (Gallery 3), which features re-enactments of some of the same photos.

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Gallery 1 introduces the artist’s signature, indeed iconic early images of the 1980s – a black figure in white clothing, face turned away from the camera or cropped out of the frame – accompanied by precisely crafted, allusive texts that recomplicate what is seen by what is heard in these voicings. The intention to deny a view of a face, as Simpson says, “was related to the idea that the one thing that people gravitate to in photography is the face and reading the expression and what that says about the person pictured, an emotional state, who they are, what they look like, deciphering and measuring. Who is being pictured, what is actually the subject? Photographing from the back was a way to get viewers’ attention as well as to consciously withdraw what they might expect to see.”

The performative photo-text works in Gallery 1 are Gestures/Reenactments, 1985 (created as part of her thesis project for her MFA at the University of California, San Diego), Waterbearer and Twenty Questions (A Sampler) (the first works that Simpson made when she moved to New York in 1986), as well as Five Day Forecast, 1988, and Stereo Styles, 1988. Beginning with Waterbearer, all of these except Gestures/Reenactments (which features a black male) show a black female in a white shift played by artist Alva Rogers, who was often mistaken for Simpson herself.

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Gallery 2 marks important changes the artist made during the ’90s, most notably Simpson’s surprising shift to printing her photographs on felt and absenting the human figure. At first she used surrogates for the body, seen in the many and various wigs she photographed and which she accompanied with texts that continued to address ideas of identity and gender (Wigs, 1994-2006). She used photographs taken during her travels for the next series of felt works, which were interior and exterior scenes (The Car, 1995, The Rock, 1995, The Staircase, 1998) that in both imagery and texts invoked film noir. These works led almost inevitably to the start of Simpson’s film and video work in 1997. (Her earliest photo-texts will be recognized by the viewer as proto-cinematic with their multiple frames and conversational voices.)

This gallery also reveals how Simpson continues to use her felt medium and returns to her own archive of images   as well as found objects. Three related works, though no longer using text, nevertheless “comment” on each other:  a video of a performance (Momentum, 2010) inspired by an early 1970s performance at Lincoln Center generated felt works based on vintage photographs of this famous New York theater – Chandelier, 2011, Daytime, 2011, and Daytime (gold), 2011- as well as the Gold Headed (2013) drawings, based on the dancers costumed head to foot in gold. Drawings are perhaps the least known medium in Simpson’s practice, and while they reveal the fluid gestures of her hand, visitors will recognize in these gold heads turned from the viewer an echo of the position of the figures  in Gallery 1.

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Gallery 3 is devoted to Simpson’s newest video, Chess, 2013, which is based on historic photos as well as her own earlier photographic piece, 1957-2009 (Gallery 4), in which she restaged found vintage photographs. Chess and 1957-2009 mark the rare instances in which Simpson has herself appeared in her work.

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Gallery 4 presents reenactments that use quotidian photographic genres to explore constructions of identity   and that offer a collective portrait of photographic portraiture over time. All of the works in this gallery are based on found photographs Simpson purchased on eBay and each depicts anonymous subjects performing for the camera. 1957-2009 is based on photographs in a vintage album; Gather and Please remind me of who I am are constellations of bronze-framed found photo-booth images (from the 1920s to the 1970s) accompanied by Simpson’s similarly framed drawings of details from the photographs.

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Gallery 5 offers Simpson’s video installation Cloudscape, 2004, which focuses on performance itself and the soundings of a body, that of artist Terry Adkins whistling a hymn. Embodying memory (and the distortions of it) as she did in her earliest photo-works but playing also with the particularities of video, Simpson loops the video to play forward and backward. In this process a new melody is created even as the stationary figure appears same but different.

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Lorna Simpson. 'Chess [Échecs]' 2013

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Lorna Simpson
Chess [Échecs]
2013
HD video installation with three projections, black & white, sound
10:25 minutes (loop)
Score and performance by Jason Moran
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. 'Chess [Échecs]' 2013

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Lorna Simpson
Chess [Échecs]
2013
HD video installation with three projections, black & white, sound
10:25 minutes (loop)
Score and performance by Jason Moran
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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“Gestures” and “reenactments” could both be described as the underlying methods of Simpson’s practice for the decades to follow. Whether working with photographs she herself staged, found photographs, or archival film footage, her images captured gestures (as in her earliest documentary photographs of 1978-1980) while her series of multiple images, accompanied by texts, proposed simultaneous (if not synchronous) reenactments. This method also applied to works in which she replicated found images, whether turning images from her films into drawings, or using herself to re-play roles depicted by anonymous figures she had discovered in vintage photographs, either for staged still photographs (as in 1957-2009, 2009), or for moving pictures (as in the video Chess, 2013).

Chess, 2013, Simpson’s video installation made expressly for this exhibition, draws on images from 1957- 2009, her still photograph ensemble of 2009 (on view in Gallery 4). For both, in a departure from her earlier videos and prior staged photographs, Simpson herself performs. In 1957-2009, by reenacting scenes from found vintage prints with which they are shown, Simpson is “mirroring both the male and  the female character, in dress, pose, expression, and setting. When I would mention the idea of working with mirrors [for the Chess video] people would often mention the famous portraits of Picasso and  Picabia taken at a photo studio in New York by an anonymous photographer who placed the subject   at a table in front of two mirrored panels at seventy-degree angles. The result is a five-way portrait that includes views that are not symmetrical and that offer slightly different angles: a surrealist trope of trick photography.”

Though the artist first rejected the idea of working with the mirror device used in these historic portraits, which she had seen many times, she decided to take it on fully and reconstruct it in her studio for this new video project after  art historian and sociologist Sarah Thornton sent her “a beautiful image of an unknown man of African descent in a white straw hat, which had been in an exhibition at MoMA [catalogue page 61]. It was a five-way portrait probably taken by the same photographer who had taken the portraits of Picasso and Picabia. I could no longer resist or dis- miss this idea. I felt that it was demanding my attention.”

Shot in Simpson’s studio over the weekend of December 8, 2012, Chess is comprised of three video projections. For two of them Simpson again plays both female and male chess-players, and with the help of makeup and hair assistants, she now allows her characters to age. The third projection shows pianist Jason Moran performing his improvised score for this project, which was inspired by discussions between artist and composer about “mirroring in music,” especially “in the work of musician Cecil Taylor, who employs mirroring in his compositions.”

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Lorna Simpson. 'The Car' 1995

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Lorna Simpson
The Car
1995
Serigraph on 12 felt panels with felt text panel
102 x 104 in (259.1 x 264.2 cm)
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. 'The Car' (detail) 1995

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Lorna Simpson
The Car (detail)
1995
Serigraph on 12 felt panels with felt text panel
102 x 104 in (259.1 x 264.2 cm)
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. '1957-2009' (detail) 2009

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Lorna Simpson
1957-2009 (detail)
2009
299 gelatin silver prints, framed
5 x 5 in. (12.7 x 12.7 cm) each (image size)
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Lorna Simpson

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While collecting photo booth images on eBay, Simpson found the first of the vintage photographs – a woman in a tight sweater-dress leaning on a car – that would generate 19572009 (2009). The artist subsequently bought the entire album and in 2009 restaged these photographs of an anonymous black woman and sometimes a man performing for their camera between June and August 1957 in Los Angeles, which they may have done in the hope of gaining movie work in Hollywood or as an independent project of self-invention. For 1957-2009, Simpson reenacted both female and male roles, and the 299 images are comprised of both the 1957 originals and Simpson’s 2009 remakes. Simpson again reenacted a selection of these vignettes for her video installation Chess, 2013.

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Lorna Simpson. 'Cloudscape [Paysage nuageux]' 2004

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Lorna Simpson
Cloudscape [Paysage nuageux]
2004
Video projection, black & white, sound
3:00 minutes (loop)
Centre national des arts plastiques, purchase in 2005
Photo courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson/Centre national des arts plastiques

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Lorna Simpson’s video installation Cloudscape (2004) isolates one man, Simpson’s friend, the artist and musician Terry Adkins, in a dark room, spotlighted as he whistles a hymn and is enveloped in fog. Focusing on the ephemerality of performance, the artist employs a technique afforded by her medium to play with time as well. Simpson runs the video forward and then also backward in a continuous loop, creating new visual and oral/aural permutations of gesture and reenactment. In the reversal of the time sequence, the image remains somewhat familiar while the tune turns into something else, a different melody.

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Lorna Simpson. 'Momentum' 2010

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Lorna Simpson
Momentum
2010
HD video, color, sound
6:56 minutes
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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As Simpson explored new mediums, such as film and video starting in 1997 or found photographs in  the late 1990s, she continued to work in parallel with her felt serigraphs. In this gallery are three related sets of works that, unlike her earlier photo-text pieces, are all based on a personal memory: performing as a youngster, age 12, in gold costume, wig, and body paint in a ballet recital at New York’s Lincoln Center. Simpson re-staged such a performance for her video Momentum (2010).

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

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 12.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Friday: 12.00 – 19.00
Saturday and Sunday: 10.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website

Lorna Simpson website

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28
Mar
12

Exhibition: ‘Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story’ at Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Exhibition dates:  29th October 2011 – 7th April 2012

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What an astonishing photographer this man was. These photographs are a revelation. African American artist Charles “Teenie” Harris, captured “the essence of daily African-American life in the 20th century. For more than 40 years, Harris – as lead photographer of the influential Pittsburgh Courier newspaper – took almost 80,000 pictures of people from all walks: presidents, housewives, sports stars, babies, civil rights leaders and even cross-dressing drag queens.”

While Harris is most famous for depicting an innovative and thriving black urban community – daily life in Pittsburgh’s Hill District – it is the less figurative, more abstract urban landscape work that I am interested in here. Hence I have put four outstanding photographs that I picked out from the Archive at the top of the posting.

Earlier photographs of the city from the 1940s, such as Large two story home with attic, porch, double entryway, and yard, with young child on steps alone, next to smaller two story home with porches on both stories (c. 1940-45, below) have a touch of Walker Evans about them. Note how in this photograph the eve of the large two story home roof touches the top of the negative (allowing an exit for the eye at the top of the image), beautifully balanced on the left-hand side by the intrusion of the roof of another out of frame building and its shadow cast on the ground. The spatial separation between this roof and the porch of the smaller two story home is critical, as is the punctum of the child standing on the stoop. There are beautiful spaces in this photograph, as the eye plays across its surface, taking in form and detail, light and shade, eventually escaping down the right hand side of the building to the sky beyond.

It is only when we get to the 1950s that Harris really seems to hit his straps in these photographs of the urban landscape. Personally, I can’t remember any other photographs like them. By this time he has developed his own signature, his own voice. And what a voice it is!

In the three remaining photographs at the top of the posting there is a conciseness to his vision of the world, a spatial spareness, even sparseness that is very eloquent. In Construction site with bulldozer (c. 1954, below), possibly a photograph of the site of Belmar Gardens, Pittsburgh’s first black-owned housing cooperative, the landscape is shot from below up a slight incline, bookended with raised bank at left and car at right framing the image plane and holding it together. But it is the space around the central figures as they look off into the distance that is so magical – the blackened, textural ground playing off the cloudless sky with single tree at left. That space in the foreground, between the bottom of the image and the figures is tensioned so well with the distance between the figures and the top edge of the negative: Harris has an intimate understanding of what he wants to achieve in this image – spatially and narratively. The hope of the future.

The same can be said for Three story brick row houses with mansard roofs (c. 1958, below). Again, there is a spareness to his rendition of space and a complexity to his imaging of tone. It is almost like there is a dividing line between night and day, between the city in snow and the city in darkness, the ying yang of existence. Observe the light car is in darkness and the dark car in light; the dark trees, the light telegraph post; the space between the cars which no car could ever fit through; and the smallness of the child walking down the street. Incredible. Again, there is a openness to Harris’ rendition of space in Young men playing sandlot baseball with steel mill in background (c. 1955, below). Let your eyes soak in the open sky; the verticals of dark chimneys, left and light chimneys, right; the building at left perched atop the embankment; the composition of the figures across the middle of the image, reminiscent of a piece of music; the open space of the baseball sandlot at the bottom of the photograph with faint white line delineation and figure at right holding up the edge of the image. This is a master at work.

In this mature style, Harris has no need to fill space with an urban mass or congeries. These are spaces that matter, spaces of matter but these spaces are not empty, negative spaces, but active, fluid spaces, the space of possibilities. He understands what he wants to say so well, he is so confident of his previsualisation of the urban spaces of the city they become uniquely his own – open, engaging, optimistic. This is his voice, his gift, his legacy to the world – for me, not so much the portraits of Afro-American culture, but the spaces of the city as a metaphor for change within that culture. His reading of the landscape is his unique field of vision: in the stillness of these photographs time no longer passes, for the author and for the viewer. His images transcend place and, as such, like Atget before him, he deserves to be recognised as an artist who captured a changing world. Further research on this aspect of his art would seem appropriate.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Download the Book: Teenie Harris Photographer: Image, Memory, History (15.44Mb pdf) by Cheryl Finley, Laurence Glasco, and Joe Trotter with an introduction by Deborah Willis. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011.

I am most grateful to Tey Stiteler for allowing me to pick the photographs I wanted for this posting. This help was crucial as I wanted to talk about the less figurative work in the Teenie Harris Archive. Many thankx to the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Teenie Harris Archive for allowing me to publish the photographs and book pdf in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Teenie Harris
Construction site with bulldozer, two men, including one in front holding child, large tank with hose, and car on right, possibly in construction site of Belmar Gardens
c. 1954
© Carnegie Museum of Art

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Teenie Harris
Three story brick row houses with mansard roofs, and small child on sidewalk of tree lined street with automobiles
c. 1958
© Carnegie Museum of Art

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Teenie Harris
Young men playing sandlot baseball with steel mill in background
c. 1955
© Carnegie Museum of Art

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Teenie Harris
Large two story home with attic, porch, double entryway, and yard, with young child on steps alone, next to smaller two story home with porches on both stories
c. 1940-1945
© Carnegie Museum of Art

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“Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story, the first major retrospective exhibition of the work and legacy of African American artist Charles “Teenie” Harris, will be on view at Carnegie Museum of Art from October 29, 2011, to April 7, 2012.

The groundbreaking exhibition will celebrate the artist/photographer whose work is considered one of the most complete portraits anywhere of 20th-century African American experience. Large-scale, themed photographic projections of nearly 1,000 of Teenie Harris’s greatest images accompanied by an original jazz soundtrack will generate an immersive experience in the exhibition’s opening gallery. Subsequent galleries will present a chronological display of these photographs at a conventional scale, and give visitor access to the more than 73,000 catalogued and digitized images in the museum’s Teenie Harris Archive. The exhibition will offer an examination of Harris’s working process and artistry, and audio commentary on the man and his work by the people who knew him. In addition, the photographs and many of these materials will be accessible on Carnegie Museum of Art’s website.

“Since 2001, our museum has been the repository of the Teenie Harris Archive. This exhibition marks the culmination of a long effort to preserve and document an extensive collection of historically and artistically important images,” says Lynn Zelevansky, The Henry J. Heinz II Director of Carnegie Museum of Art. “We are honored to present this retrospective of a photographer whose body of work gives so much to us.”

During his 40-year career as freelance and staff photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the nation’s most influential black newspapers, Teenie Harris (1908 – 1998) produced more than 80,000 images of Pittsburgh’s African American community. The photographs, taken from the 1930s to the 1970s, capture a period of momentous change for black Americans. His subjects ranged from the everyday lives of ordinary people to visits by powerful and glamorous national figures to Pittsburgh, the nation’s industrial center. From birthday celebrations to civil rights boycotts, the distinctive vision of Harris’s photographs folds into the larger narrative of American history, art, and culture.

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Charles “Teenie” Harris

Teenie Harris grew up in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, a neighborhood once called “the crossroads of the world.” A serious photographer from the age of 18, he started his professional photographic career in 1937 when he opened a studio and began to take on freelance assignments. In 1941, Harris was appointed staff photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier, the nation’s preeminent black newsweekly. His images were disseminated nationally through the Courier, and played a key role in how African Americans visualized themselves.

Like the Scurlock Studio in Washington, DC, James Van Der Zee in New York, and P. H. Polk in Alabama, Harris depicted an innovative and thriving black urban community, in spite of the segregationist policies and attitudes of mid-century America. His images captured daily life in the Hill – weddings, funerals, family portraits, parades, church events, street scenes, graduations – as well as of the great men and women who visited the neighborhood, including Martin Luther King Jr., Paul Robeson, John F. Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Lena Horne, and Muhammad Ali. Some of the country’s finest jazz musicians – Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Ahmad Jamal, Sarah Vaughan, and Duke Ellington – were photographed by Harris alongside bartenders, waitresses, and dancing crowds.

The longevity of Harris’s career offers an outlook on historic shifts that took place in the lives of African Americans everywhere. In the era of segregated baseball, for example, Harris photographed two legendary Negro League baseball teams, the Pittsburgh Crawfords (which Harris cofounded in the mid-1920s) and Homestead Grays. Later, when baseball’s color barrier was broken, he photographed African American major league baseball players like Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente along with their teammates. The pride and optimism evident in Harris’s photos of the Double V campaign from the World War II era (victory abroad, victory for racial equality at home), turned to growing moods of frustration and anger evident in images of militant protests in the late 1950s and 1960s. These photographs provide important insights to issues that are still pertinent today.

“Teenie Harris had great empathy with his subjects and a talent for storytelling,” says Lippincott. “His images transcend place. Powerful and personal, they connect today’s viewers with a proud past and a vibrant artistic and cultural heritage. We hope that through this retrospective and traveling exhibition, Harris will be established in the canons of art, history, and photography.”

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About the Exhibition

Nearly 1,000 of Harris’s most striking and iconic photographs will be digitally projected as life-sized images in the opening gallery. The images, organized into seven sections – “Crossroads,” “Gatherings,” “Urban Landscapes,” “Style,” “At Home,” “The Rise and Fall of the Crawford Grill,” and “Words and Signs” – will be synchronized with an original jazz score produced by MCG Jazz, one of the nation’s top organizations dedicated to the preservation, presentation, and promotion of jazz music. A second gallery will feature a chronological installation of small prints of the projected images that will include a referencing system for in-depth exploration of each photograph through a bank of computers and books also located in the gallery. In addition, the computers will provide access to the interactive website that has been created for the show.

At the entrance to the third gallery, a mini exhibition of 12 fine-art-quality 16 x 20″ prints selected by 12 experts will be accompanied by their personal analyses of the meaning, significance, and beauty of the chosen images. This gallery will also feature a large-scale map showing the places Harris lived, worked, and photographed and a multimedia presentation called “Artist at Work” that demonstrates Harris’s technical skill and artistic vision, and shows how newspapers and publishers cropped and edited his work in order to tell a particular story. “Artist at Work” marries audio recordings of the stories and memories of Teenie Harris, as told by his family, friends, colleagues, and models, with a montage of projected images relating to their tales.

In addition to an exhibition-specific website, the museum is collaborating with the University of Pittsburgh Press on an illustrated book offering new and unpublished scholarship about Harris, his work, and his times that will impact the fields of American and African American art, culture, and history.

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About the Teenie Harris Archive

In 2001, Carnegie Museum of Art acquired the Teenie Harris archive from the Harris family and began a multiyear project to preserve, catalogue, digitize, and make the images available on the museum’s website for public view. Few of Harris’s negatives were titled and dated; since the acquisition of the archive, the museum has invited the public to help in the identification of the people, places, and activities in the photographs through a series of museum-based displays of his work, outreach presentations, meetings with oral historians, and online response forms that accompany the continually growing display of images on the museum’s website.

The Teenie Harris Archive Project is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which designated the archive a “We the People” project in the spring of 2007. “We the People” is an initiative to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture. Initial support for the Teenie Harris Archive Project was provided by the Heinz Endowments.”

Press release from the Carnegie Museum of Art website

Teenie Harris Archive website

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Teenie Harris
Man lying with arms crossed and ferns on his lap, in cabin of truck
c. 1940-1945
© Carnegie Museum of Art

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Teenie Harris
Wooden roller coaster, possibly at Rock Springs Park, Chester, West Virginia
c. 1941
© Carnegie Museum of Art

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Teenie Harris
Deserted Alley
1946-1970
© Carnegie Museum of Art

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“Charles “Teenie” Harris had a photographic mission: going beyond the obvious or sensational to capture the essence of daily African-American life in the 20th century. For more than 40 years, Harris – as lead photographer of the influential Pittsburgh Courier newspaper – took almost 80,000 pictures of people from all walks: presidents, housewives, sports stars, babies, civil rights leaders and even cross-dressing drag queens. Now, a new exhibit and online catalog is showing the depth of Harris’ work, an archive showing a major artistic achievement that influenced people around the country.

“His shots of everyday people are amazing. People seem to kind of jump off the page,” said Stanley Nelson, an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and MacArthur genius grant winner who has made a number of acclaimed films on African-American artists, business people, and workers. “They don’t have the sense of somebody kind of looking in and spying on the community. For me his pictures are very unique,” Nelson said.

Harris was a gifted basketball player as a young man, and helped start a Negro League baseball team, too. His brother was Pittsburgh’s biggest bookie, and that gave him access to people throughout the city. But he found his mission at the Pittsburgh Courier, which was distributed all over the country via a network of Pullman train porters. Through the paper Harris had endless opportunities to chronicle daily life and to meet the rich, famous, and powerful. Harris photographed Richard Nixon, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and many musical greats, such as Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington. “That was the black national paper of record at the time,” said Laurence Glasco, a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh.

Many people stopped by the Courier offices because of its clout with African-Americans, Glasco said. Yet Harris neither pandered to nor looked down on celebrities, he added. “He really didn’t have a cult of celebrity. He wouldn’t cross a street to shake a celebrity’s hand. He was interested in them, but he really saw them as just people. And that really comes out in his photographs,” Glasco said. A young Muhammad Ali, for example, is shown picking up his mother and holding her in his arms. “He had an equal opportunity lens,” recalled Teenie’s son, Charles Harris. “He just liked people.”

The partnership with the Courier was a perfect match, since its reporters and editors were also pushing for equal rights. And true to Pittsburgh traditions, Teenie Harris was a hard worker, on call virtually 24-hours a day. “No matter what time it was, they could call. A lot of times he didn’t sleep,” his son said.

Louise Lippincott, the Carnegie Museum of Art Curator, worked closely with Harris in the last years of his life. “He had a very strong personal desire to complete a positive view of African-Americans and counter the negative stereotypes in the white press. On the other hand, there’s nothing sugarcoated,” said Lippincott. Glasco adds that Harris took pictures of very poor people without exaggerating their situation. “You can look at them and say, ‘These are real people; they happen to be very poor.’ They’re more than those clothes they’re wearing. They were first and foremost a person.” One picture shows a little girl with a big smile sitting on the floor of a newsstand, reading a comic book with a small dog on her lap. A key piece of history that Harris and the Courier covered heavily was African-Americans who served in World War II and returned home demanding that they be accorded rights equal to white soldiers, sailors, and airmen.

“The drive for civil rights really began in World War II,” Lippincott said, far earlier than many imagine. Yet the photographs are more than just a rich trove of mid-century American history. They emerge as art because Harris became a master of composition and for decades took each picture with a large-format camera that had to be hand-loaded with a single piece of film for each shot. “I remember being just shocked and amazed at what an incredible photographer he was. He just had this incredible eye,” said Nelson, who noted that Harris earned the nickname “One Shot” for his ability to deliver an assignment with one photograph.

Many of the pictures show a successful – and happy – black middle class. One young woman is depicted posing on the hood of a 1950s car, with steel mills in the background, while another simply kneels while playing with two small dogs. And even before the civil rights movement, there are many pictures showing black and white children and adults together. Glasco notes that even some controversial pictures seem to defy current expectations of what the past was like. In one, a man in a car has a cross-dressing male companion on each side.

“They’re happy, they’re proud, they’re smiling. It’s a joyful thing,” Glasco said of the men openly dressing as women. At an annual parade in Pittsburgh’s Hill district, one car was often filled with cross-dressers who waved at crowds, he added. Glasco once saw a Harris picture of cross-dressers next to contemporary pictures with the same subject, and was struck by the anger and hostility of the people in the new pictures, and the openness of the people in the older ones.

The Carnegie Museum of Art purchased Harris’ entire collection in 2001, through the Heinz Family Fund. The exhibit at the museum includes almost 1000 photographs, slide shows, and a jazz soundtrack commissioned especially for the show, which is up until next April. It’s also scheduled to travel to Chicago, Birmingham, Alabama, and Atlanta in the future. People who can’t get to one of those museums can view almost 60,000 Harris images that have been scanned and put online along with audio interviews of people who knew him.”

By Kevin Begos, Associated Press, November 27, 2011 on Boston.com [Online] Cited 21/03/2012

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Teenie Harris
Woman wearing one-piece skirted bathing suit reclining on swimming pool diving board
c. 1940-1945
© Carnegie Museum of Art

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Teenie Harris
Group portrait of two women and two men, woman on right wearing dark dress with wide brimmed hat, in interior with wainscoting and pictures on wall
c. 1940-1945
© Carnegie Museum of Art

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Teenie Harris
Group portrait of eight male boxers, possibly Golden Gloves contenders, lined up in boxing ring
c. 1955
© Carnegie Museum of Art

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Teenie Harris
Group portrait of women wearing church choir robes, posed outside in yard, with other houses, garage, and woman in background, seen from above
c. 1938-1945
© Carnegie Museum of Art

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Anon
Charles “Teenie” Harris holding camera and standing in front of Flash Circulation office, 2132 Centre Avenue, Hill District
c. 1937
© Carnegie Museum of Art

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Carnegie Museum of Art
4400 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-4080
T: 412.622.3131

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Sunday: noon – 5 p.m.

Carnegie Museum of Art website

Teenie Harris Archive 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: ‘Mask’ 1994

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