Posts Tagged ‘alienation

09
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath’ at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 19th September – 20th December 2015

 

 

Following on from the magnificent Francesca Woodman, here we have an artist from a previous period who investigates aspects of alienation, despair, loss and hope. These are of the era:

Post-McCarthyism but still caught in that cataclysm / Henri Cartier-Bresson / Irving Penn / Ansel Adams / Saturday Evening Post / Allen Ginsberg / Beat Generation / emerging counterculture of the 1960s.

It is an Americana (the despairing history, geography and culture of the United States) with an elusive meaning and a aesthetic that seems to be tight … but one that can’t stand to be scratched.

While some of the images are memorable (such as Vengeful Sister, Chicago, 1956) there is not much living, lying underneath. Nothing that reveals itself to me over time, that makes me return to the image again and again, for insight and, possibly, refreshment. A little hope and much sadness.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Philadelphia 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.

 

 

“City streets were Heath’s first studio: Philadelphia; Chicago; New York, where he came to prominence; and later Toronto. Isolation is a prevailing theme: Subjects gaze cryptically into the camera, their expressions unreadable. Often they stare beyond the frame, lost in thought. Crowds of individuals populate a single location, but don’t interact; disconnected, in their own worlds.

The dispossessed and alienated are Heath’s subjects, and he wrote his autobiography with their images: children with ragged clothes and dirty faces, stone-faced or crying, hardly ever smiling. A sweet-faced girl with tangled hair and huge light eyes stares out from the cover of Heath’s masterwork A Dialogue with Solitude, as if to say, “Here I am,” and nothing more…

Heath, who had to find his way alone, photographed passengers looking out of car windows and riding in elevated trains, going who knows where? Many photos are of just one person, and even the group shots set one occupant apart. Faces are expressionless, but their eyes are full of sorrow, uncertainty, loneliness, fear. We recognize that look: the one we all have when our public mask falls away and our faces betray the thoughts that wake us in the middle of the night.”

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Pamela J.  Forsythe. “Alone together” on the Broad Street Review website October 18, 2015

 

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Kansas City, Missouri, March 1967'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Kansas City, Missouri, March 1967
1967 (negative); 1968 (print)
Gelatin silver print
7 1/8 x 10 1/2 inches (18.1 x 26.7 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Berkeley, California, 1964'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Berkeley, California, 1964
1964
Gelatin silver print
4 5/8 x 6 13/16 inches (11.7 x 17.3 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Erin Freed, New York City, 1963'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Erin Freed, New York City, 1963
1963
Gelatin silver print
7 5/16 x 8 3/4 inches (18.6 x 22.2 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Carl Dean Kipper, Korea, 1953-54'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Carl Dean Kipper, Korea, 1953-54
1953-54
Gelatin silver print
6 3/4 x 9 3/4 inches (17.1 x 24.8 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Philadelphia, 1952'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Philadelphia, 1952
1952
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

“Experience Dave Heath’s bittersweet vision of modern life in his powerful photographs of loss and hope.

From a crowd gathered in Central Park to solitary figures lost in thought, Dave Heath’s images conjure feelings of alienation and a desire for human connection. Multitude, Solitude highlights the photographer’s black-and-white pictures of the 1950s and 1960s, an intense period of self-discovery and innovation for the artist. During these pivotal years, Heath developed groundbreaking approaches to narrative and image sequence, producing exquisite individual prints, handmade book maquettes, his poetic masterwork, A Dialogue with Solitude, and multimedia slide presentations. His sensitive explorations of loss, pain, love, and hope reveal Heath to be one of the most original photographers of those decades.

This exhibition is the first comprehensive survey of Heath’s deeply personal early work. Abandoned by both his parents by the age of four, Heath lived in Philadelphia foster homes and in an orphanage until the age of sixteen. The turmoil of his childhood profoundly shaped Heath and his artistic vision. Just before his sixteenth birthday, he encountered a poignant photo-essay about foster care in Life magazine, and became intrigued by photography’s potential to transcend simple reportage. Almost entirely self-taught, Heath channeled his feelings of abandonment into a body of work that underscores the importance and difficulties of human contact and interaction. Multitude, Solitude reaffirms Heath’s status as a key figure in twentieth-century photography and highlights his deeply empathetic sensibility.

About the artist

Born in Philadelphia in 1931, Dave Heath became interested in photography as a teenager. In the following years he trained himself in the craft, taking courses in commercial art, working in a photo-processing lab, and studying paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While stationed in Korea with the US Army, he photographed his fellow soldiers, creating images that are at once candid and subdued. In 1957 Heath moved to New York City and established himself as a major artistic talent.Heath taught at the Dayton Art Institute, Ohio, and Moore College of Art, Philadelphia, before moving in 1970 to Toronto, where he headed the photography program at Ryerson University for many years. His work is in the collections of leading museums, including The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

Heath’s major monograph, A Dialogue with Solitude, was published in 1965 and reprinted in 2000. His work has been included in important historical studies and surveys, such as Robert M. Doty’s Photography in America (1974); John Szarkowski’s Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960 (1978); James Borcoman’s Magicians of Light: Photographs from the Collection of the National Gallery of Canada (1993); and Keith F. Davis’s An American Century: From Dry-Plate to Digital (1999).”

Text from the Philadelphia Museum of Art website

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Drowning Scene, Central Park, New York City, 1957'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Drowning Scene, Central Park, New York City, 1957
1957
Gelatin silver print
6 3/8 x 9 9/16 inches (16.2 x 24.3 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Drowning Scene, Central Park, New York City, 1957' (detail)

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Drowning Scene, Central Park, New York City, 1957 (detail)
1957
Gelatin silver print
6 3/8 x 9 9/16 inches (16.2 x 24.3 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Vengeful Sister, Chicago, 1956'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Vengeful Sister, Chicago, 1956
1956
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 x 8 15/16 inches (18.3 x 22.7 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) '7 Arts Coffee Gallery, New York City, 1959'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
7 Arts Coffee Gallery, New York City, 1959
1959
Gelatin silver print
7 3/4 x 8 3/4 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'New York City, 1958-59'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
New York City, 1958-59
1958-59
Gelatin silver print
7 x 8 5/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) '5th Avenue at 43rd Street, New York City, 1958'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
5th Avenue at 43rd Street, New York City, 1958
1958
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 x 9 3/4 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Santa Barbara, California, 1964'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Santa Barbara, California, 1964
1964
Gelatin silver print
5 x 7 9/16 inches (12.7 x 19.2 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Rochester, New York, 1958'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Rochester, New York, 1958
1958
Gelatin silver print
6 9/16 x 9 13/16 inches (16.7 x 24.9 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Washington Square, New York City, 1959-1960'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Washington Square, New York City, 1959-1960
1959-1960
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 9 1/4 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

Forever the outsider

Heath left Philadelphia to serve in the Korean War, where he photographed fellow soldiers and his impressions of war. Soon after his return, he departed for Chicago, where he worked as a photographer’s assistant. He began to assemble handmade books, grouping photos into themed essays and putting text to the images, establishing the template he would use in A Dialogue with Solitude.

Relocating to New York in 1957, Heath studied with photojournalist W. Eugene Smith, refining his photo essay technique and adopting Smith’s practice of making fine art prints of his work. He took photos with available light, in the street and at favorite haunts like Washington Square Park and Seven Arts Coffee Gallery, mounting the Dialogue exhibition in 1963. In that same year, he won his first Guggenheim.

Accepting life on its own terms

When Dialogue went to print in 1965, Heath employed the same editorial control he had with earlier creations, selecting, sizing, and laying out every photo, dictating typeface and size, and selecting text from famous authors, such as William Butler Yeats, Hermann Hesse, and T.S. Eliot. Only in the preface did he use his own words:

“Pressed from all sides by the rapid pace of technological progress and increased authoritarian control, many people are caught up in an anguish of alienation. Adrift and without sense of purpose, they are compelled to engage in a dialogue with the inmost depths of their being in a search for renewal.” He concludes, “What I have endeavored to convey in my work is not a sense of futility… but an acceptance… that the pleasures and joys of life are fleeting and rare.”

The final sections convey a few of those pleasurable moments: In two photos entitled Chicago (1956), a small boy stands, head thrown back in exultation, and two boys mug for the camera. In Fifth Avenue, New York City (1960), a father snuggles his baby to his face, looking over the child’s head protectively, and in Barbara Freed and Her Son Sean, New York City (1959), a toddler heads toward a pair of outstretched female hands. Heath selected the final excerpt from Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi”:

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death?

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Pamela J.  Forsythe. “Alone together” on the Broad Street Review website October 18, 2015

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Greenwich Village, New York City, 1957'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Greenwich Village, New York City, 1957
1957
Gelatin silver print
12 5/8 x 9 9/16 inches (32.1 x 24.3 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'New York City, 1962'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
New York City, 1962
1962
Gelatin silver print, 10 13/16 x 7 7/16 inches (27.5 x 18.9 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Chicago, 1956'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Chicago, 1956
1956
Gelatin silver print, 12 9/16 x 8 9/16 inches (31.9 x 21.7 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Chicago, 1956'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Chicago, 1956
1956
Gelatin silver print
9 3/4 x 6 5/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Chicago, 1956'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Chicago, 1956
1956
Gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Washington Square, New York City, 1960'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Washington Square, New York City, 1960
1960
Gelatin silver print
12 5/8 x 8 5/8 inches (32.1 x 21.9 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Washington Square, New York City, 1958'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Washington Square, New York City, 1958
1958
Gelatin silver print
12 5/8 x 8 3/8 inches (32.1 x 21.3 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Howard Crawford, c. 1953-54'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Howard Crawford, c. 1953-54
c. 1953-54
Gelatin silver print
13 1/2 x 9 1/4 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

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04
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘Francesca Woodman. On Being an Angel’ at Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Exhibition dates: 5th September 2015 – 6th December 2015

Curator: Anna Tellgren

 

 

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) achieved more in five years of artistic creativity than many artists achieve in a lifetime.

As a viewer you can read whatever you want into her photographs: feminism, surrealism, psychoanalytical theory, avant-garde, sexuality, gender, identity, sadness, happiness, joy. One of Francesca Woodman’s teachers was Aaron Siskind but you can also feel echoes of Diane Arbus, the conceptual, narrative mystery of Duane Michals, the postmodern generation of Cindy Sherman (1977 onwards) and, someone who nobody mentions as an influence, the darkness of Ralph Eugene Meatyard (family members enacting symbolic dramas in masks, often set in abandoned places). Woodman also places masks on or off of her face. Further, “There are similarities in style to surrealistic photography, such as Woodman’s frequent use of mirrors, doubles, shadows, gloves, hands, swans, fish, eels, masks, and sexual symbols. Photographers such as Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun, and Man Ray spring to mind.”1

Here, I see the influence of Carl Jung in her work, specifically in Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” of the self (traces and silhouettes) which may refer to an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself. This shadow aspect may be positive or negative. “Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”2 This shadow aspect can be see in the photograph Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976 (below).

Another element embedded in the work is that of the Mirror stage, which is a concept in the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. “The mirror stage is based on the belief that infants recognize themselves in a mirror (literal) or other symbolic contraption which induces apperception (the turning of oneself into an object that can be viewed by the child from outside themselves) from the age of about 15 to 18 months… Lacan believed that the mirror stage represented a permanent structure of subjectivity, or as the paradigm of “Imaginary order”.”3 The basis of the Imaginary order is the formation of the ego in the “mirror stage”. “Since the ego is formed by identifying with the counterpart or specular image, “identification” is an important aspect of the imaginary. The relationship whereby the ego is constituted by identification is a locus of “alienation”, which is another feature of the imaginary, and is fundamentally narcissistic.”4 This imaginary order can be seen in photographs such as Self-deceit #1, Rome, Italy, 1978 (below), where the image and even the title alludes to a form of self-alienation.

Riffing on the “highly influential writings of French philosophers and cultural critics such as Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, and Julia Kristeva that were just beginning to be made available in translation. Among these thinkers’ central ideas was that identity was not organic and innate, but manufactured and learned through highly refined social constructions of gender, race, sexuality, and citizenship”5, Woodman’s work can also be seen to embody and ennoble these subjective and surrealist constructions (of self).

The artist is a CHIMERICAL CREATURE. Woodman’s transformations, her interior elements, become part of the wall or the house. She vanishes “from the room, out of the picture, at an given second.” A preoccupation with the body / her own body, and the dichotomy of subject-object, also adds multiple meanings and complexity to Woodman’s work. Her many angel images (and also images of umbrellas – Mary Poppins was released in 1964 when Woodman was growing up) suggest movement and the ability to fly, a fascination that found its ultimate expression when she jumped off a building in lower Manhattan at the age of 22.

We can read of all these things into the image/inary of Francesca Woodman if we want to. But they are not necessary to admire or appreciate her work. All we have to do is look at the photographs themselves; just return to the work. Here was a young artist, a young human being, expressing themselves through photography. She was just going for it and, as Corey Keller (a curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) has noted, her youth was the source of her potency.

“Art students are drawn to the conviction she brought to her work and, in contrast to the cool slickness of the digital, it embraces tactility and decay in a very sensual and seductive way.” Keller sees Woodman’s youth not as a liability, but as the source of her potency, though she admits the issue of her self-portraits continues to be fraught. “They are certainly an expression of selfhood. She’s not interested in images of women in general, for example, and even when the subject of the photograph is not herself physically, one always has the sense it is about her psychically.””6

While she may not have fully understood the layered nuances of French philosophy and Jungian psychology she INTUITIVELY knew what she was doing and what she wanted to achieve and capture in her work. There are lots of other photographers around the world that work in this same idiom, at art school and as mature artists, but none have that special something that Woodman has, something that one cannot quite put your finger on.

It is … a gap we can see across but cannot map.

Woodman is one of the greats. In her few short years as an artist, she achieved immortality through her images.
Her narrative – one of youth and vitality, of self exploration and transformation – is no myth. For she is legend.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

  1. Tellgren, Anna. Francesca Woodman: On Being an Angel (50kb pdf). 2015, pp. 13-14
  2. Shadow (psychology) on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  3. Mirror stage on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  4. The Imaginary (psychoanalysis) on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  5. Eklund, Douglas. “The Pictures Generation,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History on The Metropolitan Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  6. Corey Keller quoted in Cooke, Rachel. “Searching for the real Francesca Woodman,” on The Guardian website, Sunday 31 August 2014 [Online] Cited 04/12/2015

 

 

The American photographer Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) created a body of fascinating photographic works in a few intense years before her premature death. Her oeuvre has been the object of numerous in-depth studies and major exhibitions in recent years, and her photographs have inspired artists all over the world. Francesca Woodman began photographing in her teens and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1975 to 1978. Her output is usually divided into periods, from her early works, her years as a student in Providence, Italy (1977-1978), the Mac Dowell Colony, and, lastly, New York from 1979 until she died. The collection she left behind consists of a few hundred gelatin silver prints, but she also tried other techniques, such as large-format diazotypes, colour photography and video.

Woodman’s photographs explore gender, representation, sexuality and body. Her production includes several self-portraits, using herself and her friends as models. The figures are often placed behind furniture and other interior elements; occasionally, the images are blurred in such a way that their identity is hidden from the viewer. The intimate nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the small formats. Woodman worked in unusual settings such as derelict buildings, using mirrors and glass to evoke surrealist and occasionally claustrophobic moods.

Moderna Museet will present some hundred photographs by Francesca Woodman, with a selection from the series and themes she explored. The exhibition is produced by Moderna Museet in association with Betty and George Woodman and the Estate of Francesca Woodman. Alongside this exhibition, Moderna Museet will present a compilation of photography from the same period from its collection, to show Francesca Woodman in context and expand the perspective on her oeuvre to the public.

 

 

Francesca Woodman. 'On Being an Angel', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
On Being an Angel, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'On Being an Angel #1', Providence, Rhode Island, 1977

 

Francesca Woodman
On Being an Angel #1, Providence, Rhode Island, 1977
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. From 'Angel' series, Rome, Italy, 1977

 

Francesca Woodman
From Angel series, Rome, Italy, 1977
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. From 'Angel' series, Rome, Italy, 1977-1978

 

Francesca Woodman
From Angel series, Rome, Italy, 1977-1978
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Charlie the Model # 5', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976-77

 

Francesca Woodman
Charlie the Model #5, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976-77
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman From 'Eel' series, Venice, Italy, 1978

 

Francesca Woodman
From Eel series, Venice, Italy, 1978
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'House #4', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
House #4, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. From the 'three kinds of melon in four kinds of light' series, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
From the three kinds of melon in four kinds of light series, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

“The American photographer Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) created a body of fascinating photographic works in a few intense years before her premature death. Her oeuvre has been shown in number of major exhibitions in recent years, and her photographs have inspired artists all over the world.

Woodman’s photographs explore gender, representation, sexuality and body. The intimate nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the small formats. Her production includes several portraits, using herself and her friends as models. The figures are often placed behind furniture and other interior elements; occasionally, the images are blurred and the models hidden from the viewer. Woodman worked in settings such as derelict buildings, using mirrors and glass, evoking surrealist and at times even claustrophobic moods.

Francesca Woodman began photographing in her teens and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1975 to 1978. Her output is usually divided into periods: the early works, her years as a student in Providence, Italy (1977-78), the Mac Dowell Colony, and, lastly, New York from 1979 until she died. The collection she left behind consists of several hundred gelatin silver prints, but she also tried other techniques, such as large-format diazotypes and video.

Francesca Woodman. On being an angel presents 102 photographs and one video, representing most of the artist’s series and themes. The exhibition is produced by Moderna Museet in association with the Estate of Francesca Woodman. Alongside this exhibition, Moderna Museet presents a compilation of photography from the same period from its collection, to show Francesca Woodman in context and expand the perspective on her oeuvre to the public.

 

Biography

Francesca Woodman was born into a family of artists in Denver, Colorado, on April 3, 1958. Her mother, Betty, was a sculptor, her father, George, a painter and photographer, and her brother, Charlie, was a video artist.

Italy

The family often traveled to Italy and lived in Florence for a year between 1965 and 1966. Then they returned home to Boulder, Colorado, and Francesca continued her schooling. In 1968 her parents bought a farmhouse outside of Florence in Antella, and there they would spend their summers. Italy and its language, culture, and art history were frequent sources of inspiration for Francesca Woodman.

Providence

Woodman started taking pictures as a teenager and had attended a few art courses before she moved to Providence to study at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1975. The college is among the oldest art schools in the United States, and the well-known photographer Aaron Siskind was one of her teachers. While at college, she lived in her studio in an industrial area where many of her pictures from that time were created. Between 1977 and 1978 Francesca Woodman spent a year in Rome as part of the school’s honors program. In the fall of 1978, she earned her BFA and exhibited the series Swan Song (1978) at the graduate show in RISD’s Woods-Gerry Gallery.

New York

Months later, in January 1979, Woodman moved to New York, where she lived at various addresses while looking for work. She spent the summer together with her boyfriend, Benjamin Moore, in Stanwood, Washington. Over the course of the next year, she exhibited her work at a number of smaller galleries and experimented with new techniques such as largeformat diazotypes, and color images. She was a fellow at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, in the summer of 1980. There, she worked on a series of images exploring the relationship between nature and her body, among other projects. In early 1981, her artist’s book Some Disordered Interior Geometries was published by Synapse Press in Philadelphia. This was one of seven notebooks (including photographs that were glued in) that she worked with from 1976 onwards. Francesca Woodman took her own life on January 19, 1981.

Previous exhibitions

The first major retrospective of Francesca Woodman’s work was produced in 1986 by Ann Gabhart in collaboration with Rosalind Krauss for the Wellesley College Museum. It then toured a number of museums at American universities. Her first European exhibition was held in 1992 by Shedhalle in Zurich and the Westfälischer Kunstverein in Münster and was shown in the spring of 1993 at The Finnish Museum of Photography, in the Cable Factory in Helsinki. On its way there, it stopped for two months at Kulturhuset in Stockholm. The critic Lars O Ericsson wrote in Dagens Nyheter that the exhibition may have been the most important one to see in the capital at the time. To date, at least fifty separate exhibitions of Woodman’s photography have been held in Europe and the United States.

Photography from the Moderna Museet Collection

In connection to the exhibition with Francesca Woodman, Moderna Museet presents a selection of photographs from the same period from its collection, to show her in context. In Francesca Woodman’s active years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, photography was in a period of transition. Many photographers who had worked with classic black and white photography were experimenting with other forms and were pushing the documentary tradition towards more subjective and surrealist projects.

The United States paved the way in this development, and when many started working more professionally with photography, it was institutionalized. This shift in the field eventually spread to Europe. Major photographic exhibitions were held at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, featuring artists such as Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and Lee Friedlander, all of whom were influential to many younger photographers.

One of Francesca Woodman’s teachers was Aaron Siskind. His photography is often compared to that of Harry Callahan, since both were active for many years as teachers at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and later at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Another figure in American post-war photography is Minor White, who also had influence as a teacher. White wrote about and taught methods for understanding and interpreting photographs. New Topographics. Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape (1975) was a significant exhibition. It was held at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House in Rochester and one of the featured artists was Lewis Baltz. Other notable photographers in the new American wave were personalities as diverse as Robert Mapplethorpe, Melissa Shook, and Jerry Uelsmann.

But it was also then, from 1977 forward, that Cindy Sherman started working on her break-out series Untitled Film Stills. Sherman is an artist of the postmodern generation, and it is not known if Woodman had been aware of the so-called Pictures Generation. Duane Michals stood for a more conceptual approach. He was one of the photographers who we know interested Woodman.

Diazotypy

In the spring of 1980 Francesca Woodman started working on Blueprint for a Temple, where she was recreating the facade of a Greek temple using models draped in tunics similar to caryatids. The series began with a collection of details from bathrooms in New York, reminiscent of classical motifs. From having worked on a smaller scale, she had now moved on to truly large formats, some several meters in size.

These pictures are often categorized as blueprints, referring to a method of reproduction most frequently used for architectural plans. This is a contact print process on photosensitive paper; white lines on a blue background distinguish the finished product. (Other types of paper produced different background colors.)

The technique Woodman used was diazotypy: a dry photographic process on paper coated with diazonium compounds, which are sensitive to blue and UV light and developed by ammonia vapour. Woodman experimented with this technique. She created the largest of these images by hanging a long sheet of photosensitive diazo paper on the wall of a darkroom. A photographic slide was projected onto the paper from a slide projector, often for hours. The paper was then developed in a diazo processor at a company that made commercial reproductions of architectural plans. The result was a set of magnificent works in blue, purple, and sepia tones.

Text from the Moderna Museet, Stockholm website

 

Francesca Woodman. 'About Being My Model', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
About Being My Model, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Spring in Providence # 2', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
Spring in Providence #2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Self-deceit #1', Rome, Italy, 1978

 

Francesca Woodman
Self-deceit #1, Rome, Italy, 1978
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-78

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-78
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Rome, Italy, 1977-78

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Rome, Italy, 1977-78
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979-80

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, New York, 1979-80
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979-80

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, New York, 1979-80
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

Moderna Museet’s first exhibition this autumn features the American photographer Francesca Woodman, whose oeuvre has been the subject of numerous in-depth studies and major exhibitions in recent years. Her photography has inspired generations of artists and photographers around the world. Woodman has been called a prodigy, and those who met her testify to her as a young woman who was always working and looking for themes and material for her photographs. Examining Francesca Woodman’s aesthetic oeuvre is a challenge and an adventure.

Francesca Woodman’s (1958-1981) photographs explore gender, representation and body. Her aesthetic world reveals surrealist influences, with frequent use of mirrors, doubles, shadows, masks, and sexual symbols, bringing to mind the works of photographers such as Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun and Man Ray. Woodman’s output includes several portraits using herself and her friends as models. The intimate nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the small formats. Transformation emerges as a theme in many of Woodman’s images, for example in one of her strongest and eeriest series, House from 1976, in which she gradually merges with the walls, the torn wallpaper and the open fireplace.

“Francesca Woodman created a body of fascinating photographic works in a few intense years before her premature death. Her images reference history and the history of photography, but they also reflect their time, while unlocking new interpretations. She is deeply personal, and so her themes become universal. All of this is what On Being an Angel is about,” says curator Anna Tellgren.

Francesca Woodman began photographing in her teens and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1975 to 1978. Her output is usually divided into periods, from her early works, her years as a student in Providence, in Italy (1977-78), at the MacDowell Colony, and, lastly, in New York from 1979 until she died. Analyses of her work are often linked to her biography and chronology. During her active years, Woodman produced thousands of images and she also tried other techniques such as large-format diazotypes, colour photography and video. Some eight hundred photographs have been preserved. The words, short sentences, or quotations she scrawled on many of her prints have since given those pieces their titles.

The exhibition Francesca Woodman. On Being an Angel is comprised of 102 photographs and one video by Francesca Woodman, and selections from most of her thematic groups and series are represented, including Polka Dots (1976), the From Angel series (1977), Swan Song (1978), Charlie the Model (1976-77) and her large Caryatid (Study for a Temple Project) (1980). In Woodman’s active years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, photography was in a period of transition. Many photographers who had worked with classic black and white photography were experimenting with other forms, pushing the documentary tradition towards more subjective and surrealist projects. Alongside the exhibition, Moderna Museet will present a selection of photography from the same period from its collection, to show Francesca Woodman in context.

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Space2', Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1976

 

Francesca Woodman
Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975- 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'From Space2', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-78

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979-80

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, New York, 1979-80
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, New York, 1979
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, New York, 1979
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. '(Study for Temple Project)', New York, 1980

 

Francesca Woodman
(Study for Temple Project), New York, 1980
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Moderna Museet is ten minutes away from Kungsträdgården, and twenty minutes from T-Centralen or Gamla Stan. Walk past Grand Hotel and Nationalmuseum on Blasieholmen, opposite the Royal Palace. After crossing the bridge to Skeppsholmen, continue up the hill. The entrance to Moderna Museet and Arkitekturmuseet is on the left-hand side.

Opening hours:
Tuesday 10-20
Wednesday-Sunday 10-18
Monday closed

Moderna Museet website

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18
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Saul Leiter’ at Kunst Haus Wien, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 31st January – 26th May 2013

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“I like it when one is not certain of what one sees.
We don’t know why the photographer has taken such a picture.
If we look and look, we begin to see and are still left with the pleasure of uncertainty.”

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“It is not where it is or what it is that matters, but how you see it.”

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“After the age of 75 you should not be photographed.
You should be painted by Rembrandt or Hals, but not by Caravaggio.”

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Saul Leiter

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How brave is this photographer, occluding most of the colour image in darkness, something that had never been done before and has rarely been seen since. Look at the last three photographs in this posting to understand what I mean.

Considering that Saul Leiter’s colour photography predates William Eggleston and Stephen Shore by a couple of decades, it can truly be said that he is one of the early masters of colour photography. As the curator Ingo Taubhorn comments, “The older aesthetic views on the hegemony of black-and-white photography and the historical dating of the first artistic use of colour photography to the early 1970s need to be critically reviewed. Saul Leiter’s oeuvre essentially rewrites the history of photography.”  Well said.

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Many thankx to the Kunst Haus Wein 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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Saul Leiter. 'From the El' c. 1955

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Saul Leiter
From the El
c. 1955
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Nude' 1970s

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Saul Leiter
Nude
1970s
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Taxi' c. 1957

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Saul Leiter
Taxi
c. 1957
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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KUNST HAUS WIEN is devoting a major retrospective to the oeuvre of the 89-year-old photographer and painter Saul Leiter. The exhibition, which was developed in cooperation with House of Photography / Deichtorhallen Hamburg, presents the wide range of this versatile artist’s works, including early black-and-white and colour photographs, fashion images, painted photographs of nudes, paintings and a number of his sketchbooks. One section of the exhibition is devoted to Saul Leiter’s most recent photographs, which he continues to take on the streets of New York’s East Village.

It is only in the last few years that Saul Leiter has received due recognition for his role as one of the pioneers of colour photography. As early as 1946, and thus well before the representatives of the so-called “new colour” photography in the 1970s, such as William Eggleston and Stephen Shore, he was one of the first to use colour photography for artistic shots, despite its being frowned upon by other artists of the day. “The older aesthetic views on the hegemony of black-and-white photography and the historical dating of the first artistic use of colour photography to the early 1970s need to be critically reviewed. Saul Leiter’s oeuvre essentially rewrites the history of photography,” comments curator Ingo Taubhorn.

Saul Leiter has always considered himself both a painter and a photographer. In his painting and in his photographs he clearly tends towards abstraction and two-dimensionality. One often finds large deep-black areas, produced by shadows, taking up as much as three quarters of his photographs. Passers-by are not presented as individuals, but as blurred clouds of colour, filtered through misty panes of glass or wedged in between walls of buildings and traffic signs. The boundaries between the abstract and the representational in his paintings and photographs are virtually fluid. Saul Leiter’s street photography – a genre in which his work is matchless – is, in essence, painting metamorphosed into photography.

In Leiter’s works, the genres of street photography, portraiture, still life, fashion photography and architectural photography coalesce. He finds his motifs, such as shop windows, passers-by, cars, signs and – time and again – umbrellas, in the direct vicinity of his apartment in New York, where he has now lived for almost 60 years. The indeterminateness of detail, the blurring of movement and reduced depth of field, the use of shadows or deliberate avoidance of the necessary light, as well as the alienation caused by photographing through windows or as reflections, all combine to create the muted colour vocabulary of a semi-real, semiabstract urban space. These are the works of an as yet almost undiscovered modern master of colour photography.

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About Saul Leiter

Saul Leiter discovered his passion for art at an early age and started painting as a teenager at the end of the 1940s. His family did not support him in his artistic endeavours; his father, a renowned Talmudic rabbi and scholar, had always hoped his son Saul would one day follow him in the family tradition and become a rabbi. Leiter was self-taught, but by no means uneducated. He read and learned a great deal about art, so that his knowledge and understanding constantly grew. In this way, he made sure that his own ideas and artistic works were duly related to the historical context.

In 1946, shortly after he had moved to New York, Leiter became acquainted with Richard Poussette-Dart, who introduced him to photography, a medium that appealed to Leiter very much and that he quickly made his own. Leiter soon resolved to use photography not only as a means of making art but as a way of earning a living. He started taking fashion photographs, and thanks to his good eye, his playful sense of humour, and his pronounced sense of elegance, swiftly emerged as an extraordinary fashion photographer. In the 1950s, “Life” magazine published photo spreads of Saul Leiter’s first black-and-white series. He took part in exhibitions, for example “Always the Young Strangers” (1953) curated by Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art. From 1958 to 1967, Leiter worked for “Harper’s Bazaar.” Altogether he spent some 20 years photographing for various classic magazines as well as more recent ones: after “Esquire” and “Harper’s” he also worked for “Show”, “Elle”, “British Vogue”, “Queen” and “Nova”.

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Saul Leiter. 'New York' 1950s

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Saul Leiter
New York
1950s
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Sign Painter' 1954

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Saul Leiter
Sign Painter
1954
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Graffiti Heads' 1950

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Saul Leiter
Graffiti Heads
1950
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Shirt' 1948

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Saul Leiter
Shirt
1948
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Harlem' 1960

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Saul Leiter
Harlem
1960
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Hat' 1956

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Saul Leiter
Hat
1956
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Street Scene' 1957

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Saul Leiter
Street Scene
1957
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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The exhibition chapters

Abstract Painting

Although his photographic oeuvre has dominated his image as an artist, Saul Leiter sees himself first and foremost as a painter. He began his artistic career as a painter, and while working as a photographer he never stopped painting and drawing. Leiter’s passion for art began when he was just a child, even though his ambitions received no support from his family. As a teenager he spent many hours in libraries studying art books. He found inspiration in the paintings of such artists as Vermeer, Bonnard, Vuillard and Picasso, as well as in Japanese graphic art. Leiter, who was self-taught, painted his first pictures in 1940. Most of them were lyrical, abstract compositions that reflected his admiration for the new American avant-garde. His ardent feeling for colour is recognisable even in these early paintings, as is his lifelong predilection for painting small format pastels and watercolours on paper.

After moving to New York in 1946, he sometimes presented his works together with abstract expressionist painters such as Willem de Kooning and Philip Guston. His studio was located on 10th Street in the East Village, which at that time was a neighbourhood very popular with avant-garde artists. Leiter shared these artists’ interest in abstraction and the use of colour, gesture and the element of chance, but he chose a radically different format for his works. Whereas many of his contemporaries, such as Jasper Johns or Franz Kline, painted wall-sized paintings that physically filled the beholder’s entire field of vision, Leiter worked in an intimate, small format. His works were also exhibited at the Tanager Gallery, one of the most important artist-run cooperatives in the East Village at that time. After switching the main focus of his work to photography in the late 1940s, however, Leiter stopped exhibiting his paintings.

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Figurative Painting

Saul Leiter’s abstract painting frequently unites qualities of intimacy and familiarity with a sense of space reminiscent of an open landscape. Occasionally he also makes figurative sketches. Often these give mere intimations of a face or a body, perhaps a pointed nose, eyes and a mouth. Some of his male figures wear hats, similar to those worn by the religious Jews that peopled Leiter’s world in his youth. Most of these works focus on a single figure; only occasionally do we see a couple, or several figures grouped together. The quality of the line and the subtle suggestion of figures or heads in these paintings are reminiscent of paintings by Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard, in which facial features are hinted at through lines and fine shadings of color rather than being defined by careful modelling.

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Street Photography

When, in 1947, Saul Leiter attended an exhibition of works by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, he became convinced of the creative potential of this medium. He bought himself a 35mm Leica camera at a bargain and began, without any previous training, to take photographs on the streets of New York. At first he used only black-and-white film, but in 1948 he also started using colour film. His black-and-white photographs exhibit some elements of documentary photography but are nevertheless far removed from a photojournalistic style. Rather, they are subjective observations, often concentrating on a single individual in the big city. Leiter’s complex, multilayered works evoke feelings of alienation, melancholy and tension. Leiter underscores this impression by experimenting with strong contrasts, light and shadow, and asymmetrical compositions containing large areas in which the images are blurred.

Thematically and stylistically, there are great similarities between Leiter’s works and the works of other representatives of New York street photography of the same era, for example Ted Croner, Leon Levinstein, Louis Faurer and later Robert Frank and William Klein, today generally known as the New York School. Their radical new, subjective photography had a psychological component that revealed an unusual sensitivity to social turbulences and the uncertainty felt by many Americans during the years following the Second World War.

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Colour Photography

Until well into the 1970s, colour photography was used almost exclusively for advertising and fashion magazines. Many photographers considered the vivid colours unsuitable for artistic expression. Moreover, they were unable to develop their colour film themselves, which made it a very expensive undertaking. It was not until 1976 that the Museum of Modern Art in New York gave its first exhibition devoted to colour photography, when it presented “Photographs by William Eggleston”.

Saul Leiter was one of the few photographers who did not reject colour photography. As a painter, he took a particular interest in street photography as a genre in which to experiment with colour film. As early as 1948, at the beginning of his career, he bought his first roles of 35mm Kodachrome colour slide film, which had been on the market since 1936. In order to save money, he often used film that had passed its sell-by date. Leiter particularly liked the resulting pictures with their delicate, muted colours.

The innumerable early colour photographs that Leiter took between 1948 and 1960 are of a unique painterly and narrative quality. They stand in contrast to the works of other photographers, in which colour is often the defining element of the composition. This circumstance, coupled with Leiter’s tendency towards abstraction, links Leiter’s photography with his painting. But in contrast to his painting (and his black-and-white photographs), his colour photographs are highly structured. It is the incomparable beauty of these works that has brought Leiter recognition as one of the masters of 20th-century photography.

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Fashion Photography

In the late 1950s, Saul Leiter worked successfully in the fields of fashion photography and advertising. From the very first, his style was unmistakeable. His images were multilayered and complex, characterised by soft, impressionistic qualities and cubist changes of perspective. He was given his first commercial assignment in 1958 by Henry Wolf, at that time the new Art Director of Harper’s Bazaar, with whom Leiter became friends. Harper’s Bazaar was one of the leading American fashion magazines, presenting trail-blazing fashion series by photographers such as Richard Avedon or Lillian Bassman.

Subsequently, Leiter was given more and more prestigious assignments, and over the years began to spend almost all his time doing commercial work. Apart from Harper’s Bazaar, his fashion and advertising photos appeared in Elle and Show, in British Vogue and Queen and also in Nova. The amazing thing is that during this period, Leiter managed to retain his own narrative, stylised aesthetic, whereas other fashion photographers favoured a rather brittle, graphic style. In the 1970s, partly due to his own dwindling interest in commercial photography, Leiter received fewer and fewer assignments. In 1981 he gave up his studio on Fifth Avenue and in the following years led a quiet life far from the public eye.

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Saul Leiter. 'Carol Brown, 'Harper's Bazaar'' c. 1958

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Saul Leiter
Carol Brown, ‘Harper’s Bazaar’
c. 1958
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Soames Bantry, 'Nova'' 1960

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Saul Leiter
Soames Bantry, ‘Nova’
1960
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Walking' 1956

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Saul Leiter
Walking
1956
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Reflection' 1958

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Saul Leiter
Reflection
1958
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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“I spent a great deal of my life being ignored. I was always very happy that way. Being ignored is a great privilege. That is how I think I learnt to see what others do not see and to react to situations differently. I simply looked at the world, not really prepared for anything.”

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Saul Leiter

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Art critic Roberta Smith wrote in 2005: “Mr. Leiter was a photographer less of people than of perception itself. His painter’s instincts served him well in his emphasis on surface, spatial ambiguity and a lush, carefully calibrated palette. But the abstract allure of his work doesn’t rely on soft focus, a persistent, often irritating photographic ploy, or the stark isolation of details, in the manner of Aaron Siskind or early Harry Callahan. Instead, Mr. Leiter captured the passing illusions of everyday life with a precision that might almost seem scientific, if it weren’t so poetically resonant and visually layered.” (from Lens Culture)

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Saul Leiter. 'Shopping' c. 1953

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Saul Leiter
Shopping
c. 1953
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Kutztown' 1948

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Saul Leiter
Kutztown
1948
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Pizza, Patterson' 1952

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Saul Leiter
Pizza, Patterson
1952
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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KUNST HAUS WIEN
Museum Hundertwasser
Untere Weißgerberstraße 13
1030 Vienna
T: +43-1-712 04 91

Opening hours:
Daily, 10 am – 7 pm

Kunst Haus Wein website

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12
Jan
13

Text: ‘Orality, (n)framing and enactment in the art of Jacqui Stockdale’ in IANN magazine Vol.8, ‘Unfound in Australia’, October 2012

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“What does it mean, to rediscover an unknown continent through the medium of photography in the 21st century? The seven artists that appear in this “Unfound in Australia” issue are well versed in the photographic technique and language familiar to modern art, yet show cultural distinctness that is nothing short of extraordinary. Our readers might experience a sense of shock or alienation from their work, which combines the new with the old. This kind of unsettling feeling may very well be an unconscious reaction to what we consider to be the ‘other.’ It is my hope that our readers will rediscover the power of photography as a chronological and visual language through these works of long underappreciated modern Australian photography.

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IANN magazine
 Vol.8, “Unfound in Australia,” October 2012 IANN Magazine website

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My text that appears in IANN magazine Vol.8, “Unfound in Australia” (October 2012) on the art of Jacqui Stockdale is a reworking of the review of her exhibition Jacqui Stockdale: The Quiet Wild at Helen Gorie Galerie in April – May 2012. It is a good piece of writing but it is the “lite” version of the text that I wrote. Instead of the “heavy” version fragmenting away on some long forgotten backup hard drive, and for those of you that like a little more conceptual meat on the bone, it is published below.

Other artists featured in the Volume 8 edition of IANN magazine include Marian Drew, Henri Van Noordenburg, Justine Khamara, Magdalena Bors and Christian Thompson.

Marcus

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Orality, (n)framing and enactment in the art of Jacqui Stockdale

The concept of Orality is important in the art of Australian Jacqui Stockdale for her works are visual tone poems. Portraying identities in flux, her mythological creatures rise above the threshold of visibility to engage our relationship with time and space, to challenge the trace of experience.

Stockdale uses the body not as passive object but as descriptive and rhapsodic theme, the body as pliable flesh acting as a kind of threshold or hinge of experience – between interior and exterior, viewer and photograph, longing and desire. Drawing on personal places and stories, assemblage and performance (the process of painting the models and the outcome of this interaction), Stockdale creates a wonderful melange of archetypal characters that subvert traditional identities and narratives. Her creatures “shape-shift” and frustrate attempts at categorization and assimilation.

The artist inverts cultural stereotypes (which embody elements of fixity, repetition, and ambivalence) located within the realms of the fetish, the scopic, and the Imaginary in order to dis/place the collective memory of viewers that have been inscribed with a stereotypical collective vernacular. In this process the work elides “fantasy” which Bhabha suggests plays a formative role in colonial exercises of power.1 In Stockdale’s upside-down world (quite appropriate for the “land down under”), “Each new identity is one of inversion; man becomes woman, child becomes adult, animals transform into humans and vice-versa.”2

An example of this inversion can be seen in her latest series of photographs, The Quiet Wild (2012). Here Stockdale unsettles traditional textual readings, the titles of her photographic portraits indecipherable to the uninitiated, a coded language of identity and place. Lagunta, Leeawuleena and Jaara for example, are three Aboriginal names meaning, respectively, Tasmanian Tiger, the name for the land around Cradle Mountain on that island and the name for the Long Gully region around Bendigo, Victoria (Stockdale’s native area); El Gato is the cat and Gondwanan the name for the southernmost of two supercontinents (the other being Laurasia) before the world split apart into the structure that we known today.

Stockdale’s performative tactics and multiple modes of address, her polyvocal subject if you like, may be said to be an effect of intertextuality3: “a conscious recognition and pursuit of an altogether different set of values and historical and cultural trajectories.”4 Undeniably her re-iterations and re-writings of cultural trajectories as ritual performative acts have links to Bakhtin’s idea of the carnivalesque and the carnival paradigm, which accords to certain patterns of play where “the social hierarchies of everyday life… are profaned and overturned by normally suppressed voices and energies.”5

It is through this “play” that the context of the photographs and their relationship to each other and the viewer are “framed.” This device emphasises the aesthetic rather than information and encourages the viewer to think about the relationship between the body, the world of which it is part and the dream-reason of time.6

This intertextual (n)framing (n meaning unspecified number in mathematics) encourages the viewer to explore the inbetween spaces in the meta-narrative,and by leaps (intuitive leaps, poetic leaps, leaps of faith)”7 encourage escapism. Through the (n)framing of the body and the enactment of multiple selves Stockdale narrativises her mythological creatures, her charged bodies initiating new conditions of Otherness in the mise-en-scène of being. This is why her images are so powerful for her art approaches Otherness using a visual Orality and a theatrical openness that encourages disparate meanings to emerge into consciousness. It is up to us as viewers to seek the multiple, disparate significances of what is concealed in each photograph – in the myth of origin; in something that can’t be explained by man; in the expression of meaning of the things that are beyond us.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan
August 2012

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Jacqui Stockdale. 'Negro Returno, Long Gully' 2012

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Jacqui Stockdale
Negro Returno, Long Gully
2012
Type C Print
100 x 78cm

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Footnotes

1. “According to Bhabha, stereotypes are located within the realms of the fetish, the scopic, and the Imaginary. He suggests that fantasy plays a formative role in colonial exercises of power. Bhabha describes the mechanism of cultural stereotypes as embodying elements of fixity, repetition, fantasy, and ambivalence, and suggests that if certain types of images are constantly presented in a range of different contexts, they will become imprinted onto the collective memory of viewers and inscribed within a collective vernacular.”

Vercoe, Caroline. Agency and Ambivalence: A Reading of Works by Coco Fusco,” in Fusco, Coco. The Bodies That Were Not Ours. London: Routledge, 2001, p.240.

2. Stockdale, Jacqui. Artist statement 2012.

3. Intertextuality is always an iteration which is also a re-iteration, a re-writing which foregrounds the trace of the various texts it both knowingly and unknowingly places and dis-places. Intertexuality is how a text is constituted. It fragments singular readings. The reader’s own previous readings, experiences and position within the cultural formation” also influences these re-inscriptions.

Keep, Christopher, McLaughlin, Tim and Parmar, Robin. Intertextuality, on The Electronic Labyrinth website [Online] Cited 13/11/2011. elab.eserver.org/hfl0278.html.

4. Fisher, Jean. Witness for the Prosecution: The Writings of Coco Fusco,” in Fusco, Coco. The Bodies That Were Not Ours. London: Routledge, 2001, pp. 227-228.

5. Anon. Carnivalesque,” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 13/05/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnivalesque

6. Bacon, Julie Louise. Liquid Archive: On Ambivalence, in Liquid Archive. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2012, p.119.

7. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. The Museum – A Refuge for Utopian Thought, in Rüsen, Jörn; Fehr Michael, and Ramsbrock, Annelie (eds.). Die Unruhe der Kultur: Potentiale des Utopischen. Velbrück Wissenschaft, 2004. In German.

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Marcus Bunyan writing on his website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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