Posts Tagged ‘American art

05
Jun
22

Exhibition: ‘Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 8th March – 12th June 2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'On Mount Rainer' 1915

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
On Mount Rainer
1915
Platinum print
18.4 × 23.4cm (7 1/4 × 9 3/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

This is the second posting on this magnificent exhibition on the work of the American photographer Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976), this time its iteration at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Cunningham, whose broad expanse of work stretches from Pictorialism through avant-garde to Group f/64 modernism, has for too long been underrated in the pantheon of 20th century photographic stars.

In this posting there are 20 or so new images from the exhibition, including contributions from luminaries and friends such as Minor White, Edward Weston, Lisette Model and Dorothea Lange. Of interest is the close framing of the portraits (for example see Sonya Noskowiak 1928, below) and, with these media images, the ability to see the placement and size of the photographic print on the supporting backing card.

I particularly respond to the tonality and texture of the plant photographs and Imogen’s sensitivity to their form and structure.

My favourite photograph in the posting is an image of Cunningham’s I have never seen before – the wonderful late work, Aiko’s Hands (1971, below). The Stieglitz hands, the suspended leaf like Minor White, the message in the water…

There are parts of this image that are a quiet metaphor, but the overall impression is not. It talks directly and immediately to the viewer.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thanks to the J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. See the posting on this exhibition when it was at the Seattle Art Museum.

 

In a career that spanned seventy years, Imogen Cunningham created a large and diverse body of work – from portraits, to nudes, to florals, and to street photographs. In a field dominated by men, she was one of a handful of women who helped to shape early modernist photography in America. This exhibition seeks to acknowledge her stature as equivalent to that of her male peers and to reevaluate her enormous contribution to twentieth century photographic history.

 

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Mrs. Walsh and Middie at the Window' 1907-1908

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Mrs. Walsh and Middie at the Window
1907-1908
Platinum print
10.6 × 15.7cm (4 3/16 × 6 3/16 in.)
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
The Dream / New-san-Koburi
about 1910
Platinum print
22.7 × 16.2cm (8 15/16 × 6 3/8 in.)
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Roi Partridge, Etcher' 1915

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Roi Partridge, Etcher
1915
Platinum print
20.6 × 15.5cm (8 1/8 × 6 1/8 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

The Wood Beyond the World

After her graduation from the University of Washington, Cunningham took a job in the studio of photographer and ethnologist Edward S. Curtis. She learned the platinum printing process there, and received a grant that allowed her to continue her studies in Dresden, Germany. On her return to Seattle, she began making soft-focus platinum prints with an ethereal dreamlike quality. Her work in this period was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement in art and literature, which called for renewal within the Victorian art establishment through spiritualism and an enhanced connection with nature. An epic tale set in a medieval forest, The Wood Beyond the World (1894) by William Morris, a leading figure in the movement, particularly sparked her imagination.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Wood Beyond the World 1' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Wood Beyond the World 1
1910
Platinum print
Getty Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'In the Wood / Voice of the Wood' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
In the Wood / Voice of the Wood
1910
Platinum print
19.8 × 19.1cm (7 13/16 × 7 1/2 in.)
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Amaryllis' 1933

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Amaryllis
1933
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Aloe' 1925

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Aloe
1925
Gelatin silver print
20.8 × 16.5cm (8 3/16 × 6 1/2 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

In Her Garden

After Cunningham moved her family to San Francisco in 1917, she turned away from soft-focus images and began to make sharply delineated pictures. She cultivated a garden, growing plants and flowers for a series of botanical studies, all while taking care of her three young sons. In 1929 the prominent photographer Edward Weston recommended that ten of Cunningham’s photographs be included in the seminal exhibition Film und Foto in Stuttgart, Germany. Although the show did not bring her financial success, it garnered international recognition for her as a leading American modernist photographer.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Hen and Chickens' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Hen and Chickens
1929
Gelatin silver print
25.2 × 24.6cm (9 15/16 × 9 11/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Flax' 1926

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Flax
1926
Gelatin silver print
23.5 × 16.1cm (9 1/4 × 6 5/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Banana Plant' 1925-1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Banana Plant
1925-1929
Gelatin silver print
29.5 × 22.2cm (11 5/8 × 8 3/4 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection
Gift of Jean Levy and the estate of Julien Levy
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Triangles' 1928

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Triangles
1928
Gelatin silver print
9.7 × 7.1cm (3 13/16 × 2 13/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Two Callas' 1925-1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Two Callas
1925-1929
Gelatin silver print
30 × 22.6cm (11 13/16 × 8 7/8 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection
Gift of Jean Levy and the estate of Julien Levy
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Calla Lily (Black and White Lily)' 1925-1933

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Calla Lily (Black and White Lily)
1925-1933
Gelatin silver print
30 × 23.5 cm (11 13/16 × 9 1/4 in.)
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Tower of Jewels' 1925

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Tower of Jewels
1925
Gelatin silver print
30.5 × 23.8cm
UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) '[Dogwood Blossoms, Yosemite National Park]' Negative about 1938; print 1941

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
[Dogwood Blossoms, Yosemite National Park]
Negative about 1938; print 1941
Gelatin silver print
16.8 × 11.4cm (6 5/8 × 4 1/2 in.)
© 2014 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) '[Sonya Noskowiak]' 1928

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
[Sonya Noskowiak]
1928
Gelatin silver print
8.9 × 7.6cm (3 1/2 × 3 in.)
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Martha Graham, Dancer' 1931

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Martha Graham, Dancer
1931
Gelatin silver print
18.5 × 25.2cm (7 5/16 × 9 15/16 in.)
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Frida Kahlo Rivera, Painter' 1931

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Frida Kahlo Rivera, Painter
1931
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

On the Portrait

When asked to describe the requirements for a successful portrait photographer, Cunningham replied, “You must be able to gain an understanding at short notice and at close range of the beauties of character, intellect, and spirit, so you can draw out the best qualities and make them show in the face of the sitter.” She would often engage her sitters in conversation until they relaxed, or ask them to think of the nicest thing they could imagine. She resisted indulging their vanity, however, and “face-lifting” was her word for the type of portrait work that required beautification – in her estimation an obstacle to a good likeness.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Korona View' 1933

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait with Korona View
1933
Gelatin silver print
10.2 × 8.4cm (4 × 3 5/16 in.)
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Waiting for Work on Edge of the Pea Field, Holtville, Imperial Valley, California' February 1937 

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Waiting for Work on Edge of the Pea Field, Holtville, Imperial Valley, California
February 1937
Gelatin silver print
20.5 × 19.2 cm (8 1/16 × 7 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

“HUMAN EROSION [all underlined] / Erosion of the soil has its counterpart in erosion / of our society. / The one wastes natural resources; / the other human resources / Employment is intermittent. Jobs are precarious and / annual income is low. / Waited weeks for the maturity of 1937 winter pea / crop, which froze; then more weeks until maturity / of second crop. / Near Hollville,California / February 1937.”

 

Lisette Model (American born Austria, 1901-1983) 'Woman with Veil, San Francisco' 1949

 

Lisette Model (American born Austria, 1901-1983)
Woman with Veil, San Francisco
1949
Gelatin silver print
34.9 x 27cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Angel Island' 1952

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Angel Island
1952
Gelatin silver print
19.3 x 19.3cm
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Stan, San Francisco' 1959

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Stan, San Francisco
1959
Gelatin silver print
24.2 × 17.9cm (9 1/2 × 7 1/16 in.)
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Armco Steel' 1922

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Armco Steel
1922
Palladium print
24.4 × 19.4cm (9 5/8 × 7 5/8 in.)
© 1981 Arizona Board of Regents, Center for Creative Photography

 

 

West Coast Photography

In 1932 Imogen Cunningham, along with Ansel Adams, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, and Edward Weston – all San Francisco Bay Area photographers – helped found Group f/64. (They adopted the name from the aperture setting on a large-format camera that would yield the greatest depth of field, making a photograph equally sharp from foreground to background.) The goal of this loosely formed association was to promote a modernist style through sharply focused images created with a West Coast perspective or sense of place. The works presented in this gallery, created by Cunningham’s closest colleagues – all contributors to the Group f/64 legacy – demonstrate how the influence they had on one another defined the future of West Coast photography.

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Bananas and Orange' 1927

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Bananas and Orange
1927
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum
© 1981 Arizona Board of Regents, Center for Creative Photography

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Aiko's Hands' 1971

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Aiko’s Hands
1971
Gelatin silver print
27.2 × 34.7cm (10 11/16 × 13 11/16 in.)
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Nude Foot, San Francisco' 1947

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Nude Foot, San Francisco
Negative 1947; print 1975
Gelatin silver print
21.2 × 27cm (8 3/8 × 10 5/8 in.)
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Dancer, Mills College' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Dancer, Mills College
1929
Gelatin silver print
21.7 × 18.7cm (8 9/16 × 7 3/8 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Snake' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Snake
1929
Gelatin silver print
19.7 × 16.5cm (7 3/4 × 6 1/2 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago
Julien Levy Collection, Gift of Jean and Julien Levy
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Gertrude Stein, Writer' 1934

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Gertrude Stein, Writer
1934
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

A Parting of Ways

In 1934 Cunningham’s marriage to Roi Partridge ended in divorce. Their three teenage boys, Gryffyd, Rondal, and Padraic, remained in the family home with their mother until they finished high school. Cunningham never remarried, and although she received the house as part of her settlement, the divorce was the beginning of three decades of financial difficulties. Without Partridge, Cunningham had to pick up the pace of her work to stay afloat. She took more commissions, made more portraits, and began teaching portrait photography to students in her home. Despite the added stress, Cunningham sought out ways to challenge herself.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Cornish School Trio 2' 1935

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Cornish School Trio 2
1935
Gelatin silver print
22.9 × 19.1cm (9 × 7 1/2 in.)
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Pentimento' 1973

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Pentimento
1973
Gelatin silver print
18.3 × 22.4cm (7 3/16 × 8 13/16 in.)
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'A Man Ray Version of Man Ray' 1961

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
A Man Ray Version of Man Ray
1961
Gelatin silver print
23.5 × 16.3cm (9 1/4 × 6 7/16 in.)
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore' c. 1947

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore
c. 1947
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Gift of the Junior League of Oakland
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Into the Street

In 1934, while in New York, Cunningham made what she called her first “stolen pictures,” documentary street photographs that she took while trying to hide herself and her camera from view. Her interest in street photography was renewed in 1946 when she met Lisette Model while they were both teaching at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). Cunningham’s candid depictions of her subjects have often been described as gentler and more sympathetic than those by many of her contemporaries. Her “stolen pictures” capture people as they are and not how they look when they know they are being photographed.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Tea at Foster's, San Francisco' 1940s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Tea at Foster’s, San Francisco
1940s
Gelatin silver print
19.1 × 18.7cm (7 1/2 × 7 3/8 in.)
Seattle Art Museum
Gift of John H. Hauberg
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse' 1955

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse
1955
Gelatin silver print
22.2 × 18.5cm (8 3/4 × 7 5/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

One of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) enjoyed a career that spanned three-quarters of a century, creating a large and diverse body of work that underscored her vision, versatility, and commitment to the medium.

The first major retrospective in the United States in more than 35 years, Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective brings together her insightful portraits, elegant flower and plant studies, poignant street pictures, and groundbreaking nudes in a visual celebration of Cunningham’s enormous contributions to the history of photography.

“Despite Cunningham’s exceptional achievements as a photographic artist, her work has not received the attention accorded her male counterparts,” says Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Though struggling to meet the demands of family and career, she emerged by the second half of the 1920s as one of the most important and innovative modernist photographers in America, collaborating with leading practitioners, mentoring novices, and actively engaging with contemporary controversies in modern art. This exhibition and publication will provide the spotlight on her contribution to 20th-century photography that she so richly deserves.”

Cunningham was initially self-taught, learning the fundamentals of photography from the instructions that came with her first camera. After graduating from the University of Washington, she established a portrait studio in Seattle and began making soft-focus photographs. Her work in this period was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement in art and literature. In 1915, Cunningham married and started a family. After she moved her family to San Francisco in 1917, she turned away from soft-focus images and began making a series of sharply delineated botanical studies.

In 1932 Cunningham, along with Ansel Adams, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, and Edward Weston – all San Francisco Bay Area photographers – helped found Group f/64. This loosely formed association promoted a modernist style through sharply focused images created with a West Coast perspective and sense of place.

From the mid-1940s forward, Cunningham could often be seen roaming the streets of San Francisco with her Rolleiflex, making environmental portraits of the city’s inhabitants. Her enlightened attitude about her place in the world extended to her relationships with people of different racial backgrounds and sexual orientations, which broke down social barriers while enriching and diversifying her oeuvre. Cunningham’s last major project, a series of portraits of older people, was started at age 92 and published posthumously in the book After Ninety: Imogen Cunningham in 1977. The project reflected her determination to keep active and provided a way to come to grips with being a nonagenarian herself.

Cunningham was a woman of exceptional intelligence and talent, yet competing in a male-dominated profession posed a formidable challenge. She felt disparaged by some of her male colleagues, who occasionally downplayed her talent and influence. As a bulwark against the stress, she joined San Francisco Women Artists, a group organised to promote, support, and expand the representation of women in the arts. Over the years Cunningham served as a resource for female artists such as Laura Andreson, Ruth Asawa, Alma Lavenson, Laura Gilpin, Dorothea Lange, Consuelo Kanaga, and Merry Renk, among others, providing advice, moral support, and essential connections throughout the art and business worlds.

“Cunningham continually sought out new opportunities to grow, learn, and change as an artist and a person” says Paul Martineau, curator of photographs at the Getty Museum, and curator of the exhibition. “She readily admitted that she was never fully satisfied with anything and considered self-improvement, in all its forms, her life’s work.”

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective is organised by the Getty Museum, Los Angeles and curated by Paul Martineau, associate curator of Photographs. Major support from Jordan Schnitzer and the Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation. Accompanying the exhibition is a lavishly illustrated companion book, Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective.

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Ruth Asawa, Sculptor' 1952

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Ruth Asawa, Sculptor
1952
Gelatin silver print
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Ruth Asawa and Albert Lanier
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

A Network of Women

Cunningham was a woman of exceptional intelligence and talent, yet competing in a male-dominated profession posed a formidable challenge, particularly after Partridge divorced her in 1934 and she struggled to support herself. To make matters worse, Cunningham felt disparaged by some of her male colleagues, who occasionally downplayed her talent and influence. As a bulwark against the stress, Cunningham joined San Francisco Women Artists, a group organised to promote, support, and expand the role of women in the arts. Over the years Cunningham served as a resource for female artists such as Laura Andresen, Ruth Asawa, Alma Lavenson, Laura Gilpin, Dorothea Lange, Consuelo Kanaga, and Merry Renk, among others, providing advice, moral support, and essential connections throughout the art and business worlds.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'The Unmade Bed' 1957

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
The Unmade Bed
1957
Gelatin silver print
27.1 × 34.3cm (10 11/16 × 13 1/2 in.)
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Sandblaster, San Francisco' Negative 1949; print 1975

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Sandblaster, San Francisco
Negative 1949; print 1975
Gelatin silver print
21.6 × 25.1cm (8 1/2 × 9 7/8 in.)
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

 

The Light Within

In 1964 the photographer and editor Minor White devoted an issue of the influential magazine Aperture to Cunningham. In an elegant tribute, he described his own experience of the spell she cast over her subjects as a kind of inner light. The first publication dedicated entirely to Cunningham’s work, this issue of Aperture contained a selection of forty-four images dating from 1912 to 1963, representing her wide range of genres and styles.

Between 1965 and 1973 Cunningham served as a visiting photography instructor at the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland; Humboldt State College, Arcata; the San Francisco Art Institute; and San Francisco State College. In 1970 she was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation grant of $5,000 to make prints from her old negatives. This prestigious prize marked a turning point in her long career, an acknowledgment that coincided with a rising interest among museums and enthusiasts in collecting photographs, both historical and contemporary.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Minor White, Photographer' 1963

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Minor White, Photographer
1963
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Phoenix Recumbent' 1968

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Phoenix Recumbent
1968
Gelatin silver print
19.1 × 22.2cm (7 1/2 × 8 3/4 in.)
Collection of Rudi Bianchi
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'My Father at Ninety' 1936

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
My Father at Ninety
1936
Gelatin silver print
Getty Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

After Ninety

When she was ninety-two, Cunningham started a new project, photographing people of advanced age. She estimated that this would take two years to complete, and she planned to publish the photographs in a volume to be called After Ninety. She began to seek out subjects, visiting them in their homes, in hospitals, and in convents. The project provided an outlet for her determination to keep active as well as a way to come to grips with being a nonagenarian herself. Cunningham died on June 24, 1976, and the book was published the following year.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'After Ninety' 1977

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
After Ninety
1977
Closed: 31.1 x 23.5 x 1.3cm
Private collection

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'The Coffee Gallery' 1960

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
The Coffee Gallery
1960
Gelatin silver print
19.5 x 22.4cm
Getty Museum
Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Another Arm' 1973

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Another Arm
1973
Gelatin silver print
23.2 × 19cm (9 1/8 × 7 1/2 in.)
© Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Judy Dater. 'Imogen Cunningham and Twinka Thiebaud' 1974

 

Judy Dater (American, born 1941)
Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite
1974
Gelatin silver print
24.2 × 19cm (9 1/2 × 7 1/2 in.)
© Judy Dater. All rights reserved

 

 

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

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The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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09
Jan
22

Exhibition: ‘Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are’ at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 3rd October, 2021 – 23rd January, 2022

Curator: Peter Barberie, Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center

Field Galleries and Honickman Galleries 154-157

 

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Barbara Benson' 1968

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Barbara Benson
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 7 1/2 × 9 1/2 inches
Mount: 9 1/8 × 11 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

Welcome to the first posting on Art Blart for 2022 and a Happy New Year to you all.

We start with an exhibition by highly regarded photographic printer (including prints for Paul Strand and Walker Evans and books for Lee Friedlander and about Eugène Atget) and teacher Richard Benson. A master of the craft of photography, “Benson became devoted to the technical aspects of printing and reproducing photographs” … “thoroughly imbued with the tradition, science and artistry of photography.” Benson was also an artist and the exhibition includes prints from the late 1960s until shortly before Benson’s death in 2017, the exhibition tracing his quest for the perfect print.

And therein lies the rub. It feels to me as though Benson’s work is more about the aesthetic of the print than about a good photograph and here I am going to call it as I see it. It might be a little controversial or even sacrilegious to one held in so high esteem for his printing, but I don’t particularly like his photographic work. Why?

Benson’s subject matter (“ageing farm machinery, austerely utilitarian boats, derelict factories, and the frequent intersections of history, nature, and our built environments”) can be found throughout the history of American photography. In that sense he offers few new insights on the environment in which he operates. Further, his “unsentimental specificity” – “or what his friend and fellow photographer Garry Winogrand referred to as the mystery of “a fact clearly described” – leaves me feeling … well, nothing really. To me his photographs are emotionally dead photographic experiments become artefacts. What is the story that he is telling, what was his vision?

Benson went to extraordinary lengths to make the print look how the world looked, because he wanted things to look in a print the way things looked when he saw them. But, as Paul Turounet comments, “Craft and technical execution function to support the photographers’ vision and curiosity with visual engagement, and clarity of intention and purpose. It becomes a tremendous opportunity for the photographer to experience how all of photography’s materials and processes, analog, digital or an alternative / hybrid system, can be used to reveal a personal photographic vision and what pictures are going to be about.”1

A personal photographic vision! What was that for Benson, for he has no signature style, his photographs being a mishmash of influences. As Arthur Lubow has observed, “In some of Benson’s black-and-white photographs of building interiors, like “65 Kenyon Street, Hartford, Connecticut” (1974), I thought of Walker Evans. Edward Weston floated into my consciousness as I looked at the organic semi-abstraction of “Agave” (c. 1975-85). And it was hard to avoid recalling Eggleston in viewing the colour jolts of the vintage red truck in “Wyoming” (2008), or the lime-green rowboat in “Newfoundland” (2006-8).”2 Quite so.

So we are left with what exactly. Beautiful but emotionally stilted representations of the world that offer small insight into the condition of its becoming.

Benson’s two statements, “Go out into the world with the camera and photograph and find out that the world is smarter than you are” and “When I make the picture, I’m seeing how I could make the print” are instructive here. Firstly, the world is not smarter than you are, it’s just more confusing. Nothing is ever as neat and tidy, as perfect as Benson would have us believe in his perfect prints. This is when the mystery of the fact clearly described is just that – a description and not a feeling. Secondly, when he’s taking a photograph he thinking about the print! He’s not thinking about resonances, vibrations of energy, time and space in the place itself but only what he sees as its perfect outcome. But Richard, there are many ways to make a print! You can print a mid-grey Zone V and as near black Zone 2, or use digital manipulation to intensive the feeling of an image. There is no single way to print a photographic image that is “correct” for there are many interpretations of a constructed reality. In my humble opinion Benson has his equation arse about tit. As Minor White in one of his Three Canons (1955) would say,

When the image mirrors the man
And the man mirrors the subject
Something might take over

.
Minor White elaborates further,

“To get from the tangible to the intangible (which mature artists in any medium claim as part of their task) a paradox of some kind has frequently been helpful. For the photographer to free himself of the tyranny of the visual facts upon which he is utterly dependent, a paradox is the only possible tool. And the talisman paradox for unique photography is to work “the mirror with a memory” as if it were a mirage, and the camera as a metamorphosing machine, and the photograph as if it were a metaphor… Once freed of the tyranny of surfaces and textures, substance and form [the photographer] can use the same to pursue poetic truth.”3

.
The critical observation is that craft and technical execution function to support the photographers’ vision and curiosity with visual engagement.

My friend and mentor IL keeps saying to me, “the really good stuff is there, I KNOW its there” – but you have to dig really deep to find it. Perhaps p. 25 in the preview of Benson’s book North South East West gets as close as I have felt (a sense of mystery and subtle spirit) … but I remain a skeptic with regard not to Benson’s craft but to his artistic vision, for he seems to have never freed himself of the tyranny of visual facts bound to their reproduction in the perfect print.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. Paul Turounet. “Well-Executed, Poorly Conceived Photographs,” on A Photo Teacher website Nd [Online] Cited 18/12/2021
  2. Arthur Lubow. “When a Master Printer Picks Up the Camera,” on The New York Times website December 30, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/01/2022
  3. Minor White quoted in Beaumont Newhall (ed.,). The History of Photography. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1982, p. 281

.
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.

 

 

The fundamental problem any artist faces in regard to craft is that it must be largely ignored. This seems to be an extreme statement, but it is surely true. Today we are experiencing a revival of sorts of non-silver, or alternative, systems for photographic printing, and the field is littered with well-executed, poorly conceived photographs. It seems to me that this has happened because all these photographers, or printers, are more interested in how they print their pictures than in what these pictures might be about.

.
Excerpt from the essay “Print Making” by Richard Benson in the book Paul Strand: Essays on His Life and Work. Aperture, 1991

 

“Isn’t that what we do as artists… don’t we try to create a surrogate that gives to the viewer something that was given to us when we saw the thing.

We get an inkling that there is something extraordinary there, we’ve stumbled on something extraordinary and the picture is our mechanism for understanding it.

When I make the picture, I’m seeing how I could make the print.”

.
Excerpts from a conversation with Richard Benson and Jay Maisel by George Jardine for Adobe Lightroom

 

“In black-and-white and color, in film and digital, in platinum prints, offset lithographs and inkjet prints, Benson mastered the procedures and, when he found them inadequate, invented his own. Like those sonically stunning LPs that were recorded to demonstrate the range of the first generation of stereos, Benson’s photographs often seem designed to mark the outer limits of what photography can practically achieve. …

Walking through the show, I saw the work of someone thoroughly imbued with the tradition, science and artistry of photography. But I was also reminded of a remark by Henry James, in a letter from 1888, about John Singer Sargent, who, similarly, could achieve with a brush anything he asked of it. “Yes, I have always thought Sargent a great painter,” James remarked. “He would be greater still if he had one or two little things he hasn’t – but he will do.””

.
Arthur Lubow. “When a Master Printer Picks Up the Camera,” on The New York Times website December 30, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/01/2022

 

 

 

 

Curators’ Talk on Richard Benson

Curator Peter Barberie and Sarah Meister of Aperture discuss the life and work of photographer Richard Benson.

Speakers

Peter Barberie is Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Sarah Meister is Executive Director of Aperture, a not-for-profit foundation, multi-platform publisher, and center for the photo community.

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Barbara Benson (Young, Skinny, and Pissed Off)' 1970 (negative); 2005-2014 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Barbara Benson (Young, Skinny, and Pissed Off)
1970 (negative); 2005-2014 (print)
Inkjet print
Image: 17 3/16 × 13 3/8 inches (43.6 × 33.9cm)
Sheet: 19 1/16 × 15 5/16 inches (48.4 × 38.9cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Sarah Benson' 1974

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Sarah Benson
1974
Palladium print
Image: 6 1/2 × 4 5/8 inches
Sheet: 6 3/4 × 4 3/4 inches
Mount: 7 7/8 × 6 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Christopher Benson' 1981-1982 (negative); 1985-1995 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Christopher Benson
1981-1982 (negative); 1985-1995 (print)
Offset lithograph
Image: 16 1/4 × 12 7/8 inches (41.2 × 32.7cm)
Sheet: 24 15/16 × 19 inches (63.4 × 48.2cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Barbara and Daniel Benson' 1978-79

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Barbara and Daniel Benson
1978-79 (negative), 1985–95 (print)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

It’s worth mentioning that this was the late 1980s, when everywhere you looked it appeared as if “art photography” needed big ideas more than it needed great photographs. Benson would shoot down our art-speak while sympathising with our ambitions and the obstacles we faced in wanting to break new ground. He reminded us that “an artist is a person who tends to be really good at one thing but spends most of their time trying to do something else.” For him, the revelations and the ideas in photographs were in the details, in the unsentimental specificity, or what his friend and fellow photographer Garry Winogrand referred to as the mystery of “a fact clearly described.”

Many of the subjects Benson photographed across decades will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever crossed the US by car or run a few errands via bicycle in coastal New England: ageing farm machinery, austerely utilitarian boats, derelict factories, and the frequent intersections of history, nature, and our built environments. Benson’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the Industrial Revolution only partly accounts for the complete absence of nostalgia in photographs that regularly describe remnants and artefacts sharing present-tense place and time within a single frame.

At certain moments in his work, Benson chose black-and-white film and inkjet printers. In others he found it necessary – and appropriate – to hack a twenty-first-century desktop printer with nineteenth-century brass registration pins. Or, frustrated with pre-Photoshop colour gamut limitations, he needed to invent a technique combining multiple halftone separations and layers upon layers of hand-applied house paint. It was the only way to produce colour prints from his large-format colour negatives that finally met his exacting standards.

If asked why he had gone to such lengths while others remained content with the latest readymade printer options from Kodak or Epson, Richard would simply offer: “Because that’s the way the world looks … and I want things to look in a print the way things looked when I saw them.”

As fascinating and impressive as many of Benson’s technical innovations may have been, none were intended to be more interesting than the photographs they made possible.

The building blocks of the medium (optics, resolution, inherent qualities of various printing methods) often served as dowsing rods to suggest where, what, or whom to photograph. For example, many of Benson’s photographs of his family are produced with and informed by the unique properties of the 8 x 10-inch view camera and black-and-white negative film. Photographing this way requires a mixture of emphatic care and authoritarian control. But in the course of Benson’s work, photographs of family and other closest-to-home subjects are entirely natural extensions of a larger inquiry into our designs, arrangements, purpose-driven work, civic progress, and looming fragilities written across a landscape without end.

Although Richard Benson’s working life ranged across disciplines (hand-tooled mechanical clockworks, steam and combustion-engine design and restoration, hand-ground lenses, and custom-built telescopes), the exhibition at the museum limits its scope to Benson’s photographs. For Benson, neither capital-A “Art” nor rigorous craft were virtues unto themselves. Yet the world described in these photographs, with their “just-the-facts” titles – places and dates without backstory or anecdote – tell us all we need to know about Benson’s omnivorous curiosity and his belief in the nature and purpose of photographic seeing.

Extract from John Pilson. “Richard Benson’s All-Seeing Eye,” on the Philadelphia Museum of Art website November 15, 2021 [Online] Cited 18/12/2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Luquillo Woman, Puerto Rico' c. 1980

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Luquillo Woman, Puerto Rico
c. 1980
Inkjet print
Image: 13 5/8 × 17 1/8 inches
Sheet: 15 1/2 × 18 7/8 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'John Bull's Great Stone, Common Burying Ground, Newport, Rhode Island' 1973-1978

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
John Bull’s Great Stone, Common Burying Ground, Newport, Rhode Island
1973-1978
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

One of his early pictures, “John Bull’s Great Stone, Common Burying Ground, Newport, Rhode Island” (1973-78), was made with a large-format view camera and composed of two contact prints mounted side by side. It depicts a series of six headstones for babies in one family, each marker incised with the face of an angel. Benson descended from a family of Newport stone carvers that dated to Colonial times. This composition, framed with perfect symmetry and sharp as a scalpel, is almost palpable, an appreciative flourish across the centuries from one consummate craftsman to another.

Arthur Lubow. “When a Master Printer Picks Up the Camera,” on The New York Times website December 30, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/01/2022

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'John Bull's Great Stone, Common Burying Ground, Newport, Rhode Island' 1973-1978 (detail)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
John Bull’s Great Stone, Common Burying Ground, Newport, Rhode Island (detail)
1973-1978
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) '53 Tilden Avenue Porch' Date unknown

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
53 Tilden Avenue Porch
Date unknown
Offset lithograph
Image: 16 3/16 × 12 13/16 inches (41.1 × 32.5cm)
Sheet: 24 15/16 × 19 inches (63.3 × 48.2cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Harford, Connecticut' c. 1974 (negative); c. 2005-2011 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Harford, Connecticut
c. 1974 (negative); c. 2005-2011 (print)
Inkjet print
Image: 13 9/16 × 17 3/16 inches (34.5 × 43.6cm)
Sheet: 15 7/8 × 19 3/16 inches (40.4 × 48.8cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) '65 Kenyon Street, Hartford, Connecticut' 1974

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
65 Kenyon Street, Hartford, Connecticut
1974
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Billy Goode's, Newport, Rhode Island' 1976-1978

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Billy Goode’s, Newport, Rhode Island
1976-1978
Platinum/palladium print
Image: 7 7/16 × 9 7/16 inches (18.9 × 24cm)
Sheet: 8 7/16 × 10 7/8 inches (21.4 × 27.6cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'The Dark House (49 Tilden Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island)' c. 1975-1980

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
The Dark House (49 Tilden Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island)
c. 1975-1980
Platinum/palladium print
Image: 9 7/16 × 7 7/16 inches (24 × 18.9cm)
Sheet: 9 13/16 × 7 13/16 inches (24.9 × 19.8cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Puerto Rico' 1977-1985

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Puerto Rico
1977-1985
Platinum/palladium print
Image: 7 3/8 × 9 3/8 inches (18.7 × 23.8cm)
Sheet: 8 × 9 15/16 inches (20.3 × 25.2cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Sugar Mill at Aguirre, Puerto Rico' c. 1978-1985 (negative); 1985-1995 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Sugar Mill at Aguirre, Puerto Rico
c. 1978-1985 (negative); 1985-1995 (print)
Offset lithograph
Image: 12 3/16 × 15 5/16 inches (31 × 38.9cm)
Sheet: 19 1/8 × 25 inches (48.5 × 63.5cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

“Go out into the world with the camera and photograph and find out that the world is smarter than you are.”

With this exhortation, Richard Benson encouraged his students to explore one of photography’s core functions: recording things and events in the world. He wanted them to step out of their own mindsets and grapple with the many challenges – material, physical, and conceptual – encountered when making anything. It is precisely how Benson approached his own art. This exhibition surveys nearly fifty years of his photography, a wide-ranging body of work that reflects his humility and boundless curiosity about the world.

Renowned in photography circles for his acumen and inventiveness at printing and his far-ranging impact as a teacher and dean at the Yale University School of Art, Benson is best known today for the remarkable photography books he helped produce and the prints he made of other artists’ work. This exhibition puts his photography at the centre of these other achievements. It follows his continuous investigation of photographic processes and technologies and explores the dialogue between his pictures and other projects.

 

Benson’s subjects

Benson viewed human knowledge – particularly technology – as a cumulative, almost organic process, more a matter of continual adaptation and adjustment than of individual genius. This outlook is reflected in his photographic subjects. He recorded products of human ingenuity from stone carvings to steam engines and complex constructions of every sort. He also made straightforward and sensitive portraits of people and things he loved. And his subjects include the diverse spaces people create for themselves, which Benson viewed as “living rooms” that help us recover from the continuous disruptions of our technological age.

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Fort Adams, Newport, Rhode Island' 1975 (negative); 1975 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Fort Adams, Newport, Rhode Island
1975 (negative); 1975 (print)
Platinum/palladium print
Image: 7 7/8 × 9 5/8 inches (20 × 24.4cm)
Sheet: 8 1/16 × 10 1/8 inches (20.5 × 25.7cm)
Mount: 8 7/8 × 11 inches (22.5 × 27.9cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Fall River Boiler' 1978 (negative); 1985-1995 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Fall River Boiler
1978 (negative); 1985-1995 (print)
Offset lithograph
Image: 16 3/8 × 13 1/16 inches (41.6 × 33.1cm)
Sheet: 24 15/16 × 18 15/16 inches (63.3 × 48.1cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

For reproducing photographs in a 1985 book devoted to the extraordinary Gilman Paper Company Collection (later acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art), he amplified the duotone process, where ink is passed through a fine mesh screen to impart subtle shades of black, gray and even, for older photographs, purple and sepia. The technique also allowed him to enlarge a negative without sacrificing detail. “Fall River Boiler,” a black-and-white image that he photographed in 1978 and printed a decade or so later, is a nocturne of texture and tone: feathery asbestos, gloppy encrustations, circular black holes.

Arthur Lubow. “When a Master Printer Picks Up the Camera,” on The New York Times website December 30, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/01/2022

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Hector Morales's Horse, Don Pedro, San Juan, Puerto Rico' 1977-1982

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Hector Morales’s Horse, Don Pedro, San Juan, Puerto Rico
1977-1982
Platinum/palladium print
Image: 7 5/8 × 9 1/2 inches (19.4 × 24.1cm)
Sheet: 8 × 10 1/8 inches (20.3 × 25.7cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Poplar Street Driftway, Newport, Rhode Island' 1975-1985

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Poplar Street Driftway, Newport, Rhode Island
1975-1985
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 7 1/2 × 9 1/2 inches (19.1 × 24.1cm)
Mount: 18 × 14 inches (45.7 × 35.6cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Agave plant' 1975-1985

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Agave plant
1975-1985
Collection of Barbara Benson

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'New Orleans Tugboat' Mid-1980s (negative); 1985-1995 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
New Orleans Tugboat
Mid-1980s (negative); 1985-1995 (print)
Offset lithograph
Image: 12 15/16 × 16 1/4 inches (32.9 × 41.3cm)
Sheet: 19 1/16 × 25 inches (48.4 × 63.5cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Puerto Rico Landscape' c. 1980

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Puerto Rico Landscape
c. 1980
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 7 1/2 × 9 1/2 inches
Mount: 18 × 14 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Memphis, TN' 1987

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Memphis, TN
1987
Offset lithograph
Image: 12 7/8 × 16 3/4 inches
Sheet: 16 × 19 3/8 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Scottish Engine, Puerto Rico' c. 1980

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Scottish Engine, Puerto Rico
c. 1980
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 7 1/2 × 9 1/2 inches
Mount: 18 × 14 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Scottish Engine, Puerto Rico' c. 1980

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Scottish Engine, Puerto Rico
c. 1980; 2005-2014 (print)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 9/16 × 17 3/16 inches
Sheet: 15 7/16 × 18 7/8 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

Steam engines were among Richard Benson’s many enthusiasms. He was particularly excited to come across this one in a field in Puerto Rico, recognising it as a version of the engine invented by Scottish engineer James Watt in 1776. Watt’s engine was one of the key developments of the Industrial Revolution. Benson surmised this example was a relic from one of the sugar plantations that existed on the island in the 1800s.

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'The Beaubourg, Paris, France' 1976

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
The Beaubourg, Paris, France
1976
Platinum/palladium print
Image: 7 1/2 × 9 1/2 inches (19.1 × 24.1cm)
Sheet: 8 1/2 × 11 inches (21.6 × 27.9cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Wildwood, New Jersey' Date unknown

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Wildwood, New Jersey
Date unknown
Offset lithograph
Image: 16 3/8 × 13 1/16 inches
Sheet: 24 15/16 × 19 1/16 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

In October, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present an exhibition dedicated to the late Richard Benson, who is most often celebrated as a virtuoso printer and gifted teacher and is perhaps best known for helping produce some of the most significant photography books of the past fifty years. The World Is Smarter Than You Are is the first in-depth survey of Benson’s own photography. This exhibition includes around 100 works that convey his pathfinding exploration of photographic processes, his embrace of technologies old and new, and his deep empathy for his human subjects and the objects and environments they have built. It celebrates an important promised gift of Benson’s art, assembled by the artist and offered to the museum by his close friends, collectors William H. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane. It is accompanied by a major publication of the same title.

Including prints from the late 1960s until shortly before Benson’s death in 2017, the exhibition traces his quest for the perfect print. This reflects both his abiding interest in improving traditional photo-making methods as well as his gradual embrace of digital photography and experiments in printing that yielded new directions for his artistic craft. It also explores his philosophical musings and writings, teaching materials and work as a printer, underscoring the deep connections between his intellectual, technical, and creative pursuits.

Benson’s interest in photography began with utilising this medium to document examples of fine craftsmanship and technological innovation, ranging from stone carving and antique buildings to machines such as steam engines or contemporary feats of engineering in steel and other modern materials. This breadth of interests can be seen in work from visits he made to France in the 1970s, when he recorded such sites as the Château de Maintenon and the recently completed Centre Pompidou. In another project of the 1970s, Benson photographed grave markers in the Common Burying Ground in his hometown of Newport, Rhode Island. He was the son and brother of celebrated stone carvers, and these pictures reflect his desire to document not only this antique art form, but also his developing ideas about the continual evolution of human technology which, in his thinking, comprised everything from language to microchips.

During this same decade Benson also made sensitive portraits of friends and family members – most notably his wife, Barbara Benson – and views of interiors and townscapes that often stand as indirect portraits of anonymous subjects. Numerous family portraits are presented throughout the exhibition and a concentrated grouping appears in the first galleries.

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Benson made several trips to Puerto Rico. Included in the exhibition are his records of an antique steam engine he discovered on an old sugar plantation, Scottish Engine, Puerto Rico, c. 1980, and a variety of portraits and landscapes that represent the unique characteristics of the island. Luquillo Woman, Puerto Rico (c. 1980), is representative of the candid pictures he captured during these visits.

Benson embarked on his most ambitious book project in 1981, dedicated to the Gilman Paper Company Collection. It was considered to be one of the most important private photography collections ever assembled and included rare nineteenth-century prints in diverse processes as well as works by noted twentieth-century photographers such as Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Alfred Stieglitz, among others. Benson’s efforts to make the reproductions in this book by using offset lithography, printing each sheet up to six times in order to achieve specific print tonalities, remain unmatched. Spreads from the book, Photographs from the Collection of the Gilman Paper Company, will be on view in the exhibition. Displayed in cases are other notable books on which he worked including Lay This Laurel (Benson and Lincoln Kirstein); The American Monument (Lee Friedlander); The Face of Lincoln (James Mellon); O, Write My Name (a portfolio of Benson photogravures from Carl Van Vechten photographs); Paul Strand prints of Wall Street and Wild Iris, Maine; and three later Benson books, A Maritime Album, The Printed Picture, and North South East West.

As his reputation as an innovator in printing processes grew, so too did his influence. In 1986, following the success of the Gilman Paper Company Collection project, Benson was awarded both his second Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Fellowship. Seven years earlier, in 1979, Benson had begun teaching at Yale University, where he would become a professor and later Dean of the Art School. His idiosyncratic teaching style is described by the noted artist An-My Lê, who reflects in her essay: “His lectures were dazzling with information, but we were chided for taking notes. This was in line with this wanting us to think for ourselves and not passively absorb information that was thrown at us. As I have progressed in my work over the years, I have come to realise that one of Richard’s most important lessons was about humility.”

Another section of the exhibition will be devoted to his work in colour photography. Benson had avoided colour photography through much of his career, in part because of the unreliability of colour processes. But with the emergence of digital photography in the 1990s, he embraced working in colour, leading to the creation of an extraordinary body of pictures. Three works known as “photographs in paint” will be shown with two chromogenic prints from the 1990s to demonstrate his shift from offset lithography to inkjet printing. Moving into the early 2000s, Benson would fully deploy colour into his photographic practice. This shift can be seen in the examples of his pictures taken on the road in Georgia (2007), Texas (2008), Ohio (2009), and even Apples for John (2007).

The exhibition is organised by Peter Barberie, the Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center, Philadelphia Museum of Art, who also edited the book that accompanies the exhibition. Barberie said: “In the photography world, Benson is highly regarded as a printer and teacher, but never before has there been an in-depth survey to explore his own photographs, which are challenging, difficult, and beautiful representations of everyday life. His free-thinking blend of traditional craftsmanship, cutting-edge technology, and human empathy resulted in a unique and powerful body of work, and I am gratified to bring his important contributions to photography to audiences in Philadelphia and beyond.”

 

Related publication

The first major survey of Benson’s photography, this volume features works from the gift complemented by important prints from other collections and comparative illustrations from several of the photography books Benson helped produce in his career. It includes a critical and historical essay about Benson’s photography by Peter Barberie. Artist An-My Lê has written an essay about her memories of her teacher and friend. Publication date: September 2021 (160 pages; $45.00).

 

About Richard Benson (1943-2017)

Richard Benson spent much of his life in Newport, Rhode Island, where he grew up. His father, John Howard Benson (1901-1956), was a noted stone carver and calligrapher who in 1927 acquired the John Stevens Shop, which had been in operation since 1705. It became under the elder Benson’s direction a nationally celebrated firm for monumental lettering. Known by his nickname “Chip,” Richard occupied a workshop at the back of their house, where he pursued his craft and tinkered with a variety of creative pursuits including antique vehicles.

In 1961 he enrolled at Brown University but left after one semester before serving for three years in the Navy, studying at its Optical Repair School. He also took courses at the Art Students League in New York City. In 1966, after marrying Barbara Murray, he obtained a job at Meriden Gravure, a printing company in Connecticut that would expose him to the highest levels of craft in printing and set the course for his career in books and photography.

Benson became devoted to the technical aspects of printing and reproducing photographs. He made fine prints for other artists, including Paul Strand and Walker Evans and helped produce many of the finest photography books of his generation, including Lee Friedlander’s American Monument (1976); The Work of Atget (4 vols., 1981-84); and Photographs from the Collection of the Gilman Paper Company (1985). During these years, he quietly pursued his own photography, working with a large camera and producing black-and-white prints in various processes.

In 1979 Benson began teaching at Yale University School of Art, where he eventually served as dean from 1996 to 2006. He mentored younger colleagues and a generation of art students, many of whom recall his teaching as a formative experience. The unique quality of his teaching is reflected in his book The Printed Picture (2008), a survey of the entire history of printing as seen in the teaching materials he assembled over forty years. …

In the 1990s Benson embraced digital photography and dove into colour. He experimented with inkjet printing and traveled broadly to make photographs, many of which were published in North South East West (2011), a collection of his pictures from the previous six years.

Benson’s work is represented in the collections of the Eakins Press Foundation, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Yale University Art Gallery.

 

About the Promised Gift

In 2015, William H. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane, collectors and close friends of Richard Benson, pledged a promised gift of 180 of Benson’s works to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which fulfilled a commitment they had made to the artist to keep a significant body of his work intact as a single collection. The exhibition and the publication have been six years in the making.

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Manhattan Waterfront Project' c. 1992

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Manhattan Waterfront Project
c. 1992
Chromogenic print
Image: 8 3/8 × 12 5/8 inches (21.3 × 32.1cm)
Sheet: 10 7/8 × 14 inches (27.6 × 35.6cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Manhattan Waterfront Project' c. 1992

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Manhattan Waterfront Project
c. 1992
Chromogenic print
Image: 8 3/8 × 12 5/8 inches (21.2 × 32cm)
Sheet: 10 15/16 × 13 15/16 inches (27.8 × 35.4cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'New Mexico' 2006

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
New Mexico
2006
Pigment print
Image: 13 3/8 × 20 1/16 inches (34 × 51cm)
Sheet: 16 × 21 15/16 inches (40.7 × 55.8cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Newfoundland (Green Boat)' c. 2006

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Newfoundland (Green Boat)
c. 2006
Multiple impression pigment print
Image: 11 9/16 × 17 3/8 inches
Sheet: 12 15/16 × 19 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Collection of Barbara Benson
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Georgia' 2007

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Georgia
2007
Pigment print
Image: 20 × 13 3/8 inches (50.8 × 34cm)
Sheet: 22 × 16 inches (55.9 × 40.6cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

“Georgia” (2007), which portrays a vertical array of four signs – two red octagonal stop signs, two circular railroad crossings, in yellow and orange – makes a visual counterpoint to three storage silos in the background that are painted red, blue and yellow-embellished silver. But the most virtuosic turn is the rendition of the sky, which is bleached out to a pale blue-gray at the horizon and gradually darkens to a full-throated cerulean at the top. If, as Willem de Kooning once remarked, flesh was the reason oil paint was created, Benson in his many crepuscular photographs makes the case that twilight skies were the reason color film was invented.

Arthur Lubow. “When a Master Printer Picks Up the Camera,” on The New York Times website December 30, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/01/2022

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Apples for John' 2007

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Apples for John
2007
Pigment print
Image: 13 3/8 × 20 inches
Sheet: 15 7/8 × 22 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Selma, Alabama' 2007

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Selma, Alabama
2007
Pigment print
Image: 11 5/8 × 17 3/8 inches (29.5 × 44.1cm)
Sheet: 13 × 19 inches (33 × 48.3cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Kentucky' 2007

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Kentucky
2007
Pigment print
Image: 11 5/8 × 17 3/8 inches (29.5 × 44.2cm)
Sheet: 12 15/16 × 19 inches (32.8 × 48.2cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Okeechobee, Florida' 2007

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Okeechobee, Florida
2007
Pigment print
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Wyoming (Reinke Sprinkler)' 2008

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Wyoming (Reinke Sprinkler)
2008
Multiple impression pigment print
Image: 13 3/8 × 20 1/8 inches
Sheet: 16 1/8 × 22 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Collection of Barbara Benson
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Untitled (Cotton Farm)' 2008

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Untitled (Cotton Farm)
2008
Pigment print
Image: 13 3/8 × 20 inches (34 × 50.8cm)
Sheet: 14 15/16 × 21 15/16 inches (38 × 55.8cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Louisiana' 2008

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Louisiana
2008
Pigment print
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Texas' 2008

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Texas
2008
Pigment print
Image: 13 3/8 × 20 inches
Sheet: 15 9/16 × 22 inches
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Arizona' 2008

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Arizona
2008
Pigment print
Image: 13 3/8 × 20 inches (34 × 50.8cm)
Sheet: 14 15/16 × 21 15/16 inches (38 × 55.8cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Ohio' 2009

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Ohio
2009
Pigment print
Image: 13 3/8 × 20 inches (34 × 50.8cm)
Sheet: 16 × 22 inches (40.6 × 55.9cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017) 'Untitled (Celeryville field)' 2009 (negative); 2009 (print)

 

Richard Benson (American, 1943-2017)
Untitled (Celeryville field)
2009 (negative); 2009 (print)
Pigment print
Image: 13 3/8 × 20 inches (34 × 50.8cm)
Sheet: 14 15/16 × 21 15/16 inches (38 × 55.8cm)
© Estate of Richard M. A. Benson. Promised gift of William M. and Elizabeth Ann Kahane
Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021

 

 

Publication

A wide-ranging retrospective that reveals a master printer’s own photographs to be technically brilliant work of remarkable breadth and complexity.

This book presents the first in-depth survey of photographs by Richard Benson (1943-2017), who approached photography as a thrilling set of technical challenges and used the medium to craft profound depictions of people, the spaces of their lives and work, and the products of their labor. An essay by curator Peter Barberie interweaves examination of Benson’s photographic practices with the story of his ideas, writing, and reproductive printing, while photographer An-My Lê, Benson’s former student, offers her perspective on his teaching, family life, and art. The book begins with his stunning darkroom prints in silver and platinum and follows his trajectory toward extraordinary digital photography, culminating in later colour prints that are at once elegant and garish, representing the contemporary world in vivid detail. Benson’s democratic eye also extended to human subjects: he photographed loved ones and strangers with extraordinary attention, and directed the same gaze to the buildings and landscapes entwined with individual lives.

  • Author: Peter Barberie
  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Philadelphia Museum of Art, October 2021
  • 152 pages, 11 3/4 x 9 3/4
  • 134 color illustrations
  • ISBN: 9780876332016

 

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

 

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are publication

 

 

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Philadelphia, PA 19130

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19
Dec
21

Exhibition: ‘Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978’ at the Phoenix Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 21st July, 2021 – 2nd January, 2022

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Greenwood, Mississippi' 1963

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Greenwood, Mississippi
1963
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

This is the last posting for 2021, the next being 9th January 2022. This year the website had 1,158,000 views and 769,000 visitors. Wow!

 

There is no more time

Time is something that photography has so little of – the snap of the shutter – and yet, paradoxically, so much of. Photographs transcend the time in which they were taken, bringing past time to present and future time. Photographs that were important at the time they were taken and have great “exposure” may loose their relevance over time, only to have their presence reignited in the present future, to have their power and insightfulness understood by a new generation.

This applies to the work of Marion Palfi. I had never heard of this woman artist before and I have been studying photography for over 30 years now. That’s the question that keeps buzzing around my head. Why is this courageous artist and human being not better known – this “social researcher photographer” (her term) that fought the good fight and pictured social injustices in America wherever she saw it.

Born in Germany, Palfi rejected Germany’s radical politics and began to use photography and art to effect social change. In 1934 she opened her own portrait studio in Berlin before fleeing the Nazis and opening a successful portrait studio in Amsterdam in 1936. She then fled Europe for the United States in 1940 after marrying an American soldier.

“Marion Palfi’s work centered around equity, opportunity, and justice for all people. In her photo book There is No More Time: An American Tragedy, Palfi documented racism and segregation in Irwinton, GA, the site of the murder of Caleb Hill, the first reported lynching of 1949.

Palfi’s 1952 book Suffer Little Children focused on the living condition of disadvantaged children across the U.S., including the young inmates of the New York Training School for Girls. Palfi was a contributing photographer to Edward Steichen’s landmark Family of Man exhibition in 1955. During her time traveling across the United States she was bothered by the amount of poverty and racial intolerance she was exposed. She also was confused by Americans lack of acknowledgement of these problems within their communities. Palfi decided to use her camera as a way to document these problems and bring attention to them within the public eye. Using her new perspective on the topic of injustice and racial discrimination she was able to draw attention to these issues by documenting them with her camera.

Palfi’s photography explored the concepts of social injustices in America. She created many photographic studies that focus on racial injustice against African Americans, poverty in cities, and racial discrimination against Native Americans. She originally had trouble getting her photographs displayed or show cased because many Americans refused to address these social justice issues within their own society.”1

.
Equality, opportunity and justice for all people. What honourable concepts she was investigating using her camera to affect social change. But for Palfi, it was not enough to simply document. She wanted to know the “why” of a situation, how it affected the people involved – hence the classification of herself as a social researcher photographer.

“Her arrival in New York at a time when America was called “the arsenal of democracy” [1940] unexpectedly confronted her with the fact that the United States was not the ideal society many envisioned. Almost immediately, Palfi became involved in the struggles of minorities for social justice, and soon she was launched upon a career that can only be described as a life-long quest to ameliorate the living conditions of abandoned children, the neglected elderly, black both northern and southern, the abused native American of the Southwest, and finally, the broken lives of prisoners in penitentiaries. To the end of her days, Palfi traveled the country lecturing to whatever groups invited her, whooping hundreds of slides documenting injustices. Her involvement was as impassioned as that of Jacob Riis in the slums of New York, and like the works of Riis, her pictures were used to educate the officials about the need for legislative change.”2

.
Imagine if you can being a German arriving in America in 1940, being an alien in a foreign land during the Second World War and then, afterwards, confronting racism head on in her 1949 book There is No More Time: An American Tragedy documenting racism and segregation in Irwinton, GA, the site of the murder of Caleb Hill, the first reported “lynching” of 1949 (the victim was actually shot in the head and body). Don’t forget this is years before Robert Frank, another foreigner, travelled across the country to picture this insular and dysfunctional land in his seminal The Americans (1958). What guts it would have taken!

As noted by Maurice Berger, research professor and the chief curator at the Center for Art Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland in his 2015 article “A Meditation on Race, in Shades of White,” on The New York Times website:

“The most significant lesson of “Killers of the Dream,” [by Lillian Smith] one echoed in “There Is No More Time,” was that we must alter our expectations about who was responsible for talking about race. By focusing on the social and cultural mores of white Southerners – and by providing a platform for ordinary people to speak honestly about a difficult and controversial subject – both books exposed the attitudes, fears and rationalisations that underwrote racial prejudice.

They challenged the myth that racism was exceptional, perpetrated only by monstrous or evil people. As Ms. Smith argued, few were spared the “grave illness” of prejudice. “The mother who taught me what I know of tenderness and love and compassion taught me also the bleak rituals of keeping Negroes in their ‘place,'” she observed about the banality and ubiquity of racism.

Similarly and with uncompromising honesty, “There Is No More Time” revealed an enduring secret of American race relations: that ostensibly good people – men and women much like our neighbours, our family and ourselves – could also harbour virulent prejudices. For Ms. Palfi, this revelation was necessary and urgent.”3

.
In the photographs from the book in this posting we can see how the banality of evil can fester in a community, for Palfi “was as interested in the discriminator as in the victims of discrimination.” “Obviously, the presence of a photographer in such a community would attract unwanted attention and might have endangered her life. But by a happy stroke of luck, the Vice-President of the Georgia Power Company was interested in her work. Warning her that she must “photograph the South as it really is, not as the North slanders it,” he wanted her to get to meet the “right” people. As it happened, the “right” people turned out to be the very discriminators she wanted to photograph. Left in the protection of the local postmistress, she proceeded to take terms, objective pictures of overseers and white-suited politicians.”4

We only have to look at the countenance of that racist Alexander S. Boone, a certified three-time card carrying member of the Klan with dirty shirt, big fat cigar, painted nails and wig who publishes the local rag, the “official county organ”. Can you imagine him at a lynching? He’d probably be at the front of the queue. Then there is “Baby” Boone, youngest son of “old man” (senior figure, elder statesman) Boone. Behind him on the glass window of his business offering seeds & feeds is a handbill:

Old-fashioned REVIVAL
Mt Pleasant Baptist Church
July 17-22
John L. Mcay

.
Old fashioned (one of the meanings of this phrase is: favouring traditional or conservative ideas or customs), and a REVIVAL – Christian revivalism is increased spiritual interest or renewal in the life of a church congregation or society – a church which probably welcomed the Klan card carrying Representative of Wilkinson County in the Georgia Legislature with open arms. And then there is the sheriff of the small community where a young black man had been walked out of a jail cell and shot by two men… when he was innocent of any crime. Nervously fingering his shirt, looking away from the camera. None of this covert racism. A woman explained: “If a white man buys something from a colored man, the colored man may not hand it to the white man.”

Palfi had trouble finding a publisher in America because of the controversial nature of her photographs. No wonder. 1940s American society was not ready to confront the ugly truth staring back at them in the mirror until decades later, and even today, nothing much has changed.

The wife of the victim said, simply, “Caleb was a good man … he believed in his rights and therefore he died.”

.
This is a artist and a human being that I would have very much liked to meet. Her photographs are strong, direct, informed, never flinching from the subject matter she was researching and picturing… yet they are also compassionate and caring. As Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock observes, “She fearlessly placed herself in danger again and again, seeing her work as having the possibility of direct influence on a social revolution.”

She placed herself in dangerous situations time and time again – until that particular time (of photographing) has become universal time, until her force majeure, her force of nature and her will for reform, transcends the very time of the photographs creation, bringing us face to face with hidden realities roiling under the surface.

As the protest placard in her photograph Chicago School Boycott (1963-1964, below) says and the title of the exhibition opines, “Freedom Must Be Lived” – YES, but freedom must also be fought for! “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good humans to do nothing.”

The battles that Marion Palfi fought have not been won. We are still fighting the same battles all these decades later. There is no more time… change must happen now.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. “Marion Palfi,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/12/2021
  2. Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, p. 5.
  3. Maurice Berger. “A Meditation on Race, in Shades of White,” on The New York Times website Sept. 27, 2015 [Online] Cited 27/10/2021
  4. Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock, Op cit.,

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

 

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Chicago School Boycott' 1963-1964

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Chicago School Boycott
1963-1964
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

“We talk about the poverty of the Indian, their port health, their substandard of living – we cry – ! Who is responsible for this? The murder of the American Indian has stopped as such. No more Indian wars, but all kinds of schemes are constantly working to take still their last piece of land (we found oil, uranium, and other valuable minerals and there is fish, timer, etc.) and above all to wipe the image away – erase – “to change the Indian” – Into what? Into a middle class personality with all the ambitions and drives of our society. Competition and exploitation are the most important assets, we think. Foreign to all Indian thinking! What do we actually do? We destroy the Indian completely, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually. You might ask – so what? What is so good not to assimilate with the predominant society? Let me tell you what. Our society destroys lives – with our “know how” destroy all living. We polite the air, the water, poison the plants and animal life. The Indian knew no money, but the Indian knew security, happiness – the Indian was a supreme conserver of nature – of life. The Indian worked with nature not against it.”

.
Marion Palfi. “Some Thoughts,” preface to the unpublished manuscript, “My Children, First I liked the Whites, I Gave Them Fruits,” in the possession of Martin Magner, pp. 1-2 quoted in Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, p. 9.

 

“She fearlessly placed herself in danger again and again, seeing her work as having the possibility of direct influence on a social revolution.”

.
Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, p. 8.

 

 

Marion Palfi portraits

 

Unknown photographers
Portraits of Marion Palfi (at left in 1967)

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978 will survey the career of Marion Palfi (1907-1978), who produced an important visual document of 20th-century American injustice.

To tell you about my work. I am developing a new approach to photography… I am photographing only after extensive research, never before. I do not photograph for purely emotional reasons, but only after I became an integral part of the situation, have gained full understanding and knowledge, then I try to ‘write down’ my findings with the camera. My photographs are never editorialized, nor ‘accidents,’ nor posed, but always the ultimate results of thorough research. They must tell the story, so that the words are only needed as commentary or explanation. It goes without saying, I wish my photographs to be artistic achievements, other wise they would be simply a dry documentation and not move the onlooker.

~ Marion Palfi

.
With these words Marion Hermine Serita Palfi compressed her intentions as a photographer: to tell a story through photography with a minimum of words; to tell it well, that is, through aesthetically strong images; to tell it knowledgable and patiently – to earn the telling; and to tell it “truthfully” by focusing on the subject, not the technique, personality, or identity of the person holding the camera. With the discipline of a trained dancer, the eye of an artist, and the will of a solitary activist, Marion Palfi never wavered in her commitment to untold stories. She lived a life-in-praxis, connecting belief to action.

Janet Zandy. Unfinished Stories: The Narrative Photography of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi. RIT Press, 2013, pp. 71.

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

“Her arrival in New York at a time when America was called “the arsenal of democracy” [1940] unexpectedly confronted her with te fact that the United States was not the ideal society many envisioned. Almost immediately, Palfi became involved in the struggles of minorities for social justice, and soon she was launched upon a career that can only be described as a life-long quest to ameliorate the living conditions of abandoned children, the neglected elderly, black both northern and southern, the abused native American of the Southwest, and finally, the broken lives of prisoners in penitentiaries. To the end of her days, Palfi traveled the country lecturing to whatever groups invited her, whooping hundreds of slides documenting injustices. Her involvement was as impassioned as that of Jacob Riis in the slums of New York, and like the works of Riis, her pictures were used to educate the officials about the need for legislative change.

She was a person, in other words, whose life made a difference in the lives of perfect strangers. Appreciated by humanitarians like John Collier and Eleanor Roosevelt, Sr., recognised and encouraged by artists like Edward Steichen and Langston Hughes, applauded by Karl Menninger, she has nevertheless received less attention than she deserved. As James Enyeart observed, she has remained “invisible in America,” like so many of her pathetic and neglected subjects. It would seem that her extraordinary selflessness and devotion did not help to write her name large in the histories of photography, as the same activities ensured the fame of Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, or W. Eugene Smith. That inattention should be rectified, especially now, where there seems to be, once again, a general callousness toward the less fortunate members of our society and a devastating neglect of racial and ethnic minorities. The battles that Marion Palfi fought have not been won. They continue today, with the startling increase in the numbers of older women in poverty. the increasing withdrawal of government support to the American Indians, the hungry children, and the black youths without employment. Photography continues to be a potent medium that needs to be revitalized by spirits like Palfi.”

Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, p. 5.

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at left, Girl Scouts Troop (30 Girls, 16 Nationalities) 1944; at top right, Sono Osato – Dancing on the Roof 1944; and at bottom right, Dean Dixon as Guest Conductor at the Juilliard School c. 1944
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Sono Osato (American, 1919-2018)

Sono Osato (大里 ソノ, Osato Sono, August 29, 1919 – December 26, 2018) was an American dancer and actress.

In 1927, when she was eight, Osato’s mother took her and her sister to Europe for two years; while in Monte Carlo, they attended a performance of Cléopâtre by Sergei Diaghilev’s famous Ballets Russes company, which inspired Osato to start ballet classes when she returned to Chicago in late 1929. She studied with prominent dancers Berenice Holmes and Adolph Bolm.

She performed with ballet companies Ballets Russe de Monte-Carlo and the American Ballet Theatre. As an actress, she starred alongside Frank Sinatra in the film The Kissing Bandit.

Osato began her career at the age of fourteen with Wassily de Basil’s Ballets Russe de Monte-Carlo, which at the time was the world’s most well known ballet company; she was the youngest member of the troupe, their first American dancer and their first dancer of Japanese descent. De Basil tried to persuade Osato to change her name to a Russian name, but she refused to do so. She spent six years touring the United States, Europe, Australia and South America with the company, leaving in 1941 as she felt her career was stagnating. She went to study at the School of American Ballet in New York City for six months, then joined the American Ballet Theatre as a dancer. While at the ABT, she danced roles in such ballets as Kenneth MacMillan’s Sleeping Beauty, Antony Tudor’s Pillar of Fire, and Bronislava Nijinska’s The Beloved.

As a musical theatre performer, her Broadway credits included principal dancer in One Touch of Venus (a performance for which she received a Donaldson Award in 1943), Ivy Smith in the original On the Town, and Cocaine Lil in Ballet Ballads.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dean Dixon (American, 1915-1976)

Charles Dean Dixon (January 10, 1915 – November 3, 1976) was an American conductor.

Dixon was born in the upper-Manhattan neighbourhood of Harlem in New York City to parents who had earlier migrated from the Caribbean. He studied conducting with Albert Stoessel at the Juilliard School and Columbia University. When early pursuits of conducting engagements were stifled because of racial bias (he was African American), he formed his own orchestra and choral society in 1931. In 1941, he guest-conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic during its summer season. He later guest-conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1948 he won the Ditson Conductor’s Award.

In 1949, he left the United States for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which he directed during its 1950 and 1951 seasons. He was principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony in Sweden 1953-1960, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia 1964-1967, and the hr-Sinfonieorchester in Frankfurt 1961-1974. During his time in Europe, Dixon guest-conducted with the WDR Sinfonieorchester in Cologne and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks in Munich. He also made several recordings with the Prague Symphony Orchestra in 1968-1973 for Bärenreiter, including works of Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schumann, Wagner, and Weber. For Westminster Records in the 1950s, his recordings included symphonies and incidental music for Rosamunde by Schubert, symphonic poems of Liszt (in London with the Royal Philharmonic), and symphonies of Schumann (in Vienna with the Volksoper Orchester). Dixon also recorded several American works for the American Recording Society in Vienna. Some of his WDR broadcast recordings were issued on Bertelsmann and other labels. Dean Dixon introduced the works of many American composers, such as William Grant Still, to European audiences.

During the 1968 Olympic Games, Dixon conducted the Mexican National Symphony Orchestra.

Dixon returned to the United States for guest-conducting engagements with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony in the 1970s. He also served as the conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, where he gained fame for his children’s concerts. He also conducted most of the major symphony orchestras in Africa, Israel, and South America. Dixon’s last appearance in the US was conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in April 1975.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing three Untitled 1930s photographs and at bottom right, Dutch Film Director 1937
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Nurse George, Louisville, Georgia' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Nurse George, Louisville, Georgia
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'School Patrol, Detroit' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
School Patrol, Detroit
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

 

Installation view of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

In 1945, Ebony was founded by Black businessman John H. Johnson as a sleek monthly illustrated magazine from the African-American market in a time when few major media outlets addressed Black readers and consumers. Intended to emulate the glossy look of Life and Look magazines, it featured photo essays and long-form articles chronicling all aspects of Black American life, including current events in race relations, and the successes of Black artists, athletes, scientists, and celebrities. Marion Palfi contributed photographs to the inaugural issue in November 1945, including the cover image of students at a racially integrated elementary school. Over the next five years she was regular contributor to the magazine, covering subjects ranging from National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, to all aspects of the fight against racial segregation, to famous cultural figures like Langston Hughes and Dean Dixon.

Between 1950 and 1951, Marion Palfi embarked on a cross-country trip for a study on housing integrity. Her photographs charted the distressed living conditions of Black Americans, immigrants, and sharecroppers – the result of redlining [refuse (a loan or insurance) to someone because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk], blockbusting [the practice of persuading owners to sell property cheaply because of the fear of people of another race or class moving into the neighbourhood, and then profiting by reselling at a higher price], urban renewal, white flight [the phenomenon of white people moving out of urban areas, particularly those with significant minority populations, and into suburban areas], and the long legacy of racialised federal, state, and local housing policies. In cities as far apart as Charlottesville, Virginia; Phoenix, Arizona; Waterbury, Connecticut; Chicago, Illinois; and Sledge, Mississippi, Palfi interviewed and photographed people living in unsanitary and crowded conditions in parcelled tenements, boarding houses, and other low-income housing settlements. She trained her camera on the crumbling edifices of buildings and the communities experiencing poverty who lived there. The resulting booklet, In These 10 Cities (1951), co-published by the New York State Committee on Discrimination in Housing and the Public Affairs Committee, featured her photographs and research alongside text by the political activist Alexander L. Crosby, as part of a series of “picture pamphlets” meant to edify New Yorkers on national issues of social concern.

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled, Boston' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled, Boston
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Somewhere in the South' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Somewhere in the South
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Janet Zandy. 'Unfinished Stories: The Narrative Photography of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi'. RIT Press, 2013, pp. 94-95

 

Janet Zandy. Unfinished Stories: The Narrative Photography of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi. RIT Press, 2013, pp. 94-95

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and details of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at top left, Waterbury, Connecticut (from the In These Ten Cities series, 1951) bottom left, In the Shadow of the Capitol, Washington, D.C. 1946-1948; and at bottom right, New York 1946-1949
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Waterbury, Connecticut' 1951

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Waterbury, Connecticut
1951
From the series In These Ten Cities
Gelatin silver print
26.2 x 34.2cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Phoenix' 1951

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Phoenix
1951
From the series In These Ten Cities
Gelatin silver print
26.3 x 34.6cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Chicago' 1951

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Chicago
1951
From the series In These Ten Cities
Gelatin silver print
31.8 x 26.5cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Hudson School for Girls, the Only New York State Training School for Delinquent Girls, Solitary' 1946-49

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Hudson School for Girls, the Only New York State Training School for Delinquent Girls, Solitary
1946-1949
From the Suffer Little Children series, 1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
24.0 x 20.2cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'In the Shadow of the Capitol, Washington, D.C.' 1946-1948

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
In the Shadow of the Capitol, Washington, D.C.
1946-1948
From the Suffer Little Children series, 1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Los Angeles' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Los Angeles
1946-1949
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Three children playing behind houses in Boyle Heights' 1946

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Three children playing behind houses in Boyle Heights
1946
Gelatin silver print
UCLA, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library

 

 

Marion Palfi (1907-1978), an immigrant photographer and member of the New York Photo League, a pivotal organisation in photography and U.S. history, took photographs of girls at the Training School in Hudson, NY. Though she was one of the most under-recognised of the Photo League photographers, Palfi’s images of girls at the New York State Training School for Girls may be the best-known photographs ever taken at the Hudson prison.

Palfi, who called herself a “social research photographer”, was born in Germany and came to America from Amsterdam in 1940 just ahead of Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Europe. Soon thereafter she launched a ‘study’ on minority artists and met Langston Hughes who became an ardent supporter of her work until his death in 1967. In 1946, Palfi received a Rosenwald Fellowship, the second ever granted by the foundation for photography and the only one ever given for photography on race relations. The grant made possible a nation-wide study of children and youth that resulted in an exhibition, “Children in America” and a book, Suffer Little Children, published in 1952. The exhibition opened in January of 1949 at the New York Public Library and subsequently traveled for three years throughout the United States. The photographs in the exhibition and book showed children and youth suffering from everything from poverty and prejudice to prisons and delinquency.

Though reputedly the first white photojournalist to focus specifically on the linkages between racism and poverty, in Suffer Little Children Palfi focused on the diversity of American society, not isolating one ethnic group and their difficulties. She portrayed poverty as a destructive force affecting African Americans, Asian Americans, whites and Latinos alike. She attacked the suffering of children with a particular fury: “Poverty is like the murdering of little angels”, she wrote.

Many of her images for the project comment on the physical limits of the national vision, exploring the very bars, walls, and gestures that separate outsiders from larger society. Palfi presents photographs of white girls at the Training School in Hudson including a 12-year-old white girl in “solitary confinement”.

Of these images she writes: “At the time (of her visit to the NYS Training School for Girls in 1946), 15 girls were in ‘solitary’ in the ‘discipline’ cottage. The first 10 days the girls received bread and milk for two of their three meals. One girl spent 81 days in solitary confinement, aside from periods when she was let out to scrub the floors in the corridor. One of the girls was talking to herself. The matron was very annoyed and said to her through the door: ‘You know you may not talk now – it is rest period.’ Girls were sent to the discipline cottage for running away, breaking other rules or for being too emotionally disturbed.”

Anonymous text. “Suffer Little Children,” on the Prison Public Memory website, October 28, 2014 [Online] Cited 26/10/2021

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled
1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

About the exhibition

This retrospective exhibition will survey the career of Marion Palfi (1907-1978), who produced an important visual document of 20th-century American injustice. Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978 features more than 100 photographic prints and numerous archival materials, including photobooks, magazine spreads, research journals, and grant applications, drawn exclusively from the Center for Creative Photography’s vast Marion Palfi Archive. Many of these prints and materials have never before been exhibited or published and will offer an unprecedented opportunity to draw new insights into the work.

Palfi’s philosophy of using photography to influence social change shaped her vision and distinguished her career. A German immigrant to the United States during World War II, Palfi arrived in Los Angeles to find a reality far from the myth of the American Dream. Outraged at the economic, racial, and social inequalities she encountered, she spent more than three decades traveling throughout the United States documenting various communities to expose the links between racism and poverty. As a self-described “social research photographer,” Palfi aspired for her photographs to live in the world and effect social change. Her work was featured in numerous American periodicals, including Ebony and The New York Times. Sponsors for her work included the Council Against Intolerance in America, the NAACP, and the New York State Committee on Discrimination in Housing.

Each of the photographer’s four major projects are represented in the exhibition, including her piercing nationwide study of children living in poverty; her decades-long civil rights activism documenting the effects of systemic racism against African Americans; her research on the abject conditions of ageing in New York; and her revelatory pictures, funded by a 1967 Guggenheim Fellowship, of the forced relocation of Indigenous off of reservations in the Southwest. Weaving together more than three decades of work, the exhibition elucidates Palfi’s sustained focus on themes of inequity, solitude, and racial victimisation. Taken as a whole, it elucidates the photographer’s crusade for human rights and presents a cumulative photographic record that resonates with many of the social concerns still plaguing the United States today.

Text from the Phoenix Art Museum website

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Los Angeles, Anti Klan Meeting Where Klan Did Strike' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Los Angeles, Anti Klan Meeting Where Klan Did Strike
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

 

Installation view of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at top, Florida 1946-1949; and at bottom, Detroit, Paradise Valley 1946-1949
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

This summer, Phoenix Art Museum will present Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, the first major solo exhibition of the photographer’s incisive work since her death in 1978. A self-described “social-research photographer,” Marion Palfi observed and documented victims of discrimination over three decades, exposing the links between racism and poverty in the United States. Organised by Phoenix Art Museum and the Center for Creative Photography (CCP), University of Arizona, and drawing exclusively from CCP’s vast Marion Palfi Archive, Freedom Must Be Lived features more than 80 prints and extensive archival materials, many of which have never before been exhibited or published. Shedding light on Palfi’s career-long focus on themes of inequity, solitude, and racial victimisation, the exhibition provides unprecedented insight into the work of a photographer who created one of the most powerful visual documentations of 20th-century American injustice. Freedom Must Be Lived will be on view July 21, 2021 through January 2, 2022.

“We are delighted to present this timely exhibition of Marion Palfi’s socially conscious photography with Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America,” said Gilbert Vicario, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and the Selig Family Chief Curator of Phoenix Art Museum. “This powerful and poignant retrospective highlights an extraordinary photographer whose work has been under-recognised for more than four decades, furthering the Museum’s commitment to showcasing works by diverse artists whose legacies have not yet been fully acknowledged in the canon of art history.”

A German immigrant to the United States who fled during World War II, Palfi arrived in New York to a reality that stood in stark contrast with the myth of the American Dream. Outraged at the economic, racial, and social inequalities she encountered, Palfi spent the next three and a half decades traveling the nation to document various subjects, including the elderly, families of hate-crime victims, abandoned children, residents of the Jim Crow South, Los Angeles-prison inmates, Puerto Rican immigrants in New York, white supremacist groups, and Navajo families who were the victims of government-enforced relocation and “acculturation.” Her work was featured in numerous U.S. periodicals throughout her career, including Ebony and The New York Times, and she received sponsorships from the Council Against Intolerance in America, the NAACP, and the New York State Committee on Discrimination in Housing. Palfi also passed on her political and aesthetic philosophies through her role as an educator, teaching classes on the “social uses of photography” at the Photo League School (1948), The New School for Social Research (1959-1962), UCLA (1965-1966), and other institutions.

“Palfi’s vision and commitment to social justice allowed her to build a visual archive of otherwise ‘invisible’ Americans, reminding us of photography’s ability to influence social change,” said Audrey Sands, PhD, the Norton Family Assistant Curator of Photography at Phoenix Art Museum, a joint appointment with the Center for Creative Photography. “Her trenchant, poetic, and piercing work reflects her compassion behind the lens. She actively confronted the political, racial, and economic injustices that overshadowed her lifetime, so many of which still plague our country today. Given the continued resonance of these topics, now is the perfect moment to rediscover Palfi’s important work.”

Organised to showcase the four major projects of her career, the exhibition presents photographs from Palfi’s piercing nationwide study of disadvantaged children living in poverty, her documentation of systemic racism against Black Americans, her research into the abject living conditions of New York’s ageing population, as well as her revelatory photographs, funded by a 1967 Guggenheim Fellowship, of the forced relocation of Hopi, Navajo, and Papago peoples in the Southwest. The exhibition’s numerous archival materials, including photobooks, magazine spreads, project proposals, and field research notes, provide audiences with additional context about the scope of Palfi’s photographic practice.

Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America is the most recent collaboration between Phoenix Art Museum and the Center for Creative Photography. Over the past 13 years, the two institutions have organised nearly 40 exhibitions that bring outstanding works spanning the history of photography to wider audiences in Arizona and beyond.

Press release from the Phoenix Art Museum

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Woman in a patterned summer suit)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Woman in a patterned summer suit)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Black woman with a white child)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Black woman with a white child)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

 

“As a photographer, she was as interested in the discriminator as in the victims of discrimination. Long before what we tend to think of as the crux of the civil rights struggle in the 1960s, Palfi went to Georgia at a particularly dangerous time. In 1949, she was drawn to do an in-depth portrait of Irwinton, a small community where a young black man had been torn out of jail and shot by a lynch mob. The tremendous public outcry over this barbaric incident included front-page coverage and editorials by the New York Times. Obviously, the presence of a photographer in such a community would attract unwanted attention and might have endangered her life. But by a happy stroke of luck, the Vice-President of the Georgia Power Company was interested in her work. Warning her that she must “photograph the South as it really is, not as the North slanders it,” he wanted her to get to meet the “right” people. As it happened, the “right” people turned out to be the very discriminators she wanted to photograph. Left in the protection of the local postmistress, she proceeded to take terms, objective pictures of overseers and white-suited politicians.

Even if the press had not indicted Irwinton for its racism, the extreme conservatism and tension were evident in the faces of its citizens. She found a white supremacist group, “The Columbians,” whose insignia was a thunderbolt, the symbol of Hitler’s elite guard. “Mein Kampf was their bible,” she believed. Meanwhile, the wife of the lunch victim said, simply, “Caleb was a good man … he believed in his rights and therefore he died.”

Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, pp. 7-8.

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Alexander S. Boone)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Alexander S. Boone)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Mr. Ralph Culpepper)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Mr. Ralph Culpepper)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Baby Boone, youngest son of Old Man Boone)' 1949z

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Baby Boone, youngest son of Old Man Boone)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (I asked, "Are you one of the commissioners?")' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (I asked, “Are you one of the commissioners?”)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Portrait of Mrs. Caleb Hill, widow of a lynching victim)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Portrait of Mrs. Caleb Hill, widow of a lynching victim)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

 

THE SOUTH: Death of Picky Pie

Monday, June 13, 1949
Time Magazine

 

The crackers sat in the sun, their backs to the decaying summer house and watched the strangers. Irwinton seemed full of strangers, their cars raising clouds of red Georgia dust. Said one resentfully: “We had a white man lay over in a swamp near Big Sandy Creek till the buzzards ate him up, and they found his bones. We didn’t have a single newspaperman look at the bones. But seein’ as Picky Pie is a nigger he makes headlines.” Irwinton was reacting to 1949’s first lynching.

It all started Sunday night, when Sheriff George C. Hatcher was waked by a Negro. He was bleeding across the chest. “Picky Pie Hill done did me over at the New Harlem Club in Mclntyre,” he said. The sheriff jumped into his car and headed for the tin-roofed Negro juke joint four miles away.

Bare bulbs glared through the smoky, crowded room. Caleb (“Picky Pie”) Hill, a husky, 28-year-old Negro, was drunk, but the sheriff got handcuffs on him, and began to question witnesses. Suddenly, the sheriff felt his pistol pulled from the holster, turned to find Picky Pie aiming at his head. Hatcher ducked and the bullet went into the ceiling. In the scuffle, the sheriff’s pistol got lost. The sheriff took his prisoner back to town and put him in a cell with another Negro in the jail on the second floor of the sheriff’s house. Then he went back to get his pistol. It took him 2½ hours.

The Door Was Open. The sheriff explained later: “The trouble was a report had got around that the Negro had killed me. The men were pretty riled up and when they didn’t find me at home, they thought maybe I was dead.”

While he was gone, two men walked into the sheriff’s house. They had no trouble. The keys to the jail were on a cabinet in the living room, where the sheriff had left them, and the front door was open – “if I lock it the lock sticks,” explained the sheriff. The men calmly picked up the keys and went upstairs to the cell. “Come on, Picky Pie, let’s go,” one said. Without a protest, Picky Pie walked out with them. Mrs. Hatcher, asleep downstairs, heard no commotion.

Next morning two young farmers found Hill’s body, face downward in the sandy Georgia roadside, near Big Sandy Creek. He had been shot through the head and body. Roused, Sheriff Hatcher was amazed: “I thought, could it be they’d come and got my prisoner? I ran upstairs and sure enough, Hill was gone.”

No Memory. At the inquest, Tom Carswell, the Negro who had shared Hill’s cell, shook perceptibly as he was questioned. “They were white and there were two of them,” he said. Did he recognise them? “I know just about everybody around here, but I never saw those two before.” Wispy-haired Coroner C. C. Thompson, who is also Mclntyre’s town butcher, asked: “You probably couldn’t identify the men if you saw them again, could you?” “No, suh,” said Carswell eagerly.

Around the square, the loafers settled back and talked it over: “He was a bad nigger, all bad.” Picky Pie had worked in the chalk mines, but mostly he bootlegged liquor. He had been arrested several times before, once for shooting at a white boy just to make him jump. They snorted at the reports that he supported his crippled father and three sisters besides his wife and three children.

But the reporters and all made the coroner nervous. Leaning on his meat counter, he declared: “I am still making a desperate effort to apprehend the guilty party.” Sheriff Hatcher called in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and dug the bullets out of Picky Pie. At week’s end, the G.B.I, arrested two white men on suspicion. They figured there were more, and were still looking for them.

Anonymous text. “THE SOUTH: Death of Picky Pie,” in Time Magazine, Monday, June 13, 1949 on the Time website [Online] Cited 27/10/2021.

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Josie Hill, Wife of a Lynch Victim, Irwinton, Georgia' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Josie Hill, Wife of a Lynch Victim, Irwinton, Georgia
1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (And the traveling preacher asked them to pray for: "Salvation...")' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (And the traveling preacher asked them to pray for: “Salvation…”)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (A woman explained: "If a white man buys something...")' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (A woman explained: “If a white man buys something…”)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Woman in church holding a fan over her face)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Woman in church holding a fan over her face)
1949
Gelatin silver print
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

 

Ms. Palfi set out to document racism and segregation in Irwinton, Ga., the small town where Caleb Hill, in the first reported lynching of 1949, was murdered.

Later that year, Ms. Palfi spent two weeks in Irwinton documenting its residents, both black and white.

Juxtaposing portraits, Ms. Palfi’s written observations and interview excerpts, “There Is No More Time” chronicles the many faces and viewpoints of white supremacy in Irwinton: the obedience to God and family; the religious and pseudoscientific justifications for believing that black people were inherently inferior; the resentment of outside intervention in the South’s racial affairs; and the determination to protect the legal authority of white people.

The book also demonstrates that white racial attitudes were neither uniform nor without ambivalence. Some qualified their prejudices by also voicing disdain for poor whites. Others unconsciously revealed the insecurity and self-doubt that fuelled their bitterness and, by extension, bigotry. Some discreetly criticised the biases of their neighbours, while others attacked them as traitors for doing so.

The town’s African-American residents appear in the book less frequently but to great dramatic effect. Their images make clear the tragic consequences of racial prejudice, their lives compromised and shattered in innumerable ways. This was no more evident than in the haunting portrait of Mr. Hill’s widow (image below) or in the text of an anonymous letter from black prisoners, unceasingly abused and dehumanised by their white jailers. …

The back story of “There Is No More Time” reveals much about Ms. Palfi’s sophisticated and prescient understanding of American race relations. The manuscript met with considerable resistance from publishers. Contending that the subject matter “in these sticky times would not be very well received,” one rejection letter subtly accused her of overstating the problem of segregation.

In order to make her book more appealing, the photographer offered to collaborate with a well-known author. Although her choice, Lillian Smith, ultimately declined, and Ms. Palfi wrote the text herself, the selection was telling. Five years earlier, Ms. Smith rose to prominence with the publication of her best-selling novel “Strange Fruit,” on the then controversial subject of interracial romance. But it was “Killers of the Dream,” her more recently published analysis of the origins and persistence of racism in the Jim Crow South, that undoubtedly caught Ms. Palfi’s attention.

In contrast to other race books of the period, “Killers of the Dream” examined prejudice not just from the perspective of its victims, but also through the candid autobiographical observations of its Southern white author.

The most significant lesson of “Killers of the Dream,” one echoed in “There Is No More Time,” was that we must alter our expectations about who was responsible for talking about race. By focusing on the social and cultural mores of white Southerners – and by providing a platform for ordinary people to speak honestly about a difficult and controversial subject – both books exposed the attitudes, fears and rationalisations that underwrote racial prejudice.

They challenged the myth that racism was exceptional, perpetrated only by monstrous or evil people. As Ms. Smith argued, few were spared the “grave illness” of prejudice. “The mother who taught me what I know of tenderness and love and compassion taught me also the bleak rituals of keeping Negroes in their ‘place,'” she observed about the banality and ubiquity of racism.

Similarly and with uncompromising honesty, “There Is No More Time” revealed an enduring secret of American race relations: that ostensibly good people – men and women much like our neighbours, our family and ourselves – could also harbour virulent prejudices. For Ms. Palfi, this revelation was necessary and urgent.

“There is no more time, we must act now – the whole world is looking on,” she wrote in the book’s foreword. Sixty-five years later, the problem remains dire and far from resolved as we cling to the belief that it is always, inevitably, the others who hate and discriminate.

Maurice Berger. “A Meditation on Race, in Shades of White,” on The New York Times website Sept. 27, 2015 [Online] Cited 27/10/2021

Maurice Berger is a research professor and the chief curator at the Center for Art Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a consulting curator at the Jewish Museum in New York.

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Saturday, Louisville, Georgia' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Saturday, Louisville, Georgia
1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

 

Installation view and details of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Case History' 1955-1957

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Case History
1955-1957
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Manhattan State Hospital' c. 1955

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Manhattan State Hospital
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Manhattan State Hospital' c. 1955 (detail)

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Manhattan State Hospital (detail)
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Born into an aristocratic family in Berlin in 1907, Ms. Palfi began her career as an actress and model. Distressed by Germany’s increasingly reactionary politics, she turned to photography as a form of personal expression and activism. In 1935, she opened a photo studio in Amsterdam. Five years later, having married an American serviceman, she immigrated to New York.

A member of the activist Photo League, Ms. Palfi believed that photographs, beyond merely representing problems, could influence social change.

“A Palfi photograph brings us face to face with hidden realities that its surface only causes us to begin to explore,” wrote the American poet Langston Hughes, a friend and admirer of her work.

Ms. Palfi produced photo essays on a range of pressing social issues, including child abuse and delinquency, the neglect of seniors, Native American displacement, prison inmate rights, and the ways poverty, segregation and racism imperilled democracy. She died in 1978.

Maurice Berger. “A Meditation on Race, in Shades of White,” on The New York Times website Sept. 27, 2015 [Online] Cited 27/10/2021

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Men's Shelter, New York – Your Fortune Must Be Less Thank $2 To Be Acceptable' 1956-58

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Men’s Shelter, New York – Your Fortune Must Be Less Thank $2 To Be Acceptable
1956-58
from the series You Have Never Been Old
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 34.3cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Case History' 1956-58

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Case History
1956-1958
from the series You Have Never Been Old
Gelatin silver print
26.3 x 34.3cm

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

 

Installation view of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at top left, At the Lincoln Memorial, March on Washington 1963; at top right, Chicago School Boycott 1963-1964; at bottom left, Untitled c. 1963; and at bottom right, Cleveland, Ohio 1963-1964
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view of At the Lincoln Memorial, March on Washington 1963 from the exhibition Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021 Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi. 'At the Lincoln Memorial, March on Washington' 1963

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
At the Lincoln Memorial, March on Washington
1963
Gelatin silver print
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view of Chicago School Boycott 1963-1964 from the exhibition Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021 Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view of Untitled c. 1963 from the exhibition Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021 Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view of Cleveland, Ohio 1963-1964 from the exhibition Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021 Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Cleveland, Ohio' 1963-1964

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Cleveland, Ohio
1963-1964
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at top left, Untitled c. 1967; at top right, Untitled c. 1967; at bottom left, A Medicine Man and his Family Live in “Low Cost Housing” 1967-1969; and at bottom right, A Meeting in the Traditional Village of Hotelvilla 1964
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'At Madera, California, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Has a School. "To Change the Indian Is Our Job!" New Arrival' 1967-1969

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
At Madera, California, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Has a School. “To Change the Indian Is Our Job!” New Arrival
1967-1969
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Navajo, Relocation; Leaving Home' 1967-1969

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Navajo, Relocation; Leaving Home
1967-1969
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Navajo Family Life, the Blue Lake Family on the Black Mesa' 1967-69

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Navajo Family Life, the Blue Lake Family on the Black Mesa
1967-1969
From the series First I Liked the Whites, l Gave Them Fruits
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 34.2cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled' 1967-69 From the series 'First I Liked the Whites, l Gave Them Fruits'

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled
1967-1969
From the series First I Liked the Whites, l Gave Them Fruits
Gelatin silver print
29.7 x 41.9cm

 

 

Biography

Social documentary photographer Marion Palfi (1907-1978) sought equity, opportunity, and justice for all people, using her camera as a tool for that end. Farm Security Administration projects and the Photo League inspired her initial efforts toward reform, but for Palfi, the desire for social change was a lifelong pursuit.

Marion Palfi was born in Berlin in 1907 to a Hungarian father and a Polish mother. Her father, Victor Palfi, came from an aristocratic family and became an important producer-director in the German theatre. Her parents provided her with an upper middle class life that included private schooling in both Berlin and Hamburg, where she learned English. She began studying dance at thirteen and eventually followed her father into a career on the stage. A lucrative modelling career and debut performances in film ensued.

After a short time in the limelight, however, she renounced her status as a privileged member of German society, and left the theater. She acquired a small folding camera and began a two-year apprenticeship at a Berlin portrait studio. By 1932, she opened a commercial portraiture and photojournalism studio. Palfi married a journalist and they traveled across Europe, but by the end of 1935 Palfi had opened a studio in Amsterdam alone. In 1940, just before Hitler’s army entered the Low Countries, she married an American serviceman and emigrated to New York.

Palfi gained employment in 1944, developing and retouching governmental war photographs at Pavelle Laboratories, and devoted evenings and weekends to her own photography. A crucial first project, “Great American Artists of Minority Groups and Democracy at Work,” was sponsored by the Council Against Intolerance in America. Through this assignment, she met Langston Hughes, the American poet, who became an ardent supporter. He would say of her work, “A Palfi photograph brings us face to face with hidden realities that its surface only causes us to begin to explore.” Her close ties with Hughes allowed her to establish a circle of friends that included John Collier, Sr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Edward Steichen, and Lisette Model.

Between 1945 and 1955 Palfi was included in group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New York’s Photo League, and in a solo exhibition at the New York Public Library. She received four major awards in her lifetime: a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship (1946), a Taconic Foundation grant (1963), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1967), and a National Endowment for the Arts grant ( 1974). In addition to such sources, she supported her photographic investigations at her own expense; the liberal press and African-American picture magazines also championed her views and images.

Throughout her mature career Palfi produced photographic essays on subjects of social concern, always with the intent of building public awareness that would ultimately lead to better living and working conditions. Unfortunately, the social documentary approach came to be associated with liberal political ideas and the New Deal, and therefore in direct opposition to the conservative policies of Harry Truman’s government of the late 1940s. Some of the issues she addressed include racism, Native American living conditions and relocation, juvenile delinquency, elder housing, the infringement of prison inmate rights, the effects of child neglect and abuse, the rise of gangs, and the persistence of poverty and slums. Throughout her years in America, Palfi eschewed a more lucrative career, producing photojournalistic work that conformed to popular expectations, and chose instead to pursue imagery that challenged notions of the American Dream.

Additional biographical information on Marion Palfi can be found in two Center publications – The Archive number 19 (1983) and Guide Series number 10 (1985). The Center is the largest repository of Palfi material, with over 1,100 fine prints. The archive contains materials from major photographic projects from 1945 to 1978, correspondence between Palfi and friends, photographers, scholars, writers, publishers, and governmental and private institutions on subjects including her philosophy of using photography to influence social change, her sales of photographs, and her mostly unsuccessful efforts to publish her work. Of particular research value are her scrapbooks, research notes, draft manuscripts, and book maquettes.

Text from the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona website [Online] Cited 26/10/2021

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled' 1975 From the series 'Ask Me lf l Got Justice'

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled
1975
From the series Ask Me lf l Got Justice
Gelatin silver print
18.7 x 24.2cm

 

 

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21
Nov
21

Exhibition: ‘Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’ at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Exhibition dates: 1st October 2021 – 23rd January 2022

 

Unknown photographer. 'Ruth Bader as a child' 1935

 

Unknown photographer
Ruth Bader as a child
August 2, 1935
Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

 

 

The future Justice Ginsburg was born Joan Ruth Bader on March 15, 1933. Nicknamed “Kiki,” she grew up in Flatbush, a working-class neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents, Celia and Nathan Bader, rented a small first-floor apartment in a grey stucco row house. Many of her neighbours were immigrants or first- and second-generation Americans whose families had come from Ireland, Italy, and Eastern Europe in search of a better life.

 

 

Hero

 

The courage of her love, intelligence and convictions.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the New-York Historical Society for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the art work for a larger version of the image.

 

The New-York Historical Society honours the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) – the trailblazing Supreme Court justice and cultural icon – with a special exhibition. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is based on the popular Tumblr and bestselling book of the same name. A traveling exhibition organised by the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, the show takes an expansive and engaging look at the justice’s life and work, highlighting her ceaseless efforts to protect civil rights and foster equal opportunity for all Americans. Notorious RBG features archival photographs and documents, historical artefacts, contemporary art, media stations, and gallery interactives spanning RBG’s varied roles.

 

 

On what makes a meaningful life:

“If you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself. Something to repair tears in your community. Something to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you. That’s what I think a meaningful life is – living not for oneself, but for one’s community.”

On social change:

“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”

On being an advocate:

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

On relationships:

“Marty was most unusual. He was the first boy I ever met who cared that I had a brain. And he always thought I was better than I thought I really was.”

On speaking out:

“The number of women who have come forward as a result of the #MeToo movement has been astonishing. My hope is not just that it is here to stay, but that it is as effective for the woman who works as a maid in a hotel as it is for Hollywood stars.”

.
~ Ruth Bader Ginsburg

 

 

 

 

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg rare interview: ‘It’s not the best of times’ – BBC Newsnight

In a rare interview, US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says the US is “not experiencing the best of times” – but the “pendulum” will swing back. For Newsnight, she spoke to filmmaker Olly Lambert at the final dress rehearsal of Dead Man Walking at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

 

 

 

Stanford Rathbun Lecture 2017 – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Rathbun Visiting Fellow 2017, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, shares her vision for a meaning life while in conversation with The Rev. Professor Jane Shaw, Dean for Religious Life, on February 6, 2017 in Stanford Memorial Church. The Rathbun Lecture on a Meaningful Life honours the late Stanford Law School Professor Harry Rathbun.

 

 

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Same-Sex Marriage, Women’s Rights, Health

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg talks about efforts to improve women’s rights and the outlook for legalising same-sex marriage. Ginsburg, speaking with Bloomberg’s Greg Stohr and Matthew Winkler in Washington on Wednesday, also discusses the her career, health and relationship with President Barack Obama.

 

Unknown photographer. 'The Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority at Cornell University in 1953, featuring Ruth Bader, class of 1954, pictured third from right standing in front of the porch' Published in 'The Cornellian' 1953

 

Unknown photographer
The Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority at Cornell University in 1953, featuring Ruth Bader, class of 1954, pictured third from right standing in front of the porch
Published in The Cornellian, 1953
Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

 

 

“I got the idea that being a lawyer was a pretty good thing because in addition to practicing a profession, you could do something good for your society.” RBG began at Cornell University on a full scholarship in the fall of 1950. There, she began to view lawyers as vanguards against injustice.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Ruth as a bride' June 1954

 

Unknown photographer
Ruth as a bride
June 1954
Courtesy of Justice Ginsburg’s Personal Collection

 

 

Ruth Bader married Martin “Marty” D. Ginsburg (1932-2010) in 1954. Their marriage defied gender expectations of the period and embodied her belief that “men, women, and families are better when both partners share their lives and goals on equal footing.” For nearly 60 years, RBG and her husband worked as equals raising a family and practicing law. Marty was a passionate supporter of his life partner’s legal career and shared in child-rearing and household responsibilities long before men were expected to do so.

 

Unknown photographer. 'RBG and Marty with their daughter, Jane' 1958

 

Unknown photographer
RBG and Marty with their daughter, Jane
1958
Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

 

 

In 1957, Marty was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The doctor prescribed radical surgery and radiation for six weeks. The prognosis was grim. RBG poured her heart into making sure he remained on track with his studies, staying up all night to type his papers and class notes. When Marty fell asleep around 2 am, RBG would begin her own work. Her hours with their daughter Jane before bed helped leaven the library time.

 

 

The New-York Historical Society honours the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) – the trailblazing Supreme Court justice and cultural icon – with a special exhibition this fall. On view October 1, 2021 – January 23, 2022, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is based on the popular Tumblr and bestselling book of the same name. A traveling exhibition organised by the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, the show takes an expansive and engaging look at the justice’s life and work, highlighting her ceaseless efforts to protect civil rights and foster equal opportunity for all Americans.

“It is a great honour that we celebrate Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a native New Yorker whose impact on the lives of contemporary Americans has been extraordinary,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “Justice Ginsburg fought hard to achieve justice and equality for all, inspiring us with her courage and tenacity in upholding our fundamental American ideals. A special friend to New-York Historical, in 2018 she presided over a naturalisation ceremony in our auditorium. The exhibition is a memorial tribute to her achievements and legacy.”

Notorious RBG features archival photographs and documents, historical artefacts, contemporary art, media stations, and gallery interactives spanning RBG’s varied roles as student, wife to Martin “Marty” Ginsburg, mother, lawyer, judge, women’s rights pioneer, and internet phenomenon. Highlights include a robe and jabot from RBG’s Supreme Court wardrobe; the official portraits of RBG and Sandra Day O’Connor – the first two women to serve on the Supreme Court – on loan from the National Portrait Gallery; and QR-code listening stations where visitors can hear RBG’s delivery of oral arguments, majority opinions, and forceful dissents in landmark Supreme Court cases on their own devices.

The exhibition also displays 3D re-imaginations of key places in RBG’s life – such as her childhood Brooklyn apartment; the kitchen in RBG and Marty’s home, with some of Marty’s favourite recipes and cooking utensils; and the Supreme Court bench and the desk in her chambers.

Personal materials range from home movies of RBG with Marty on their honeymoon and in the early years of their marriage to yearbooks from RBG’s academic life – from her Brooklyn high school to Harvard, Columbia, and Rutgers Universities – to a paper that she wrote as an eighth grader exploring the relationship between the Ten Commandments, the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the recently formed United Nations Charter.

Special to New-York Historical’s presentation are remembrances from RBG’s visit to the Museum in 2018 to officiate a naturalisation ceremony of new citizens after she learned about New-York Historical’s Citizenship Project which teaches U.S. history and civics to green card holders, a video featuring a map and photographs of key places in her life as a New Yorker, and an overview of the memorials that cropped up around her hometown in the wake of her passing. As part of New-York Historical’s upcoming public program series, on December 8, Supreme Court expert Linda Greenhouse looks at where the courts stand following Justice Ginsburg’s death. Families can explore the exhibition with a specially created family guide, and themed story times will take place throughout the exhibition’s run.

After debuting at the Skirball Cultural Center in 2018, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has toured the country. After its New York run, the exhibition will travel to the Holocaust Museum Houston in Houston (March 2022) and the Capital Jewish Museum in Washington, D.C. (September 2022).

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been coordinated at New-York Historical by Valerie Paley, senior vice president and Sue Ann Weinberg Director, Patricia D. Klingenstein Library; Laura Mogulescu, curator of women’s history collections; and Anna Danziger Halperin, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Women’s History and Public History, Center for Women’s History.

Press release from the New-York Historical Society

 

About Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 15, 1933.

Ginsburg was born in 1933 in Flatbush, and her stoicism was forged in a childhood spent in a house that, she said, bore “the smell of death.” When she was 2, her only sister died of meningitis; one day short of her high-school graduation, her mother died of cervical cancer. Celia Bader, who had once broken her nose reading while walking down the street but whose sweatshop wages had gone to her brother’s education, left behind secret college savings for her daughter and a will to accomplish what Celia had been denied.

She received her BA from Cornell University, attended Harvard Law School, and received her LLB from Columbia Law School. Ginsburg served as a law clerk to Judge Edmund L. Palmieri of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York from 1959 to 1961. She then became associate director of the comparative law project sponsored by Columbia University, where she studied the Swedish legal system and produced the first official English language book on the subject. In 1963 Ginsburg joined the faculty of Rutgers Law School in Newark, New Jersey. In 1972 she was hired by Columbia Law School, where she taught until 1980. Ginsburg served as a fellow at the Center for Advance Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California, from 1977 to 1978. In the 1970s Ginsburg litigated sex discrimination cases from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and was instrumental in launching its Women’s Rights Project in 1973. She served as general counsel of the ACLU from 1973 to 1980 and on the National Board of Directors from 1974 to 1980. President Jimmy Carter appointed Ginsburg to the United States Court of Appeals from the District of Colombia Circuit in 1980. On June 14, 1993, Ginsburg accepted President Bill Clinton’s nomination to the Supreme Court and took her seat on August 10, 1993.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Ruth Bader Ginsburg teaching at Columbia Law School' 1972

 

Unknown photographer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg teaching at Columbia Law School
1972
Courtesy of Columbia Law School

 

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’59 is appointed the first female member of the Columbia Law School faculty in 1972. She had taught previously at Columbia in International Civil Procedure with Prof. Hans Smit ’58 LL.B. in 1961. She is the first female candidate to earn tenure at Columbia Law School.

In 1972, RBG become Columbia Law School’s first tenured female professor, which she juggled with her responsibilities at the Women’s Rights Project. Almost immediately, the women at Columbia began contacting RBG for help. Did RBG know that Columbia employees didn’t have pregnancy coverage and that women got lower pension benefits and lower pay? Now that she did, RBG helped file a class-action lawsuit.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Ruth Bader Ginsburg, detail from 1972 Harvard Law School Yearbook' 1972

 

Unknown photographer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, detail from 1972 Harvard Law School Yearbook
1972
© Harvard Law School Yearbook Association, Courtesy of Harvard Law School Library, Historical and Special Collections

 

 

RBG strongly preferred the prefix “Ms.” to “Mrs.” However, there is no information about how she felt when this 1972 Harvard Law School yearbook misidentified her as “Mr. Ginsburg.”

 

Unknown photographer. 'RBG and Marty taking a break from work' 1972

 

Unknown photographer
RBG and Marty taking a break from work
1972
Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

 

 

With the same fondly amused grin he usually wore, Marty (1932-2010) would portray himself as the lucky guy who came along for the ride of a lifetime, who moved to Washington when his wife got a “good job.” In fact, Marty was a superstar in his own right, whose tax law chops earned him clients like Ross Perot, the adulation of his peers, and millions of dollars. But he was proudest of the accomplishments of his wife, saying, “I think that the most important thing I have done is enable Ruth to do what she has done.”

 

Unknown photographer. 'RBG as a federal appeals court judge' 1980

 

Unknown photographer
RBG as a federal appeals court judge
1980
Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

 

 

President Jimmy Carter nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on April 14, 1980. RBG saw the role of an appeals court judge as fundamentally different than her old job at the ACLU; she was to follow precedent, not try to change it. As a judge, she looked for consensus.

 

Unknown photographer. 'RBG and Marty travel to Paris' 1988

 

Unknown photographer
RBG and Marty travel to Paris
1988
Courtesy of Justice Ginsburg’s Personal Collection

 

Unknown photographer. 'Justice Antonin Scalia and RBG riding an elephant' 1994

 

Unknown photographer
Justice Antonin Scalia and RBG riding an elephant
February 1994
Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

 

 

Some liberals found the Scalia-Ginsburg friendship hard to grapple with. Even their clerks were mystified by the relationship. But clerks work at the court for only a year. Justices work there for life. Whatever their disagreements, they stuck together. The two shared a love of opera, and RBG liked people who could make her laugh.

 

Everett Raymond Kinstler (American, 1926-2019) 'Ruth Bader Ginsburg' 1996

 

Everett Raymond Kinstler (American, 1926-2019)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
1996
Oil on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Gift of Everett Raymond Kinstler
© 1996 Everett Raymond Kinstler

 

 

RBG wasn’t President Bill Clinton’s first choice for the Supreme Court in 1993 – he came close to offering the position to several men. But RBG had the backing of key women in the administration and a tireless lobbying campaign by her husband in her favour. Above all, she dazzled the president in their first meeting. “She got the actual human impact of these decisions,” Clinton later recalled.

 

Frank Chi and Aminatou Sow. 'Can't Spell Truth Without Ruth' 2013

 

Frank Chi and Aminatou Sow
Can’t Spell Truth Without Ruth
2013
Poster

 

 

In July 2013, after a flurry of important SCOTUS decisions, along with dissents authored by Justice Ginsburg, Chi and his friend Aminatou Sow created a poster, “Can’t Spell Truth Without Ruth,” celebrating Ginsburg. They shared it online, where Shana Knizhnik – who created the blog “The Notorious RBG” (and who would go on to coauthor a New York Times best-selling book of the same title) – saw the poster and wrote about it, and then the internet did its thing. The three artists, who became friends, gifted a print of the poster to Justice Ginsburg in December 2014, when she invited them to the Supreme Court. “The internet brought it together into this meme, initially, and then into something that became a phenomenon,” said Chi. “And, Justice Ginsburg embraced it. If she hadn’t, ‘Notorious RBG’ would’ve been something that was cool on the internet for a few months. That’s what I think is amazing – she had such a long, celebrated career, and she finally got to be the presence she was obviously comfortable being, and the internet allowed that to happen.”

Anonymous text. “More than a Meme,” on the Bowdoin Magazine website, November 17, 2020 [Online] Cited 29/10/2021

 

Art Lien. 'Courtroom sketch of Justice Ginsburg's dissent in Shelby County v. Holder' June 25, 2013

 

Art Lien
Courtroom sketch of Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in Shelby County v. Holder
June 25, 2013

 

 

In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to strike down a portion of the Voting Rights Act. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said the provision was no longer needed. “Any racial discrimination in voting is too much, but our country has changed in the last 50 years,” he declared. In her dissent, which inspired the nickname Notorious RBG, RBG compared getting rid of the provision to “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you’re not getting wet.”

 

In 2013 RBG wrote a fiery response (officially known as a dissent) disagreeing with the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. This bold dissent (and a few others made around the same time) earned her the nickname “Notorious RBG” in reference to the Brooklyn-born rapper Christopher Wallace, also known as “The Notorious B.I.G.” and “Biggie Smalls.”

With Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court decided to end part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This Act prohibited states from having laws that made it harder for Black Americans to vote. The Voting Rights Act also made it harder for states with a history of racial discrimination to make future changes to their voting laws–but Shelby County v. Holder reversed that.

RBG felt strongly that this ruling could lead to more restrictions in voting, negatively impacting Black and minority communities.

 

In her ringing dissent, RBG compared getting rid of pre-clearance to “throwing away your umbrella in a rain storm because you’re not getting wet.” She quoted Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous dictum, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” and added, “if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion. That commitment has been disturbed by today’s decision.” We have seen the destructive swath strewn across our electoral process in almost every election since, which of course was the intent of the decision. Yes, there is election fraud in this country, and it comes directly from the highest court in the land!

Erica A. Gordon. “The glorious, notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a traveling exhibition,” on the Peoplesworld Social Media website, Oct 30, 2018 [Online] Cited 28/10/2021

 

Steve Petteway (American) 'Official portrait of United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg' 2013

 

Steve Petteway (American)
Official portrait of United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg
2013
Courtesy Steve Petteway
Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

 

 

At the age of 80, Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was reborn as the “Notorious RBG.” She earned the admiring, tongue-in-cheek nickname after a series of fiery, record-breaking dissents she gave from the Supreme Court bench in 2013 on voting rights, affirmative action, and workplace discrimination. Behind the nickname was a woman with a lifelong commitment to equality, justice, and the ideals of American law.

 

Adam Johnson (American) (illustrator) 'Notorious RBG' book cover illustration 2015

 

Adam Johnson (American) (illustrator)
‘Notorious RBG’ book cover illustration
2015
Courtesy of HarperCollins
Photos: Crown © by Hurst Photo/Shutterstock; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

 

 

RBG became an icon to millions of people around the globe. All this is – to use the court’s language – without precedent, especially in a society that tends to dismiss the contributions of women as they age. Bestselling books about RBG for all age groups – including the 2015 book Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg that inspired the exhibition – could fill a bookshelf.

 

Roxana Alfer Geffen (American) 'Dissent Collar #9' 2016

 

Roxana Alfer Geffen (American)
Dissent Collar #9
2016
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

The signature dissent collar, a glinty Banana Republic affair she got in a Glamour Women of the Year gift bag, came in 2012. She broke the record for dissenting from the bench – the once rare act of making everyone at the opinion announcements listen to your protest – and a thousand memes were born.

Moved by her anger over the 2016 presidential election, Roxana Alger Geffen created a series of imaginative jabots in honour of RBG. Geffen was inspired by RBG’s choice to wear her famous dissent collar the day after the election.

 

Roxana Alfer Geffen (American) 'Dissent Collar #13' 2016

 

Roxana Alfer Geffen (American)
Dissent Collar #13
2016
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

 

Washington National Opera: The Daughter of the Regiment – Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s first appearance

RBG was known to be a major opera fan. In 2016 the Washington National Opera surprised its audience by featuring her in a cameo appearance as the Duchess of Krakenthorp in Gaetano Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment at the Kennedy Center.

At the top of Act 2, the Duchess of Krakenthorp meets with the Marquise of Berkenfield to arrange the marriage of the opera’s heroine Marie with the Duke of Krakenthorp. Ruth Bader Ginsburg plays the non-singing role of the Duchess, and mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel is the Marquise.

 

Ari Richter (American, b. 1983) 'RBG Tattoo II' 2018

 

Ari Richter (American, b. 1983)
RBG Tattoo II
2018
Pigmented human skin on glass
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

RBG’s life and work have inspired unending creativity, including literally thousands of examples of fan-created RBG memorabilia. You can find RBG’s likeness on T-shirts, nail decals, and even as tattoos.

 

Nelson Shanks (American, 1937-2015) 'The Four Justices' 2012

 

Nelson Shanks (American, 1937-2015)
The Four Justices
2012
Oil on canvas
216.0 x 169.2cm
Ian and Annette Cumming Collection, on loan to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

 

 

Counterclockwise from bottom left: Sandra Day O’Connor born 1930; Ruth Bader Ginsburg born 1933; Elena Kagan born 1960; and Sonia Sotomayor born 1954

In 1880, Belva Lockwood became the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court. Distinguished jurist Florence Allen was considered for the Supreme Court in the 1940s, but opposition, including from the sitting justices, precluded her nomination. It was not until 1981 that Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice. Over ten years later, in 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nominated by President Clinton. Today, Ginsburg serves alongside Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, who were nominated to the Supreme Court in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

The Cummings commissioned this portrait to recognise the accomplishments of all four justices. Justice O’Connor’s office arranged their busy schedules so that they could pose at the same time for Nelson Shanks and his camera. The artist drew on the traditions of Dutch group portraiture, and the setting is based on interiors and a courtyard within the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.

 

 

Installation view of Nelson Shanks’ The Four Justices (2012)

 

 

A major step in women’s struggle for equality came on March 3, 1879, when Belva Lockwood became the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court. In the 1940s, distinguished jurist Florence Allen was considered for the Court, but opposition, including from the sitting justices, precluded her nomination.

In 1981 Sandra Day O’Connor (born 1930) became the first woman to serve on the Court. O’Connor, a graduate of Stanford Law School, was serving on the Arizona Court of Appeals when President Ronald Reagan nominated her as an associate justice. O’Connor retired from the Court in 2006.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (born 1933) graduated from Columbia Law School. She was serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia when President Bill Clinton nominated her as an associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1993.

Sonia Sotomayor (born 1954) received her J.D. from Yale Law School. She was serving on the United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, when President Barack Obama nominated her as an associate justice in 2009. She became the first Latino to sit on the Supreme Court.

Elena Kagan (born 1960) graduated from Harvard Law School. She was President Obama’s solicitor general when the president nominated her as an associate justice of the Supreme Court in 2010.

Nelson Shanks was commissioned to create this portrait to recognise the accomplishments of all four justices. He has drawn on the traditions of Dutch group portraiture for his composition, and the setting is based on interiors and a courtyard within the Supreme Court Building in Washington.

 

“Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg paved the way for me and so many other women in my generation. Their pioneering lives have created boundless possibilities for women in the law. I thank them for their inspiration and also for the personal kindnesses they have shown me.”

~ Elana Kagan, June 28, 2010, in her opening statement at her confirmation hearing

 

 

 

 

The Four Justices: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was interviewed by Jan Smith, for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Justice Ginsburg is depicted in the “The Four Justices” painting by artist Nelson Shanks, along with Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

On October 28, 2013, the National Portrait Gallery celebrated the arrival of Nelson Shanks’s “The Four Justices,” a tribute to the four female justices who have served on the U.S. Supreme Court. The work is monumental; it measures approximately seven feet by five-and-a-half feet (in its custom-made frame it is almost nine-and-a-half feet by eight feet) and holds the west wall of the National Historic Landmark Building’s second-floor rotunda. Of the work, NPG Chief Curator Brandon Fortune noted, “The National Portrait Gallery is honoured to have such an ambitious group portrait on loan to the museum.”

The work is based on sittings the justices had with Shanks; the two senior justices are seated and the recent appointees standing. Although the logistics of bringing three active and one retired justice into his studio was challenging, Shanks prefers to draw from life, which he feels brings each sitter’s distinct presence into his work. “If you can imagine a painting – no matter how facile – that doesn’t show character, something is missing,” Shanks noted in an interview with NPG. “Representation of character is really what counts to me.”

Only men had sat on the bench of the Supreme Court until President Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981. After O’Connor, the next woman to receive an appointment was Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a nominee of President Bill Clinton in 1993. President Barack Obama appointed Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan are still on the bench; O’Connor retired in 2006.

 

REUTERS/Andrew Kelly. 'RBG image projected onto New York State Civil Supreme Court building in Manhattan' September 19, 2020

 

REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
RBG image projected onto New York State Civil Supreme Court building in Manhattan
September 19, 2020
Courtesy Reuters/Andrew Kelly/Alamy Photo

 

 

An image of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Ruth Bader Ginsburg is projected onto the New York State Civil Supreme Court building in Manhattan, New York City, U.S. after she passed away September 18, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wasn’t just a titan whose life and career revealed many of the legal and historical developments of the 20th century. She also was a New Yorker. Her hometown viscerally felt her loss upon her death in September 2020.

 

Adrian Wilson and Matt Duncan. '50th Street subway stop altered in tribute to RBG' 2020

 

Adrian Wilson and Matt Duncan
50th Street subway stop altered in tribute to RBG
2020
Courtesy Adrian Wilson and Matt Duncan

 

 

The 50th Street ACE subway station sign in Manhattan was famously altered with a tribute sticker by Adrian Wilson and Matt Duncan on the day RBG passed.

 

Jennifer M. Mason (American) 'Fearless Girl with jabot' September 22, 2020

 

Jennifer M. Mason (American)
Fearless Girl with jabot
September 22, 2020
Courtesy Jennifer M. Mason / Shutterstock.com

 

 

The memory of the justice’s life and work fuelled activism during the ensuing presidential election season across the city and beyond. The ‘Fearless Girl’ statue by Kristen Visbal in front of the New York Stock Exchange wearing a lace collar in tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

 

Cristian Petru Panaite (American) 'RBG memorial outside Columbia University' 2020

 

Cristian Petru Panaite (American)
RBG memorial outside Columbia University
2020
Courtesy of Cristian Petru Panaite

 

 

Memorials sprung up spontaneously and organically across the city.

 

 

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Phone: (212) 873-3400

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31
Oct
21

Exhibition: ‘Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards’ at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York

Exhibition dates: 10th July – 28th November, 2021

Curated by Ian Berry in collaboration with the Ellsworth Kelly Studio, and with Jessica Eisenthal, Independent Curator

 

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Gauloise Blue with Red Curve' 1954

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Gauloise Blue with Red Curve
1954
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

 

An intimate change of pace now.

I love these playful interventions which “catch something that’s a flash, a mysterious thing, the beginning of something, a primal thing.”

Starting with the solid base of a printed postcard Kelly constructs and abstracts his collages on their surface, using shifting positions, using his vision rather than his mind. He intuitively feels what is needed, what essence is required to compliment or complicate the existing scene.

As Dr. Jessica Eisenthal insightfully observes, “The collages involve a fundamental interplay between concealment and exposure, with every card containing both a secret and its revelation, a construction and a deconstruction.”

And then there is the simplicity and beauty of his interventions. The clear seeing and feeling expressed in a few pieces of cut or torn paper, promising “a compilation of experiences, a journal of travel, creative play, and relationships.” The thickness and irregularity of the white line over Statue of Liberty (1957); the emptiness and ambiguity of the blue in Moon Over Manhattan (1964); the abstraction of a black “diamond” over Cincinnati Riverfront Stadium (1980) baseball park; and the textural beauty of three disparate bodies of water in St. Martin – Baie Rouge (2005).

Reminding me of the felt immediacy of Gerhard Richter’s overpainted photographs, Kelly’s postcards speak to the heart rather than the head. Their intimate, jewel-like size draw the viewer in to imbibe of the transformative scene, to drink in an unbounded space of creative freedom those glances that we sometimes catch – in the light of revelation – of our life dis/continuous. The fabric and structure of existence itself.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the art works in the posting. Please click on the art work for a larger version of the image.

 

 

In all his postcards, Kelly’s drive to upset perception, to create moments of uncertainty and “mystery,” is apparent. As he explained in 1991:

“As we move, looking at hundreds of different things, we see many different kinds of shapes. Roofs, walls, ceilings are all rectangles, but we don’t see them that way. In reality they’re very elusive forms. The way the view through the rungs of a chair changes when you move even the slightest bit – I want to capture some of that mystery in my work. In my paintings I’m not inventing; my ideas come from constantly investigating how things look.47

While his goal was to achieve visual ambiguity, Kelly began with images of visual certainty, from the postcard images themselves to the photographic reproductions from which he cut or tore his fragments, for example, those of celebrities, advertisements, or homoeroticism.

.
Tricia Y. Paik. “Sights of His Life,” in Berry, Ian and Eisenthal, Jessica (eds.,). Elsworth Kelly: Postcards. Delmonico Books, 2021, pp. 318-319.

 

 

Over the course of more than 50 years, renowned American artist Ellsworth Kelly made approximately 400 postcard collages, some of which served as exploratory musings and others as studies for larger works in other mediums. They range from his first monochrome in 1949 through his last postcard collages of crashing ocean waves, in 2005.

Together, these works show an unbounded space of creative freedom and provide an important insight into the way Kelly saw, experienced and translated the world in his art. Many postcards illustrate specific places where he lived or visited, introducing biography and illuminating details that make these pieces unique among his broader artistic production. Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards is the most extensive publication of Kelly’s lifelong practice of collaged postcards.

Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) was born in Newburgh, New York. In 1948 he moved to France, where he came into contact with a wide range of classical and modern art. He returned to New York in 1954 and two years later had his first exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, organised his first retrospective in 1973. Subsequent exhibitions have been held at museums around the world, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Tate in London, Haus der Kunst in Munich and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

 

 

Jack Shear (American) 'Ellsworth Kelly's Studio' 1994

 

Jack Shear (American)
Ellsworth Kelly’s Studio
1994
Photo: Courtesy Ellsworth Kelly Studio

 

Installation view of the title wall of exhibition 'Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards' at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College

 

Installation view of the title wall of the exhibition Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College

 

Installation view of Gallery A of the exhibition 'Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards' at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College

 

Installation view of Gallery A of the exhibition Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College

 

Installation view of Gallery B of the exhibition 'Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards' at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College

 

Installation view of Gallery B of the exhibition Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College

 

 

American painter Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) is one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. His abstract paintings, sculptures, and prints are masterworks in the exploration of line, form, and colour. In a lesser-known part of his practice, Kelly made collaged postcards, some of which served as exploratory musings and others as preparation for larger works in other media. From 1949 to 2005, Kelly made just over 400 postcard works. They show a playful, unbounded space of creative freedom for the artist and provide an important insight into the way Kelly saw, experienced, and translated the world in his art.

Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards will present a comprehensive survey of Kelly’s postcard collages, with 150 works on view. Many postcards reveal specific places where Kelly lived or visited, such as Paris, where Kelly lived in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and where he often returned, or other areas in New York City – My New Studio (1970), is a picture postcard of downtown Old Chatham, New York, with a stapled arrow pointing to the second-floor windows of his new studio building.

This kind of overt biography and revealing details make the postcard collages unique among Kelly’s works. Flashes of the artist’s playfulness show through, which is less visible in his formally rigorous paintings and sculpture.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a full-colour catalogue featuring newly commissioned writings and never-before published images.

Text from the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery website

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'EK as Velázquez' 1988 

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
EK as Velázquez
1988

 

 

Foreword to catalogue

Widely regarded as one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) is known for paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints that are masterworks in line, form, and colour. Having played a pivotal role in the development of postwar abstract art, Kelly’s inventive approach to abstraction draws on found composition and observation of the physical world. In a rarely seen aspect of his practice, Kelly made approximately four hundred postcard collages over the course of six decades. Some were exploratory musings, while others served as studies for larger works in other media or a means to revisit important concepts from years prior. Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards is the first survey of Kelly’s postcard collages, starting with his first monochrome painted on a postcard in 1949 and ending with his final collages of crashing ocean waves made in 2005. Resisting clear taxonomies of abstraction and representation, these works show an unbounded space of creative freedom and provide important insight into the way Kelly saw, experienced, and translated the world in his art.

Many postcards illustrate specific places where the artist lived or visited, introducing biography and context that make these works unique among his broader artistic production. During his lifetime, most of these works were held privately by the artist, only occasionally making their way into institutional collections. Many were sent to friends and colleagues as personal correspondences, though many more were kept in his studio. Revealing an unrestrained curiosity and the breadth of his practice, Kelly’s postcard collages are as humorous and intimate as they are formal and discerning.

Kelly began his studies at Pratt Institute in New York from 1941 to 1942, then continued at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from 1946 to 1948. While on his tour of duty in Europe during World War II he visited Paris for the first time. He returned with funds from the GI Bill in 1948 and stayed until 1954. Those years in France were formative; this was when Kelly first painted and collaged on picture postcards, which, at the time, he mostly sent to artist and friend Ralph Coburn. In 1954, Kelly moved from Paris to New York, where he rented a studio in Coenties Slip in downtown Manhattan, as part of a community of artists that included Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin, James Rosenquist, and Jack Youngerman. The influence of that fertile time can be seen in several New York postcards of the 1950s.

Throughout the literature on Kelly’s oeuvre, scholars have consistently noted the cyclical process of his art making, his tendency to revisit ideas from years, even decades, earlier. In keeping, the production of the postcard collages was rhythmic and episodic, punctuated by other artistic and life activities. One can trace the years of prolific and less prolific output to align with important life events, including new bodies of work, retrospectives, and studio moves. For instance, Kelly made a great number of cards in 1970, the year he moved to Spencertown, New York, and in 1974 while traveling in Europe following his 1973 Museum of Modern Art retrospective.

Mapping the postcard collage production onto a timeline of Kelly’s life and work also reveals that the postcards were not a part of his general studio practice, but rather constituted a kind of freedom from the studio. In this sense, they comprise a compilation of experiences, a journal of travel, creative play, and relationships. The decade of the 1970s includes a significant number of cards made in St. Martin in the Caribbean, where he would travel to stay with artist Jasper Johns, who had a home on the island. The mid-1980s – particularly around the time he met photographer Jack Shear, who would become his life partner – was another prolific period for Kelly’s postcard collages. This intensity of collage production waned in the 1990s, in part due to the decline in print quality of mass-produced picture postcards, which Kelly did not appreciate.

The postcard collages use a wide variety of found materials, including pieces of vinyl records, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, wine labels, and even sections of his own prints. For example, in 1964, Kelly used torn proofs from his own lithographs in a series of postcard collages with Paris monuments, as studies for sculptures. This source material is discussed in a new essay for this book by Dr. Tricia Y. Paik. Her essay reviews Kelly’s biography and outlines key features of his iconic work that can be found in specific examples of the postcard collages. Dr. Lynda Klich surveys the advent of the picture postcard itself and points to the use of postcards by modernist artists of the early twentieth century – from Art Nouveau and Futurism, to Surrealism and Dada. Dr. Jessica Eisenthal focuses on the mostly hidden, double-sided aspect of the postcard collages. She reveals that Kelly not only used the backs of the cards for personal notes but also to continue compositions and create even more experimental and, at times, teasing imagery. The book begins with the artist’s own words from a brochure that accompanied the exhibition Kelly organised from MoMA’s collection in 1990, Artist’s Choice: Ellsworth Kelly, Fragmentation and the Single Form. In this essay, Kelly discusses breaking up the visual world into fragments and provides key insights into his ways of seeing and presenting his art.

The vast majority of the postcard collages in the plates section of this book have never before been reproduced. Over the course of this project, new works were discovered in the artist’s archive, and others came to light from personal collections. May this project be the start of more discovery and continued scholarship on this distinctive and revealing body of work.

Ian Berry (curator)

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Columbus Circle' 1957

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Columbus Circle
1957
Postcard collage
5 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards' at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College showing at left, Columbus Circle 1957 (above); and at second left, Four Greens, Upper Manhattan Bay, 1957 (below)

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Four Greens, Upper Manhattan Bay' 1957

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Four Greens, Upper Manhattan Bay
1957
Postcard collage
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Coenties Slip' 1957

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Coenties Slip
1957
Postcard collage
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Statue of Liberty' 1957

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Statue of Liberty
1957
Postcard collage
5 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

 

Kelly’s Strategies through Postcard Analogies

 

“During the day, we see so much at one time. I want to catch something that’s a flash, a mysterious thing, the beginning of something, a primal thing.”

~ Ellsworth Kelly, 2008

 

Aided with the clarity of five decades of hindsight, this exhibition and catalogue afford us the opportunity to observe the breadth of Kelly’s postcard experimentation, the myriad ways he explored strategies, ideas, and shapes to which he returned time and time again. It can be argued that these postcard objects, more than his other works on paper, allow us the closest entrée into what caught his eye, what he pondered, and what he altered, giving us glimpses into his intuitive and transformative vision. These postcard collages allow us to revisit some of “the sights of his lifetime,” how he found what looked “right” to him at different moments during more than half a century. Indeed, his manipulated postcards tangibly analogise how the artist investigated vision. In 1973, at the time of his mid-career retrospective at MoMA, Kelly admitted to his intriguing relationship with the real world; despite his important reliance on empirical observation, he confessed, “I’ve always felt competitive with reality.”34 Postcards – unchanging templates of predetermined realities – offered him controlled environments with which he could actively compete through his pasted papers.

To create his abstractions drawn from the real world, Kelly relied on various artistic impulses that he learned to follow and trust. He explained in 1992:

“I automatically distance the idea of what I’m looking at. I play with what I see, forget what it is, which colour it is, perceive the changes through my shifting positions. I don’t look at it with a thinking mind but with the possibilities of my vision.”35

.
Kelly enacted this strategy of distancing through collage, both “placing” and “ellipsis” as previously described by Motherwell. In doing so, he was able to “compete” with reality by obscuring and fragmenting the view. In 1973, the artist explained, “I’ve always been interested in fragmentation, through apertures, doors and windows. When you look through them, that fragmented view changes as you move, and you get a series of different pictures.”36 Through fragmentation, he was able to isolate his forms to arrive at singular shapes. Collage also allowed Kelly to deploy another key artistic goal that further distanced his art from his original sources – to reiterate flatness through the flat piece of collage itself, to push out space, to “flatten”37 the experience of vision. Kelly’s act of collage, his intrusion into the scene, also results in a shaped obstruction, an “ellipsis” of the original postcard view, diminishing our ability to discern and recognise the entire scene and thus achieving the ambiguity he desired, “an open, incomplete situation.”38

Now considering Kelly’s postcard output holistically, there is no observable consistency in how these objects relate to his finished body of work. Sometimes his postcard explorations correlate with what he was exploring in paintings and sculptures at the time, while sometimes there is minimal connection. Although most do not serve as actual studies per se for a completed work, a small number of these postcards, in fact, do. Other times his postcard collages are retrospective, returning to shapes and ideas already produced in work finished years prior – such as La dune du Pyla III, 1983 (p. 183); Blue Yellow (Saint-Michel, Paris), 1985 (p. 267); Seascape, 1985 (p. 274); and Blue Red Rocker / St. Martin, 1986 (p. 275).39 While some postcards appear deliberate and “worked,” some can be understood as quickly collaged “sketches.” During the period of his postcard output from 1949 to 2005, there are specific years when Kelly regularly manipulated the postcard – 1957, 1964, 1974, 1977-1978, and 1984-1985; in particular, 1974, 1977, and 1984-1985 proved to be periods of great experimentation, with as many as seventy-six documented postcards from 1984, the most in any given year.40 In some years there is no documented evidence of any activity; however, perhaps in the future, postcards that Kelly might have made and sent out during the mid to late 1960s (from which only one extant card remains) or other years could resurface. One consistent fact is how much delight Kelly took with the postcard, whether as communication mailed to those within his circle, or as private visual dialogue saved for himself.

Tricia Y. Paik. “Sights of His Life,” in Berry, Ian and Eisenthal, Jessica (eds.,). Elsworth Kelly: Postcards. Delmonico Books, 2021, pp. 316-318.

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Study for Green and White Sculpture for les Invalides' 1964

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Study for Green and White Sculpture for les Invalides
1964
Postcard collage
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Study for Blue and White Sculpture for Les Tuileries' 1964

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Study for Blue and White Sculpture for Les Tuileries
1964
Postcard collage
3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Study for Yellow and White Sculpture for la Tour Eiffel' 1964

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Study for Yellow and White Sculpture for la Tour Eiffel
1964
Postcard collage
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Moon Over Manhattan' 1964

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Moon Over Manhattan
1964
Postcard collage
3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches
Private collection
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Nose / Sailboat' 1974

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Nose / Sailboat
1974
5 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Horizontal Nude or St. Martin Landscape' 1974

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Horizontal Nude or St. Martin Landscape
1974
4 x 5 7/8 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Marilyn Monroe / Shadows' 1974

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Marilyn Monroe / Shadows
1974
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Study for Dark Gray and White Rectangle I' 1977

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Study for Dark Gray and White Rectangle I
1977
4 x 6 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Volcano' 1977

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Volcano
1977
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Amsterdam' 1979

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Amsterdam
1979
4 x 5 7/8 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Cincinnati Riverfront Stadium' 1980

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Cincinnati Riverfront Stadium
1980
3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Study for Blue White' 1980

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Study for Blue White
1980
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'The Young Spartans' 1984

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
The Young Spartans
1984
4 1/8 x 5 7/8 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Giant Artichoke' 1984

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Giant Artichoke
1984
3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Sagrada Familia I' 1985

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Sagrada Familia I
1985
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'St. Martin – Baie Rouge' 2005

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
St. Martin – Baie Rouge
2005
4 5/8 x 6 3/4 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Pages from the catalogue for the exhibition 'Elsworth Kelly: Postcards'

 

Pages from the catalogue for the exhibition 'Elsworth Kelly: Postcards'

 

Pages from the catalogue for the exhibition 'Elsworth Kelly: Postcards'

 

Pages from the catalogue for the exhibition 'Elsworth Kelly: Postcards'

 

Pages from the catalogue by Berry, Ian and Eisenthal, Jessica (eds.,). Elsworth Kelly: Postcards. Delmonico Books, 2021

 

 

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Phone: 518-580-8080

Opening hours:
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Friday 12.00 – 5.00pm
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23
Sep
21

Exhibition: ‘Dawoud Bey: An American Project’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 17th April – 3rd October 2021

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 – October 3, 2021). From left to right: Fresh Coons and Wild Rabbits, Harlem, NY, 1975; A Boy in Front of the Loew’s 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976; A Woman and a Child in the Doorway, Harlem, NY, 1975; Clockwise, from top left: Four Children at Lenox Avenue, Harlem, NY, 1977; A Woman and Two Boys Passing, Harlem, NY, 1978; Deas McNeil, the Barber, Harlem, NY, 1976; A Woman Waiting in the Doorway, Harlem, NY, 1976; Two Girls at Lady D’s, Harlem, NY, c. 1976; A Young Boy from a Marching Band, Harlem, NY, 1977; Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, 1978; A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

 

To fit it in with other exhibitions closing soon, a mid-week posting on this strong exhibition – Dawoud Bey: An American Project – this time at the Whitney Museum of American Art, with further media images, audio and installation photographs. The first posting with my comments about the exhibition was at the High Museum of Art.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

 

 

Dawoud Bey: An American Project

Since the mid-1970s, Dawoud Bey (b. 1953) has worked to expand upon what photography can and should be. Insisting that it is an ethical practice requiring collaboration with his subjects, he creates poignant meditations on visibility, power, and race. Bey chronicles communities and histories that have been largely underrepresented or even unseen, and his work lends renewed urgency to an enduring conversation about what it means to represent America with a camera.

Spanning from his earliest street portraits in Harlem to his most recent series imagining an escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad, Dawoud Bey: An American Project attests to the artist’s profound engagement with the Black subject. He is deeply committed to the craft of photography, drawing on the medium’s specific tools, processes, and materials to amplify the formal, aesthetic, and conceptual goals of each body of work. Bey views photography not only as a form of personal expression but as an act of political responsibility, emphasising the necessary and ongoing work of artists and institutions to break down obstacles to access, convene communities, and open dialogues.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project is co-organised by the Whitney Museum of American Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition is co-curated by Elisabeth Sherman, Assistant Curator at the Whitney, and Corey Keller, Curator of Photography at SFMOMA.

 

Room 800 Introduction

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Two Girls at Lady D's, Harlem, NY' c. 1976, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Two Girls at Lady D’s, Harlem, NY
c. 1976, printed 2019
From Harlem, U.S.A.
Gelatin silver print
11 × 14 in. (27.9 × 35.6cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
Image courtesy the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Four Children at Lenox Avenue, Harlem, NY' 1977, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Four Children at Lenox Avenue, Harlem, NY
1977, printed 2019
From Harlem, U.S.A.
Gelatin silver print
11 × 14 in. (27.9 × 35.6cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

1

.
Harlem, U.S.A.

Bey began photographing in Harlem in 1975, at the age of twenty-two. Although he was raised in Queens, Bey was intimately connected to the neighbourhood: his parents had met there, and members of his extended family still made it their home. Drawn to the neighbourhood as both a symbol of and a wellspring for Black American culture, Bey wanted to portray its residents as complex individuals in images free of stereotype. These works all come from the series Harlem, U.S.A. (1975-1979).

Bey used a 35mm camera with a slightly wide-angle lens, which required him to get close to his subjects while grounding them in the cityscape behind them. His set-up was nimble and discreet, and let the artist carefully control the framing. In 1979, the series was exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem, a museum dedicated to the arts of the African diaspora. Even at this very early moment in his career, it was critical to Bey that the works be shown in the community where they were made, allowing the people he was representing to have access to the work they inspired.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman Waiting in the Doorway, Harlem, NY' 1977, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman Waiting in the Doorway, Harlem, NY
1977, printed 2019
From Harlem, U.S.A.
Gelatin silver print
14 × 11 in. overall (35.6 × 27.9cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Four Teenagers after Church Service, Syracuse, NY' 1985, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Four Teenagers after Church Service, Syracuse, NY
1985, printed 2019
Gelatin silver print
20 × 24 in. (50.8 × 61cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York
Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 – October 3, 2021). Clockwise, from top left: Two Boys, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Man with a Bus Transfer, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Two Boys at a Syracuse Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Car in Backyard, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Woman Waiting for the Bus, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Man at the Bus Stop, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Four Teenagers After Church Service, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986; Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Woman and Three Children, Syracuse, NY, 1985. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY' 1985, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY
1985, printed 2019
Gelatin silver print
20 × 24 in. (50.8 × 61cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York
Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
Image courtesy the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

2

.
Syracuse, NY

For much of the 1980s Bey continued to use the same slightly wide-angle lens and 35mm camera that he had used to make Harlem, U.S.A. Increasingly attuned to the formal and expressive geometries of the camera’s rectangular frame, he explored new ways to make use of shadow and light to help define a dynamic and improvisational composition. These aesthetic choices were deeply informed by the photographers he knew and studied, most importantly Roy DeCarava (1919-2009).

In 1985 Bey had a residency at Light Work in Syracuse, New York. Residencies and the projects that grew out of them would become a key aspect of his career, allowing him to focus on one place or organisation and incorporate that specificity into his work. In this series of photographs made in Syracuse, Bey portrays the city’s Black community. He noted: “It was a deliberate choice to foreground the Black subject in those photographs, giving them a place not only in my pictures … but on the wall[s] of galleries and museums when that work was exhibited.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Woman Waiting for the Bus, Syracuse, NY' 1985, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Woman Waiting for the Bus, Syracuse, NY
1985, printed 2019
Gelatin silver print
20 × 24 in. (50.8 × 61cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Ask a Curator: Dawoud Bey: An American Project

Join assistant curator Elisabeth Sherman and curatorial assistant Ambika Trasi for an overview of the exhibition Dawoud Bey: An American Project. For more than four decades, Dawoud Bey has used the camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, power, and race, chronicling communities and histories that have largely been underrepresented or even unseen. The exhibition traces continuities across Bey’s major series, from his earliest street portraits in Harlem through his most recent project imagining an escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad.

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 – October 3, 2021). From left to right: A Couple in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, 1990; A Woman at Fulton Street and Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 1988; A Man at Fulton Street and Cambridge Place, Brooklyn, NY, 1988; A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988; Max, Celia, Ramon, and Candida, New York, NY, 1992; Martina and Rhonda, Chicago, IL, 1993. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Man at Fulton Street and Cambridge Place, Brooklyn, NY' 1988, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Man at Fulton Street and Cambridge Place, Brooklyn, NY
1988, printed 2019
Pigmented inkjet print
30 × 40 in. (76.2 × 101.6cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

3

.
Type 55 Polaroid Street Portraits

After more than a decade of using a handheld 35mm camera, in 1988 Bey chose to slow down his process, moving to a larger and more conspicuous tripod-mounted 4 × 5-inch-format camera to make this series of street portraits. Like many other photographers working at that time, Bey was increasingly concerned with the ethics of traditional street photography, “which privileged the photographer at the expense of the subject,” and sought more equitable, reciprocal relationships with his sitters.

He began openly approaching strangers he wished to photograph in order to give “the Black subjects [a space] to assert themselves and their presence in the world, with their gaze meeting the viewer’s on equal footing.” He used Polaroid Type 55 film, which produced both instant pictures that he gave to the sitters and negatives that could be used later to make additional prints. Printing technologies have advanced in the decades since Bey made the photographs; the images here have been reprinted at nearly life-size, realising his original intention of creating a more heightened encounter between subject and viewer.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Boy Eating a Foxy Pop, Brooklyn, NY' 1988, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Boy Eating a Foxy Pop, Brooklyn, NY
1988, printed 2019
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 30 in. (101.6 × 76.2cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Room 803 Young Man at a Tent Revival, Brooklyn, NY

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Young Man at a Tent Revival, Brooklyn, NY' 1989, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Young Man at a Tent Revival, Brooklyn, NY
1989, printed 2019
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 30 in. (101.6 × 76.2cm)
Courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 – October 3, 2021). From left to right: (clockwise, from top left) Two Boys, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Man with a Bus Transfer, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Two Boys at a Syracuse Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Car in Backyard, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Woman Waiting for the Bus, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Man at the Bus Stop, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Four Teenagers After Church Service, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986; Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Woman and Three Children, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Kenosha II, 1996; Hilary and Taro, Chicago, IL, 1992; A Girl with School Medals, Brooklyn, NY, 1988; A Boy Eating a Foxy Pop, Brooklyn, NY, 1988; A Girl with a Knife Nosepin, Brooklyn, NY, 1990. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Hilary and Taro, Chicago, IL' 1992

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Hilary and Taro, Chicago, IL
1992
Two dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroids)
30 1/8 × 44 in. overall (76.5 × 111.8cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art; purchase, with funds from the Photography Committee
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Max, Celia, Ramon and Candida, New York, NY' 1992

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Max, Celia, Ramon and Candida, New York, NY
1992
Three dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroid)
30 × 67 7/8 in. overall (76.2 × 167.64cm)
Collection of Candida Alvarez
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

4

.
20 × 24 Polaroids

In 1991, Bey began using the 20 × 24-inch camera that the Polaroid Corporation made available to artists through its Artist Support Program. The camera was gargantuan and cumbersome – more than two hundred pounds and over six feet tall and five feet wide – and required two people to operate it, the photographer and a technician. Unlike the chance, and often brief, encounters with his subjects outside when using a 35mm camera, the Polaroid camera studio sessions offered Bey the opportunity to orchestrate all the conditions of the image and to have a more contemplative and sustained engagement with each sitter.

His earliest subjects were his artist friends; later he photographed teenagers that he met through a series of residencies at high schools and museums around the country. Over the course of Bey’s eight-year engagement with the 20 × 24-inch Polaroid camera, he increasingly explored the possibilities of multi-panel portraiture as a way of conveying a sense of the length of a portrait session as well as acknowledging the reality that no one image can fully portray an individual’s complexity.

 

Room 804 Lorna, New York, NY

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Lorna, New York, NY' 1992

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Lorna, New York, NY
1992
Two dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroid)
30 × 44 in. overall (76.2 × 111.76cm)
Collection of Eileen Harris Norton
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Martina and Rhonda, Chicago, IL' 1993

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Martina and Rhonda, Chicago, IL
1993
Six dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroid)
48 × 60 in. overall (121.9 × 152.4cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art; gift of Eric Ceputis and David W. Williams
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

 

Reimagining History: Dawoud Bey in conversation with Jason Moran and Sarah M. Broom

On the occasion of the exhibition Dawoud Bey: An American Project, this conversation brings Dawoud Bey together with artist and musician Jason Moran and writer Sarah M. Broom to discuss their shared interest in specific histories and shared memories as the ground for their respective practices.

Inspired by Bey’s The Birmingham Project (2012) – a tribute to the victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, AL, in 1963 – and Night Coming Tenderly, Black (2019), which imagines the flight of enslaved Black Americans along the final leg of the Underground Railroad, the three speakers reflect on how an artwork can become an act of commemoration and radical reinvention.

Jason Moran is an interdisciplinary artist, musician, and composer who draws on and celebrates the history of Black music and musicians such as James Reese Europe, Thelonious Monk, and Fats Waller, among others.

Sarah M. Broom is the author of The Yellow House, a memoir that weaves the story of her family in New Orleans across multiple generations.

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 – October 3, 2021). From left to right, from Class PicturesKevin, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, 2005; Simone, Kenwood Academy, Chicago, IL, 2003; Danny, Fashion Industries High School, New York, NY, 2006. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Kevin, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA' 2005

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Kevin, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
2005
From Class Pictures
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 32 in. (101.6 × 81.3cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

5

.
Class Pictures

Bey has long understood that the act of representation – as well as the corollary act of being seen – is both powerful and political. In Class Pictures (1992-2006) he once again turned his attention to teenagers, a population he felt was underrepresented and misjudged, seen either as “socially problematic or as engines for a certain consumerism.” The series originated during a residency at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago, where Bey began working with local high-school students; during residencies at other museums and schools around the country, he expanded the project to capture a geographically and socioeconomically diverse slice of American adolescence.

Working in empty classrooms between class periods, Bey made careful and tender formal colour portraits of teens. He then invited them to write brief autobiographical statements to accompany their images, giving his subjects voice as well as visibility. Many of the residencies also included a curatorial project with the students using works in the museums’ collections. While the photographs and texts are what remain of these projects, it is the collaborative undertaking that Bey considers the work of Class Pictures.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Jordan, School of the Arts, San Francisco, CA' 2006

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Jordan, School of the Arts, San Francisco, CA
2006
From Class Pictures
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 32 in. (101.6 × 81.3cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Omar, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA' 2005, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Omar, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
2005, printed 2019
From Class Pictures
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 32 in. (101.6 × 81.3cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Room 805 Omar, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Omar, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA' 2005, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Omar, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA (detail)
2005, printed 2019
From Class Pictures
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 32 in. (101.6 × 81.3cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Braxton McKinney and Lavone Thomas, Birmingham, AL' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Braxton McKinney and Lavone Thomas, Birmingham, AL
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Pigmented inkjet prints
40 × 32 in. each (101.6 × 81.3cm each)
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

6

.
The Birmingham Project

On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, murdering four Black girls – Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley – inside. Two Black boys – Johnny Robinson and Virgil Ware – were also killed in racially motivated violence later that day. Bey’s series The Birmingham Project (2012) commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of this horrific event. The artist made formal portraits of Birmingham residents, pairing children the same ages as the victims with adults fifty years older – the ages the victims would have been had they lived.

Bey said of the experience making these works: “To think of someone striking such a young life down with impunity is a renewed horror each time a young person sits in front of my camera. To see the older men and women, having lived rich full lives, reminds me constantly of the tragically abbreviated lives of those six young people.” Bey made the portraits in two locations: Bethel Baptist Church, an early headquarters for the civil rights movement in Birmingham, and the Birmingham Museum of Art, which in 1963 was a segregated space that admitted Black visitors only one day a week. The resulting works both honour the tragic loss of the six children and make plain the continued impact of violence, trauma, and racism.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Betty Selvage and Faith Speights, Birmingham, AL' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Betty Selvage and Faith Speights, Birmingham, AL
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Pigmented inkjet prints
40 × 32 in. each (101.6 × 81.3cm each)
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 – October 3, 2021). From left to right, from The Birmingham Project: Braxton McKinney and Lavon Thomas, 2012; Betty Selvage and Faith Speights, 2012; Jean Shamburger and Kyrian McDaniel, 2012. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 – October 3, 2021). Mathis Menefee and Cassandra Griffin, from The Birmingham Project, 2012. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Room 103 Mathis Menefee and Cassandra Griffin

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Mathis Menefee and Cassandra Griffin, Birmingham, AL' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Mathis Menefee and Cassandra Griffin, Birmingham, AL
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Pigmented inkjet prints
40 × 64 in. each (101.6 × 162.56cm each)
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'West 124th Street and Lenox Avenue, NY' 2016, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
West 124th Street and Lenox Avenue, NY
2016, printed 2019
From Harlem Redux
Pigmented inkjet print
40 3/8 × 48 1/4 × 2 in. overall (102.6 × 122.6 × 5.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

7

.
Harlem Redux

In 2014, Bey began the series of which this work is a part, Harlem Redux. It marked a return to the neighbourhood, where four decades earlier he had made his first critically acclaimed body of work, Harlem, U.S.A. If the earlier series is a love letter to the historic epicentre of Black community and culture in the United States, Harlem Redux (2014-17) is an incisive and elegiac look at its recent, rapid transformation and gentrification. Bey used a medium-format camera and made the pictures large scale and in colour, techniques common to contemporary photography practices, in order to signal that these changes are taking place now, and not in a historical moment.

This series commemorates sites of cultural significance in Harlem – such as the legendary jazz club the Lenox Lounge, which was demolished not long after Bey’s photograph was made – and makes evident the impacts of otherwise invisible socioeconomic forces. In his words, Harlem is now a neighbourhood “increasingly defined by a sense of ‘erase and replace’, wherein pieces of social and cultural history, along with memory itself, are routinely discarded.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Young Man, West 127th Street, Harlem, NY' 2015, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Young Man, West 127th Street, Harlem, NY
2015, printed 2019
From Harlem Redux
Pigmented inkjet print
40 3/8 × 48 1/4 × 2 in. overall (102.6 × 122.6 × 5.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Room 801 Girls, Ornaments, and Vacant Lot

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Girls, Ornaments, and Vacant Lot, NY' 2016, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Girls, Ornaments, and Vacant Lot, NY
2016, printed 2019
From Harlem Redux
Pigmented inkjet print
40 3/8 × 48 1/4 × 2 in. (102.6 × 122.6 × 5.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #21 (Farmhouse and Picket Fence II)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #21 (Farmhouse and Picket Fence II)
2017
from Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
44 × 54 5/8 in. (111.8 × 138.7cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Photography Committee, in honour of Sondra Gilman
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

8

.
Night Coming Tenderly, Black

Bey’s most recent work imagines the flight of enslaved Black Americans along the leg of the Underground Railroad that operated in Ohio – the last fifty or so miles before they reached the vast expanse of Lake Erie, on the other side of which lay Canada, and freedom. As a covert network of safe houses and churches, the sites of the Underground Railroad were by necessity secret. Bey’s photographs suggest the experience of the journey and the landscapes and buildings that may have provided protection along the way. Night Coming Tenderly, Black (2017) marks the first time in his career that Bey turned completely to landscape photography, removing the presence of the figure entirely.

Nonetheless, the images imply the perspective of the individuals whose invisibility was requisite for their safety. Their large scale and rich black tones invite the viewer to engage their own body in the act of looking, taking time for their eyes to adjust and moving around to register the entirety of each image. The series pays homage to two Black American artists, the photographer Roy DeCarava and the poet Langston Hughes. DeCarava’s influence can be seen in the lush and protective darkness of the prints, while the project’s title is drawn from the final couplet of Hughes’s “Dream Variations”: “Night coming tenderly / Black like me.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #24 (At Lake Erie)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #24 (At Lake Erie)
2017
from Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
48 × 55 in. (121.9 × 139.7cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Photography Committee, in honour of Sondra Gilman
© Dawoud Bey

 

Room 806 Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)
2017
From Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
44 × 55 in. (111.8 × 139.7cm)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Accessions Committee Fund purchase
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street
New York, NY 10014
Phone: (212) 570-3600

Opening hours:
Mondays: 10.30am – 6pm
Tuesdays: Closed
Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays: 10.30am – 6pm
Friday and Saturdays: 10.30am – 10pm

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18
Jul
21

Exhibition: ‘Mary Ellen Mark: Girlhood’ at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington

Exhibition dates: 3rd March – 8th August 2021

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Tashara and Tanesha Reese, Twins Days Festival, Twinsburg, Ohio' 1998 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Tashara and Tanesha Reese, Twins Days Festival, Twinsburg, Ohio
1998 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
20 x 24 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke; Photo by Lee Stalsworth
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

I have always liked Mary Ellen Mark’s work.

Photographing subjects living outside of mainstream society, there is something of the spirit of Diane Arbus present in her photographs (see Tashara and Tanesha Reese, Twins Days Festival, Twinsburg, Ohio 1998, above) but pushed further, photographed with more sensitivity and compassion for subject matter.

As a photographer Mark blends into the background leaving her subjects to speak for themselves. Intimate moments, abandoned youths, institutionalised patients and child prostitutes are all documented with a sensitive eye. She does not judge.

Her work is not about developing novels ways of representation. As an artist it is not always about being “fashionable” or “contemporary” or coming up with new ways to represent things. With her subjects comfortable in her presence and before her lens, she records what she sees. She lets her subjects tell their own stories.

Sumeja Tulic states that the photograph Falkland Road, Mumbai, India (1978, below) “leaves one uncomfortable at the sight of girls and women performing their sexuality before her lens.” I don’t feel uncomfortable, do you?

I understand the circumstances of the photograph, I feel sadness that this is happening, I feel anger that this girl has to sell her body to men to survive. I feel the injustice of the world. I want there to be fairness and equity in the world not men controlling women… and I feel the empathy of the photographer towards her subject.

“I don’t like to photograph children as children,” Mark said. “I like to see them as adults, as who they really are. I’m always looking for the side of who they might become.”

Through her vision we might be able to access some of the many paths that life may take: from teen runaway to sex worker, to drug addict, to mother of ten.

Unbounded steps on the precious path of life.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Emine Dressed Up for Republic Day. Trabzon, Turkey' Nd

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Emine Dressed Up for Republic Day. Trabzon, Turkey
Nd
Gelatin silver print
© Mary Ellen Mark/The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

In 1965, Mark was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to photograph in Turkey. She took this portrait in the courtyard of Emine’s home. Mark gave minimal direction, encouraging the girl to pose herself. With a hand on her hip, Emine mimics an older teen, but her unbuckled, dirt-stained shoes and hair loosening from its bow reveal markers of childhood. Calling this “the first strong photograph I made,” Mark captured a young girl’s eagerness to grow up.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Women and Children in a Doorway, Mexico' 1965

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Women and Children in a Doorway, Mexico
1965
Vintage gelatin silver print
11 x 14 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Jill and Jeffrey Stern
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation
Photo by Lee Stalsworth

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Laurie in the Bathtub, Ward 81, Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon' 1976 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Laurie in the Bathtub, Ward 81, Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon
1976 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
20 x 24 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Susan and Earl Cohen
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation
Photo by Lee Stalsworth

 

 

In 1975, Mark visited the hospital in which Milos Forman’s film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next (1975) was being shot, on assignment for The Pennsylvania Gazette. The living conditions inside Women’s Ward 81 greatly affected Mark, and she returned a year later, living inside the facility for 36 days. During this time, she made a body of work about the institutionalised patients. The exhibition includes one of these photographs: a girl, Laurie, submerged in a bathtub [featured image]. Her hair rests on the bathtub’s rim, and her eyes gaze out at Mark. The photograph excludes the institutional surroundings, transforming the frame into a scene of deceptive domesticity.

Text from Sumeja Tulic. “Mary Ellen Mark’s distinct depictions of girlhood reflect the diverse realities of that word,” on the 1854 website March 2021 [Online] Cited 03/04/2021.

 

Mark approached her subjects with sensitivity and compassion. While photographing on the set of the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), shot at the Oregon State Hospital, Mark encountered young women living in a high-security ward for patients considered dangerous to themselves or others. Interested in getting to know the residents, Mark gained temporary permission to live in an adjacent ward. Laurie’s open expression in this portrait reveals little of the institutional environment, as Mark strove to capture the women’s inner selves beyond their diagnoses.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Girl Jumping over a Wall, Central Park. New York City' Nd

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Girl Jumping over a Wall, Central Park. New York City
Nd
Gelatin silver print
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Falkland Road, Mumbai, India' 1978

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Falkland Road, Mumbai, India
1978
Dye transfer print
20 x 24 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Jean Rossall
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

Mark was not always successful in challenging stereotypes or developing novel ways of representation. An image depicting a woman applying lipstick to the lips of a girl sitting on a bed in a dimly-lit room is a jarring example of this. There is synchronicity between the unbuttoned buttons on the girl’s dress and her slightly open mouth. Mark’s caption states that she made the photograph in a brothel, where villagers brought the girl after her husband left her. The image is part of Falkland Road (1981), a book about sex workers in Bombay, India. Although Mark invested deeply in making the series, the work leaves one uncomfortable at the sight of girls and women performing their sexuality before her lens.

Text from Sumeja Tulic. “Mary Ellen Mark’s distinct depictions of girlhood reflect the diverse realities of that word,” on the 1854 website March 2021 [Online] Cited 03/04/2021.

 

Mark spent three months photographing the brothels that line Falkland Road in Mumbai, India. Though she typically worked in black and white, for this project she used colour film. The vibrant saturation of the jewel-toned walls, curtains, and clothing heightens the intensity of this somber scene in which a teenage sex worker is made up for a client. Mark portrayed each of her subjects with dignity and empathy. Her photographs called international attention to the injustices faced by these overlooked young women.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Jeanette and Victor, Brooklyn, New York' 1979 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Jeanette and Victor, Brooklyn, New York
1979 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Shaun Lucas
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation
Photo by Lee Stalsworth

 

 

This portrait of Jeanette and her boyfriend, Victor, captures the tenderness of young love. Mark met fifteen-year-old Jeanette when she was five months pregnant. Several times a week for the remainder of the teen’s pregnancy, Mark visited and photographed the couple and their families in Brooklyn, eventually documenting the birth of their daughter. “Photographing Jeanette was a great learning experience for me,” Mark said. “I learned that you can capture more intimate moments by blending into the background.”

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Runaway Girls on Pike Street, Seattle, Washington' 1983

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Runaway Girls on Pike Street, Seattle, Washington
1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

In 1983, Mark traveled to Seattle to document runaway and abandoned youths living on the streets for Life magazine. That assignment became the basis for Streetwise, a photographic series and film documenting the challenges, complexities, and occasional joys in the lives of these children and teenagers. Many of the youths Mark photographed in Seattle fled violent homes or were forced to the streets by poverty. In this image, two girls rest against a graffitied wall on Pike Street, a popular gathering place for the city’s homeless youth.

 

 

An icon of modern photography, Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) created compassionate and candid portraits of subjects living outside of mainstream society. From street children in Seattle to circus performers in India, Mark captured the lives and stories of individuals with empathy, humour, and candour. Through the lens of her camera, she cut through social and societal barriers to champion overlooked communities in the United States, India, Mexico, the former Soviet Union, and other countries.

Mary Ellen Mark: Girlhood examines Mark’s depictions of girls and young women living in a variety of circumstances around the globe. While Mark photographed people from all walks of life, she was particularly interested in children. “I don’t like to photograph children as children,” Mark said. “I like to see them as adults, as who they really are. I’m always looking for the side of who they might become.”

Made possible by a recent donation from the Photography Buyers Syndicate of more than 160 Mary Ellen Mark works, this presentation includes approximately 30 photographs that span the artist’s 50-year career – from her earliest work in Turkey in the 1960s to images taken on Polaroid film in the early 2000s. Mary Ellen Mark: Girlhood highlights some of the artist’s best-known series, including “Prom,” “Streetwise,” and “Twins,” offering viewers an intriguing glimpse into the artist’s wondrous and uncanny vision of girlhood.

Text from the National Museum of Women in the Arts website

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Classroom, Kiev, Ukraine' 1987 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Classroom, Kiev, Ukraine
1987 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Lakeisha, South Dallas' 1988 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Lakeisha, South Dallas
1988 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
20 x 16 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation
Photo by Lee Stalsworth

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Child Acrobat with Two Children in Peacock Costumes, Great Royal Circus, Himmatnagar, India' 1989 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Child Acrobat with Two Children in Peacock Costumes, Great Royal Circus, Himmatnagar, India
1989 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Jill and Jeffrey Stern
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

In 1968, during her first visit to India, Mark encountered the Indian circus. Her photographs of the events hint at strange and wondrous sights – including this fantastically costumed trio – but focus on the performers in their down time. Mark said, “I wanted to document the lives of the people when they weren’t performing… If I had photographed from the audience’s point of view, I would have just been a spectator.”

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Batman and Little Barbies at the Toys "R" Us Holiday Parade, New York' 2002 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Batman and Little Barbies at the Toys “R” Us Holiday Parade, New York
2002 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
20 x 16 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Susan and Earl Cohen
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation
Photo by Lee Stalsworth

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Idesha and Mikayla Preston, 8 Years Old, Idesha Older by 10 Minutes, Twinsburg, Ohio' 2002

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Idesha and Mikayla Preston, 8 Years Old, Idesha Older by 10 Minutes, Twinsburg, Ohio
2002
Polaroid
28 1/4 x 22 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Susan and Earl Cohen
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Ursula Phillips and Gregg Whitlock Jr., Malcolm X Shabazz Prom' 2006

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Ursula Phillips and Gregg Whitlock Jr., Malcolm X Shabazz Prom
2006
Polaroid
28 1/4 x 22 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Frieder K. Hofmann
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Lucas Nathan and Grace Bush-Vineberg, Palisades Charter High School Prom, Los Angeles, California' 2008

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Lucas Nathan and Grace Bush-Vineberg, Palisades Charter High School Prom, Los Angeles, California
2008
Polaroid
28 1/4 x 22 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

From 2006 to 2009, Mark traveled the United States documenting high school proms. A rite of passage for American teens, the prom symbolises an impending transition to adulthood. Mark’s subjects exhibit a range of reactions; some pose seriously with their dates, while others affect more playful mannerisms. Mark used a six-foot-high, 240-pound Polaroid 20 x 24 Land Camera for these portraits. As with the smaller, more familiar Polaroid instant cameras, each shot produces just one unique print with no negative.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'J'Lisa Looks Through the Blinds, Streetwise Revisited' Nd

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
J’Lisa Looks Through the Blinds, Streetwise Revisited
Nd
Gelatin silver print
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

The exhibition also includes one photograph, which Mark took the year before her death. In J’Lisa Looks Through the Blinds (2014), a child gazes through broken window blinds. The subject is the daughter of Erin Blackwell, better known as, Tiny. Mark first photographed Tiny in 1983 while working on her most influential body of work, Streetwise. When Mark met Tiny, she was a teen sex worker. By the end of Mark’s life, Tiny was a mother of 10 children and a recovered drug addict. Streetwise also became a film in 1984, documenting runaway children living on the streets of Seattle.

Text from Sumeja Tulic. “Mary Ellen Mark’s distinct depictions of girlhood reflect the diverse realities of that word,” on the 1854 website March 2021 [Online] Cited 03/04/2021.

 

Mark often took personal interest in those she met and photographed, and in some instances she formed lasting connections with her subjects. Mark’s involvement with Erin Blackwell (nicknamed “Tiny”) began in 1983 while filming the Streetwise (1984) documentary, when the girl was just thirteen. Over the next thirty-two years, Mark documented Tiny’s transition from teen runaway to sex worker, to drug addict, to mother of ten. In this image, Tiny’s daughter J’Lisa peers out of a window, her expression brimming with anticipation and skepticism.

 

 

National Museum of Women in the Arts
1250 New York Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20005

Opening hours:
Exhibition hours
Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm
Sunday 12 – 5pm

National Museum of Women in the Arts website

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07
Mar
21

Exhibition: ‘Dawoud Bey: An American Project’ at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Exhibition dates: 7th November 2020 – 14th March 2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976' 1976

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Early in his career, Bey realised the importance of collaborating with his subjects to make a picture that would also serve as a dialogue between artist and subject: “I wanted to photograph this man in the bowler hat who was talking to a group of three friends and I had no idea how to interrupt their conversation in order to do so. This is when I first realised that it wasn’t just about the photograph; it was also about establishing a relationship out of which comes the photograph.”

 

 

I have always admired artists who have a social conscience, who investigate their subject matter with intelligence, empathy and insight.

I have always admired artist who examine their subject matter from different perspectives, turning the diamond of the world in light, to probe the moral and existential questions of existence.

I have always admired artists who develop their practice, never repeating for the sake of it the same constructs over and over – from a lack of imagination, to be successful, or to follow the money trail.

One such artist is Dawoud Bey.

From formal to informal portraiture, through conceptual “bodies”, Bey’s work visualises Black American history in the present moment, not by using the trope of reusing colonial photographs or memorabilia, but by presenting afresh the history of injustice enacted on a people and a culture, picturing their ongoing pain and disenfranchisement – in the here and now – through powerful and deeply political photographs. As the press release observes, Bey “has used his camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, race, place, and American history.”

“His art is grounded in the concept of citizenship, community and belonging, and especially in centring the experiences and histories of Black Americans at the forefront of our culture. His photographs actively work to provide space, voice and visibility for communities who have long been excluded from dominant narratives, especially in institutions like museums.”

From his early street photographs through the later large format Polaroid work and on to the conceptual series, Bey’s photographs have an engaging directness and candour to them. There are no photographic or subjective histrionics here, just immensely rich social documentary photographs that speak truth to subject. The subjects stare directly at the camera and reveal themselves with a poignant honesty.

The series that affected me most deeply was The Birmingham Project.

“On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, murdering four African American girls inside. Two Black boys were also killed later that same day in the violence that ensued. Bey’s series The Birmingham Project commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of this horrific event, rendering it painfully immediate. Bey made formal portraits of Birmingham children the same ages as the victims and adults fifty years older – the ages the victims would have been had they lived. He then paired the photographs in diptychs that both honour the community’s unthinkable loss and make tangible the continued impact of racism, violence, and trauma in the present.”

All the suffering, all the ongoing pain and misery of an unfair world was, to me, wrapped up in these unforgettable images. The violence against other human beings, against people of difference 50 years ago brought into the present. Thinking about what these people could have achieved in the world, what life they would have led, what they would have looked like. Photography transcending time and space, Bey intelligently bringing past into present future. As Bey says, “I wanted to give those young people a more tangible, less-mythic, palpable presence… I wanted to figure out how to show the passage of time and the tragic loss of possibility.”

In my imagination I try to construct this tragic loss of possibility through the agency of Bey’s photographs. They produce sadness, anger, and empathy in me. They bring the possibility of change to the forefront of my mind, and an acknowledgment that we can all do better, that the world must do better. And that experience is a powerful thing.

Dr Marcus Bunyan.

.
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.

 

 

“I’ve come to believe that the best works tend to result not from the imposition of an idea on a situation, but to be responsive to what’s going on once you get there.”

“How can one visualise African American history and make that history resonate in the contemporary moment?”

.
Dawoud Bey

 

“Dreams are spaces that do not yet exist, except by escape through an unknown night.”

.
Anna Mirzayan

 

“I Never Had White Folks That Was Good To Me, EVER… We all worked jest like dogs and had about half enough to eat and got whupped for everything. Our days was a constant misery to us… My old Master was Dave Giles, the meanest man that ever lived. He didn’t have many slaves, my mammy, and me, and my sister, Uncle Bill, and Truman. He had owned my grandma but he give her a bad whupping and she never did git over it and died. We all done as much work as a dozen niggers – we knowed we had to. I seen old Master git mad at Truman and he buckled him down across a barrel and whupped him till he cut the blood out of him and then he rubbed salt and pepper in the raw places. It looked like Truman would die it hurt so bad. I know that don’t sound reasonable that a white man in a Christian community would do such a thing but you can’t realise how heartless he was. People didn’t know about it and we dassent tell for we knowed he’d kill us if we did. You must remember he owned us body and soul and they wasn’t anything we could do about it. Old Mistress and her three girls was mean to us too. One time me and my sister was spinning and old Mistress went to the well-house and she found a chicken snake and killed it. She brought it back and she throwed it around my sister’s neck. She jest laughed and laughed about it. She thought it was a big joke. Old Master stayed drunk all the time. I reckon that is the reason he was so fetched mean. My, how we hated him! He finally killed hisself drinking and I remember Old Mistress called us in to look at him in his coffin. We all marched by him slow like and I jest happened to look up and caught my sister’s eye and we both jest natchelly laughed – Why shouldn’t we? We was glad he was dead. It’s a good thing we had our laugh fer old Mistress took us out and whupped us with a broomstick. She didn’t make us sorry though.”

.
Annie Hawkins, formerly enslaved Afrikan who was sold from Georgia to Texas. This interview was done in Colbert, Oklahoma where her and her family moved after emancipation. Interview, conducted Spring, 1937 with a date stamp of August 16, 1937. Ms. Hawkins was 90 years old at the time of the interview and what she relates occurred in Texas. Source: Library of Congress

 

 

Since the beginning of his career in the 1970s, Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) has used his camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, race, place, and American history. From early street portraits made in Harlem to a recent series imagining an escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad, Bey explores photography’s potential to reveal communities and stories that have been underrepresented or even unseen. Both a form of personal expression and an act of political responsibility, Bey’s art insists on the power of photography to transform stereotypes, convene communities, and create dialogue.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project traces these through lines across the forty-five years of Bey’s career and his profound engagement with the young Black subject and African American history. The title intentionally inserts his photographs into a long-running conversation about what it means to represent America with a camera. The questions of who is considered an American photographer, or simply an American, and whose story is an American story are particularly urgent today. Bey’s work offers a potent corrective to the gaps in our picture of American society and history – and an emphatic reminder of the ongoing impact of those omissions.

 

 

Dawoud Bey on visualising history

Photographer Dawoud Bey’s work grapples with history. The artist asks, “How can one visualise African American history and make that history resonate in the contemporary moment?” Here he discusses several series, sited from Harlem to Birmingham to the Underground Railroad routes of northeastern Ohio, each of which works to make histories visible.

 

 

Dawoud Bey: An American Project – Part 1