Posts Tagged ‘American black and white photography

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.”

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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.,

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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.”

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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

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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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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

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Boy in Front of the Loew's 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976' 1976

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Boy in Front of the Loew’s 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

The Street

Bey’s landmark black-and-white 1975-78 series “Harlem, USA” documents portraits and street scenes with locals of the historic neighbourhood in New York. As a young man growing up in Queens, Bey was intrigued by his family’s history in Harlem, where his parents met and where he visited family and friends throughout childhood. The series premiered at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979, when Bey was just 26.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman at Convent Avenue Baptist Church, Harlem, NY, 1977' 1977

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman at Convent Avenue Baptist Church, Harlem, NY, 1977
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches
Image courtesy of the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

In his hands, portraiture conveys contradiction – diffident joy, resistant sorrow – and tells the truth.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, 1978' 1978

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, 1978
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“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.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Two Boys at a Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985' 1985

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Two Boys at a Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985
1985
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Throughout the 1980s, Bey continued to use a handheld 35 mm camera. This lightweight apparatus allowed him to respond intuitively and quickly to whatever captivated his eye, and his photographs during this time reflect his knowledge of contemporary street photography and his growing interest in capturing flux, movement, and the play of light and shadow. Although he continued to photograph people, he moved away from formal portraiture, instead endeavouring to capture individuals in more spontaneous ways.

 

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

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985
1985
Gelatin silver print
20 x 24 inches
Image courtesy of the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986' 1986

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986
1986
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

In 1985, during a residency at Light Work, a photography nonprofit affiliated with Syracuse University, New York, Bey photographed the city’s African American community. For him, it was both a political and aesthetic choice: “By then I felt that was part of my agenda: to make the African American subject a visible and resonant presence through my photographs […] it was as much about making a certain kind of photograph, and operating within a certain tradition, as it was a deliberate choice to foreground the black subject […] giving them a place … on the wall of galleries and museums.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman at Fulton Street and Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman at Fulton Street and Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

By the end of the 1980s, Bey had thoroughly digested the lessons of working spontaneously with a small camera and desired to work in a way that would allow him to engage more directly with his subjects. He began to make formal “street portraits” with a large-format (4 × 5-inch) camera and Polaroid Type 55 film, which produced both instant pictures that he gave to the sitters and negatives that he used to make large-scale, highly detailed prints that could be enlarged to create monumental portraits. Bey was increasingly ambivalent about the ethics of traditional documentary photography and sought more equitable, reciprocal relationships with his sitters. He began to approach the strangers he wished to portray openly and deliberately, giving, as he writes, “the black subjects [a space] to assert themselves and their presence in the world, with their gaze meeting the viewer’s on equal footing.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Girl Striking A Pose, Brooklyn, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Girl Striking A Pose, Brooklyn, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man with Buttons Brooklyn NY 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man with Buttons Brooklyn NY 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Woman Coming from the Store, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Woman Coming from the Store, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man with His Hair Brush, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man with His Hair Brush, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Alfonso, Washington, DC, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Alfonso, Washington, DC, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman Wearing Denim, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman Wearing Denim, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Man with a Towel, Brooklyn, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Man with a Towel, Brooklyn, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Poppy Brooklyn, NY, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Poppy, Brooklyn, NY, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Girl Holding a Hotdog and Gum, Brooklyn, NY, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Girl Holding a Hotdog and Gum, Brooklyn, NY, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Couple in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, 1990' 1990

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Couple in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, 1990
1990
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Few images of tenderness have such resounding power as this lush portrait of a young, stylish couple embracing in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Note how perfectly their bodies fit together as he relaxes his shoulders, allowing her to easily wrap her arms around him protectively, declaring with the upward tilt of her chin and her direct gaze at us that they are together, united in love. Pictures as openly intimate as this one emerged from Bey’s deep and abiding interest in “wanting to describe the Black subject in a way that’s as complex as the experiences of anyone else.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Two Girls from a Marching Band, Harlem, NY, 1990' 1990

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Two Girls from a Marching Band, Harlem, NY, 1990
1990
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist, Sean Kelly Gallery, Stephen Daiter Gallery, and Rena Bransten Gallery
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

For more than four decades, renowned photographer Dawoud Bey has created powerful and tender photographs that portray underrepresented communities and explore African American history. From portraits in Harlem and classic street photography to nocturnal landscapes and large-scale studio portraits, his works combine an ethical imperative with an unparalleled mastery of his medium. The High Museum of Art celebrates his important contributions to photography as the exclusive Southeast venue for Dawoud Bey: An American Project, the artist’s first full career retrospective in 25 years.

Co-organised by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the exhibition features approximately 80 works that span the breadth of Bey’s career, from his earliest street portraits made in Harlem in the 1970s to his most recent series reimagining sites of the Underground Railroad (2017).

The High has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with Bey, who was commissioned in 1996 for the Museum’s inaugural “Picturing the South” series, which asks noted photographers to turn their lens toward the American South. For his project, Bey collaborated with Atlanta high school students to create empathetic, larger-than-life portraits. Made with the monumental 20-by-24-inch Polaroid camera, these photographs explore the complexity of adolescence as a time of critical identity formation and expand the concept of portraiture. The High now holds more than 50 photographs by Bey, one of the most significant museum collections of his work.

“Bey’s portraits are remarkable for their keen sensitivity and for how they elicit and honour their subjects’ sense of self, which is partly an outcome of the artist’s collaborative practice,” remarked Sarah Kennel, the High’s Donald and Marilyn Keough Family curator of photography. “Given the museum’s long relationship with Bey and the strength of our holdings, we are thrilled to present this important retrospective. We look forward to sharing the artist’s photographs and his powerful and moving reflections on African American history and identity in their country with our visitors.”

Bey, born in 1953 in Queens, New York, began to develop an interest in photography as a teenager. He received his first camera as a gift from his godmother in 1968, and the next year, he saw the exhibition “Harlem on My Mind” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Widely criticised for its failure to include significant numbers of artworks by African Americans, the exhibition’s representation of Black subjects nonetheless made an impression on Bey and inspired him to develop his own documentary project about Harlem in 1975. Since that time, he has worked primarily in portraiture, making tender, psychologically rich and direct portrayals, often in collaboration with his subjects. More recently, he has explored seminal moments in African American history through both portraiture and landscape.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project includes work from the artist’s eight major series and is organised to reflect the development of Bey’s vision throughout his career and to highlight his enduring engagement with portraiture, place and history.

Press release from The High Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dawoud Bey: An American Project at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
Images courtesy of the artist and High Museum. Photos by Mike Jensen.

 

Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey
Photo: Sean Kelly Gallery

 

 

About Dawoud Bey

Dawoud Bey was born in Queens, New York, and began his career as a photographer in 1975 with a series of photographs, Harlem, USA, that were later exhibited in his first solo exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979.

Since then his work has been featured in exhibitions at numerous institutions worldwide, including the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Brooklyn Museum; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Fogg Museum, Harvard University; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP), Chicago; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, among many others.

His photographs are represented in collections worldwide, and his critical writings on photography have appeared in numerous publications and exhibition catalogues. Bey received the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” fellowship in 2017 and is also the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University and is currently Professor of Art and a Distinguished College Artist at Columbia College Chicago, where he has taught since 1998.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Gerard, Edgewater High School, Orlando, FL, 2003' 2003

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Gerard, Edgewater High School, Orlando, FL, 2003
2003
Inkjet print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Behind his Class Pictures series:

“It was a sort of snapshot of America through its young people at that particular moment. I started working in Chicago, then to New York, California and Florida. I wanted it to be geographically representative of the country. I’ve always been acutely aware that photographs tell you a lot less than what they do tell you. There’s certain things you would never know just from looking at them. You wouldn’t know from a portrait if someone is an only child, whether they have siblings, who their parents are. There’s a lot of information outside of a photograph. For Class Pictures, I thought that was important to bring that information into the construct of work and to create a space of self-representation. The young people who I photographed could give a sense of who they were.”

Summer Evans. “Photographer Dawoud Bey Shines A Light On America’s Underrepresented Communities,” on the WABE website Nov 18, 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Usha, Gateway High School, San Francisco, CA, 2006' 2006

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Usha, Gateway High School, San Francisco, CA, 2006
2006
Inkjet print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Bey has long understood that the act of representation – as well as the corollary act of being seen – is both powerful and deeply political. In this series, 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.” Class Pictures (2001-2006) originated during a residency at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago, where Bey began working with local high school students. He later expanded it to capture a geographically and socioeconomically diverse slice of American adolescence.

Working in empty classrooms between class periods, Bey made formal colour portraits of teens that attend, carefully and tenderly, to their gestures and expressions. He also invited them to write brief autobiographical statements, giving his subjects visibility as well as voice. Class Pictures can also be understood as a play on words, for in several cases, Bey chose to photograph students at elite private schools as well as teens from nearby, poorer neighbourhoods, bringing together these subjects in a single space.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Don Sledge and Moses Austin' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Don Sledge and Moses Austin
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Inkjet prints
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

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.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Mary Parker and Caela Cowan' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Mary Parker and Caela Cowan
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Inkjet prints
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“Together the sitters for The Birmingham Project are simultaneously surrogates, mourners, witnesses, community, and agents of their own narratives. These subjects, then are not symbols but flesh and bone.”

 

In 2012, the project was created as a commission from the Birmingham Museum of Art. It memorialises the victims of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Four African-American girls were killed in the bombing, and two boys were later killed in riots that followed.

“I decided to make portraits of young African-Americans in Birmingham who were the exact same ages as those six young people who had been killed that day. I wanted to give those young people a more tangible, less-mythic, palpable presence.” Bey continues, “It still felt somewhat complete. I wanted to figure out how to show the passage of time and the tragic loss of possibility. Then, I started thinking about making portraits of African-Americans in Birmingham who were the ages of the six young people would have been their age today. I begun pairing those portraits with those young people, which embodied 50 years.”

Summer Evans. “Photographer Dawoud Bey Shines A Light On America’s Underrepresented Communities,” on the WABE website Nov 18, 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

Night Coming Tenderly, Black

Dawoud Bey’s large-scale photographs dive into art and literary history while trying to re-create the experience of slaves fleeing on the Underground Railroad.

“I consider myself to be making photographs both in conversation with the history of photography and also the history of Black representation within photography. I wanted to use what I learned early on from looking at photographs by Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Walker Evans and Mike Disfarmer – along with what I learned from Roy DeCarava, who was African American – and apply all of that to my own African American subjects as I began to build my vocabulary of picture-making. Because I’m African American myself, and because so few representations of African Americans are made from inside that experience, I set out to make that my space, to make work that operated at the level of those other photographs but with Black subjects, since those were the people I knew best. I also wanted to add something to the history of Black expressive culture. …

Night Coming Tenderly, Black continues my interest in visualising African American history by visualising the past in the contemporary moment. It takes as its conceptual touchstones the photographs of DeCarava, which are about the Black subject and often printed very darkly, some almost black. The blackness of his prints is a very beautiful and materially lush blackness. And the Black subjects inhabit this wonderful material darkness in a way that is not foreboding but is beautiful.” ~ Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey. ‘Untitled #1 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse)’ 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #1 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

The photographs in this series are some of the most sensual and layered. These are sights that are at first confining then liberating when you understand them through the lens of history.

In their grandeur and mystery, they transform houses masked in darkness, bodies of water, and fields into an emblematic hope. A pristine fencepost and a homestead visible through the haze of the darkness; a wetland glistening in nightfall; a jungle thick with small trees; an image of Lake Erie, with the expansive sky and horizon forewarning the freedom that lies beyond.

 

The Underground Railroad

Night Coming Tenderly, Black contains 25 large-scale images of homesteads with wooded or grassy grounds that are believed to have formed the part of the said Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad is an actual invisible web of routes and safe houses believed to have made the final way station for more than 100,000 fugitive slaves escaping to Canada. But according to the artist himself, some of the images may be of actual Underground Railroad.

 

The meaning of the title

This series is also a tribute to poet Langston Hughes (1901-1967) and photographer Roy DeCarava (1919-2009), who each played significant roles in addressing the experience of African Americans by representing what DeCarava described as a world shaped by blackness. Bey was inspired by DeCarava’s incredible ability to print a spectrum of dark hues, making him picture landscapes of twilight uncertainty.

On the other hand, Hughes Langston wrote a poem titled Dream Variations in 1926, in which he yearned for a time when the black American worker, extremely tired by the daily hustle of hard labor and prejudice, might be truly free. However, this freedom, he imagined, would not be obtained in the glare of daylight, but instead under the ominous, protective cover of the night.

Upending a dominant literary conceit, blackness, rather than whiteness, functioned as an allegory for hope and transcendence. A night coming tenderly, black like me, (Hughes poem), helped the fight for racial equality and justice. The metaphor in the poem is central to Dawoud Bey’s series Night Coming Tenderly, Black.

 

Influenced by Roy DeCarava

Bey has never stopped waxing lyrical on the influence of the two figures that inspired his artistic career, especially Roy DeCarava, who was one of the most prominent photographers of his generation. The images he took were visually rich and redolent, and they pushed the aesthetic limits of photography…

Dawoud Bey noted that DeCarava’s images were characteristically printed in dark and rich colour range. In this context, the dark prints served as a symbol for black subjects and experience. Bey says:

“DeCarava used blackness as an affirmative value, as a kind of beautiful blackness through which his subjects both moved and emerged. His work was formative to my own thinking early on, and these dark landscapes are a kind of material conversation with his work, using the darkness of the landscape and the photographic print as an evocative space of blackness through which the unseen and imaginary black fugitive subject is moving.” …

The artist printed these images in a large size to encase the viewer and deliberately dark to reveal his subject matter: He took the photos of the sites in and near Cleveland associated with the Underground Railroad that guided the slaves to liberation.

Anonymous. “Dawoud Bey’s somber ‘Night Coming Tenderly, Black’ project,” on the Public Delivery website  January 30, 2021 website [Online] Cited 02/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #11 (Bent Branches)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #11 (Bent Branches)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #12 (The Marsh)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #12 (The Marsh)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“I ranged far and wideout there since there were expansive rural landscapes that looked as they might have in the 18th and 19th centuries. The landscape and the history there have not been built over…

Some of the photographs, to the extent that we know, are actual Underground Railroad sites, and the majority of them are placed in the landscape that I identified in proximity to some of those locations, where I could make work that suggested the movement of fugitive slaves through the landscape…

I wanted the photographs to almost involuntarily pull you back to the experience of the landscape through which those fugitive black bodies were moving in the 19th century to escape slavery. So I had to learn, for the first time, how to make photographs in the kind of space…

It is a tender one, through which one moves. That is the space I imagined the fugitive black subjects moving through as they sought their self-liberation, moving through the dark landscape of America and Ohio toward freedom under cover of a munificent and blessed blackness.” ~ Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #14 (Site of John Brown's Tannery)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #14 (Site of John Brown’s Tannery)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #17 (Forest)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #17 (Forest)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

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.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #19 (Creek and Trees)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #19 (Creek and Trees)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Behind his Night Coming Tenderly, Black series:

“The photographs are meant to imagine or reimagine the path of self-liberation in Northeastern Ohio along what is called the ‘Underground Railroad’. Formerly slaved Africans, and then African-Americans moved towards freedom by way of Lake Eerie in Ohio. I began to think about the fugitive moving through this tender space of blackness.”

Anonymous. “Dawoud Bey’s somber ‘Night Coming Tenderly, Black’ project,” on the Public Delivery website  January 30, 2021 website [Online] Cited 02/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #20 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse I)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #20 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse I)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

The gelatin silver prints in Night Coming Tenderly, Black are moody and dim, overlaid with a sheen that is almost gritty in texture thanks to the coated paper they are printed on. The trees, fences, lakes, and buildings in the photos are initially obscured, purposefully made more difficult to see through Bey’s printing methods (which take advantage of the light sensitivity of silver particles as well as their ability to be chemically “toned” through the introduction of other substances). These images resist both reproduction and easy interpretation. That one also has to wait for one’s eyes to adjust to the darkness, before slowly traveling over the terrain of each picture, reminds the viewer that the formerly enslaved people who traversed these sites often did so under cover of darkness. Darkness here is multivalent: its obscuring power, which prevents viewers from immediately processing the whole of Bey’s photographs, aided formerly enslaved people in their escape. The Underground Railroad, as the artist has noted, occupies a semi-mythological place in American history, and some of the places Bey photographs are only cannot be confirmed to have been stops on the Railroad. Like the experience of slavery, these places are unrepresentable. They are half-shrouded locales that evade being captured on a map or in a photo.

Though these photographs are dark, they are shot in the daylight and processed in such a way as to make them initially appear to be taken at night. They bring to mind Hiroshi Sugimoto’s eerily beautiful “Seascapes” series (1980 – ongoing), which are shot at night, the film exposed for different lengths of time in order to reveal how light plays even after dark. Yet there is no analogous method for bringing night to the day. Bey may make his photos dark, but this is achieved through processing and glazing the finish image, which occurs after the initial act of taking the photograph. How can we account for Bey’s artificial night?

The philosopher François Laruelle’s 2011 book The Concept of Non-Photography suggests one answer to this question. In essence, Laruelle starts with the premise that works of art cannot and do not represent anything, be it objects, thoughts, concepts, or movements. He posits art as an entirely self-sufficient engagement with the world (which he calls the Real), independent even of viewer and creator. Art is a machine; the medium, processes, and even the artist are its materials. What art “shows,” Laurelle argues, is only the world according to itself – which he terms the world-in-painting, the world-in-photo, and so on. He turns to photography in part because of its connection to modern scientific advancement and its attempts literally to illuminate the world “objectively.” Non-photography aims to re-conceptualise the photographic flash, which Laruelle associates with the flash of logos or reason, as a form of potential insurrection against its traditional association with illumination, and against photography’s constant reproduction of the asymmetrical dichotomy between light and dark.

Anna Mirzayan. “”Artificial night”: on Dawoud Bey’s America,” on the Art Agenda website December 15 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #23 (Near Lake Erie)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #23 (Near Lake Erie)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“I was thinking about this narrative of the Black subject — the unseen Black subject, in this case — a fugitive slave moving through the darkness of night,” Bey explains. “And that darkness of night being the kind of Black space that would lead to liberation.”

 

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 the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

As a covert network of safe houses and churches, the sites of the Underground Railroad were by necessity secret, and Bey’s landscapes suggest, rather than document, the experience. Photographed by day but printed in shades of grey and black so deep they resemble nocturnes, the sensuous prints conjure a darkness at once ominous and lush. The series title, which is drawn from the last couplet of Langston Hughes’s poem “Dream Variations” (1926), suggests a black night that envelops the fugitives in a darkness that serves as a protective embrace: “Night coming tenderly / Black like me.”

 

 

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22
Jan
21

Photographs: ‘Walker Evans – Subway portraits’ 1938-41

January 2021

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

Unguarded moments

“Tell those friends with cameras for eyes”

 

It’s going to be really hot in Melbourne for the next few days so I won’t be able to get into the computer room to work – so a posting today, Friday 22 January, and the next one on Wednesday next week.

These iconic Walker Evans New York subway portraits of anonymous travellers (both physically and mentally) are remarkably unprepossessing. They just are. They exist. Taken with a hidden 35mm camera, they picture human beings in (allegedly) unposed, unguarded moments, unaware that they are being photographed. But un/aware in another sense – un/aware of their surroundings, the person opposite them, or the time, un/aware of their dreams – of past, present and future. Engrossed in reading, staring vacantly into space, deep in thoughtful repose, or possessing a sadness beyond belief, now, they impinge on our consciousness through their very facticity.

You could make up stories about their lives: the boy above in his postal cap(?), gay, nervous, lonely in the big city; the man with the spectacles staring down at his paper, an accountant, or a watchmaker, working all his life to support his family. The black man with his immaculate dress, coat, scarf and Fedora battling for his place in society; and the two woman together, polar opposites, she, clasping her bag, possibly an immigrant arrived through Ellis Island from Eastern Europe, and she, fur edged coat and steepling hat, severe, dour, rich, matronly.

Here they are, this panoply of archetypes, clothed in complete protection for spiritual warfare. Unguarded moments to the photographer they may be, but the mask is definitely not off. In my observation, human beings on public transport are always un/guarded, always protecting themselves from the stranger next to them, the unknown threat, or wandering off in daydreams to another time and place, absenting themselves so that only the shell, the husk, is left. Here and there, present but absent, absent but present, these creatures of the underground still roam the corridors of human consciousness.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All photographs are used under fair use conditions for the purpose of educational research and informed comment. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

“Although the setting was public, he found that his subjects, unposed and lost in their thoughts, displayed a constantly shifting medley of moods and expressions-by turns curious, bored, amused, despondent, dreamy, and dyspeptic. “The guard is down and the mask is off,” he remarked. “Even more than in lone bedrooms (where there are mirrors), people’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway.””

Anonymous text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 22/01/2021

 

 

 

The Unguarded Moment  ~ The Church

 

So hard finding inspiration
I knew you’d find me crying
Tell those girls with rifles for minds
That their jokes don’t make me laugh
They only make me feel like dying
In an unguarded moment
So long, long between mirages
I knew you’d find me drinking
Tell those men with horses for hearts
That their jibes don’t make me bleed
They only make me feel like shrinking
In an unguarded moment
So deep, deep without a meaning
I knew you’d find me leaving
Tell those friends with cameras for eyes
That their hands don’t make me hang
They only make me feel like breathing
In an unguarded moment

 

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) '35mm negative strip of Subway Portraits' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
35mm negative strip of Subway Portraits
1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

As photographic technology advanced – cameras became more portable and film more sensitive to light, requiring shorter exposure times – people were no longer required to stay still for pictures. Walker Evans was among the photographers who capitalised on this flexibility. Between 1938 and 1941, he took his camera underground, where he photographed subway riders in New York City. “The guard is down and the mask is off,” he wrote, “even more than when in lone bedrooms (where there are mirrors). People’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway.” (Walker Evans, quoted in Belinda Rathbone. Walker Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995, 170-71)

In order to discreetly capture these candid Subway Portraits, Evans came up with an undercover method of taking photographs. He concealed his 35-millimeter Contax camera by painting its shiny chrome parts black and hiding it under his topcoat, with only its lens peeking out between two buttons. He rigged its shutter to a cable release, whose chord snaked down his sleeve and into the palm of his hand, which he kept buried in his pocket. For extra assurance, he asked his friend and fellow photographer Helen Levitt to join him on his subway shoots, believing that his activities would be less noticeable if he was accompanied by someone. With these methods, Evans managed to capture people immersed in conversation, reading, or seemingly lost in their own thoughts and moods. His subjects’ faces display a range of emotions. He also succeeded in accomplishing a difficult challenge in making truly unposed portraits.

Anonymous text from the MoMA website [Online] Cited 22/01/2021

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

Walker Evans’ book Many Are Called is a three-year photographic study of people on the New York subway. Using a camera hidden in his jacket and a cable release running down his sleeve, Evans snapped unsuspecting passengers while they traveled through the city. Evans said that these photographs were his “idea of what a portrait ought to be,” he wrote, “anonymous and documentary and a straightforward picture of mankind.” As photographic technology advanced – cameras became more portable and film more sensitive to light, requiring shorter exposure times – people were no longer required to pose for pictures. In an effort to capture candid images of people in public places, Walker Evans affixed a right angle viewfinder to his camera to make it look as if he was pointing it off to the side rather than directly at his subjects. For his Subway Portraits, he went even further and concealed his camera by painting its shiny chrome parts black and hiding it under his topcoat, with only its lens peeking out between two buttons. He rigged its shutter to a cable release, whose chord snaked down his sleeve and into the palm of his hand, which he kept buried in his pocket. As a result, these portraits show people in unguarded moments.

Text from ‘Seeing Through Photographs’ online course, Coursera, 2016.

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'View Down Subway Car with Accordionist Performing in Aisle, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
View Down Subway Car with Accordionist Performing in Aisle, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'View Down Subway Car with Accordionist Performing in Aisle, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
View Down Subway Car with Accordionist Performing in Aisle, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

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23
Nov
18

Photographs: Edward J. Kelty

November 2018

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey (Combined) Circus' c. 1925

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey (Combined) Circus [clowns behind Madison Square Garden]
c. 1925
Cyanotype
7 3/8 × 9 1/4 inches (23.8 × 23.5cm)

 

 

There’s a quality of legend about freaks… I mean, if you’ve ever spoken to someone with two heads, you know they know something you don’t. Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience – freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.

.
Diane Arbus

 

 

The aristocrats

During my research for this posting, someone, somewhere, said that Kelty was “not a very adventurous photographer.” What a load of rubbish.

If they meant “adventurous” by being avant-garde to that you can only answer: imagine the passion and dedication, and the skill of the photographer to compose these panoramic images for 15 years, from the mid-1920s to 1940, using a specially made “banquet” camera that produced 12-by-20-inch images.

Just imagine loading up your car with such a monster camera and travelling the roads to the site of these circus encampments, sometimes two or three different circuses a day, to record a veritable feast of difference and diversity. To give equal weight to each and every person. And to then develop the negatives in the back of your car. If this is not adventurous I don’t know what is.

And Kelty had to pay for the privilege. “Kelty was under contract to that circus, meaning he had to pay Ringling Brothers a commission for every circus picture he took. But he was not a circus employee, which had several of its own photographers who specialized in behind-the-scenes candids.”1 The photographs, these grand assemblages of multiculturalism, were not staged for free.

Kelty’s stylised images of sideshow freaks, clowns and other circus exotics are highly idiosyncratic in the world of art photography because, of course, he would not have thought of himself as an artist. Much as Eugène Atget never thought of himself as an artist, hanging a sign on his studio door saying, “Documents pour artistes” (Documents for artists), the sign declaring, “… his modest ambition of providing other artists with images to use as source material in their own work” (MoMA), so Kelty would have only thought he was recording these mise-en-scène for his own benefit, his passion, and to possibly sell a few photographs on the side.

Kelty’s day job was that of professional banquet photographer photographing weddings and the corporate world. The freedom he must have felt going to the circus and engaging with all these wonderful people would have been incredible. And he didn’t discriminate: his egalitarian photographs document the archetypes of the travelling circus, from “group portraits of clowns, sideshow attractions, bands, elephants, menageries, aerialists, equestrians, tractor and train crews, candy butchers (seen with their backs turned to show the “Baby Ruth Candy” logo on their smocks), and even everybody in the Ringling-Barnum cookhouse tent on July 4, 1935.” (Amazon)

Ellen Warren in her article “The mysterious Mr. Kelty”2 observes that Kelty’s photographs are “hopelessly politically incorrect by today’s standards”. In one sense this is true, with the camera documenting and objectifying the “Other”, with the literal naming of difference – “congress of freaks”, “colored review” – but is this objectification little different to the later, more intimate photographs of Diane Arbus documenting a dwarf in his bedroom, a Jewish giant at home with his parents, or an Albino sword swallower at a carnival? Only the archetypal scale is different. In another and perhaps a more generous sense of spirit, Kelty’s images of circus life document a “family” that lived, breathed, ate and travelled together, who looked after each other during fires and vicissitudes, who had a job and food on the table during The Great Depression … people who Kelty imaged as equal and important as each other by placing them in row after row.

In photographs such as Christy Brothers Circus Side Show, H. Emgard – Manager (1927, below), “Living Curiosities” mix it with “Minstrels”, musicians, dancers and comedians and a Scottish family band dressed up in Tartan. All given equal weight in a splendid display, a panopoly of presentation from around the world. And it would seem that the crowds at the circus were equally fascinated by these assemblages, and the process of Kelty taking the photograph, if the glimpses of the audience at left in Congress of the World’s Rough Riders – Celebrating Ringling Golden Jubilee, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus (1933, below) and at right in Col. Tim McCoy and his Congress of Rough Riders of the World Featured on the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (1935, below) are anything to go by.

Other things to note about the photographs are: the shutter time which can be seen by the moving figures at left in George Denman and His Staff, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows (1931, below); the impeccable use of even light; the use of flash in photographs such as Col. W.T. Johnson’s World Champion Cowgirls – Madison Square Garden – New York City – 1935 (1935, below) and Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Concert Band, Merle Evans – Bandmaster (1927, below); and Kelty’s innate ability to conduct and compose the scene. This is where Kelty excels himself as an artist and photographer, where he rises above the everyday to become extra-ordinary.

Two photographs are instructive in this regard, the earlier Congress of Freaks with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus (1931, below) and the later “Doll Family of Midgets”, Celebrating “Ringling Golden Jubilee”, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus Side Show (1933, below) in which Kelty returns two years later to document more or less the same group of people in the same setting. In the first image, one of the most famous of Kelty’s photographs, two lines of people rise from the outside and then fall (using the height of the subjects) towards the woman seated centrally in the bottom row who grounds the giant, Christ-like figure in the row above, his outstretched arms offering the display to the viewer. In the elegance and placement of figures this is a masterful construction of the image plane. In the later photograph Kelty doubles down, bookending both rows with symmetrical characters (giant women with headdresses, men in black tie) instead of just the one row in the first photograph – the rows again rising and falling towards the central characters, the giants framing the composition with outstretched arms. It might seem simple but it is not.

This is not some hack at work, not some unadventurous photographer with limited imagination, but a man composing a fugue like J.S.Bach, a veritable banquet for the eyes. To suggest otherwise is to not understand the history of photography, the history of representation, and the passion needed to represent life in all its forms.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Ellen Warren. “The mysterious Mr. Kelty,” on the Chicago Tribune website February 7, 2003 [Online] Cited 23/11/2018
  2. Ibid.,

.
All of the photographs in this posting are published under “fair use” conditions for the purpose of educational research and academic comment. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

 

Going by the evidence of the photographs, Kelty seems to have had three studio addresses close to each other in Midtown New York during his 15 years photographing the circus: first 144 West 46th (1925-1930), 74 W 47th (1931-1934) and finally 110 W 46th (1935-1940). As can be seen from the map above (with one exception of a photograph in St. Louis MO), Kelty usually travelled close to home to document the circus wherever they set up camp.

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Concert Band, Merle Evans - Bandmaster' 1927

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 144 W 46 N.Y.C.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Concert Band, Merle Evans – Bandmaster
1927
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Merle Slease Evans (December 26, 1891 – December 31, 1987) was a cornet player and circus band conductor who conducted the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for fifty years. He was known as the “Toscanini of the Big Top.” Evans was inducted into the American Bandmasters Association in 1947 and the International Circus Hall of Fame in 1975. …

Evans was hired as the band director for the newly merged Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1919. Evans held this job for fifty years, until his retirement in 1969. He only missed performances due to a musicians union strike in 1942 and the death of his first wife. He wrote eight circus marches, including Symphonia and Fredella.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus' Jersey City, N.J. - May 27th 1929

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 144 W 46 N.Y.C.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
Jersey City, N.J. – May 27th 1929
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'George Denman and His Staff, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows' Irvington, N.J. June 9th, 1931

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
George Denman and His Staff, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows
Irvington, N.J. – June 9th, 1931
Gelatin silver print
11 1/4 × 19 5/8 inches (28.6 × 49.9cm)

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus - Greatest Show on Earth -' 1931

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus – Greatest Show on Earth –
1931
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, also known as the Ringling Bros. CircusRingling Bros. or simply Ringling was an American traveling circus company billed as The Greatest Show on Earth. It and its predecessor shows ran from 1871 to 2017. Known as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows, the circus started in 1919 when the Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth, a circus created by P. T. Barnum and James Anthony Bailey, was merged with the Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows. The Ringling brothers had purchased Barnum & Bailey Ltd. following Bailey’s death in 1906, but ran the circuses separately until they were merged in 1919. …

In 1871, Dan Castello and William Cameron Coup persuaded Barnum to come out of retirement as to lend his name, know-how and financial backing to the circus they had already created in Delavan, Wisconsin. The combined show was named “P.T. Barnum’s Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome”. As described by Barnum, Castello and Coup “had a show that was truly immense, and combined all the elements of museum, menagerie, variety performance, concert hall, and circus”, and considered it to potentially be “the Greatest Show on Earth”, which subsequently became part of the circus’s name.

Independently of Castello and Coup, James Anthony Bailey had teamed up with James E. Cooper to create the Cooper and Bailey Circus in the 1860s. The Cooper and Bailey Circus became the chief competitor to Barnum’s circus. As Bailey’s circus was outperforming his, Barnum sought to merge the circuses. The two groups agreed to combine their shows on March 28, 1881. Initially named “P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show On Earth, And The Great London Circus, Sanger’s Royal British Menagerie and The Grand International Allied Shows United”, it was eventually shortened to “Barnum and Bailey’s Circus”. Bailey was instrumental in acquiring Jumbo, advertised as the world’s largest elephant, for the show. Barnum died in 1891 and Bailey then purchased the circus from his widow. Bailey continued touring the eastern United States until he took his circus to Europe. That tour started on December 27, 1897, and lasted until 1902.

Separately, in 1884, five of the seven Ringling brothers had started a small circus in Baraboo, Wisconsin. This was about the same time that Barnum & Bailey were at the peak of their popularity. Similar to dozens of small circuses that toured the Midwest and the Northeast at the time, the brothers moved their circus from town to town in small animal-drawn caravans. Their circus rapidly grew and they were soon able to move their circus by train, which allowed them to have the largest traveling amusement enterprise of that time. Bailey’s European tour gave the Ringling brothers an opportunity to move their show from the Midwest to the eastern seaboard. Faced with the new competition, Bailey took his show west of the Rocky Mountains for the first time in 1905. He died the next year, and the circus was sold to the Ringling Brothers.

 

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

The Ringlings purchased the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth in 1907 and ran the circuses separately until 1919. By that time, Charles Edward Ringling and John Nicholas Ringling were the only remaining brothers of the five who founded the circus. They decided that it was too difficult to run the two circuses independently, and on March 29, 1919, “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows” debuted in New York City. The posters declared, “The Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows and the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth are now combined into one record-breaking giant of all exhibitions.” Charles E. Ringling died in 1926, but the circus flourished through the Roaring Twenties.

John Ringling had the circus move its headquarters to Sarasota, Florida in 1927. In 1929, the American Circus Corporation signed a contract to perform in New York City. John Ringling purchased American Circus, owner of five circuses, for $1.7 million…

The circus suffered during the 1930s due to the Great Depression, but managed to stay in business. After John Nicholas Ringling’s death, his nephew, John Ringling North, managed the indebted circus twice, the first from 1937 to 1943. Special dispensation was given to the circus by President Roosevelt to use the rails to operate in 1942, in spite of travel restrictions imposed as a result of World War II. Many of the most famous images from the circus that were published in magazine and posters were captured by American photographer Maxwell Frederic Coplan, who traveled the world with the circus, capturing its beauty as well as its harsh realities.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Congress of the World's Rough Riders - Celebrating Ringling Golden Jubilee, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus' Brooklyn, N.Y. May 19th 1933

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Congress of the World’s Rough Riders – Celebrating Ringling Golden Jubilee, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
Brooklyn, N.Y. May 19th 1933
Gelatin silver print

 

 

“In the late nineteenth century, America displayed a new imperialistic mood and a heightened desire to impress her independence upon Europe when she embarked upon a number of military adventures in the Caribbean and Pacific. During the same period, there appeared a new popular hero – the “Rough Rider” – who derived from the Western frontier but expanded the field of heroic action well beyond the shores of America. The creation of this hero and the scene in which he was set demonstrates how popular culture of the period not only embodied but facilitated crucial developments in the nation’s growth.”

Christine Bold. “The Rough Riders at Home and Abroad: Cody, Roosevelt, Remington and the Imperialist hero,” in Canadian Review of American Studies Volume 18 Issue 3, September 1987, pp. 321-350

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967)

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Celebrating “Ringling Golden Jubilee”, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
Brooklyn, N.Y. May 19th 1933
Gelatin silver print
11 1/4 × 19 5/8 inches (28.6 × 49.9cm)

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967)

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Menagerie
Brooklyn, N.Y. May 19th 1933
Gelatin silver print

 

 

In mid-20th century America, a typical circus traveled from town to town by train, performing under a huge canvas tent commonly called a “big top”. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus was no exception: what made it stand out was that it was the largest circus in the country. Its big top could seat 9,000 spectators around its three rings; the tent’s canvas had been coated with 1,800 pounds (820 kg) of paraffin wax dissolved in 6,000 US gallons (23,000 l) of gasoline, a common waterproofing method of the time.

A menagerie is a collection of captive animals, frequently exotic, kept for display; or the place where such a collection is kept, a precursor to the modern zoological garden. The term was first used in seventeenth century France in reference to the management of household or domestic stock. Later, it came to be used primarily in reference to aristocratic or royal animal collections. The French-language Methodical Encyclopaedia of 1782 defines a menagerie as an “establishment of luxury and curiosity.” Later on, the term referred also to travelling animal collections that exhibited wild animals at fairs across Europe and the Americas.

Texts from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Ringling Golden Jubilee - Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus' Newark, N.Y. June ? 1933

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Ringling Golden Jubilee – Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
Newark, N.Y. June ? 1933
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967) 'Congress of Freaks with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus' 1931

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Congress of Freaks with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
1931
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) '"Doll Family of Midgets", Celebrating "Ringling Golden Jubilee", Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus Side Show' 1933

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
“Doll Family of Midgets”, Celebrating “Ringling Golden Jubilee”, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus Side Show
1933
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 × 19 1/2 inches (28.3 × 49.5cm)

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967) 'Col. Tim McCoy and his Congress of Rough Riders of the World Featured on the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus' Newark N.J. June 11th 1935

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46 NYC
Col. Tim McCoy and his Congress of Rough Riders of the World Featured on the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Newark. N.J. June 11th 1935
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Timothy John Fitzgerald McCoy (April 10, 1891 – January 29, 1978) was an American actor, military officer, and expert on American Indian life and customs. He was also known Colonel T.J. McCoy.

McCoy worked steadily in movies until 1936, when he left Hollywood, first to tour with the Ringling Brothers Circus and then with his own “wild west” show. The show was not a success and is reported to have lost $300,000, of which $100,000 was McCoy’s own money. It folded in Washington, D.C. and the cowboy performers were each given $5 and McCoy’s thanks. The Indians on the show were returned to their respective reservations by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. …

For his contribution to the film industry, Col. Tim McCoy was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1973, McCoy was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. McCoy was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1974.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus' Jersey City, N.J. June 12, 1935

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46 NYC
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Jersey City, N.J. June 12, 1935
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Congress of Clowns, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus' Patterson, N. J. June 13, 1935

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46 NYC
Congress of Clowns, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
Patterson, N. J. June 13, 1935
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 × 19 5/8inches (28.3 × 49.9cm)

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'World Renowned Acrobats, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus' Patterson, N. J. June 13, 1935

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46 NYC
World Renowned Acrobats, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
Patterson, N. J. June 13, 1935
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967)

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46 NYC
“Queens of the Air”, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
Patterson, N. J. June 13, 1935
Gelatin silver print
11 1/4 × 19 5/8 inches (28.6 × 49.9cm)

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Tommy Atkins Military Riding Maids featured with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus' Poughkeepsie, N.Y. - June 15th 1935

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46 NYC
Tommy Atkins Military Riding Maids featured with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Poughkeepsie, N.Y. – June 15th 1935
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Dorothy Herbert (1910-1994) joined Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey in 1930 when she was only 20 years old. Over the next decade she truly became a headliner – appearing on a variety of posters, including several seen here. Like Lillian Leitzel, May Wirth and Tim McCoy, and later Lou Jacobs and Gunther Gebel-Williams – her star status led to the creation of a number of posters featuring her image.

Herbert was only 24 years old when a portrait lithograph was added to the Ringling-Barnum billposter hod during the 1934 season. Starting that spring, and for several seasons following, an image of Miss Herbert and her horse Satan appeared in hundreds of store windows as both a one-sheet and a window card, and in a much larger format on the sides of walls and barns. The same portrait was also featured on the cover of the 1934 program book, the first time an individual circus star was featured on the Ringling-Barnum “Program and Daily Review”. …

[Herbert] features in a display that she starred in titled “Miss Tommy Atkins and Her Military Maids” The depiction is of a group of girls on horses, dressed in British red-coat dress uniforms. The act consisted of military equestrian manoeuvres and the reason it carried the name “Miss Tommy Atkins” is that a British soldier of the era was often referred to as a “Tommy Atkins” much in the way that American soldiers have been known as “G.I. Joe”.

Extract from Chris Berry. “Dorothy Herbert (Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey),” on the Collectors Weekly website 2012 [Online] Cited 20/10/2018

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Executive Staff' New Brunswick, N.J. - June 17th 1931

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Executive Staff
New Brunswick, N.J. – June 17th 1931
Gelatin silver print

 

 

The Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus was a circus that traveled across America in the early part of the 20th century. At its peak, it was the second-largest circus in America next to Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. It was based in Peru, Indiana.

The circus began as the “Carl Hagenbeck Circus” by Carl Hagenbeck (1844-1913). Hagenbeck was an animal trainer who pioneered the use of rewards-based animal training as opposed to fear-based training.

Meanwhile, Benjamin Wallace, a livery stable owner from Peru, Indiana, and his business partner, James Anderson, bought a circus in 1884 and created “The Great Wallace Show”. The show gained some prominence when their copyright for advertising posters was upheld by the Supreme Court in Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Company. Wallace bought out his partner in 1890 and formed the “B. E. Wallace Circus”.

In 1907, Wallace purchased the Carl Hagenbeck Circus and merged it with his circus. The circus became known as the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus at that time, even though Carl Hagenbeck protested. He sued to prohibit the use of his name but lost in court. …

The circus spent its winters just outside Baldwin Park, California. There, on 35 acres of land, the circus stayed with its huge parade wagons parked alongside a railroad spur. The elephants spent time hauling refuse wagons, shunting railroad cars and piling baled hay. A tent at the eastern edge of the grounds was used by aerialists to practice trapeze and high-wire acts. The circus usually remained there from late November to early spring.

The Great Depression and Ringling’s ill health caused the Ringling empire to falter. In 1935, the circus split from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey and became the Hagenbeck-Wallace and Forepaugh-Sells Bros. Circus. It finally ceased operations in 1938.

The complex near Peru that formerly housed the winter home of Hagenbeck-Wallace now serves as the home of the Circus Hall of Fame.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus' 1931

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus
1931
Gelatin silver print
11 1/4 × 19 5/8 inches (28.6 × 49.9 cm.)

 

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967) moved to New York City following his service in the Navy during World War I, and opened up his first studio, Flashlight Photographers. Kelty was drawn to the circus and visited Coney Island often. In the summer of 1922, he transformed his truck into a mini studio, darkroom and living quarters, and traveled across America. His panoramic views captured the performers – human and animal – associated with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Hagenbeck-Wallace, Sells-Floto, Clyde Beatty, Cole Bros. and other train, wagon and truck shows.

A typical day for Kelty would have him waking at dawn to set up cameras and tripods, gathering bearded ladies and sword swallowers, snake charmers and giants and shooting all morning. At times he had as many as 1,000 people in a picture. Afternoons were spent processing film and making proofs, taking orders and printing well into the night. The following day, he distributed prints, most often to circus staff and performers, before returning to his New York studio to work on his wedding and banquet photography business.

Kelty was hit hard by the Depression, and by 1942 had cashed in his glass plate negatives to settle a hefty bar tab. He moved to Chicago and, as legend has it, never took another photograph. His extant negatives eventually made their way into a Tennessee collection of circus memorabilia. Since Kelty used Nitrate-based film, which is unstable when improperly housed, the negatives self-destructed and were disposed of.

After Kelty died in 1967, his estranged family found no photographs, cameras or negatives among his belongings – just one old lens and a union concession employee ID card identifying him as a vendor at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. There was no evidence of the man who, along with his custom mammoth-size banquet camera and portable studio, documented America’s greatest traveling circuses.

Text from the Swann Galleries website

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, Jess Adkins, Manager - Rex De Rosselli, Producer of Spectacle - Harry McFarlan, Equestrienne Director'. Brooklyn, N.J. June 11th 1932

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, Jess Adkins, Manager – Rex De Rosselli, Producer of Spectacle – Harry McFarlan, Equestrienne Director
Brooklyn, N.J. June 11th 1932
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, Jess Adkins, Manager - Rex De Rosselli, Producer of Spectacle - Harry McFarlan, Equestrienne Director.' St. Louis, MO. - May 11th 1934

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, Jess Adkins, Manager – Rex De Rosselli, Producer of Spectacle – Harry McFarlan, Equestrienne Director
St. Louis, MO. – May 11th 1934
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Banquet photography

Banquet photography is the photography of large groups of people, typically in a banquet setting such as a hotel or club banquet room, with the objective of commemorating an event. Clubs, associations, unions, circuses and debutante balls have all been captured by banquet photographers.

A banquet photograph is usually taken in black and white with a large format camera, with a wide angle lens, from a high angle to ensure that each person is in focus while seated at their table. Large cameras such as a 12 × 20 view camera or a panoramic camera were used. The defining characteristic of a banquet photograph is the depth of focus and detail and clarity of the image.

Banquet photography was most popular in the 1890s, and had mostly waned by the 1970s. In part its decline is owed to the difficult technical aspects of producing quality banquet photos, the difficulty of printing such large negatives, and the expense and size of the equipment needed. Today, though hard to find, there are a handful of photographers still shooting banquet photos with flashbulbs and large format film cameras. View cameras use large format sheet film – one sheet per photograph.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Christy Brothers Circus Side Show, H. Emgard - Manager' 1927

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 144 W 46 N.Y.C.
Christy Brothers Circus Side Show, H. Emgard – Manager
1927
Gelatin silver print

 

 

George Washington Christy was born February 22 1889 in Pottstown, Pennsylvania to parents John and Ida Christy.

The circus opened in 1919 under the title of “Christy Hippodrome Shows” (later changed to Christy Bros. Circus). The show opened as a two car show, Christy purchased many of his parade wagons from the Ringling Bros. after they discontinued their downtown parades. The circus wintered first in Galveston, Texas and then in South Houston, where Christy had built a home.

On May 25, the show’s trained wrecked just outside of Cardston Alberta, Canada.. G.W. Christy, being the showman that he was set up in a cornfield near the wreck and gave a performance while the rails were being cleared. In 1925 and 1926, Christy operated a second unit named “Lee Bros.”, but closed it after the the 1926 season.

The “Great Depression” beginning in 1929, was a difficult time for all shows on the road. The Christy Bros. Circus was no exception, not only was the economy in bad shape but weather was also a major factor. Christy and his loyal employees struggled to keep the circus on the road. On July 7, 1930 the Christy Brothers Circus gave it’s last performance in Greeley, Colorado.

After the close of the show, most of the equipment was sold in 1935 to Jess Adkins and Zack Terrell, who were framing their Cole Bros. Circus, some of the parade wagons went to the “Ken Mayner Circus”. Christy kept his elephants and horses, the elephants were used to help build Spencer Highway in South Houston, Texas.

After leaving the circus world George Christy became mayor of the City of South Houston serving from 1949 to 1951 and again from 1960 to 1964. George Washington Christy died August 07, 1975 in Houston Texas.

Anonymous text. “Christy Bros Circus,” on the Circuses and Sideshows website Nd [Online] Cited 13/03/2022

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Walter L. Main Circus' 1927

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 144 W 46 N.Y.C.
Walter L. Main Circus
1927
Gelatin silver print

 

 

The Walter L. Main Circus was founded by Walter L. Main in 1886. Walter’s father “William” was a horse farmer, trainer and trader in Trumbull, Ohio. William began supplying horses to circuses, which led to him joining the “Hilliard & Skinner’s Variety and Indian show”. William toured with several shows and in the 1870s began his own, very small circus. …

1904 was the last year that the “Walter L. Main Circus” operated under Walters ownership, the circus was sold that year to William P. Hall. In 1918 Walter leased the Main title to Andrew Downie who made a small fortune operating his circus under the Main name until he sold the show to the Miller Bros. of the 101 Ranch Wild West Show in 1924. In 1925 until 1928 the Main title was used by Floyd King and his brother Howard. The Main title was used by various operators 1930-1937.

Anonymous text. “Walter L. Main Circus,” on the Circuses and Sideshows website Nd [Online] Cited 13/03/2022

 

Edward J. Kelty. 'Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island' 1930

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island
1930
12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8 cm)
Collection of Ken Harck
© Edward J. Kelty

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Sells-Floto Big Double Side Show, Jersey City, N.J. - June 19th 1931, Lew. C. Edelmore - Manager' 1931

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Sells-Floto Big Double Side Show, Jersey City, N.J. – June 19th 1931, Lew. C. Edelmore – Manager
1931
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Sam B. Dill's Circus' Mineola, L.I. N.Y. - June 19th 1933

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Sam B. Dill’s Circus
Mineola, L.I., N.Y. – June 19th 1933
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Early Wednesday morning, July 19, 1933, a long train arrived in York and stopped near the fairgrounds. The Sam B. Dill Circus had arrived.

“Young America, having caught the infectious circus spirit is likely to be in ahead of both morning orb and circus and be on the lot along with enthusiastic adults to greet the show train on its arrival there,” The York Dispatch reported the day before the train’s arrival.

The unloading and setting up of the circus tents and shows worked smoothly. All of the performers knew their jobs. They had been doing it multiple times each week since the circus had opened its season in Dallas on April 9.

Wagons containing the menagerie were rolled down ramps. Trunks were carried off to other areas. Elephants and roustabouts worked to raise the big top as the sun rose. Within a relatively short time, the big top tent was erected, and the performers went to work preparing their equipment inside while the roustabouts set up the bleacher seating.

By the time everything was finished around 9 a.m., the cooks in the circus kitchen had breakfast ready.

The Sam B. Dill Circus was scheduled to play two performances, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., for York residents.

“Sam B. Dill’s Circus isn’t the biggest circus in the world, but what it lacks in size it makes up in quality,” the Amarillo Sunday News and Globe wrote about the circus.

Dill had managed the famous John Robinson Circus, but when it was sold to the American Circus Corp., Dill had struck out on his own. Though not a large circus, Dill’s circus was popular and tended to sell out its performances.

After breakfast, everyone had a short rest, and then they began to scurry around getting the menagerie wagons harnessed to horses and in a line. Performers dressed in their bright and flamboyant costumes. At noon, “a long column of red, gold and glitter, with bands playing and banners flying will move sinuously out of the Richland Avenue gate,” The York Dispatch reported.

From Richland Avenue, the parade moved east on Princess Street, then north on George Street to Continental Square. From the square, the circus moved west on Market Street and then back to Richland Avenue. Thousands of spectators lined the route to watch the performers, hear the music and marvel at the wild animals.

The first wagon was the band wagon where Shirley Pitts, the country’s only female calliope player, conducted the band. Then came the wagons pulling tigers, monkeys, seals and more. Other flat wagons featured clowns goofing off and Wild West displays.

When the parade arrived back at the fairgrounds, many of the spectators followed. Although the big top wouldn’t open until 1 p.m., spectators wandered the midway, playing games, getting an up-close look at the menagerie or viewed some of the shows in the smaller tents.

The three-ring show under the big top had dozens of animals such as Oscar the Lion, Buddy the performing sea lion, camels, zebras, horses, elephants, dogs, monkeys and ponies.

Christian Belmont swung on the trapeze, along with aerialist Rene Larue. Mary Miller performed a head-balancing act. The four Bell Brothers showed off their acrobatic skills, and Betha Owen owned the high wire. Among the clowns, young Jimmy Thomas was noted as the “youngest clown in the circus world.” He traveled with his mother, Lorette Jordan, who was also an aerialist with the show.

The circus also liked to feature a western movie star with its Wild West acts. In 1933, that performer was Buck Steel. The following year, Tom Mix joined the circus. He had been a major western movie star who had seen his popularity decline in the 1920s. In 1935, he bought the circus from Dill and renamed it the Tom Mix Circus.

Following the 8 p.m. show, the performers broke down the circus and loaded it back on the train to head out by midnight for the next city.

​James Rada Jr. “LOOKING BACK 1933: The circus comes to town,” from the York Dispatch website August 3, 2016 [Online] Cited 13/03/2022

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Hunt's Three Ring Circus' Northport, L.I., N.Y. - June 26th 1931

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Hunt’s Three Ring Circus
Northport, L.I., N.Y. – June 26th 1931
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'James Whalen and His Big Top Department - Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus' Reading, P.A. - June 1st 1934

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
James Whalen and His Big Top Department – Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus
Reading, P.A. – June 1st 1934
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Cole Brothers - Clyde Beatty Circus' Cumberland, MD July 27th 1935

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46 NYC
Cole Brothers – Clyde Beatty Circus
Cumberland, MD July 27th 1935
Gelatin silver print
11 1/4 × 19 5/8 inches (28.6 × 49.9 cm)

 

 

Clyde Beatty Circus

Clyde Beatty (June 10, 1903 – July 19, 1965) began his circus career working as a cage boy for Louis Roth, he learned his trade quickly and soon had his own animal act. Beatty’s “fighting act” style and his showmanship propelled him to stardom.

Not only was Clyde a star of the center ring but he also starred in numerous movies, radio shows and his adventures were fictionalised in novels. The name “Clyde Beatty” became a very value asset to circus. The name was used on posters and painted on show equipment alongside the circus’ name on whatever show he was working.

In 1935 Clyde Beatty was on Jess Adkins and Zack Terrell’s “Cole Bros. Circus”, Then in 1943 he worked for Art Concello on the “Clyde Beatty-Russell Bros. Circus”. Beatty continued to be active with the show until his death in 1965.

Anonymous text. “Clyde Beatty Circus,” on the Circuses and Sideshows website Nd [Online] Cited 13/03/2022

 

Cole Bros. Circus

The Cole Title dates back to 1870 when William Washington Cole (1847-1915), started the W. W. Cole Circus. Cole was very successful in in the circus business and when he died in 1915, left an estate of five million dollars. He is considered to be the first circus millionaire.

in 1906 the title was purchased by Canadian showman Martin Downs and his son James and the title was changed to Cole Bros.. The circus was moved from St. Louis, Mo. to it’s new winter quarters in Birmingham, Al..

In the late 1920s the Cole Bros. titled was used by Floyd King and his brother Howard. This version of the Cole Bros. Circus operated mostly in the west, playing mining camps and boomtowns, truly a frontier circus. The new Cole Bros. Circus, 35 railroad car show first took to the road in 1935 with Jess Adkins and Zack Terrell as the circus organisers and owners.

Terrell who had managed the Sells-Floto Circus for the American Circus Corp. from 1921-1932 and in 1934 he managed a circus at the Chicago World’s Fair operated by the Standard Oil Company.

Adkins had managed the Gentry Bros. Circus for Floyd King, the 25 car John Robinson Circus and in 1931 the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. Jess Adkins and Zack Terrell were very capable managers however neither had ever owned a circus, however in 1934 each were quietly making plans to take out their own circuses.

Adkins and Terrell went to Lancaster, Mo. and purchased equipment left from the now defunct Robbins Bros. Circus. The purchased included 15 wagons, 6 elephants, 5 camels, school horses, and zebras. The equipment was moved to Rochester, IN where they had bought property to serve as a winter quarters.

Adkins and Terrell hired Floyd King as general agent and Arnold Maley as office manager who both assisted in the organisation of the show.

This was the beginning of the Cole Bros. Circus

Anonymous text. “Cole Bros. Circus,” on the Circuses and Sideshows website Nd [Online] Cited 13/03/2022

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Col. W.T. Johnson's World Champion Cowgirls - Madison Square Garden - New York City - 1935'

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46 NYC
Col. W.T. Johnson’s World Champion Cowgirls – Madison Square Garden – New York City – 1935
1935
Gelatin silver print
11 1/4 × 19 5/8 inches (28.6 × 49.9cm)

 

 

The Great Depression of the 1930s was one of the most traumatic periods in American history. The human suffering caused by the Stock Market crash, and the business failures that followed took a toll which has never been fully calculated. Yet through all of the hardships, some business did thrive… One sport which prospered during the Depression was rodeo, Its big-time circuit grew enormously during the 1930s, and incomes of contestants and producers increased as well.

Much of the credit for this must go to Col. William Taylor Johnson of San Antonio, Texas. Johnson became a rodeo producer in 1928, and by the mid-thirties had taken over the prestigious Madison Square Garden Rodeo and created a viable eastern circuit which ushered in a new era of rodeo history. The eastern contests paid excellent prizes and extended the season, so that many cowboys and cowgirls did exceptionally well for those troubled times. During the Depression, average incomes for rodeo professionals on the big-time circuit averaged from one to three thousand dollars annually, while top champions earned from ten to twelve thousand dollars a year… By 1934, every rodeo which Johnson produced had set attendance records, and the eastern circuit was an integral part of rodeo. (“The Story of The Billboard, and Col. W. T. Johnson’s Rodeos,” The Billboard, 29 October 1934, p. 75). In spite of his many contributions, Johnson is honoured by no rodeo Hall of Fame, and has never been nominated. How could such a major figure be ignored?

Extract from the abstract from Mary Lou LeCompte. “Colonel William Thomas Johnson, Premier Rodeo Producer of the 1930s.” The University of Texas at Austin

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'U.S.W.P.A. Federal Theatre Circus Unit' New York City, Sept. 26th 1936

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 110 W 46
U.S.W.P.A. Federal Theatre Circus Unit
New York City, Sept. 26th 1936
Gelatin silver print

 

 

United States Works Progress Administration (U.S.W.P.A.)

The Works Progress Administration (WPA; renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration) was the largest and most ambitious American New Deal agency, employing millions of people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. In a much smaller project, Federal Project Number One, the WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects.

The Federal Theatre Project (FTP; 1935-1939) was a New Deal program to fund theatre and other live artistic performances and entertainment programs in the United States during the Great Depression. It was one of five Federal Project Number One projects sponsored by the Works Progress Administration. It was created not as a cultural activity but as a relief measure to employ artists, writers, directors and theatre workers. It was shaped by national director Hallie Flanagan into a federation of regional theatres that created relevant art, encouraged experimentation in new forms and techniques, and made it possible for millions of Americans to see live theatre for the first time. The Federal Theatre Project ended when its funding was canceled after strong Congressional objections to the left-wing political tone of a small percentage of its productions.

Texts from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967) 'Marcellus Golden Models' 1933

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Century Photographers 74 W 47 N.Y.C.
Marcellus Golden Models
1933
Gelatin silver print
11 1/4 × 8 7/8 inches (28.6 × 22.5cm)

 

 

“Fortunately, we aren’t entirely bereft of a visual record of these arcane marvels. A Manhattan banquet photographer name Edward Kelty, whose usual venue was hotel ballrooms and Christmas parties, went out intermittently in the summer from the early 1920s to the mid-1940s, taking panoramic tripod pictures of circus personnel, in what could only have constituted a labor of love. He was expert, anyway, from his bread-and-butter job, at joshing smiles and camaraderie out of disparate collection of people, coaxing them to drape their arms around each other and trust the box’s eye. He had begun close to home, at Coney Island freak shows, when the subway was extended out there, and Times Square flea-circus “museums” and variety halls, and the Harlem Amusement Palace. Later, building upon contact and friendships from those places, he outfitted a truck for darkroom purposes (presumably to sleep in too) and sallied farther to photograph the tented circuses that played on vacant lots in New Jersey, Connecticut, or on Long Island, and gradually beyond. He would pose an ensemble of horse wranglers, canvasmen, ticket takers, candy butchers, teeterboard tumblers, “web-sitters” (the guys who hold the ropes for the ballet girls who climb up them and twirl), and limelight daredevils, or the bosses and moneymen. He took everybody, roustabouts as conscientiously as impresarios, and although he was not artistically very ambitious – and did hawk his prints both to the public and to the troupers, at “six for $5” – in his consuming hobby he surely aspired to document this vivid, disreputable demimonde [a group of people on the fringes of respectable society] obsessively, thoroughly: which is his gift to us.

More of these guys may have been camera-shy than publicity hounds, but Kelty’s rubber-chicken award ceremonies and industrial photo shoots must have taught him how to relax jumpy people for the few minutes required. With his Broadway pinstripes and a news-man’s bent fedora, as proprietor of Century Flashlight Photographers in the West Forties, he must have become a trusted presence in the “Backyard” and “Clown Alley.” He knew show-business and street touts, bookies and scalpers – but also how to flirt with a marquee star. Because his personal life seems to have been a bit of a train wreck, I think of him more as a hatcheck girl’s swain, yet he knew hot to let the sangfroid sing from some of these faces… These zany tribes of showboaters must have amused him, after the wintertime’s chore of recording for posterity some forty-year drudge receiving a gold watch… The ushers, the prop men and riggers, the cookhouse crew, the elephant men and cat men, the show-girls arrayed in white bathing suits in a tightly chaperoned, winsome line, the hoboes who had put the tent up and, in the wee hours, would tear it down, and the bosses whose body language, with arms akimbo and swaggering legs, tells us something of who hey were: these collective images telegraph the complexity of the circus hierarchy, with the starts at the top, winos at the bottom. …

While arranging corporate personnel in the phoney bonhomie of an office get-together, Kelty must have longed for summer, when he would be snapping “Congresses” of mugging clowns, fugue-ing freaks, rodeo sharpshooters, plus the train crews known as “razor-backs” (Raise your backs!), who loaded and unloaded the wagons from railroad flatcars at midnight and dawn… Circuses flouted convention as part of their pitch – flaunted and cashed in on the romance of outlawry, like Old World gypsies. If there hadn’t been a crime wave when the show was in town, everybody sure expected one. And the exotic physiognomies, strangely cut clothes, and oddly focused, disciplined bodies were almost as disturbing – “Near Eastern,” whatever Near Eastern meant (it somehow sounded weirder than “Middle Eastern” or “Far Eastern”), bedouin Arabs, Turks and Persians, or Pygmies, Zulus, people cicatrized, “platter-lipped,” or nose-split. That was the point. They came from all over the known world to parade on gaudy ten-hitch wagons or caparisoned [decked out in rich decorative coverings] elephants down Main Street, and then, like the animals in the cages, you wanted them to leave town.

Edward Hoagland. Sex and the River Styx. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011, pp. 81-84

 

 

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04
Oct
18

Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Expressions’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 22nd May – 7th October 2018

 

Erich Salomon (German, 1886-1944) '[Portrait of Madame Vacarescu, Romanian Author and Deputy to the League of Nations, Geneva]' 1928

 

Erich Salomon (German, 1886-1944)
(Portrait of Madame Vacarescu, Romanian Author and Deputy to the League of Nations, Geneva)
1928
Gelatin silver print
29.7 × 39.7cm (11 11/16 × 15 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

In 1928, pioneering photojournalist, Erich Salomon photographed global leaders and delegates to a conference at the League for the German picture magazine Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung. In a typically frank image, Salomon has shown Vacarescu with her head thrown back passionately pleading before the international assembly.

Elena Văcărescu or Hélène Vacaresco (September 21, 1864 in Bucharest – February 17, 1947 in Paris) was a Romanian-French aristocrat writer, twice a laureate of the Académie française. Văcărescu was the Substitute Delegate to the League of Nations from 1922 to 1924. She was a permanent delegate from 1925 to 1926. She was again a Substitute Delegate to the League of Nations from 1926 to 1938. She was the only woman to serve with the rank of ambassador (permanent delegate) in the history of the League of Nations.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

From a distance…

For such an engaging subject, this presentation looks to be a bit of a lucky dip / ho hum / filler exhibition. You can’t make a definitive judgement from a few media images but looking at the exhibition checklist gives you a good idea of the overall organisation of the exhibition and its content. Even the press release seems unsure of itself, littered as it is with words like posits, probes, perhaps (3 times) and problematic.

Elements such as physiognomy are briefly mentioned (with no mention of its link to eugenics), as is the idea of the mask – but again no mention of how the pose is an affective mask, nor how the mask is linked to the carnivalesque. Or how photographs portray us as we would like to be seen (the ideal self) rather than the real self, and how this incongruence forms part of the formation of our identity as human beings.

The investigation could have been so deep in so many areas (for example the representation of women, children and others in a patriarchal social system through facial expression; the self-portrait as an expression of inner being; the photograph as evidence of the mirror stage of identity formation; and the photographs of “hysterical” women of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, Paris; and on and on…) but in 45 works, I think not. The subject deserved, even cried out for (as facial expressions go), a fuller, more in depth investigation.

For more reading please see my 2014 text Facile, Facies, Facticity which comments on the state of contemporary portrait photography and offers a possible way forward: a description of the states of the body and the air of the face through a subtle and constant art of the recovering of surfaces.

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.

 

The human face has been the subject of fascination for photographers since the medium’s inception. This exhibition includes posed portraits, physiognomic studies, anonymous snapshots, and unsuspecting countenances caught by the camera’s eye, offering a close-up look at the range of human stories that facial expressions – and photographs – can tell.

 

 

Nancy Burson (American, born 1948) 'Androgyny' 1982

 

Nancy Burson (American, b. 1948)
Androgyny
1982
Gelatin silver print
21.6 × 27.7cm (8 1/2 × 10 7/8 in.)
© Nancy Burson
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Composite image of portraits of six men and six women

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006) 'Demonstration, New York City' 1963

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006)
Demonstration, New York City
1963
Gelatin silver print
25.9 × 35.4cm (10 3/16 × 13 15/16 in.)
© Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos, Inc.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Brigitte and Elke Susannah Freed

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, born Austria, 1899-1968) 'Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus' Negative May 1943; print about 1950

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American born Austria, 1899-1968)
Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Negative May 1943; print about 1950
Gelatin silver print
26 × 34.4cm (10 1/4 × 13 9/16 in.)
© International Center of Photography
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Emmett Leo Kelly (December 9, 1898 – March 28, 1979) was an American circus performer, who created the memorable clown figure “Weary Willie”, based on the hobos of the Depression era.

Kelly began his career as a trapeze artist. By 1923, Emmett Kelly was working his trapeze act with John Robinson’s circus when he met and married Eva Moore, another circus trapeze artist. They later performed together as the “Aerial Kellys” with Emmett still performing occasionally as a whiteface clown.

He started working as a clown full-time in 1931, and it was only after years of attempting to persuade the management that he was able to switch from a white face clown to the hobo clown that he had sketched ten years earlier while working as a cartoonist.

“Weary Willie” was a tragic figure: a clown, who could usually be seen sweeping up the circus rings after the other performers. He tried but failed to sweep up the pool of light of a spotlight. His routine was revolutionary at the time: traditionally, clowns wore white face and performed slapstick stunts intended to make people laugh. Kelly did perform stunts too – one of his most famous acts was trying to crack a peanut with a sledgehammer – but as a tramp, he also appealed to the sympathy of his audience.

From 1942–1956 Kelly performed with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, where he was a major attraction, though he took the 1956 season off to perform as the mascot for the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team. He also landed a number of Broadway and film roles, including appearing as himself in his “Willie” persona in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). He also appeared in the Bertram Mills Circus.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Hill & Adamson (Scottish, active 1843-1848) 'Mrs Grace Ramsay and four unknown women' 1843

 

Hill & Adamson (David Octavius Hill, Scottish 1802-1870 and Robert Adamson, Scottish 1821-1848) (Scottish, active 1843-1848)
Mrs Grace Ramsay and four unknown women
1843
Salter paper print from Calotype negative
15.2 x 20.3cm (6 x 8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940) 'Connecticut Newsgirls' c. 1912-1913

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Connecticut Newsgirls
c. 1912-1913
Gelatin silver print
11.8 × 16.8cm (4 11/16 × 6 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) '[Mme Ernestine Nadar]' 1880-1883

 

Nadar (Gaspard Félix Tournachon) (French, 1820-1910)
(Mme Ernestine Nadar)
1880-1883
Albumen silver print
Image (irregular): 8.7 × 21cm (3 7/16 × 8 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) '[Mme Ernestine Nadar]' 1880-1883 (detail)

 

Nadar (Gaspard Félix Tournachon) (French, 1820-1910)
(Mme Ernestine Nadar)
(detail)
1880-1883
Albumen silver print
Image (irregular): 8.7 × 21cm (3 7/16 × 8 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879) 'Ophelia' Negative 1875; print, 1900

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British born India, 1815-1879)
Ophelia
Negative 1875; print, 1900
Carbon print
35.2 x 27.6cm (13 7/8 x 19 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born 1947) 'W. Canfield Ave., Detroit' 1982

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, b. 1947)
W. Canfield Ave., Detroit
1982
Gelatin silver print
Image (irregular): 19.7 × 24.6cm (7 3/4 × 9 11/16 in.)
© Nicholas Nixon
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Unknown maker (German) 'Close-up of Open Mouth of Male Student' c. 1927

 

Unknown maker (German)
Close-up of Open Mouth of Male Student
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
5.7 x 8.4cm (2 1/4 x 3 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Alec Soth (American, born 1969) 'Mary, Milwaukee, WI' 2014

 

Alec Soth (American, b. 1969)
Mary, Milwaukee, WI
2014
Inkjet print
40.1 × 53.5cm (15 13/16 × 21 1/16 in.)
© Alec Soth/Magnum Photos
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Richard Lovett

 

Garry Winogrand (American, 1928-1984) 'Los Angeles' January 1960

 

Garry Winogrand (American, 1928-1984)
Los Angeles
January 1960
Gelatin silver print
22.6 × 33.9cm (8 7/8 × 13 3/8 in.)
© 1984 The Estate of Garry Winogrand
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

From Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, to Edvard Munch’s The Scream, to Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, the human face has been a crucial, if often enigmatic, element of portraiture. Featuring 45 works drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection, In Focus: Expressions, on view May 22 to October 7, 2018 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, addresses the enduring fascination with the human face and the range of countenances that photographers have captured from the birth of the medium to the present day.

The exhibition begins with the most universal and ubiquitous expression: the smile. Although today it is taken for granted that we should smile when posing for the camera, smiling was not the standard photographic expression until the 1880s with the availability of faster film and hand-held cameras. Smiling subjects began to appear more frequently as the advertising industry also reinforced the image of happy customers to an ever-widening audience who would purchase the products of a growing industrial economy. The smile became “the face of the brand,” gracing magazines, billboards, and today, digital and social platforms.

As is evident in the exhibition, the smile comes in all variations – the genuine, the smirk, the polite, the ironic – expressing a full spectrum of emotions that include benevolence, sarcasm, joy, malice, and sometimes even an intersection of two or more of these. In Milton Rogovin’s (American, 1909-2011) Storefront Churches, Buffalo (1958-1961), the expression of the preacher does not immediately register as a smile because the camera has captured a moment where his features – the opened mouth, exposed teeth, and raised face – could represent a number of activities: he could be in the middle of a song, preaching, or immersed in prayer. His corporeal gestures convey the message of his spirit, imbuing the black-and-white photograph with emotional colour. Like the other works included in this exhibition, this image posits the notion that facial expressions can elicit a myriad of sentiments and denote a range of inner emotions that transcend the capacity of words.

In Focus: Expressions also probes the role of the camera in capturing un-posed moments and expressions that would otherwise go unnoticed. In Alec Soth’s (American, born 1969) Mary, Milwaukee, WI (2014), a fleeting expression of laughter is materialised in such a way – head leaning back, mouth open – that could perhaps be misconstrued as a scream. The photograph provides a frank moment, one that confronts the viewer with its candidness and calls to mind today’s proliferation and brevity of memes, a contemporary, Internet-sustained visual phenomena in which images are deliberately parodied and altered at the same rate as they are spread.

Perhaps equally radical as the introduction of candid photography is the problematic association of photography with facial expression and its adoption of physiognomy, a concept that was introduced in the 19th century. Physiognomy, the study of the link between the face and human psyche, resulted in the belief that different types of people could be classified by their visage. The exhibition includes some of the earliest uses of photography to record facial expression, as in Duchenne de Boulogne’s (French, 1806-1875) Figure 44: The Muscle of Sadness (negative, 1850s). This also resonates in the 20th-century photographs by Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) of Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County Alabama (negative 1936) in that the subject’s expression could be deemed as suggestive of the current state of her mind. In this frame (in others she is viewed as smiling) she stares intently at the camera slightly biting her lip, perhaps alluding to uncertainty of what is to come for her and her family.

The subject of facial expression is also resonant with current developments in facial recognition technology. Nancy Burson (American, born 1948) created works such as Androgyny (6 Men + 6 Women) (1982), in which portraits of six men and six women were morphed together to convey the work’s title. Experimental and illustrative of the medium’s technological advancement, Burson’s photograph is pertinent to several features of today’s social media platforms, including the example in which a phone’s front camera scans a user’s face and facial filters are applied upon detection. Today, mobile phones and social media applications even support portrait mode options, offering an apprehension of the human face and highlighting its countenances with exceptional quality.

In addition to photography’s engagement with human expression, In Focus: Expressions examines the literal and figurative concept of the mask. Contrary to a candid photograph, the mask is the face we choose to present to the world. Weegee’s (Arthur Fellig’s) (American, born Austria, 1899-1968) Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (about 1950) demonstrates this concept, projecting the character of a sad clown in place of his real identity as Emmett Kelly.

The mask also suggests guises, obscurity, and the freedom to pick and create a separate identity. W. Canfield Ave., Detroit (1982) by Nicholas Nixon (American, born 1947) demonstrates this redirection. Aware that he is being photographed, the subject seizes the opportunity to create a hardened expression that conveys him as distant, challenging, and fortified, highlighted by the opposing sentiments of the men who flank him. In return, the audience could be led to believe that this devised pose is a façade behind which a concealed and genuine identity exists.

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875) 'Figure 44, The Muscle of Sadness' Negative 1854-1856; print 1876

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875)
Figure 44, The Muscle of Sadness
Negative 1854-1856; print 1876
From the book Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine ou Analyse Electro-Physiologique de l’Expression des Passions
Albumen silver print
11 x 9cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Duchenne de Boulogne

Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne (de Boulogne) (September 17, 1806 in Boulogne-sur-Mer – September 15, 1875 in Paris) was a French neurologist who revived Galvani’s research and greatly advanced the science of electrophysiology. The era of modern neurology developed from Duchenne’s understanding of neural pathways and his diagnostic innovations including deep tissue biopsy, nerve conduction tests (NCS), and clinical photography. This extraordinary range of activities (mostly in the Salpêtrière) was achieved against the background of a troubled personal life and a generally indifferent medical and scientific establishment.

Neurology did not exist in France before Duchenne and although many medical historians regard Jean-Martin Charcot as the father of the discipline, Charcot owed much to Duchenne, often acknowledging him as “mon maître en neurologie” (my teacher in neurology). … Duchenne’s monograph, the Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine – also illustrated prominently by his photographs – was the first study on the physiology of emotion and was highly influential on Darwin’s work on human evolution and emotional expression.

In 1835, Duchenne began experimenting with therapeutic “électropuncture” (a technique recently invented by François Magendie and Jean-Baptiste Sarlandière by which electric shock was administered beneath the skin with sharp electrodes to stimulate the muscles). After a brief and unhappy second marriage, Duchenne returned to Paris in 1842 in order to continue his medical research. Here, he did not achieve a senior hospital appointment, but supported himself with a small private medical practice, while daily visiting a number of teaching hospitals, including the Salpêtrière psychiatric centre. He developed a non-invasive technique of muscle stimulation that used faradic shock on the surface of the skin, which he called “électrisation localisée” and he published these experiments in his work, On Localized Electrization and its Application to Pathology and Therapy, first published in 1855. A pictorial supplement to the second edition, Album of Pathological Photographs (Album de Photographies Pathologiques) was published in 1862. A few months later, the first edition of his now much-discussed work, The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy, was published. Were it not for this small, but remarkable, work, his next publication, the result of nearly 20 years of study, Duchenne’s Physiology of Movements, his most important contribution to medical science, might well have gone unnoticed.

 

The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression

Influenced by the fashionable beliefs of physiognomy of the 19th century, Duchenne wanted to determine how the muscles in the human face produce facial expressions which he believed to be directly linked to the soul of man. He is known, in particular, for the way he triggered muscular contractions with electrical probes, recording the resulting distorted and often grotesque expressions with the recently invented camera. He published his findings in 1862, together with extraordinary photographs of the induced expressions, in the book Mecanisme de la physionomie Humaine (The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression, also known as The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy).

Duchenne believed that the human face was a kind of map, the features of which could be codified into universal taxonomies of mental states; he was convinced that the expressions of the human face were a gateway to the soul of man. Unlike Lavater and other physiognomists of the era, Duchenne was skeptical of the face’s ability to express moral character; rather he was convinced that it was through a reading of the expressions alone (known as pathognomy) which could reveal an “accurate rendering of the soul’s emotions”. He believed that he could observe and capture an “idealized naturalism” in a similar (and even improved) way to that observed in Greek art. It is these notions that he sought conclusively and scientifically to chart by his experiments and photography and it led to the publishing of The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy in 1862 (also entitled, The Electro-Physiological Analysis of the Expression of the Passions, Applicable to the Practice of the Plastic Arts. in French: Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine, ou Analyse électro-physiologique de l’expression des passions applicable à la pratique des arts plastiques), now generally rendered as The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression. The work compromises a volume of text divided into three parts:

  1. General Considerations,
  2. A Scientific Section, and
  3. An Aesthetic Section.

These sections were accompanied by an atlas of photographic plates. …

Duchenne defines the fundamental expressive gestures of the human face and associates each with a specific facial muscle or muscle group. He identifies thirteen primary emotions the expression of which is controlled by one or two muscles. He also isolates the precise contractions that result in each expression and separates them into two categories: partial and combined. To stimulate the facial muscles and capture these “idealized” expressions of his patients, Duchenne applied faradic shock through electrified metal probes pressed upon the surface of the various muscles of the face.

Duchenne was convinced that the “truth” of his pathognomic experiments could only be effectively rendered by photography, the subject’s expressions being too fleeting to be drawn or painted. “Only photography,” he writes, “as truthful as a mirror, could attain such desirable perfection.” He worked with a talented, young photographer, Adrien Tournachon, (the brother of Felix Nadar), and also taught himself the art in order to document his experiments. From an art-historical point of view, the Mechanism of Human Physiognomy was the first publication on the expression of human emotions to be illustrated with actual photographs. Photography had only recently been invented, and there was a widespread belief that this was a medium that could capture the “truth” of any situation in a way that other mediums were unable to do.

Duchenne used six living models in the scientific section, all but one of whom were his patients. His primary model, however, was an “old toothless man, with a thin face, whose features, without being absolutely ugly, approached ordinary triviality.” Through his experiments, Duchenne sought to capture the very “conditions that aesthetically constitute beauty.” He reiterated this in the aesthetic section of the book where he spoke of his desire to portray the “conditions of beauty: beauty of form associated with the exactness of the facial expression, pose and gesture.” Duchenne referred to these facial expressions as the “gymnastics of the soul”. He replied to criticisms of his use of the old man by arguing that “every face could become spiritually beautiful through the accurate rendering of his or her emotions”, and furthermore said that because the patient was suffering from an anesthetic condition of the face, he could experiment upon the muscles of his face without causing him pain.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875) 'Figure 44, The Muscle of Sadness' Negative 1854-1856; print 1876 (detail)

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875)
Figure 44, The Muscle of Sadness (detail)
Negative 1854-1856; print 1876
From the book Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine ou Analyse Electro-Physiologique de l’Expression des Passions
Albumen silver print
11 x 9cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Duchenne and his patient, an “old toothless man, with a thin face, whose features, without being absolutely ugly, approached ordinary triviality.” Duchenne faradize’s the mimetic muscles of “The Old Man.” The farad (symbol: F) is the SI derived unit of electrical capacitance, the ability of a body to store an electrical charge. It is named after the English physicist Michael Faraday

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875) 'Figure 27, The Muscle of Pain' Negative 1854-1856; print 1876

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875)
Figure 27, The Muscle of Pain
Negative 1854-1856; print 1876
From the book Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine ou Analyse Electro-Physiologique de l’Expression des Passions
Albumen silver print
11 x 9cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875) 'Figure 27, The Muscle of Pain' Negative 1854-1856; print 1876 (detail)

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875)
Figure 27, The Muscle of Pain (detail)
Negative 1854-1856; print 1876
From the book Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine ou Analyse Electro-Physiologique de l’Expression des Passions
Albumen silver print
11 x 9cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011) 'Storefront Churches, Buffalo, preacher head in hand, eyes closed' 1958-1961

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011)
Storefront Churches, Buffalo, preacher head in hand, eyes closed
1958-1961
Gelatin silver print
11 × 10.5cm (4 5/16 × 4 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Dr. John V. and Laura M. Knaus
© Milton Rogovin

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama' Negative 1936; print 1950s

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama
Negative 1936; print 1950s
Gelatin silver print
24.3 × 19.2cm (9 9/16 × 7 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama' Negative 1936; print 1950s (detail)

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama (detail)
Negative 1936; print 1950s
Gelatin silver print
24.3 × 19.2cm (9 9/16 × 7 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Depression-era photography

In 1935, Evans spent two months at first on a fixed-term photographic campaign for the Resettlement Administration (RA) in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. From October on, he continued to do photographic work for the RA and later the Farm Security Administration (FSA), primarily in the Southern United States.

In the summer of 1936, while on leave from the FSA, he and writer James Agee were sent by Fortune magazine on assignment to Hale County, Alabama, for a story the magazine subsequently opted not to run. In 1941, Evans’s photographs and Agee’s text detailing the duo’s stay with three white tenant families in southern Alabama during the Great Depression were published as the groundbreaking book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Its detailed account of three farming families paints a deeply moving portrait of rural poverty. The critic Janet Malcolm notes that as in the earlier Beals’ book there was a contradiction between a kind of anguished dissonance in Agee’s prose and the quiet, magisterial beauty of Evans’s photographs of sharecroppers.

The three families headed by Bud Fields, Floyd Burroughs and Frank Tingle, lived in the Hale County town of Akron, Alabama, and the owners of the land on which the families worked told them that Evans and Agee were “Soviet agents,” although Allie Mae Burroughs, Floyd’s wife, recalled during later interviews her discounting that information. Evans’s photographs of the families made them icons of Depression-Era misery and poverty. In September 2005, Fortune revisited Hale County and the descendants of the three families for its 75th anniversary issue. Charles Burroughs, who was four years old when Evans and Agee visited the family, was “still angry” at them for not even sending the family a copy of the book; the son of Floyd Burroughs was also reportedly angry because the family was “cast in a light that they couldn’t do any better, that they were doomed, ignorant.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lisette Model (American, born Austria, 1901-1983) '[War Rally]' 1942

 

Lisette Model (American born Austria, 1901-1983)
(War Rally)
1942
Gelatin silver print
34.4 × 27.6cm (13 9/16 × 10 7/8 in.)
© Estate of Lisette Model
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon/Keitelman
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Robert Capa (American, born Hungary, 1913-1954) 'Second World War, Naples' October 2, 1943

 

Robert Capa (American born Hungary, 1913-1954)
Second World War, Naples
October 2, 1943
Gelatin silver print
17.6 × 23.8cm (6 15/16 × 9 3/8 in.)
© International Center of Photography / Magnum Photos
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

View of a group of woman with pained expressions on their faces with several holding handkerchiefs and one holding a card photograph of a young man

 

Unknown maker (American) '[Smiling Man]' 1860

 

Unknown maker (American)
(Smiling Man)
1860
Ambrotype
8.9 x 6.5cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Baron Adolf de Meyer (American, born France, 1868-1946) '[Ruth St. Denis]' c. 1918

 

Baron Adolf de Meyer (American born France, 1868-1946)
(Ruth St. Denis)
c. 1918
Platinum print
23.3 × 18.7cm (9 3/16 × 7 3/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Woodbury & Page (British, active 1857-1908) '[Javanese woman seated with legs crossed, basket at side]' c. 1870

 

Woodbury & Page (British, active 1857-1908)
(Javanese woman seated with legs crossed, basket at side)
c. 1870
Albumen silver print
8.9 × 6cm (3 1/2 × 2 3/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Photography in Australia, the Far East, Java and London

In 1851 Woodbury, who had already become a professional photographer, went to Australia and soon found work in the engineering department of the Melbourne waterworks. He photographed the construction of ducts and other waterworks as well as various buildings in Melbourne. He received a medal for his photography in 1854.

At some point in the mid-1850s Woodbury met expatriate British photographer James Page. In 1857 the two left Melbourne and moved to Batavia (now Jakarta), Dutch East Indies, arriving 18 May 1857, and established the partnership of Woodbury & Page that same year.

During most of 1858 Woodbury & Page photographed in Central and East Java, producing large views of the ruined temples near Surakarta, amongst other subjects, before 1 September of that year. After their tour of Java, by 8 December 1858 Woodbury and Page had returned to Batavia.

In 1859 Woodbury returned to England to arrange a regular supplier of photographic materials for his photographic studio and he contracted the London firm Negretti and Zambra to market Woodbury & Page photographs in England.

Woodbury returned to Java in 1860 and during most of that year travelled with Page through Central and West Java along with Walter’s brother, Henry James Woodbury (born 1836 – died 1873), who had arrived in Batavia in April 1859.

On 18 March 1861 Woodbury & Page moved to new premises, also in Batavia, and the studio was renamed Photographisch Atelier van Walter Woodbury, also known as Atelier Woodbury. The firm sold portraits, views of Java, stereographs, cameras, lenses, photographic chemicals and other photographic supplies. These premises continued to be used until 1908, when the firm was dissolved.

In his career Woodbury produced topographic, ethnographic and especially portrait photographs. He photographed in Australia, Java, Sumatra, Borneo and London. Although individual photographers were rarely identified on Woodbury & Page photographs, between 1861 and 1862 Walter B. Woodbury occasionally stamped the mounts of his photographs: “Photographed by Walter Woodbury, Java.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968) 'The Critic' November 1943

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
The Critic
November 1943
Gelatin silver print
25.7 x 32.9cm (10 1/8 x 12 15/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

“I go around wearing rose-colored glasses. In other words, we have beauty. We have ugliness. Everybody likes beauty. But there is an ugliness…” ~ Weegee, in a July 11, 1945 interview for WEAF radio, New York City

While Weegee’s work appeared in many American newspapers and magazines, his methods would sometimes be considered ethically questionable by today’s journalistic standards. In this image, a drunk woman confronts two High Society women who are attending the opera. Mrs. George Washington Kavanaugh and Lady Decies appear nonplussed to be in close proximity to the disheveled woman. Weegee’s flash illuminates their fur wraps and tiaras, drawing them into the foreground. The drunk woman emerges from the shadows on the right side, her mouth tense and open as if she were saying something, hair tousled, her face considerably less sharp than those of her rich counterparts.

The Critic is the second name Weegee gave this photograph. He originally called it, The Fashionable People. In an interview, Weegee’s assistant, Louie Liotta later revealed that the picture was entirely set up. Weegee had asked Liotta to bring a regular from a bar in the Bowery section of Manhattan to the season’s opening of the Metropolitan Opera. Liotta complied. After getting the woman drunk, they positioned her near the red carpet, where Weegee readied his camera to capture the moment seen here.

Anonymous text. “The Critic,” on the J. Paul Getty Museum website [Online] Cited 24/02/2022

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Hopi Indian, New Mexico' Negative, c. 1923; print, 1926

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Hopi Indian, New Mexico
Negative, c. 1923; print, 1926
Gelatin silver print
18.4 x 19.7cm (7 1/4 x 7 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Oakland Museum of California, the City of Oakland

 

 

Dorothea Lange made this portrait study not as a social document but rather as a Pictorialist experiment in light and shadow, transforming a character-filled face into an art-for-art’s-sake abstraction. This image bridges the two distinct phases of Lange’s work: her early, soft-focus portraiture and her better-known documentary work of the 1930s.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Street Scene, New Orleans' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Street Scene, New Orleans
1936
Gelatin silver print
15.6 x 16.8cm (1 1/8 x 6 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Photograph - New York' Negative 1916; print June 1917

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Photograph – New York
Negative 1916; print June 1917
Photogravure
22.4 × 16.7cm (8 13/16 × 6 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

“I remember coming across Paul Strand’s ‘Blind Woman’ when I was very young, and that really bowled me over … It’s a very powerful picture. I saw it in the New York Public Library file of Camera Work, and I remember going out of there over stimulated: That’s the stuff, that’s the thing to do. It charged me up.” ~ Walker Evans

The impact of seeing this striking image for the first time is evident in Walker Evans’s vivid recollection. At the time, most photographers were choosing “pretty” subjects and creating fanciful atmospheric effects in the style of the Impressionists. Paul Strand’s unconventional subject and direct approach challenged assumptions about the medium.

At once depicting misery and endurance, struggle and degradation, Strand’s portrait of a blind woman sets up a complex confrontation. “The whole concept of blindness,” as one historian has noted, “is aimed like a weapon at those whose privilege of sight permits them to experience the picture. …”

Anonymous text. “New York [Blind Woman],” on the J. Paul Getty Museum website [Online] Cited 24/02/2022

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Portrait' 1938-41

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
13.2 x 16cm (5 3/16 x 6 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Camille Silvy (French, 1834-1910) '[Madame Camille Silvy]' c. 1863

 

Camille Silvy (French, 1834-1910)
(Madame Camille Silvy)
c. 1863
Albumen silver print
8.9 × 6cm (3 1/2 × 2 3/8 in.)
Gift in memory of Madame Camille Silvy born Alice Monnier from the Monnier Family
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Mikiko Hara (Japanese, born 1967) '[Untitled (Making a Void)]' Negative 2001; print about 2007

 

Mikiko Hara (Japanese, b. 1967)
Untitled (Making a Void)
Negative 2001; print about 2007
Chromogenic print
© Mikiko Hara
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council

 

Lauren Greenfield (American, born 1966) 'Sisters Violeta, 21, and Massiel, 15, at the Limited in a mall, San Francisco, California' Negative 1999; print 2008

 

Lauren Greenfield (American, b. 1966)
Sisters Violeta, 21, and Massiel, 15, at the Limited in a mall, San Francisco, California
Negative 1999; print 2008
48.9 × 32.5cm (19 1/4 × 12 13/16 in.)
© Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Daido Moriyama (Japanese, born 1938) 'Self-portrait' 1997

 

Daido Moriyama (Japanese, b. 1938)
Self-portrait
1997
Gelatin silver print
13.2 x 16cm (5 3/16 x 6 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Purchase with funds provided by the Photographs Council
© Daido Moriyama

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5.30pm

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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14
Sep
18

Photographs: “Climbing into immortality” on the work of Lewis W. Hine (1874-1940)

September 2018

 

Lewis Hine. 'Jewel and Harold Walker, 6 and 5 years old, pick 20 to 25 pounds of cotton a day' 1916

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Jewel and Harold Walker, 6 and 5 years old, pick 20 to 25 pounds of cotton a day. Father said: “I promised em a little wagon if they’d pick steady, and now they have half a bagful in just a little while.”
Oct. 1916. Comanche County (Geronimo), Oklahoma

 

 

Climbing into immortality

In this posting we have a small selection of digitally cleaned images from one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, Lewis Hine.

Over roughly 30 years Hine, a trained sociologist, used his camera as an educational tool for social reform. He built an incredible body of work focusing mainly on photographs of the poor and underprivileged which captured the lives of immigrants, labourers and child workers in the early 1900’s. After an assignment photographing the building of the Empire State Building in 1930-1931 work dropped off.

“By the late 1930’s he was just about out of work. Roy Stryker, head of the Farm Security Administration, thought he was difficult and past his prime and would not hire him. Assignments were scarce. In Hine’s last couple of years he was so broke that he lost his house, stopped photographing and applied for welfare. He died as destitute as anyone who ever sat for his lens.”1

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What a fate for one of the greatest photographers the world have ever known. To add insult to injury, “After his death, the Museum of Modern Art was offered his pictures but did not want them; George Eastman House in Rochester did.”1 More fool MoMa, for in Hine we have the quintessential social documentary modernist photographer, way ahead of his time, taking photographs of child labourers in the first decade of the 20th century. When you think that acknowledged pioneer of modernist photography, Alfred Stieglitz, was still taking Pictorialist photographs such as Excavating, New York (1911), The Ferry Boat (1910) and publishing The Terminal (1892) in Camera Work 36 in 1911… you begin to understand how revolutionary Hine’s stark, perfectly balanced, (sometimes flash) photographs really are, both in terms of their form and their function, that is, the advancement of social change.

In four words we might say: his work is faultless.

Hine’s work emerges out of the American romantic movement with its links to transcendentalism, literary realism and social reform, a movement which included the likes of essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson and poet and humanist Walt Whitman. “A core belief of transcendentalism is in the inherent goodness of people and nature, and the belief that society and its institutions have corrupted the purity of the individual, and they have faith that people are at their best when truly “self-reliant” and independent,”2 while “literary realism attempts to represent familiar things as they are. Realist authors chose to depict everyday and banal activities and experiences, instead of using a romanticised or similarly stylised presentation.”3

Hine pictures people and children just as they are, and believes in their innate goodness (as opposed to the hidden power of the body corporate, of industry and the machine). He incorporates both transcendentalism and realism in his works, in an attempt “to represent subject matter truthfully, without artificiality and avoiding artistic conventions…”3 Hine gets down to the subject level of his children. There is no looking down on these people, he gets down to their level, he photographs them as human beings at the level of their incarceration. Whether it be large groups of Breaker Boys or groups of four he photographs at their height, imbuing these portraits with pathos and poignancy. To look into Hine’s camera is to see into the soul of these human beings, to feel their distress and hurt. Covered in coal dust the boys rarely smile, and many die in industrial accidents or from Black lung. The image Breaker #9, Hughestown Borough Pa. Coal Co. One of these is James Leonard, another is Stanley Rasmus. Pittston, Pa. (below) subconsciously reminds me of that famous image by Henry Bowers of Scott and his party standing at the South Pole, the party knowing that Roald Amundsen had beaten them to the pole, and that now they had the long, arduous trip back to the Terra Nova pulling heavy sleds. There is a resignation on their faces of their lot, much as Hine’s children stare grimly into the camera knowing that after the photograph has been taken, it will be more of the same. Again and again…

But here in these photographs their spirit is also unbowed. It is almost as though Hine is picturing the relationship between the soul and the surrounding world. They live for eternity in these images which become, as Alexander Nemerov in “Soulmaker: The Times of Lewis Hine” on the Monovisions website (31 May 2016) observes, “A kind of capsule containing the full flow of all we will ever be, and have been. To most, that capsule is almost always invisible, but not to Lewis Hine.” He sees clearly the plight of his people and has left us with photographs which record that plight, photographs which are poignant and profound. They transcend the time in which they were taken and are as relevant today as when they were taken, for we are all still children.

When I think about what photographs represent the first decade of the 20th century, it is Hine’s photographs, amongst others, to which I turn. Personal, objective but sensitive and transcendent, they engage us on an emotional level, human being to human being. These are personal stories – “She had regrets about not getting the education she had desired. She only got as far as the sixth grade. At that point, she started working full time. But she wanted an education, and really valued it, and it was a priority for her that we got a good education – whatever it took to send us to college” – embedded amongst the vast corporations of industry and the might of the machine, the black maw of the industrial revolution. It has taken many years for Hine’s art to ascend to iconic status, a gradual climb into immortality that the destitute condition at the time of his death would have seemingly precluded.

I then think of what photographs represent the first decade of the 21st century and the main event is, of course, the photographs from 9/11. In a century, the personal stories have been subsumed by a universal, industrial ego – the numbers of the dead, the faceless numbers; the velocity of the planes and their thrusting trajectory; the monolithic, corporate, phallic towers with their hidden workers; the war of territory, consumption, oil, power and religion that consumes the world; and the instantaneous “nature” of the transmission of images around the world, where everybody is a photographer, everything is “shot” from as many angles as possible (hoping that one version is the truth? fake news…), where everything is a spectacle to be recorded. There is no slow burn of recognition of the power of individual images, no gradual climb into immortality of the work of artists such as Lewis Hine. You are either dead, or you’re not.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,121

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Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

I Sit and Look Out

I SIT and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame;
I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men at anguish with themselves, remorseful after deeds done;
I see in low life the mother misused by her children, dying, neglected, gaunt, desperate;
I see the wife misused by her husband – I see the treacherous seducer of young women;
I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love attempted to be hid – I see these sights on the earth;
I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny – I see martyrs and prisoners;
I observe a famine at sea – I observe the sailors casting lots who shall be kill’d to preserve the lives of the rest;
I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon laborers, the poor, and upon negroes, and the like;
All these – all the meanness and agony without end I sitting look out upon,
See, hear, and am silent.

.
Walt Whitman. “I Sit and Look Out,” from Leaves of Grass 1892

 

“What is so amazing about photographs like this one is the particular poignancy of the moment… Two people are encountering one another in this happenstance way, yet the moment is deeply meaningful in how he manages to imagine a subject’s soul. The moment becomes almost metaphysical. A kind of capsule containing the full flow of all we will ever be, and have been. To most, that capsule is almost always invisible, but not to Lewis Hine.”

.
Alexander Nemerov quoted in “Soulmaker: The Times of Lewis Hine” on the Monovisions website 31 May 2016 [Online] Cited 21/02/2022

 

In the 1930s Hine took on small freelance projects but worried his images had fallen out of fashion. His reputation for difficulty, too, scared off potential employers. One former boss praised his talent but noted he was a “true artist type” who “requires some ‘waiting upon’.” Hine applied multiple times for a Farm Security Administration project documenting the impact of the Great Depression, but the head of the project felt he was too uncompromising. When Hine died in 1940, he was destitute and his home was in foreclosure. The photographer who had made a career of capturing the devastation and majesty of American labor couldn’t find work.

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Extract from Susie Allen. “Bodies of work: Lewis Hine, EX 1904, captured the changing face of American labor,” in The University of Chicago Magazine – Spring/17 [Online] Cited 21/02/2022

 

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Noon hour in the Ewen Breaker, Pennsylvania Coal Co.' Jan. 1911

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Noon hour in the Ewen Breaker, Pennsylvania Coal Co., South Pittston, Pennsylvania
January 1911
Library of Congress

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Pennsylvania coal breakers' 1911

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Pennsylvania coal breakers' 1911

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
View of the Ewen Breaker of the Pa. Coal Co. The dust was so dense at times as to obscure the view. This dust penetrated the utmost recesses of the boy’s lungs. A kind of slave-driver sometimes stands over the boys, prodding or kicking them into obedience. S. Pittston, Pa.
10 January 1911
U.S. National Archives

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Group of Breaker Boys in #9 Breaker, Hughestown Borough, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Smallest boy is Angelo Ross' Jan. 1911

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Group of Breaker Boys in #9 Breaker, Hughestown Borough, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Smallest boy is Angelo Ross, Pittston, Pennsylvania
January 1911
Library of Congress

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker. S. Pittston, Pa.' January 1911

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker. S. Pittston, Pa.
January 1911
U.S. National Archives

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker. S. Pittston, Pa.' January 1911

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker. S. Pittston, Pa.
January 1911
U.S. National Archives

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Breaker #9, Hughestown Borough Pa. Coal Co. One of these is James Leonard, another is Stanley Rasmus. Pittston, Pa.' 16 January 1911

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Breaker #9, Hughestown Borough Pa. Coal Co. One of these is James Leonard, another is Stanley Rasmus. Pittston, Pa.
16 January 1911
U.S. National Archives

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Breaker boys. Smallest is Angelo Ross. Hughestown Borough Coal Co. Pittston, Pa.' 16 January 1911

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Breaker boys. Smallest is Angelo Ross. Hughestown Borough Coal Co. Pittston, Pa.
16 January 1911
U.S. National Archives

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Group of breaker boys. Smallest is Sam Belloma. Pittston, Pa.' 16 January 1911

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Group of breaker boys. Smallest is Sam Belloma. Pittston, Pa.
16 January 1911
U.S. National Archives

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Breaker boys of the Woodward Coal Mines, Kingston, Pa.' c. 1911

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Breaker boys of the Woodward Coal Mines, Kingston, Pa.
c. 1911

 

 

Breaker boy

breaker boy was a coal-mining worker in the United States and United Kingdom whose job was to separate impurities from coal by hand in a coal breaker. Although breaker boys were primarily children, elderly coal miners who could no longer work in the mines because of age, disease, or accident were also sometimes employed as breaker boys. The use of breaker boys began in the mid-1860s. Although public disapproval of the employment of children as breaker boys existed by the mid-1880s, the practice did not end until the 1920s. …

 

Use of breaker boys

Until about 1900, nearly all coal breaking facilities in the United States were labour-intensive. The removal of impurities was done by hand, usually by breaker boys between the ages of eight and 12 years old. The use of breaker boys began around 1866. For 10 hours a day, six days a week, breaker boys would sit on wooden seats, perched over the chutes and conveyor belts, picking slate and other impurities out of the coal. Breaker boys working on top of chutes or conveyor belts would stop the coal by pushing their boots into the stream of fuel flowing beneath them, briefly pick out the impurities, and then let the coal pass on to the next breaker boy for further processing. Others would divert coal into a horizontal chute at which they sat, then pick the coal clean before allowing the fuel to flow into “clean” coal bins.

The work performed by breaker boys was hazardous. Breaker boys were forced to work without gloves so that they could better handle the slick coal. The slate, however, was sharp, and breaker boys would often leave work with their fingers cut and bleeding. Breaker boys sometimes also had their fingers amputated by the rapidly moving conveyor belts. Others lost feet, hands, arms, and legs as they moved among the machinery and became caught under conveyor belts or in gears. Many were crushed to death, their bodies retrieved from the gears of the machinery by supervisors only at the end of the working day. Others were caught in the rush of coal, and crushed to death or smothered. Dry coal would kick up so much dust that breaker boys sometimes wore lamps on their heads to see, and asthma and black lung disease were common. Coal was often washed to remove impurities, which created sulfuric acid. The acid burned the hands of the breaker boys.

 

Public condemnation

Public condemnation of the use of breaker boys was so widespread that in 1885 Pennsylvania enacted a law forbidding the employment of anyone under the age of 12 from working in a coal breaker, but the law was poorly enforced; many employers forged proof-of-age documentation, and many families forged birth certificates or other documents so their children could support the family. Estimates of the number of breaker boys at work in the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania vary widely, and official statistics are generally considered by historians to undercount the numbers significantly. One estimate had 20,000 breaker boys working in the state in 1880, 18,000 working in 1900, 13,133 working in 1902, and 24,000 working in 1907. Technological innovations in the 1890s and 1900s (such as mechanical and water separators designed to remove impurities from coal) dramatically lowered the need for breaker boys, but adoption of the new technology was slow.

By the 1910s, the use of breaker boys was dropping because of improvements in technology, stricter child labor laws, and the enactment of compulsory education laws. The practice of employing children in coal breakers largely ended by 1920 because of the efforts of the National Child Labor Committee, sociologist and photographer Lewis Hine, and the National Consumers League, all of whom educated the public about the practice and succeeded in obtaining passage of national child labor laws.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Black lung (Coalworker’s pneumoconiosis)

Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), also known as black lung disease or black lung, is caused by long-term exposure to coal dust. It is common in coal miners and others who work with coal. It is similar to both silicosis from inhaling silica dust and to the long-term effects of tobacco smoking. Inhaled coal dust progressively builds up in the lungs and cannot be removed by the body; this leads to inflammation, fibrosis, and in worse cases, necrosis.

Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, severe state, develops after the initial, milder form of the disease known as anthracosis (anthrac – coal, carbon). This is often asymptomatic and is found to at least some extent in all urban dwellers due to air pollution. Prolonged exposure to large amounts of coal dust can result in more serious forms of the disease, simple coal workers’ pneumoconiosis and complicated coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (or progressive massive fibrosis, or PMF). More commonly, workers exposed to coal dust develop industrial bronchitis, clinically defined as chronic bronchitis (i.e. productive cough for 3 months per year for at least 2 years) associated with workplace dust exposure. The incidence of industrial bronchitis varies with age, job, exposure, and smoking. In nonsmokers (who are less prone to develop bronchitis than smokers), studies of coal miners have shown a 16% to 17% incidence of industrial bronchitis. …

 

History

Black lung is actually a set of conditions and until the 1950s its dangers were not well understood. The prevailing view was that silicosis was very serious but it was solely caused by silica and not coal dust. The miners’ union, the United Mine Workers of America, realised that rapid mechanisation meant drills that produced much more dust, but under John L. Lewis they decided not to raise the black lung issue because it might impede the mechanisation that was producing higher productivity and higher wages. Union priorities were to maintain the viability of the long-fought-for welfare and retirement fund, which would be sustained by higher outputs of coal. After the death of Lewis, the union dropped its opposition to calling black lung a disease and realised the financial advantages of a fund for its disabled members.

 

Epidemiology

In 2013 CWP resulted in 25,000 deaths down from 29,000 deaths in 1990. Between 1970-1974, prevalence of CWP among US coal miners who had worked over 25 years was 32%; the same group saw a prevalence of 9% in 2005-2006. In Australia, CWP was considered to be eliminated in the 1970s due to strict hazard control measures. However, there has been a resurgence of CWP in Australia, with the first new cases being detected in May 2015.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Sadie Pfeifer' 1908

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Sadie Pfeifer, 48 inches high, has worked half a year. One of the many small children at work in Lancaster Cotton Mills
November 1908. Lancaster, South Carolina
Library of Congress

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Cora Lee Griffin, spinner in cotton mill, 12 years old, Whitnel, North Carolina' 1908

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Cora Lee Griffin, spinner in cotton mill, 12 years old, Whitnel, North Carolina
1908

 

 

“One of the spinners in Whitnel Cotton Mfg. Co. N.C. She was 51 inches high. Had been in mill 1 year. Some at night. Runs 4 sides, 48 cents a day. When asked how old, she hesitated, then said “I don’t remember.” Then confidentially, “I’m not old enough to work, but I do just the same.” Out of 50 employees, ten children about her size.” – Hine’s original caption

“She had regrets about not getting the education she had desired. She only got as far as the sixth grade. At that point, she started working full time. But she wanted an education, and really valued it, and it was a priority for her that we got a good education – whatever it took to send us to college.” – Daughter of Cora Lee Griffin

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Noon hour in East Side factory district' 1912

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Noon hour in East Side factory district
1912

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Newsies, New York' 1906

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Newsies, New York
1906

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Nashville' 1912

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Nashville
1912

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Tenement family, Chicago' 1910

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Tenement family, Chicago
1910

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Artificial flowers, New York City' 1912

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Artificial flowers, New York City
1912

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Hot day on East Side, New York' c. 1908

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Hot day on East Side, New York
c. 1908

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Hull house beneficiary' 1910

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Hull house beneficiary
1910

 

 

Hull House was a settlement house in the United States that was co-founded in 1889 by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr. Located on the Near West Side of Chicago, Illinois, Hull House (named after the original house’s first owner Charles Jerald Hull) opened to recently arrived European immigrants. By 1911, Hull House had grown to 13 buildings. In 1912 the Hull House complex was completed with the addition of a summer camp, the Bowen Country Club. With its innovative social, educational, and artistic programs, Hull House became the standard bearer for the movement that had grown, by 1920, to almost 500 settlement houses nationally…

Most of the Hull House buildings were demolished for the construction of the University of Illinois-Circle Campus in the mid-1960s. The Hull mansion and several subsequent acquisitions were continuously renovated to accommodate the changing demands of the association. The original building and one additional building (which has been moved 200 yards (182.9 m)) survive today.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

V.O. Hammon Publishing Co. (publisher) 'The Hull House, Chicago' Early 20th century

 

V.O. Hammon Publishing Co. (publisher)
The Hull House, Chicago
Early 20th century
Postcard

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Italian steel-worker' 1909

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Italian steel-worker
1909

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Printer Ethical Culture School' 1905

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Printer Ethical Culture School
1905

 

 

Ellis Island

Ellis Island, in Upper New York Bay, was the gateway for over 12 million immigrants to the U.S. as the United States’ busiest immigrant inspection station for over 60 years from 1892 until 1954. Ellis Island was opened January 1, 1892. The island was greatly expanded with land reclamation between 1892 and 1934. Before that, the much smaller original island was the site of Fort Gibson and later a naval magazine. The island was made part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965 and has hosted a museum of immigration since 1990.

 

Immigrant inspection station

In the 35 years before Ellis Island opened, more than eight million immigrants arriving in New York City had been processed by officials at Castle Garden Immigration Depot in Lower Manhattan, just across the bay. The federal government assumed control of immigration on April 18, 1890, and Congress appropriated $75,000 to construct America’s first federal immigration station on Ellis Island. Artesian wells were dug, and fill material was hauled in from incoming ships’ ballast and from construction of New York City’s subway tunnels, which doubled the size of Ellis Island to over six acres. While the building was under construction, the Barge Office nearby at the Battery was used for immigrant processing…

The present main structure was designed in French Renaissance Revival style and built of red brick with limestone trim. After it opened on December 17, 1900, the facilities proved barely able to handle the flood of immigrants that arrived in the years before World War I. In 1913, writer Louis Adamic came to America from Slovenia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and described the night he and many other immigrants slept on bunk beds in a huge hall. Lacking a warm blanket, the young man “shivered, sleepless, all night, listening to snores” and dreams “in perhaps a dozen different languages”. The facility was so large that the dining room could seat 1,000 people. It is reported the island’s first immigrant to be processed through was a teenager named Annie Moore from County Cork in Ireland.

After its opening, Ellis Island was again expanded, and additional structures were built. By the time it closed on November 12, 1954, 12 million immigrants had been processed by the U.S. Bureau of Immigration. It is estimated that 10.5 million immigrants departed for points across the United States from the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal, just across a narrow strait. Others would have used one of the other terminals along the North River (Hudson River) at that time. At first, the majority of immigrants arriving through the station were Northern and Western Europeans (Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Great Britain, and the Scandinavian countries). Eventually, these groups of peoples slowed in the rates that they were coming in, and immigrants came in from Southern and Eastern Europe, including Jews. Many reasons these immigrants came to the United States included escaping political and economic oppression, as well as persecution, destitution, and violence. Other groups of peoples being processed through the station were Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Serbs, Slovaks, Greeks, Syrians, Turks, and Armenians.

 

Primary inspection

Between 1905 and 1914, an average of one million immigrants per year arrived in the United States. Immigration officials reviewed about 5,000 immigrants per day during peak times at Ellis Island. Two-thirds of those individuals emigrated from eastern, southern and central Europe. The peak year for immigration at Ellis Island was 1907, with 1,004,756 immigrants processed. The all-time daily high occurred on April 17, 1907, when 11,747 immigrants arrived. After the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed, which greatly restricted immigration and allowed processing at overseas embassies, the only immigrants to pass through the station were those who had problems with their immigration paperwork, displaced persons, and war refugees. Today, over 100 million Americans – about one-third to 40% of the population of the United States – can trace their ancestry to immigrants who arrived in America at Ellis Island before dispersing to points all over the country.

Generally, those immigrants who were approved spent from two to five hours at Ellis Island. Arrivals were asked 29 questions including name, occupation, and the amount of money carried. It was important to the American government the new arrivals could support themselves and have money to get started. The average the government wanted the immigrants to have was between 18 and 25 dollars ($600 in 2015 adjusted for inflation). Those with visible health problems or diseases were sent home or held in the island’s hospital facilities for long periods of time. More than 3,000 would-be immigrants died on Ellis Island while being held in the hospital facilities. Some unskilled workers were rejected because they were considered “likely to become a public charge.” About 2% were denied admission to the U.S. and sent back to their countries of origin for reasons such as having a chronic contagious disease, criminal background, or insanity. Ellis Island was sometimes known as “The Island of Tears” or “Heartbreak Island” because of those 2% who were not admitted after the long transatlantic voyage. The Kissing Post is a wooden column outside the Registry Room, where new arrivals were greeted by their relatives and friends, typically with tears, hugs, and kisses.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Italian family on the ferry boat' 1905

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Italian family on the ferry boat
1905

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Patriarch at Ellis Island' 1905

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Patriarch at Ellis Island
1905

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Russian family at Ellis Island' 1905

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Russian family at Ellis Island
1905

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Italian family in the baggage room' 1905

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Italian family in the baggage room
1905

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Slavic immigrant at Ellis Island' 1907

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Slavic immigrant at Ellis Island
1907

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Mother and child Ellis Island' c. 1907

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Mother and child Ellis Island
c. 1907

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Climbing into America' 1908

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Climbing into America
1908

 

 

Lewis Hine

Documentary photography

In 1907, Hine became the staff photographer of the Russell Sage Foundation; he photographed life in the steel-making districts and people of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for the influential sociological study called The Pittsburgh Survey.

In 1908 Hine became the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), leaving his teaching position. Over the next decade, Hine documented child labor, with focus on the use of child labor in the Carolina Piedmont, to aid the NCLC’s lobbying efforts to end the practice. In 1913, he documented child laborers among cotton mill workers with a series of Francis Galton’s composite portraits.

Hine’s work for the NCLC was often dangerous. As a photographer, he was frequently threatened with violence or even death by factory police and foremen. At the time, the immorality of child labor was meant to be hidden from the public. Photography was not only prohibited but also posed a serious threat to the industry. To gain entry to the mills, mines and factories, Hine was forced to assume many guises. At times he was a fire inspector, postcard vendor, bible salesman, or even an industrial photographer making a record of factory machinery.

During and after World War I, he photographed American Red Cross relief work in Europe. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Hine made a series of “work portraits,” which emphasised the human contribution to modern industry. In 1930, Hine was commissioned to document the construction of the Empire State Building. He photographed the workers in precarious positions while they secured the steel framework of the structure, taking many of the same risks that the workers endured. In order to obtain the best vantage points, Hine was swung out in a specially-designed basket 1,000 ft above Fifth Avenue.

During the Great Depression Hine again worked for the Red Cross, photographing drought relief in the American South, and for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), documenting life in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. He also served as chief photographer for the Works Progress Administration’s National Research Project, which studied changes in industry and their effect on employment. Hine was also a faculty member of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School.

 

Later life

In 1936, Hine was selected as the photographer for the National Research Project of the Works Projects Administration, but his work there was not completed.

The last years of his life were filled with professional struggles by loss of government and corporate patronage. Few people were interested in his work, past or present, and Hine lost his house and applied for welfare. He died on November 3, 1940 at Dobbs Ferry Hospital in Dobbs Ferry, New York, after an operation. He was 66 years old.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

LEWIS W. HINE (1874-1940) 'Worker on platform' 1930-31

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Worker on platform
1930-1931

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Icarus, Empire State Building' 1930-31

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Icarus, Empire State Building
1930-1931

 

 

Of the many photographs Hine took of the Empire State Building, this one became the popular favourite. Suspended in graceful sangfroid, the steelworker symbolises daring technical innovation of the sort Daedalus embodied in Greek legend. While Daedulus flew the middle course between sea and sky safely, his son Icarus flew too close to the sun and perished. The optimism of this image suggests that it was not Icarus’s folly but his youth and his ability to fly that prompted Hine’s title.

Text from The Met website

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Empire State Building' 1930-31

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Empire State Building
1930-1931

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Empire State Building' 1930-31

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Empire State Building
1930-1931

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Empire State Building' 1930-31

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Girders and Workers, Empire State Building
1930-1931

 

Same man middle above as in the image below.

 

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) 'Laborer on connector' 1930-31

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Laborer on connector
1930-1931

 

LEWIS W. HINE (1874-1940) 'Workers on girder' 1930-31

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Workers on girder
1930-1931

 

LEWIS W. HINE (1874-1940) 'Derrick and workers on girder' 1930-31

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Derrick and workers on girder
1930-1931

 

LEWIS W. HINE (1874-1940) 'Silhouetted crane hook' 1930-31

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Silhouetted crane hook
1930-1931

 

 

Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is a 102-story Art Deco skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon and completed in 1931, the building has a roof height of 1,250 feet (380 m) and stands a total of 1,454 feet (443.2 m) tall, including its antenna. Its name is derived from “Empire State”, the nickname of New York. As of 2017 the building is the 5th-tallest completed skyscraper in the United States and the 28th-tallest in the world. It is also the 6th-tallest freestanding structure in the Americas.

The site of the Empire State Building, located on the west side of Fifth Avenue between West 33rd and 34th Streets, was originally part of an early 18th century farm. In the late 1820s, it came into the possession of the prominent Astor family, with John Jacob Astor’s descendants building the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on the site in the 1890s. By the 1920s, the family had sold the outdated hotel and the site indirectly ended up under the ownership of Empire State Inc., a business venture that included businessman John J. Raskob and former New York governor Al Smith. The original design of the Empire State Building was for a 50-story office building. However, after fifteen revisions, the final design was for a 86-story 1,250-foot building, with an airship mast on top. This ensured it would be the world’s tallest building, beating the Chrysler Building and 40 Wall Street, two other Manhattan skyscrapers under construction at the time that were also vying for that distinction. …

The project involved more than 3,500 workers at its peak, including 3,439 on a single day, August 14, 1930. Many of the workers were Irish and Italian immigrants, with a sizeable minority of Mohawk ironworkers from the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal. According to official accounts, five workers died during the construction, although the New York Daily News gave reports of 14 deaths and a headline in the socialist magazine The New Masses spread unfounded rumours of up to 42 deaths. The Empire State Building cost $40,948,900 to build, including demolition of the Waldorf-Astoria (equivalent to $533,628,800 in 2016). This was lower than the $60 million budgeted for construction.

Lewis Hine captured many photographs of the construction, documenting not only the work itself but also providing insight into the daily life of workers in that era. Hine’s images were used extensively by the media to publish daily press releases. According to the writer Jim Rasenberger, Hine “climbed out onto the steel with the ironworkers and dangled from a derrick cable hundreds of feet above the city to capture, as no one ever had before (or has since), the dizzy work of building skyscrapers”. In Rasenberger’s words, Hine turned what might have been an assignment of “corporate flak” into “exhilarating art”. These images were later organised into their own collection. Onlookers were enraptured by the sheer height at which the steelworkers operated. New York magazine wrote of the steelworkers: “Like little spiders they toiled, spinning a fabric of steel against the sky”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lewis Hine with camera

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled (Lewis Hine with camera)
c. 1900-1910s

 

 

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03
Jun
18

Review: ‘Diane Arbus: American Portraits’ at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 21st March – 17th June 2018

Curator at Heide: Anne O’Hehir

 

Diane Arbus. 'Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963' 1963

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963
1963
Silver gelatin print

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963' 1963

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963 (installation view)
1963
Silver gelatin print
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

 

The power of intention

If I had to nominate one photographer who is my favourite of all time, it would be Diane Arbus. There is just something about her photographs that impinge on my consciousness, my love of difference in human beings, their subversiveness and diversity. She pictures it all, some with irony, some with love, some with outright contempt, but always with interest. In photographs of dwarfs you don’t get the majesty and beauty that Susan Sontag desired, you get something else instead: the closeness of intention and effect – this is who this person was at that particular moment represented in a photograph, the essence of their being at that particular time.

Arbus was fascinated by the relationships between the psychological and the physical, probing her subjects with the camera to elicit a physical response. Her sensory, emotional, intellectual and aesthetic intelligence creates a single experience in relation to subject, stimulating her to respond to the world in her own unique way. While Arbus may well have hated aspects of American culture – “Its hypocrisy, this ‘happy happy’ story after the war, the consumerism, the racism, she feels deeply about that,” as Anne O’Hehir, curator of the National Gallery of Australia’s American Portraits observes – she photographed everything that makes us human in profound and powerful photographs. To me, her subjects were not ‘caught off guard’ nor did they unintentionally reveal aspects of themselves – they revealed themselves to Arbus just as they are, because she gained their trust, she had empathy for who they were… an empathy that probably flowed both ways, enhanced by the subjects sense of Arbus’ own personal travails.

It is unfortunate then, that this exhibition at Heide Museum of Modern Art is such a disappointment. This has nothing to do with the wonderful installation by the Heide curatorial team in the beautiful gallery spaces, but in the prints themselves and the artists that accompany Arbus’ work. Let’s look at the prints first.

According to the article “Diane Arbus: Iconic photographs on show together for first time at National Gallery of Australia” by Louise Maher on the ABC News website in June 2016, “The collection is one of the largest public holdings of her work outside New York and, according to NGA curator of photography Anne O’Hehir, one of the most impressive in the world. “The gallery was buying a huge amount of work in 1980 and ’81 leading up to the opening of the gallery in 1982,” Ms O’Hehir said. “We were offered in two lots these extraordinary photographs – they were the first release of prints from the Arbus estate and they were expensive at the time.”

These vintage prints are by the hand of Arbus, not later printings by other people, and as such should be as close a rendition to what Arbus intended the work to look like as can be found. The exhibition text notes that, “All the same, she was very clear about how she wanted her images to look; she worked hard to achieve a particular quality in her prints, which have a distinct feel and appearance that are quite different from other photographs of the 1960s … She reminds us consistently through a number of careful and deliberate strategies that we are looking at a photograph that has been made by a particular person.”

Through these strategies Arbus sought to differentiate her prints from the West Coast Ansel Adams Zone system of printing which was prevalent at the time. The Zone System would have been the antithesis of what Arbus wanted from her photographs. Every popular magazine at that time would have had Zone System stuff… so Arbus didn’t dare align herself with that school. But truth be told, if these prints are the best that she could do as a printer, then they are not very good. As can be seen from the installation photographs in this posting (not the media photographs), some of the prints are so dark as to be beyond comparison to the clarity of the prints that were later produced by her daughter Doon Arbus for the Arbus estate and for reproduction in books. You only have to look at the installation photograph of Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963 (above) and another reproduction of this image to see how dark the National Gallery of Australia’s prints are. If you take time to actually look at the photographs one of the prints, Identical twins, Roselle, N.J., 1966 (1966, below) was barely in focus under the enlarger when developed, and several others have not been fixed properly. They may have been first release, but how far down the release were they? We don’t know whether these were the top shelf prints, or tenth in the stack. I know from personal experience that I have a numbering system from one to ten. You sell the best print and so number two then becomes number one, and so on.

The poorness of these prints again becomes a sign of intention. The print is the final, luminous rendition of a photographers previsualisation, the ultimate expression of their creativity. This is how I want to show you the world, through this photograph. It is the end point of a long process. I believe strongly that Arbus wanted to show things as clearly as possible, as clearly as the best possible use that photography could provide. She is like a razor the way she cuts through. But in these particular final renditions, she lets herself down. And the people who bought these photographs, should have realised what poor prints they were.

Turning to the artists that accompany the work of Arbus… was it really necessary to surround such a powerful artist’s work with such noise? While it is always a delight to see the work of Mary Ellen Mark, William Eggleston, Milton Rogovin, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, Lisette Model, Walker Evans, Weegee and William Klein, to try and embed the work of Arbus within a photographic milieu, within a cacophony of imagery that stretches from the 1930s to the 1980s, simply does not work. While Arbus emerges out of the concerns of her era, she is such a powerful presence and force that simply no one compares. She is so different from the organised Evans and or the macabre Weegee, more closely aligned to Model, and certainly by no stretch of the imagination does she influence Eggleston, Friedlander, Winogrand or Rogovin in any significant way… that these artists works just become filler for this exhibition. If the intention was to situate Arbus’ work in the chronological “flow” of photography then the concept falls between intention and effect. While no artist’s work appears without regard to historical precedent, their work is simply their own and needs its own space to breathe.

What would have been more interesting would have been to position Arbus’ work within an Australian context. Now there’s an idea, since we live in Australia!

Here we go: exhibit Arbus’ prints with 15 prints by Carol Jerrems (Vale Street, Mark and Flappers), 15 prints of the early work of Polixeni Papapetrou (drag queens, Elvis fans, circus performers and wrestlers) and 15 prints of the work of Sue Ford. Four strong women who deal with issues of gender and identity in a forthright manner – not a cacophony of noise (9 artists, 6 of them men) to accompany the work of a genius. Analyse the influence of Arbus on this generation of Australian photographers. Pretty simple. Clean, concise, accessible, relevant to Australia audiences. Then intention would have possibly met effect.

There are highlights to be had within this exhibition, two in particular.

It was a pleasure to see the work of Milton Rogovin. I have always admired his work, and the small, intimate prints from his Lower West Side series (1973-2002) did not disappoint. While Arbus’ portraits are powerful visualisations, front and centre, Rogovin’s working class families are just… present. His social documentary photographs of working class families are almost reticent in their rendition. “His classical portraits, often grouped in diptychs and triptychs, expound narrative in a single image and over time. They compress time intimately… and by that I mean the viewer is engaged in a conversation with the subject, where we can imagine that we live those lives as they do (transcending time), the lives of what Rogovin called “the forgotten ones.” He makes their countenance, their physicality, the hardships they endure, and their narrative, directly and intimately compelling. We are made to feel their plight in the now and the forever. For these photographs are as relevant, if not more so, now as then.”

The other highlight is to see three Arbus photographs that I have never seen before: Old black woman with gnarled hand; Large black family in small shack; and Addie Taylor in her shack, Beaufort, South Carolina (all 1968, installation views below), all three taken with flash. These works were a revelation for their observational intimacy and evocation of a dark place in the existence of the poorest of human beings. The gnarled hand of the old woman lying in a filthy bed with cardboard walls is particularly distressing to say the least. To compare these photographs with Walker Evans’ flash photograph Hudson Street boarding house detail, New York (1931, below) and his naturally aspirated Bedroom, shrimp fisherman’s house, Biloxi, Mississippi (1945, below) in their pristine emptiness is instructive. This ideation, together with Arbus’ photographs relationship to the work of her sometime teacher Lisette Model (particularly her Lower East Side photographs (1939-1942); Albert-Alberta, Hubert’s 42nd St Flea Circus, New York (c. 1945) and Woman with Veil, San Francisco (1949) all below) are the zenith of this exhibition, where the intention of embedding Arbus’ photographs in the history of the medium come best to fruition, in effect.

Finally, I must say a big thank you to Heide Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to come out to the gallery to take the installation photographs. Many thanks indeed.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

“People who met Arbus often said she was incredibly seductive. Immensely curious, she was softly spoken and her ability to connect with and gain the trust of people was legendary. She talked about “the gap between intention and effect”, explaining “it really is totally fantastic that we look like this and you sometimes see that very clearly in a photograph. Something is ironic in the world and it has to do with the fact that what you intend never comes out like you intend it.””

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Diane Arbus quoted in Kerrie O’Brien (curator of the National Gallery of Australia’s Diane Arbus: American Portraits) “Intimate, dark and compelling: the photographs of Diane Arbus,” on The Sydney Morning Herald website March 14, 2018 [Online] Cited 16/02/2022

 

“The people in an Arbus photograph are never trivialised; they have certainly a larger-than-life intensity that few other photographers can achieve. While they seem like figures from fairy tales or myth, they are also invested with powerful agency.”

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Gillian Wearing quoted in Kerrie O’Brien (curator of the National Gallery of Australia’s Diane Arbus: American Portraits) “Intimate, dark and compelling: the photographs of Diane Arbus,” on The Sydney Morning Herald website March 14, 2018 [Online] Cited 16/02/2022

 

“When you’re awake enough to question your purpose and ask how to connect to it, you’re being prodded by the power of intention. The very act of questioning why you’re here is an indication that your thoughts are nudging you to reconnect to the field of intention. What’s the source of your thoughts about your purpose? Why do you want to feel purposeful? Why is a sense of purpose considered the highest attribute of a fully functioning person? The source of thought is an infinite reservoir of energy and intelligence.

In a sense, thoughts about your purpose are really your purpose trying to reconnect to you. This infinite reservoir of loving, kind, creative, abundant energy grew out of the originating intelligence, and is stimulating you to express this universal mind in your own unique way.”

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Dr Wayne Dyer from ‘The Power of Intention’

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

 

Heide is delighted to host the National Gallery of Australia’s touring exhibition, Diane Arbus: American Portraits.

The photographs of Diane Arbus (1923-1971) are among the most widely recognised in the history of photography. Her images stand as powerful allegories of post-war America, and once seen are rarely forgotten. Works such as Identical twins, Roselle, N.J., 1967 and Child with toy hand grenade, in Central Park, New York City have been described as two of ‘the most celebrated images in the history of the medium’.

Featuring 35 of Arbus’s most iconic and confrontational images from 1961-1971, this exhibition examines the last decade of Arbus’s life,the period in which her style is in full flight. Her work has polarised viewers who question whether she exploited or empowered her subjects, who were often drawn from society’s margins. ‘The National Gallery of Australia is privileged to hold such an extraordinary collection of work by a photographer of Arbus’s significance,’ said Anne O’Hehir, curator. ‘This collection covers Arbus’s best-known pictures, and also includes images which are rarely seen. This exhibition is a testament to the power of Arbus’s extraordinary vision.’

Arbus’s photographs are exhibited alongside a selection of works by other leading American photographers whose work influenced Arbus, was shown alongside hers in the ’60s, or has been influenced by her. These include famous images by Lisette Model, Walker Evans and Weegee, her contemporaries William Klein, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and Milton Rogovin as well as a slightly younger generation, work by Mary Ellen Mark and William Eggleston.

Heide Director and CEO Dr Natasha Cica said: ‘Heide is delighted to present this exhibition of the renowned photographer Diane Arbus. Her uncompromising view challenged existing photography conventions in a surprising and enchanting way.’

Press release from Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne with at left, Weegee’s No title (at a concert in Harlem) c. 1948, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981 followed by William Klein’s Christmas shoppers, near Macy’s, New York 1954 and Stickball gang, New York 1955
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968) 'No title (at a concert in Harlem)' c. 1948

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
No title (at a concert in Harlem)
c. 1948
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of William Klein’s Christmas shoppers, near Macy’s, New York 1954 and Stickball gang, New York 1955
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Installation view of William Klein (born April 19, 1928) 'Christmas shoppers, near Macy's, New York' 1954

 

Installation view of William Klein’s Christmas shoppers, near Macy’s, New York 1954 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1993
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

William Klein (born April 19, 1928) 'Christmas shoppers, near Macy's, New York' 1954

 

William Klein (American born France, b. 1928)
Christmas shoppers, near Macy’s, New York
1954
Gelatin silver photograph

 

 

Klein sandwiched his relatively short photographic career, working as a fashion photographer for Vogue, between being a painter and a filmmaker. Self-taught, he experimented with flash, wide-angle lenses, blurring, abstraction and accidents, and produced grainy, high contrast prints. He is deliberately at the other end of the spectrum from the invisible, disinterested photographer. Klein deliberately got really close to his subjects, in their faces, and caught them reacting to being photographed on the street. ‘To be visible, intervene and show it’ was his mantra.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Installation view of William Klein's 'Stickball gang, New York' 1955

 

Installation view of William Klein’s Stickball gang, New York 1955 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1993
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

William Klein (born April 19, 1928) 'Stickball gang, New York' 1955

 

William Klein (American born France, b. 1928)
Stickball gang, New York
1955
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne with at right, Weegee’s No title (at a concert in Harlem) c. 1948, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981 and at left, his No title (listening to Frank Sinatra, Palace theatre) c. 1944, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne with at right, Weegee’s No title (at a concert in Harlem) c. 1948, followed by his No title (listening to Frank Sinatra, Palace theatre) c. 1944 and Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus 1943
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968) 'Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus' 1943 (installation view)

 

Installation view of Weegee’s Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus 1943, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968) 'No title (listening to Frank Sinatra, Palace theatre)' c. 1944

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
No title (listening to Frank Sinatra, Palace theatre)
c. 1944
Silver gelatin print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing the work of Walker Evans
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, Diane Arbus’ Rocks on wheels, Disneyland, Cal 1962; Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963; and Lady in a rooming house parlour, Albion, N.Y. 1963, all National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Rocks on wheels, Disneyland, Cal' 1962

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Rocks on wheels, Disneyland, Cal
1962
Silver gelatin print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing at left, Diane Arbus’ Muscle Man in his dressing room with trophy, Brooklyn, N.Y. 1962 and at right, Burlesque comedienne in her dressing room, Atlantic City, N.J. 1963, both National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1981 and 1980
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Muscle Man in his dressing room with trophy, Brooklyn, N.Y.' 1962

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Muscle Man in his dressing room with trophy, Brooklyn, N.Y.
1962
Silver gelatin print

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Two Ladies at the Automat, New York City, 1966' 1966 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Two Ladies at the Automat, New York City, 1966 (installation view)
1966
Silver gelatin print
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Transvestite with torn stocking, N.Y.C. 1966' 1966 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Transvestite with torn stocking, N.Y.C. 1966 (installation view)
1966
Silver gelatin print
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Mae West on bed' 1965

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Mae West on bed
1965
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1981

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963' 1963 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963 (installation view)
1963
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963' 1963 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963 (installation view)
1963
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963' 1963

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963
1963
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, Diane Arbus’A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970;Untitled (1) 1970-1971; and Woman with a beehive hairdo 1965; and Mexican dwarf in his hotel room N.Y.C. 1970
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970' 1970

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970
1970
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Untitled (1)' 1970-71

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Untitled (1)
1970-1971
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Mexican dwarf in his hotel room N.Y.C. 1970' 1970

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Mexican dwarf in his hotel room N.Y.C. 1970
1970
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Identical twins, Roselle, N.J., 1966' 1966

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Identical twins, Roselle, N.J., 1966
1966
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, Diane Arbus’ Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, N.Y.C., 1967; A young man in curlers at home on West 20th St., N.Y.C. 1966; and A Family on Their Lawn One Sunday in Westchester, New York 1968
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, N.Y.C., 1967' 1967

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, N.Y.C., 1967
1967
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'A young man in curlers at home on West 20th St., N.Y.C. 1966' 1966 (installation view)

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
A young man in curlers at home on West 20th St., N.Y.C. 1966 (installation view)
1966
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1980

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'A young man in curlers at home on West 20th St., N.Y.C. 1966' 1966

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
A young man in curlers at home on West 20th St., N.Y.C. 1966 (installation view)
1966
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'A Family on Their Lawn One Sunday in Westchester, New York 1968' 1968

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
A Family on Their Lawn One Sunday in Westchester, New York 1968
1968
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Diane Arbus: American Portraits' at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Diane Arbus: American Portraits at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne showing from left to right, Diane Arbus’ A young Negro boy, Washington Square Park, N.Y.C. 1965; Blonde girl in Washington Square Park c. 1965-1968; Woman with a beehive hairdo 1965; and Girl in a watch cap, N.Y.C. 1965
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and Heide Museum of Modern Art