Posts Tagged ‘American documentary photography

23
Sep
21

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

Exhibition dates: 17th April – 3rd October 2021

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

 

 

Dawoud Bey: An American Project

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

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

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

 

Room 800 Introduction

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

1

.
Harlem, U.S.A.

Bey began photographing in Harlem in 1975, at the age of twenty-two. Although he was raised in Queens, Bey was intimately connected to the neighbourhood: his parents had met there, and members of his extended family still made it their home. Drawn to the neighbourhood as both a symbol of and a wellspring for Black American culture, Bey wanted to portray its residents as complex individuals in images free of stereotype. These works all come from the series Harlem, U.S.A. (1975-79).

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

2

.
Syracuse, NY

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Ask a Curator: Dawoud Bey: An American Project

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

3

.
Type 55 Polaroid Street Portraits

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

4

.
20 × 24 Polaroids

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

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

 

Room 804 Lorna, New York, NY

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

5

.
Class Pictures

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Room 805 Omar, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

6

.
The Birmingham Project

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Room 103 Mathis Menefee and Cassandra Griffin

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

7

.
Harlem Redux

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Room 801 Girls, Ornaments, and Vacant Lot

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

8

.
Night Coming Tenderly, Black

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

Nonetheless, the images imply the perspective of the individuals whose invisibility was requisite for their safety. Their large scale and rich black tones invite the viewer to engage their own body in the act of looking, taking time for their eyes to adjust and moving around to register the entirety of each image. The series pays homage to two Black American artists, the photographer Roy DeCarava and the poet Langston Hughes. DeCarava’s influence can be seen in the lush and protective darkness of the prints, while the project’s title is drawn from the final couplet of Hughes’s “Dream Variations”: “Night coming tenderly / Black like me.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #24 (At Lake Erie)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #24 (At Lake Erie)
2017
from Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
48 × 55 in. (121.9 × 139.7cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Photography Committee, in honour of Sondra Gilman
© Dawoud Bey

 

Room 806 Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)
2017
From Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
44 × 55 in. (111.8 × 139.7cm)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Accessions Committee Fund purchase
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

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25
Jul
21

Exhibition: ‘Safe/Haven: Gay Life in 1950s Cherry Grove’ at the New-York Historical Society, Manhattan, New York

Exhibition dates: 14th May – 11th October, 2021

Curators: Brian Clark, Susan Kravitz, and Parker Sargent for the Cherry Grove Archives Collection and coordinated at New-York Historical by Rebecca Klassen, associate curator of material culture

 

 

'Weekend Guest at Hot House' 1958

 

Weekend Guest at Hot House
1958
Cherry Grove Archives Collection, Gift of Harold Seeley

 

 

During the 1950s, Cherry Grove provided gay individuals a much-needed escape from the homophobia and the legal and social persecution that many experienced in the era of McCarthyism following World War II. Homosexuals faced physical assault, verbal attacks, family rejection, loss of employment, imprisonment, and even involuntary psychiatric hospitalisation. In the Grove, they could openly socialise and experience a joyful and rare freedom of sexual expression.

 

 

I seem to be on a roll at the moment with a series of exhibitions that this archive loves to highlight: human beings who picture, capture, depict, image, or photograph the subversive, marginalised, disenfranchised, hidden ‘Other’ in society – as an act of resistance against living lives of conformity, against the prejudices of patriarchy and religion, and against the oppression of bigotry and discrimination.

This exhibition is no exception.

In the 1950s, in an era of “passing” – where queer people had to pass themselves off as something else, something they were not, in order to keep a job or secure a roof over their heads – it is refreshing to see these candid, vernacular, performative photographs of, admittedly, privileged white gays playing, camping it up and having fun with their liberation and identity construction. Having fun in their lives.

Acknowledgement must be made that this party life on Fire Island in the 1950s was only for the white, middle-upper classes. Black, Hispanic, Latino and poor white gay trash need not apply. But that does not mean that these photographs are any less valuable in documenting queer resistance to the status quo.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

 

 

Curator Confidential: Safe/Haven: Gay Life in 1950s Cherry Grove

During weekends and summers in the pre-Stonewall era, gay men and women, including many New Yorkers, traveled to the secluded beach town of Cherry Grove on Fire Island where they found opportunities for sexual exploration and self-expression – behaviour that was both stigmatised and criminalised in the straight world. Together with creative figures like Truman Capote, W.H. Auden, Carson McCullers, and Patricia Highsmith, these visitors to the Grove took pleasure in the costumed parties, theatrical events, and liberated atmosphere that this gay sanctuary provided.

On view outdoors in New-York Historical’s rear courtyard, this exhibition explores the gay and lesbian community that flourished during the 1950s in Cherry Grove through some 70 enlarged photographs and additional ephemera from the unique holdings of the Cherry Grove Archives Collection.

Curated by Brian Clark, Susan Kravitz, and Parker Sargent for the Cherry Grove Archives Collection and coordinated at New-York Historical by Rebecca Klassen, associate curator of material culture.

 

 

'One Hundred Club Party' 1949

 

One Hundred Club Party
1949
Cherry Grove Archives Collection, Gift of Harold Seeley

 

 

During the 1950s, campy costume parties were held every summer weekend. Attendees, straight and gay, showed off flamboyant outfits that would have otherwise been considered a violation of New York laws prohibiting risqué attire and cross-dressing.

 

'Outside of Bea Greer's Home, Bea's Brunch' 1951

 

Outside of Bea Greer’s Home, Bea’s Brunch
1951
Cherry Grove Archives Collection, Gift of Harold Seeley

 

 

Cocktails, sunbathing, sex, and parties were the norm during summer weekends. Gay men and women found opportunities to socialise out in the open, whether on the beach or on the decks of Grove houses.

 

'Parasol Party' 1951

 

Parasol Party
1951
Cherry Grove Archives Collection, Gift of Harold Seeley

 

 

Under the guise of dressing up, many men and women were able to play with gender norms at these fabulous cocktail parties, thereby challenging society’s expectations of “proper” behaviour.

 

'Patricia Fitzgerald and Kay Guinness, Cherry Grove Beach' September 1952

 

Patricia Fitzgerald and Kay Guinness, Cherry Grove Beach
September 1952
Cherry Grove Archives Collection, Gift of Gay Nathan and Julie Paradise

 

 

Kay Guinness (right) was an iconic Cherry Grove figure. Independently wealthy and closeted, she had affairs with women while also being married three different times to men. She flew small airplanes, had her own motorboat, and loved to be part of fashionable society. In the 1950s, Guinness was arrested in Cherry Grove for nude sunbathing on the beach. Her cottage was named No Man’s Land.

 

 

The New-York Historical Society presents Safe/Haven: Gay Life in 1950s Cherry Grove, an intimate look at one of the first gay beach towns in the United States, on view in New-York Historical’s rear courtyard May 14 – October 11, 2021. The outdoor exhibition explores mid-20th-century gay life in Fire Island’s remote hamlet of Cherry Grove, located on the barrier island south of Long Island, through some 70 enlarged photographs and additional ephemera from the holdings of the Cherry Grove Archives Collection – which works to collect and archive the community’s rich and colourful history.

“Cherry Grove on Fire Island became a weekend and summer destination for gay men and women in the pre-Stonewall era of the 1950s and 1960s,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “At a time when they faced homophobia and persecution, the residents of Cherry Grove found a sanctuary where they could socialise and express themselves freely. We are proud to partner with the Cherry Grove Archives Collection to display these joyful images.”

“The Cherry Grove Archives Collection is honoured to exhibit our 1950s Cherry Grove photographs and ephemera at the New-York Historical Society,” said Susan Kravitz, on behalf of the Cherry Grove Archives Collection. “As you walk around this exhibition, we hope you will become aware of the joyous freedom of expression that LGBTQ people demonstrate in so many of these photographs, remembering that pre-Stonewall 1950s was a time when persecution and prosecution ruled the lives of homosexuals in mainland America. Yet the 1950s was a richly creative historical period in Cherry Grove when gay and straight people worked and played together, whether in theatrical productions, costumed cocktail parties, annual balls, or a range of community-sponsored events.”

Safe/Haven: Gay Life in 1950s Cherry Grove is presented in conjunction with the Cherry Grove Archives Collection. Curated by Brian Clark, Susan Kravitz, and Parker Sargent for the Cherry Grove Archives Collection, it’s coordinated at New-York Historical by Rebecca Klassen, associate curator of material culture. Throughout the exhibition, visitors can hear personal, recorded accounts from members of the Cherry Grove community about their experiences and memories; the audio will be accessible to visitors through their cell phones.

At Cherry Grove, gay men and women could socialise out in the open, whether on the beach or on the decks of Grove houses. In the evenings, many gathered at local restaurants or at Duffy’s Hotel bar, where they could enjoy same-sex dancing late at night. Photographs in the exhibition depict scenes of summer events, including theatre performances, an annual regatta, art shows, beach baseball, and an end-of-season costume ball.

Writers, artists, dancers, theatre people, and Hollywood celebrities had been drawn to the Grove since the 1930s. Gay people became the majority of the population during the 1950s and joined with local straight families to work in community organisations. Visitors to the Grove took pleasure in the costumed parties, theatrical events, and liberated atmosphere that this gay sanctuary provided. A sense of togetherness could be felt at campy Cherry Grove costume parties where attendees, straight and gay, showed off flamboyant outfits that would have otherwise been considered a violation of New York laws prohibiting risqué attire and cross-dressing. Under the guise of dressing up, many men and women were able to play with gender norms at these fabulous cocktail parties, thereby challenging society’s expectations of “proper” behaviour. The images on view showcase the abundant creativity in the ebullient social scene. Many Grove house parties were fundraisers for organisations such as the Cherry Grove Fire Department; the Arts Project of Cherry Grove, which organised theatrical productions; the Dune Fund, which preserved the beach dunes; and the Doctor’s House, which provided community medical services.

With more and more gay people arriving in the 1950s, long-standing local residents attempted to reinstate “decent” behaviour, and police raids became common through the 1960s. Men in particular risked being arrested, jailed, and exposed by name in local newspapers. Headlines from the Suffolk County News – “Five Arrested in Cherry Grove Raid” (August 23, 1957) and “Fifteen Seized in Cherry Grove Raid” (August 9, 1962) – on display in the exhibition document these risks.

Safe/Haven also highlights the creative atmosphere appreciated by cultural figures, gay and straight, in Cherry Grove. Writers who rented or visited there included Christopher Isherwood, Patricia Highsmith, and Tennessee Williams. Truman Capote, the novelist, playwright, and journalist whose flamboyant lifestyle contributed to his social celebrity, stayed at Carrington House just outside of the Grove in 1957, where he wrote parts of the novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In one of the photographs displayed in the exhibition, Marty Mann – a pioneering member of Alcoholics Anonymous who founded the National Council on Alcoholism – is pictured with novelist, poet, and playwright Carson McCullers, who wrote the bestselling novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Both women frequented Cherry Grove in the summer.

The final section of the exhibition explores the changing community of Cherry Grove in more recent decades. In the 1960s, following developments in the civil rights movement, Cherry Grove became more welcoming to Black and Latino gay people, reflected in photographs from that time. Working-class gay women began spending more time in the Grove in the 1960s, a change from the groups of mostly affluent and financially successful women who were there in the 1940s and 1950s. During the 1980s, the AIDS crisis devastated Cherry Grove. Both lesbians and gay men in the Grove took care of many of their male friends who were dying from the disease. Later on, middle-class lesbians had the financial ability to buy houses that had once belonged to these men, preserving the Grove as a gay community.

Press release from the New-York Historical Society

 

'Ed Burke in Ethel Merman's Mermaid Costume, One Hundred Club Party' 1949

 

Ed Burke in Ethel Merman’s Mermaid Costume, One Hundred Club Party
1949
Cherry Grove Archives Collection, Gift of Harold Seeley

 

 

Many Grove house parties were also fundraisers for organisations such as the Cherry Grove Fire Department; the Arts Project of Cherry Grove, which organised theatrical productions; the Dune Fund, which preserved the beach dunes; and the Doctor’s House, which provided community medical services. For the One Hundred Club Party, an early fundraiser for the Arts Project, organisers asked attendees to donate $100 to join the festivities.

 

'Two Women Getting Sun' 1951

 

Two Women Getting Sun
1951
Cherry Grove Archives Collection, Gift of Harold Seeley

 

'Patricia Fitzgerald, Kay Guinness, Mary Ronin, and Bea Greer, Duffy's Hotel' c. 1950

 

Patricia Fitzgerald, Kay Guinness, Mary Ronin, and Bea Greer, Duffy’s Hotel
c. 1950
Cherry Grove Archives Collection, Gift of Gay Nathan and Julie Paradise

 

 

Long summer days on the beach, gay-themed theatre productions, weekend house parties, sitting together in local bars and restaurants, community fundraisers – all these were spaces where gay people and their straight neighbours could form social connections and share experiences that were not possible off-island.

 

'Men on the Beach' c. 1950

 

Men on the Beach
c. 1950
Cherry Grove Archives Collection, Gift of Paul Jablonski

 

 

Same-sex relationships were openly expressed and nurtured within this supportive and relatively safe Fire Island community. Men and women who came to 1950s Cherry Grove were free to explore their same-sex attractions, to develop positive gay identities, and to enjoy gay social support networks.

 

'Diaper Party, II' 1951

 

Diaper Party, II
1951
Cherry Grove Archives Collection, Gift of Harold Seeley

 

 

House members hosting a party would often send out creative invitations with tongue-in-cheek humour.

 

'End of Season APCG Ball, Community House, Woman with Headdress' September 1954

 

End of Season APCG Ball, Community House, Woman with Headdress
September 1954
Cherry Grove Archives Collection, Gift of Harold Seeley

 

 

Beginning in the late 1940s, community members in late September ended the season by going to “the Ball.” Some spent the entire summer designing and sewing the outfits they would wear. This tradition continues today. In addition to cocktails, food, and a campy costume contest, attendees were able to dance with same-sex partners within the safety of the Community House.

 

'Young Man Posing for Polaroid' 1959

 

Young Man Posing for Polaroid
1959
Cherry Grove Archives Collection, Gift of Don Steeple

 

 

Taking photos in Cherry Grove was complicated. People wanted to capture their history but also did not want to be identified, fearing retribution if discovered. The instant Polaroid camera, invented in 1948, produced small-sized photos in a minute but required processing on the spot. Simple cameras models like the 127 Brownie or the Argus C3 were most likely used to take snapshots in 1950s Cherry Grove.

 

'Hot House' 1958

 

Hot House
1958
Cherry Grove Archives Collection, Gift of Harold Seeley

 

 

Cherry Grove homeowners and renters have a long-standing tradition of naming their homes. These names, like Hot House, often have a charm that reflects the character of the community.

 

'DJ Beast and Candy Stevens, Ice Palace' c. 1980

 

DJ Beast and Candy Stevens, Ice Palace
c. 1980
Cherry Grove Archives Collection, Gift of Valerie Perez and Evelyn Danko

 

 

During the 1980s, the AIDS crisis devastated Cherry Grove. Gay men, women, and trans people of all races, religions, and economic status joined together to care for their male friends who were dying from this disease.

 

 

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Phone: (212) 873-3400

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13
Jun
21

Exhibition: ‘The Human Cost: America’s Drug Plague’ at the Bronx Documentary Center, New York

Exhibition dates: 5th June – 5th July 2021

Curators: Michael Kamber and Cynthia Rivera

Artists: James Nachtwey; Jeffrey Stockbridge; Mark Trent

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS PHOTOGRAPHS OF DRUG USE – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

 

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943) 'A woman, who goes by Jen, struggling to inject herself in the freezing cold in Boston on Jan. 14. 2018' 2018

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943)
A woman, who goes by Jen, struggling to inject herself in the freezing cold in Boston on Jan. 14. 2018
2018
James Nachtwey for TIME 

 

 

Nature ∞ nurture

Last year, over 81,000 men, women and children were lost to drug overdoses in America. Visualise that number of people if you can… nearly 4/5ths capacity of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in Australia.

According to medical doctors (see quotation below), the causes of addiction “may involve an interaction of environmental effects – for example, stress, the social context of initial opiate use, and psychological conditioning – and a genetic predisposition in the form of brain pathways that were abnormal even before the first dose of opioid was taken.” So both nature and nurture.

Through experience, I understand both strands that lead to possible addiction: a genetic, psychological illness within family members coupled with the need for escape, the need for pleasure, peer group activity and the desire to loose oneself from the world. Luckily, I do not have a personality that easily becomes addicted, but the possibility within people is always there, no matter their background or social position in the world. While the photo stories in this posting concentrate on human beings from lower socio-economic backgrounds, addiction can affect anyone at anytime. Again through experience, I know that lots of high performing professional people suffer from chronic addiction but keep the fact well hidden from the community.

Addiction occurs when dependence interferes with daily life… when independence, that much searched for freedom from outside control or support (you don’t need or accept help, resources, or care from others), morphs into ‘in dependence’ – where the independence of the self, in addiction, opposes the autonomy of the self (meaning that you have free will and that you can stand behind your actions and their values while still exchanging support and care with others). In autonomy, no one is forcing you to do something you disagree with; in addiction, ‘in dependence’, those actions can no longer be justified. These are just my thoughts… but they can be seen to be linked to Self-Determination Theory (STD). “The interplay between the extrinsic forces acting on persons and the intrinsic motives and needs inherent in human nature is the territory of Self-Determination Theory.” Nature and nurture.

The word addicted (adjective) arises in the “mid 16th century: from the obsolete adjective addict ‘bound or devoted (to someone’), from Latin addict- ‘assigned’, from the verb addicere, from ad- ‘to’ + dicere ‘say’.” Its use has diminished from the 18th century until now. Conversely, the word addiction (noun) comes from the same root, but was unknown until 1900 with the use of the word skyrocketing since the 1950s onwards (with a particular spike in the use of the word in the 1960-70s, the era of free love). Perhaps this says a lot about the pressure of living in a high intensity, 24 hour world, a world where the gods of capitalism can write off 81,000 people in a year, in one country, without the blink of an eye.

What all three photo stories in this posting have ad- ‘to’ + dicere ‘say’ is this: every human being has a story worth listening to.

By embedding themselves in the communities they were photographing (instead of being “snatch and grab” photojournalists), all three photographers give their participants an opportunity to have their voice heard. To tell their stories in their own words and have those stories told with dignity and respect, through images and text. (I have linked all three segments to the full stories online).

As Jeffrey Stockbridge comments, “Everyone’s wading through problems that are unique to them, and I think it’s important to tell these stories… Hearing people discuss their past in their own words is something that you can’t ignore. It’s very powerful. I want the general public to forget what they thought they knew about prostitution, drug addiction, homelessness and poverty, and just listen to an actual person explain what they’ve been through. It’s important to remember that life is unpredictable!” James Natchwey observes, “Photography can cut through abstractions and rhetoric to help us understand complex issues on a human level.”

This is the crux of the matter: photography helps us understand these complex issues on a human level.

Every human being is a life, has a life, and is valuable as such. Every story, every breath, every death is connected to Mother Earth. In their indifference, what capitalism and society do to others, we do to ourselves.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Bronx Documentary Center for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Brain abnormalities resulting from chronic use of heroin, oxycodone, and other morphine-derived drugs are underlying causes of opioid dependence (the need to keep taking drugs to avoid a withdrawal syndrome) and addiction (intense drug craving and compulsive use). The abnormalities that produce dependence, well understood by science, appear to resolve after detoxification, within days or weeks after opioid use stops. The abnormalities that produce addiction, however, are more wide-ranging, complex, and long-lasting. They may involve an interaction of environmental effects – for example, stress, the social context of initial opiate use, and psychological conditioning – and a genetic predisposition in the form of brain pathways that were abnormal even before the first dose of opioid was taken. Such abnormalities can produce craving that leads to relapse months or years after the individual is no longer opioid dependent.”

.
Thomas R. Kosten, M.D. and Tony P. George, M.D. “The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment,” in Science & Practice Perspectives. 2002 Jul; 1(1), pp. 13–20.

 

“Photography can cut through abstractions and rhetoric to help us understand complex issues on a human level. Never is photography more essential than in moments of crisis. To witness people suffering is difficult. To make a photograph of that suffering is even harder. The challenge is to remain open to very powerful emotions and, rather than shutting down, channel them into the images. It is crucial to see with a sense of compassion and to comprehend that just because people are suffering does not mean they lack dignity.”

.
James Natchwey

 

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943) 'Holly, detoxing in the Montgomery County Jail in Dayton, Ohio, on July 3, 2017' 2017

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943)
Holly, detoxing in the Montgomery County Jail in Dayton, Ohio, on July 3, 2017
2017
© Photograph by James Nachtwey for TIME

 

 

Last year, America lost 81,000 men, women and children to drug overdoses. Driven primarily by the opioid crisis – and abetted by the pill-pushing of pharmaceutical companies – millions of individuals and countless families were devastated by addiction.

The war on drugs has failed: from sea to shining sea, fentanyl, heroin, K2, crystal meth, cocaine and other drugs are available in nearly every town and city. Drug-related violence has endangered many of our streets, including Courtlandt Avenue, home to the Bronx Documentary Center.

After decades of ever changing anti-drug strategies, we are still left with familiar and yet unanswered questions: how to stop the overdoses; how to keep our youth from addiction; how to stop drug-related violence; how to offer humanitarian treatment.

The Bronx Documentary Center’s upcoming photo exhibition, The Human Cost: America’s Drug Plague, explores these issues and portrays the human toll of America’s drug scourge. The deeply personal stories told here – of losing children, families and freedom – provide a stark but compassionate look at a very complex dynamic.

James Nachtwey, the dean of American conflict photographers, reports with visual journalist and editor, Paul Moakley, from New Hampshire, Ohio, Boston, San Francisco and beyond. Jeffrey Stockbridge documents Philadelphia’s Kensington neighbourhood over the course of 6 years. And Mark Trent follows a tight-knit group of friends in West Virginia through cycles of substance abuse and tragic death. The BDC hopes this exhibition will lead to productive discussions about an intractable American problem.

Exhibition curated by Michael Kamber and Cynthia Rivera.

Press release from the Bronx Documentary Center

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943) 'Dorothy Onikute, 33, a deputy sheriff with the Rio Arriba County sheriff's office, responding to an overdose call on Feb. 4, on the side of the road in Alcalde, N.M.' Nd

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943)
Dorothy Onikute, 33, a deputy sheriff with the Rio Arriba County sheriff’s office, responding to an overdose call on Feb. 4, on the side of the road in Alcalde, N.M.
Nd
© Photograph by James Nachtwey for TIME

 

 

‘This sort of thing happens so often, it’s sad to say it’s on to the next once they are out of our care.’

~ Dorothy Onikute

 

 

The Opioid Diaries – James Nachtwey and Paul Moakley

The opioid crisis is the worst addiction epidemic in American history. Drug overdoses kill more than 64,000 people per year, and the nation’s life expectancy has fallen for two years in a row. But there is a key part of the story that statistics can’t tell. In 2017, for over the course of a year, photographer James Nachtwey set out to document the opioid crisis in America through the people on its front lines. Alongside TIME‘s deputy director of photography, Paul Moakley, the pair traveled the country gathering stories from users, families, first responders and others at the heart of the epidemic. Here, Nachtwey’s images are paired with quotes from Moakley’s interviews, which have been edited. The voices are a mix of people in the photos and others who are connected to them. The Opioid Diaries is a visual record of a national emergency – and it demands our urgent attention.

Text from the Bronx Documentary Center website

The full text and more images from the series can be found on the TIME website

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943) 'Chad Colwell' 2017

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943)
Chad Colwell, 32, being revived by EMS workers after overdosing in his truck in Miamisburg, Ohio, on July 4, 2017. He says this, his fourth overdose, led him to seek treatment
2017
© Photograph by James Nachtwey for TIME

 

 

‘Heroin grabs ahold of you, and it won’t let go. It turned me into somebody I never thought I would be.’

~ Chad Colwell

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943) 'Billy' Nd

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943)
Billy, 31, right, preparing to use drugs in Boston on Jan. 14
Nd
© Photograph by James Nachtwey for TIME

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943) 'Cheryl Schmidtchen, 67, being consoled at the funeral for her granddaughter Michaela Gingras in Manchester, N.H., on September 17th, 2017. Gingras, a heroin user, was 24' 2017

 

James Nachtwey (American, b. 1943)
Cheryl Schmidtchen, 67, being consoled at the funeral for her granddaughter Michaela Gingras in Manchester, N.H., on September 17th, 2017. Gingras, a heroin user, was 24
2017
© Photograph by James Nachtwey for TIME

 

 

‘After Michaela died, I saw it clear as day. They’re not only destroying themselves, they’re destroying us.’

~ Cheryl Schmidtchen

 

 

What I Saw

James Natchwey

Like most people, I’d heard about the opioid epidemic. It was especially hard to get my mind around a statistic from 2016: almost as many deaths from drug overdoses as in all of America’s recent wars combined. But numbers are an abstraction. I had no idea what it looked like on the ground. The only way to make real sense of it, I told my editors, was to see what happens to individual human beings, one by one.

Photography can cut through abstractions and rhetoric to help us understand complex issues on a human level. Never is photography more essential than in moments of crisis. To witness people suffering is difficult. To make a photograph of that suffering is even harder. The challenge is to remain open to very powerful emotions and, rather than shutting down, channel them into the images. It is crucial to see with a sense of compassion and to comprehend that just because people are suffering does not mean they lack dignity.

Over the past 35 years, my work as a photojournalist has taken me to other countries to document wars, uprisings, natural disasters and global health crises. In revisiting my own country I discovered a national nightmare. But the people living through it aren’t deviants. They are ordinary citizens, our neighbors, our family members. I don’t think I met one user whom I would consider to be a bad person. No one wants to be an addict.

I also saw signs of hope, particularly from the people who are dealing with the crisis at the street level. Some of them are former users who have lifted themselves up and are using their experience to help others. They are refusing to allow our country to be defined by this problem. Instead, they are helping us define ourselves by finding solutions. We must join them.

James Natchwey

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982) 'Bobby' 2010

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982)
Bobby
2010
© Jeffrey Stockbridge

 

 

Kensington Blues – Jeffrey Stockbridge

Kensington Blues by Jeffrey Stockbridge is a decade-long documentary project about the opioid crisis in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Featuring large-format photography, audio interviews, journal entries and video Stockbridge utilises a combination of styles and formats to humanise those suffering from addiction.

“During the 19th century the neighbourhood of Kensington in North Philadelphia was a strong working-class district, a national leader of the textile industry and home to a diverse population of immigrants. Like many rust belt cities, industrial restructuring of the mid twentieth century led to a sharp economic decline including high unemployment and a significant population loss.

Today, half of Kensington residents live at or below the poverty line. The neighbourhood has become an epicentre of the opioid crisis and is infamous for open air drug use, prostitution and violent crime. With the roaring El train overhead, Kensington Avenue (the major business corridor in the neighbourhood) is in a state of perpetual hustle. Heroin, Fentanyl, K-2, Crystal, Crack, Xanax, Subs – just about any drug that exists in the modern world is bought and sold in Kensington. Women, some as young as twenty years old, and others who’ve been working the Avenue for decades, populate the neighbourhood in great numbers. Prostitution has become a social norm. Drug users sell clean packaged needles for a dollar a piece – five needles equals a bag of dope.

Working with a large-format film camera, I chose a slow photographic process in order to literally slow down the rapid speed of life as it happens along the Ave. The focus of my photographic work is portraiture. I want to tap into the state of mind of those who are struggling to survive their addiction. Together my subjects and I have entered into a collaboration of sorts. Through audio recordings, journal entries and video, we are working to highlight the voices of those with lived experience. This work would not be possible without their trust and guidance. By sharing the intimate details of their plight, those I photograph are taking a stand to effectively humanise addiction and challenge the stigma that all drug addicts are morally corrupt. As the opioid crisis has taught us, addiction can happen to anyone.”

Text from the Bronx Documentary Center website

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982) 'Jamie' 2012

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982)
Jamie
2012
© Jeffrey Stockbridge

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982) 'Carol' 2010

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982)
Carol
2010
© Jeffrey Stockbridge

 

 

LC: Drug addicts, prostitutes and the homeless are often seen as “the other” in our society. Your photos show a different side of this – a side that people can relate to and empathise with. Can you say more?

JS: There are a million different reasons why people become homeless to begin with. You dehumanise people by lumping them into the lowest common denominator. By looking down on them and saying, “You’re all homeless because you couldn’t get your lives together” – that doesn’t help anybody. Everyone’s wading through problems that are unique to them, and I think it’s important to tell these stories. Alongside the photographs I feature a short bio or quotes; sometimes I’ll also incorporate diary entries written by my subjects, and I’ve recorded audio interviews that I post on my Kensington Blues blog.

Hearing people discuss their past in their own words is something that you can’t ignore. It’s very powerful. I want the general public to forget what they thought they knew about prostitution, drug addiction, homelessness and poverty, and just listen to an actual person explain what they’ve been through. It’s important to remember that life is unpredictable! I could end up on Kensington Avenue if certain circumstances occurred – anybody could.

LC: The images are “still” and considered. They communicate a feeling of respect and consent. You don’t seem to shoot from the hip or take the “fearless flashgun” approach like many street photographers. Can you talk about your process?

JS: I shoot with a 4 x 5 view camera. For these photographs to work, there has to be consent! My subjects have to hold still – if they move an inch forward or an inch back, they’ll be out of focus. It’s a slow-moving, old-looking camera, so it’s automatically a topic of conversation. People look at it and think, “Woah, what is that?” But it has certain limitations – you can’t photograph quickly. It takes time. I have to set it up, I have to focus, use the dark cloth, take a meter reading … It’s at least five minutes until I’m ready to go. Meanwhile, my subject has to stand around waiting. So consent is fairly important!

I’m not looking at the back of an LCP screen when I shoot; I’m in the moment. I’m connecting entirely with my subject, not just communicating with a computer. The camera is a trusted friend that’s standing there by my side. In the Kensington project it really grounded me in the neighbourhood. I think it put people at ease, because they knew I wasn’t going to take a photo and run off – I was stuck with a tripod and a big heavy camera!

Jeffrey Stockbridge, interviewed by Francesca Cronan. “Kensington Blues,” on the LensCulture website 2016 [Online] Cited 03/06/2021.

The full text and more images from the series can be found on the LensCulture website.

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982) 'Kevin' 2011

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982)
Kevin
2011
© Jeffrey Stockbridge

 

 

Surviving Kensington: behind the photos of ‘Kensington Blues’

What used to be a proud blue-collar neighbourhood in Philadelphia is now a deteriorating haven for drugs, crime, and prostitution. Kensington is famous for the place to get your fix; and for the place you end up stuck when you’ve let your vices get the best of you.

For the last five years, Philly-based photographer Jeffrey Stockbridge has been taking intimate portraits of current residents (‘survivors’) in Kensington. But the stories he finds here aren’t just about Philly: Jeffrey’s photographs and raw interviews show a side of the desperation, hopelessness, and broken dreams that plague America’s addicts across the country.

Through a walk with Jeffrey on the Avenue, we get a glimpse of what it’s like to survive on Kensington.

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982) 'Krysta' 2009

 

Jeffrey Stockbridge (American, b. 1982)
Krysta
2009
© Jeffrey Stockbridge

 

Mark E. Trent (American) 'Allie in traffic after losing a close friend in her recovery group to an overdose' Nd

 

Mark E. Trent (American)
Allie in traffic after losing a close friend in her recovery group to an overdose
Nd
© Mark E. Trent

 

 

Despair, Love and Loss – Mark E. Trent

None of us knew what was happening or how destructive this would be. We began seeing more and more overdoses and suicides in our community. The details were scarce and the stigma that came with drug abuse masked the early deaths until it was so common it didn’t phase us anymore; the word pillhead began being used to describe those people on drugs. This was long before it touched nearly everyone in West Virginia and across the country.

With the help of friends I travelled to interview small time dealers, addicts and local law enforcement in an attempt to understand the scope of it all. I never did. This body of work started taking shape when I was at a softball game with a long time friend. Her name is Allie. I told her what I was trying to do and she said “Stick with me and I will show you what’s going on.”

From there it was a matter of seeing what was right in front of me. I documented Allie and her friends and lovers as they struggled in active addiction and slowly lost themselves and each other. This group of women let me into their lives behind closed doors and gave me access to make this work possible. They didn’t have to. They are the reason this work exists. They were star basketball players, young mothers, and individuals that held jobs and had real dreams. One day a knee injury supplied the prescription opiate that led to the addiction that spread through their group of friends and community.

My goal with this project was longevity. I wanted to follow it through until the end. My hope is that these photographs will tell a story about a small group of individuals that suffered through a crisis few saw coming. Today Allie is six years sober. Peakay is working toward sobriety with medical assisted treatments. Barbie died of an overdose in her bed alongside her lover Kim. Jessie tells me she is “going good,” but to be honest I never know the truth with her.

Text from the Bronx Documentary Center website

 

Mark E. Trent (American) 'Allie freebasing a prescription opioid' Nd

 

Mark E. Trent (American)
Allie freebasing a prescription opioid
Nd
© Mark E. Trent

 

 

There were times whenever I was really strung out and I didn’t realise how bad I was. What you always say is, ‘Well at least I’m not doing it to anyone else. At least I’m not hurting anyone. I’m just hurting myself. I’m not sticking needles in anyone else. It’s just me.’ But I didn’t realise how much I’d hurt my family, and my mom.

I don’t know how many people died in the house I was living in, I can’t even – three off the top of my head, because of drugs, overdoses.

But it just didn’t, it just didn’t hit me that way, I didn’t think – I wasn’t ready to see it that way I think. I feel like I had to go through everything I went through to be where I am.

 

Mark E. Trent (American) 'Jessie injecting Barbie with morphine' Nd

 

Mark E. Trent (American)
Jessie injecting Barbie with morphine
Nd
© Mark E. Trent

 

 

Barbie really was like my big sister.

She told me a year before she died she had to go to the doctor for something. They couldn’t find a vein and she had to make them put it in her neck. And they asked about the scarring on her neck.

They asked her, ‘Do you shoot in your neck? Jesus.’ And she was like, ‘Yeah.’ And they were like, ‘You’re going to be dead in a year anyway.’ But I sort of didn’t believe it. Barbie really was invincible.

 

Mark E. Trent (American) 'Cooking pills for injection next to dinner' Nd

 

Mark E. Trent (American)
Cooking pills for injection next to dinner
Nd
© Mark E. Trent

 

Mark E. Trent (American) 'Allie crying, facing jail time and missing Barbie who died of an overdose, after a long night of using' Nd

 

Mark E. Trent (American)
Allie crying, facing jail time and missing Barbie who died of an overdose, after a long night of using
Nd
© Mark E. Trent

 

 

Sometimes I thought it was fine; other times I thought, ‘How did I get here? What did I do?’ I was supposed to be somebody. I was supposed to do something great with my life. I was supposed to go places. I wanted to travel. I wanted to play basketball. I wanted to be all these things.

And instead I was living in a house with no electricity, crying in the bathroom because I can’t find a vein, miserable. Absolutely miserable.

It took me getting sober and being sober for a while to look back and be like, ‘That was all really low, man. That was all really low.’

“Allie Rambo tells her story below in her own words” in ‘Despair, Love and Loss: A Journey Inside West Virginia’s Opioid Crisis’ on the NY Times website Dec. 13, 2018 [Online] Cited 03/06/2021

The full text and more images from the series can be found on the NY Times website.

 

Mark E. Trent (American) 'Allie and Regina catching snowflakes after a close friend's funeral' Nd

 

Mark E. Trent (American)
Allie and Regina catching snowflakes after a close friend’s funeral
Nd
© Mark E. Trent

 

 

Bronx Documentary Center Annex Gallery
364 E 151st St, Bronx, NY 10455

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Friday 3-7pm
Saturday – Sunday 12-5pm

Bronx Documentary Center website

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07
Mar
21

Exhibition: ‘Dawoud Bey: An American Project’ at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Exhibition dates: 7th November 2020 – 14th March 2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976' 1976

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Early in his career, Bey realised the importance of collaborating with his subjects to make a picture that would also serve as a dialogue between artist and subject: “I wanted to photograph this man in the bowler hat who was talking to a group of three friends and I had no idea how to interrupt their conversation in order to do so. This is when I first realised that it wasn’t just about the photograph; it was also about establishing a relationship out of which comes the photograph.”

 

 

I have always admired artists who have a social conscience, who investigate their subject matter with intelligence, empathy and insight.

I have always admired artist who examine their subject matter from different perspectives, turning the diamond of the world in light, to probe the moral and existential questions of existence.

I have always admired artists who develop their practice, never repeating for the sake of it the same constructs over and over – from a lack of imagination, to be successful, or to follow the money trail.

One such artist is Dawoud Bey.

From formal to informal portraiture, through conceptual “bodies”, Bey’s work visualises Black American history in the present moment, not by using the trope of reusing colonial photographs or memorabilia, but by presenting afresh the history of injustice enacted on a people and a culture, picturing their ongoing pain and disenfranchisement – in the here and now – through powerful and deeply political photographs. As the press release observes, Bey “has used his camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, race, place, and American history.”

“His art is grounded in the concept of citizenship, community and belonging, and especially in centring the experiences and histories of Black Americans at the forefront of our culture. His photographs actively work to provide space, voice and visibility for communities who have long been excluded from dominant narratives, especially in institutions like museums.”

From his early street photographs through the later large format Polaroid work and on to the conceptual series, Bey’s photographs have an engaging directness and candour to them. There are no photographic or subjective histrionics here, just immensely rich social documentary photographs that speak truth to subject. The subjects stare directly at the camera and reveal themselves with a poignant honesty.

The series that affected me most deeply was The Birmingham Project.

“On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, murdering four African American girls inside. Two Black boys were also killed later that same day in the violence that ensued. Bey’s series The Birmingham Project commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of this horrific event, rendering it painfully immediate. Bey made formal portraits of Birmingham children the same ages as the victims and adults fifty years older – the ages the victims would have been had they lived. He then paired the photographs in diptychs that both honour the community’s unthinkable loss and make tangible the continued impact of racism, violence, and trauma in the present.”

All the suffering, all the ongoing pain and misery of an unfair world was, to me, wrapped up in these unforgettable images. The violence against other human beings, against people of difference 50 years ago brought into the present. Thinking about what these people could have achieved in the world, what life they would have led, what they would have looked like. Photography transcending time and space, Bey intelligently bringing past into present future. As Bey says, “I wanted to give those young people a more tangible, less-mythic, palpable presence… I wanted to figure out how to show the passage of time and the tragic loss of possibility.”

In my imagination I try to construct this tragic loss of possibility through the agency of Bey’s photographs. They produce sadness, anger, and empathy in me. They bring the possibility of change to the forefront of my mind, and an acknowledgment that we can all do better, that the world must do better. And that experience is a powerful thing.

Dr Marcus Bunyan.

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

 

 

“I’ve come to believe that the best works tend to result not from the imposition of an idea on a situation, but to be responsive to what’s going on once you get there.”

“How can one visualise African American history and make that history resonate in the contemporary moment?”

.
Dawoud Bey

 

“Dreams are spaces that do not yet exist, except by escape through an unknown night.”

.
Anna Mirzayan

 

“I Never Had White Folks That Was Good To Me, EVER… We all worked jest like dogs and had about half enough to eat and got whupped for everything. Our days was a constant misery to us… My old Master was Dave Giles, the meanest man that ever lived. He didn’t have many slaves, my mammy, and me, and my sister, Uncle Bill, and Truman. He had owned my grandma but he give her a bad whupping and she never did git over it and died. We all done as much work as a dozen niggers – we knowed we had to. I seen old Master git mad at Truman and he buckled him down across a barrel and whupped him till he cut the blood out of him and then he rubbed salt and pepper in the raw places. It looked like Truman would die it hurt so bad. I know that don’t sound reasonable that a white man in a Christian community would do such a thing but you can’t realise how heartless he was. People didn’t know about it and we dassent tell for we knowed he’d kill us if we did. You must remember he owned us body and soul and they wasn’t anything we could do about it. Old Mistress and her three girls was mean to us too. One time me and my sister was spinning and old Mistress went to the well-house and she found a chicken snake and killed it. She brought it back and she throwed it around my sister’s neck. She jest laughed and laughed about it. She thought it was a big joke. Old Master stayed drunk all the time. I reckon that is the reason he was so fetched mean. My, how we hated him! He finally killed hisself drinking and I remember Old Mistress called us in to look at him in his coffin. We all marched by him slow like and I jest happened to look up and caught my sister’s eye and we both jest natchelly laughed – Why shouldn’t we? We was glad he was dead. It’s a good thing we had our laugh fer old Mistress took us out and whupped us with a broomstick. She didn’t make us sorry though.”

.
Annie Hawkins, formerly enslaved Afrikan who was sold from Georgia to Texas. This interview was done in Colbert, Oklahoma where her and her family moved after emancipation. Interview, conducted Spring, 1937 with a date stamp of August 16, 1937. Ms. Hawkins was 90 years old at the time of the interview and what she relates occurred in Texas. Source: Library of Congress

 

 

Since the beginning of his career in the 1970s, Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) has used his camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, race, place, and American history. From early street portraits made in Harlem to a recent series imagining an escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad, Bey explores photography’s potential to reveal communities and stories that have been underrepresented or even unseen. Both a form of personal expression and an act of political responsibility, Bey’s art insists on the power of photography to transform stereotypes, convene communities, and create dialogue.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project traces these through lines across the forty-five years of Bey’s career and his profound engagement with the young Black subject and African American history. The title intentionally inserts his photographs into a long-running conversation about what it means to represent America with a camera. The questions of who is considered an American photographer, or simply an American, and whose story is an American story are particularly urgent today. Bey’s work offers a potent corrective to the gaps in our picture of American society and history – and an emphatic reminder of the ongoing impact of those omissions.

 

 

Dawoud Bey on visualising history

Photographer Dawoud Bey’s work grapples with history. The artist asks, “How can one visualise African American history and make that history resonate in the contemporary moment?” Here he discusses several series, sited from Harlem to Birmingham to the Underground Railroad routes of northeastern Ohio, each of which works to make histories visible.

 

 

Dawoud Bey: An American Project – Part 1

 

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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31
May
20

European photographic research tour exhibition: ‘Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity’ at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam Part 1

Exhibition dates: 7th September – 1st December 2019

Visited September 2019 posted June 2020

Curator: Estrella de Diego, Professor of Modern Art at the Complutense University of Madrid

 

 

Berenice Abbott. 'George Antheil' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
George Antheil
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

George Antheil was an American avant-garde composer, pianist, author, and inventor whose modernist musical compositions explored the modern sounds – musical, industrial, and mechanical – of the early 20th century.

 

 

This was one of the most memorable photography exhibitions of my European sojourn during August – October 2019, in the most beautiful of gallery spaces. I was so very lucky to complete my time in Europe before the current pandemic arrived.

I will comment more on the exhibition in Part 2 of the posting, but suffice to say it was a real pleasure to see the work of Berenice Abbott side by side with the photographs of Eugène Atget, an artist she did much to champion (including printing his photographs). Her portraits of Atget taken in the year of his death were magnificent. They provide a portal between old and new, between the artist looking back on his work (his life), and the 20th century artist realising that they have to accommodate Atget within their future kinēsis … and in so doing, Abbott pictures an artist whose spirit possessed all of Old Paris.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All iPhone photographs by Dr Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'George Antheil' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
George Antheil
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations © Getty Images/Berenice Abbott

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

This autumn Huis Marseille will present a large retrospective of the famous American photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). This is the first time that an extensive selection of her work, held by important American collections, will be shown in the Netherlands. Abbott is one of the key figures in the history of 20th-century photography. Her legacy is not only an eclectic photographic oeuvre but also a strong opinion on the role of photography in society, to which she gave expression in numerous publications. Her work forms a bridge linking the artistic avant-garde in the ‘Old World’ with the emerging art scene of the 1920s and 1930s in New York.

 

Modernity

The idea of modernity pervades all of Berenice Abbott’s work: from her portraits of pioneering artists and intellectuals, and her astonishing views of the city of New York, to her photos of scientific themes, documenting the results of various physics experiments. Abbott’s oeuvre also reflects her own modernism, her constant desire to be on the front line, and her exceptional talent for not just noticing the changes that were going on around her but for depicting them to striking effect. Berenice Abbott was an enthusiastic proponent of modernism in photography, and was strongly opposed to picturalism, the painterly style that dominated photography in the early 20th century. In her view a good photograph was shaped by the specific characteristics of photography itself, and not by those of painting.

 

Lost Generation

In 1918 Berenice Abbott left her birthplace Ohio and moved to New York to study sculpture, where she soon gravitated towards Greenwich Village, a hotbed of avant-garde and radical artists, bohemians, and others whose lifestyles put them outside the American mainstream. In 1921 she arrived in Paris and joined the artistic community of Montparnasse on the famous left bank of the Seine. Its writers and artists included many American expats who, disillusioned by the senseless violence of the First World War and by Prohibition in America, had taken refuge in Europe. The American writer Gertrude Stein called them the ‘lost generation’, a generation to which Abbott also belonged, which questioned traditional values and favoured an alternative kind of life. Abbott would go on to portray many of these writers, including Djuna Barnes and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

 

Portrait photographer

Abbott’s life as a photographer began in 1923, in the Parisian studio of the famous American photographer, Dadaist and Surrealist Man Ray. As his assistant she learned the technical, artistic and commercial aspects of portrait photography. In 1926, with financial support from the immensely rich American art collector Peggy Guggenheim, she opened her own Paris studio. Her clients were mostly expats, socialites, bohemians, writers, artists and the ‘new women’ who, like herself, were willing to live on the margins of society in order to be free. Many had broken ties with their origins and their gender, such as the journalist Janet Flanner, the publisher Jane Heap, and the writer Sylvia Beach. Abbott immortalised them in assertive, powerful portraits. Beach was also the publisher of James Joyce’ Ulysses (1922), a book that Abbott greatly admired, and she portrayed the writer, his wife and daughter on several occasions.

 

Eugène Atget

Through Man Ray in Paris Abbott met the photographer Eugène Atget, with whose work she felt an immediate visual and artistic affinity. For decades Atget had documented Paris in plain, unadorned images, and with a keen eye for seemingly unimportant details. After his death in 1927 Abbott looked after a large part of his oeuvre, promoting it tirelessly in America through exhibitions and books. The present exhibition therefore also includes a small selection of photos by Eugène Atget, which Abbott printed from the original negatives in 1956.

 

Changing New York

The heart of the exhibition is formed by Abbott’s photos of New York City. When she returned to New York in 1929 she felt an immediate urge to photograph the city itself, with its enormous contrasts and contradictions, a city that changed constantly and was never the same from moment to moment. In 1935 she received a substantial grant from the Federal Art Project, a government initiative that was intended to create jobs and boost the economy following the crisis years, and this allowed her to begin work in earnest. She called her project Changing New York; it was also published in book form in 1939, with texts by her partner Elizabeth McCausland. Her camera transformed New York into a living being, with an extraordinary character, which visitors can experience to this day as they move through its busy streets and stare amazed at the modern beauty of its skyscrapers. Shops, people, bridges, streets, interiors, construction sites, iconic buildings seen from outside or from above – everything comes together to create a portrait of the city.

 

Science

In the late 1930s Abbott became deeply interested in science, and saw that photography could play a role as spokesperson. The cerebral world of science needed the vitality and imaginative powers of photography to reach a wider audience. Moreover, the scientific interpretation of the world was not reserved for scientists alone; any citizen ought to be able to consider a scientific question, and photography could serve as an intermediary. With this goal in mind, for years Abbott did darkroom experiments with all kinds of camera techniques. In 1957 the Physical Science Study Committee of the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology hired her services to provide photographic illustrations for new and influential schoolbooks.

 

Curation

The exhibition was created in collaboration with Fundación MAPFRE, a Spanish non-profit organisation with which Huis Marseille has worked regularly over the last ten years – most recently in 2016 for the Stephen Shore retrospective in Huis Marseille. It was curated by Estrella de Diego, Professor of Modern Art at the Complutense University of Madrid, and has been shown in Barcelona and Madrid.

 

Loans

The exhibition comprises almost 200 vintage photographs generously loaned from the New York Public Library, the Museum of the City of New York, the International Center of Photography (NY), the George Eastman House (Rochester, NY), the Howard Greenberg Gallery (NY) and the MIT Museum (Cambridge, Massachusetts), together with a selection of Abbott’s publications on loan from the Rijksmuseum library and other collections.

 

Publication

Estrella de Diego, Julia van Haaften, Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity, Madrid (Fundación Mapfre) 2019.

Text from the Huis Marseille website

 

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Jean Cocteau' 1927 (installation view)

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Jean Cocteau' 1927 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Jean Cocteau (installation views)
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Jean Cocteau, the author of so many memorable films and works of literature, is shown embracing a sort of mask that perhaps alludes to the repeated play of mirrors that runs through his Orphic Trilogy. He represents the kind of masculinity that Abbott renders in her portraits of homosexual activists such as André Gide and Cocteau or the ‘new men’ who had ceased to be certain of their identity – like the characters in the novels of George Bernard Shaw or Thomas Hardy – and had adopted a less monolithic masculinity. This trait can also be found in D.H. Lawrence, and in James Joyce, who sat for Abbott in 1928.

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Janet Flanner in Paris' 1927 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Janet Flanner in Paris (installation view)
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing the exhibition 'Janet Flanner in Paris', 1927

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing the exhibition Janet Flanner in Paris, 1927
Photo: Eddo Hartmann

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Janet Flanner in Paris' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Janet Flanner in Paris
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

 

Abbott’s portraits depict some of the modern intellectuals with whom she associated in New York’s Greenwich Village following her arrival there from the native Ohio. These included people who also had links with Paris, such as the writer and journalist Janet Flanner, a personal friend of the writer Djuna Barnes. Abbott gave Flanner an ambiguous aspect; with her cropped hair and masculine dress she is another representative of the strong ‘New Women’. Abbott photographed many of these New Women who were prepared to live on the margins of society in order to safeguard their freedom.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing in the top image, the photographs of Janet Flanner (above) Eugène Atget (below)
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Eugène Atget' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Eugène Atget (installation view)
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Eugène Atget' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Eugène Atget
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Eugène Atget' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Eugène Atget (installation view)
1927
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In 1927 Berenice Abbott produced two portraits, front-facing and in profile, of Eugène Atget, the photographer who was adored by the Surrealists and who captured the mood of late 19th-century Paris. The portraits, reminiscent of a documentary work – of police records, almost – highlight Abbott’s extraordinary skill as a portrait photographer. Atget provided the inspiration for Abbott’s wonderful portrait of New York City, Changing New York. She made generous efforts to promote the French photographer’s work, even acquiring his negatives after his death.

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Eugène Atget' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Eugène Atget
1927
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing Abbott's photographs of Eugène Atget

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing Abbott’s photographs of Eugène Atget
Photo: Eddo Hartmann

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) James Joyce, Paris 1920 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
James Joyce, Paris (installation view)
1920
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Audrey McMahon' 1925-1946 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Audrey McMahon (installation view)
1925-1946
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Audrey McMahon was the Director of the New York region of the Federal Art Project from 1935 to 1943; the region she oversaw included New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. Born in New York City in 1898, she attended the Sorbonne, and she was the director of the College Art Association. …

Her approach to the administration of the Federal Art Project attempted to give the artists employed a great deal of freedom, and as she recalled later, “It is gratifying to note… that almost all of the painters, sculptors, graphic artists, and muralists who recall those days remember little or no artistic stricture.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Jane Heap' 1929-1931 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Jane Heap (installation view)
1929-1931
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Jane Heap (November 1, 1883 – June 18, 1964) was an American publisher and a significant figure in the development and promotion of literary modernism. Together with Margaret Anderson, her friend and business partner (who for some years was also her lover), she edited the celebrated literary magazine The Little Review, which published an extraordinary collection of modern American, English and Irish writers between 1914 and 1929. Heap herself has been called “one of the most neglected contributors to the transmission of modernism between America and Europe during the early twentieth century.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Jane Heap' 1929-1931

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Jane Heap
1929-1931
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam with at bottom left, Eugène Atget’s photo Eclipse, Paris 1912
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'L'éclipse' April 1912 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
L’éclipse (installation view)
April 1912
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Pendant l'éclipse' 1912

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Pendant l’éclipse
1912
Albumen print

 

 

Although the moon is not visible in this photograph by Eugène Atget, its presence and appeal are implied. The crowd gathered in Paris’s Place de la Bastille on April 17, 1912, was observing a solar eclipse through viewing apparatuses. Atget, rather than recording the astronomical event itself, turned his attention to its spectators. Though Atget made more than 8,500 pictures of Paris and its environs in a career that spanned over thirty years – most documenting the built environment – this photograph is an unusual example that focuses on a crowd of people.

Text from the MoMA website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing the photographs of Eugène Atget with at second right Avenue des Gobelins, 1925
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Avenue des Gobelins' 1925

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Avenue des Gobelins
1925
Albumen print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Interior of a worker's room, Rue de Romainville, 19th arr.' c. 1910 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Interior of a worker’s room, Rue de Romainville, 19th arr. (installation view)
c. 1910
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Courtyard, 7 Rue de Valence, 5th arr.' June 1922 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Courtyard, 7 Rue de Valence, 5th arr. (installation view)
June 1922
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Courtyard, 7 Rue de Valence, 5th arr.' June 1922

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Courtyard, 7 Rue de Valence, 5th arr.
June 1922
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 13.
Library of Congress

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Rue St. Rustique' March 1922 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Rue St. Rustique (installation view)
March 1922
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Rue St. Rustique' March 1922

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Rue St. Rustique
March 1922
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 9.
Library of Congress

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Ragpicker's Hut' 1910 (installation view)

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Ragpicker's Hut' 1910 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Ragpicker’s Hut (installation views)
1910
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Street diversions (or B organ)' 1898-99

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Street diversions (or B organ)
1898-99
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 16
Library of Congress

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Street Pavers' 1899-1900 (installation view)

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Street Pavers' 1899-1900 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Street Pavers (installation views)
1899-1900
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Street Pavers' 1899-1900

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Street Pavers
1899-1900
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 12
Library of Congress

 

 

Abbott saw in Eugène Atget a documentary photographer who revealed in his photographs of Paris a city frozen in time, a city that one might almost describe as antiheroic. Abbott understood that all documentary photography (and an photograph can be documentary, free from fault lines) contains a larger amount of autobiography, and Atget’s photography tells the story of a man and his camera traipsing around the city to seek out its nooks and crannies. To take a photo is to think with your eyes and with your brain. To observe is to be part of the scene.

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Butcher's shop, Rue Christine' c. 1923 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Butcher’s shop, Rue Christine (installation view)
c. 1923
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Butcher's shop, Rue Christine' c. 1923

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Butcher’s shop, Rue Christine
c. 1923
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 17
Library of Congress

 

 

The surrealists were fascinated by Eugène Atget and his shifting play with Paris’s innermost structure, his phantasmagorias. In contrast with this, Abbott emphasises the documentary characteristics of Atget, at first glance a ‘realist’ photographer who captured the deserted landscapes of the city described by Albert Valentin in 1928 as “cerebral landscapes”. Atget photographed the everyday, the events in the house next door, expressing the sense of encountering the strange in the familiar and the familiar in the strange – rather like Abbott did, years later.

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Mannequin' 1926-27 (installation view)

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Mannequin' 1926-27 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Mannequin (installation views)
1926-27
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Mannequin' 1926-27

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Mannequin
1926-27
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 15.
Library of Congress

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Shop, Avenue des Gobelins' 1925 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Shop, Avenue des Gobelins (installation view)
1925
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Avenue des Gobelins' 1925

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Shop, Avenue des Gobelins
1925
Albumen print

 

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Bar interior, 15 Rue Boyer, 20th arr.
1900-1911
Albumen print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing Aerial View of New York by Night at centre and New York Stock Exchange at centre right
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing at left, Aerial View of New York by Night
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bernice Abbott. 'Night View, New York City' 1932

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Aerial View of New York by Night
March 20, 1936
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography

 

 

The changes in points of view in [the book] Changing New York – which sometimes seem like a juggling act or a pirouette, ways of seeing form above and from outside – are what convert the most emblematic or familiar places into landscape seen for the first time. And then there is the beautiful photograph of New York at night, the image that offers a full view, the one captured whole by our gaze” an exercise in light that prefigures Abbott’s later photographs on scientific themes.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing New York Stock Exchange
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'New York Stock Exchange' 1933

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
New York Stock Exchange
1933
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Washington Square, looking north' April 16, 1936 (installation view)

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Washington Square, looking north' April 16, 1936 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Washington Square, looking north
April 16, 1936
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1949

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'From Trinity Church Yard' March 1, 1938 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
From Trinity Church Yard (installation view)
March 1, 1938
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'John Watts statue, from Trinity Churchyard looking toward One Wall Street, Manhattan' March 1, 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
John Watts statue, from Trinity Churchyard looking toward One Wall Street, Manhattan
March 1, 1938
Gelatin silver print
Wikipedia, Public domain

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Broadway near Broome Street, Manhattan' 1935 (installation view)

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Broadway near Broome Street, Manhattan' 1935 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Broadway near Broome Street, Manhattan (installation views)
1935
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Arts, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing at bottom left, Lamport Export Company, 507-511 Broadway, Manhattan October 7, 1935; and at top right, Broadway and Thomas Street 1936
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) Broadway and Thomas Street 1936 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Broadway and Thomas Street
1936
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Arts, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing at third right, Abbott’s 5th Avenue, No’s 4, 6, 8 March 20, 1936
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing Abbott’s 5th Avenue, No’s 4, 6, 8 March 20, 1936
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) 'Fifth Avenue Houses' 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
5th Avenue, No’s 4, 6, 8
March 20, 1936
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Tempo of the City II, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street looking west from Seymour Building, 503 Fifth Avenue' September 6, 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Tempo of the City II, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street looking west from Seymour Building, 503 Fifth Avenue
September 6, 1938
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection
Wikipedia, Public domain

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Allen Street, No’s 55-57, Manhattan
1937
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Arts, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

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25
Mar
20

Exhibition: ‘Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures’ at the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 9th February – 9th May 2020

MoMA has closed temporarily due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

#MuseumFromHome

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Six Tenant Farmers without Farms, Hardeman County, Texas' 1937, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Six Tenant Farmers without Farms, Hardeman County, Texas
1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
12 15/16 × 16 5/8″ (32.9 × 42.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

This image appeared in Land of the Free and later in Lange and Paul Taylor’s documentary photobook An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion (1941), where Lange cropped out the sixth, smaller man, perhaps to simplify the idea of strength and virility conveyed there.

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'A Half-Hour Later, Hardeman County, Texas' 1937, printed 1965

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
A Half-Hour Later, Hardeman County, Texas
1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
12 1/8 × 15 3/16″ (30.8 × 38.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

“All photographs – not only those that are so-called ‘documentary,’ … can be fortified by words.”

“And the assignment was… see what was really there. What does it look like, what does it feel like, what actually is the human condition.”

.
Dorothea Lange

 

“Lange took so many memorable photographs that it is challenging to shortlist them. One of the greatest is at the entrance to the MoMA show: “Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona” (1940). The farmworker’s hands are close to the lens of the camera. One hand is holding a wooden beam; it could be the implement of his impending crucifixion. The other hand, with its open palm and splayed fingers, covers his mouth. Unforgettably powerful, the photograph resembles self-portraits by Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele, who shared Lange’s interest in extremities – hands and feet, and also, wretched misery.”

.
Arthur Lubow

 

 

Closer and closer

While MoMA has closed temporarily due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, I believe it is important to document and write about those exhibitions that would have been running during this distressing time, as a form of social inclusion, social connection if you like, in the virtual world. I know that I am feeling particularly isolated at the moment, fighting off depression, with a lack of my usual routine and coffee with friends.

Great art always inspires, engages me, makes me feel and care about the world around me. In these photographs by that most excellent of photographers Dorothea Lange, of another desperate time, The Great Depression, we can feel her sincerity and intensity, that resolute gift of seeing the world clearly, despite the abject misery that surrounds her. Fast forward future, and we see the lines of the newly unemployed, desperate, penniless, snaking around the block of the social security buildings here in Australia, this very day.

Lange’s photographs don’t need words. Words are never enough.

The faces weary, furrowed, parched under baking sun, rutted like the land, Tractored Out, Childress County, Texas (1938). Dark eyes pierce the marrow, astringent lines, heavy eyebrows, mirror, set above, tight, tight mouth, Young Sharecropper, Macon County, Georgia (July 1937). I feel what, his pain? his sadness? his despair? Hands, arms, feet, form an important part of Lange’s visual armoury, arm/ory, amour. The hand to chin of Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (March 1936); the bony arms of Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle (June 1938); hand obscuring face, steely gaze, Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California (1938); weathered, beaten hands, beaten, Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona (November 1940). These extremities are expressions not just of her subjects, but of herself. A virtual self-portrait.

“One of the greatest is at the entrance to the MoMA show: “Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona” (1940). The farmworker’s hands are close to the lens of the camera. One hand is holding a wooden beam; it could be the implement of his impending crucifixion. The other hand, with its open palm and splayed fingers, covers his mouth. Unforgettably powerful, the photograph resembles self-portraits by Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele, who shared Lange’s interest in extremities – hands and feet, and also, wretched misery.” (Press release)

Lange “is a key link in a chain of photographic history. From Evans, she learned how to frame precise images of clapboard churches. But unlike Evans, who usually preferred to keep a distance and capture a building’s architectural integrity, Lange always wanted, as she said when describing how she made “Migrant Mother,” to move “closer and closer”.” Moving closer, her photographs possess an un/bridled intimacy with troubled creatures. Moving closer, seeing clearly. Closer and closer, till death, parts.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

 

Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures MoMA exhibition

 

Dorothea Lange introduction

 

Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures introduction text

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at right, Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona November 1940
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Lange San Francisco Streets

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

San Francisco Streets

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 showing at left, White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco 1933
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco' 1933

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco
1933
Gelatin silver print
10 3/4 x 8 7/8″ (27.3 x 22.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Albert M. Bender

 

 

About this photograph, one of the first made outside her studio, Lange recalled, “I was just gathering my forces and that took a little bit because I wasn’t accustomed to jostling about in groups of tormented, depressed and angry men, with a camera.”

 

Lange Government Work

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Government Work

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 showing at fifth from left bottom, Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California 1938; at fourth from left top, Grayson, San Joaquin Valley, California 1938; and at fifth from left top, Ex-Slave with Long Memory, Alabama c. 1937
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California' 1938, printed c. 1958

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California
1938, printed c. 1958
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 8″ (24 × 20.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Grayson, San Joaquin Valley, California' 1938, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Grayson, San Joaquin Valley, California
1938, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
10 3/8 x 16 15/16″ (26.3 x 43 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Regarding this picture, Dorothea Lange’s field notes report: “Grayson was a migratory agricultural labourers’ shack town. It was during the season of the pea harvest. Late afternoon about 6 o’clock. Boys were playing baseball in the road that passes this building, which was used as a church. Otherwise, this corpse, lying at the church, was alone, unattended, and unexplained.” The full negative she made there represents not just this doorway but the entire whitewashed gabled façade. The concrete steps in front of the entrance and foundation blocks are visible. Apparently the form in the doorway was what drew Lange to the scene, however; it has been suggested that she later realised this central feature was important enough to carry the composition and proceeded to concentrate on the portion of the negative with the shallow portal holding the body. She published an even more severely cut-down version in the 1940 US Camera Annual. Bearing the title Doorstep Document, it eliminates the three plain boards that frame the doorway, making the depth of the threshold less evident and the wrapped figure and worn double doors more prominent and funereal.

It is not known why Lange identified the form as a corpse rather than a homeless person. Today we are more inclined to think the latter, since such scenes are common. The relaxed, uncovered pose of the feet indicates a voluntary reclining position. Lange was also some distance away when she made the exposure. One of the playing children may have suggested the corpse idea to test its shock value, and perhaps Lange adopted it for future propaganda purposes. Grayson was just a small town southwest of Modesto, and this church was probably one of the few places of refuge it offered.

It would seem peculiar for the feet of a dead person to be exposed. Here they represent the life, the personality, of this anonymous citizen. Always sensitive to the appearance and performance of others’ feet, due to her own deformity, Lange made hundreds of photographs on the theme. This one is among the most melancholy.

Judith Keller, Dorothea Lange, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002), 40. © 2002 J. Paul Getty Trust

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Ex-Slave with Long Memory, Alabama' c. 1937, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Ex-Slave with Long Memory, Alabama
c. 1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
15 3/16 × 11 15/16″ (38.5 × 30.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Lange 'Land of the Free'

Lange 'Land of the Free'

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Archibald Macleish (American, 1892-1982)
Land of the Free
1938
Letterpress open: 9 7/16 x 13 1/8″ (24 x 33.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York

Open at Lange’s Ditched, Stalled and Stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California February 1936

 

Lange Land of the Free

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Land of the Free

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left, Ditched, Stalled and Stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California February 1936; and at centre, Six Tenant Farmers without Farms, Hardeman County, Texas 1937
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Land of the Free and An American Exodus

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

FOR THE ENTIRE second half of Dorothea Lange’s life, a quotation from the English philosopher Francis Bacon floated in her peripheral vision: “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention.” She pinned a printout of these words up on her darkroom door in 1933. It remained there until she died, at 70, in 1965 – three months before her first retrospective opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and three decades after she took the most iconic photograph in the medium’s history.

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' March 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
March 1936
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 x 8 9/16″ (28.3 x 21.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

The captions used to describe Migrant Mother are as varied as the publications in which they appeared: “A destitute mother, the type aided by the WPA.” “A worker in the ‘peach bowl.'” “Draggin’-around people.” “In a camp of migratory pea-pickers, San Luis Obispo County, California.” Even in ostensibly factual settings such as newspapers, government reports, or a museum cataloguing sheet, no fixed phrase or set of words was associated with the image until 1952, when it was published as Migrant Mother.

 

Lange Migrant Mother / Popular Photography

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Migrant Mother / Popular Photography

Installation views of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left in the bottom photograph, Sunlit Oak c. 1957 (below)
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Sunlit Oak' c. 1957, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Sunlit Oak
c. 1957, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
30 7/8 × 41 1/8″ (78.4 × 104.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Kern County, California' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Kern County, California
1938
Gelatin silver print
12 7/16 x 12 1/2″ (31.6 x 31.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Pictures of Words

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left, Western Addition, San Francisco, California 1951 (below); at fifth from left, Kern County, California 1938 (above); at third from right, Crossroads Store, North Carolina July 1939 (below)
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Western Addition, San Francisco, California' 1951, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Western Addition, San Francisco, California
1951, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 6″ (23.8 × 17.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Crossroads Store, North Carolina' July 1939, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Crossroads Store, North Carolina
July 1939, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
9 11/16 × 13 9/16″ (24.6 × 34.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Tractored Out, Childress County, Texas' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Tractored Out, Childress County, Texas
1938
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 x 12 13/16″ (23.6 x 32.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Lange and Taylor’s captions in An American Exodus consider the human impact of environmental crises. The one for this image reads, “Tractors replace not only mules but people. They cultivate to the very door of the houses of those whom they replace.”

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'The Road West, New Mexico' 1938, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
The Road West, New Mexico
1938, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 13 1/16″ (24.5 × 33.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

The image was memorialised later by Robert Frank

 

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. 'An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion' New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. 'An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion' New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939

 

 

A seminal work in documentary studies, with powerful photographs of the Depression era made by the wife and husband team of Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor. They were hired by the Farm Security Administration to document the 300,000 strong, Depression era exodus from rural America, and the struggles these migrant workers overcame in search of basic necessities. The documentary photographer and social scientist’s goal was to “use the camera as a tool of research. Upon a tripod of photographs, captions, and text we rest themes evolved out of long observations in the field. We adhere to the standards of documentary photography as we have conceived them. Quotations which accompany photographs report what the persons photographed said, not what we think might be their unspoken thoughts.” p. 6.

Text from the Abe Books website [Online] Cited 24/02/2020

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle' June 1938, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle
June 1938, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
29 3/4 × 24″ (75.6 × 61 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

“IF YOU DIE, YOU’RE DEAD – THAT’S ALL”

When it was published in An American Exodus, this portrait was captioned “If you die, you’re dead—that’s all.” This line was taken from Lange’s field notes, which quote the woman at greater length: “‘We made good money a pullin’ bolls, when we could pull. But we’ve had no work since March. . . . You can’t get no relief here until you’ve lived here a year. This county’s a hard country. They won’t help bury you here. If you die, you’re dead, that’s all.’”

 

Lange 'An American Exodus'

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

An American Exodus

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left, Young Sharecropper, Macon County, Georgia July 1937; at second left top, The Road West, New Mexico 1938; at centre Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle June 1938; and second right, Jobless on the Edge of a Peafield, Imperial Valley, California February 1937
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Young Sharecropper, Macon County, Georgia' July 1937, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Young Sharecropper, Macon County, Georgia
July 1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
11 3/4 × 11 3/4″ (29.8 × 29.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Jobless on the Edge of a Peafield, Imperial Valley, California' February 1937, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Jobless on the Edge of a Peafield, Imperial Valley, California
February 1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
16 15/16 × 15 3/4″ (43 × 40.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. 'An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion' New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. 'An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion' New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939

 

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor
An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion
New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939
First edition. Hardcover
Letterpress open: 10 1/4 x 15 3/8″ (26 x 39.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York

 

 

Empathy and Artistry: Rediscovering Dorothea Lange

John Szarkowski was about 13 when he saw an image by Dorothea Lange that “enormously impressed” him. After he had become the powerful director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, he would recall that he took it to be a “picture of the hard-faced old woman, looking out of the handsome oval window of the expensive automobile with her hand to her face as if the smell of the street was offending her, and I thought, ‘Isn’t that marvellous?’ That a photographer can pin that specimen to the board as some kind of exotic moth and show her there in her true colours.”

A quarter of a century after his initial encounter with the photo, working in 1965 with Lange on his first one-artist retrospective at MoMA, he read her full caption for “Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California,” and realised that the fancy car belonged to an undertaker and that the expression he took for haughtiness was grief.

The wry confession of his mistake, which Szarkowski made in 1982 to an interviewer, is not mentioned in “Dorothea Lange: Words and Pictures,” which opened Sunday at MoMA. But it illustrates the curatorial theme: Lange’s pictures require verbal commentary to be read legibly.

Curiously, though, the strength of Lange’s photographs at MoMA undercuts the exhibition’s concept. With or without the support of words, Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), created some of the greatest images of the unsung struggles and overlooked realities of American life. Her most iconic photograph, which came to be called “Migrant Mother,” portrays a grave-faced woman in ragged clothing in Nipomo, Calif., in 1936, with two small children burying their faces against her shoulders, and a baby nestled in her lap. It is one of the most famous pictures of all time.

Yet Lange was not simply a Depression photographer. As this revelatory, heartening exhibition shows, she was an artist who made remarkable pictures throughout a career that spanned more than four decades. The photos she took in 1942 of interned Japanese-Americans (which the government suppressed until 1964) display state-administered cruelty with stone-cold clarity: One dignified man in a three-piece suit and overcoat is wearing a tag, like a steer, while disembodied white hands on either side examine and prod him. Her prescient photographs of environmental degradation portray the human cost of building a dam that flooded the Berryessa Valley near Napa. Her empathetic portraits of African-American field hands shine a light on a system of peonage that predated and outlasted the 1930s.

Nevertheless, her fame rests largely on the indelible images she made, starting in 1935, as an employee of the Resettlement Administration and its successor, the Farm Security Administration, both under the leadership of Roy Stryker. Lange endured a fractious relationship with Stryker, who seemed deeply discomfited by a strong-minded woman. He fired her in 1940, saying she was “uncooperative.” To his credit, however, he always acknowledged that “Migrant Mother” was the key image of the Depression.

Seeking a deeper understanding of the economic crisis, Lange and her collaborators in the field interviewed her subjects, and she incorporated their words into her captions. She was the first photographer to do that systematically. The show’s curator, Sarah Hermanson Meister, who drew from the museum’s collection of more than 500 Lange prints, includes many of the captions in the wall labels, in an installation that is patterned after Szarkowski’s 1966 Lange show. (The artist died of esophageal cancer before it opened.)

Lange took so many memorable photographs that it is challenging to shortlist them. One of the greatest is at the entrance to the MoMA show: “Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona” (1940). The farmworker’s hands are close to the lens of the camera. One hand is holding a wooden beam; it could be the implement of his impending crucifixion. The other hand, with its open palm and splayed fingers, covers his mouth. Unforgettably powerful, the photograph resembles self-portraits by Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele, who shared Lange’s interest in extremities – hands and feet, and also, wretched misery. …

Many wonderful Lange photographs are not overtly political. “Bad Trouble Over the Weekend” (1964) is a close-up of a woman’s hands folded over her face; one hand bears a wedding band and holds an unlit cigarette. (The subject was her daughter-in-law.) And Lange photographed multitrunked oaks with the same acuity as fingered hands.

The fame of “Migrant Mother” has cropped Lange’s reputation unfairly. She is a key link in a chain of photographic history. From Evans, she learned how to frame precise images of clapboard churches. But unlike Evans, who usually preferred to keep a distance and capture a building’s architectural integrity, Lange always wanted, as she said when describing how she made “Migrant Mother,” to move “closer and closer.” Her 1938 photograph, “Death in the Doorway, ” of a church entrance in the San Joaquin Valley reveals a blanketed corpse that someone, probably unable to afford a burial, has deposited. Evans would never have gone there.

In turn, Lange was revered by the documentary photographers who followed her. The greatest of them, Robert Frank, paid her direct homage in “The Americans,” shooting from the same vantage point the New Mexico highway that Lange had memorialized in “An American Exodus.”

But photography was heading off in a different direction. A year after his Lange exhibition, Mr. Szarkowski mounted “New Documents,” which introduced a younger generation of American photographers: Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand. Speaking to me in 2003, he explained that these photographers were “rejecting Dorothea’s attitude” that “documentary photography was supposed to do some good” and instead using the camera “to explore their own experience and their own life and not to persuade somebody else what to do or what to work for.” That notion was hardly foreign to Lange. In a picture of a lame person, “Walking Wounded, Oakland” (1954), she found, as did the New Documents artists, a real-life subject that mirrored her own life.

One happy consequence of our dismal political moment is a rediscovery of Lange. In 2018, a major exhibition from her archive was staged at the Barbican Center in London and the Jeu de Paume in Paris.

Perhaps now younger photographers will be inspired to pick up her banner. The need is all too apparent. Where is the photographer of cleareyed empathy and consummate artistry to depict the disquiet, hopelessness and desperate fortitude that riddle the American body politic of today? Who will bring us our “Migrant Mother”?

Arthur Lubow. “Empathy and Artistry: Rediscovering Dorothea Lange,” on The New York Times website Feb. 13, 2020 [Online] Cited 24/03/2020.

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona' November 1940

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona
November 1940
Gelatin silver print
19 15/16 × 23 13/16″ (50.7 × 60.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Lange '12 Million Black Voices'

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Edwin Rosskam (American, 1903-1985)
Richard Wright (American, 1908-1960)
12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States
1941
Offset lithography open: 10 1/4 x 14 1/2″ (26 x 36.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art Library

 

Lange 12 Million Black Voices

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

12 Million Black Voices

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Richmond, California' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Richmond, California
1942
Gelatin silver print
9 ¾ x 7 11/16″ (24.7 x 19.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Richmond, California' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Richmond, California
1942, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
10 7/16 × 13 3/16″ (26.5 × 33.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

During World War II, at the height of antiJapanese sentiment, Lange documented an explicitly racist billboard advertising the Southern Pacific railroad company. Rather than portraying the billboard in isolation, she disrupted the frame with a handmade sign that seems to undermine the commodification of such political sentiments.

 

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at second left top, One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco 1942 (below); and at second left bottom, Just About to Step into the Bus for the Assembly Center, San Francisco April 6, 1942 (below)
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco
1942
Gelatin silver print
13 1/8 × 9 13/16″ (33.4 × 25 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Just About to Step into the Bus for the Assembly Center, San Francisco' April 6, 1942, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Just About to Step into the Bus for the Assembly Center, San Francisco
April 6, 1942, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
10 3/8 × 9 13/16″ (26.3 × 25 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, the first major solo exhibition at the Museum of the photographer’s incisive work in over 50 years. On view from February 9 through May 9, 2020, Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures includes approximately 100 photographs drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection. The exhibition also uses archival materials such as correspondence, historical publications, and oral histories, as well as contemporary voices, to examine the ways in which words inflect our understanding of Lange’s pictures. These new perspectives and responses from artists, scholars, critics, and writers, including Julie Ault, Wendy Red Star, and Rebecca Solnit, provide fresh insight into Lange’s practice. Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures is organised by Sarah Meister, Curator, with River Bullock, Beaumont & Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, assisted by Madeline Weisburg, Modern Women’s Fund Twelve-Month Intern, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art.

Toward the end of her life, Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) remarked, “All photographs – not only those that are so-called ‘documentary,’ and every photograph really is documentary and belongs in some place, has a place in history – can be fortified by words.” Organised loosely chronologically and spanning her career, the exhibition groups iconic works together with lesser known photographs and traces their varied relationships to words: from early criticism on Lange’s photographs to her photo-essays published in LIFE magazine, and from the landmark photobook An American Exodus to her examination of the US criminal justice system. The exhibition also includes groundbreaking photographs of the 1930s – including Migrant Mother (1936) – that inspired pivotal public awareness of the lives of sharecroppers, displaced families, and migrant workers during the Great Depression. Through her photography and her words, Lange urged photographers to reconnect with the world – a call reflective of her own ethos and working method, which coupled an attention to aesthetics with a central concern for humanity.

“It seems both timely and urgent that we renew our attention to Lange’s extraordinary achievements,” said Sarah Meister. “Her concern for less fortunate and often overlooked individuals, and her success in using photography (and words) to address these inequities, encourages each of us to reflect on our own civic responsibilities. It reminds me of the unique role that art – and in particular photography – can play in imagining a more just society.”

The exhibition begins in 1933, when Lange, then a portrait photographer, first brought her camera outside into the streets of San Francisco. Lange’s increasing interest in the everyday experience of people she encountered eventually led her to work for government agencies, supporting their objective to raise public awareness and to provide aid to struggling farmers and those devastated by the Great Depression. During this time, Lange photographed her subjects and kept notes that formed the backbone of government reports; these and other archival materials will be represented alongside corresponding photographs throughout the exhibition. Lange’s commitment to social justice and her faith in the power of photography remained constant throughout her life, even when her politics did not align with those who were paying for her work. A central focus of the exhibition is An American Exodus, a 1939 collaboration between Lange and Paul Schuster Taylor, her husband and an agricultural economist. As an object and as an idea, An American Exodus highlights the voices of her subjects by pairing first-person quotations alongside their pictures. Later, Lange’s photographs continued to be useful in addressing marginalised histories and ongoing social concerns. Throughout her career as a photographer for the US Government and various popular magazines, Lange’s pictures were frequently syndicated and circulated outside of their original context. Lange’s photographs of the 1930s helped illustrate Richard Wright’s 12 Million Black Voices (1941), and her 1950s photographs of a public defender were used to illustrate Minimizing Racism in Jury Trials (1969), a law handbook published after Black Panther Huey P. Newton’s first trial during a time of great racial strife.

This collection-based exhibition would not be possible had it not been for Lange’s deep creative ties to the Museum during her lifetime. MoMA’s collection of Lange photographs was built over many decades and remains one of the definitive collections of her work. Her relationship to MoMA’s Department of Photography dates to her inclusion in its inaugural exhibition, in 1940 which was curated by the department’s director, Edward Steichen. Lange is a rare artist in that both Steichen and his successor, John Szarkowski, held her in equally high esteem. More than a generation after her first retrospective, organised by Szarkowski at MoMA in 1966, Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures uses both historical and contemporary words to encourage a more nuanced understanding of words and pictures in circulation.

Press release from MoMA website

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Richmond, California' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Richmond, California
1942
Gelatin silver print
7 3/8 x 6 5/8″ (18.8 x 16.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

The Family of Man and World War II

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left, Richmond, California 1942 (above)
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Café near Pinole, California' 1956, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Café near Pinole, California
1956, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
11 15/16 × 16 7/8″ (30.3 × 42.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
“Guilty, Your Honor,” Alameda County Courthouse, California
1955-57, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
17 1/16 × 14 15/16″ (43.3 × 37.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Lange Public Defender

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Public Defender and Late Work

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'The Defendant, Alameda County Courthouse, California' 1957

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
The Defendant, Alameda County Courthouse, California
1957
Gelatin silver print
12 3/8 x 10 1/8″ (31.4 x 25.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'The Witness, Alameda County Courthouse, California' 1955-57, printed c. 1958

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
The Witness, Alameda County Courthouse, California
1955-57, printed c. 1958
Gelatin silver print
10 5/16 × 8 1/2″ (26.2 × 21.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist

 

Lange Late Work

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Late work

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left Man Stepping from Cable Car, San Francisco 1956, and at third left Walking Wounded, Oakland, 1954
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Walking Wounded, Oakland' 1954, printed c. 1958

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Walking Wounded, Oakland
1954, printed c. 1958
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 × 9 1/2″ (19 × 24.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist

 

 

Lange’s choice of title for this image was almost certainly influenced by her own experience with disability. As a child she had contracted polio, which left her with a permanent limp. Toward the end of her life she reflected, “No one who hasn’t lived the life of a semi-cripple knows how much that means. I think it perhaps was the most important thing that happened to me, and formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me, and humiliated me. All those things at once. I’ve never gotten over it and I am aware of the force and the power of it.”

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Man Stepping from Cable Car, San Francisco' 1956

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Man Stepping from Cable Car, San Francisco
1956
Gelatin silver print
9 3/4 x 6 7/16″ (24.8 x 16.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Woman in Purdah, Upper Egypt' 1963, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Woman in Purdah, Upper Egypt
1963, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
12 7/16 × 15 15/16″ (31.6 × 40.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Bad Trouble Over the Weekend' 1964, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Bad Trouble Over the Weekend
1964, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 5 3/4″ (18.2 × 14.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Lange grappled extensively with the titles of the photographs included in her 1966 MoMA retrospective. In a letter to the curator, John Szarkowski, she wrote, “I propose also to caption each print separately, beyond time and place, sometimes with two or three words, sometimes with a quotation, sometimes with a brief commentary. This textual material I shall be working on for some time, on and of.” Rather than identify the subject of this photo as her daughter-in-law, Lange’s title extends the image’s affective reach.

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) '“Guilty, Your Honor,” Alameda County Courthouse, California' 1955-57, printed 1965

 

 

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16
Dec
18

Exhibition: ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at Jeu de Paume, Concorde, Paris

Exhibition dates: 16th October 2018 – 27th January 2019

Curators: Drew Heath Johnson, Oakland Museum of California, Alona Pardo and Jilke Golbach, Barbican Art Gallery, Pia Viewing, Jeu de Paume.

 

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

 

A further posting on this exhibition, now showing at Jeu de Paume in Paris.

Eleven new media images, two videos, a selection of quotes from Dorothea Lange, and text from the exhibition curator Pia Viewing.

The most interesting of the images is the wide shot Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936, above), part of a series of six that Lange took of Florence Owens Thompson and her children, the last image of which was to become the iconic image (see text below). The story of that image is fascinating and is told in detail in text from Wikipedia and other sources below.

It would seem that Lange was mistaken or made up the story to fill in the blanks; and that the image was at first a curse (ashamed that the world could see how poor they were) and now a source of pride, to the Thompson family. As the text pertinently notes, “The photograph’s fame caused distress for Thompson and her children and raised ethical concerns about turning individuals into symbols.”

Marcus

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

 

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California [with thumb at bottom right removed]
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Destitute pea pickers in California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California [original title, thumb removed; digital file, post-conservation]
1936
Library of Congress

 

Digital file was made from the original nitrate negative for “Migrant Mother” (LC-USF34-009058-C). The negative was retouched in the 1930s to erase the thumb holding a tent pole in lower right hand corner.

The file print made before the thumb was retouched can be seen at http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.12883

Title from caption card for negative. Title on print: “Destitute pea pickers in California. A 32 year old mother of seven children.”

 

 

Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California. In the 1930s, the FSA employed several photographers to document the effects of the Great Depression on Americans. Many of the photographs can also be seen as propaganda images to support the U.S. government’s policy distributing support to the worst affected, poorer areas of the country. Dorothea Lange’s image of a migrant pea picker, Florence Owens Thompson, and her family has become an icon of resilience in the face of adversity. Lange actually took six images that day, the last being the famous “Migrant Mother”. This is a montage of the other five pictures. Persons in picture (left to right) are: Viola (Pete) in rocker, age 14, standing inside tent; Ruby, age 5; Katherine, age 4, seated on box; Florence, age 32, and infant Norma, age 1 year, being held by Florence. Pete has moved inside the tent, and away from Lange, in hopes her photo can not be taken. Katherine stands next to her mother. Florence is talking to Ruby, who is hiding behind her mother, as Lange took the picture. Florence is nursing Norma. Katherine has moved back from her mother as Lange approached to take this shot. Ruby is still hiding behind her mother. Left to right are Florence, Ruby and baby Norma. Florence stopped nursing Norma and Ruby has come out from behind her. This photograph was the one used by the newspapers the following day to report the story of the migrants. Portrait shows Florence Owens Thompson with several of her children in a photograph known as “Migrant Mother”.

  1. Persons in picture (left to right) are: Viola (Pete) in rocker, age 14; standing inside tent, Ruby, age 5; Katherine, age 4; seated on box, Florence, age 32, and infant Norma, age 1 year, being held by Florence
  2. Viola has moved inside the tent. Katherine stands next to her mother. Florence is talking to Ruby, who is behind her mother
  3. Florence is nursing Norma. Katherine has moved back from her mother. Ruby is still behind her mother
  4. Left to right are Florence, Ruby and baby Norma
  5. Florence stopped nursing Norma. Ruby is still next to her mother. This photograph was the one used by the newspapers the following day to report the story of the starving migrants

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California' 1936

 

“We do not know the order in which these photographs were taken, since they are 4″ x 5” individual negatives rather than 35mm film strips, which provide a record of the sequence of continuous exposures. However, Lange indicates in the above statement she moved closer as she continued to photograph. If that is true, then we have a good idea of the general order. We do know that one was selected, likely as a joint decision between Lange and representatives of the Resettlement Administration.

While “Migrant Mother” is well known, what is far less known is that Lange took six or seven pictures, five of which still exist. Lange posed Ms. Florence Thompson in different positions and used some of her seven children to create a series of compelling images. She asked Thompson to shift the position of the child in her arms to get the greatest emotional effect. Linda Gordon’s biography of Lange describes this as follows:

Lange asked the mother and children to move into several different positions. She began with a mid-distance shot. Then she backed up for one shot, then came closer for others. She moved aside a pile of dirty clothes (she would never embarrass her subjects). She then moved closer yet, focusing on three younger children and sidelining the teenage daughter out of the later pictures altogether… she offered the photographs to the press. The San Francisco News published two of them on March 10, 1936. In response, contributions of $200,000 poured in for the destitute farmworkers stuck in Nipomo. (Gordon, 2009, p. 237)

One was eventually selected to represent this scene to the nation.”

Anonymous. “The Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the New Deal,” on the Annenberg Learner website [Online] Cited 16/12/2018

 

 

Iconic photo

In March 1936, after picking beets in the Imperial Valley, Florence and her family were traveling on U.S. Highway 101 towards Watsonville “where they had hoped to find work in the lettuce fields of the Pajaro Valley.” On the road, the car’s timing chain snapped and they coasted to a stop just inside a pea-pickers‘ camp on Nipomo Mesa. They were shocked to find so many people camping there – as many as 2,500 to 3,500. A notice had been sent out for pickers, but the crops had been destroyed by freezing rain, leaving them without work or pay. Years later Florence told an interviewer that when she cooked food for her children that day little children appeared from the pea pickers’ camp asking, “Can I have a bite?”

While Jim Hill, her husband, and two of Florence’s sons went into town to get the car’s damaged radiator repaired, Florence and some of the children set up a temporary camp. As Florence waited, photographer Dorothea Lange, working for the Resettlement Administration, drove up and started taking photos of Florence and her family. She took six images in the course of ten minutes.

Lange’s field notes of the images read:

Seven hungry children. Father is native Californian. Destitute in pea pickers’ camp … because of failure of the early pea crop. These people had just sold their tires to buy food.

Lange later wrote of the encounter with Thompson:

I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was 32. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food.

Thompson claimed that Lange never asked her any questions and got many of the details incorrect. Troy Owens recounted:

There’s no way we sold our tires, because we didn’t have any to sell. The only ones we had were on the Hudson and we drove off in them. I don’t believe Dorothea Lange was lying, I just think she had one story mixed up with another. Or she was borrowing to fill in what she didn’t have.

In many ways, Migrant Mother is not typical of Lange’s careful method of interacting with her subject. Exhausted after a long road-trip, she did not talk much to the migrant woman, Florence Thompson, and didn’t record her information accurately. Although Thompson became a famous symbol of White motherhood, her heritage is Native American. The photograph’s fame caused distress for Thompson and her children and raised ethical concerns about turning individuals into symbols.

According to Thompson, Lange promised the photos would never be published, but Lange sent them to the San Francisco News as well as to the Resettlement Administration in Washington, D.C. The News ran the pictures almost immediately and reported that 2,500 to 3,500 migrant workers were starving in Nipomo, California. Within days, the pea-picker camp received 20,000 pounds (9,100 kg) of food from the federal government. Thompson and her family had moved on by the time the food arrived and were working near Watsonville, California.

While Thompson’s identity was not known for over 40 years after the photos were taken, the images became famous. The sixth image, especially, which later became known as Migrant Mother, “has achieved near mythical status, symbolising, if not defining, an entire era in United States history.” Roy Stryker called Migrant Mother the “ultimate” photo of the Depression Era: “[Lange] never surpassed it. To me, it was the picture … . The others were marvellous, but that was special … . She is immortal.” As a whole, the photographs taken for the Resettlement Administration “have been widely heralded as the epitome of documentary photography.” Edward Steichen described them as “the most remarkable human documents ever rendered in pictures.”

Thompson’s identity was discovered in the late 1970s. In 1978, acting on a tip, Modesto Bee reporter Emmett Corrigan located Thompson at her mobile home in Space 24 of the Modesto Mobile Village and recognised her from the 40-year-old photograph. A letter Thompson wrote was published in The Modesto Bee and the Associated Press distributed a story headlined “Woman Fighting Mad Over Famous Depression Photo.” Florence was quoted as saying “I wish she [Lange] hadn’t taken my picture. I can’t get a penny out of it. She didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures. She said she’d send me a copy. She never did.”

Lange was funded by the federal government when she took the picture, so the image was in the public domain and Lange never directly received any royalties. However, the picture did help make Lange a celebrity and earned her “respect from her colleagues.”

In a 2008 interview with CNN, Thompson’s daughter Katherine McIntosh recalled how her mother was a “very strong lady”, and “the backbone of our family”. She said: “We never had a lot, but she always made sure we had something. She didn’t eat sometimes, but she made sure us children ate. That’s one thing she did do.”

 

Later life, death, and aftermath

Though Thompson’s 10 children bought her a house in Modesto, California, in the 1970s, Thompson found she preferred living in a mobile home and moved back into one.

Thompson was hospitalised and her family appealed for financial help in late August 1983. By September, the family had collected $35,000 in donations to pay for her medical care. Florence died of “stroke, cancer and heart problems” at Scotts Valley, California, on September 16, 1983. She was buried in Lakewood Memorial Park, in Hughson, California, and her gravestone reads: “FLORENCE LEONA THOMPSON Migrant Mother – A Legend of the Strength of American Motherhood.”

Daughter Katherine McIntosh told CNN that the photo’s fame had made the family feel both ashamed and determined never to be as poor again. Son Troy Owens said that more than 2,000 letters received along with donations for his mother’s medical fund led to a re-appraisal of the photo: “For Mama and us, the photo had always been a bit of [a] curse. After all those letters came in, I think it gave us a sense of pride.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Cars on the Road' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Cars on the Road
1936
Library of Congress
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Near Eutah, Alabama' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Near Eutah, Alabama
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Ditched, stalled and stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California' 1935, printed c. 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Ditched, Stalled, and Stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

Quotes from Dorothea Lange

“One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind. To live a visual life is an enormous undertaking, practically unattainable, but when the great photographs are produced, it will be down that road. I have only touched it, just touched it.”

“On the Bowery I knew how to step over drunken men … I knew how to keep an expression of face that would draw no attention, so no one would look at me. I have used that my whole life in photographing.”

Interview with Lange, in Dorothea Lange, Part II : The Closer For Me, film produced by KQED for National Educational Television (NET), USA, 1965

 

“I never steal a photograph. Never. All photographs are made in collaboration, as part of their thinking as well as mine.”

“Often it’s just sticking around and being there, remaining there, not swopping in and swopping out in a cloud of dust; sitting down on the ground with people, letting the children look at your camera with their dirty, grimy little hands, and putting their fingers on the lens, and you let them, because you know that if you will behave in a generous manner, you’re very apt to receive it.”

Anne Whiston, Spirn, Daring to Look, p. 23-24

 

“My own approach is based upon three considerations. First – hands off! Whatever I photograph I do not molest or tamper with or arrange. Second – a sense of place. Whatever I photograph, I try to picture as part of its surroundings, as having roots. Third – a sense of time. Whatever I photograph, I try to show as having its position in the past or in the present.”

Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Masters Of Photography, New York Castle Books, 1958, p. 140

 

“The good photograph is not the object, the consequences of the photograph are the objects.”

“I believe that the camera is a powerful medium for communication and I believe that the camera is a valuable tool for social research which has not been developed to its capacity.”

Dorothea Lange, quoted in Karen Tsujimoto, Dorothea Lange : Archive of an Artist, Oakland, Oakland Museum, 1995, p. 23

 

“Everything is propaganda for what you believe in, actually, isn’t it? … I don’t see that it could be otherwise. The harder and the more deeply you believe in anything, the more in a sense you’re a propagandist. Conviction, propaganda, faith. I don’t know, I never have been able to come to the conclusion that that’s a bad word […] But at any rate, that’s what the Office of War Information work was.”

“There is a sharp difference, a gulf. The woman’s position is immeasurably more complicated. There are not very many first class woman producers, not many. That is, producers of outside things. They produce in other ways. Where they can do both, it’s a conflict. I would like to try. I would like to have one year. I’d like to take one year, almost ask it of myself, ‘Could I have one year?’ Just one, when I would not have to take into account anything but my own inner demands. Maybe everybody would like that … but I can’t.”

Suzanne Riess, “Dorothea Lange: The Making of a documentary Photographer,” October 1960-August 1961, p. 181; 219-220

 

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Drought-abandoned house on the edge of the Great Plains near Hollis, Oklahoma' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Drought-abandoned house on the edge of the Great Plains near Hollis, Oklahoma
1938
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Towards Los Angeles, California' 1936, printed c. 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Toward Los Angeles, California
1937
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Family on the road, Oklahoma' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Family on the road, Oklahoma
1938
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Ancienne esclave à la longue mémoire, Alabama' 'Former slave with a long memory, Alabama' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Ancienne esclave à la longue mémoire, Alabama
Former slave with a long memory, Alabama
1938
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

The Politics of Seeing features major works by the world famous American photographer Dorothea Lange (1895, Hoboken, New Jersey-1966, San Francisco, California), some of which have never before been exhibited in France. The exhibition focuses on the extraordinary emotional power of Dorothea Lange’s work and on the context of her documentary practice. It features five specific series: the Depression period (1933-1934), a selection of works from the Farm Security Administration (1935-1939), the Japanese American internment (1942), the Richmond shipyards (1942-1944) and a series on a Public defender (1955-1957). Over one hundred splendid vintage prints taken between 1933 and 1957 are enhanced by the presence of documents and screenings broadening the scope of an oeuvre often familiar to the public through images such as White Angel Breadline (1933) and Migrant Mother (1936), which are icons of photographic history. The majority of prints in this exhibition belong to the Oakland Museum of California, where Lange’s considerable archive, donated to the museum after her death by her husband Paul Shuster Taylor, is conserved.

Like John Steinbeck’s famous novel The Grapes of Wrath, Dorothea Lange’s oeuvre has helped shape our conception of the interwar years in America and contributed to our knowledge of this period. However, this exhibition also introduces other aspects of Dorothea Lange’s practice, which she herself considered archival. By placing the photographic work in the context of her anthropological approach, it enables viewers to appreciate how its power also lies in her capacity to interact with her subjects, evident in her captions to the images. She thereby considerably enriched the informative quality of the visual archive and produced a form of oral history for future generations.

In 1932, during the Great Depression that began in 1929, Lange observed the unemployed homeless people in the streets of San Francisco and decided to drop her studio portrait work because she felt that it was no longer adequate. During a two-year period that marked a turning point in her life, she took photographs of urban situations that portrayed the social impact of the recession. This new work became known in artistic circles and attracted the attention of Paul Schuster Taylor, professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. Taylor was a specialist in agricultural conflicts of the 1930s, and in particular Mexican migrant workers. He began using Lange’s photographs to illustrate his articles and in 1935 they started working together for the government agencies of the New Deal. Their collaboration lasted for over thirty years.

During the Second World War, Lange continued to practise photography and to document the major issues of the day, including the internment of Japanese-American families during the war; the economic and social development due to industries engaged in the war effort; and the criminal justice system through the work of a county public defence lawyer.

Dorothea Lange’s iconic images of the Great Depression are well known, but her photographs of Japanese-Americans interned during the Second World War were only published in 2006. Shown here for the first time in France, they illustrate perfectly how Dorothea Lange created intimate and poignant images throughout her career in order to denounce injustices and change public opinion. In addition to the prints, a selection of personal items, including contact sheets, field notes and publications allow the public to situate her work within the context of this troubled period.

The exhibition at the Jeu de Paume offers a new perspective on the work of this renowned American artist, whose legacy continues to be felt today. Highlighting the artistic qualities and the strength of the artist’s political convictions, this exhibition encourages the public to rediscover the importance of Dorothea Lange’s work as a landmark in the history of documentary photography.

Press release from Jeu de Paume

 

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Unemployed lumber worker goes with his wife to the bean harvest. Note social security number tattooed on his arm, Oregon' 1939

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Unemployed lumber worker goes with his wife to the bean harvest. Note social security number tattooed on his arm, Oregon
1939
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Manzanar Relocation Center' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California
1942
© Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Japanese Children with Tags, Hayward, California, May 8 1942'

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Japanese Children with Tags, Hayward, California, May 8 1942
1942
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Jour de lessive, quarante-huit heures avant l’évacuation des personnes d’ascendance japonaise de ce village agricole du comté de Santa Clara, San Lorenzo, Californie' 'Laundry day, forty-eight hours before the evacuation of people of Japanese descent from this farming village of Santa Clara County, San Lorenzo, California' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Jour de lessive, quarante-huit heures avant l’évacuation des personnes d’ascendance japonaise de ce village agricole du comté de Santa Clara, San Lorenzo, Californie
Laundry day, forty-eight hours before the evacuation of people of Japanese descent from this farming village of Santa Clara County, San Lorenzo, California
1942
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Oakland, California, March 1942' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Oakland, California, March 1942
1942
Library of Congress
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

A large sign reading “I am an American” placed in the window of a store, at 401-403 Eight and Franklin streets, on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store was closed following orders to persons of Japanese descent to evacuate from certain West Coast areas. The owner, a University of California graduate, will be housed with hundreds of evacuees in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration of the war.

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Shipyard Worker, Richmond California' c. 1943

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Shipyard Worker, Richmond California
c. 1943
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

 

Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing

Dorothea Nutzhorn (1895–1965), who took up photography at the age of eighteen, was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. The daughter of second-generation German immigrants, she adopted her mother’s maiden name, Lange, when she opened a portrait studio in San Francisco in 1918. In 1932, during the Great Depression, Lange shifted her focus from studio portraits to scenes showing the impact of the recession and the social unrest in the streets of San Francisco. This two-year period marked a turning point in her life. Paul Schuster Taylor, professor of economics at the University of California, and a specialist in agricultural conflicts, who later became her second husband, began using her photographs to illustrate his articles in 1934. They worked together for over thirty years. Co-authors of the famous book An American Exodus (1939), they were active in circulating images about social conditions in rural states.

Lange created some of the iconic images of the Great Depression, but this exhibition presents other aspects of her practice, which she herself considered archival. By placing her photographic work in the context of her anthropological approach, it reveals how her images were also rooted in her ability to connect with her subjects, evident in her captions to the images. She thus considerably enriched the informative quality of the visual archive and produced a form of oral history for future generations. Her work for government institutions and the publication of her images in the illustrated press enabled her to denounce injustice and change public opinion.

Her efforts to connect with her subjects can be seen in the five specific series featured in this exhibition: the Depression period (1932–1934), a selection of works from the Farm Security Administration (1935-1941), the Richmond shipyards (1942-1944), the Japanese American internment (1942) and a series on a public defender (1955-1957). By introducing contextual information and important archive material, the Jeu de Paume’s exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing endeavours to situate her majestic works within the social documentary context specific to the 1930s and 1940s, highlighting the artistic qualities of her work and the strength of her political convictions.

 

1. “The people that my life touched”, 1932-1934

In 1929 America’s urban and rural populations were hard hit by the Great Depression. Leading up to the stock market crash there had been a boom in agricultural production. However, by the late 1920s production was exceeding consumption, causing a drop in prices that had severe consequences for farmers. The textile and coal industries suffered sharp declines in wages and employment. In the 1930s, the oil, transportation and construction sectors declined at an even faster rate than agriculture, causing urban unemployment to rise above that of the rural states. In March 1933, in the midst of this crisis, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president.

This context of considerable social unrest prompted a change in direction in Lange’s engagement with photography. From 1932 to 1934, she captured demonstrations and homeless people in the streets of San Francisco. Urban portraits like White Angel Breadline (1933) later became iconic images of the period. Her work from this period was recognised in artistic circles and Paul Shuster Taylor used one of her photographs of the May Day demonstrations to illustrate his article about the longest, largest maritime strike in the history of the USA, which was published in the progressive social welfare journal Survey Graphic in September 1934.

 

2. The documentary survey – the narration of migration, 1935-1941

In 1935, Lange accompanied Taylor on several field trips to study people migrating to rural California from the Midwest. Taylor used Lange’s images to illustrate the articles as well as his federal reports. Such was the impact of Lange’s powerful images that the authorities built the first migrant camps for agricultural workers as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal policy. The latter consisted of numerous programmes intended to combat the devastating effects of the Depression in all areas of life across the country. One such programme was the Farm Security Administration (FSA), which led to the creation of the largest American photographic archive ever, containing over 130,000 negatives documenting how the New Deal helped to relieve poverty in rural areas.

Lange, who worked in twenty-two different states, was given two contracts, one running from 1935 to 1937 and the other from 1938 to the closure of the programme in January 1941. Her photographs highlighted the plight of people who were caught up in the complex economic web of industrial farming, victims of the failure of the American dream. The images and the transcriptions of oral testimonies that Lange made were personal and intimate recollections of a history that became a cause of significant public concern in the late 1930s.
3. “A two-ocean war” – Kaiser Shipyards, Richmond, 1942-1944

During the early 1940s, Lange was interested in a new form of internal migration caused by the rapid expansion of industries, naval training programmes and military defence organisations in the Bay Area, California. Here part of the once scorned and rejected “Okie” population (migrant farm workers) moved to urban districts, where they proudly contributed to the war effort. In 1944, Lange was commissioned by Fortune magazine to photograph the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond. This young corporation, established to help with the war effort, employed nearly 100,000 unskilled workers thanks to new techniques of manufacture and assembly. Lange captured the changing of shifts and the intensity of the shipyard’s activity, the diversity of the workforce, intimate details of their living conditions, and the isolation and loneliness of the newcomers, and in particular African Americans, who were excluded from the local community. She was also interested in the unions’ unsuccessful efforts to cope with this large, diverse workforce and in women’s new status in the industrial sector.

 

4. The internment of American citizens of Japanese descent, 1942

Lange’s various series reflect many aspects of America’s cultural geography. Her desire to portray the dignity of people enduring hardship and the complexity of their situations, coupled with the need to produce a historical document, enabled Lange to produce work of universal scope.

In March 1942, in the wake of the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941, the US government ordered the internment of over 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent from the Pacific Coast military zones, crowning a century of racism against Asian immigrants. Executive Order 9066 targeted three generations of Japanese Americans, who were “relocated” to ten remote and intemperate camps in California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Arkansas and Wyoming.

Lange was commissioned by the War Relocation Authority to cover the procedure from March to July 1942. Her sensitivity to the identity of cultural minorities was already evident in her photographs for the FSA commission. A decade later she captured the evacuation and incarceration of Japanese Americans, which lasted for over 18 months. These images belonged to a “military record” and were only released for publication in 2006.

 

5. The public defender, 1955-1957

A system of public defence for persons in need of legal support in court cases began in California in 1914 and by the 1950s had been introduced in many states throughout the country. Lange supported the idea of justice for all and was given an assignment by Life magazine to cover the subject at the Alameda County Court house, Oakland, to be published in May 1956 to mark Law Day. Lange was given permission to photograph in prison cells, as well as in and around the law court, taking over 450 images. She worked in conjunction with Martin Pulich, an American lawyer of Yugoslav descent, who recognised in Lange’s approach a social and political stance that mirrored his own commitment as a public defender. In this photographic essay she was able to pinpoint issues concerning racial prejudice that were omnipresent in the Bay Area at the time. The assignment did not appear in Life, but it was published in many newspapers, even internationally, and was also used by the national Legal Aid Society of New York to develop public services in the legal system.

Pia Viewing
Curator of the exhibition

 

Paul S. Taylor. 'Dorothea Lange in Texas on the Plains' c. 1935

 

Paul S. Taylor
Dorothea Lange on the Plains of Texas
c. 1935
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 11.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Sunday: 11.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website

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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 (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 × 23.5 cm)

 

 

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 for Art Blart

 

  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 (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 (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 (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 × 49.9 cm)

 

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

 

Edward J. Kelty (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 (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 (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 × 49.9 cm)

 

Edward Kelty (1888-1967)

 

Edward J. Kelty (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 (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 (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 (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 × 49.5 cm)

 

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 (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 (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 (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 × 49.9 cm)

 

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

 

Edward J. Kelty (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 (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 × 49.9 cm)

 

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 (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 (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 (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 (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 (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 (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.

Text from the Circuses and Sideshows website

 

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

 

Edward J. Kelty (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. (Text from the Circuses and Sideshows website)

 

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 (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 (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