Posts Tagged ‘American fine art photography

09
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Life Magazine and the Power of Photography’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA)

Exhibition dates: 9th October 2022 – 16th January 2023

Curators: Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs at the MFA; Katherine A. Bussard, Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography at Princeton University Art Museum; and Alissa Schapiro, an independent curator and doctoral candidate in art history at Northwestern University

 

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Flame Burner Ann Zarik' 1943, printed about 2000

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Flame Burner Ann Zarik
1943, printed about 2000
Gelatin silver print
Princeton University Art Museum
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Continuing the illustrated magazine theme from the last Bill Brandt post, here presented are images, cover and photo essay by major photographers such as Robert Capa, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke‑White, Henri Cartier‑Bresson and Gordon Parks which appeared in the influential American magazine Life (1926-1972).

“This exhibition takes a closer look at the creation and impact of the carefully selected images found in the pages of Life – and the precisely crafted narratives told through these pictures – in order to reveal how the magazine shaped conversations about war, race, technology, national identity, and more in the 20th-century United States. The photographs on view capture some of the defining moments – celebratory and traumatic alike – of the last century, from the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations to the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Far from simply nostalgic and laudatory, the exhibition critically reconsiders Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives who captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, from the Holocaust to white supremacist terror of the 1960s.” (Exhibition text)

Of particular interest in the posting is the contact sheet to Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (1945, below) … in order to note how the artist chose that particular negative out of the four (good exposure, less confusing background to the central characters); how he marked the contact sheet with the usual red pencil that black and white photographers use to indicate his negative preference and the cropping of the image that was required (notice the arrow at bottom left, a crop which was not heeded in the final print); and how the final print is much darker than the contact sheet (notice the dark pavement and lack of detail in the sailors outfits).

In the final print the negative has been cropped up from the bottom to tension the lifting of the nurse’s raised leg as it floats above the ground (here, the distance from the bottom of the shoe to the bottom of the image is critical in order to make the shoe “float”), the man at right now makes half an appearance, and the man at far left has been included and “burnt in” under the enlarger so that he recedes from and does not detract from the importance of the figures in the foreground. The background figures form a triangle behind the sailor and the nurse, forming a stage for them, and a supporting and encircling cast of characters. The vanishing point of the image and the buildings does the rest.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Mrs. Nelson and her two children outside her laundry which she operates without running water' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Mrs. Nelson and her two children outside her laundry which she operates without running water
1936
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'At the Time of the Louisville Flood' 1937

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
At the Time of the Louisville Flood
1937
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Fort Peck Dam, Montana' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Fort Peck Dam, Montana
1936
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

'Life', November 23, 1936 (Cover photograph by Margaret Bourke-White) 1936

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972)
Life, November 23, 1936 (Cover photograph by Margaret Bourke-White)
1936
Illustrated periodical
Life Picture Collection
Photo by Life Magazine
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

In the period from the Great Depression to the Vietnam War, the majority of photographs printed and consumed in the U.S. appeared on the pages of illustrated magazines. Among them, Life – published weekly from 1936 to 1972 – was both extraordinarily popular and visually revolutionary. Estimates for pass-along readership – the number of people who shared each copy of Life in spaces like waiting rooms and offices – suggest that the magazine may have regularly reached about one in four people in the country. The photographers who worked for Life bore witness to some of the most defining moments of the 20th century – and the magazine’s use of photography shaped the way many Americans experienced, perceived and remembered these events. Co-organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), and the Princeton University Art Museum, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography offers a revealing look at the collaborative processes behind many of the publication’s most recognisable, beloved and controversial images and photo essays. The exhibition brings together more than 180 objects, including original press prints, contact sheets, shooting scripts, internal memos and layout experiments – drawing on unprecedented access to Life‘s picture and paper archives. Added to the exhibition for its presentation at the MFA, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography also incorporates works by contemporary artists Alexandra Bell, Alfredo Jaar and Julia Wachtel, whose critical reflections on photojournalism and the politics of images frame urgent conversations about implicit biases and systemic racism in contemporary media.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography is on view at the MFA from October 9, 2022 through January 16, 2023 in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery. Member Preview takes place October 5-8. Timed-entry exhibition tickets, which include general admission, are required for all visitors and can be reserved on mfa.org starting September 14 for MFA members and September 20 for the general public.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography is sponsored by Bank of America. Generously supported by Patti and Jonathan Kraft, with additional support from Kate Moran Collins and Emi M. and William G. Winterer. With gratitude to the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust for its generous support of Photography at the MFA. The exhibition is co-organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Princeton University Art Museum.

“This major exhibition is an invitation for our visitors to experience a time when photographs first began to influence world events and narratives – and how they continue to do so today,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “Life‘s groundbreaking use of photography shaped important 20th-century dialogues in the U.S. around war, race, technology, art and national identity. Through a generous collaboration with the Princeton University Art Museum, we are exploring this process in a more critical and complex way than ever done before, and at a moment when technologies of distribution have evolved and disrupted the recording of history.”

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography was curated by Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs at the MFA; Katherine A. Bussard, Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography at Princeton University Art Museum; and Alissa Schapiro, an independent curator and doctoral candidate in art history at Northwestern University. In 2016 the curators were among the first to delve deeply into the Time Inc. Records Archive, which was newly available at the New-York Historical Society. In 2019, the MFA and Princeton University Art Museum became the first museums to be granted full access to the LIFE Picture Collection, the magazine’s photographic archive. (The exhibition debuted at Princeton in February 2020, but closed after three weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.). The exhibition and the accompanying book grew out of these unparalleled research opportunities, which helped to advance new scholarly perspectives on Life’s pictorial journalism. The book was named the 2021 recipient of the Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award for museum scholarship.

“I am thrilled to be adding three contemporary moments to the exhibition in Boston. Through powerful and provocative works by Alexandra Bell, Alfredo Jaar and Julia Wachtel, who each interrogate news media through their practice, viewers are invited to reflect on contemporary media consumption and our inherited historical narratives,” said Gresh.

 

Exhibition Overview

Among the over 30 photographers featured in Life Magazine and the Power of Photography are Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Frank Dandridge, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Charles Moore, Gordon Parks and W. Eugene Smith. The exhibition also emphasises the contributions of women to the magazine’s success – not only photographers such as Bourke-White, whose monumental image of the Fort Peck Dam graced the first issue, but also negative and picture editors such as Peggy Sargent and Natalie Kosek. Additionally, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography considers the ways in which the magazine – through the vision of its founder, Henry R. Luce, its editorial teams’ points of view and the demographics of its readers – promoted a predominantly white, middle-class perspective on politics, daily life and culture, even when documenting the country’s reckoning with racism and xenophobia. The exhibition makes a point to trace Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through the inclusion of works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives that captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, ranging from the Holocaust to white supremacist violence of the 1960s.

The exhibition is divided into three historical sections, interspersed with immersive contemporary moments. The first section, “Getting the Picture,” focuses on the creation of Life photographs, exploring multiple factors such as the details of the assignment, the idea for the story developed by the editorial staff, the selection of a particular photographer for the job, and the photographer’s own decisions about how to best capture the images needed to construct a story. Once a photographer completed an assignment, his or her undeveloped rolls of film and notes were sent to Life‘s offices, where editorial teams selected images and determined how to adapt them for the printed page. The second section, “Crafting Photo Stories,” examines the making of a photo-essay, a format with stunning visuals and minimal text that Life claimed to have invented. The complex process involved negative editors, picture editors, art directors, layout artists, writers, researchers and fact-checkers in the construction of each page. The third section, “Life‘s Photographic Impact,” considers the power and reach of the magazine, whose circulation peaked at 8.5 million in 1969. Here, the exhibition explores not only responses from readers – who wrote letters to the editor and even offered assistance to individuals profiled in the magazine – but also how Life perpetuated its own influence by repackaging its photographs and using technical sophistication and business savvy to outpace its competitors.

Contemporary works by Alfredo Jaar (born Santiago, Chile, 1956), Alexandra Bell (born 1983) and Julia Wachtel (1956) appear in immersive moments installed between the three historical sections. Jaar questions the ethics of representation and the politics of images in his photography, installations, films and new media works. The exhibition features Real Pictures (1995) from his Rwanda Project and the U.S. debut of his multimedia installation The Silence of Nduwayezu (1997) from the same series. It also includes the triptych Life Magazine, April 19, 1968 (1995), in which he manipulates the magazine’s iconic photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral procession to point to the disproportionate number of Black mourners relative to white ones. Similarly, works from Bell’s Counternarratives series (2017-2018) highlight racial biases in annotated pages from The New York Times. Finally, in a newly commissioned work by the MFA, Wachtel directly responds to photographs from Life and engages in deep critical discourse about popular culture and politics, as well as media consumption.

 

Publication

The accompanying 336-page book, published by the Princeton University Art Museum and distributed by Yale University Press, examines Life‘s groundbreaking role in mid-20th-century American culture and the history of photography by considering the complexity of the magazine’s image-making and publishing enterprise. The book includes essays and contributions by the three co-curators and 22 additional scholars of art history, American studies, history and communication studies. It was the winner of the College Art Association’s 2021 Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award, praised for “bring[ing] a new complexity to Life‘s legendary picture-making enterprise and suggest[ing] why Life‘s signal role in fostering consensus and collective memory is ripe for further unpacking.”

Press release from the Museum of Fine Arts , Boston

 

Gjon Mili (American born in Albania, 1904-1984) 'Stroboscopic image of intercollegiate champion gymnast Newt Loken doing floor leaps' 1942

 

Gjon Mili (American born in Albania, 1904-1984)
Stroboscopic image of intercollegiate champion gymnast Newt Loken doing floor leaps
1942
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Blast furnace cleaner Bernice Daunora, part of the top gang at Carnegie‑Illinois Steel Corp., wearing protective breathing apparatus fr. escaping gas fumes' 1943

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Blast furnace cleaner Bernice Daunora, part of the top gang at Carnegie‑Illinois Steel Corp., wearing protective breathing apparatus fr. escaping gas fumes
1943
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Robert Capa (American born in Hungary, 1913-1954) 'Normandy Invasion on D‑Day, Soldier Advancing through Surf' 1944

 

Robert Capa (American born in Hungary, 1913-1954)
Normandy Invasion on D‑Day, Soldier Advancing through Surf
1944
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© International Center of Photography / Magnum Photos
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Carl Mydans (American, 1907-2004) '(Young man playing guitar in the stockade, Tule Lake Internment Camp, Newell, California)' 1944

 

Carl Mydans (American, 1907-2004)
(Young man playing guitar in the stockade, Tule Lake Internment Camp, Newell, California)
1944
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography, the LIFE Magazine Collection, 2005
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945 (detail)

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (detail)
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945 (detail)

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (detail)
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'VJ Day in Times Square' 1945

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
VJ Day in Times Square
1945
Gelatin silver print
Alan and Susan Solomont
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Reconsidering the pictures we remember. Revealing the stories we don’t know.

From the Great Depression to the Vietnam War, almost all of the photographs printed for consumption by the American public appeared in illustrated magazines. Among them, Life magazine – published weekly from 1936 to 1972 – was both wildly popular and visually revolutionary, with photographs arranged in groundbreaking dramatic layouts known as photo-essays. This exhibition takes a closer look at the creation and impact of the carefully selected images found in the pages of Life – and the precisely crafted narratives told through these pictures – in order to reveal how the magazine shaped conversations about war, race, technology, national identity, and more in the 20th-century United States. The photographs on view capture some of the defining moments – celebratory and traumatic alike – of the last century, from the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations to the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Far from simply nostalgic and laudatory, the exhibition critically reconsiders Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives who captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, from the Holocaust to white supremacist terror of the 1960s.

Drawing on unprecedented access to Life magazine’s picture and paper archives as well as photographers’ archives, the exhibition brings together more than 180 objects, including vintage photographs, contact sheets, assignment outlines, internal memos, and layout experiments. Visitors can trace the construction of a Life photo-essay from assignment through to the creative and editorial process of shaping images into a compelling story. This focus departs from the historic fascination with the singular photographic genius and instead celebrates the collaborative efforts behind many now-iconic images and stories. Particular attention is given to the women staff members of Life, whose roles remained forgotten or overshadowed by the traditional emphasis on men at the magazine. Most photographs on view are original working press prints – made to be used in the magazine’s production – and represent the wide range of photographers who worked for Life, such as Margaret Bourke-White, Larry Burrows, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Frank Dandridge, Gordon Parks, and W. Eugene Smith.

Interspersed throughout the exhibition, three immersive contemporary “moments” feature works by artists active today who interrogate news media through their practice. A multimedia installation by Alfredo Jaar, screen prints by Alexandra Bell, and a new commission by Julia Wachtel frame larger conversations for visitors about implicit biases and systemic racism in contemporary media.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography offers a revealing look at the collaborative processes behind many of Life‘s most recognisable, beloved, and controversial images and photo-essays, while incorporating the voices of contemporary artists and their critical reflections on photojournalism.

The exhibition is accompanied by a multi-authored catalogue, winner of the College Art Association’s 2021 Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Red Jackson, Harlem, New York' 1948

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Red Jackson, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print
Princeton University Art Museum
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972) '[Harlem Gang Leader opening spread]' 1948

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972)
[Harlem Gang Leader opening spread]
1948
From LIFE Magazine, November 1, 1948, pages 96-97
Illustrated periodical
Princeton University Art Museum
Photograph by Gordon Parks. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
Text © 1948 LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Henri Cartier‑Bresson (French, 1908-2004) 'Untitled (Peiping)' 1948

 

Henri Cartier‑Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Untitled (Peiping)
1948
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985) '3-D Movie Contact Sheet' 1952

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985)
3-D Movie Contact Sheet
1952
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985) 'Audience watches movie wearing 3‑D spectacles' 1952

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985)
Audience watches movie wearing 3‑D spectacles
1952
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Fritz Goro (American born in Germany, 1901-1986) 'Red laser light focused through a lens blasts a pin‑point hole through a razor blade in a thousandth of a second' 1962

 

Fritz Goro (American born in Germany, 1901-1986)
Red laser light focused through a lens blasts a pin‑point hole through a razor blade in a thousandth of a second
1962
Photograph, colour transparency
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) 'Vintage NASA Photograph of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing' 1969

 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Vintage NASA Photograph of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing
1969
Photograph, chromogenic print
Abbott Lawrence Fund
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'Life Magazine, April 19, 1968' 1995

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956)
Life Magazine, April 19, 1968
1995
Suite of three pigment prints on Innova paper
© Alfredo Jaar
Courtesy Alfredo Jaar and Galerie Lelong & Co., New York
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'The Silence of Nduwayezu' 1997

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'The Silence of Nduwayezu' 1997

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956)
The Silence of Nduwayezu
1997
One million slides, light table, magnifiers, illuminated wall text
78 7/10 × 118 1/10 in. (200 × 300cm)

 

 

One million slides featuring eyes in close-up of boy who witnessed murder of his parents.

“In 1994, in the face of what he described as “the criminal, barbaric indifference of the so-called world community”, Jaar travelled to Rwanda to witness the horrific aftermath of one of history’s most violent conflicts. Three months prior, an estimated one million Rwandans had been systematically killed during one hundred days of civil unrest. The artist dedicated six years to this project in which he seeks to bring attention to personal stories to pay tribute to the victims of the genocide.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is an installation titled The Silence of Nduwayezu, which comprises one million slides featuring a pair of eyes in close-up. The eyes belong to Nduwayezu, a five year old Tutsi boy who Jaar met at a refugee camp in Rubavu. Like many Rwandan children, Nduwayezu had witnessed the killing of his own parents, a trauma so deep it affected his ability to speak.

“The installation tangibly represents the steadily escalating number of Tutsis killed in the massacre by showing one million identical slides of Nduwayezu’s eyes piled high on a giant light table. […] By borrowing Nduwayezu’s eyes and making them stare at us as if we were gazing in a mirror, Jaar reminds us of the silence of the international community – the absence of images – that exacerbated the calamity and consequences experienced by the people of Rwanda. […] The Silence of Nduwayezu fills the information void left by the silence of the international community, yet at the same time, it is also a meditative gesture, casting doubt on the ability of photographs to ever relay the enormity of raw human experience, or to make it part of the viewer’s world.”

Anonymous text. “Alfredo Jaar: 25 Years Later,” on the Goodman Gallery website January 2022 [Online] Cited 06/12/2022

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983) 'Gang Leader' 2019

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983)
Gang Leader
2019
Screenprint, chine colle on paper and archival pigment print on paper
25 x 44 inches each
Courtesy of the Artist
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

“It’s imperative to show how a turn of phrase or a misplaced photo has real consequences for people at the margins who are still suffering under the weight of unfair and biased representation.” ~ Alexandra Bell

.
Presented as a series of boldly reworked New York Times articles, each of the six works exhibited in Counternarratives perform visual examinations that reveal news media’s complicity in perpetuating racial prejudice in America. Through redactions of original text, revised headlines, and margins replete with red sharpie annotations, Bell reveals the implicit biases that control how narratives involving communities of colour are depicted and in turn disseminated under the aegis of journalistic ‘objectivity.’ Bell identifies misleading frameworks and false equivalencies in journalism’s coverage of events like the murder of the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson, MO police officer, Darren Wilson in 2014, which is explored in her work “A Teenager With Promise.” The series demonstrates the extent to which white-centered, sympathetic news coverage remains pervasive within even liberal news organisations. By arguing back and calling out these inequities, Bell gives voice to the ways in which power operates through language to articulate our lived, bodily experiences in the world.

Anonymous text. “Alexandra Bell: Counternarratives,” on the Charlie James Gallery website 2019 [Online] Cited 07/12/2022

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983) 'A Teenager with Promise (Annotated)' 2018

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983)
A Teenager with Promise (Annotated)
2018
Screenprint, chine colle on paper and archival pigment print on paper
44 x 35 inches/each
Courtesy of the Artist
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

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26
Nov
22

Exhibition: ‘Baldwin Lee’ at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California

Exhibition dates: 22nd October – 10th December 2022

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1983

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Vicksburg, Mississippi
1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

“The work of two contemporary photographers, Bill Brandt of England and the American, Walker Evans, have influenced me. When I first looked at Walker Evans’ photographs, I thought of something Malraux wrote: “To transform destiny into awareness.” One is embarrassed to want so much for oneself. But, how else are you going to justify your failure and your effort?”

.
Robert Frank, ‘U.S. Camera Annual’, 1958, p. 115

 

 

In terms of training as a photographer, Baldwin Lee couldn’t have done much better than study with those two photographic greats, Minor White and Walker Evans. His work is suffused with their glow, especially the influence of Walker Evans. Lee’s works continues that wonderful tradition of documenting with frankness, things that are placed before the lens. In his photographs of “Black Americans: at home, at work, and at play, in the street, and among nature”, Lee responds with understanding and a “a sensitive eye for both poverty and dignity” to the plight of the lower echelons of American society, in work that “exposes the violence of poverty inherited from the plantation-economy past.” And though his photographs he tries to transform the destiny (of a race) into awareness (of their plight).

“In 1983, Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) left his home in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his 4 × 5 view camera and set out on the first of a series of road trips to photograph the American South.” Lee received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1984, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1984 and 1987 to continue his project until the end of the decade. The resultant photographs show “attentiveness to the composure of his subjects that is echoed masterfully in the composition of his shots” … “Lee’s graceful pictures from this project perfectly balance the photographer’s presence and the subject’s will, honouring both through the resulting, beautifully printed 16 x 20-inch black-and-white photographs.”

At their best, Lee’s photographs (such as Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1983 above) have an incisive presence which illuminates the human condition through a revelation of spirit, the spirit of a people with the strength to survive and flourish against the forces of tyranny, discrimination and oppression. The proud stare of the child, the placement in of his hands, his large belt buckle, and the attitude of the father make this photograph a masterpiece of observation and composition. Other powerful photographs such as New Orleans, Louisiana (1984, below), Columbia, South Carolina (1984, below), Valdosta, Georgia (1984, below) and Valdosta, Georgia (1986, below) intimately capture the inter-generational strength that courses through generations of survivors – survivors of life, of hardship, of disenfranchisement. And then we must place those portraits in a historical context for their wider import to be understood: Vicksburg, Mississippi and its political and racial unrest after the Civil War; Montgomery, Alabama and the bus boycott that changed a nation; Mobile, Alabama and its race riots during the Second World War and the desegregation of the school system in 1964. And so it still goes…

Other photographs, such as Montgomery, Alabama (1984, below), Lula, Mississippi (1984, below), Natchez, Mississippi (1984, below) and Garnett, South Carolina (1985, below) are an extension of the work of Walker Evans. They really have no signature of the individual artist but continue the tradition, the story, of documentary photography in America. In the camera magazines of the mid- 60s to mid- 70s the photographer who was published would also have a small image check-list in the last pages of the magazine with technical information – aperture / developer / paper etc… Instead, for these pages, Minor White would say: “For technical information, the camera was faithfully used.” And one could imagine this artist saying the same thing, for there are no attempts at obfuscation or anything that would alter the intensity of his vision.

Of the remaining photographs in the posting… I have rather ambivalent feelings about them. All of the photographs possess a calmness and quietness to them, have balanced (perhaps too balanced) composition, but some leave me feeling rather cold. It’s almost as if I am looking at a “scene” from reality, rather than reality itself. Much like Edward S. Curtis and his storytelling of the First Nations peoples, that is, the myth that he wanted to tell of a “vanishing race” – some of Lee’s photographs are too staged, to constructed by the photographer that real life gets put in the deep freeze. A good example of this is the photograph Canton, Mississippi (1985, below). Imagine the time it would have taken Lee to set up his large format camera, to check the light, to focus the ground glass, and then to place the figures in such a deliberate arrangement. Did the subjects have a say in how they wanted to be portrayed? With this arrangement, especially the figure at left with her hand in the air, I suspect not… it’s all just so stilted and unmoving, particularly the spacing between the figures. Certainly, in this one particular photograph, the image does not balance photographer’s presence and the subject’s will. It’s a story that the photographer wants to tell in a particular way.

Other photographs teeter either side of this line, between seemingly spontaneous and obviously staged compositions. I don’t believe Vicksburg, Mississippi (1984, below) whereas I do feel Walls, Mississippi (1984, below), mainly because of the to stiff pose of the standing boy in the former and the languid pose and look of the girl in the latter. I believe in the direct stares of the children in Boyle, Mississippi (1985, below) and yet in the photograph below (Columbia, South Carolina 1984, below), that trust is dissolved. It is so difficult with a large format camera to stop the images becoming a facsimile of real life… something that appeals to the direction of the photographer but is a creation of their imagination, not a portrait of the real life of the subjects. In other words, the images do not go into that world with equal drama (usually the feeling is modified by Walker Evans directness), for there is a range of using this “drama” trope.

Here I am not appealing for something close to Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” for that is almost impossible with a large format camera, but rather something more akin to the work of Minor White than that of Walker Evans – more a revelation of spirit rather than a humanist “family of man”. As with any portrait, whether it is in the objective but slightly surreal portraits by August Sander or the dynamic exposures by Diane Arbus, it is the ability of the photographer to reveal the Self behind the mask that creates memorable portraits.

This is why Lee’s photograph Vicksburg, Mississippi 1983 stands head and shoulders above all the other photographs in this posting. The portrait challenges our preconceptions of what is it to live this life, to be Black in America, and with fierce resolve that echoes down through the generations, it says, we will survive and flourish… for we are whole and free.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
PS. Sometimes we say something about an image which is “after the case” of its place in the world. Knowing the boundaries of when this stops and starts is the big challenge…

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

 

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1983

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Vicksburg, Mississippi
1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Vicksburg, Mississippi
1984
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Vicksburg, Mississippi
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Vicksburg, Mississippi

Civil War

During the American Civil War, the city finally surrendered during the Siege of Vicksburg, after which the Union Army gained control of the entire Mississippi River. The 47-day siege was intended to starve the city into submission. Its location atop a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River proved otherwise impregnable to assault by federal troops. The surrender of Vicksburg by Confederate General John C. Pemberton on July 4, 1863, together with the defeat of General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg the day before, has historically marked the turning point of the Civil War in the Union’s favour.

From the surrender of Vicksburg until the end of the war in 1865, the area was under Union military occupation. The Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, was based at his family plantation at Brierfield, just south of the city.

 

Political and racial unrest after Civil War

In the first few years after the Civil War, white Confederate veterans developed the Ku Klux Klan, beginning in Tennessee; it had chapters throughout the South and attacked freedmen and their supporters. It was suppressed about 1870. By the mid-1870s, new white paramilitary groups had arisen in the Deep South, including the Red Shirts [white supremacist paramilitary terrorist groups that were active in the late 19th century] in Mississippi, as whites struggled to regain political and social power over the black majority. Elections were marked by violence and fraud as white Democrats worked to suppress black Republican voting.

In August 1874, a black sheriff, Peter Crosby, was elected in Vicksburg. Letters by a white planter, Batchelor, detail the preparations of whites for what he described as a “race war,” including acquisition of the newest guns, Winchester 16 mm. On December 7, 1874, white men disrupted a black Republican meeting celebrating Crosby’s victory and held him in custody before running him out of town. He advised blacks from rural areas to return home; along the way, some were attacked by armed whites. During the next several days, armed white mobs swept through black areas, killing other men at home or out in the fields. Sources differ as to total fatalities, with 29-50 blacks and 2 whites reported dead at the time. Twenty-first-century historian Emilye Crosby estimates that 300 blacks were killed in the city and the surrounding area of Claiborne County, Mississippi. The Red Shirts were active in Vicksburg and other Mississippi areas, and black pleas to the federal government for protection were not met.

At the request of Republican Governor Adelbert Ames, who had left the state during the violence, President Ulysses S. Grant sent federal troops to Vicksburg in January 1875. In addition, a congressional committee investigated what was called the “Vicksburg Riot” at the time (and reported as the “Vicksburg Massacre” by northern newspapers.) They took testimony from both black and white residents, as reported by the New York Times, but no one was ever prosecuted for the deaths. The Red Shirts and other white insurgents suppressed Republican voting by both whites and blacks; smaller-scale riots were staged in the state up to the 1875 elections, at which time white Democrats regained control of a majority of seats in the state legislature.

Under new constitutions, amendments and laws passed between 1890 in Mississippi and 1908 in the remaining southern states, white Democrats disenfranchised most blacks and many poor whites by creating barriers to voter registration, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses. They passed laws imposing Jim Crow [laws enforcing racial segregation in the Southern United States] and racial segregation of public facilities.

 

20th century to present

The exclusion of most blacks from the political system lasted for decades until after Congressional passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s. Lynchings of blacks and other forms of white racial terrorism against them continued to occur in Vicksburg after the start of the 20th century. In May 1903, for instance, two black men charged with murdering a planter were taken from jail by a mob of 200 farmers and lynched before they could go to trial. In May 1919, as many as a thousand white men broke down three sets of steel doors to abduct, hang, burn and shoot a black prisoner, Lloyd Clay, who was falsely accused of raping a white woman. From 1877 to 1950 in Warren County, 14 African Americans were lynched by whites, most in the decades near the turn of the century…

Particularly after World War II, in which many blacks served, returning veterans began to be active in the civil rights movement, wanting to have full citizenship after fighting in the war. In Mississippi, activists in the Vicksburg Movement became prominent during the 1960s.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Montgomery, Alabama' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Montgomery, Alabama
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Montgomery, Alabama

In the post-World War II era, returning African-American veterans were among those who became active in pushing to regain their civil rights in the South: to be allowed to vote and participate in politics, to freely use public places, to end segregation. According to the historian David Beito of the University of Alabama, African Americans in Montgomery “nurtured the modern civil rights movement.” African Americans comprised most of the customers on the city buses, but were forced to give up seats and even stand in order to make room for whites. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, sparking the Montgomery bus boycott. Martin Luther King Jr., then the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, and E.D. Nixon, a local civil rights advocate, founded the Montgomery Improvement Association to organise the boycott. In June 1956, the US District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson ruled that Montgomery’s bus racial segregation was unconstitutional. After the US Supreme Court upheld the ruling in November, the city desegregated the bus system, and the boycott was ended.

In separate action, integrated teams of Freedom Riders rode South on interstate buses. In violation of federal law and the constitution, bus companies had for decades acceded to state laws and required passengers to occupy segregated seating in Southern states. Opponents of the push for integration organised mob violence at stops along the Freedom Ride. In Montgomery, there was police collaboration when a white mob attacked Freedom Riders at the Greyhound Bus Station in May 1961. Outraged national reaction resulted in the enforcement of desegregation of interstate public transportation.

Martin Luther King Jr. returned to Montgomery in 1965. Local civil rights leaders in Selma had been protesting Jim Crow laws and practices that raised barriers to blacks registering to vote. Following the shooting of a man after a civil rights rally, the leaders decided to march to Montgomery to petition Governor George Wallace to allow free voter registration. The violence they encountered from county and state highway police outraged the country. The federal government ordered National Guard and troops to protect the marchers. Thousands more joined the marchers on the way to Montgomery, and an estimated 25,000 marchers entered the capital to press for voting rights. These actions contributed to Congressional passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to authorise federal supervision and enforcement of the rights of African Americans and other minorities to vote.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Montgomery bus boycott

The Montgomery bus boycott was a political and social protest campaign against the policy of racial segregation on the public transit system of Montgomery, Alabama. It was a foundational event in the civil rights movement in the United States. The campaign lasted from December 5, 1955 – the Monday after Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, was arrested for her refusal to surrender her seat to a white person – to December 20, 1956, when the federal ruling Browder v. Gayle took effect, and led to a United States Supreme Court decision that declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws that segregated buses were unconstitutional. …

 

Background

Before the bus boycott, Jim Crow laws mandated the racial segregation of the Montgomery Bus Line. As a result of this segregation, African Americans were not hired as drivers, were forced to ride in the back of the bus, and were frequently ordered to surrender their seats to white people even though black passengers made up 75% of the bus system’s riders. Many bus drivers treated their black passengers poorly beyond the law: African-Americans were assaulted, shortchanged, and left stranded after paying their fares.

The year before the bus boycott began, the Supreme Court decided unanimously, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional. The reaction by the white population of the Deep South was “noisy and stubborn”. Many white bus drivers joined the White Citizens’ Council as a result of the decision.

Although it is often framed as the start of the civil rights movement, the boycott occurred at the end of many black communities’ struggles in the South to protect black women, such as Recy Taylor, from racial violence. The boycott also took place within a larger statewide and national movement for civil rights, including court cases such as Morgan v. Virginia, the earlier Baton Rouge bus boycott, and the arrest of Claudette Colvin for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. …

 

History

Under the system of segregation used on Montgomery buses, the ten front seats were reserved for white people at all times. The ten back seats were supposed to be reserved for black people at all times. The middle section of the bus consisted of sixteen unreserved seats for white and black people on a segregated basis.[22] White people filled the middle seats from the front to back, and black people filled seats from the back to front until the bus was full. If other black people boarded the bus, they were required to stand. If another white person boarded the bus, then everyone in the black row nearest the front had to get up and stand so that a new row for white people could be created; it was illegal for white and black people to sit next to each other. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white person, she was sitting in the first row of the middle section.

Often when boarding the buses, black people were required to pay at the front, get off, and reenter the bus through a separate door at the back. Occasionally, bus drivers would drive away before black passengers were able to reboard. National City Lines owned the Montgomery Bus Line at the time of the Montgomery bus boycott. Under the leadership of Walter Reuther, the United Auto Workers donated almost $5,000 (equivalent to $51,000 in 2021) to the boycott’s organising committee.

 

Boycott

See the full details of the bus boycott on the Wikipedia website

 

Aftermath

White backlash against the court victory was quick, brutal, and, in the short term, effective. Two days after the inauguration of desegregated seating, someone fired a shotgun through the front door of Martin Luther King’s home. A day later, on Christmas Eve, white men attacked a black teenager as she exited a bus. Four days after that, two buses were fired upon by snipers. In one sniper incident, a pregnant woman was shot in both legs. On January 10, 1957, bombs destroyed five black churches and the home of Reverend Robert S. Graetz, one of the few white Montgomerians who had publicly sided with the MIA.

The City suspended bus service for several weeks on account of the violence. According to legal historian Randall Kennedy, “When the violence subsided and service was restored, many black Montgomerians enjoyed their newly recognised right only abstractly … In practically every other setting, Montgomery remained overwhelmingly segregated …” On January 23, a group of Klansmen (who would later be charged for the bombings) lynched a black man, Willie Edwards, on the pretext that he was dating a white woman.

The city’s elite moved to strengthen segregation in other areas, and in March 1957 passed an ordinance making it “unlawful for white and colored persons to play together, or, in company with each other … in any game of cards, dice, dominoes, checkers, pool, billiards, softball, basketball, baseball, football, golf, track, and at swimming pools, beaches, lakes or ponds or any other game or games or athletic contests, either indoors or outdoors.”

Later in the year, Montgomery police charged seven Klansmen with the bombings, but all of the defendants were acquitted. About the same time, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled against Martin Luther King’s appeal of his “illegal boycott” conviction. Rosa Parks left Montgomery due to death threats and employment blacklisting. According to Charles Silberman, “by 1963, most Negroes in Montgomery had returned to the old custom of riding in the back of the bus.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Shreveport, Louisiana' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Shreveport, Louisiana
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Walls, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Walls, Mississippi
1984
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Lula, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Lula, Mississippi
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Lula, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Lula, Mississippi
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Helena, Arkansas' 1986

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Helena, Arkansas
1986
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Natchez, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Natchez, Mississippi
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery is pleased to announce its upcoming exhibition, Baldwin Lee. The exhibition will open with a reception for the artist on Saturday, the 22nd of October, from 4 – 6pm, and continue through December 10th. This will be the second solo exhibition of the photographer’s work presented by Joseph Bellows Gallery. The gallery first showcased Lee’s epic project online, from April 18th – June 26, 2020.

The upcoming show will present a remarkable selection of vintage prints from this critically acclaimed and highly celebrated body of work taken within Black communities in the South, that began in 1983, and continued throughout that decade. The resulting collection of images from this seven-year period contains nearly ten thousand black-and-white negatives taken with a 4 x 5-inch view camera. Lee’s graceful pictures from this project perfectly balance the photographer’s presence and the subject’s will, honouring both through the resulting, beautifully printed 16 x 20-inch black-and-white photographs. The esteemed photography curator Joshua Chuang has noted that, “The pictures stand apart, not because they are depictions of Black subjects by a first-generation Chinese-American, but because they were made by a photographer of rare perception and instinct.”

Baldwin Lee studied photography with Minor White at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in 1972. Lee then continued his education at Yale University, where he studied with Walker Evans. He received a Master of Fine Arts in 1975. After school, Lee began teaching photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and then at Yale, while creating his own photographs, which at the time were rooted in the exploration of the contemporary built environment. Lee’s later work from the early to late-1980s entitled, Black Americans in the South (from which this exhibition is drawn), is a compelling and empathic portrait that represents its subjects within their rural environments, expressing the joys of childhood, the gravity of adult life, and the places in between. Images from Lee’s Southern work were featured in Aperture Magazine, Issue 115, ‘New Southern Photography: Between Myth and Reality’ (1989), and now form the newly published monograph, Baldwin Lee (Hunters Point Press, 2022).

Lee’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Chrysler Museum of Art, the Knoxville Museum of Art, the Southeast Center for Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the University of Kentucky Art Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery, The Morgan Library, and the Museum of the City of New York. He has been honoured with fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation (1984) and the National Endowment for the Arts (1984 and 1990).

Text from the Joseph Bellows Gallery website [Online] Cited 28/10/2022

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Boyle, Mississippi' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Boyle, Mississippi
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Columbia, South Carolina' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Columbia, South Carolina
1984
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Rosedale, Mississippi' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Rosedale, Mississippi
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Monroe, Louisiana' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Monroe, Louisiana
1985
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Mobile, Alabama' 1983

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Mobile, Alabama
1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Mobile, Alabama

20th century

The turn of the 20th century brought the Progressive Era to Mobile. The economic structure developed with new industries, generating new jobs and attracting a significant increase in population.[50] The population increased from around 40,000 in 1900 to 60,000 by 1920. During this time the city received $3 million in federal grants for harbour improvements to deepen the shipping channels. During and after World War I, manufacturing became increasingly vital to Mobile’s economic health, with shipbuilding and steel production being two of the most important industries.

During this time, social justice and race relations in Mobile worsened, however. The state passed a new constitution in 1901 that disenfranchised most blacks and many poor whites; and the white Democratic-dominated legislature passed other discriminatory legislation. In 1902, the city government passed Mobile’s first racial segregation ordinance, segregating the city streetcars. It legislated what had been informal practice, enforced by convention. Mobile’s African-American population responded to this with a two-month boycott, but the law was not repealed. After this, Mobile’s de facto segregation was increasingly replaced with legislated segregation as whites imposed Jim Crow laws to maintain supremacy.

In 1911 the city adopted a commission form of government, which had three members elected by at-large voting. Considered to be progressive, as it would reduce the power of ward bosses, this change resulted in the elite white majority strengthening its power, as only the majority could gain election of at-large candidates. In addition, poor whites and blacks had already been disenfranchised. Mobile was one of the last cities to retain this form of government, which prevented smaller groups from electing candidates of their choice. But Alabama’s white yeomanry had historically favoured single-member districts in order to elect candidates of their choice. …

A race riot broke out in May 1943 of whites against blacks. ADDSCO management had long maintained segregated conditions at the shipyards, although the Roosevelt administration had ordered defence contractors to integrate facilities. That year ADDSCO promoted 12 blacks to positions as welders, previously reserved for whites; and whites objected to the change by rioting on May 24. The mayor appealed to the governor to call in the National Guard to restore order, but it was weeks before officials allowed African Americans to return to work, keeping them away for their safety.

In the late 1940s, the transition to the postwar economy was hard for the city, as thousands of jobs were lost at the shipyards with the decline in the defence industry. Eventually the city’s social structure began to become more liberal. Replacing shipbuilding as a primary economic force, the paper and chemical industries began to expand. No longer needed for defence, most of the old military bases were converted to civilian uses. Following the war, in which many African Americans had served, veterans and their supporters stepped up activism to gain enforcement of their constitutional rights and social justice, especially in the Jim Crow South. During the 1950s the City of Mobile integrated its police force and Spring Hill College accepted students of all races. Unlike in the rest of the state, by the early 1960s the city buses and lunch counters voluntarily desegregated. …

In 1963, three African-American students brought a case against the Mobile County School Board for being denied admission to Murphy High School. This was nearly a decade after the United States Supreme Court had ruled in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. The federal district court ordered that the three students be admitted to Murphy for the 1964 school year, leading to the desegregation of Mobile County’s school system.

The civil rights movement gained congressional passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, eventually ending legal segregation and regaining effective suffrage for African Americans. But whites in the state had more than one way to reduce African Americans’ voting power. Maintaining the city commission form of government with at-large voting resulted in all positions being elected by the white majority, as African Americans could not command a majority for their candidates in the informally segregated city. …

Mobile’s city commission form of government was challenged and finally overturned in 1982 in City of Mobile v. Bolden, which was remanded by the United States Supreme Court to the district court. Finding that the city had adopted a commission form of government in 1911 and at-large positions with discriminatory intent, the court proposed that the three members of the city commission should be elected from single-member districts, likely ending their division of executive functions among them. Mobile’s state legislative delegation in 1985 finally enacted a mayor-council form of government, with seven members elected from single-member districts. This was approved by voters. As white conservatives increasingly entered the Republican Party in the late 20th century, African-American residents of the city have elected members of the Democratic Party as their candidates of choice. Since the change to single-member districts, more women and African Americans were elected to the council than under the at-large system.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'New Orleans, Louisiana' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
New Orleans, Louisiana
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Canton, Mississippi' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Canton, Mississippi
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Plain Dealing, Louisiana' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Plain Dealing, Louisiana
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Plain Dealing is a town in Bossier Parish, Louisiana, United States. The population was 893 in 2020.

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Columbia, South Carolina' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Columbia, South Carolina
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Quitman, Georgia' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Quitman, Georgia
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Quitman is a city in and the county seat of Brooks County, Georgia, United States. The population was 3,850 at the 2010 census.

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Valdosta, Georgia' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Valdosta, Georgia
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Valdosta, Georgia

Valdosta is a city in and the county seat of Lowndes County, Georgia, United States. As of 2019, Valdosta had an estimated population of 56,457.

On May 16, 1918, a white planter named Hampton Smith was shot and killed at his house near Morven, Georgia, by a black farm worker named Sidney Johnson who was routinely mistreated by Smith. Johnson also shot Smith’s wife but she later recovered. Johnson hid for several days in Valdosta without discovery. Lynch mobs formed in Valdosta ransacking Lowndes and Brooks counties for a week looking for Johnson and his alleged accomplices. These mobs lynched at least 13 African Americans, among them Mary Turner and her unborn eight-month-old baby who was cut from her body and murdered. Mary Turner’s husband Hazel Turner was also lynched the day before.

Sidney Johnson was turned in by an acquaintance, and on May 22 Police Chief Calvin Dampier led a shootout at the Valdosta house where he was hiding. Following his death, a crowd of more than 700 castrated Johnson’s body, then dragged it behind a vehicle down Patterson Street and all the way to Morven, Georgia, near the site of Smith’s murder. There the body of Johnson was hanged and burned on a tree. That afternoon, Governor Hugh Dorsey ordered the state militia to be dispatched to Valdosta to halt the lynch mobs, but they arrived too late for many victims. Dorsey later denounced the lynchings, but none of the participants were ever prosecuted.

Following the violence, more than 500 African Americans fled from Lowndes and Brooks counties to escape such oppressive conditions and violence. From 1880 to 1930, Brooks County had the highest number of lynchings in the state of Georgia. By 1922 local chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been revived starting in 1915, were holding rallies openly in Valdosta.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Valdosta, Georgia' 1986

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Valdosta, Georgia
1986
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Garnett, South Carolina' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Garnett, South Carolina
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

 

In 1983, Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) left his home in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his 4 × 5 view camera and set out on the first of a series of road trips to photograph the American South. The subject of his pictures were Black Americans: at home, at work, and at play, in the street, and among nature. This project would consume Lee – a first-generation Chinese American – for the remainder of that decade, and it would forever transform his perception of his country, its people, and himself. The resulting archive from this seven-year period contains nearly ten thousand black-and-white negatives. This monograph, Baldwin Lee, presents a selection of eighty-eight images edited by the photographer Barney Kulok, accompanied by an interview with Lee by the curator Jessica Bell Brown and an essay by the writer Casey Gerald. Arriving almost four decades after Lee began his journey, this publication reveals the artist’s unique commitment to picturing life in America and, in turn, one of the most piercing and poignant bodies of work of its time.

“A new book – the first-ever collection of [Baldwin] Lee’s work – and a solo exhibition in New York make the case that he is one of the great overlooked luminaries of American picture-making. It’s not often that a body of photography is hoisted up from obscurity and straight into the canon.”

~ Chris Wiley, The New Yorker

“The warmth and soulfulness of his work is not the result of intellectual effort; it’s grounded in understanding, a combination of intensity and restraint, and, surely, a shared sense of otherness.”

~ Vince Aletti, Photograph Magazine

“… Walker Evans was one of Lee’s teachers. Like Evans, Lee has a sensitive eye for both poverty and dignity. But Lee’s southern exposure wasn’t overwhelmingly white, as it was in Evans’s classic “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.” Quite the contrary, Lee is a witness to those at the bottom of U.S. stratification, and their refusal to swallow that status. … The work is political, because it exposes the violence of poverty inherited from the plantation-economy past. But it is most of all attentiveness to the composure of his subjects that is echoed masterfully in the composition of his shots. …We are a motley assortment of people in the United States. Our relations are not tidy, not in their beauty, nor in their disastrous disaffection and cruelty. ”

~ Imani Perry, The Atlantic

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

 

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Phone: 858 456 5620

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25
Sep
22

Exhibition: ‘American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 29th May – 2nd October 2022

Curator: Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art

 

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Summer, Early Morning, Immigrant Cemetery, North of Bethune, Colorado' 1965

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Summer, Early Morning, Immigrant Cemetery, North of Bethune, Colorado
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image: 10.4 x 15.2 cm (4 1/8 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

The quiet of the great beyond

With gratitude, I admire the photographs of Robert Adams. I admire their perspicuous (“clear, lucid”, able to be seen through) and perspicacious (“keen, astute,” able to see through) nature.

They imbibe (“absorb, assimilate,” ideas or knowledge) in us “the wonder and fragility of the American landscape, its inherent beauty, and the inadequacy of our response to it… [they] capture the sense of peace and harmony that the beauty of nature can instill in us – “the silence of light,” as he calls it… [and they] question our silent complicity in the desecration of that beauty by consumerism, industrialisation, and lack of environmental stewardship… While these photographs lament the ravages that have been inflicted on the land, they also pay homage to what remains.”

Like so many photographers of the American landscape, Adams’ debt to the vision of Walker Evans can be seen in his early work, in images such as Movie Theater, Otis, Colorado (1965, below) and Catholic Church, Summer, Ramah, Colorado (1965, below) – but even in images such as Wheat Stubble, South of Thurman, Colorado (1965, below) we can begin to see the beginnings of Adams personal artistic signature, the quiet of “the great beyond” (both physically and spiritually).

In modernist photographs that step off from Walker Evans’ legacy, Adams quiet, still photographs require of the viewer contemplation and reflection… reflection on the isolation of tract housing seemingly dropped into the vast American landscape. In these photographs (such as the two photographs Newly Occupied Tract Houses, Colorado Springs, 1968 below) Adams’ use of near/far is exemplary, with the nearness of the new excavation, the new scarring of the earth, contrasting with the sublime majesty of the mountains beyond. Other more personal psychological scarring can be seen in the two photographs Colorado Springs (1968-1971, below) where single, isolated, anonymous human beings are occluded in silhouette or shadow, damned by the hot sun.

In other photographs houses become like fossilised dinosaur skeletons, their graves marked by ironic street names such as Darwin Pl. (Frame for a Tract House, Colorado Springs, 1969 below), or multiply across the landscape, breeding like some genetically identical sequence (Pikes Peak Park, Colorado Springs, 1969, below). Even petrol stations blare out the name “Frontier” as though to irrevocably define that here we live on the edge of nowhere. And so it goes in Adams’ work… isolated people living in a barren landscape being colonised and inhabited without much thought for the beauty or the destruction of the landscape.

From the mid-1970s onwards, Adams’ landscape photographs begin to eschew all but the smallest pointers to human habitation, but this makes these human marks on the landscape all the more intrusive because of it. For example, in the photograph of the vast landscape South of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Jefferson County, Colorado (1976, below) the only markings of human activity are the tyre marks in the foreground and the telegraph poles, road and cars at far right… and then the title hits you with a double-whammy, “Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant”, not present in the photograph but present in our consciousness (of the landscape). Even less evidence of human existence is signalled in the photograph Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota (1977, below), but then we notice at bottom left a discarded tin can, just a discarded tin can, but this one tin can says so much about our use and abuse of our only habitable planet, earth.

In image after image, roads scar the landscape, planes fly overhead, industry and housing colonise the sublime, and human beings hug and are alienated amongst concrete jungles and car parks. New development erodes the earth leaving behind the detritus of human existence. Old growth trees are slaughtered in clearcut operations in which every tree has been cut down and removed. A dead albatross rots on an expanse of beach (The Sea Beach, Albatross, 2015 below) while in the distance the photographer picks out 4 ghosts of human beings (The Sea Beach, 2015 below).

Adams’ photographic vision is extra ordinary and I cannot fault his individual photographs. I become engrossed in them. I breathe their atmosphere. He has a resolution, both in terms of large format aesthetic, the aesthetic of beauty and of using materials, light and composition… that seems exactly right. He possesses that superlative skill of few great photographers, and by that I mean: sometimes he has true compassion** / parallel to a religious compassion, but not based on something higher / just perfect human. In some of his photographs (such as East from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado 1975, below) he possesses real forgiveness, in others there is the perfection of cruel, the perfection of de/composition.

** achieved by Arbus, Atget and sometimes by Clift, Gowin.

And then, each image holds small clues vital to the overall conversation that is the accumulation of his work and it is in their collective accumulation of meaning that Adams’ photographs grow and build to shatter not just the American silence on environmental issues, but the deafening silence of the whole industrialised world. In their holistic nature, Adams’ body of work becomes punctum and because of this his work produces other “things”, things as great as anything the French literary theorist, essayist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician Roland Barthes wrote about. As in Barthes’ seminal work Camera Lucida, Adams’ work reminds us that the “photograph is evidence of ‘what has ceased to be’. Instead of making reality solid, it reminds us of the world’s ever changing nature.”1

Human beings can never leave anything as they find it, they always have to possess and change whatever they see in a form of desecration (the action of damaging or showing no respect toward something holy or very much respected). Except human beings do not respect the only place that have to live on, this earth. When will it change?

As Alain de Botton observes on the importance of the sublime places to the human psyche,

“If the world is unfair or beyond our understanding, sublime places suggest it is not surprising things should be thus. We are the playthings of the forces that laid out the oceans and chiselled the mountains. Sublime places acknowledge limitations that we might otherwise encounter with anxiety or anger in the ordinary flow of events. It is not just nature that defies us. Human life is as overwhelming, but it is the vast spaces of nature that perhaps provide us with the finest, the most respectful reminder of all that exceeds us. If we spend time with them, they may help us to accept more graciously the great unfathomable events that molest our lives and will inevitably return us to dust.”2

.
We loose these places at our peril and the peril of the entire human race.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Anonymous. “Roland Barthes,” on the Wikipedia website Nd [Online] Cited 23/09/2022
  2. Alain de Botton. The Art of Travel. London: Penguin, 2002, pp. 178-179.

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

 

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Wheat Stubble, South of Thurman, Colorado' 1965, printed 1988

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Wheat Stubble, South of Thurman, Colorado
1965, printed 1988
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 27.9cm (9 x 11 in.)
Collection of Jeffrey Fraenkel and Alan Mark
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

For 50 years, Robert Adams (b. 1937) has made compelling, provocative, and highly influential photographs that show us the wonder and fragility of the American landscape, its inherent beauty, and the inadequacy of our response to it. This exhibition explores the reverential way he looks at the world around him and the almost palpable silence of his work.

Many of these photographs of the American West capture the sense of peace and harmony that the beauty of nature can instill in us – “the silence of light,” as he calls it, that he sees on the prairie, in the woods, and by the ocean. Other pictures question our silent complicity in the desecration of that beauty by consumerism, industrialisation, and lack of environmental stewardship. Divided into three sections – The Gift, Our Response, and Tenancy – the exhibition features some 175 works from the artist’s most important projects and includes pictures of suburban sprawl, strip malls, highways, homes, and stores, as well as rivers, skies, the prairie, and the ocean.

While these photographs lament the ravages that have been inflicted on the land, they also pay homage to what remains.

 

 

“Robert Adams’s photographs often seem to demand that viewers do a double-take. Seemingly ordinary subjects like tree stumps, tract housing or the moon seen from a parking lot “require very careful looking and careful consideration,” says curator Sarah Greenough, before they reveal the photographer’s deeply personal visions of nature – and, sometimes, his despair at what humans have done with it.”

.
Peter Saenger. “Robert Adams Takes Photos That Face Facts,” on The Wall Street Journal website May 13, 2022 [Online] Cited 23/06/2022

 

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Movie Theater, Otis, Colorado' 1965, printed c. 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Movie Theater, Otis, Colorado
1965, printed c. 1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.3 x 20.3cm (6 7/16 x 8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Catholic Church, Winter, Ramah, Colorado' 1965, printed 1982

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Catholic Church, Winter, Ramah, Colorado
1965, printed 1982
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.3 x 16.4cm (8 3/4 x 6 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Catholic Church, Summer, Ramah, Colorado' 1965, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Catholic Church, Summer, Ramah, Colorado
1965, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.5 x 16.4cm (8 7/16 x 6 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Store, Elizabeth, Colorado' 1965, printed 1988

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Store, Elizabeth, Colorado
1965, printed 1988
Gelatin silver print
Image: 26.9 x 22.8cm (10 9/16 x 9 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Arriba, Colorado' 1966, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Arriba, Colorado
1966, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.4 x 22.7cm (11 3/16 x 8 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Schoolyard, Ramah, Colorado' 1968

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Schoolyard, Ramah, Colorado
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2 cm (6 x 6 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Newly Occupied Tract Houses, Colorado Springs' 1968

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Newly Occupied Tract Houses, Colorado Springs
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 13.3cm (5 x 5 1/4 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'New Tract Housing, Colorado Springs' 1968, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
New Tract Housing, Colorado Springs
1968, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14.4 x 15cm (5 11/16 x 5 7/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Colorado Springs' 1968, printed 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Colorado Springs
1968, printed 1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Colorado Springs' 1968-1971

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Colorado Springs
1968-1971
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Alameda Avenue, Denver' 1968-1971

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Alameda Avenue, Denver
1968-1971
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Northeast of Keota, Colorado' 1969, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Northeast of Keota, Colorado
1969, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 39.2 x 47.8cm (15 7/16 x 18 13/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Frame for a Tract House, Colorado Springs' 1969, printed 1984

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Frame for a Tract House, Colorado Springs
1969, printed 1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 15cm (5 15/16 x 5 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Basement for a Tract House, Colorado Springs' 1969

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Basement for a Tract House, Colorado Springs
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 26.6 x 27.6cm (10 1/2 x 10 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Colorado Springs' 1969

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Colorado Springs
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.6 x 15.2cm (6 1/8 x 6 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Pikes Peak Park, Colorado Springs' 1969

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Pikes Peak Park, Colorado Springs
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 15.2cm (5 15/16 x 6 in.)
Yale University Art Gallery, Purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'New Housing, Colorado Springs' 1969, printed 2005

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
New Housing, Colorado Springs
1969, printed 2005
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.5 x 15.1cm (6 7/8 x 5 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs' 1969

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14 x 14.9cm (5 1/2 x 5 7/8 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

For 50 years, Robert Adams (b. 1937) has made compelling, provocative, and highly influential photographs that show the wonder and fragility of the American landscape, its inherent beauty, and the inadequacy of our response to it. American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams celebrates the art of this seminal American photographer and explores the reverential way he looks at the world around him and the almost palpable silence of his work. Organised in cooperation with the artist, the exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog. American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams is on view from May 29 through October 2, 2022, in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art.

Capturing the sense of peace and harmony created through what Adams calls “the silence of light” that can be seen on the prairie, in the woods, and by the ocean, American Silence features some 175 pictures from 1965 to 2015. Other images on view question our moral silence to the desecration of that beauty by consumerism, industrialisation, and lack of environmental stewardship. Divided into three sections – The Gift, Our Response, and Tenancy – the exhibition includes works from not only the artist’s most important projects but also lesser-known ones that depict suburban sprawl, strip malls, highways, homes, and stores, as well as rivers, skies, the prairie, and the ocean. While these photographs lament the ravages that have been inflicted on the land, they also pay homage to what remains.

“The photographs in this exhibition encourage us to experience the sense of silence that the beauty of nature can inspire while asking us to question our own silent complicity in the face of its desecration,” said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art. “We are deeply grateful to Robert Adams and his wife, Kerstin, for their steadfast commitment to this endeavour and for their many donations to the National Gallery. I would like to extend our thanks to the Trellis Fund, Jane P. Watkins, The Shared Earth Foundation, Randi and Bob Fisher, Wes and Kate Mitchell, Nion McEvoy, Greg and Aline Gooding, and the James D. and Kathryn K. Steele Fund for Photography whose generous support has made this exhibition possible as well as to all our lenders for their willingness to share their treasured works of art with our public.”

 

About the exhibition

The exhibition begins with The Gift, which presents selected works that reveal the silence, beauty, peace, and spiritual harmony found in the landscape itself. Spanning three decades, this section includes photographs from Prairie (1978), Perfect Times, Perfect Places (1988), Listening to the River (1994), Pine Valley (2005), and This Day (2011). These pictures demonstrate the artist’s exceptional ability to find the sublime in the vast vistas and quiet, often overlooked, corners of the sparse and fragile American West, particularly in Colorado and Oregon, two areas of the country that Adams knows intimately. Infused with a deep understanding of the way light articulates forms, these photographs illuminate the natural world and demonstrate how Adams seeks to illustrate, in his own words, “a quiet so absolute that it allows one to begin again, to love the future.”

The largest section of the exhibition, Our Response examines how Americans have dealt with both the potential and the vulnerability of the West. Divided into six thematic subjects arranged chronologically, this section begins with “Early Hispanic and Plains Communities,” including work from some of the artist’s earliest publications: White Churches of the Plains (1970), The Architecture and Art of Early Hispanic Colorado (1974), and Prairie (1978). These pictures portray the respectful nature of older settlements in the West and acknowledge the importance of the gravel roads, farmhouses, furrowed fields, stores, and churches. They also demonstrate how early settlers attempted to achieve a unity with nature, rather than dominate over it.

“Our Imprint on the Land” and “A New West” feature works from seminal early publications by Adams: The New West: Landscapes along the Colorado Front Range (1974), denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area (1977), From the Missouri West (1980), and What We Bought: The New World, Scenes from the Denver Metropolitan Area, 1970-1974 (1995). “Our Imprint on the Land” includes pictures made along the Missouri River around the time of the 1976 bicentennial of the United States, a moment of national reflection on the past and assessment of the present. The photographs in “A New West” address the construction of a new kind of American environment. Dominated by cars, highways, cheaply fabricated homes, and commercial developments, these pictures emphasise the lack of community and the great isolation that grew in these new suburban communities.

“Our Lives and Our Children” depicts the area near Rocky Flats, a nuclear weapons plant northwest of Denver, where Adams photographed the simple dignity of everyday people to illustrate what would be lost in a nuclear disaster. Our Response ends with “Southern California” and “A Mythic Forest,” drawing works from two of his sharpest critiques: Los Angeles Spring (1986), depicting the destruction of the fragile landscape around Los Angeles in the early 1980s, and Turning Back: A Photographic Journal of Re-exploration (2005), illustrating the American timber industry’s exploitation of the North­west forests.

American Silence concludes with a selection of works from one of the artist’s recent books, Tenancy: Between the River and the Sea; The Nehalem Spit, the Coast of Oregon (2017). Divided into three parts, this series of photographs was made between 2013 and 2015 along a two-mile promontory on the Oregon coast, the Nehalem Spit. The first examines the eastern edge of the spit where massive tree stumps washed up on the shore reveal the brutality of the clearcutting done farther up the Nehalem River. The second part looks at the spit itself, a sanctuary of small trees, meadows, and dunes resting near a large geologic fault, and the third depicts the ever-changing beauty and wonder of the ocean to the west, as well as the people who seek “to escape illusion and to be reconciled,” as Adams noted. Tenancy illustrates his belief that we are only temporary occupants of the land that nourishes and sustains us, and it reveals the strength of his convictions, his deep spirituality, and the eloquent power of his vision.

 

Exhibition Catalog

Published by the National Gallery of Art and Aperture, New York, American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams traces the evolution of his work, highlighting the importance of faith to his art and – through his elegant visual reckonings – how “what was” has become “what is.” It is richly illustrated, with over 200 compelling photographs that explore the profound questions of our responsibility to the land and the moral dilemmas of progress. This extensive 332-page monograph includes award-winning curator Sarah Greenough’s in-depth examination of the evolution of his art as well as personal reflections by the celebrated nonfiction author Terry Tempest Williams and writings by Adams himself, along with a timeline of the artist’s life.

Press release from the National Gallery of Art, Washington

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Genoa, Colorado' 1970

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Genoa, Colorado
1970
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.1 x 19.1cm (7 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Boys in a Pickup, Simla, Colorado' 1970, printed 1991

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Boys in a Pickup, Simla, Colorado
1970, printed 1991
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 14.2cm (5 15/16 x 5 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1970, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1970, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 15cm (5 15/16 x 5 7/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Walking to a Shopping Center, North Edge of Denver' 1970-1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Walking to a Shopping Center, North Edge of Denver
1970-1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 19.2cm (5 15/16 x 7 9/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Sandstone Grave Marker, Walsenburg, Colorado' 1972

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Sandstone Grave Marker, Walsenburg, Colorado
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clarkville, Colorado' 1972

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clarkville, Colorado
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.4 x 16.5cm (7 1/4 x 6 1/2 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'North of Keota, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
North of Keota, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19cm (6 x 7 1/2 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973, printed 1988

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973, printed 1988
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 19.3cm (5 15/16 x 7 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Tract House, Longmont, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Tract House, Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.6 x 19.4cm (6 1/8 x 7 5/8 in.)
Collection of Frish Brandt and August Fischer
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.4cm (6 x 7 5/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1973-1974, printed 2008

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1973-1974, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.1cm (6 x 5 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'From Interstate 25, North Edge of Denver' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
From Interstate 25, North Edge of Denver
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.1cm (6 x 7 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Mobile Home Park, North Edge of Denver' 1973, printed 2005

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Mobile Home Park, North Edge of Denver
1973, printed 2005
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.8cm (6 x 7 13/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'North Edge of Denver' 1973-1974, printed 2008

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
North Edge of Denver
1973-1974, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.2cm (6 x 7 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Next to Interstate 25, Denver' 1973, printed 1991

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Next to Interstate 25, Denver
1973, printed 1991
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.3cm (6 x 7 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Outdoor Theater, North Edge of Denver' 1973-1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Outdoor Theater, North Edge of Denver
1973-1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.6 x 19.7cm (6 1/8 x 7 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Highway, Northeast Denver' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Highway, Northeast Denver
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 19.1cm (5 15/16 x 7 1/2 in.)
Stephen G. Stein Employee Benefit Trust
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973-1974, printed 2001

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973-1974, printed 2001
gelatin silver print
Image: 16.8 x 17.2cm (6 5/8 x 6 3/4 in.)
Private collection
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14.3 x 15.1cm (5 5/8 x 5 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1973, printed 1979

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1973, printed 1979
gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.2 x 15.2cm (6 3/4 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Boulder County, Colorado' 1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Boulder County, Colorado
1974
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 15.2 x 19.2cm (6 x 7 9/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1974, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1974, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 29.2cm (9 x 11 1/2 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Arvada, Colorado' 1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Arvada, Colorado
1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.7cm (6 x 7 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Shopping Mall and Parking Lot, Denver' 1974, printed 1980s

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Shopping Mall and Parking Lot, Denver
1974, printed 1980s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.4cm (6 x 7 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Northeast from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado' 1975

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Northeast from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.1 x 47.9cm (15 x 18 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'East from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado' 1975

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
East from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Garden of the Gods, El Paso County, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Garden of the Gods, El Paso County, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.3cm (9 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'South of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Jefferson County, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
South of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Jefferson County, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.4 x 21.8cm (6 7/8 x 8 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Jefferson County, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Jefferson County, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.8 x 17.8cm (7 x 7 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Berthoud, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Berthoud, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 12.7 cm (5 x 5 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with funds contributed by Marilyn L. Steinbright, 1985
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.1cm (8 15/16 x 11 1/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Concrete and Ice, Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Concrete and Ice, Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18 x 22.2cm (7 1/16 x 8 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Larimer County, Colorado' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Larimer County, Colorado
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.1cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Jeffrey Fraenkel and Alan Mark
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Abandoned Car, Carbon County, Wyoming' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Abandoned Car, Carbon County, Wyoming
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.5cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Arkansas River Canyon, Colorado' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Arkansas River Canyon, Colorado
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.5cm (8 15/16 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Lou and Di Stovall
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Highway 287, Larimer County, Colorado' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Highway 287, Larimer County, Colorado
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.3 x 28.5cm (8 3/4 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 12.7cm (5 x 5 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Fort Collins, Colorado' 1977, printed 1985

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Fort Collins, Colorado
1977, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 12.7cm (5 x 5 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with funds contributed by Marilyn L. Steinbright, 1985
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Development Road, San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Development Road, San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.8 x 22.2cm (7 x 8 3/4 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with matching funds contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Hauslohner and Harvey S. Shipley Miller, 1980
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Edge of San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California' 1977-1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Edge of San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California
1977-1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.8 x 22.5cm (7 x 8 7/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with matching funds contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Hauslohner and Harvey S. Shipley Miller, 1980
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Santa Ana Wash, Norton Air Force Base, San Bernardino County, California' 1977-1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Santa Ana Wash, Norton Air Force Base, San Bernardino County, California
1977-1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.8 x 22.2cm (7 x 8 3/4 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with matching funds contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Hauslohner and Harvey S. Shipley Miller, 1980
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Nebraska State Highway 2, Box Butte County, Nebraska' 1978, printed 1991

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Nebraska State Highway 2, Box Butte County, Nebraska
1978, printed 1991
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.2 x 27.8cm (8 3/4 x 10 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Umatilla County, Oregon' 1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Umatilla County, Oregon
1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.2 x 47.6cm (15 1/16 x 18 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Quarried Mesa Top, Pueblo County, Colorado' 1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Quarried Mesa Top, Pueblo County, Colorado
1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 47cm (14 15/16 x 18 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Edge of San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California' 1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Edge of San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, California
1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.3cm (8 15/16 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Eucalyptus along Interstate 10, Redlands, California' 1978

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Eucalyptus along Interstate 10, Redlands, California
1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.3cm (9 x 11 1/8 in.)
Collection of Frish Brandt and August Fischer
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1979, printed 1985

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1979, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 12.7cm (5 x 5 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1979

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1979
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 22.5cm (9 x 8 7/8 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

Robert Adams is a man who walks with silences. I feel the pace of his stride in the quiet, acute considerations of his photographs of the American West. That he is drawn to sources of light in darkness, be it the moon, the shimmering light on poplar leaves, or the lonely lamp radiating on to the streets from a house in the suburbs, inspires me to pursue my own night walks in summer. In the embrace of the night, my own darkness is absorbed into an uncommon stillness that does not frighten me. I see the eye-shine of other creatures and it is a comfort to know we are not alone.

The stillness married to loneliness in Adams work is something I understand as a westerner born in the suburbs of 1955. Though we have never met, he photographed my mother on one of his walks in Colorado Springs (1968) even though she was sitting in a different living room on Moor Mont Drive in Salt Lake City, Utah. …

The silhouette of the woman I see in the window, facing the door that is closed, in a red brick house, with a putting-green lawn, where a gentle curve of concrete leads to the entrance, is the home I was raised in as a child. I write this long sentence intentionally, because those were the days of my childhood that felt languid and secure.

This was the New West that Robert Adams captured in the middle of construction. We lived inside the green square houses used in the game Monopoly. But what we always knew was that beyond the dust of development and the play money that became real, wildness awaited us – even if it was the empty lot next door or the dirt road nearby that led to the creek shaded by cottonwoods.

Cottonwoods were the guardians of our childhood. They were deemed safe by our parents. They sheltered us from the heat of summer and the claustrophobia of winter. We knew their secrets. Inside their tangled skirts of lower branches families of house wrens lived and in the upper branches, great horned owls could be heard. The cottonwoods’ massive fluted trunks were our hide-and-seek. And if we gave our siblings a hand-stirrup up, we could climb into the large embrace of the trees. Once in the cottonwood’s arms, we were camouflaged in its rustling leaves – we would simply listen. It’s where I learned to trust other species more than my own. My love of solitude was nurtured inside these cathedral groves of cottonwoods.

The cottonwoods that appear in Weld County, Colorado (1992) and reappear throughout Adams’ work are emblematic of his intimacy and understanding of the American West. Cottonwoods root themselves near water. They are the wanderer’s hope in arid country. Water is the difference between living and dying in the West. And when Adams speaks of his affection toward one particular cottonwood in a field in Colorado, photographing it over many years, only to return one day to see it cut down – he faced what remained of the beloved tree as grieving kin. The body of a man, the body of a tree, there is no separation in the shared reach of a relationship. …

Robert Adams has been led by Beauty on what could be seen as the spiritual path of the artist as he followed forms of light again and again through the depths of darkness, even his own. Never easy, but often, glorious. We are the beneficiaries of his focus. He is a trustworthy companion. I choose to walk with him. Perhaps, he learned something about tenacious love as a form of being on those solitary summer nights as he walked in moonlight with an eye toward stillness.

Terry Tempest Williams. “Terry Tempest Williams on Walking with Robert Adams,” on the National Gallery of Art website May 19, 2022 [Online] Cited 31/05/2022, excerpted from the afterword by Terry Tempest Williams in the book American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams.

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.8 x 17.2cm (6 5/8 x 6 3/4 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.3 x 15.9cm (8 x 6 1/4 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.6 x 22.7cm (9 11/16 x 8 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 26 x 22.6cm (10 1/4 x 8 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.1 x 15.6cm (7 1/8 x 6 1/8 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1980

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 27.9 x 22.5cm (11 x 8 7/8 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1981, printed 1987

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1981, printed 1987
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 47.6cm (14 15/16 x 18 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1981, printed 1988

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1981, printed 1988
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.8 x 47cm (14 7/8 x 18 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14.6 x 15.2cm (5 3/4 x 6 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.15 x 16.83cm (6 3/4 x 6 5/8 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.2 x 17.2cm (6 3/4 x 6 3/4 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.4 x 15.7cm (7 1/4 x 6 3/16 in.)
Yale University Art Gallery, Purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.6 x 15.9cm (8 1/8 x 6 1/4 in.)
Robert and Kerstin Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Denver' 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Denver
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.8 x 15.9cm (7 x 6 1/4 in.)
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Remains of a Eucalyptus Windbreak, Redlands, California' 1982, printed 1990

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Remains of a Eucalyptus Windbreak, Redlands, California
1982, printed 1990
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.1 x 47.5cm (15 x 18 11/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Firebreak, above East Highland, California' 1982

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Firebreak, above East Highland, California
1982
Gelatin silver print
Image: 27.4 x 22.8cm (10 13/16 x 9 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Santa Ana Wash, Redlands, California' 1982

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Santa Ana Wash, Redlands, California
1982
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 47.1cm (14 15/16 x 18 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Rialto, California' 1982

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Rialto, California
1982
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Looking toward the Mountains in Smog, Weld County, Colorado' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Looking toward the Mountains in Smog, Weld County, Colorado
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.8 x 47cm (14 7/8 x 18 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Boulder County, Colorado' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Boulder County, Colorado
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.8 x 47.5cm (14 7/8 x 18 11/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Old Estate Road, Redlands, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Old Estate Road, Redlands, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Eucalyptus Branch, Redlands, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Eucalyptus Branch, Redlands, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.9 x 47.1cm (14 15/16 x 18 9/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of the Friends of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1986
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'On Signal Hill, Overlooking Long Beach, California' 1983, printed 199

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
On Signal Hill, Overlooking Long Beach, California
1983, printed 1990
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.5cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Broken Trees, East of Riverside, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Broken Trees, East of Riverside, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.6 x 46.7cm (14 13/16 x 18 3/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1986
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Eroding Edge of a Former Citrus-Growing Estate, Highland, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Eroding Edge of a Former Citrus-Growing Estate, Highland, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 46.7cm (14 15/16 x 18 3/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1986
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'On Top of the La Loma Hills, Colton, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
On Top of the La Loma Hills, Colton, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 47cm (14 15/16 x 18 1/2 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1986
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'New Development on a Former Citrus-Growing Estate, Highland, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
New Development on a Former Citrus-Growing Estate, Highland, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.1 x 47cm (15 x 18 1/2 in.)
Andrew Szegedy-Maszak and Elizabeth Bobrick
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'New Housing, Reche Canyon, San Bernardino County, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
New Housing, Reche Canyon, San Bernardino County, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.9 x 47.8cm (14 15/16 x 18 13/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with funds contributed by Ann and Donald W. McPhail and the Atlantic Richfield Foundation, 1986
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Interstate 10, West Edge of Redlands, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Interstate 10, West Edge of Redlands, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.5 x 45.7cm (14 3/4 x 18 in.)
Christine and Michael J. Murray
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Fontana, California' 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Fontana, California
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1984

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38 x 47.7cm (14 15/16 x 18 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1984

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.9 x 46.8cm (14 15/16 x 18 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1984

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.1 x 47.3cm (15 x 18 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Sally, Weld County, Colorado' 1984, printed 1990

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Sally, Weld County, Colorado
1984, printed 1990
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.2cm (8 15/16 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Weld County, Colorado' 1992

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Weld County, Colorado
1992
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37 x 46cm (14 9/16 x 18 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Irrigation Canal, Larimer County, Colorado' 1995

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Irrigation Canal, Larimer County, Colorado
1995
Gelatin silver print
Image: 29 x 22.8cm (11 7/16 x 9 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Poplars, Harney County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Poplars, Harney County, Oregon
1999
Photogravure
Image: 50.5 x 40cm (19 7/8 x 15 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Linda Hackett and Russell Munson Fund and Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Poplars, Harney County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Poplars, Harney County, Oregon
1999
Photogravure
Image: 49.3 x 40cm (19 7/16 x 15 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Linda Hackett and Russell Munson Fund and Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Poplars, Harney County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Poplars, Harney County, Oregon
1999
Photogravure
Image: 50.5 x 40cm (19 7/8 x 15 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Linda Hackett and Russell Munson Fund and Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Poplars, Harney County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Poplars, Harney County, Oregon
1999
Photogravure
Image: 50 x 40cm (19 11/16 x 15 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Linda Hackett and Russell Munson Fund and Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon
1999
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.2 x 22.7cm (11 1/8 x 8 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Kerstin next to an Old-Growth Stump, Coos County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Kerstin next to an Old-Growth Stump, Coos County, Oregon
1999
Gelatin silver print
Image: 27.9 x 22.9cm (11 x 9 in.)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: Don Ross

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon' 1999

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon
1999
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.2cm (8 15/16 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Columbia County, Oregon' 1999-2001

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Columbia County, Oregon
1999-2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 31.3 x 39.7cm (12 5/16 x 15 5/8 in.)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Purchase through a gift of an anonymous donor
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: Don Ross

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Baker County, Oregon' 2000

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Baker County, Oregon
2000
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.6 x 26.1cm (8 1/8 x 10 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon' c. 2000

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Coos County, Oregon
c. 2000
Gelatin silver print
Image: 39.4 x 31.3cm (15 1/2 x 12 5/16 in.)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: Don Ross

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon' c. 2000

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon
c. 2000
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon' c. 2000

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon
c. 2000
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.6cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/4 in.)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Purchase through a gift of an anonymous donor
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: Don Ross

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon' 2001

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon
2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.9cm (9 x 11 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Kerstin, Old-Growth Stump, the Last Evidence of the Original Forest, Clatsop County, Oregon' c. 2001

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Kerstin, Old-Growth Stump, the Last Evidence of the Original Forest, Clatsop County, Oregon
c. 2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.7cm (9 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

These views of the American West evoke a wide range of memories, myths, and regrets associated with America’s final frontier. In the nineteenth century, that frontier began at the Missouri River. Beyond it lay a landscape of natural grandeur and purity, challenging the spirit and promising redemption. At the time the pictures were made, the hand of man had not so much disfigured as domesticated that paradise, leaving its mark of intrusion almost casually, with the assurance of absolute triumph. Adams recorded this intrusion with neither judgment nor irony; the land he shows has simply been changed, reduced, made ordinary. Yet a second look makes it apparent that the hand of man has, after all, its limitations. The simple natural facts imposed upon by civilization still exert a mysterious counterforce: they abide, in a kind of triumph of resignation. That counterforce is present in all of Adams’s images, recognizable as the same silence and stillness that once summoned pioneers into a wilderness, and now summon their descendants to remember.

~ from the book Robert Adams: From the Missouri West

9.5 x 11.5 in, Hardcover
First edition, 46 b&w photographs
Aperture
1980

 

denver and What We Bought, together with The New West, form a loose trilogy of Robert Adams’s work exploring the rapidly developing landscape of the Denver metropolitan area from 1968 through 1974. In the former two books, Adams created a comprehensive document that was resolute in its avoidance of romantic notions of the American West and dispassionately honest about man’s despoliation of the land. Both books demonstrate the artist at the height of his powers as a documentary photographer and a poetic sequencer of images.

The photographs featured in denver and What We Bought show tract housing with mountain ranges in the distance, trailer lots devoid of people, suburban streets through generic windows, shopping mall interiors, and parking lots: subjects distinctly unspectacular, familiar, and banal. Adams’s compositions are straightforward and democratic, and it is this precise turn from sentimentality that has made Adams one of the most influential figures in the history of American photography.

~ the publisher

8 x 9.25 in., Hardbound
136 pages, 117 tritone illustrations
Yale University Press
2009

 

Listening to the River is a celebration of anonymous places where we can still find nature’s beauty. Robert Adams first visited these particular locations as a boy, when the West seemed unchanging. Now in his fifties, he returns to them with the affection of a longtime acquaintance. The book records hushed walks when irrelevancies are forgotten, when sunlight makes the fields, hills, and roads new. Adams has chosen twelve poems by William Stafford to accompany the pictures. Both photographer and poet observe a practice of quiet in the out-of-doors, and both discover there a promise.

This is an optimistic book, though not a sentimental one: a number of the photographs record views of the suburban West. “Any tree in the path of development appears to have an uncertain future,” Adams observes. Listening to the River affirms, however, that trees and other elements of nature are ultimately protected. “Part of what their beauty means,” says the photographer, “is that they are safe.”

In 1989 Adams spoke at the Philadelphia Museum of Art about his enjoyment of the landscape, citing as an example his experiences at rural crossroads on the plains: “Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be anything there at all – just two roads, four fields, and sky. Small things, however, can become important – a lark or a mailbox or sunflowers. And if I wait I may see the architecture – the roads and the fields and the sky. Were you and I to drive the prairie together, and the day turned out to be a good one, we might not say much. We might get out of the truck at a crossroads, stretch, walk a little ways, and then walk back. Maybe the lark would sing. Maybe we would stand for a while, all views to the horizon, all roads interesting. We might find there a balance of form and openness, even of community and freedom. It would be the world as we had hoped, and we would recognize it together.”

~ the publisher

10 x 13 in, Hardcover
Featuring poems by William Stafford; 176 plates
Aperture
1994

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The River's Edge' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The River’s Edge
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.8 x 29.9cm (7 13/16 x 11 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The River's Edge' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The River’s Edge
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.7 x 29.8cm (7 3/4 x 11 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The River's Edge' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The River’s Edge
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.9 x 29.9cm (7 13/16 x 11 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The River's Edge' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The River’s Edge
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.8 x 30cm (7 13/16 x 11 13/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The River's Edge' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The River’s Edge
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.8 x 29.8cm (7 13/16 x 11 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Interior of the Spit' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Interior of the Spit
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.7cm (8 7/8 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Interior of the Spit' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Interior of the Spit
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 x 28.8cm (8 7/8 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Interior of the Spit' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Interior of the Spit
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 x 28.8cm (8 7/8 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 x 28.2cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.8cm (8 15/16 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.5cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.3cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 x 28.2cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach, Albatross' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach, Albatross
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.2cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.5cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.8cm (9 x 11 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28.4cm (8 7/8 x 11 3/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.9cm (8 15/16 x 11 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 28cm (8 7/8 x 11 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 28.9cm (9 x 11 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.9cm (8 15/16 x 11 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'The Sea Beach' 2015

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
The Sea Beach
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 x 28.3cm (8 7/8 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen G. Stein
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

National Gallery of Art
National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets
Constitution Avenue NW, Washington

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Daily 10am – 5pm

National Gallery of Art website

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03
Sep
22

Exhibition: ‘Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow’ at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

Exhibition dates: 7th May – 9th October 2022

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) '"Fortune Teller" Sign. US 79 & 80, Greenwood, Louisiana' 1975

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
“Fortune Teller” Sign. US 79 & 80, Greenwood, Louisiana
1975
Gelatin silver print
15 5/8 × 19 9/16 inches (39.7 × 49.68cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

These photographs build on the lexicon of existing photographs of this type (Americurbana) from photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke-White, Minor White and Harry Callahan. As such they add to the pantheon of known images on a subject. Dow studied with not just Harry Callahan, but also Walker Evans and Minor White, and these are early images in the development of the artist, when he was starting to find his artistic signature.

In some of the first images such as Lott’s Grocery Store. US 11, Bessemer, Alabama (1968, below) we can see Dow’s indebtedness to his teacher, Walker Evans’ vision; in other later photographs (1972 onwards) we see Dow’s concentration on detail, so that the sign fills the frame. In these contextless, groundless photographs the signs become floating signs, floating signifiers, where interpretation is left wholly up to the viewer.

In this sense, Dow is developing a different artistic and visual language to describe the American vernacular… graphic, isolated, strong and more than slightly surreal images that creep into the imagination as if in a bad dream. The robotic head covered in neon; the bowling ball struck through with an arrow; the diver like a swooping fighter plane; the skeletal horse and rider; and the look of fear on the child’s face as he gets inoculated. Weird tales and gothic fiction.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to The Nelson-Atkins 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.

 

Vivid, clear-sighted images of American vernacular signage and architecture encountered along old US highways showcase the early black-and-white work of the acclaimed photographer Jim Dow.

The American photographer Jim Dow (b. 1942) is renowned for photographs that depict the built environment – he first gained attention for his panoramic triptychs of baseball stadiums – and for his skill at conveying the “human ingenuity and spirit” that suffuse the spaces. This book is the first to focus on Dow’s early black-and-white pictures, featuring more than 60 photographs made between 1967 and 1977, a majority of which have never before been published. Indebted to the work of Walker Evans, a key mentor of Dow’s, these photographs depict time-worn signage taken from billboards, diners, gas stations, drive-ins, and other small businesses. While still recognisable as icons of commercial Americana, without their context Dow’s signs impart ambiguous messages, often situated between documentation and abstraction. Including a new essay by Dow that reveals his own perspective on the development of the work, Signs suggests how these formative years honed the artist’s sensibility and conceptual approach.

 

 

“Late in the fall of 1965, I met Walker Evans. I had no idea who he was or anything about his work. But his book ‘American Photographs’ completely changed the way I thought about photography. The pictures were descriptive, literate and distinct. They could be read slowly; information was packed into every square inch. They were intense but not dramatic. Rigorous in their making, they demanded attentive scrutiny. It was clear that I had a template for my education through a classic method: at first emulate, then lease the space and ultimately own the process, until taking pictures was no longer a re-enactment. …

I never travelled around the US to find myself. I went to find people, places and things I didn’t know about. Leaving familiar confines is an outward-facing process best done by car on older two- or three-lane roads, stopping, looking and listening every step of the way.”

.
Jim Dow in the book Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow

 

 

 

Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow, with essays by Jim Dow and April M. Watson
Distributed for The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Lott's Grocery Store. US 11, Bessemer, Alabama' 1968

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Lott’s Grocery Store. US 11, Bessemer, Alabama
1968
Gelatin silver print
3 3/4 × 4 3/4 inches (9.53 × 12.07cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Abandoned Truck Stop. US 61/AR 150, near Number Nine, Arkansas' 1970

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Abandoned Truck Stop. US 61/AR 150, near Number Nine, Arkansas
1970
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 × 9 11/16 inches (20.14 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Bowling Pin with Arrow. US 1, Branford, Connecticut' 1971

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Bowling Pin with Arrow. US 1, Branford, Connecticut
1971
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 x 9 11/16 inches (19.99 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of Jim and Jacquie Dow

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Horse Painting on Sign, Ranch Entrance. US 87, Billings, Montana' 1972

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Horse Painting on Sign, Ranch Entrance. US 87, Billings, Montana
1972
Gelatin silver print
15 7/8 × 20 1/16 inches (40.31 × 50.95cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Curlicue Arrow Sign. US 2, near Wenatchee, Washington' 1972

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Curlicue Arrow Sign. US 2, near Wenatchee, Washington
1972
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 × 9 5/8 inches (20.14 × 24.46cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Rear of Screen, Van Nuys Drive-In Theatre. Old US 101, Van Nuys, California' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Rear of Screen, Van Nuys Drive-In Theatre. Old US 101, Van Nuys, California
1973
Gelatin silver print
15 9/16 x 19 ½ inches (39.52 × 49.53cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Detail, Diving Lady Sign. Near US 19, Blairsville, Georgia' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Detail, Diving Lady Sign. Near US 19, Blairsville, Georgia
1973
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 x 9 11/16 inches (20.14 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

For American photographer Jim Dow, a road trip was not just an excuse to travel from one place to another; it provided an opportunity to find inspiration in the unique structures lining old U. S. highways. Between 1967 and 1977, a decade marking the first ten years of his career, Dow traveled over 150,000 miles on multiple cross-country road trips, photographing vernacular architecture, signage, and commercial billboards that conveyed a unique sense of human spirit and industry. A new, free exhibition at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow, draws visitors into Dow’s fascination with the everyday structures that constitute the landscapes we inhabit.

“Although most of Dow’s subjects have long since disappeared, the impetus to make one’s mark on the land through an assertion of livelihood, values, and aspiration remains,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “There will always be a desire to express individual agency and creativity, and Dow’s photographs remind us that as difficult as that may be, it remains vital for understanding ourselves and our community.”

Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow opens May 7 and features 62 black-and-white photographs from the early part of Dow’s career, as well as a small selection of recent colour photographs that extend the themes forged during his formative years.

“Dow travelled on back roads rather than the interstate system,” said April M. Watson, Senior Curator of Photography. “He always sought unusual or unique subjects that stood apart from the corporate chains that had begun to dominate the social landscape, often isolating specific details so they appear unmoored from their immediate surroundings.”

Born in 1942, Dow grew up in Belmont, Massachusetts and attended the Rhode Island School of Design. As an undergraduate, he majored in graphic design, and in his senior year, had the good fortune to take his introductory photography classes with renowned photographer Harry Callahan. Thanks to Callahan’s influence, Dow was able to continue graduate studies at RISD, completing his MFA in photography in 1968.

A meeting with Walker Evans while Dow was in graduate school made a profound impact on him. Dow found Evans’s sophisticated embrace of vernacular American subject matter and straightforward, descriptive application of the medium to be revelatory. Between 1969 and 1971, he worked closely with Evans when printing Evans’s work for a career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the late 1960s, Dow began searching for his own subject matter, taking numerous road trips. Roadside diners, drive-in movie theatres, ice cream stands, burger joints, billboards, gas stations, and small-town, storefront murals all became part of Dow’s regular roster of subjects, as he refined his own artistic vision. Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1973, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1974 allowed Dow to continue his project.

This exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Dow and Watson, distributed by Yale University Press. Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow runs through Oct. 9, 2022.

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Trailer Park Sign. US 27, Red Bank, Tennessee' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Trailer Park Sign. US 27, Red Bank, Tennessee
1973
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 × 9 11/16 inches (19.99 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Neon Cowboy Sign. US 66, Duarte, California' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Neon Cowboy Sign. US 66, Duarte, California
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 × 9 15/16 inches (20.32 × 25.22cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Lady Reclining on La-Z-Boy Sign. PA 61, Shamokin, Pennsylvania' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Lady Reclining on La-Z-Boy Sign. PA 61, Shamokin, Pennsylvania
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 × 9 15/16 inches (20.32 × 25.22cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Coffee At It's Best Sign. US 11, Pittston, Pennsylvania' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Coffee At It’s Best Sign. US 11, Pittston, Pennsylvania
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 x 9 15/16 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) '"Heated Pool" Sign at Motel. US 99, Bakersfield, California' 1975

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
“Heated Pool” Sign at Motel. US 99, Bakersfield, California
1975
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 × 9 11/16 inches (19.53 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Detail, Coy Getting on Inoculation Sign. US 20, Idaho Falls, Idaho' 1975

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Detail, Coy Getting on Inoculation Sign. US 20, Idaho Falls, Idaho
1975
Gelatin silver print
15 7/8 × 19 7/8 inches (40.31 × 50.47cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

“Jim was extremely fortunate to study with not just Harry Callahan, but also Walker Evans and Minor White; three of the most outstanding figures in photographic history, and all masters of black and white. His formal approach to his work obviously stems from their teaching, and in some ways, his love of “collecting culture” with his 8 x 10 view camera does as well. Like Evans and to some degree, Minor White, Jim is attracted to aspects of material culture which often speak to a fading history – that of small town America. He doesn’t seek out majestic or sublime subject matter, rather, he simply elevates the everyday. This characteristic of his work aligns him with other photographers working in colour in the 1970s and 80s, such as Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, and Joel Sternfeld who were all similarly enchanted with revealing the true textures of the world immediately around us and feeding our popular imaginations. And like his peers, Jim is indelibly part of the tried and true American tradition of hitting the road and traveling extensively to make his work. His wanderlust has led him throughout the country and he has amassed an impressive archive of the American vernacular in the process.”

Hannah Sloan, The Rose Gallery quoted in Aline Smithson. “Interview with Jim Dow: The Griffin Museum’s Focus Award recipient for Lifetime Achievement,” on the Lenscratch website October 24, 2014 [Online] Cited 31/08/2022

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Detail, School Crossing Sign. Albany, Georgia' 1975

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Detail, School Crossing Sign. Albany, Georgia
1975
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 x 9 5/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

When Dow took to the road, he always sought unusual or unique subjects that stood apart from the ever-increasing presence of corporate chains. Rather than focusing on the entirety of his subjects, he often isolated specific details of image and text so that they appear unmoored from their immediate surroundings. Roadside diners, drive-in movie theatres, ice cream stands, burger joints, billboards, gas stations and small-town, storefront murals all became part of Dow’s regular roster, as he refined his own artistic vision and organically developed categories of subject matter. …

More often than not, Dow’s subjects bear the marks of time’s passage, evident in the weather-worn surfaces, outdated clichés, and stereotyped imagery that prevailed in mid-20th-century American consumer culture but had begun to deteriorate in the shifting socioeconomic and political landscape of the early 1970s. It is this sense of things passing out of one time period and into another that permeates Dow’s photographs, which are less of a particular time than about the passage of time itself. Though most of the subjects Dow photographed have long since disappeared, the impetus to make one’s mark on the land through an assertion of livelihood, values and aspiration remains. In a nation where economic prosperity relies on a perpetual renewal of tastes, trends and styles, there will always be a desire to express individual agency and creativity. Dow’s photographs remind us that as difficult as that endeavour may be in an era of monopolised, corporate consumption, it remains vital for understanding our sense of self and community.

April M. Watson, Senior Curator, Photography. “Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow,” on the K C Studio website March 11, 2022 [Online] Cited 31/08/2022

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Papier-mâché Elephant. US 202, Gwynedd, Pennsylvania' 1977

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Papier-mâché Elephant. US 202, Gwynedd, Pennsylvania
1977
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 × 9 7/8 inches (20.14 × 25.07cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Hardware Store Painting on Wall. Nashville, Tennessee' 1977

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Hardware Store Painting on Wall. Nashville, Tennessee
1977
Gelatin silver print
15 15/16 × 19 7/8 inches (40.46 × 50.47cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

Jim Dow Trailer

 

'Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow' book cover

 

Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow book cover

 

 

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20
Feb
22

Exhibition: ‘Man Ray: The Paris Years’ at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia

Exhibition dates: 30th October 2021 – 20th February 2022

Curator: Dr. Michael Taylor, VMFA’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education

 

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Camera' 1930

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Self-Portrait with Camera
1930
Solarised gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York, Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Fund, and Judith and Jack Stern Gift
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

I remember many many years ago (2004) the National Gallery of Victoria held a major exhibition of the work of Man Ray, the first large-scale exhibition of Man Ray’s photography to have been presented in Australia. The exhibition was organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales where it set an attendance record for photography exhibitions, with over 52,000 visitors, before travelling to Brisbane and Melbourne – which exhibitions did in those days between state capitals, alas no longer.

All these years later I still remember being impressed by the technical, almost scientific element – and elemental – aspect of Man Ray’s photography, the sheer intensity of his images, and their small, jewel-like size. I was less impressed by the lack of feeling the photographs gave me, as though the photographs were scientific experiments which emphasised “his techniques of framing, cropping, solarising and use of the photogram in order to present a new, ‘surreal’ way of seeing” and which, to my young photographic eyes, saw their lush and enigmatic beauty subsumed in an unemotional technical exercise.

Concentrating on his portrait photographs during his Paris years, this exhibition includes more than 100 portrait photographs made by the artist in Paris between 1921 and 1940. “In choosing portraits for the exhibit, the curator’s objective was to present the complete picture of Man Ray’s pantheon of cultural luminaries… “Since this exhibition is all about storytelling, we wanted to highlight the femme moderne and tell the public of their fierce individuality and creativity,” [Michael] Taylor says, explaining that the women’s inclusion makes for a more dynamic and meaningful exhibition. “These are musicians, models and performers whose contributions have been marginalized due to the legacy of colonialism and racism.” … The portraits chosen for “Man Ray: the Paris Years” reflect not only the staggering range of techniques Ray employed during his Parisian years, but also the fascinating people who inhabited his world. “Innovative, groundbreaking, experimental and completely original, Ray’s portraits are unlike the work of any of his contemporaries,” Taylor says.”1

But to my mind Man Ray’s other photography during this period, such as his 1922 album Champs Délicieux which contained 12 Dada inspired Rayographs (some of his first), his surreal photographic solarisations and his portfolio, Électricité (Electricity) (1931) are more expressive and revolutionary avant-garde statements of the creative power of photography than ever his portraits are.

And while his portrait photographs may be experimental and groundbreaking – all about technique – are they good portraits? That’s the key question. To my eyes his portraits have a “lumpy” quality to them, a kind of enigmatic blankness that never reveals much of the sitters personality. The doll-like beauty of Kiki de Montparnasse (c. 1924, below) becomes a later abstract wistfulness both photographs revealing nothing; a tough, shielded Gertrude Stein (at Home) (1922, below) is not a patch on Imogen Cunningham’s engaging, challenging portrait of 1934; and the portrait of Elsie Houston (1933, below) is just plain uncomfortable in its placement of the bandaged head and hand in the pictorial frame.

Apparently, Man Ray “was in league with the surrealists and, in even his most classical-seeming portraits, revealed a predilection for unexpected juxtapositions, visual rhymes and piercing expressions that can transport you instantaneously to the lip of a volcanic unconscious.” Allegedly.

A volcanic unconscious. Who writes this stuff? I often feel I am looking at different photographs than the ones other people are writing about. Again, “Man Ray’s photography doesn’t simply capture the image of a person, or the ghost that inhabits them. It captures the whole of creative expression – the surreal and sorrowful, the conflict and music, the desperation and freedom that comprise the human narrative.” No it doesn’t… I don’t even think he is a very good portrait photographer! Compared to a Weston, Sander or Lange, a Stieglitz, Arbus or Julia Margaret Cameron, Man Ray’s portraits are modestly proficient evocations at best.

“To be ‘done’ by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott meant that you rated as somebody,” wrote Sylvia Beach, owner of Shakespeare and Company, the legendary bookstore and lending library established in Paris after World War I by the American expatriate. You had made it… immortalised in the negative, promoted in the positive. There is the key. To be worthy, to be “fashion” able. After all, Man Ray was running a commercial photographic studio with Berenice Abbott as his assistant in order to make a living. After Man Ray fired her in 1926 Abbott set up her own studio and they became business rivals.

The two most enticing portrait photographs in the posting are both wistful visages of the female: the slightly out of focus, low depth of field beauty of the direct Lee Miller, an ex-lover of Man Ray, staring down the desiring male gaze, like the most glamorous and scientifically symmetrically perfect “mug shot” you have ever seen; and the soft sfumato (which translated literally from Italian means “vanished or evaporated”) background to the contemporary Mona Lisa that is the vulnerable, tender Berenice Abbott surrounded by vanished shadows and evaporated space. “Leonardo has studied the sky, the elements, the atmosphere, and the light. He takes the approach of a scientist, but translates it into the painting with superb delicacy and finesse. For him the painting doesn’t count. What counts is the knowledge,” observes Louvre Curator Jean-Pierre Cuzin.2

Science, knowledge and atmosphere. Only in this portrait of Berenice Abbott does Man Ray take his love of science and knowledge and approach what Preston Duncan observes: “It is through this aperture that we find the abiding sense that, in all the weight, the struggle, the limitations of our physical form, is an ongoing moment of release.”

A final thought emerges in my consciousness. I wondered whether there is a photograph of Man Ray by Berenice Abbott? Not that I can find…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Karen Newton. “Storytelling Portraits,” on the Style Weekly website August 31, 2021 [Online] Cited 20/02/2022
  2. Anonymous text. “…Leonardo’s masterful technique,” on the PBS Treasures of the World website [Online] Cited 20/02/2022

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

 

 

“The story of Man Ray and Paris has been told, but it’s usually been told through the lens – pardon the pun, it’s a photography show – of Man Ray’s innovations; the Rayograph, Solarization, his friendships, and his network. But what about the subjects?” says Chief Curator, Dr. Michael Taylor. “We took inspiration from the photograph on the cover of this show. It’s the first work you see in the exhibition. This is actually Man Ray taking your portrait. In other words, […] even though it’s called a self-portrait, a camera is photographing him, but he is looking at you with his camera. So we started to think about not just telling Man Ray’s story, which is fascinating, but the story of the sitters, the subjects, the models. …

While the primary focus of the exhibit is on portraiture and the radical expressiveness of his subjects – from the vanguards of femme moderne culture to aerialists in drag – there are some detours into avant-garde Rayography and cinema. This diversity of expression is resonant with Man Ray’s professional dedication to dismantling boundaries – those of gender, race, and national identity, as well as artistic traditionalism and aesthetic philosophy. …

Man Ray’s photography doesn’t simply capture the image of a person, or the ghost that inhabits them. It captures the whole of creative expression – the surreal and sorrowful, the conflict and music, the desperation and freedom that comprise the human narrative. It is through this aperture that we find the abiding sense that, in all the weight, the struggle, the limitations of our physical form, is an ongoing moment of release. It confronts us with the fact we are all winging this strange dance, contributing our solitary note to an overture that is entirely improvised, sharing in the simple hope that we may, for an instant, hear the enormity of the score.”

.
Preston Duncan. “The View From Paris,” on the RVA website November 3, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/02/2022

 

All the men of the age are there: Igor Stravinsky, James Joyce, Andre Breton, Picasso and Braque. Equally present are the era’s modern women, including Bernice Abbott, the rarely-as-well-photographed Gertrude Stein, Lee Miller and Virginia Woolf. The real stars, however, are the unknowns. Or rather, those unknown-to-us. “Man Ray used photography to challenge the artistic traditions and break boundaries, including fixed gender roles and racial barriers,” says Michael Taylor, the museum’s chief curator, who conceived the exhibition.

.
Daniel Cassady. “‘Paris’s glowing milieu spills onto every corner’: Virginia show theatrically tells the story of Man Ray’s fruitful time in the City of Lights,” on The Art Newspaper website 11 November 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Kiki de Montparnasse' c. 1924

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Kiki de Montparnasse
c. 1924
Gelatin silver print
Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, New York
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Kiki de Montparnasse' c. 1929

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Kiki de Montparnasse
c. 1929
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Alice Ernestine Prin (French, 1901-1953)

Alice Ernestine Prin (2 October 1901 – 29 April 1953), nicknamed the Queen of Montparnasse, and often known as Kiki de Montparnasse, was a French artist’s model, literary muse, nightclub singer, actress, memoirist and painter. She flourished in, and helped define, the liberated culture of Paris in the 1920s.

Alice Prin was born in Châtillon-sur-Seine, Côte d’Or. An illegitimate child, she was raised in abject poverty by her grandmother. At age twelve, she was sent to live with her mother in Paris in order to find work. She first worked in shops and bakeries, but by the age of fourteen, she was posing nude for sculptors, which created discord with her mother.

Adopting a single name, “Kiki”, she became a fixture in the Montparnasse social scene and a popular artist’s model, posing for dozens of artists, including Sanyu, Chaïm Soutine, Julian Mandel, Tsuguharu Foujita, Constant Detré, Francis Picabia, Jean Cocteau, Arno Breker, Alexander Calder, Per Krohg, Hermine David, Pablo Gargallo, Mayo, and Tono Salazar. Moïse Kisling painted a portrait of Kiki titled Nu assis, one of his best known.

Her companion for most of the 1920s was Man Ray, who made hundreds of portraits of her. She can be considered his muse at the time and the subject of some of his best-known images, including the surrealist image Le violon d’Ingres and Noire et blanche (see below).

She appeared in nine short and frequently experimental films, including Fernand Léger’s Ballet mécanique without any credit.

A painter in her own right, in 1927 Prin had a sold-out exhibition of her paintings at the Galerie au Sacre du Printemps in Paris. Signing her work with her chosen single name, Kiki, she usually noted the year. Her drawings and paintings comprise portraits, self-portraits, social activities, fanciful animals, and dreamy landscapes composed in a light, slightly uneven, expressionist style that is a reflection of her easy-going manner and boundless optimism. …

A symbol of bohemian and creative Paris and of the possibility of being a woman and finding an artistic place, at the age of twenty-eight she was declared the Queen of Montparnasse. Even during difficult times, she maintained her positive attitude, saying “all I need is an onion, a bit of bread, and a bottle of red [wine]; and I will always find somebody to offer me that.”

She left Paris to avoid the occupying German army during World War II, which entered the city in June 1940. …

Prin died in 1953 after collapsing outside her flat in Montparnasse, at the age of fifty-one, apparently of complications of alcoholism or drug dependence. A large crowd of artists and fans attended her Paris funeral and followed the procession to her interment in the Cimetière parisien de Thiais. Her tomb identifies her as “Kiki, 1901-1953, singer, actress, painter, Queen of Montparnasse.” Tsuguharu Foujita has said that, with Kiki, the glorious days of Montparnasse were buried forever.

Long after her death, Prin remains the embodiment of the outspokenness, audacity, and creativity that marked that period of life in Montparnasse. She represents a strong artistic force in her own right as a woman. In 1989, biographers Billy Klüver and Julie Martin called her “one of the century’s first truly independent women.” In her honour, a daylily has been named Kiki de Montparnasse.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Man Ray. 'Noire et Blanche' 1926

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Noire et Blanche
1926
Gelatin silver print
6 7/8 x 8¼ in. (17.5 x 21cm)
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

As far as I know this photograph is NOT in the exhibition

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Gertrude Stein (at Home)' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Gertrude Stein (at Home)
1922
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16”H × 6 1/16”W (20.16 × 15.4cm)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

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

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Gertrude Stein, Writer
1934
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 9/16 × 6 11/16 in.
Frame: 22 5/8 x 16 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Berenice Abbott' 1921, printed later

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Berenice Abbott
1921, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

In 1926 Peggy Guggenheim, who often lent her financial support to the Paris colony of artists and writers, telephoned Man Ray to arrange a studio appointment to have her portrait taken, not by Man Ray himself, but by Berenice. Afterwards Man Ray was livid, he now realised that Berenice had become a serious business rival, and the next day he fired her. Berenice immediately made plans to have a studio of her own and friends of Berenice stepped forward to help her. When she made arrangements to purchase a view camera – Peggy Guggenheim lent her the money to pay for it. As partial repayment, Berenice later photographed Peggy’s children. In 1926, she had her first solo exhibition (in the gallery “Au Sacre du Printemps”) and started her own studio on the rue du Bac.

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Wallis Simpson with Chinese Sculpture' 1936

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Wallis Simpson with Chinese Sculpture
1936
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Photographed during the year in which her liaison with Edward VIII became public and he abdicated the throne of the British Empire.

 

 

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts announces its upcoming exhibition, Man Ray: The Paris Years, on view in Richmond from October 30, 2021, through February 21, 2022. Organised by Dr. Michael Taylor, VMFA’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education, the exhibition includes more than 100 compelling portrait photographs made by the artist in Paris between 1921 and 1940, featuring cultural luminaries such as Barbette, André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Duchamp, Ernest Hemingway, Miriam Hopkins, James Joyce, Henri Matisse, Méret Oppenheim, Alice Prin (Kiki de Montparnasse), Elsa Schiaparelli, Erik Satie, Wallis Simpson and Gertrude Stein.

The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Emmanuel “Manny” Radnitzky grew up in New York and adopted the pseudonym Man Ray around 1912. A timely sale of paintings to Ferdinand Howald, an art collector from Columbus, Ohio, provided Man Ray with funds for a trip to Paris, and he arrived in the French capital on July 22, 1921. Although the artist worked in a variety of media over the next two decades, including assemblage, film, sculpture and painting, photography would be his primary means of artistic expression in Paris.

Shortly after moving to France, Man Ray embarked on a sustained campaign to document the international avant-garde in a series of remarkable portraits that established his reputation as one of the leading photographers of his era. Man Ray’s portraits often reflect a dialogue or negotiation between the artist’s vision and the self-fashioning of his subjects. Whether they had their portrait taken to promote their work, affirm their self-image, project their desires, fulfil their dreams or create a new identity, Man Ray’s sitters were not inanimate objects, like blocks of marble to be shaped and coerced, but were instead highly creative cultural and thought leaders who were active participants in the creative act. By telling the stories of his respective sitters and the innovative techniques he used to create their portraits, Man Ray: The Paris Years empowers the subjects portrayed in these photographs and gives them an agency and voice that is not typically realised in monographic accounts of modern artists.

“Timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the artist’s arrival in the French capital and, coincidentally, the near-centennial anniversary of the Spanish flu pandemic, Man Ray: The Paris Years will prove to be a visually provocative and especially relevant exhibition,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “This is an opportunity to better understand the lives of his subjects and see Man Ray in a different light.”

“Man Ray used photography to challenge artistic traditions and break boundaries, including fixed gender roles and racial barriers,” said Taylor. “His portraits went beyond recording the mere outward appearance of the person depicted and aimed instead to capture the essence of his sitters as creative individuals, as well as the collective nature and character of Les Années folles (the crazy years) of Paris between the two world wars.”

Man Ray’s radical portraits also capture an important constituency of the avant-garde at this time, namely the femme moderne (modern woman). Adventurous, ambitious, assertive, daring, enterprising and self-assured modern women like American photographers Berenice Abbott and Lee Miller, French artist Suzanne Duchamp and American sculptor Janet Scudder took full advantage of their unprecedented freedom and access to educational and professional opportunities to participate as equals to their male counterparts in the Parisian avant-garde. Although these women came from different classes and economic backgrounds, they shared a collective goal in the 1920s and 1930s to be creatively, financially and intellectually independent.

“Rejecting traditional gender roles and expectations, modern women were interested in erasing sexual differences,” said Taylor. “They often embraced the symbolic trappings and autonomy of their male counterparts including wearing men’s clothes, driving fast cars, smoking cigarettes and sporting tightly cropped ‘bobbed’ haircuts.”

The exhibition also tells the important stories of Black subjects such as Henry Crowder, Adrienne Fidelin and Ruby Richards, whose contributions have often been unfairly relegated to the margins of modernism due to the legacy of colonialism and racism. The artist’s series of portraits of the dancer and singer Ruby Richards, who was born in St. Kitts in the British West Indies and grew up in Harlem, New York, brings to light an important performer whose work with Man Ray has never been acknowledged in previous accounts of his work. Richards moved to Paris in 1938 to replace the legendary African American performer Josephine Baker as the star attraction at the Folies Bergère, and the famous cabaret music hall commissioned Man Ray to help introduce her to French audiences through his portrait photographs.

Many of the subjects portrayed in Man Ray’s photographs were born in Spanish-speaking countries such as Argentina, El Salvador, Peru and Spain, including famous modern artists like Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, as well as the flamenco dancer Prou del Pilar and the pianist Ricardo Viñes. As a state art museum that has free general admission and is open 365 days a year, VMFA is committed to representing the cultural and linguistic diversity of our community. According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 7 percent of Virginia’s 8.5 million residents speak Spanish at home. This data has informed the museum’s decision to incorporate dual-language labels throughout the Man Ray: The Paris Years exhibition, as well as the audio tour and gallery guide. Recognising that English is not the native language of everyone who visits the exhibition, VMFA is offering content in both Spanish and English to create a more accessible, inclusive and welcoming experience for all of our visitors.

Informed by extensive archival research, this exhibition and accompanying catalogue offers a more complete account of Man Ray’s Paris years by focusing not just on his achievement as a photographer and his superb gifts as a portraitist, but also on the friendships and exchange of ideas that took place between the artist and his subjects in Paris between the two world wars.

Press release from VMFA

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Nusch Éluard and Sonia Mossé' 1937

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Nusch Éluard and Sonia Mossé
1937
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Mossé was a surrealist artist and performer in a lesbian cabaret.

 

Ray’s double portraits are among his most spellbinding. Two feature Nusch Éluard, the actress, acrobat and hypnotist’s assistant who married the surrealist poet Paul Éluard. One shows Nusch with the openly bisexual actress, singer, surrealist and model Sonia Mossé. Taken in 1937, the photograph trembles with the intimacy and uncanniness of the culminating scenes in Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona,” where the face of Bibi Andersson begins to merge with that of Liv Ullmann. …

To try to square Man Ray’s magical, tender double portrait with Mossé’s subsequent life, as sketched in by Taylor in the catalogue, is to feel the 20th century – stretched to breaking point by the contrary forces of personal liberation and vicious repression – suddenly snap, like the shutter of a camera taking a photograph no one can bear to look at.

Mossé, writes Taylor, was romantically involved with the French dramatist Antonin Artaud. Best known for conceptualising the Theater of Cruelty movement, Artaud had tried to break off their relationship in 1939 “via handwritten malediction” (a letter in which he wrote curses – e.g., “You will live dead” – in an envelope containing drawings and burned holes).

But Mossé would never receive it. War had broken out. And on Feb. 11, 1943, Mossé and her stepsister Esther were denounced as Jews to the Gestapo. They were taken to the Drancy internment camp in a northeastern suburb of Paris and then to the Sobibór extermination camp in occupied Poland, where Mossé was murdered in a gas chamber.

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Igor Stravinsky' 1925

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Igor Stravinsky
1925
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Picasso in His Studio on the rue de La Boëtie, Paris' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Picasso in His Studio on the rue de La Boëtie, Paris
1922
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

The American Surrealist Man Ray made a number of portraits of Picasso over the years, beginning with this photograph that appeared in the July 1922 issue of Vanity Fair. It was taken on the second floor of Picasso’s apartment at 23 rue de La Boëtie in Paris, where he established a studio in November 1918 and completed many of the Cubist paintings that form the background of this portrait. Man Ray’s portrait brilliantly captures both sides of Picasso’s personality at this time, since the proud and successful artist is also shown to be emotionally distant and seemingly uncomfortable with his newfound wealth and fame.

Text from the Philadelphia Museum of Art website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Constantin Brancusi' 1925

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Constantin Brancusi
1925
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 x 10 1/4″ (23.5 x 26cm)
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Ruby Richards with Feathers' 1938

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ruby Richards with Feathers (installation view)
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Ruby Richards (aka The Black Pearl) was a singer and dancer born in Saint Christopher Island (Saint Kitts) in the West Indies.

In 1938 the dancer and singer moved to Paris to replace Josephine Baker as the star attraction at the Folies Bergère. The famous cabaret music hall commissioned Man Ray to help introduce Richards to French audiences through his innovative portrait photographs.

 

 

Louis Jordan Soundie: Fuzzy Wuzzy

Featuring Louis Jordan and His Tympany Band with dancer Ruby Richards (recorded on New Year’s Eve 1942).

 

Man Ray. 'Ruby Richards' 1938

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ruby Richards (installation view)
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Ruby Richards with Diamonds' c. 1938

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ruby Richards with Diamonds
c. 1938
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Michael and Jacky Ferro, Miami
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021)

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Self-Portrait With Adrienne Fidelin' 1937

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Self-Portrait With Adrienne Fidelin
1937
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society, New York/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

He called her his “little black sun.” Born in Guadeloupe, Adrienne Fidelin was the American artist’s partner in Paris before World War II tore them apart. She appears in almost 400 of the renowned artist’s photographs, and in 1937 became the first Black model to be featured in a leading U.S. fashion magazine. However, she was pushed to the sidelines of history. …

Man Ray himself only mentions Fidelin fleetingly in his autobiography. This marginalisation continues today, despite current efforts to recognise the stories of people of colour throughout history…

Adrienne Fidelin was born on March 4, 1915, in Pointe-à-Pitre. At the age of 13, she lost her mother in a hurricane that devastated Guadeloupe, and her father died a few years later. The orphaned teenager joined other members of her family living in Paris in the early 1930s. At the time, the French capital was under the thrall of the Colonial Exposition and obsessed with France’s far-flung colonies. At the Bal Blomet, a cabaret in the 15th arrondissement, the West Indian diaspora and the artistic avant-garde partied to the sounds of Creole biguine music, and Fidelin joined a Guadeloupean dance company.

This is most likely where she and Man Ray first set eyes on each other. She was 19, he was 44. In a diary entry dated December 29, 1934, the artist simply wrote “Ady.” Wendy Grossman discovered this valuable evidence of their first meeting in the Man Ray archives at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The following year, he wrote down her number (“Odéon 79-95”) and photographed her wearing a simple white tank top. The artist and the dancer were inseparable. On May 13, 1937, Man Ray combined their names in a tender Surrealist pairing, writing “Manady” and “Adyman” in his diary. …

On September 15, 1937, a full-page portrait photo of Fidelin taken by Man Ray was published in the U.S. magazine Harper’s Bazaar – a first in segregated America. However, captured “wearing a tiger-tooth necklace, an ivory arm bracelet, and a Belgian Congo headdress, and adopting a seductive pose, Fidelin was presumed to represent the sensual African ‘native’ identified in the article’s title,” writes Wendy Grossman. “The article shows how the Surrealist movement exoticised ‘the other.'”

Man Ray found a partner in Fidelin, but their relationship was asymmetrical. “She stops me from sinking into pessimism,” he wrote. “She does everything: shining my shoes, making me breakfast, and painting the backdrops on my large canvases.” Fidelin also danced in the “negro clubs” on the Champs-Elysées and worked with photographers and directors looking for “exotic girls.” …

The couple was torn apart when the Wehrmacht entered Paris in June 1940. After trying – and failing – to flee to the Côte d’Azur together, Man Ray returned to the United States alone. The lovers continued writing each other for a few months, but the war severely impacted the postal service and Man Ray soon fell in love with another dancer in Hollywood. Fidelin remained in Paris, married another man in 1957, and died in a retirement home a few miles outside Albi in Southern France [February 5, 2004].

Clément Thiery. “Adrienne Fidelin, Man Ray’s Forgotten Muse,” on the Fance-Amérique website February 2, 2022 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Adrienne Fidelin with washboard' 1937

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Adrienne Fidelin with washboard
1937
Gelatin silver print
29.8 x 23cm
Collection Musée Picasso
© Man Ray 2015 Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

As far as I know this photograph is NOT in the exhibition

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'James Joyce' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
James Joyce
1922
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'James Joyce' (portrait for "Ulysses") 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
James Joyce (portrait for “Ulysses”)
1922
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

If, in the early 1920s, you happened to walk into Shakespeare and Company, the legendary bookstore and lending library established in Paris after World War I by the American expatriate Sylvia Beach, you would have noticed that the walls were covered with photographic portraits by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott.

“To be ‘done’ by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott meant that you rated as somebody,” wrote Beach. The habitues of Shakespeare and Company famously included such somebodies as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In 1922, Beach commissioned Ray (1890-1976) to make a publicity photograph of James Joyce, the Irish novelist whose book “Ulysses” she was about to publish (to her everlasting glory). That same year, Ray photographed Marcel Proust on his deathbed (below).

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Marcel Proust on His Deathbed' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Marcel Proust on His Deathbed
1922
Gelatin silver print
Mark Kelman, New York
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

“It comes so soon, the moment when there is nothing left to wait for.” ~ Marcel Proust

 

Ravaged by bronchitis and pneumonia, Marcel Proust spent the last night of his life dictating manuscript changes for a section of his famous novel Remembrance of Things Past.

Man Ray did not know Proust, but he had become such an important photographer that mutual friends dispatched him to the celebrated French author’s bedside to make a final portrait two days after his death. The side view associates Man Ray’s photograph with a tradition of postmortem photography dating back to the inception of the medium.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

At the urging of his friend Jean Cocteau, Man Ray rushed to photograph the author of Remembrance of Things Past on his deathbed. In the October / November issue of Les Nouvelles Littéraires, Cocteau wrote:

Those who have seen this profile of calm, of order, of plenitude, will never forget the spectacle of an unbelievable recording device come to a stop, becoming an art object: a masterpiece of repose next to a heap of notebooks where our friend’s genius continues to live on like the wristwatch of a dead soldier.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Elsie Houston' 1933

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Elsie Houston
1933
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

“Houston sang Brazilian folk songs by candlelight in Paris. She moved to New York in 1939, where she performed as a possessed woman muttering “voodoo” incantations and playing the drums. She died in her home in 1943, an empty vial of sleeping pills by her bedside. In Ray’s photograph, her smile is soft. Her head tilts in line with her elongated hand. That hand is adorned with a piece of jewellery in the shape of a spotted disc, which rhymes with her hoop earring and the arches of her eyebrows. The cool, clean contrasts of her white turban and dark clothes make the portrait one of Ray’s finest.”

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Elsie Houston (Brazilian, 1902-1943)

Elsie Houston (22 April 1902 – 20 February 1943) was a Brazilian singer.

Houston figured in the Brazilian literary/art/music scene during a critical time in its history. It was an era of tremendous creative energy. In addition to Mário de Andrade and Pagu, Houston knew others famous members of this artists movement, including the composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, the painters Flavio de Carvalho, Anita Malfatti and Tarsila do Amaral, and the leader of Brazilian modernism, Oswald de Andrade.

Houston moved to Germany and studied with Lilli Lehmann a renowned voice teacher. She then studied with another famed soprano, Ninon Vallin, first in Argentina and then in Paris. Houston’s relationship with Heitor Villa Lobos began in her teens. Houston was definitely a soloist at Villa Lobos’s 1927 Paris concerts. In 1928 she married Benjamin Péret, French surrealist poet, with whom she lived in Brazil from 1929 to 1931. Their son, Geyser, was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1931.

By the late 1930s, Houston had moved to New York City. She was a brilliant singer, particularly skilled in the interpretation of Brazilian songs. The New York Times during this era praised for her performances. She was also an active supporter of young Latin American composers, performing early pieces by composers such as Jayme Ovalle and Camargo Guarnieri.

She died in 1943. Her death was listed as an apparent suicide.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Ravel – Sur l’herbe – Elsie Houston (1930s)

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Lee Miller' 1929

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Lee Miller
1929
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Ray learned from the history of painting as much as from other photographers. He borrowed from Rembrandt’s tenebrism (his dramatic use of engulfing shadow), the slanting light and perspectival structure in Vermeer’s interiors, and the directness of Hans Holbein (strong light on the face, minimal backgrounds). But of course, he was in league with the surrealists and, in even his most classical-seeming portraits, revealed a predilection for unexpected juxtapositions, visual rhymes and piercing expressions that can transport you instantaneously to the lip of a volcanic unconscious.

Ray’s 1929 portrait of Lee Miller is a good example – surely one of the most mesmerising photographic portraits ever taken. What is the source of its uncanny power? It’s not just that Miller – herself a great photographer who for several years was Ray’s lover – is so beautiful; or that her direct gaze is simultaneously so trusting and challenging; or even that her unblemished skin and the symmetry of the whole composition suggest something impossibly pristine and inviolate. It’s because the image is slightly out of focus. The effect of the blur is to slow one’s response, as smoke rings slow the mind – and to trigger a dream state.

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Emak Bakia (Leave Me Alone)
1926

 

 

But you may be less familiar with some of Ray’s other subjects, including Germaine Tailleferre, the female composer who changed her name from Taillefesse, Taylor writes, “partly to spite her father, who refused to support her musical studies, but also because she disliked the connotations of the name Taillefesse, which translates as buttock in English”; Janet Scudder, an American sculptor, whose partner was the children’s author and suffragist Marion Cothren; and Barbette (below), the high-wire performer who presented as a graceful woman, but at the end of her act removed her wig and revealed herself as a man.

Personae like these – and Ray’s always inventive approach to their portraits – make this show more than just a roll call of famous names. They make it revelatory. The show is further enhanced by the inclusion of Ray’s wonderful 1926 film, “Emak-Bakia” (he called it a “cinépoème”), and a portfolio of semiabstract photographs he made for a Paris Electricity Co. marketing campaign. Both are remarkable.

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Barbette' 1926

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Barbette
1926
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society

 

 

Vander Clyde Broadway (American, 1899-1973)

Vander Clyde Broadway (December 19, 1899 – August 5, 1973), stage name Barbette, was an American female impersonator, high-wire performer, and trapeze artist born in Texas. Barbette attained great popularity throughout the United States but his greatest fame came in Europe and especially Paris, in the 1920s and 1930s.

Barbette began performing as an aerialist at around the age of 14 as one-half of a circus act called The Alfaretta Sisters. After a few years of circus work, Barbette went solo and adopted his exotic-sounding pseudonym. He performed in full drag, revealing himself as male only at the end of his act.

Following a career-ending illness or injury (the sources disagree on the cause), which left him in constant pain, Barbette returned to Texas but continued to work as a consultant for motion pictures as well as training and choreographing aerial acts for a number of circuses. After years of dealing with chronic pain, Barbette committed suicide on August 5, 1973. Both in life and following his death, Barbette served as an inspiration to a number of artists, including Jean Cocteau and Man Ray. …

“Barbette,” writes Cocteau,

“transforms effortlessly back and forth between man and woman. His female glamour and elegance Cocteau likens to a cloud of dust thrown into the eyes of the audience, blinding it to the masculinity of the movements he needs to perform his acrobatics. That blindness is so complete that at the end of his act, Barbette does not simply remove his wig but instead plays the part of a man. He rolls his shoulders, stretches his hands, swells his muscles… And after the fifteenth or so curtain call, he gives a mischievous wink, shifts from foot to foot, mimes a bit of an apology, and does a shuffling little street urchin dance – all of it to erase the fabulous, dying-swan impression left by the act.”

Cocteau calls upon his fellow artists to incorporate deliberately this effect that he believes for Barbette is instinctive.

Cocteau commissioned a series of photographs of Barbette by the Surrealist artist Man Ray, which captured not only aspects of Barbette’s performance but also his process of transformation into his female persona.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Ernest Hemingway' 1928

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ernest Hemingway
1928
Gelatin silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Aldous Huxley' 1934

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Aldous Huxley
1934
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

This photograph was taken two years after the publication of Huxley’s novel Brave New World, a nightmarish vision of the future.

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'La Ville' (The City) 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
La Ville (The City)
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

In 1931, Man Ray was commissioned by the Compagnie Parisienne de Distribution d’Electricite (CPDE) to produce a series of pictures promoting the private consumption of electricity. The resulting portfolio, Électricité (Electricity), comprises rayographs reproduced as photogravures. Le Monde (The World), a picture of the moon above an electrical cord, suggests that even celestial bodies rely on the CPDE for their illumination; the photogravure Électricité equates the electric charge of the electron with the erotic beauty of a nude female figure; and Le Souffle (Breeze) combines spinning fan blades with the weblike stimuli of electrical current.

Gallery label from The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook, April 16, 2012 – April 29, 2013 on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray. 'Électricité' 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Électricité
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Man Ray’s innovations are not excluded. A whole section of the exhibition is devoted to his light-bending portfolio Électricité (1931), a commercial project commissioned by the Paris Electric Company to promote the use of electrically powered household appliances. Comprised of ten “Rayographs” (another name for photograms), the portfolio pulses with kinetic energy. Fans spin with an otherworldly force, a fowl is perfectly cooked as by magic rays, and the Eiffel Tower swims in hi-wattage advertisements.

Daniel Cassady. “‘Paris’s glowing milieu spills onto every corner’: Virginia show theatrically tells the story of Man Ray’s fruitful time in the City of Lights,” on The Art Newspaper website 11 November 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Le Souffle' (Breeze) 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Le Souffle (Breeze)
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Le Monde' (The World) 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Le Monde (The World)
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
200 N. Boulevard
Richmond, Virginia USA

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm and until 9 pm Wed, Thu, Fri

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts website

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13
Mar
21

Exhibition: ‘Gary Krueger’s City of Angels, 1971-1980’ at the Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California

Exhibition dates: 18th January – 2nd April, 2021

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1975' 1975

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1975
1975
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

 

Fallen Angels

Love these.

Krueger’s street photography inverts the normal meaning of bathos… in that a silly or very ordinary subject suddenly changes to a beautiful or important one.

For no reason that we can see, a clown stands in sunlight next to a tree on a street in Los Angeles. What is he doing there? How did he get there? The incongruity of the scene takes on an importance and pathos that is hard to decipher. A pair of 76’s; a snarling dog in a Mustang; the legs of a man on a contraption doing god knows what; and a “majorette” captured mid-air: was she pushed, did she trip, will she fall or recover from this impossible angle, this suspended aerobatic display silently watched by the camera lens and two parked School Buses.

There is black humour aplenty in these photographs, as they picture the idiotic underbelly and anachronisms of a major American city. They make me think, they make me laugh in that small, tight way when you are not sure you should be laughing at all. The banana on roller skates, the hairy jacket and the man covered in Band Aids, his head wrapped in bandages. What the hell!

Remember what was happening in 1971-80 in Los Angeles. A 6.6-magnitude earthquake centred in Sylmar causes 65 deaths and $505 million in damage; an oil tanker explodes in Los Angeles Harbor killing five people and injuring 50; Los Angeles passes its gay and lesbian civil rights bill; Eula Love, a 39-year-old African-American mother was shot and killed on January 3, 1979 by Los Angeles Police Department (nothing changes!); the Skid Row Stabber (who has never been found) kills 11 homeless people; Los Angeles experiences severe flooding and mudslides; and in 1981 the first case of AIDS appears in Los Angeles County. The man with the Band AIDS seems rather prescient now.

“Through the 20th century, immigrants were attracted by a promised paradise: endless orange groves, a temperate climate and money to be made, as described by aggressively promoted booster campaigns. Families were told to leave the cold, increasingly crowded cities of the east and midwest far behind – the City of Angels was portrayed as a heaven on Earth.” While Neil Simon once described Los Angeles as “like paradise with a lobotomy,” Krueger’s bizarre photographs depict ‘the City of Angels’ as everything and anything but, a utopian paradise.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Joseph Bellows Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs and the text (reproduced with permission) in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“It’s not what I put into a photo;

it’s what I take out of a photo.”

.
Gary Krueger

 

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1976' 1976

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1976
1976
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1973' 1973

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1973
1973
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1973' 1973

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1973
1973
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Hollywood, 1971' 1971

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Hollywood, 1971
1971
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1971' 1971

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1971
1971
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1973' 1973

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1973
1973
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1974' 1974

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1974
1974
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery is pleased to present Gary Krueger’s City of Angels, 1971-1980, a collection of sometimes frenetic and often bizarre photographs of Los Angeles, California. Krueger’s curiosity and instincts helped to create a remarkable body of street photography that he describes as “split-second juxtapositions in life.” After graduating High School in 1963, Gary Krueger (1945- ) drove his 1954 Ford west from Cleveland, Ohio, to study graphic design and photography at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles from 1964 to 1967. Later Cal Arts, Chouinard was a professional art school founded in 1921 by Nelbert Murphy Chouinard. In 1961, Walt and Roy Disney guided the merger of Chouinard and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to establish the California Institute of the Arts. Notable alumni include Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, Joe Goode, and Allen Ruppersberg, with whom Krueger collaborated on Ruppersberg’s narrative photo works, including 23 Pieces (1969) and 24 Pieces (1970). Upon graduation from Chouinard, Krueger was hired by WED, Disney’s “Imagineering” Division to photograph the Park and its events. He eventually left WED to pursue a successful career as a commercial and editorial photographer.

“Gary Krueger’s plain ol’ photographs (unless I’m missing a point) – small, tough, and sharp – are good, granite reportage. Baldessari’s “Fables” and Krueger’s no-nonsense photos cut like a hot ripsaw through the cool, marshmallow quality of both exhibitions.” – Peter Plagens, from a 1973 ARTFORUM review of the exhibition, Southern California: Attitudes 1972, at the Pasadena Art Museum.

Krueger’s work is represented in The Minneapolis Institute of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Press release from the Joseph Bellows Gallery [Online] Cited 28/02/2021

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1972' 1972

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1972
1972
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1970' 1970

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1970
1970
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1974
1974
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1971' 1971

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1971
1971
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1971' 1971

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1971
1971
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Hollywood, CA, 1971
1971
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1973' 1973

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1973
1973
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1976' 1976

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1976
1976
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1979' 1979

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1979
1979
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles Zoo, 1971' 1971

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles Zoo, 1971
1971
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1980' 1980

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1980
1980
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Hollywood, 1971' 1971

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Hollywood, 1971
1971
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1980' 1980

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1980
1980
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945) 'Los Angeles, 1975' 1975

 

Gary Krueger (American, b. 1945)
Los Angeles, 1975
1975
8 x 10 inches
Vintage gelatin silver print
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery
7661 Girrard Avenue
La Jolla, California
Phone: 858 456 5620

Opening hours:
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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 Tend