Posts Tagged ‘american photographer

05
Jun
22

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

Exhibition dates: 8th March – 12th June 2022

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

The Wood Beyond the World

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

In Her Garden

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

On the Portrait

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

West Coast Photography

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

A Parting of Ways

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Into the Street

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

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

 

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

 

 

A Network of Women

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

The Light Within

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

After Ninety

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Judy Dater. 'Imogen Cunningham and Twinka Thiebaud' 1974

 

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

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

LIKE ART BLACK ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

05
Mar
22

Exhibition: ‘Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus’ at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen

Exhibition dates: 16th October 2021 – 27th March 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus' at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen showing from left to right, Armando Cristeto (Mexico, b. 1957) Apolo urbano, c. 1981; Antonio Reynoso, La Gorda, c. 1960; Herb Ritts, Wrestling Torsos, Hollywood, c. 1987

 

 

I’m working from my iPad at the moment as my computer has gone down, so this will be short and sweet.

It’s disappointing, to say the least, that in this day and age a museum provides so few media images on such an important theme that I had to spend many hours digging around trying to find images for this posting. I examined the labels on the installation photographs, and then looked at the museum’s Instagram account where there was much more information, before searching for large enough images online for the posting. Some artists are little known so this proved very difficult.

It’s good to see Arlene Gottfried’s strong, brash, direct photographs of gay icons, Jewish bodybuilders and street urchins but they are standard clubbing / street fare and there is little subtlety in her work.

While Gottfried may have survived to tell her story her own way the work only documents. For a photograph is that ever enough? Here the photographs in no way provide a fresh perspective on a clubbing street aesthetic grounded in the milieu of the mid 70s to early 80s Studio 54, pre-AIDS, groovy, disco party vibe. Nostalgia, history and memory are their appeal today.

Tastes have changed. Personally I find more power and sensitivity in Kike Arnal’s Untitled (Emmanuel, trans man and tattoo artist) (2018, below) than most of Gottfried’s graphic photographs – her subjects caught as if the lights had come up in the club at 6am (believe me this has happened many times, all of us looking like startled rabbits). Strike a pose!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus' at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen showing from left to right, Shohei Miyachi, Untitled, c. 2018; Leonard Freed, Handcuffed, New York City, from Police Work series, c. 1978; Larry Clark, Chuck, c. 1981

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Angel and Woman on Boardwalk, Brighton Beach' 1976

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Angel and Woman on Boardwalk, Brighton Beach
1976
Vintage gelatin silver print
Framework: 59.5 x 46.5cm
Photo: 27.9 x 35.5cm
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

How does your gender impact your work as an artist? The candid photographs of Arlene Gottfried have become everlasting memories of New York’s fast-evolving culture(s). For over 40 years, Gottfried photographed the intimate stories of the American domestic life, as well intrepid snapshots of the Puerto Rican community or the wild nights inside Studio 54.

She emphasised that being a female photographer back in the 70s was very different than now:

‘A lot of the male photographers [in the past] felt threatened and didn’t like it. […] It’s changed so much with women working. They’re more visible now. I don’t know the statistics on museums and how many are being collected. But on an everyday level, you see women in jobs that used to be male – bus driver, train conductor – typically male jobs that now have female employees and photography was the same. It used to be only guys, really. And actually, in my first photography class, I was the only young woman in the class and I had a lump in my throat, like I wanted to cry, only guys there. But it wound up being a very supportive environment and I learned a lot.

Unless you’re doing something that’s a very feminine kind of a topic, I don’t think gender is really all that visible.’

Anonymous text from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art Instagram page

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Guy With Radio, East 7th Street' 1977

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Guy With Radio, East 7th Street
1977
Vintage gelatin silver print
Framework: 59.5 x 46.5cm
Photo: 35.5 x 27.9cm
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Pituka at Bethesda Fountain, Central Park' 1977

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Pituka at Bethesda Fountain, Central Park
1977
Vintage gelatin silver print
Framework: 59.5 x 46.5cm
Photo: 35.5 x 27.9cm
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

The legendary street photographer who captured more than neutral subjects, but also the living faces and bodies of people along with their memories. Arlene Harriet Gottfried photographs preserve cultural heritage of the urban atmosphere.

One of the most quintessential projects Gottfried produced was a black-and-white series of street photography from the 1970s and 80s in New York. Her work will form part of our exhibition Clandestine. This is a photo exhibition about the human body. One of the most dominant themes in the exhibition is the constant dialogue between culture and bodies. This is something Arlene Gottfried captures particularly well. Arlene Gottfried documented scenes of ordinary daily life. The everyday life from the past that still lives vividly in her photographs. Her work embodied stories and memories of people who although you will never get to know, you can easily feel familiarised.

Anonymous text from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art Instagram page

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Disco Sally at Studio 54' 1979

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Disco Sally at Studio 54
1979
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Pose' Early 1980s

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Pose
Early 1980s
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Le Clique' Early 1980s

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Le Clique
Early 1980s
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus' at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen showing Arlene Gottfried’s portrait Marsha P. Johnson c. 1983

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Marsha P. Johnson' c. 1983

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Marsha P. Johnson
c. 1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

Marsha P. Johnson was an African-American trans woman who lived in New York and is celebrated for her contribution to the LGBTQI+ movement. She was often referred to as ‘Saint Marsha’ for serving as a “drag mother” aiding and welcoming homeless people as well as young members of the LGBTQ movement.

Marsha P. Johnson was the Rosa Parks of the LGBT+ movement. She was a devoted activist, drag performer, sex worker and at some point she even modelled for Andy Warhol. She established safe spaces for transgender people and was thoroughly dedicated to defending the rights of trans people, sex workers, people with HIV/AIDS and prisoners.

‘You never completely have your rights, one person, until you all have your rights.’ ~ Marsha P. Johnson

Our exhibition, Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus presents stories in black and white photographs about people who have not been recognised yet for their bravery. Today, Marsha lives in the hearts of brave activists as well as many transgender people.

 

 

The human body is the central theme of the Clandestine photo exhibition. About a hundred black-and-white photographs express an unreserved love of the body in all its manifestations: perfect, imperfect, elegant, erotic, proud or, on the contrary, very vulnerable. The works come from the extensive collection of photographer and collector Pedro Slim (Beirut, Lebanon, 1950) and are shown in the Netherlands for the first time.

Clandestine showcases photography by some 60 artists, including Diane Arbus, Horst P. Horst, Arlene Gottfried, Graciela Iturbide, Robert Mapplethorpe, Diana Blok, Helmut Newton and Man Ray. The exhibition presents original and contemporary prints (including silver on gelatine, photogravure), collages and photomontages. These photographs are placed in the context of New York in the 1970s and 1980s, where many were taken. Pedro Slim’s photo collection holds a unique place in the field of photography. In 1985, Slim started collecting photographs in which the human body plays a central role. With his collection, Slim highlights the power of images and seeks to transform and break open the paradigm that dictates what is feminine, masculine, non-binary or trans. Pedro Slim’s collection consists of more than 300 vintage prints and has rarely been exhibited.

The beauty of the photographs lies especially in the personal expression of those portrayed. The artists seek to go beyond the prevailing standards and ideals of beauty, and make a plea to appreciate the body in all its manifestations. The photographs are thus an ode to diversity and are still very relevant today.

 

Three themes

The exhibition revolves around three themes. The first part of the exhibition focuses on past and present ideals of beauty. The photographs show a diversity of body types and invite us to transcend judgements such as ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’. The photographs within the second theme show people living on the fringes of society,  many of the recorded scenes are raw, everyday situations. The visitor sees sex work, drug use and indecency. There are painful stories behind the provocative looks and poses.

The third part of the exhibition is entirely devoted to the work of Arlene Gottfried (1915-2017). Gottfried specialised in the genre known as street photography, recording life in the less well-to-do neighbourhoods of New York.  Her themes included gospel, schizophrenia, the Puerto Rican community, and the women in her family. Pedro Slim owns more than twenty original prints by Gottfried. This makes him the most important collector of her work.

 

About the collector

Photographer and collector Pedro Slim was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1950. He studied architecture and photography in Mexico and New York. Since the early 1990s, he has exhibited in various museums and galleries. His most recent exhibition was in 2017 at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City. His passion for photography led him to start a collection.

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Brothers with their Vines, Coney Island, NY' 1976

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Brothers with their Vines, Coney Island, NY
1976
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Third Avenue Shopping, El Barrio' 1978

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Third Avenue Shopping, El Barrio
1978
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Men's Room at Disco' 1978

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Men’s Room at Disco
1978
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Doorway in Soho, NY' 1980

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Doorway in Soho, NY
1980
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Savage Riders at The Puertican Day Parade' 1980

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Savage Riders at The Puertican Day Parade
1980
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Hassid and Jewish Bodybuilder' 1980

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Hassid and Jewish Bodybuilder
1980
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Riis, Nude Bay, Queens' 1980

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Riis, Nude Bay, Queens
1980
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

After completing a two-year photography program at FIT, Arlene moved to Greenwich Village in 1972, when the community was still an affordable outpost for artists, musicians and bohemians. She took a job as an assistant with an advertising agency. “I did everything: printing, processing, lighting, studio work, on location, a lot of it was for comps and sometimes it was for the ad itself, for sales promotion and point of purchase,” Arlene revealed in her final book, Mommie. “I didn’t always love what it was about but I always took photographs on the weekend and used their fantastic darkroom.”

“It’s nice to be young and be able to run across the beach like wild and be able to meet people and take their picture,” she continued. “That’s what I remember about it: Having a great time, and having a job so I could pay for things, and having a darkroom where I could print everything. You couldn’t ask for anything better. It was like a little grant at a little job, you know, a moderate income but just enough.”

Arlene made “just enough” to carry her through the next 45 years of her life, transforming her home in the West Village’s famed Westbeth Artists Housing into a bohemian palace. Above her kitchen table, she hung her photographs in a plastic carousel designed to air-dry intimate apparel. She entertained visitors, serving cherries and chocolate-covered espresso beans with a bottle of seltzer at the ready. When her cancer treatments stole her brunette curls in the years before her death, Arlene donned a burgundy velvet turban for her nights out.

Although she disliked hustle culture before it was named as such, Arlene maintained resolute faith in the importance of her work and the vitality of her gifts. Where other photographers sought to be a fly on the wall, Arlene was a butterfly in the mix, always aligned with the energy so that her presence only added to the beauty of the images she made. She loved to laugh, to sing, to dance and to celebrate the extraordinary stars in her orbit. In Mommie, Arlene remembers, “The clubs were very provocative then: People putting on these shows, taking their clothes off, acting things out. There’d be a theme and they’d be doing all kinds of crazy things like giving birth to dolls, simulating sex in public. I went in with my camera, took photographs and it was great.”

After the party, Arlene described the feeling of a glorious high that comes from a night on the town, surrounded by people doing what they love. She walked out of the club into the crisp winter air as snowflakes floated down from the sky like confetti in a parade. She then began strolling down Fifth Avenue, heading home, like the final scene of a Hollywood film.

Extract from Miss Rosen. “Sex clubs, Studio 54, Central Park: A portrait of NYC in the 70s & 80s,” on the i-D website 15 October 2021 [Online] Cited 16/10/2021

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Giant Dildo, Les Mouches Party, NY' 1979

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Giant Dildo, Les Mouches Party, NY
1979
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Miguel Pinero and Friend' 1980

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Miguel Pinero and Friend
1980
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

As an insider, Gottfried was able to tell the story on her own terms, capturing a slice of life that has vanished forevermore. “Now the only way to know what New York was like is from fleeting glimpses in movies made years ago like Taxi Driver, Death Wish, or Midnight Cowboy,” Gilbert Gottfried observes. “I remember there were neighbourhoods you didn’t want to be in and we lived in a few of those. Arlene had already been living on her own when me, my mother, and my other sister Karen moved to Avenue A. People were saying, ‘You’re nuts.'”

Arlene Gottfried flourished amongst her own, whether palling around with poet Miguel Piñero at the Nuyorican Poets Café, kicking it at Brooklyn’s famed Empire Roller Skating Center, or trooping uptown to the streets of El Barrio. Wherever she went, there she was, ready for whatever would come her way.

“I met Miguel Piñero at the Poet’s Café. I loved to dance and you could really dance over there!” she told me in 2014, roaring with laughter at the memory of her youth. “Salsa. R&B. There was a lot of good energy there. It was rough and raw. Not trendy. And that’s an amazing thing – that the Poet’s Café has lasted so long. I loved it. I stayed there until the sun came up, literally. That doesn’t last forever, these moments in time.”

Though Gottfried and many she photographed have passed, their legacies live on in her warm and loving photographs. Gottfried followed her heart and went with the flow, documenting everything from her years singing gospel with the Eternal Light Community Singers to her long-standing relationship with Midnight, a man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

For Gottfried, the camera was her diary and confidant. “I don’t know exactly when Arlene started taking pictures, but I know she got into it and then it was all the time,” her brother says with a laugh. “Sometimes we were both on the bus with my mother. I would be helping my mother off and Arlene was taking pictures. I was thinking, ‘Put down the camera and help me help her out of the bus!'”

Gottfried’s archive holds vast treasures of New York at a time when everyone was a character yet no one would stare because that would suggest you were a tourist, unfit to make it here. Her photographs are a tribute to Old New York, to a city of myth, magic, and madness that many did not survive. Yet in her pictures, their lives are restored to the pantheon of grit, glamour, and glory.

It is a city the lingers like wafts of weed smoke on a warm summer day, a city that still exists if you look for it. Gilbert Gottfried remembers, “A year or two ago I was walking with my wife and we saw these two homeless men. One was fixing the other guy’s hair with his hand, and my wife said, ‘Ahh. That’s an Arlene picture.'”

Extract from Miss Rosen. “Arlene Gottfried photographed the magic and madness of Old New York,” on the Document Journal website June 28, 2019 [Online] Cited 16/10/2021

 

George Hoyningen-Huene (American-Russian, 1900-1968) 'A.E. Sudan' c. 1935

 

George Hoyningen-Huene (American-Russian, 1900-1968)
A.E. Sudan
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
George Hoyningen-Huene Estate Archives

 

 

Let’s talk about representation. A Russian man takes a photo of a Sudanese man. Superficially, this might seem problematic, but why?

In our exhibition, Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus, the portrait by the Russian photographer George Hoyningen-Huene, titled A.E. Sudan presents a naked Sudanese.

In a traditional setting, material items like clothes and jewellery help people express their values and beliefs. In this photo, the Sudanese man is alien from any form of expression. In addition, presented in front of a white wall strips the subject away from his situational contexts – such as time and place. This photo shows a person in a blank state, disconnected from any form of cultural or individual expression.

Despite these characteristics (or lack of characteristics), the photographer still opted to include the nationality of the subject in the title – Sudanese. We do not know if the artist understood the semantic power of the title, but by giving us some context, we know this person is not simply a naked model detached from his culture, but rather a ‘Sudanese’ man.

Here is where the questions that concerns representation starts gaining weight. Artists, including photographers, carry tremendous responsibility. Through their medium, they have the power to frame a subject as they please. In the creative process, it is possible that the view of the artist becomes the dominant perception understood by the audience.

For instance, in this case the Sudanese man has no voice concerning how the viewer perceives any of the characteristics that represent his identity, such as his skin colour, nationality, gender or age. It is virtually impossible to discuss all the concerns linked to cultural representation in a post, hence this conversations is far from over. Also, we do not intend to shame the way the artist framed the Sudanese man, but rather our whole aim, inspired by the Cobra movement, is to present new ways to think critically about art, ourselves and society.

Anonymous text from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art Instagram page

 

Edmund Teske (Chicago, Illinois, 1911 - Los Angeles, California, USA, 1996) 'Male Nude, Davenport Iowa' 1942

 

Edmund Teske (Chicago, Illinois, 1911 – Los Angeles, California, USA, 1996)
Male Nude, Davenport Iowa
1942
Vintage gelatin silver print
Framework: 59.2 x 48.9cm
Photo: 33 x 23.5cm
Pedro Slim Collection
© Estate of Edmund Teske, Courtesy Gitterman Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus' at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen showing from left to right, Nan Goldin’s Ivy wearing a fall Boston 1973 and Antonio Reynoso’s La Gorda (The Fat Woman) c. 1960

 

Antonio Reynoso (Mexican, 1919-1996) 'La Gorda' (The Fat Woman) c. 1960

 

Antonio Reynoso (Mexican, 1919-1996)
La Gorda (The Fat Woman)
c. 1960
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. This phrase stresses that beauty is thoroughly subjective and only limited by social constructs.

One would argue that beauty is different from sciences like physics or chemistry since it is not quantifiable or measurable. Nonetheless, through non-scientific agreement people still know how to distinguish what is pretty from what is not. For instance, a swampy pond is less pretty than a turquoise ocean. This is the shared opinion, of at least the majority, but is this a view shared by everyone? Even more importantly, is this our view or was it simply bestowed upon us without our prior consent?

Being critical when looking at a work of art, or more frankly when looking at anything, is an exercise to strengthen our own individuality and potential to envision a new beauty. This does not mean one should automatically discredit beauty from something or someone that is socially considered beautiful but to question it. This is a call to acknowledge that the notion of beauty can be challenged, abstracted or even reconstructed.

This is a portrait by Mexican photographer Antonio Reynoso La Gorda (The Fat Woman). It invites us to reconsider the meanings of several attributes including, beauty, sensuality and femininity.

Anonymous text from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art Instagram page

 

Nan Goldin (American, b. 1953) 'Ivy wearing a fall' Boston 1973

 

Nan Goldin (American, b. 1953)
Ivy wearing a fall
Boston 1973
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Allen Frame (American, b. 1951) 'Young Man, New York' 1974

 

Allen Frame (American, b. 1951)
Young Man, New York
1974
Gelatin silver print
Framework: 40.5 x 50.5cm
Photo: 27.9 x 35.5cm
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006) 'Handcuffed, New York City' c. 1978

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006)
Handcuffed, New York City
c. 1978
From Police Work series
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

David Wojnarowicz (American, 1954-1992) 'Arthur Rimbaud in New York' 1978-1979

 

David Wojnarowicz (American, 1954-1992)
Arthur Rimbaud in New York
1978-1979
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

Arthur Rimbaud in New York, one of David Wojnarowicz’s few incursions into photography, is the articulation of a testimony to urban, social and political change in New York.

Wojnarowicz, using the figure of the accursed poet as the only way for an artist to intervene in reality, chronicles his own life and his emotional relationship with New York City in the late 1970s. The artista portrays a number of friends with a life-size mask of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, thereby taking on his identity and highlighting the parallels in their lives: the violence suffered in their youths, the feeling of being denied freedom, the desire to live far away from the bourgeois environment and the fact of their homosexuality. Wojnarowicz is juxtaposing the historical time of the symbolist poet with the artist’s present.

The series, taken in places that the artist used to frequent with photographer Peter Hujar, represents the emergence of identity politics and queer visibility in contemporary art, and the debates surrounding the public sphere as a space for individual non-conformity that were to shape the 1980s. The series also represents a contemplation of the end of the experimental artists’ collectives on the Lower East Side, as gentrification and urban speculation transformed the neighbourhood, and AIDS had begun to decimate the gay community, also causing the early death of the artist in 1992.

Salvador Nadales. “Arthur Rimbaud in New York,” on the Museo Reina Sofía website Nd [Online] Cited 23/02/2022

 

George Dureau (American, 1930-2014) 'B.J. Robinson' c. 1980

 

George Dureau (American, 1930-2014)
B.J. Robinson
c. 1980
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

What happens when people become labelled as objects of inspiration?

Popular culture often exotifies or objectifies a group of people who are slightly different from the majority. Sayings such as ‘you cannot fail if you have not tried’ accompanied by a photo of a person with a disability, portrays the subject as a source of exceptional inspiration for the viewer. This may objectify the subject in the photo.

This is something that happens in the art world too. For instance, the monumental achievements of artists with a disability, such as Frida Kahlo or Vincent van Gogh, are sometimes phrased as a direct outcome of their condition. By doing so the condition of the artist becomes bigger than the persona. This undermines the different elements that constitute the artist as a whole.

For the photographer George Dureau, whose work is displayed in our exhibition Clandestine, photography is a medium with the potential to empower people with disabilities by simply representing them, without objectifying them. By photographing people with disabilities the same way traditional photographers captured images of models, Dureau reconceptualised the standards of beauty.

The conversation revolving around objectification is far from over. Dureau’s views present an interesting way to think about the topic, but we still need more critical and engaged dialogue and we want to hear your opinion. Where is the boundary between admiration and objectification?

Anonymous text from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art Instagram page

 

Larry Clark (American, b. 1943) 'Chuck' c. 1981

 

Larry Clark (American, b. 1943)
Chuck
c. 1981
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Armando Cristeto (Mexican, b. 1957) 'Apolo Urbano' (Urban Apollo) Mexico City, 1981

 

Armando Cristeto (Mexican, b. 1957)
Apolo Urbano (Urban Apollo)
Mexico City, 1981
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection
© Armando Cristeto

 

 

Born in 1957 in Mexico City, photographer and historian Armando Cristeto began to study photography in 1977 at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico. He was a member of the photography collective known as the Grupo de Fotografos Independientes, one of the numerous cooperatives of artists known as ‘Los Grupos’ proliferating during the late 1970s in Mexico.

Founded by Amando Cristeto’s brother Adolfo Patino, the Fotografos Independientes sought to reach new audiences by taking their exhibitions out onto the street, where their works could interact with the urban context and be appreciated by new classes of people. Their exhibitions were installed along the sidewalks of Mexico City, employing clothesline to hang their photographic prints, or were even paraded through the streets on wheeled carts.

Anonymous text. “Armando Cristeto,” on the ultrawolvesunderthefullmoon website June 9, 2020 [Online] Cited 23/03/2022

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'The Most Beautiful Part of a Woman's Body' c. 1986

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Most Beautiful Part of a Woman’s Body
c. 1986
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'The Most Beautiful Part of a Man's Body' c. 1986

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Most Beautiful Part of a Man’s Body
c. 1986
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942) 'Magnolia with Mirror, Juchitán, México' 1986

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942)
Magnolia, Juchitán, México
1986
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

Is symmetry more beautiful than asymmetry?

The notion of symmetry is occasionally interchanged with the one of beauty as if these would be synonyms. Artists and philosophers from different cultures and times have championed equilibrium and positioned symmetry on an untouchable pedestal, but culturally speaking, asymmetry might be more valuable.

The mathematical notion of symmetry suggests that if an object is changed – say a cube or a sphere is rotated – it stays the same as before it was moved. Aiming for symmetrical forms seems reasonable from the functional standpoint of an architect or a mathematician, but why do our cultures dismiss or shame asymmetry?

Asymmetry presupposes that something, or someone, changes after its circumstances changed. Transforming when situations demand it, is necessary to evolve. One symmetric thought or body would entail that it does not change when it is moved. That said, maybe it is time to reevaluate the way we perceive notions of beauty and reformulate our societal desires. Asymmetric bodies might be much more sexy and beautiful after all.

The exhibition, Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus, presents black and white photographs of the human body. The photographs render asymmetric human bodies.

Anonymous text from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art Instagram page

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Wrestling Torsos, Hollywood' c. 1987

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Wrestling Torsos, Hollywood
c. 1987
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Merry Alpern (American, b. 1955) 'Dirty Windows #16' 1994

 

Merry Alpern (American, b. 1955)
Dirty Windows #16
1994
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Merry Alpern (American, b. 1955) 'Untitled' from the series 'Dirty Windows' 1994

 

Merry Alpern (American, b. 1955)
Untitled from the series Dirty Windows
1994
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

How to take dramatic photos of strangers? Wait, should you ask for their consent before photographing them?

In most countries, it is legal to take photos of people, including children in public. The question of whether it is morally right or wrong to take photos of strangers remains problematic. Some would say that it depends on the purpose of the photo. Judging a body of work that is intended to be used for profit, such as to promote a product, is different from photojournalism or a photo exhibition.

When seeing the photos exhibited in our exhibition Clandestine- The Human Body in Focus, one wonders if every single body was aware it would end up framed in the museum, or in the Instagram account of the museum itself.

To give this situation a context, consider Merry Alpern’s Dirty Windows series from 1994. Rather than posing her subjects, Alpern captured women (and men) crowded into the tiny bathroom of a sex club in the Wall Street district of Manhattan. Her photos were taken at night, in dim light, from a friend’s apartment, one story higher and about five meters away from the bathroom window. Her obsessive, voyeuristic, and even paranoic project as well as her overtly sexual scenes, caused a national controversy at the time.

With these images, Alpern encapsulated and reduced the identity of her subjects as ‘sex workers’. By taking a single shot of a person and framing it as the complete one, the photo runs the risk of stripping the full identity away from the subject. The women in the Dirty Windows series could be mothers, daughters, great sports players, activists and so on, but not everyone gets to see that part of the story.

Let this be a reminder that when taking a photo of a person, you should make sure the person is aware of the photo’s purpose as well as what part of the story- of their identity – is framed.

Anonymous text from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art Instagram page

 

Shohei Miyachi (Japanese, b. 1989) 'Untitled' c. 2018

 

Shohei Miyachi (Japanese, b. 1989)
Untitled
c. 2018
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Kike Arnal (Venezuelan) 'Untitled' (Emmanuel, trans man and tattoo artist) 2018

 

Kike Arnal (Venezuelan)
Untitled (Emmanuel, trans man and tattoo artist)
2018
From the series Revealing Selves – Transgender Portraits from Argentina
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

When it comes to transgender rights, Argentina is a country rife with contradictions. After being subject to widespread medicalization and incarceration throughout the 20th century, Argentina’s transgender community began to see a number of windfall legal and political wins in the early 21st century that would secure them progress once only dreamed of. These included the Gender Identity Law of 2012, landmark legislation which guarantees transgender Argentinians the right to change their sex in the public record, access free gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy that doesn’t require medical or psychological diagnoses, and enshrines transgender discrimination protections in law.

But the gulf between legislative gains and reality can be wide in many countries, and Argentina is no exception. Despite these rights, 88 percent of Argentinian trans women have never had a formal job; their average life expectancy is 35, whereas the national average is 77; and only 40 percent graduate from high school. Transgender Argentinians still face massive cultural and social stigma, which can lead to family rejection and poverty.

In Revealing Selves: Transgender Portraits from Argentina … documentary photographer Kike Arnal provides a window into the homes and lives of Argentina’s transgender community, one that captures these contradictions.

Anonymous text. “Revealing Portraits from Argentina’s Transgender Community,” on the Them website April 10, 2018 [Online] Cited 23/02/2022

 

Kike Arnal (Venezuelan) 'Untitled' (Emmanuel, trans man and tattoo artist) 2018

 

Kike Arnal (Venezuelan)
Untitled (Emmanuel, trans man and tattoo artist)
2018
From the series Revealing Selves – Transgender Portraits from Argentina
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

Cobra Museum of Modern Art
Sandbergplein 1, 1181 ZX Amstelveen

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm
Closed Monday

Cobra Museum of Modern Art website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

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

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

09
Jan
22

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

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

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

Field Galleries and Honickman Galleries 154-157

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.
Minor White elaborates further,

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Curators’ Talk on Richard Benson

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

Speakers

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

Benson’s subjects

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related publication

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

 

About Richard Benson (1943-2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About the Promised Gift

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Publication

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

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

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

 

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

 

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are publication

 

 

Philadelphia Museum of Art
26th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19130

Opening hours:
Thursday – Monday: 10am – 5pm
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday

Philadelphia Museum of Art website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

19
Dec
21

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

There is no more time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

Marion Palfi portraits

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

~ Marion Palfi

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Sono Osato (American, 1919-2018)

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

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

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dean Dixon (American, 1915-1976)

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

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

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

About the exhibition

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

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

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

Text from the Phoenix Art Museum website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the Phoenix Art Museum

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

THE SOUTH: Death of Picky Pie

Monday, June 13, 1949
Time Magazine

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Biography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Phoenix Art Museum
McDowell Road & Central Avenue
1625 N. Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85004

Opening hours:
Monday and Tuesday Museum closed
Wednesday: 10am – 7pm
Thursday – Sunday: 10am – 5pm

Phoenix Art Museum website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

11
Dec
21

Exhibition: ‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington Part 2

Exhibition dates: 31st October, 2021 – 30th January, 2022

Curator: The exhibition is curated by Andrea Nelson, associate curator in the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

 

 

Ilse Salberg (German, 1899-1947) 'Anton im Detail' (Anton in Detail) 1938

 

Ilse Salberg (German, 1899-1947)
Anton im Detail (Anton in Detail)
1938
Gelatin silver print
Image: 29.6 x 39.8cm (11 5/8 x 15 11/16 in.)
Frame (outer): 41.3 x 51.3 x 2.7cm (16 1/4 x 20 3/16 x 1 1/16 in.)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

 

Ilse Salberg (1899-1947) worked in the New Vision style in Paris and Sanary-sur-Mer. Driven from Cologne, Germany by persecutions, escaping the SS in Barjols, France, she died early of cancer in Switzerland. …

For a long time, Ilse Salberg’s photographs went unnoticed by the public. Most of her photographs from exile in France were lost while fleeing. Fortunately, in 1963 Anton Räderscheidt and his new wife Giséle found paintings and negatives by Ilse Salberg in a cellar in Barjols, which she had to leave behind when she fled to Switzerland.

For more information please see the German Wikipedia website entry

 

 

The second of a humungous three-part posting on this archaeological exhibition. See Part 1 of the posting.

Combined with the posting I did on this exhibition when it was on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, this three-part posting will include over 160 new images from the exhibition… meaning a combined total over the four postings of over 200 images with biographical information.

This has been a mammoth effort to construct these postings but so worthwhile!

I will make comment on the exhibition in part 3 of the posting.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
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.

 

 

“[Lee] Miller was the quintessential New Woman, as were the photographers in The New Woman Behind the Camera in New York. Andrea Nelson, who organised the show at its next destination, the National Gallery in Washington, says these new women were independent, competent, and – especially in the 1920s – found themselves in a moment when they were fighting for, then winning the right to vote, “and had really started examining their lives, their marriages and children.” They were also exploring what it meant to be professional photographers. “It was a time when photography was replacing drawings in all the magazines,” says Nelson. And women could sell their advertising and fashion pictures readily.”

.
Susan Stamberg. “Behind The Lens, These Women Created Photographs That Leap Over Decades,” on the NPR website July 25th, 2021 [Online] Cited 28/11/2021

 

 

Leni Riefenstahl (German, 1902-2003) 'Freiübungen im Stadion, Olympischen Kampf, Berlin' (Calisthenics in the Stadium, Olympic Games, Berlin) 1936

 

Leni Riefenstahl (German, 1902-2003)
Freiübungen im Stadion, Olympischen Kampf, Berlin (Calisthenics in the Stadium, Olympic Games, Berlin)
1936
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.8 x 28.2cm (8 9/16 x 11 1/8 in.)
Mount: 29.9 x 36.9cm (11 3/4 x 14 1/2 in.)
Mat: 42.5 x 49.5 cm (16 3/4 x 19 1/2 in.)
Frame (outer): 47.9 x 52.7 cm (18 7/8 x 20 3/4 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987 bpk / Leni Riefenstahl
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art Resource, NY

 

 

Helene Bertha Amalie “Leni” Riefenstahl (German, 22 August 1902 – 8 September 2003) was a German film director, photographer, and actress, known for her seminal role in producing Nazi propaganda.

Read a fuller biography on this “fellow traveller” (Mitläufer) on the Wikipedia website

 

The relentless pursuit of the truth about Riefenstahl. About time.

She knew what was going on and hitched her wagon to National Socialism, taking money to make her film Tiefland (Lowlands), bringing in extra from a concentration camp, keeping them in rags and starving them. After filming some were executed in the gas chambers. Her story is similar to that of Albert Speer (Hitler’s architect) who after being released from Spandau prison in 1966 rehabilitated himself by writing books and public speaking about his wartime experiences. Only recently has it come to light that Speer knew all along about the ruthlessness of the Nazi regime and – as Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production (until 2 September 1943 Reich Minister of Armaments and Munitions) – used conscripted labour and prisoners of war in appalling conditions to power the Nazi war effort. Many thousands died as a result of his zeal.

Read the excellent article on The Guardian website about Riefenstahl.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

“Riefenstahl denied that she had visited the camp to handpick the extras, denied failing to pay them and denied having promised and subsequently failed to save them from Auschwitz. She claimed that, while making the film, she had not known of the existence of the gas chambers, nor of the fate of the Roma and Sinti.”

Kate Connolly. “Burying Leni Riefenstahl: one woman’s lifelong crusade against Hitler’s favourite film-maker,” on The Guardian website Thursday 9 December 2021 [Online] Cited 11/12/2021

 

Vera Jackson (American, 1911-1999) 'Man at Printing Press' 1940s

 

Vera Jackson (American, 1911-1999)
Man at Printing Press
1940s
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 27.94 x 35.56cm (11 x 14 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Framed (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Collection of Friends, the Foundation of the California African American Museum. Gift of the artist
Courtesy of the California African American Museum

 

 

Vera Jackson (July 21, 1911 – January 26, 1999) was a “pioneer woman photographer in the black press”. She photographed African-American social life and celebrity culture in 1930s and 1940s Los Angeles. Noted photographic subjects included major league baseball player Jackie Robinson, educator Mary McLeod Bethune, and actresses Dorothy Dandridge, Hattie McDaniel and Lena Horne.

 

Hildegard Rosenthal (Brazilian born Switzerland, 1913-1990) 'Ponto de encontro Ladeira Porto Geral, esquina da Rua 25 de Março, São Paulo' (Meeting Place Ladeira Porto Geral, Corner of 25 de Março Street, São Paulo) c. 1940, printed later

 

Hildegard Rosenthal (Brazilian born Switzerland, 1913-1990)
Ponto de encontro Ladeira Porto Geral, esquina da Rua 25 de Março, São Paulo (Meeting Place Ladeira Porto Geral, Corner of 25 de Março Street, São Paulo)
c. 1940, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24 x 36cm (9 7/16 x 14 3/16 in.)
Mount: 40 x 50cm (15 3/4 x 19 11/16 in.)
Frame (outer): 42 x 52cm (16 9/16 x 20 1/2 in.)
Instituto Moreira Salles Collection Hildegard Rosenthal / Acervo Instituto Moreira Salles

 

 

Hildegard Baum Rosenthal (March 25, 1913 – September 16, 1990) was a Swiss-born Brazilian photographer, the first woman photojournalist in Brazil. She was part of the generation of European photographers who emigrated during World War II and, acting in the local press, contributed to the photographic aesthetic renovation of Brazilian newspapers.

 

Life and career

Rosenthal was born in Zurich, Switzerland. Until her adolescence, she lived in Frankfurt (Germany), where she studied pedagogy from 1929 until 1933. She lived in Paris between 1934 and 1935. Upon her return to Frankfurt, she studied photography for about 18 months in a program led by Paul Wolff [de]. Wolff emphasised small, portable cameras that used 35 mm film. These were a recent innovation at the time, and could be used unobtrusively for street photography. She also studied photographic laboratory techniques at the Gaedel Institute.

In this same period, she had entered a relationship with Walter Rosenthal. Rosenthal was Jewish, and Jews were increasingly persecuted in Germany in the 1930s under the National Socialist (Nazi) regime that took power in 1933. Walter Rosenthal emigrated to Brazil in 1936. Hildegard joined him in São Paulo in 1937. That same year she began working as a laboratory supervisor at the Kosmos photographic materials and services company. A few months later, the agency Press Information hired her as a photojournalist and she did news reports for national and international newspapers. During this period, she took photographs of the city of São Paulo and the state countryside of Rio de Janeiro and other cities in southern Brazil, as well as portraying several personalities from the São Paulo cultural scene, such as the painter Lasar Segall, the writers Guilherme de Almeida and Jorge Amado, the humorist Aparicio Torelly (Barão de Itararé) and the cartoonist Belmonte. Her images sought to capture the artist at his moment of creation, in obvious connection with his spirit of reporter. She interrupted her professional activity in 1948, after the birth of her first daughter. And in 1959, after her husband died, she took over the management of her family’s company.

 

Artistic trajectory

Her photographs remained little known until 1974, when art historian Walter Zanini held a retrospective of her work at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo. The following year the Museum of Image and Sound of São Paulo (MIS) was opened with the exhibition Memória Paulistana, by Rosenthal. In 1996 the Instituto Moreira Salles acquired more than 3,000 of her negatives, in which urban scenes of São Paulo from the 1930s and 1940s stood out, during which time the city underwent a vertiginous growth, both material and cultural. Other negatives were donated by her during her life to the Lasar Segall Museum.

“Photography without people does not interest me,” she said at the Museum of Image and Sound of São Paulo in 1981.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Liselotte Grschebina (Israeli born Germany, 1908-1994) 'Arbeiterin, Primazon GmbH, Netanya' (Worker, Primazon Ltd., Netanya) c. 1937

 

Liselotte Grschebina (Israeli born Germany, 1908-1994)
Arbeiterin, Primazon GmbH, Netanya (Worker, Primazon Ltd., Netanya)
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.8 x 22.7cm (6 5/8 x 8 15/16 in.)
Frame (outer): 38.4 x 46cm (15 1/8 x 18 1/8 in.)
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Gift of Beni and Rina Gjebin, Shoham, Israel, with the assistance of Rachel and Dov Gottesman, Tel Aviv and London
Photo: Liselotte Grschebina
© The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

 

 

Liselotte Grschebina (or Grjebina; 1908-1994) was an Israeli photographer. …

In January 1932 Grschebina opens Bilfoto, her own studio, announcing her specialisation in child photography, and takes on students. In 1933, following the Nazis come to power and the restrictions on professional freedom for Jews, Grschebina closed her studio. Before leaving Germany, she marries Dr. Jacob (Jasha) Grschebin. …

The Grschebin couple reaches Tel Aviv in March 1934. The same year, Grschebina opens the Ishon studio on Allenby Street with her friend Ellen Rosenberg (Auerbach), previously a partner in the Berlin photographic studio ringl + pit. In 1936 the Ishon studio is closed when Rosenberg leaves the country; Grschebina continues to work from her home.

 

Style

Grschebina arrived in Palestine in 1934, a trained professional profoundly influenced by the revolutionary movements of the Weimar Republic: New Objectivity in painting and New Vision in photography, as well as by a number of prominent professors, including Karl Hubbuch and Wilhelm Schnarrenberger. Unlike many of her colleagues in Palestine, who sought their identities in the collective Zionist endeavour by documenting and extolling it in their work, Grschebina did not use photography as a means of forming her identity. She came with a full-fledged style and remained committed to Weimar artistic ideals and principles in her new home, where she continued to apply and develop them. … Grschebina’s artistic roots clearly lay in New Vision, which defined photography as an artistic field in its own right and called on camera artists to portray subjects in a new, different way to convey their unique qualities and their essence. She did this through striking vantage points and strong diagonals, making masterful use of mirrors, reflections, and plays of light and shadow to create geometric shapes and to endow her photographs with atmosphere, appeal, and meaning.

In Germany, most of her photographs – usually advertising commissions – were taken in the studio. In the land of Israel, she also worked outdoors, observing those around her with a clear, impartial eye. She photographed people going about their daily routine, unaffected by the presence of the camera. The viewer of her pictures feels like an outsider looking in, gaining a new, objective perspective on the subject: the “objective portrait … not encumbered with subjective intention” wherein, according to New Vision photographer László Moholy-Nagy, lies the genius of photography.

 

Legacy

The photographs of Liselotte Grschebina, rediscovered casually, almost miraculously, in a cupboard in Tel Aviv, reveal a talent that might otherwise have remained forgotten.

The archive of Liselotte Grschebina’s photographs were given to the Israel Museum by her son, Beni Gjebin and his wife Rina, from Shoham, with the assistance of Rachel and Dov Gottesman, the museum president between 2001 and 2011.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Liselotte Grschebina (Israeli born Germany, 1908-1994) 'Hebräische Wassermelone' (Hebrew Watermelon) c. 1935

 

Liselotte Grschebina (Israeli born Germany, 1908-1994)
Hebräische Wassermelone (Hebrew Watermelon)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 29cm (8 15/16 x 11 7/16 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.5 x 53.8cm (17 1/8 x 21 3/16 in.)
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Gift of Beni and Rina Gjebin, Shoham, Israel, with the assistance of Rachel and Dov Gottesman, Tel Aviv and London Photo Liselotte Grschebina
© The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

 

Liselotte Grschebina (Israeli born Germany, 1908-1994) 'Turnerin' (Gymnast) 1930

 

Liselotte Grschebina (Israeli born Germany, 1908-1994)
Turnerin (Gymnast)
1930
Gelatin silver print
Image: 23.5 x 17.5cm (9 1/4 x 6 7/8 in.)
Frame (outer): 46 x 38.4cm (18 1/8 x 15 1/8 in.)
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Gift of Beni and Rina Gjebin, Shoham, Israel, with the assistance of Rachel and Dov Gottesman, Tel Aviv and London
Photo: Liselotte Grschebina
© The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

 

Eiko Yamazawa (Japanese, 1899-1995) '(Untitled (Yasue Yamamoto as Okichi in "Elegy for a Woman" by Yuzo Yamamoto))' c. 1943-1944, printed 1944

 

Eiko Yamazawa (Japanese, 1899-1995)
(Untitled (Yasue Yamamoto as Okichi in “Elegy for a Woman” by Yuzo Yamamoto))
c. 1943-1944, printed 1944
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 x 10.5cm (5 7/8 x 4 1/8 in.)
Mat: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 54.61 x 44.45cm (21 1/2 x 17 1/2 in.)
Tomoka Aya, The Third Gallery Aya
© Yamazawa Eiko

 

 

Eiko Yamazawa (山沢 栄子, Yamazawa Eiko, February 19, 1899 – July 16, 1995) was a renowned Japanese photographer. She is considered one of Japan’s earliest women photographers and is among the few women photographers in Japan who were active both before and after World War II. First trained in Nihonga, she later studied photography in the U.S. under the mentorship of Consuelo Kanaga, and also exposed to the work of Kanaga’s contemporaries such as Paul Strand and Edward Weston.

After coming back to Japan in 1929, she established herself as a professional photographer. In 1931 she opened a portrait studio in Osaka, and in 1950 she established the Yamazawa Institute of Photography also in Osaka. In the early half of her career, Yamazawa was engaged in portraiture and commercial photography, having produced work for major Osaka department stores. In 1960 she shifted abstraction away from realism. Her work in this latter half of her career is characterised by her photographing art materials in distortion and reflection. Yamazawa’s photographs were unique at the time for their use of vibrant colour, which was in stark contrast to black and white photography championed by other Japanese photographers.

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Eiko Yamazawa (Japanese, 1899-1995) '(Untitled (Yasue Yamamoto as Okichi in "Elegy for a Woman" by Yuzo Yamamoto))' c. 1943-1944, printed 1944

 

Eiko Yamazawa (Japanese, 1899-1995)
(Untitled (Yasue Yamamoto as Okichi in “Elegy for a Woman” by Yuzo Yamamoto))
c. 1943-1944, printed 1944
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 x 10.5cm (5 7/8 x 4 1/8 in.)
Mat: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 54.61 x 44.45cm (21 1/2 x 17 1/2 in.)
Tomoka Aya, The Third Gallery Aya
© Yamazawa Eiko

 

Eiko Yamazawa (Japanese, 1899-1995) '(Untitled (Yasue Yamamoto as Okichi in "Elegy for a Woman" by Yuzo Yamamoto))' c. 1943-1944, printed 1944

 

Eiko Yamazawa (Japanese, 1899-1995)
(Untitled (Yasue Yamamoto as Okichi in “Elegy for a Woman” by Yuzo Yamamoto))
c. 1943-1944, printed 1944
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 x 10.5cm (5 7/8 x 4 1/8 in.)
Mat: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 54.61 x 44.45cm (21 1/2 x 17 1/2 in.)
Tomoka Aya, The Third Gallery Aya
© Yamazawa Eiko

 

 

Yamamoto Yasue (Japanese 山 本 安 英, actually Yamamoto Chiyo (山 本 千代); born October 29, 1906 in Tōkyō ; died December 29, 1993 there) was a Japanese actress.

Yamamoto Yasue attended from 1921 the “School for modern theater training for women” (現代 劇 女優 養成 所, Gendaigeki joyū yōseijo), which was directed by Ichikawa Sadanji II (二世 市 川 左 団 次; 1880-1940). In 1924 she became a founding member of the “Small Theater Tsukiji” (築 地 小 劇 所) directed by Osanai Kaoru and played the leading role in 67 productions. After Osanai’s death in 1928, Yamamoto and Hijikata Yoshi (1998-1959) founded the “New Tsukiji Theater Company” (新 築 地 劇 団, Shin Tsukiji gekidan). Until the end of the Pacific War, she also took part in radio broadcasts.

In 1951 the Ministry of Culture honored Yamamoto for her role as Tsū in Kinoshita Junji’s internationally acclaimed play “Yūzuru” (夕 鶴), “Crane in the Twilight” [A1] , which had been performed since 1949. In 1966 she founded the “Yasue no kai” (安 英 の 会) to research recitation in contemporary pieces. Yamamoto had a unique presence on stage and a sophisticated way of speaking. In 1974 she was awarded the Asahi Prize and in 1984 the Mainichi Art Prize.

 

Yūzō Yamamoto (山本 有三, Yamamoto Yūzō, July 27, 1887 – January 11, 1974) was a Japanese novelist and playwright. His real name was written as “山本 勇造” but pronounced the same as his pen name. He was born to a family of kimono makers in Tochigi-city, Tochigi Prefecture.

He studied German literature at Tokyo Imperial University. After graduating, he gained popularity for his solidly crafted plays, some twenty in all, notably Professor Tsumura (Tsumura kyōju, 1919), The Crown of Life (生命の冠, Inochi no kanmuri, 1920), Infanticide (Eijigoroshi, 1920), and People Who Agree (同志の人々, Dōshi no hitobito, 1923). In 1926 he turned to novels, known for their clarity of expression and dramatic composition. Later, with the writers Kan Kikuchi and Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, he helped to co-found the Japanese Writer’s Association and openly criticised Japan’s wartime military government for its censorship policies.

After World War II he joined the debate on Japanese language reform, and from 1947 to 1953 he served in the National Diet as a member of the House of Councillors. He is well known for his opposition to the use of enigmatic expressions in written Japanese and his advocacy for the limited use of furigana [a Japanese reading aid]. In 1965 he was awarded the prestigious Order of Culture. He died at his summer villa in Yugawara, Kanagawa in 1974.

Yamamoto’s large European-style house in Mitaka, Tokyo, was expropriated by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers by eminent domain during the occupation period from 1945 to 1953. The mansion was then used as an archive and research lab by non-profit organisations for years, until it was converted into the Mitaka City Yūzō Yamamoto Memorial Museum in 1996. There is also a museum dedicated to him in his hometown of Tochigi.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Valentina Kulagina (Russian, 1902-1987) 'A. Tarasov-Rodionov's "October"' 1930

 

Valentina Kulagina (Russian, 1902-1987)
A. Tarasov-Rodionov’s “October”
1930
Book cover maquette with collage of cut-and-pasted gelatin silver prints, gouache, and ink on paper
Overall: 20.7 x 31.2cm (8 1/8 x 12 1/4 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Collection Merrill C. Berman

 

 

Valentina Kulagina, full name Valentina Nikiforovna Kulagina-Klutsis (Russian: Валентина Никифоровна Кулагина-Клуцис, 1902-1987) was a Russian painter and book, poster, and exhibition designer. She was a central figure in Constructivist avant-garde in the early 20th century alongside El Lissitzky, Alexander Rodchenko other and her husband Gustav Klutsis. She is known for the Soviet revolutionary and Stalinist propaganda she produced in collaboration with Klutsis.

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Elizaveta Ignatovich (Russian, 1903-1983) 'The struggle for the polytechnical school is the struggle for the five-year plan, for the communist education about class consciousness' 1931

 

Elizaveta Ignatovich (Russian, 1903-1983)
The struggle for the polytechnical school is the struggle for the five-year plan, for the communist education about class consciousness
1931
Photolithograph
Sheet: 51.4 x 72.1cm (20 1/4 x 28 3/8 in.)
Frame: 66.04 x 86.36cm (26 x 34 in.)
Collection Merrill C. Berman

 

 

Elizaveta Ignatovich (1903-1983) was born in Moscow, and was a well-regarded photographer and photojournalist of the 1920s through 1940s. In 1929, Elizaveta joined the experimental October organisation with such artists as Alexander Rodchenko, Elizar Langman, Dmitry Debabov, and her husband Boris Ignatovich. After October disbanded, she joined the Ignatovich Brigade along with her husband; her sister-in-law, Olga; Elizar Langman; J. Brodsky and L. Bach.

Elizaveta participated in many photographic exhibitions in the 1930s both in the Soviet Union and abroad including the seminal 1937 exhibition, First all-Union Exhibition of Soviet Photographic Art. While a prolific photographer of her day, Elizaveta’s photographs are now distinguished for their rarity. Among her photographs are Family of Kolkhoz Farmer, Portrait of Pioneer Leader Galina Pogrebniak, The Worker Tatiana Surina, and At the Kokhoz’s 10 Year Anniversary. By 1940, having gained a reputation as a veteran of documentary art photography, Sovetskoe Foto (1940, no. 3, “Zhenshchiny-fotoreportery”) wrote on Elizaveta:

“She is captivated by the fast-paced developments and the colourfulness of our lives, and she knows how to present it in a new fashion with the eyes of an artist. Her work is opposed to posturing and artificiality; as well as to the flashiness in formalist scholasticism.

Overall, E. Ignatovich tends to analyse every component of the scene before taking the shot. For this reason, she is attracted to creating monumental work and to constructing the scene. And E. Ignatovich truly succeeds in creating these scenes. A rich characterisation of her subjects and an artistic integrity distinguish her work.”

.
The writer for Sovetskoe Foto underscores Ignatovich’s ability to breath life into her subjects by manifesting their histories and personalities on film. In Family of Kolzhoz Farmer, Ignatovich creates an elaborate scene framed compositionally by tasseled curtains. Occupied by their tasks, Ignatovich’s subjects reveal their dynamic as a tight-knit Soviet family, and suggest their own personalities and concerns.

Later in her career, Ignatovich worked creating commercial photographic albums and post cards for the art publishing house Izogiz and the art journal Iskusstvo. In 1956, she received a silver medal and diploma at the Fifth International Salon of Art Photography (see Power of Pictures, 2015, p. 223) in Paris.

In 2015, E. Ignatovich’s artwork was included in the acclaimed exhibition The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film at the Jewish Museum in New York.

Anonymous text. “Elizaveta Ignatovich,” on the Nailya Alexander Gallery website [Online] Cited 28/11/2021. No longer available online

 

Elizaveta Ignatovich (Russian, 1903-1983) 'Family of a Kolkhoz Farmer' 1930s

 

Elizaveta Ignatovich (Russian, 1903-1983)
Family of a Kolkhoz Farmer
1930s
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 40.64 x 27.94cm (16 x 11 in.)
Frame: 60.96 x 45.72cm (24 x 18 in.)
Frame (outer): 64.77 x 49.53cm (25 1/2 x 19 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Elizaveta Ignatovich
Courtesy of Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York

 

 

During the 1920s, the iconic New Woman was splashed across the pages of magazines and projected on the silver screen. As a global phenomenon, she embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Featuring more than 120 photographers from over 20 countries, the groundbreaking exhibition, The New Woman Behind the Camera, explores the diverse “new” women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and personal expression from the 1920s to the 1950s. The first exhibition to take an international approach to the subject, it examines how women brought their own perspectives to artistic experimentation, studio portraiture, fashion and advertising work, scenes of urban life, ethnography, and photojournalism, profoundly shaping the medium during a time of tremendous social and political change. Accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, this landmark exhibition will be on view from October 31, 2021 through January 30, 2022, in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington. It was previously on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from July 2 through October 3, 2021.

In an era when traditional definitions of womanhood were being questioned, women’s lives were a mix of emancipating and confining experiences that varied by country. Many women around the world found the camera to be a means of independence as they sought to redefine their positions in society and expand their rights. This exhibition presents a geographically, culturally, and artistically diverse range of practitioners to advance new conversations about the history of modern photography and the continual struggle of women to gain creative agency and self-representation.

“This innovative exhibition reevaluates the history of modern photography through the lens of the New Woman, a feminist ideal that emerged at the end of the 19th century and spread globally during the first half of the 20th century,” said Kaywin Feldman, director, National Gallery of Art. “The transnational realities of modernism visualised in photography by women such as Lola Álvarez Bravo, Berenice Abbott, Claude Cahun, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Niu Weiyu, Tsuneko Sasamoto, and Homai Vyarawalla offer us an opportunity to better understand the present by becoming more fully informed of the past.”

 

About the exhibition

This landmark exhibition critically examines the extraordinary impact women had on the practice of photography worldwide from the 1920s to the 1950s. It presents the work of over 120 international photographers who took part in a dramatic expansion of the medium propelled by artistic creativity, technological innovation, and the rise of the printed press. Photographers such as Berenice Abbott, Ilse Bing, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Madame d’Ora, Florence Henri, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Dora Maar, Niu Weiyu, Eslanda Goode Robeson, Tsuneko Sasamoto, Gerda Taro, and Homai Vyarawalla, among many others, emerged at a tumultuous moment in history that was profoundly shaped by two world wars, a global economic depression, struggles for decolonisation, and the rise of fascism and communism. Against the odds, these women were at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

Organised thematically in eight galleries, The New Woman Behind the Camera illustrates women’s groundbreaking work in modern photography, exploring their innovations in the fields of social documentary, avant-garde experimentation, commercial studio practice, photojournalism, ethnography, and the recording of sports, dance, and fashion. By evoking the global phenomenon of the New Woman, the exhibition seeks to reevaluate the history of photography and advance new and more inclusive conversations on the contributions of female photographers.

Known by different names, from nouvelle femme and neue Frau to modan gāru and xin nüxing, the New Woman was easy to recognise but hard to define. Fashionably dressed with her hair bobbed, the self-assured cosmopolitan New Woman was arguably more than a marketable image. She was a contested symbol of liberation from traditional gender roles. Revealing how women photographers from around the world gave rise to and embodied the quintessential New Woman even as they critiqued the popular construction of the role, the exhibition opens with a group of compelling portraits and self-portraits. In these works, women defined their positions as professionals and artists during a time when they were seeking greater personal rights and freedoms.

For many women, the camera became an effective tool for self-determination as well as a source of income. With better access to education and a newfound independence, female photographers emerged as a major force in studio photography. From running successful businesses in Berlin, Buenos Aires, London, and Vienna, to earning recognition as one of the first professional female photographers in their home country, women around the world, including Karimeh Abbud, Steffi Brandl, Trude Fleischmann, Annemarie Heinrich, Eiko Yamazawa, and Madame Yevonde, reinvigorated studio practice. A collaborative space where both sitters and photographers negotiated gender, race, and cultural difference, the portrait studio was also vitally important to African American communities which sought to represent and define themselves within a society that continued to be plagued by racism. Photography studios run by Black women, such as Florestine Perrault Collins and Winifred Hall Allen, thrived throughout the United States, and not only preserved likenesses and memories, but also constructed a counter narrative to the stereotyping images that circulated in the mass media.

With the invention of smaller lightweight cameras, a growing number of women photographers found that the camera’s portability created new avenues of discovery outside the studio. In stunning photographs of the city, photographers such as Alice Brill, Rebecca Lepkoff, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model, Genevieve Naylor, and Tazue Satō Matsunaga used their artistic vision to capture the exhilarating modern world around them. They depicted everyday life, spontaneous encounters on the street, and soaring architectural views in places like Bombay (now Mumbai), New York, Paris, São Paulo, and Tokyo, revealing the multiplicity of urban experience. Many incorporated the newest photographic techniques to convey the energy of the city, and the exhibition continues with a gallery focused on those radical formal approaches that came to define modern photography. Through techniques like photomontage, photograms, sharp contrasts of light and shadow, extreme cropping, and dizzying camera angles, women including Aenne Biermann, Imogen Cunningham, Dora Maar, Tina Modotti, Lucia Moholy, and Cami Stone pushed the boundaries of the medium.

Women also produced dynamic pictures of the modern body, including innovative nude studies as well as sport and dance photography. Around the world, participation in spectator and team sports increased along with membership in fitness and hygiene reform movements. New concepts concerning health and sexuality along with new attitudes in movement and dress emphasised the body as a central site of experiencing modernity. On view are luminous works by photographers Laure Albin Guillot, Yvonne Chevalier, Florence Henri, and Jeanne Mandello who reimagined the traditional genre of the nude. Photographs by Irene Bayer-Hecht and Liselotte Grschebina highlight joyous play and gymnastic exercise, while Charlotte Rudolph, Ilse Bing, Trude Fleischmann, and Lotte Jacobi made breathtaking images of dancers in motion, revealing the body as artistic medium.

During the modern period, a growing number of women pursued professional photographic careers and traveled widely for the first time. Many took photographs that documented their experiences abroad and interactions with other cultures as they engaged in formal and informal ethnographic projects. The exhibition continues with a selection of photographs and photobooks by women, mainly from Europe and the United States, that reveal a diversity of perspectives and approaches. Gender provided some of these photographers with unusual access and the drive to challenge discriminatory practices, while others were not exempt from portraying stereotypical views. Publications by Jette Bang, Hélène Hoppenot, Ella Maillart, Anna Riwkin, Eslanda Goode Robeson, and Ellen Thorbecke exemplify how photographically illustrated books and magazines were an influential form of communication about travel and ethnography during the modern period. Other works on display include those by Denise Bellon and Ré Soupault, who traveled to foreign countries on assignment for magazines and photo agencies seeking ethnographic and newsworthy photographs, and those by Marjorie Content and Laura Gilpin, who worked on their own in the southwestern United States.

The New Woman – both as a mass-circulating image and as a social phenomenon – was confirmed by the explosion of photographs found in popular fashion and lifestyle magazines. Fashion and advertising photography allowed many women to gain unprecedented access to the public sphere, establish relative economic independence, and attain autonomous professional success. Producing a rich visual language where events and ideas were expressed directly in pictures, illustrated fashion magazines such as Die DameHarper’s Bazaar, and Vogue became an important venue for photographic experimentation by women for a female readership. Photographers producing original views of women’s modernity include Lillian Bassman, Ilse Bing, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Toni Frissell, Toni von Horn, Frances McLaughlin-Gill, ringl + pit, Margaret Watkins, Caroline Whiting Fellows, and Yva.

The rise of the picture press also established photojournalism and social documentary as dominant forms of visual expression during the modern period. Ignited by the effects of a global economic crisis and growing political and social unrest, numerous women photographers including Lucy Ashjian, Margaret Bourke-White, Kati Horna, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Kata Kálmán, Dorothea Lange, and Hansel Mieth engaged a wide public with gripping images. So-called soft topics such as “women and children,” “the family,” and “the home front” were more often assigned to female photojournalists than to their male counterparts. The exhibition asks viewers to question the effect of having women behind the camera in these settings. Pictures produced during the war, from combat photography by Galina Sanko and Gerda Taro to images of the Blitz in London by Thérèse Bonney and the Tuskegee airmen by Toni Frissell, are also featured. At the war’s end, haunting images by Lee Miller of the opening of Nazi concentration camps and celebratory images of the victory parade of Allied Forces in New Delhi by Homai Vyarawalla made way for the transition to the complexities of the postwar era, including images of daily life in US-occupied Japan by Tsuneko Sasamoto and the newly formed People’s Republic of China by Hou Bo and Niu Weiyu.

The New Woman Behind the Camera acknowledges that women are a diverse group whose identities are defined not exclusively by gender but rather by a host of variable factors. It contends that gender is an important aspect in understanding their lives and work and provides a useful framework for analysis to reveal how photography by women has powerfully shaped our understanding of modern life.

 

Exhibition catalog

Published by the National Gallery of Art, Washington and distributed by DelMonico Books | D.A.P., this groundbreaking, richly illustrated 288-page catalog examines the diverse women whose work profoundly marked the medium of photography from the 1920s to the 1950s. The book – featuring over 120 international photographers, including Lola Álvarez Bravo, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Tsuneko Sasamoto, and Homai Vyarawalla – reevaluates the history of modern photography through the lens of the iconic New Woman. Inclusive scholarly essays introduce readers to these important photographers and question the past assumptions about gender in the history of photography. Contributors include Andrea Nelson, associate curator in the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art; Elizabeth Cronin, assistant curator of photography in the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs, New York Public Library; Mia Fineman, curator in the department of photographs, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Mila Ganeva, professor of German in the department of German, Russian, Asian, and Middle Eastern languages and cultures, Miami University, Ohio; Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Elizabeth Otto, professor of modern and  contemporary art history, University at Buffalo (The State University of New York); and Kim Sichel, associate professor in the department of the history of art and architecture at Boston University; biographies of the photographers by Kara Felt, Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art.

Press release from the National Gallery of Art

 

Ella Maillart (Swiss, 1903-1997) 'Turkistan Solo' 1935

 

Ella Maillart (Swiss, 1903-1997)
Turkistan Solo
1935
Bound volume
Open: 21.59 x 22.86cm (8 1/2 x 9 in.)
Cradle: 12.07 x 27.31 x 22.54cm (4 3/4 x 10 3/4 x 8 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art Library, Gift of the Department of Photographs

 

 

Ella Maillart (or Ella K. Maillart; 20 February 1903, Geneva – 27 March 1997, Chandolin) was a Swiss adventurer, travel writer and photographer, as well as a sportswoman.

 

Career

From the 1930s onwards she spent years exploring Muslim republics of the USSR, as well as other parts of Asia, and published a rich series of books which, just as her photographs, are today considered valuable historical testimonies. Her early books were written in French but later she began to write in English. Turkestan Solo describes a journey in 1932 in Soviet Turkestan. Photos from this journey are now displayed in the Ella Maillart wing of the Karakol Historical Museum. In 1934, the French daily Le Petit Parisien sent her to Manchuria to report on the situation under the Japanese occupation. It was there that she met Peter Fleming, a well-known writer and correspondent of The Times, with whom she would team up to cross China from Peking to Srinagar (3,500 miles), much of the route being through hostile desert regions and steep Himalayan passes. The journey started in February 1935 and took seven months to complete, involving travel by train, on lorries, on foot, horse and camelback. Their objective was to ascertain what was happening in Xinjiang (then also known as Sinkiang or Chinese Turkestan) where the Kumul Rebellion had just ended. Maillart and Fleming met the Hui Muslim forces of General Ma Hushan. Ella Maillart later recorded this trek in her book Forbidden Journey, while Peter Fleming’s parallel account is found in his News from Tartary. In 1937 Maillart returned to Asia for Le Petit Parisien to report on Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, while in 1939 she undertook a trip from Geneva to Kabul by car, in the company of the Swiss writer, Annemarie Schwarzenbach. The Cruel Way is the title of Maillart’s book about this experience, cut short by the outbreak of the second World War.

She spent the war years at Tiruvannamalai in the South of India, learning from different teachers about Advaita Vedanta, one of the schools of Hindu philosophy. On her return to Switzerland in 1945, she lived in Geneva and at Chandolin, a mountain village in the Swiss Alps. She continued to ski until late in life and last returned to Tibet in 1986.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Ellen Thorbecke (Dutch, 1902-1973) 'People in China: Thirty-Two Photographic Studies from Life' 1935

 

Ellen Thorbecke (Dutch, 1902-1973)
People in China: Thirty-Two Photographic Studies from Life
1935
Bound volume
Closed:
30.48 x 22.86cm (12 x 9 in.)
Open: 29.85 x 43.18cm (11 3/4 x 17 in.)
Cradle: 13.97 x 40.64 x 30.48cm (5 1/2 x 16 x 12 in.)
National Gallery of Art Library, David K.E. Bruce Fund

 

 

(Ellen Thorbecke, born Ellen Kolban, 1902-1973) is a woman who holds a unique position in Dutch photography. Her small yet extraordinary photo archive, one of the Nederlands Fotomuseum Collection’s true gems, shows rare images of everyday life in China during that era. She photographed with an open mind and as a result Ellen Thorbecke’s images are still relevant and immensely popular in China today.

 

Compelling photographer

In 1931, Ellen Thorbecke left Berlin for China to be reunited with her beloved husband Willem Thorbecke, who had been appointed as an envoy in China on behalf of the Netherlands. Before she left for China, she bought her first camera, as she was planning to work in China as a correspondent for the Berlin newspapers. To illustrate her articles, she captured a series of portraits and street scenes in the Chinese countryside and in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. This was during the era when the idea of ‘East Meets West’ was gaining ground and a number of Western writers, filmmakers and artists were shining the spotlight on China.

Being a journalist from origin, Thorbecke gradually developed into a compelling photographer who infused her photographs with fully-engaged observation of the people and places she visited. The exhibition Ellen Thorbecke’s China presents photographs that capture the changing identity of the young Chinese Republic between centuries-old traditions and Western modernisation. Her images range from those that refer to traditional Chinese role patterns – such as arranged marriages at a young age – to modern portraits showing the desire for freedom and independence.

Anonymous text. “Ellen Thorbecke’s China,” on the Nederlands Fotomuseum website [Online] Cited 29/11/2021

 

Photographer and journalist Ellen Thorbecke (born Ellen Kolban, 1902-1973) occupies a unique and forgotten position in the photography world. In 1931 she left Berlin for Beijing. For this trip she bought her first camera. Thorbecke developed into a compelling photographer who provided her photos with engaged observations about the people and places she visited. She made reports in a lively candid style with an eye for the vitality of street life and has produced several photo books including Peking Studies (1934) and People in China (1935).

Her visual stories and travel guides make her oeuvre a unique time document. Her compact but special photo archive is held at the Dutch Fotomuseum in Rotterdam and consists of 638 black and white negatives, 166 of which were made in China. The photographs Thorbecke made are still relevant today because of her human, direct and unbiased way of looking.

Anonymous text. “Ellen Thorbecke,” on the Photography of China website [Online] Cited 29/11/2021

 

Eslanda Goode Robeson (American, 1896-1965) 'African Journey' 1945

 

Eslanda Goode Robeson (American, 1896-1965)
African Journey
1945
Bound volume
Open:
21.59 x 31.75cm (8 1/2 x 12 1/2 in.)
Mount: 3.49 x 31.27 x 21.75cm (1 3/8 x 12 5/16 x 8 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art Library, Gift of the Department of Photographs

 

 

Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson (American, 1896-1965), “Essie,” as she was called, was a photographer, actress, world traveler, author and activist

Born Eslanda Cardoza Goode in Washington, D.C., in 1896, “Essie,” as she was known by her intimates, was the wife of the dynamic performer and activist Paul Robeson. Although not as well known as her famous husband, Eslanda Robeson by no means hid in his shadow. Through her writings and actions, she advocated racial equality and withstood considerable political and social pressure in the course of her long activist career. …

The mid-1940s brought significant accolades to the Robesons as Eslanda’s book African Journey appeared in 1945 and Paul received the Spingarn Medal that same year. While a scholarly work, African Journey was not so much analytical as it was descriptive of the living habits and cultural customs of different tribes, complete with photographs taken by Eslanda. Both provocative and enlightening, it was a landmark work in the sense that it was the first by an American to show the need for reform among the colonial powers. This theme of colonialism became a focal point of Eslanda’s later writings; she strongly believed that the end of World War II hearkened a new era of freedom from European colonisers for emerging nations in Asia and Africa.

Anonymous text. “Robeson, Eslanda Goode (1896-1965),” on the Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia website [Online] Cited 28/11/2021

 

Esther Bubley (American, 1921-1998) 'Young woman in the doorway of her room at a boardinghouse, Washington, DC' 1943

 

Esther Bubley (American, 1921-1998)
Young woman in the doorway of her room at a boardinghouse, Washington, DC
1943
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 26.42 x 25.4cm (10 3/8 x 10 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 43.18cm (21 x 17 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Kent and Marcia Minichiello

 

 

Esther Bubley (February 16, 1921 – March 16, 1998) was an American photographer who specialised in expressive photos of ordinary people in everyday lives. She worked for several agencies of the American government and her work also featured in several news and photographic magazines.

A protégée of Roy Stryker at the U.S. Office of War Information and subsequently at Standard Oil Company (New Jersey), Esther Bubley (1921-1998) was a preeminent freelance photographer during the “golden age” of American photojournalism, from 1945 to 1965. At a time when most post-war American women were anchored by home and family, Bubley was a thriving professional, traveling throughout the world, photographing stories for magazines such as LIFE and the Ladies’ Home Journal and for prestigious corporate clients that included Pepsi-Cola and Pan American World Airways.

“Put me down with people, and it’s just overwhelming,” Bubley exclaimed in an interview. Like most great photojournalists, she found her art in everyday life, and she successfully balanced her artistic ambitions with the demands of commercial publishing. Edward Steichen, curator of photographs at the Museum of Modern Art and the era’s arbiter of taste, was a great supporter of Bubley, whose work embodied his aesthetic ideal that photography “explain man to man and each to himself.” …

Bubley’s photographs are of cultural as well as artistic interest. Her photo-essays explore the era’s American stereotypes – the troubled child, the high school drop-out, the harried housewife, the enterprising farm family – that were elaborated in the pages of the magazines for which she worked. Her corporate assignments document the introduction of American companies into traditional cultures abroad. Bubley developed a specialty in stories about health care and mental health, documenting the era’s faith in new technologies and the growing prestige of psychology and psychiatry. She also covered her share of celebrities and popular culture topics, including children’s television and beauty contests. A cross-section of Bubley’s work provides a revealing glimpse into the post-war decades, seen not only through Bubley’s lens but through the pages of the illustrated magazines that dominated the mass media of the time.

Bonnie Yochelson. “Biography of Esther Bubley,” on the Esther Bubley website [Online] Cited 28/11/2021

 

Florence Henri (European, 1893-1982) 'Portrait Composition (Femme aux cartes)' (Portrait Composition (Woman with Cards)) 1930

 

Florence Henri (European, 1893-1982)
Portrait Composition (Femme aux cartes) (Portrait Composition (Woman with Cards))
1930
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28 x 22.4cm (11 x 8 13/16 in.)
Mount: 38.1 x 33cm (15 x 13 in.)
Frame (outer): 52.7 x 47.6cm (20 3/4 x 18 3/4 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
Florence Henri © Galleria Martini & Ronchetti, courtesy Archives Florence Henri
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art Resource, NY

 

 

Florence Henri (28 June 1893 – 24 July 1982) was a surrealist artist; primarily focusing her practice on photography and painting, in addition to pianist composition. In her childhood, she traveled throughout Europe, spending portions of her youth in Paris, Vienna, and the Isle of Wight. She studied in Rome, where she would encounter the Futurists, finding inspiration in their movement. From 1910 to 1922, she studied piano in Berlin, under the instruction of Egon Petri and Ferrucio Busoni. She would find herself landlocked to Berlin during the first World War, supporting herself by composing piano tracks for silent films. She returned to Paris in 1922, to attend the Académie André Lhote, and would attend until the end of 1923. From 1924 to 1925, she would study under painters Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant at the Académie Moderne. Henri’s most important artistic training would come from the Bauhaus in Dessau, in 1927, where she studied with masters Josef Albers and László Moholy-Nagy, who would introduce her to the medium of photography. She returned to Paris in 1929 where she started seriously experimenting and working with photography up until 1963. Finally, she would move to Compiègne, where she concentrated her energies on painting until the end of her life in 1982. Her work includes experimental photography, advertising, and portraits, many of which featured other artists of the time.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Florestine Perrault Collins (American, 1895-1988) 'Mae Fuller Keller' Early 1920s

 

Florestine Perrault Collins (American, 1895-1988)
Mae Fuller Keller
Early 1920s
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 35.56 x 27.94cm (14 x 11 in.)
Frame: 35.56 x 27.94cm (14 x 11 in.)
Frame (outer): 39.37 x 31.75cm (15 1/2 x 12 1/2 in.)
Dr Arthé A. Anthony

 

 

Florestine Perrault Collins (1895-1988) was an American professional photographer from New Orleans. Collins is noted for having created photographs of African-American clients that “reflected pride, sophistication, and dignity,” instead of racial stereotypes.

In 1909, Collins began practicing photography at age 14. Her subjects ranged from weddings, First Communions, and graduations to personal photographs of soldiers who had returned home. At the beginning of her career, Collins had to pass as a white woman to be able to assist photographers.

Collins eventually opened her own studio, catering to African-American families. She gained a loyal following and had success, due to both her photography and marketing skills. Out of 101 African-American women who identified themselves as photographers in the 1920 U.S. Census, Collins was the only one listed in New Orleans.

She advertised in newspapers, playing up the sentimentality of a well-done photograph. Collins also included her photograph in the ads to appeal to customers who thought a female photographer might take better pictures of babies and children.

According to the Encyclopedia of Louisiana, Collins’ career “mirrored a complicated interplay of gender, racial and class expectations”.

“The history of black liberation in the United States could be characterised as a struggle over images as much as it has also been a struggle over rights,” according to Bell Hooks. Collins’ photographs are representative of that. By taking pictures of black women and children in domestic settings, she challenged the pervasive stereotypes of the time about black women.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Photographer unknown. 'Florestine Perrault Collins' 1920s

 

Photographer unknown
Florestine Perrault Collins
1920s
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 35.56 x 27.94cm (14 x 11 in.)
Frame: 35.56 x 27.94cm (14 x 11 in.)
Frame (outer): 39.37 x 31.75cm (15 1/2 x 12 1/2 in.)
Dr Arthé A. Anthony

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985) 'Eielturm' (Eifel Tower) 1928

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985)
Eielturm (Eifel Tower)
1928
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 15.2cm (8 7/8 x 6 in.)
Frame: 50 x 40cm (19 11/16 x 15 3/4 in.)
Frame (outer): 52 x 42 x 2.8cm (20 1/2 x 16 9/16 x 1 1/8 in.)
Museum Folkwang, Essen © Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen
Photo © Museum Folkwang Essen – ARTOTHEK

 

Gertrude Fehr (German, 1895-1996) 'Odile' 1936

 

Gertrude Fehr (German, 1895-1996)
Odile
1936
Gelatin silver print
Image: 32.39 x 29.21cm (12 3/4 x 11 1/2 in.)
Frame: 60.96 x 50.8cm (24 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 25.75 x 21.75cm (10 1/8 x 8 9/16 in.)
Trish and Jan de Bont

 

 

Gertrude Fehr was a German photographer. She was born in Mainz on Tuesday 5 March 1895 and died in 1996 at the age of 101. She was one of the earliest professional female photographers.

Fehr studied photography at the Bavarian School of photography in Munich and undertook an apprenticeship in the Munich studio of Eduard Wasow. Shortly after finishing the apprenticeship, she set up a photographic studio dedicated fundamentally to the theatre and to the portrait technique which employed six people. In 1933, the rise of Hitler and the establishment of the Third Reich forced Fehr to close the studio and to emigrate to Paris with her future Swiss husband, the painter Jules Fehr. Installed in the French capital there she opened her own school of photography: PUBLI-phot.

In Paris she found the artistic atmosphere of the avant-garde of the time and, influenced by the movements modernism, began photographic experiments. Patent in those moments was the tremendous influence of the most transgressive photographer-painter of the moment, Man Ray, which she considered “fascinating”. Like him, she started experimenting with the solarisation process. The solarisation of Fehr (unlike Man Ray) are works that have a aesthetic which resembles an academic charcoal drawing. If it were not for the difference in procedures, Fehr’s “Odile” (1940) seems rather an image enhanced by traditional procedures rather than by the photographic avant-garde.

At the end of the 1930s she and her husband moved to Switzerland, where they opened a photography school in Lausanne.

 

Adele Gloria (Italian, 1910-1984) 'Senza titolo' (Untitled) c. 1933

 

Adele Gloria (Italian, 1910-1984)
Senza titolo (Untitled)
c. 1933
Collage with gelatin silver prints
Overall: 18.2 x 21.27cm (7 3/16 x 8 3/8 in.)
Mat: 39.37 x 49.85cm (15 1/2 x 19 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Collection Merrill C. Berman

 

 

Adele Gloria was the only futurist woman in Sicily, she distinguished herself in the field of aeropainting and avant-garde, in the early 30s in Catania. She was a poet, photographer, painter, sculptor and journalist, a “total” artist according to the canons of the Futurist movement.

 

Adele Gloria (Italian, 1910-1984) 'Senza titolo' (Untitled) c. 1933 (detail)

 

Adele Gloria (Italian, 1910-1984)
Senza titolo (Untitled) (detail)
c. 1933
Collage with gelatin silver prints
Overall: 18.2 x 21.27cm (7 3/16 x 8 3/8 in.)
Mat: 39.37 x 49.85cm (15 1/2 x 19 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Collection Merrill C. Berman

 

Adele Gloria (Italian, 1910-1984) 'Senza titolo' (Untitled) c. 1933 (detail)

 

Adele Gloria (Italian, 1910-1984)
Senza titolo (Untitled) (detail)
c. 1933
Collage with gelatin silver prints
Overall: 18.2 x 21.27cm (7 3/16 x 8 3/8 in.)
Mat: 39.37 x 49.85cm (15 1/2 x 19 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Collection Merrill C. Berman

 

Hélène Hoppenot (French, 1894-1990) 'Chine' 1946

 

Hélène Hoppenot (French, 1894-1990)
Chine
1946
Bound volume
Open: 35.56 x 33.02cm (14 x 13 in.)
Cradle:11.43 x 49.85 x 36.2cm (4 1/2 x 19 5/8 x 14 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art Library, Gift of the Department of Photographs

 

 

Hélène Hoppenot (1894-1990) was a French amateur photographer who made thousands of snapshots using the Rolleiflex from 1933 to the 1970s.

Hoppenot made a trip to China where she photographed the everyday life and habits of Chinese people in the country and in the city. This book is her testimony of this travel. It is accompanied with a text from writer Paul Claudel who was deeply interested in Chinese culture and traveled to China as well.

 

Homai Vyarawalla (Indian, 1913-2012) 'The Ashes of Mahatma Gandhi Being Carried in a Procession, Allahabad' February 1948

 

Homai Vyarawalla (Indian, 1913-2012)
The Ashes of Mahatma Gandhi Being Carried in a Procession, Allahabad
February 1948
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 38.1 x 38.1cm (15 x 15 in.)
Frame: 53.34 x 53.34cm (21 x 21 in.)
Frame (outer): 55.88 x 55.88cm (22 x 22 in.)
Homai Vyarawalla Archive / The Alkazi Collection of Photography

 

 

Homai Vyarawalla (9 December 1913 – 15 January 2012), commonly known by her pseudonym Dalda 13, was India’s first woman photojournalist. She began work in the late 1930s and retired in the early 1970s. In 2011, she was awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award of the Republic of India. She was amongst the first women in India to join a mainstream publication when she joined The Illustrated Weekly of India.

 

Career

Vyarawalla started her career in the 1930s. At the onset of World War II, she started working on assignments for Mumbai-based The Illustrated Weekly of India magazine which published many of her most admired black-and-white images. In the early years of her career, since Vyarawalla was unknown and a woman, her photographs were published under her husband’s name. Vyarawalla stated that because women were not taken seriously as journalists she was able to take high-quality, revealing photographs of her subjects without interference:

People were rather orthodox. They didn’t want the women folk to be moving around all over the place and when they saw me in a sari with the camera, hanging around, they thought it was a very strange sight. And in the beginning they thought I was just fooling around with the camera, just showing off or something and they didn’t take me seriously. But that was to my advantage because I could go to the sensitive areas also to take pictures and nobody will stop me. So I was able to take the best of pictures and get them published. It was only when the pictures got published that people realized how seriously I was working for the place.

~  Homai Vyarawalla in Dalda 13: A Portrait of Homai Vyarawalla (1995)

.
Eventually her photography received notice at the national level, particularly after moving to Delhi in 1942 to join the British Information Services. As a press photographer, she recorded many political and national leaders in the period leading up to independence, including Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Indira Gandhi and the Nehru-Gandhi family.

The Dalai Lama in ceremonial dress enters India through Nathu La in Sikkim on 24 November 1956, photographed by Homai Vyarawalla. In 1956, she photographed for Life Magazine the 14th Dalai Lama when he entered Sikkim in India for the first time via the Nathu La. Most of her photographs were published under the pseudonym “Dalda 13”. The reasons behind her choice of this name were that her birth year was 1913, she met her husband at the age of 13 and her first car’s number plate read “DLD 13”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Photographer unknown. 'Homai Vyarawalla photographing Ganesh Chaturthi at Chowpatty Beach, Bombay' Late 1930s, printed later

 

Photographer unknown
Homai Vyarawalla photographing Ganesh Chaturthi at Chowpatty Beach, Bombay
Late 1930s, printed later
Inkjet print
Image: 30.48 x 20.8cm (12 x 8 3/16 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 35.56cm (18 x 14 in.)
Frame (outer): 48.26 x 38.1cm (19 x 15 in.)
Homai Vyarawalla Archive / The Alkazi Collection of Photography

 

Homai Vyarawalla (Indian, 1913-2012) 'The Victory Parade by the Allied Forces in India Marking the End of the Second World War, Connaught Place, New Delhi' 1945

 

Homai Vyarawalla (Indian, 1913-2012)
The Victory Parade by the Allied Forces in India Marking the End of the Second World War, Connaught Place, New Delhi
1945
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 31 x 30.8cm (12 3/16 x 12 1/8 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 45.72cm (18 x 18 in.)
Frame (outer): 48.26 x 48.26cm (19 x 19 in.)
Homai Vyarawalla Archive / The Alkazi Collection of Photography

 

Homai Vyarawalla (Indian, 1913-2012) 'Students at the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art, Bombay' Late 1930s, printed later

 

Homai Vyarawalla (Indian, 1913-2012)
Students at the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art, Bombay
Late 1930s, printed later
Inkjet print
Image/sheet: 40.7 x 40.7cm (16 x 16 in.)
Frame: 55.88 x 55.88cm (22 x 22 in.)
Frame (outer): 58.42 x 58.42cm (23 x 23 in.)
Homai Vyarawalla Archive / The Alkazi Collection of Photography

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Magnolia Blossom' c. 1925

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Magnolia Blossom
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print
17.1 x 21.6cm (6 3/4 x 8 1/2 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Albert M. Bender
© 2020 Imogen Cunningham Trust