Posts Tagged ‘American photography

11
Jul
19

Photograph: ‘PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944’ by Horace Bristol (1908-1997)

July 2019

 

Horace Bristol (1908-1997) 'PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944'

 

Horace Bristol (American, 1908-1997)
PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944
1944
Gelatin silver print

 

 

On the fly

This is a stunning picture taken of a brave, courageous, and beautiful man. It is also quite an erotic photograph of a naked man. Can a picture of this man be both heroic and erotic? Of course it can.

A comment on the Rare Historical Photos website from which the quote below is taken observes:

“There’s nothing inherently erotic about simple nudity, as any naturist can tell you. If people refrained from sexualizing images of clothes-free living / working / recreating, then perhaps we could have more of it, with the benefit of improving both physical and mental health.”

The comment is prudish to say the least. Modern French conceptions of eroticism state that it is an act of transgression that affirms our humanity, a transgression of the taboo, in this case the desire of pleasurable looking (scopophilia). The French philosopher Georges Bataille argues that eroticism performs a function of dissolving boundaries between human subjectivity and humanity, a transgression that dissolves the rational world… for Bataille, as well as many French theorists, “Eroticism, unlike simple sexual activity, is a psychological quest… eroticism is assenting to life even in death”. (George Bataille, Eroticism, Penguin 2001, p. 11.)

Even in the face of death (the man’s heroic actions in rescuing the downed pilot, and the death freeze, the memento mori, of the photograph) we, the observer, can affirm his life through eroticism, this forbidden impulse. As Christopher Lasch comments,

“Twentieth-century peoples have erected so many psychological barriers against strong emotion, and have invested those defenses with so much energy derived from forbidden impulse, that they can no longer remember what it feels like to be inundated with desire. They tend, rather, to be consumed with rage, which derives from defenses against desire and gives rise in turn to new defenses against rage itself. Outwardly bland, submissive, and sociable, they seethe with an inner anger for which a dense, overpopulated, bureaucratic society can devise few outlets.”1

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While we acknowledge the strength and commitment of this brave young man and admire his “majestic nakedness” … on another level, we can invest in those oft denied strong emotions of pleasure and desire. Pleasure in looking at his body and desire for his youth and masculinity which overturns the forbidden impulse and transgresses the supposed taboo that a hero cannot be desired. Brave, heroic, human and downright hot, hot, hot!

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

PS. Please note the chart ‘This is the enemy’ by the mans buttocks, so that he can keep an eye out for Japanese ships while patrolling. His position in the aircraft is noted in the close up photograph below.

 

  1. Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1978, p. 11.

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

 

 

This young crewman of a US Navy “Dumbo” PBY rescue mission has just jumped into the water of Rabaul Harbor to rescue a badly burned Marine pilot who was shot down while bombing the Japanese-held fortress of Rabaul. Since Japanese coastal defense guns were firing at the plane while it was in the water during take-off, this brave young man, after rescuing the pilot, manned his position as machine gunner without taking time to put on his clothes. A hero photographed right after he’d completed his heroic act. Naked.

Photo taken by Horace Bristol (1908-1997). In 1941, Bristol was recruited to the U.S. Naval Aviation Photographic Unit, as one of six photographers under the command of Captain Edward J. Steichen, documenting World War II in places such as South Africa, and Japan. He ended up being on the plane the gunner was serving on, which was used to rescue people from Rabaul Bay (New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea), when this occurred. In an article from a December 2002 issue of B&W magazine he remembers:

“…we got a call to pick up an airman who was down in the Bay. The Japanese were shooting at him from the island, and when they saw us they started shooting at us. The man who was shot down was temporarily blinded, so one of our crew stripped off his clothes and jumped in to bring him aboard. He couldn’t have swum very well wearing his boots and clothes. As soon as we could, we took off. We weren’t waiting around for anybody to put on formal clothes. We were being shot at and wanted to get the hell out of there. The naked man got back into his position at his gun in the blister of the plane.”

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Anonymous. “The naked gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944,” on the Rare Historical Photos website [Online] Cited 02/07/2019

 

“To understand the current mainstream eroticising of the male body as a purely homoerotic gesture, though, is to misrecognise the nature of the desire which flows between the media and its audience. The desire courted by men’s magazines, whether they are pitched at a nominally hetero or homosexual market, is the desire to consume. For consumer’s it’s a seduction which is increasingly mediated by the consumption of images. What is presaged by the new sexualising of men is not merely the extension and refinement of an existing market, but a new order of commodification. Originally carriers of the commodity virus, images have become desirable in themselves. Or to put it another way, our desires are increasingly modelled on the logic of images.”

Lumby, Catharine. “Nothing Personal: Sex, Gender and Identity in The Media Age,” in Matthews, Jill (ed.,). Sex in Public: Australian Sexual Cultures. St. Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1997, p. 9.

 

“The second school of thought is characterized by newer approaches, which forcibly challenge these essentialist notions of sexuality. This second school of thought includes neo-psychoanalytic approaches which see sexuality and sexual desire as constituted in language (the work of Freud reinterpreted via Jacques Lacan; a position that has been taken up by feminists such as Juliet Mitchell). It also includes discursive or poststructuralist approaches which take as a starting point the work of Michel Foucault who argues that sexuality is an historical apparatus and sex is a complex idea that was formed with the deployment of sexuality.

What links this second group of theorists is the recognition of social and historical sources of sexual definitions and a belief that bodies are only unified through ideological constructs such as sex and sexuality. That is; sex and sexuality are, and have been, shaped and determined by a multiplicity of forces (such as race, class and religion) and have undergone complex historical transformations. We therefore give the notions of sex, gender and sexuality different meanings at different times and for different people. These notions combine to create understandings of ‘sexualized bodies’ which are subsequently expressed and reinforced through a variety of mechanisms; for example through marriage laws, the regulations of deviance, the judiciary, the police, as well as, more generally, the education system, and the welfare system (Weeks, 1989, p. 9). This view of sexuality as ‘constructed’ is in agreement with the view of sex as ‘given’ on the basis that sex and sexuality define us socially and morally. However, this second view suggests that sexuality could be a potentiality for choice, change and diversity, but instead we see it as destiny – and depending on whether you are male, female, homosexual, heterosexual, young, old, black or white, for example, your destiny is set in certain ways.”

Stephen, Kylie. “Sexualized Bodies,” in Evans, M. and Lee, E. (eds.,). Real Bodies. Palgrave, London, 2002, p. 30 [Online] Cited 05/07/2019

 

Eroticism

Eroticism (from the Greek ἔρως, eros – “desire”) is a quality that causes sexual feelings, as well as a philosophical contemplation concerning the aesthetics of sexual desire, sensuality, and romantic love. That quality may be found in any form of artwork, including painting, sculpture, photography, drama, film, music, or literature. It may also be found in advertising. The term may also refer to a state of sexual arousal or anticipation of such – an insistent sexual impulse, desire, or pattern of thoughts.

As French novelist Honoré de Balzac stated, eroticism is dependent not just upon an individual’s sexual morality, but also the culture and time in which an individual resides. …

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French philosophy

Modern French conceptions of eroticism can be traced to Age of Enlightenment, when “in the eighteenth century, dictionaries defined the erotic as that which concerned love… eroticism was the intrusion into the public sphere of something that was at base private”. This theme of intrusion or transgression was taken up in the twentieth century by the French philosopher Georges Bataille, who argued that eroticism performs a function of dissolving boundaries between human subjectivity and humanity, a transgression that dissolves the rational world but is always temporary, as well as that, “Desire in eroticism is the desire that triumphs over the taboo. It presupposes man in conflict with himself”. For Bataille, as well as many French theorists, “Eroticism, unlike simple sexual activity, is a psychological quest… eroticism is assenting to life even in death”. (George Bataille, Eroticism, Penguin 2001, p. 11.)

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Non-heterosexual

Queer theory and LGBT studies consider the concept from a non-heterosexual perspective, viewing psychoanalytical and modernist views of eroticism as both archaic and heterosexist, written primarily by and for a “handful of elite, heterosexual, bourgeois men” who “mistook their own repressed sexual proclivities” as the norm.

Theorists like Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Gayle S. Rubinand Marilyn Frye all write extensively about eroticism from a heterosexual, lesbian and separatist point of view, respectively, seeing eroticism as both a political force and cultural critique for marginalised groups, or as Mario Vargas Llosa summarised: “Eroticism has its own moral justification because it says that pleasure is enough for me; it is a statement of the individual’s sovereignty”. (Mangan, J. A. “Men, Masculinity, and Sexuality: Some Recent Literature,” in Journal of the History of Sexuality 3:2, 1992, pp. 303-13.)

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Horace Bristol (1908-1997) 'PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944' (detail)

 

Horace Bristol (American, 1908-1997)
PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944 (detail)
1944
Gelatin silver print

 

Battleships

Nagato
?
Fuso

 

 

Horace Bristol

Horace Bristol (November 16, 1908 – August 4, 1997) was a twentieth-century American photographer, best known for his work in Life. His photos appeared in Time, Fortune, Sunset, and National Geographic magazines.

Early life

Bristol was born and raised in Whittier, California, he was the son of Edith Bristol, women’s editor at the San Francisco Call. Bristol attended the Art Center of Los Angeles, originally majoring in architecture. In 1933, he moved to San Francisco to work in commercial photography, and met Ansel Adams, who lived near his studio. Through his friendship with Adams, he met Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, and other artists. He was copy reader at night for the Los Angeles Times after graduating from Belmont High School.

Photography career

In 1936, Bristol became a part of Life‘s founding photographers, and in 1938, began to document migrant farmers in California’s central valley with John Steinbeck, recording the Great Depression, photographs that would later be called the Grapes of Wrath collection.

In 1941, Bristol was recruited to the U.S. Naval Aviation Photographic Unit, as one of six photographers under the command of Captain Edward J. Steichen, documenting World War II in places such as South Africa, and Japan. Bristol helped to document the invasions of North Africa, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

Later life

Following his documentation of World War II, Bristol settled in Tokyo, Japan, selling his photographs to magazines in Europe and the United States, and becoming the Asian correspondent to Fortune. He published several books, and established the East-West Photo Agency.

Following the death of his wife in 1956, Bristol burned all his negatives, packed his photographs into storage, and retired from photography. He went on to remarry, and have two children. He returned to the United States, and after 30 years, recovered the photographs from storage, to share with his family. Subsequently he approached his alma mater, Art Center College of Design, where the World War II and migrant worker photographs became the subject of a 1989 solo exhibition. The migrant worker photos would go on to be part of the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Grapes of Wrath series.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Silhouette recognition chart of Japanese surface vessels of World War 2 September 1944

 

Silhouette recognition chart of Japanese surface vessels of World War 2 September 1944

 

 

Great Planes – Catalina Pby

A great documentary about this plane.

 

U.S. Navy. 'A U.S. Navy Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina patrol bomber in flight, 1942-43' c. 1942

 

U.S. Navy
A U.S. Navy Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina patrol bomber in flight, 1942-43
c. 1942
U.S. National Archives 80-G-K-14896

This plane carries radar antennas under its wing

 

U.S. Navy. 'A U.S. Navy Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina patrol bomber in flight, 1942-43' (detail) c. 1942

 

U.S. Navy
A U.S. Navy Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina patrol bomber in flight, 1942-43 (detail)
c. 1942
U.S. National Archives 80-G-K-14896

 

 

Consolidated PBY Catalina

Around 3,300 aircraft were built, and these operated in nearly all operational theatres of World War II. The Catalina served with distinction and played a prominent and invaluable role against the Japanese. This was especially true during the first year of the war in the Pacific, because the PBY and the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress were the only American aircraft with the range to be effective in the Pacific.

First flight: 28 March 1935
Introduction: October 1936, United States Navy
Retired: January 1957 (United States Navy Reserve)
1979 (Brazilian Air Force)
Primary users: United States Navy
United States Army Air Forces
Royal Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force
Produced: 1936-1945
Number built: 3,305 (2,661 U.S.-built, 620 Canadian-built, 24 Soviet-built

General characteristics

Crew: 10 – pilot, co-pilot, bow turret gunner, flight engineer, radio operator, navigator, radar operator, two waist gunners, ventral gunner
Length: 63 ft 10 7/16 in (19.46 m)
Wingspan: 104 ft 0 in (31.70 m)
Height: 21 ft 1 in (6.15 m)
Wing area: 1,400 ft² (130 m²)
Empty weight: 20,910 lb (9,485 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 35,420 lb (16,066 kg)
Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0309
Drag area: 43.26 ft² (4.02 m²)
Aspect ratio: 7.73
Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp radial engines, 1,200 hp (895 kW) each

Performance

Maximum speed: 196 mph (314 km/h)
Cruise speed: 125 mph (201 km/h)
Range: 2,520 mi (4,030 km)
Service ceiling: 15,800 ft (4,815 m)
Rate of climb: 1,000 ft/min (5.1 m/s)
Wing loading: 25.3 lb/ft² (123.6 kg/m²)
Power/mass: 0.067 hp/lb (0.111 kW/kg)
Lift-to-drag ratio: 11.9

Armament

3x .30 cal (7.62 mm) machine guns (two in nose turret, one in ventral hatch at tail)
2x .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns (one in each waist blister)
4,000 lb (1,814 kg) of bombs or depth charges; torpedo racks were also available

October 1941 – January 1945

Hydraulically actuated, retractable tricycle landing gear, with main gear design based on one from the 1920s designed by Leroy Grumman, for amphibious operation. Introduced tail gun position, replaced bow single gun position with bow “eyeball” turret equipped with twin .30 machine guns (some later units), improved armour, self-sealing fuel tanks.

Search and rescue

Catalinas were employed by every branch of the U.S. military as rescue aircraft. A PBY piloted by LCDR Adrian Marks (USN) rescued 56 sailors in high seas from the heavy cruiser Indianapolis after the ship was sunk during World War II. When there was no more room inside, the crew tied sailors to the wings. The aircraft could not fly in this state; instead it acted as a lifeboat, protecting the sailors from exposure and the risk of shark attack, until rescue ships arrived. Catalinas continued to function in the search-and-rescue role for decades after the end of the war.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Howard R. Hollem (American, -1949) for the United States Office of War Information. 'Jesse Rhodes Waller, a World War II Aviation Ordnanceman stationed at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, installing a M1919 Browning machine gun in a United States Navy PBY plane' August 1942

 

Howard R. Hollem (American, -1949) for the United States Office of War Information
Jesse Rhodes Waller, a World War II Aviation Ordnanceman stationed at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, installing a M1919 Browning machine gun in a United States Navy PBY plane
August 1942
Kodachrome film
United States Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division digital ID fsac.1a34894
The image is in the public domain

 

 

It’s an intricate operation – installing a 30-calibre machine gun in a Navy PBY plane, but not too tricky for Jesse Rhodes Waller, Corpus Christi, Texas. He’s a Georgia man who’s been in the Navy 5-1/2 years. At the Naval Air Base he sees that the flying ships are kept in tip-top shape. Waller is an aviation ordnance mate (AOM)

Howard R. Hollem was a photographer with the US Farm Security Administration and the US Office of War Information during the 1930s and 1940s.

Jesse Rhodes Waller was enlisted in the US Navy 13 Oct 1936 in Macon, Georgia. He served aboard USS Tarbell (DD-142) and USS Curtiss (AV-4).

 

Howard R. Hollem (American, -1949) for the United States Office of War Information. 'Jesse Rhodes Waller, a World War II Aviation Ordnanceman stationed at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, installing a M1919 Browning machine gun in a United States Navy PBY plane' (detail) August 1942

 

Howard R. Hollem (American, -1949) for the United States Office of War Information
Jesse Rhodes Waller, a World War II Aviation Ordnanceman stationed at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, installing a M1919 Browning machine gun in a United States Navy PBY plane (detail)
August 1942
Kodachrome film
United States Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division digital ID fsac.1a34894
The image is in the public domain

 

Howard R. Hollem (American, -1949) for the United States Office of War Information. 'US Navy ordnanceman Jesse Rhodes Waller posing with a M1919 Browning machine gun in a PBY Catalina aircraft, Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas, United States' August 1942

 

Howard R. Hollem (American, -1949) for the United States Office of War Information
US Navy ordnanceman Jesse Rhodes Waller posing with a M1919 Browning machine gun in a PBY Catalina aircraft, Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas, United States
August 1942
Kodachrome film
United States Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division
The image is in the public domain

 

 

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30
May
19

Exhibition: ‘Dave Heath: Dialogues with Solitudes’ at The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 8th March – 2nd June 2019

 

Dave Heath. 'California' 1964

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016)
California
1964
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

 

The master of what we see / visions of the self

In which the visions (ghosts?) in these haunting photographs live, breathe, and barely exist in a strange closed world. Where the subjects seem so vulnerable.

In which there is little sentimentality. The portraits emit a deep sense of melancholy in their re/pose, in the subjects temporal existence separated out from time. Heath photographs people as they are. He projects himself, not his ego, into this vision of vulnerable humanity.

In which this vision of truth illuminates the complex relationship between human nature and reality through emotional energy.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

“… the conundrum of the title is a reference about how to navigate the terrain of solitude one wishes to experience (to be alone), but also how to make that extend into a conversation with the subjects in front of you that will eventually become a single body of work for many to view (to be of more than one). This is of course conditional to your position within the world at large and how you view your presence within the greater universal ether. You must carry your solipsism like a rusty bucket of dirty brown well water. In Heath’s case, the solitary monologue and the ramble of the flaneur become something of a mantra – an incessant need to repeat, to be part of the cacophony of the worship of modern life in which the self and the crowd / city are forced to adjust to one another, but at safe distance with impassioned and yearning eyes.”

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Extract from Brad Feuerhelm. “David Heath: “Dialogues With Solitudes”,” on the ASX website November 23, 2018 [Online] Cited 26/05/2019

 

“”A Dialogue with Solitude” is a self-portrait in which the artist himself never really appears, but is revealed and interpreted by every detail. Its revolt is alive with sympathy and acceptance of man’s modern placement in the world, mated with contradictory realization and resistance which deny and combat the absurdities of existence. This is expressed with a sincere poetry which is never shocked out of countenance by reality.”

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Edwards, exh. label for A Dialogue of Solitude, 1963, on file in the Photography Department, Art Institute of Chicago quoted in Hugh Edwards. “Dave Heath,” on the Art Institute of Chicago website [Online] Cited 26/05/2019

 

 

The first major UK exhibition dedicated to the work of this hugely influential American photographer.

Heath’s psychologically charged images both reflect and respond to the alienation particularly prevalent in post war North American society. He was one of the first of a new generation of artists seeking new ways to try and make sense of the increasing sense of isolation and vulnerability that typified the age.

Predominantly self-taught, Heath was nonetheless extremely informed and versed in the craft, theory and history of photography and taught extensively throughout his life. Although greatly influenced by W. Eugene Smith and the photographers of the Chicago School, including Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan, Heath cannot be neatly pigeonholed as either a documentary or experimental photographer. His work feels more at home within a narrative or poetic tradition, where an interior reality takes precedence.

Taking his masterwork and first publication, A Dialogue With Solitude, as a point of departure, this exhibition highlights Heath’s preoccupations with solitude and contemplation and further makes explicit the importance of sequencing in his practice. Heath was clear that “the central issue of my work is sequence” and held the belief that the relativity and rhythm of images offered a truer way of conveying a universal psychological state than a single image. He perfected a form of montage, often blending text and image to create visual poems, which captured the mood of the decade in a manner akin to a photographic protest song.

Heath’s photographs are shown in dialogue with cult American films from the 1960s similarly focused on themes of solitude and alienation. These include: Portrait of Jason by Shirley Clarke (1966); Salesman by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Mitchell Zwerin (1968); and The Savage Eye by Ben Maddow, Sidney Meyers and Joseph Strick (1960).

“The fact that I never had a family, a place or a story that defined me, inspired a need in me to join the community of mankind. I did so by inventing a poetic form linking this community, at least symbolically, in my imagination, through this form.” ~ Dave Heath

Curated by Diane Dufour, Director of LE BAL. Exhibition conceived by LE BAL with the support of Stephen Bulger Gallery (Toronto), Howard Greenberg Gallery (New York), Archive of Modern Conflict (London) and Les Films du Camélia (Paris).

Text from the Photographers’ Gallery website [Online] Cited 25/05/2019

 

Dave Heath. 'Sesco Corée' 1953-1954

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016)
Sesco, Corée
1953-1954
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

Dave Heath. 'Carl Dean Kipper, Korea' 1953-54

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016)
Carl Dean Kipper, Korea
1953-54
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'New York City, 1958-59'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
New York City
1958-59
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016) 'Janine Pommy Vega, Seven Arts Coffee Gallery, New York' 1959

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016)
Janine Pommy Vega, Seven Arts Coffee Gallery, New York
1959
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

Dave Heath. 'Washington Square, New York City' 1960

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016)
Washington Square, New York City
1960
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016) 'Washington Square, New York City' 1960

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016)
Washington Square, New York City
1960
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

Dave Heath. 'Washington Square, New York City' 1960

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016)
Washington Square, New York City
1960
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

Dave Heath. 'Washington Square, New York City' 1960

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016)
Washington Square, New York City
1960
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

Dave Heath, (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016) 'Erin Freed, New York City' 1963

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016)
Erin Freed, New York City
1963
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

Dave Heath. 'New York City (Young Couple Kissing)' 1962

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016)
New York City (Young Couple Kissing)
1962
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

Dave Heath. 'New York City' 1960

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016)
New York City
1960
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

 

The Photographers’ Gallery, in collaboration with LE BAL Paris, presents Dave Heath: Dialogues with Solitudes; the first major UK exhibition dedicated to the work of this hugely influential American photographer (b. 1931 USA, d. 2016 Canada).

Heath’s psychologically charged images both reflect and respond to the alienation particularly prevalent in post war North American society. He was one of the first of a new generation of artists seeking new ways to try and make sense of the increasing sense of isolation and vulnerability that typified the age. Predominantly self-taught, Heath was nonetheless extremely informed and versed in the craft, theory and history of photography and taught extensively throughout his life. Although greatly influenced by W. Eugene Smith and the photographers of the Chicago School, including Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan, Heath cannot be neatly pigeonholed as either a documentary or experimental photographer. His work feels more at home within a narrative or poetic tradition, where an interior reality takes precedence.

Heath was born in Philadelphia in 1931 and had a turbulent childhood, abandoned by his parents at the age of four and consigned to a series of foster homes before being placed in an orphanage. He first became interested in photography as a teenager, and joined an amateur camera club. He was fascinated by the photo essays in Life Magazine and cites one in particular as having a decisive impact on his future. Bad Boy’s Story by Ralph Crane, charted the emotional landscape of a young orphan. Not only did Heath identify with the protagonist, he immediately recognised the power of photography as a means of self expression and as a way of connecting to others. In the following years he trained himself in the craft, taking courses in commercial art, working in a photo processing lab, and studying paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While stationed in Korea with the US Army, he began to photograph his fellow soldiers, eschewing the drama of the battlefield for quiet and private moments of subdued reflection.

On his return, Heath dedicated himself to photography, continuing his interest with capturing an “inner landscape” and training his lens on anonymous strangers whom he identified as similarly lost or fragile. Although he photographed in mostly public spaces, on the streets of Chicago and New York (where he moved to in 1957), his subjects seem detached from their physical context, shot in close-up, articulated by their isolation. His frames possess an intensity of concentration, showing single figures or close-knit couples entirely wrapped up in their own world. An occasional sidelong glance conveys a momentary awareness of being photographed, but for the most part Heath is an unobserved, unobtrusive witness. By concentrating on the fragility of human connection, focusing on the personal over the political, Heath gave ‘voice’ to those largely unheard and joined a growing community of artists searching for alternative forms of expression. His work was pivotal in depicting the fractured feeling of societal unease just prior to the rise of the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War and his ground-breaking approaches to narrative and image sequence, his exquisite printing techniques, handmade book maquettes, multimedia slide presentations culminated in his poetic masterwork, A Dialogue with Solitude, 1965. This sensitive exploration of loss, pain, love and hope reveals Heath as one the most original photographers of those decades.

After 1970, Dave Heath devoted much of his time to teaching (in particular at Ryerson University, Toronto) in Canada, where he later became a citizen. He died in 2016.

Press release from The Photographers’ Gallery website [Online] Cited 25/05/2019

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Philadelphia, 1952'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016)
Philadelphia
1952
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

Dave Heath. 'Washington Square, New York City' 1960

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016)
Washington Square, New York City
1960
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

Dave Heath. 'Washington Square, New York City' 1960

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016)
Washington Square, New York City
1960
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

Dave Heath. 'Untitled' c. 1960

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016)
Untitled
c. 1960
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016) 'Elevated in Brooklyn, New York City' 1963

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931-2016)
Elevated in Brooklyn, New York City
1963
Gelatin silver print
© Dave Heath / Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

 

The Photographers’ Gallery
16-18 Ramillies Street
London
W1F 7LW

Opening hours:
Mon – Sat: 10.00 – 18.00
Thursday: 10.00 – 20.00 during exhibitions
Sunday: 11.00 – 18.00

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14
May
19

Exhibition: ‘The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day’ at ONE Gallery, West Hollywood, California

Exhibition dates: 1st March – 17th May 2019

Curator: David J. Getsy

 

 

Greg Day. 'Stephen Varble in the Suit of Armor' October 1975, printed 2018

 

Greg Day (American, b. 1944)
Stephen Varble in the Suit of Armor
October 1975, printed 2018
Digital print
© Greg Day 2019

 

 

“Varble’s total irreverence is no more evident than in his willingness to “cross party lines,” as he did when he wore his Suit of Armor, constructed with gold VO labels from Seagram’s boxes, to both the 1975 Easter Parade and to West Village leather bars! He was an equal opportunity offender, rubbing up against conformity in all forms.”

Bob Nickas. “Stephen Varble: Now More Than Ever,” on the Affidavit website [Online] Cited 10/04/2019

 

 

Confusing queen reigns, on parade

In an era of reactionary religious and right wing hypocrisy – Christian sleaze and paedophilia anyone, anti-Muslim and gay Facebook posts in the Australian election, murderous right wing rampage in New Zealand – now more than ever, we need artists like Stephen Varble.

I love doing these posts on artists that certainly I, and I suspect a lot of the readers of this website, would have never have heard of. Artists full of spunk, full of daring-do, artists who rise to challenge the patrons of patriarchy, and the colluders of capitalism (Varble became ever-more critical of commodification and capitalism). Artists who declaim the value of the individual, who shine a light on the plight of the downtrodden and discriminated against. Can you not once bring yourself to utter the word “AIDS” you bigoted president?

“Varble made the recombination of signs for gender a central theme in his increasingly outrageous costumes and performances… [He] sought to make a place for himself outside of art’s institutions and mainstream cultures all the while critiquing them both.” Australian artists such as Leigh Bowery and Brenton Heath-Kerr have a lot to thank Varble for.

He might have risen from the gutter, but his intentions were full of stars.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

 

Varble’s work wasn’t drag in the conventional cross-dressing sense, or “gay art,” which was often defined from a predominantly masculine perspective in the immediate post-Stonewall years. His intention was to stretch and break down the very idea of binary identities, confuse the concept of gender, leave it optional. And this goal puts him well in the framework of queer and transgender thinking now. …

For a series of mid-1970s performances he called “Gutter Art,” he would arrive, elaborately dressed, by limousine (paid for by a Japanese patron, Miyazaki Morihiro) in front of luxury stores on the Upper East Side. Once parked, he unloaded old kitchen utensils from the trunk and started washing them with black ink, as if referring to the domestic life of sweatshop labor. He soon gained notoriety as a kind of cultural terrorist. (Tiffany’s hired guards to keep him out.) He turned up, uninvited, at red carpet events – film premieres, the Met’s Costume Institute gala – to dazzle and deride the guests.

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Holland Cotter. “Stephen Varble: The Street Was His Stage, the Dress Was His Weapon,” on The New York Times website January 10, 2019 [Online] Cited 10/04/2019

 

 

Greg Day. 'Stephen Varble in the Demonstration Costume with Only One Shoe (for the Chemical Bank Protest)' 22 March 1976, printed 2018

 

Greg Day (American, b. 1944)
Stephen Varble in the Demonstration Costume with Only One Shoe (for the Chemical Bank Protest)
22 March 1976, printed 2018
Digital print
© Greg Day 2019

 

 

“A chauffeured Rolls Royce glides glacially to the curb in front of the Chemical Bank at New York’s Sheridan Square. The uniformed driver, out in an instant, holds open the passenger door. Rather than a well-heeled person to which such a car would belong, a more hallucinatory sight will emerge, equally glamorous and ridiculous. Two legs appear, only one of which has a shoe. The full length of the body gradually appears, improbably covered in netting and not much else, the entwined nets adorned with crumpled bills. What seem to be bare breasts droop from the chest of a figure of otherwise unidentifiable gender, further confused by a toy fighter jet, poised for takeoff, at crotch level. While no words are spoken, a cartoon speech bubble overhead proclaims, cheerily but with a disgruntled undertow: Even Though You May Be Forged, Chemical Still Banks Best!”

Bob Nickas. “Stephen Varble: Now More Than Ever,” on the Affidavit website [Online] Cited 10/04/2019

 

The Chemical Bank Protest was Varble’s most notorious and widely reported disruption, and it encapsulated his disdain for commerce, capitalism, and propriety. To contest a forgery against him, Varble went to the Sheridan Square bank to demand his money returned. He created his Demonstration Costume with Only One Shoe from Christmas tree packaging, gold leaf wrappers, and fake money. His costumes often combined different signs of gender, and here he wore tow condoms filled with cow’s blood for breasts and a toy jet fighter as a codpiece. The toy referenced the plane ticket the forger purchase with the money, and one shoe was missing to “symbolise his economic loss.” Hovering over his head, a speech bubble touted, “Even Though You May Be Forged, Chemical Still Banks Best!”

Varble’s performances often affected an ironic enthusiasms for his targets (be it a bank, a boutique, a gallery, or a presidential candidate), and his insincere flattery was meant to provide cover for his disruption of business as usual.

Arriving in a borrowed limousine, Varble boldly entered to make his demands as the line of customers at the teller window gawked. On being told by the manager that he could not be helped, Varble punctured the blood-filled condoms and dipped a pen in the spilled blood to write checks (for “none-million dollars”) in his dramatic, mime-like movements before sweeping out to the sound of applause from the customers.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

“Varble began to truly set himself apart from other gender-focused 1970s performance artists with his outré 1976 performance at Chemical Bank in Sheridan Square. After hearing that someone had forged his signature and emptied out his bank account, Varble walked into the bank dressed in fake money, with breasts made out of condoms and filled with cow’s blood. He demanded his money back. When the bank teller could not comply, Varble punctured his condom-breasts, spilling blood all over the floor, and wrote checks in blood for “none-million dollars,” which he addressed to his companion at the bank, Peter Hujar. The exhibition includes a photograph Hujar took that day, evoking a time when the lax security in banks allowed artists to perform and express themselves, however outrageously (although Varble was then escorted out of the cow’s blood-filled bank by security).”

Extract from Michael Valinsky. “A Forgotten Precursor of Genderqueer Performance Art,” in Hyperallergic website [Online] Cited 14/05/219

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery showing, at left top, Greg Day’s Stephen Varble with the Enormous Pink Satin and baby Doll (1975); left below Stephen Varble Performing in a Garbage Can at his Loft on Franklin Street (1975); and at centre, Closing Party with Varble’s Enormous Pink Satin Skirt (1975)

 

 

Franklin Street Exhibition and Party Performance

in 1976, Varble organised an exhibition of his own work in the loft her share with Jim McWilliams on Franklin Street. He painted the interiors pink, built large decorations, and displayed all his costumes on cut-out mannequins mounted on the walls. The largest piece in the exhibition was a new work the Enormous Pink Satin Skirt, some fifteen feet in length. The object played a central role in the “Gala Ending” party that closed the exhibition, as can be seen in the photograph (main above). For this major event Varble enlisted the help of established gender non-conforming performers such as Mario Montez, Jackie Curtis, and Taylor Mead to act as living mannequins for his most iconic costumes. Modelling Varble’s art they paraded with his satin silhouette dolls through the crowd and did impromptu performances – such as when Agusta Machado enacted a campy drama of claustrophobia in Varble’s refrigerator. Day was there to capture the wild party, managing to take individual portraits of some of the major performers in attendance…

In the midst of the playful chaos, Varble gathered these Warhol stars and others (such as Paul Ambrose and New York drag personality Ruth Truth) inside the Enormous Pink Satin Skirt, and at a designated time they al burst forth dancing. As the exhibition gave attendees a retrospective view of his output the performance provided a testament to Varble’s place in the queer performance culture of New York. As the art critic Gregory Battock remarked, “It was the kind of event only Stephen Varble could have planned: chaotic, meandering, spurious and very New York […] Even though invitations were hard to come by, everybody was there.”

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery with, from left, Greg Day’s Stephen Varble Destroying his Blue and Green Corrugated Paper Dress from the Camera (October 1975); Stephen Varble in the Elizabethan Farthingale; and Stephen Varble in the Suit of Armor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery

 

'Stephen Varble, Gutter Art flyer' [recto] 1975

 

Stephen Varble, Gutter Art flyer [recto]
1975
Xerographic print on paper
Courtesy Greg Day and the Leslie-Lohman Museum
Photo: Courtesy Greg Day and the Leslie-Lohman Museum

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery

 

Greg Day. 'Stephen Varble in the Elizabethan Farthingale' October 1975, printed 2018

 

Greg Day (American, b. 1944)
Stephen Varble in the Elizabethan Farthingale
October 1975, printed 2018
Digital print
© Greg Day, 2019

 

 

In costumes made from street trash, food waste, and stolen objects, Stephen Varble (1946-1984) took to the streets of 1970s New York City to perform his “Gutter Art.” With disruption as his aim, he led uninvited costumed tours through the galleries of SoHo, occupied Fifth Avenue gutters, and burst into banks and boutiques in his gender-confounding ensembles. Varble made the recombination of signs for gender a central theme in his increasingly outrageous costumes and performances. While maintaining he/him as his pronouns, Varble performed gender as an open question in both his life and his work, sometimes identifying as a female persona, Marie Debris, and sometimes playing up his appearance as a gay man. Only later would the term “genderqueer” emerge to describe the kind of self-made, non-binary gender options that Varble adopted throughout his life and in his disruptions of the 1970s art world.

At the pinnacle moment of Varble’s public performances, the photographer Greg Day (b. 1944) captured the inventiveness and energy of his genderqueer costume confrontations. Trained as an artist and anthropologist and with a keen eye for documenting ephemeral culture as it flourished, Day took hundreds of photographs of Varble’s trash couture, public performances, and events in 1975 and 1976. Varble understood the importance of photographers, and Day was his most important photographic collaborator. This exhibition brings together a selection of Day’s photographs of Varble performing his costume works and also includes Day’s photographs of Varble’s friends and collaborators such as Peter Hujar, Jimmy DeSana, Shibata Atsuko, Agosto Machado, and Warhol stars Jackie Curtis, Taylor Mead, and Mario Montez.

Varble sought to make a place for himself outside of art’s institutions and mainstream cultures all the while critiquing them both. The story of Varble told through Day’s photographs is both about their synergistic artistic friendship and about the queer networks and communities that made such an anti-institutional and genderqueer practice imaginable. Together, Varble and Day worked to preserve the radical potential of Gutter Art for the future.

The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble builds upon the 2018 retrospective exhibition of Stephen Varble’s work at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, titled Rubbish and Dreams: The Genderqueer Performance Art of Stephen Varble, as featured in the New York Times on January 11, 2019. The new ONE Gallery exhibition, with its focus on the collaboration of Varble with the photographer Greg Day, will explore the ways in which Varble’s disruptive guerrilla performance art has lived on primarily through vibrant photographs that captured his inventive costumes, transformed trash, and public confrontations.

The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s photographs by Greg Day is curated by David J. Getsy, Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Professor of Art History at the  School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble is organised by the ONE Archives Foundation, Inc. Generous support is provided by the City of West Hollywood.

About the ONE Archives Foundation, Inc.

The ONE Archives Foundation, Inc. is an independent 501(c)(3) dedicated to telling the accurate and authentic stories of LGBTQ people, history and culture through public exhibitions, educational projects and trainings, and community outreach programs. Our exhibitions, school programs, and community outreach programs are free. We depend entirely on members of the public and private foundations for support.

Press release from the ONE Gallery [Online] Cited 10/04/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery showing, at left, a still from Stephen Varble’s video Journey to the Sun (1978-1983); and at right Greg Day’s Stephen Varble in the Piggy Bank Dress (1975)

 

Stephen Varble (American, 1946-1984)
Journey to the Sun
1978-1983
U-matic video transferred to digital, 2018
Courtesy David J. Getsy

 

 

Varble receded from the art world and from street performance around 1977, becoming ever-more critical of commodification and capitalism. As he told an interviewer that year, “This is the age of pornography and contempt. The dollar is good. […] The end of capitalism is coming.” Varble instead began to develop private performances and videos about his private mythologies and messianic dreams. His last five years were consumed with working on an epic, operatic work of video art: Journey to the Sun. It started in 1978 as a performance about the mythology of Greta Garbo, and Varble invited friends to his Riverside Drive apartment to view his monologues accompanied by project slides. His ambitions soon outgrew this format, and he turned to video for its ability to combine text, image and performance. He considered these videos to be revivals of illuminated Medieval manuscripts with their rich visual play between words and pictures, and he called his group of collaborators in the video the “Happy Arts School of Manuscript Illumination.” The aim of the “school” was to promote Varble’s vision of societal transformation through the making of modern fables in the form of videos, books, and prints. His “video books,” as he called the tapes, offered an “antidote to nature’s ruin on this heavenly globe.”

Journey to the Sun tells the story of a musician, the Grey Crowned Warbler, who undergoes tribulation and metamorphosis on a journey to transcendence. The tale is a loosely autobiographical fable of an artist who encounters a stern mystical teacher, Sage Purple Pythagoras (played by his partner, Daniel Cahill) who tests the Warbler. Many of Varble’s iconic costumes feature in the video, and he combined elements of his own history with references to literature, religion, and popular culture (notably, Garbo). Combining heavily scripted monologues with improvised performances. Journey to the Sun does not offer a tidy or easily understood narrative. Rather, it sketches a fantastic and surreal visual world in which dreams are realised through the transformations of everyday objects, popular imagery, and rubbish.

To make this “rodeo-paced” video, Varble filled his apartment with drawings and writings on the walls, blacked out the windows, and began filming scenes both scripted and improvised with collaborators. Journey to the Sun is remarkable for its time due to the complexity and density of the video editing – all of which was done by Varble in his apartment. He only completed about thirty percent of his planned work before his death from AIDS-related complications in January 1984. This screening copy presents a continuous segment of around 80 minutes that has been selected from the three surviving U-matic master tapes, but no changes have been made other than the choice of where to begin and end this combined excerpt. This is but a fragment of the much longer video epic Varble hoped would be his major contribution.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day' at ONE Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s, photographs by Greg Day at ONE Gallery showing Stephen Varble’s Blue Boy

 

 

“One afternoon, Stephen invited me to accompany him to a performance in midtown Manhattan. He bought Blue Boy with him. We took the F train uptown from Washington Square. Sitting on the subway car bench and wearing his Chemical Bank Protest attire. Stephen hugged, kissed, fondled and poked Blue Boy. He spoke to him in an affectionate and sometimes argumentative language of moans, “ohs” and clicks. I sat across from him and watched as people entered the car. They stared, laughed, gasped, and made disparaging remarks about his sanity before moving to another part of the subway car. Even riding the train was an opportunity for Stephen to shock.”

Greg Day
Wall text from the exhibition

 

Gutter Art: Stephen Varble and Genderqueer Performance on the Streets of 1970s New York with David J. Getsy from Leslie-Lohman Museum on Vimeo.

 

Gutter Art: Stephen Varble and Genderqueer Performance on the Streets of 1970s New York with David J. Getsy

 

Greg Day. 'Stephen Varble at the 12th Annual Avant-Garde Festival' 1975

 

Greg Day (American, b. 1944)
Stephen Varble at the 12th Annual Avant-Garde Festival
1975
Digital print
© Greg Day 2019

 

 

ONE Gallery, West Hollywood
626 N. Robertson Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Opening hours:
Thursday – Sunday: 11.00 am – 2.00 pm and 3.00 pm – 6.00 pm
Closed Monday – Wednesday

ONE Archives website

ONE Gallery, West Hollywood website

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02
May
19

Photographs: Exhumed Coffin

May 2019

 

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

 

 

Unknown photographer (American) 'Photograph Depicting an Exhumed Coffin' c. 1870s-1890s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Photograph Depicting an Exhumed Coffin
c. 1870s-1890s
Albumen print

 

 

“Iron coffins are fascinating artefacts of a time when friction between technology and tradition created a spiritual crisis in the early days of the United States… Iron coffins were created to mitigate some of the negative effects of long-distance steam transportation on a traditionally sedentary society. The benefits of steam travel are many and obvious; however, there were also downsides that began to seep into the most personal corners of American life. One unintended consequence was that steam travel enabled unprecedented numbers of people to head out, die and be buried by strangers far from home. This was considered one of the most regrettable circumstances that could befall a family during this profoundly spiritual period. A distant death denied families and loved ones participation in funeral rituals and the privilege of assisting in the commencement of the greatest spiritual journey one could make. On a societal level, the absence of a funeral disrupted a central pattern of American life and weakened the bonds of local communities. This unfortunate situation befell the family of Almond Dunbar Fisk; however, Fisk, a Manhattan stove designer had the skills and vision to remedy an important part of this tragedy, and in the process helped redefine death’s place within American life.

The catalyst for the coffins was the death of Fisk’s brother, William, in the spring of 1844 in Oxford, Mississippi. Before refrigeration or embalming, there was no practical way to return William’s body to the Fisk family plot in upstate New York for a proper Christian burial. Their father, a minister, was particularly upset by this fact, so Fisk, well versed in the principles of airtight stoves and boilers, redirected his mastery of cast iron to create an airtight coffin capable of naturally preserving a body that could be safely and sanitarily transported long distance or stored for long periods even in the hottest weather. In addition to their airtight design, preservation was achieved by making the coffins as form-fitting to the body as possible, minimising the air inside and depriving the microbes of sufficient oxygen to survive and decompose the body. He received a patent for his ‘metallic burial case’ on November 14, 1848. Partnering with his father-in-law, he formed the company Fisk & Raymond and set up shop at 401 Broadway – just in time for the California Gold Rush. His coffins were first adopted by the nation’s political elite, who had the means and desire to avoid spending eternity buried in Washington DC. The cast iron caskets caught the public’s eye in 1849 when beloved former first lady Dolley Madison was laid out in one in a large public funeral ceremony. Soon, many other politicians and presidents followed suit, making the coffins an item of status and prestige in the eyes of the growing middle class. Rocketed to fame by such high-profile funerals, Fisk’s days of glory were – alas – brief. He died the following year at age 32 at his home in Queens and his body was shipped back upstate for burial in the family plot. His brother-in-law, William Mead Raymond, took over the family business and oversaw the creation of several new coffin models until his retirement in the 1870s. While the iron coffin industry didn’t survive past the 19th century, Fisk’s invention was the beginning of a trend away from wood coffins and can be credited as the progenitor of the metal caskets used today.”

Extract from Scott Warnasch. “Death, Burial and Iron Coffins: How Almond Dunbar Fisk’s invention revolutionized death’s place in American life,” on the PBS website September 21, 2018 [Online] Cited 26/04/2019

 

Unknown photographer (American) 'Photograph Depicting an Exhumed Coffin' c. 1870s-1890s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Photograph Depicting an Exhumed Coffin
c. 1870s-1890s
Albumen print

 

Coffin Example, Canton Historical Museum

Coffin Example, Canton Historical Museum

Coffin Example, Canton Historical Museum

 

Coffin Example, Canton Historical Museum

 

 

The Coffins

The coffins were created by Almond Dunbar Fisk in 1848 in Queens, NY and marketed as Fisk Metallic Burial Cases.

Fisk’s iron coffins – modern marvels of their day – were specifically designed to naturally preserve their occupants. The coffins were developed in response to some of the inadvertent challenges that had resulted from the introduction of steam transportation in the preceding decades.

In a time before embalming or refrigeration, these coffins provided a sanitary means to transport the dead long distances in any season or preserve a body long enough for kin to travel to a distant funeral. In addition, they also provide a way to quarantine a body suspected of dying of a contagious disease (such as cholera which was first delivered from Europe via steamship in 1832).

Costing up to twenty-five dollars or more, the coffins were as expensive as they were practical. Fashioned after an Egyptian sarcophagus, these ‘mummiform’ coffins, first attracted the attention of the political elite beginning with the funeral of First Lady Dolley Madison and followed by the likes of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and President Zachary Taylor, to name a few. However, their style and practicality also attracted those outside of Washington DC, and they became a mark of status for the upper and middle classes during the early years of consumer culture and the nascent funeral industry. The gold rush, and western expansion in general, also helped expand the market beyond the elite urban deceased.

Text from the Iron Coffin Mummy website [Online] Cited 26/04/2019

 

Fisk and Raymond Coffin Brochure, 1850

 

Fisk and Raymond Coffin Brochure, 1850
Image: via Iron Coffin Mummy website

 

Fisk and Raymond Coffin Brochure, 1850

Fisk and Raymond Coffin Brochure, 1850

 

Fisk and Raymond Coffin Brochure, 1850
Image: via Iron Coffin Mummy website

 

 

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30
Mar
19

Exhibition: ‘Arnold Kramer: Domestic Scenes’ at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California

Exhibition dates: 15th February – 12th April 2019

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

 

I really like these.

While I disagree with some of the statements in the press release – I don’t see much Minor White in these photographs except for the occasional door/window, some small whiteness in these photographs, and his negatives aren’t that good – these photographs evidence Arnold Kramer’s unique way of seeing the world.

A dash of Walker Evans, a little Lewis Baltz (with the added smooth high values and distinct cool drama of a cold light head enlarger), a bit of Diane Arbus and her settings, and very much New Topographics for the interior space, they capture an original vision of these domestic scenes.

It’s the concept, high key, light, use of flash, wide angle lens and clinical presence that gets me in. As the press release correctly observes, “Kramer has a unique way of creating a three dimensional scene within the sheet of a two dimensional photographic paper: In his photographs of rooms, objects and patterns that can appear to look haphazard and random are flattened out and pieced together to create a marvellous kind of collage effect.”

This piecing together can be seen in the last photograph in the posting, where I analyse Kramer’s construction of pictorial space. He loves shapes thrusting in from the bottom of the image, or falling from the top, creating this complex assemblage flattened on the page. Very frontal, formal, banal as beauty (or the other way round), structured.

Ralph Gibson says: “I’m lucky to have a subconscious really” – Weston, Evans, and White can join in on that. But not Kramer. He doesn’t need the subconscious… for these images, with their paired back aesthetic, are almost scientific in their analytical probing. It’s as though the subconscious has been banished to be replaced by the cerebral.

A gesture of denial and concern at one and the same time – denial of the actual human inhabitants, and concern for their in/habitation – their habits and habitats.

Marcus

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

 

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches
Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

 

These black and white photographs, with their sharp eye for the pattern and details of domestic settings, established Kramer as a distinct talent whose avoidance of “romantic bombast” and “emphasis on formal clarity,” made his pictures particularly fresh, when they were exhibited by Jane Livingston at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1978. In their emphasis on emotionally restrained, frontal views of rooms they look back and reference the work of Walker Evans, especially Evans’ Message From the Interior. In their attention to pattern and line as visual motifs within everyday spaces, he reveals his bond with another 20th century photographic master, his mentor Minor White.

Kramer has a unique way of creating a three dimensional scene within the sheet of a two dimensional photographic paper: In his photographs of rooms, objects and patterns that can appear to look haphazard and random are flattened out and pieced together to create a marvellous kind of collage effect. “I try to strike a balance between commitment to craft and commitment to seeing,” Kramer once explained.

The impact of this thinking is evident in his seductive series of interiors, which began with pictures made in the Baltimore home of his wife’s parents. The range of interiors expanded to include settings in homes of friends, family and others that spanned Baltimore, Washington and his hometown of Boston/Cambridge.

“These places transcend their own banality to become rather fabulously beautiful,” Kramer aptly asserted. For Kramer, meeting Minor White was pivotal. He enrolled in one of White’s classes while earning a Master’s Degree in Electric Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (completed in 1968). On the basis of some pictures he had made for his high school yearbook, White allowed him to enter his advanced class in photography at M.I.T. and ultimately became Kramer’s mentor. He studied with White for five years beginning in 1967 and it was White’s insistence that his students strive for original vision in their work as much as excellent technique that was crucial to Kramer’s development as an artist.

He was the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in both 1975 and 1979. From 1970 until 1981, Kramer was on the faculty of the School of Architecture at the University of Maryland, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in still photography. During the 1980s, he also had a flourishing practice as an architectural and commercial photographer in Washington, D.C. He has served on the staff of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum since 1987, heading up its Information Office and overseeing its technological initiatives for exhibitions and national outreach, as well as creating photographs for its archives and exhibits. Among collections in which Arnold Kramer is represented include: Birmingham Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, National Museum of American Art, Addison Gallery of American Art and The Baltimore Museum of Art.

Press release from the Joseph Bellows Gallery Cited 04/03/2019

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017) 'Interior view' 1977

 

Arnold Kramer (American, 1944-2017)
Interior view
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches

 

Arnold Kramer graphic

 

Arnold Kramer picture construction graphic

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery
7661 Girrard Avenue
La Jolla, California
Phone: 858 456 5620

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 5pm, and Saturday by appointment

Joseph Bellows Gallery website

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16
Feb
19

Exhibition: ‘Ansel Adams in Our Time’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 13th December 2018 – 24th February 2019

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'The Golden Gate Before the Bridge, San Francisco' 1932

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
The Golden Gate Before the Bridge, San Francisco
1932
Gelatin silver print
49.5 x 69.9 cm (19 1/2 x 27 1/2 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Ansel Adams is a wonderful classical, (clinical?), formal photographer… but a photographer of people, Native Indians, Indian dances and the urban landscape, he ain’t. Simply put, he’s not much good at these subjects. In this posting, best stick with what he’s really good at – beautifully balanced art and environmental activist photographs. Oh, the light and form! Images that teeter towards the sublime held in check by F64, perspective and objectivity.

Interesting to have the historical work to riff off, and “contemporary artists whose modern-day concerns centred on the environment, land rights, and the use and misuse of natural resources point directly to Adams’ legacy” … but as with so many exhibitions that try to place an artist within a historical and contemporary context, their work is not necessary. In fact, it probably diminishes the utopian vision of one of the world’s best known photographers.

Marcus

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

 

Ansel Adams in Our Time traces the iconic visual legacy of Ansel Adams (1902-1984), presenting some of his most celebrated prints, from a symphonic view of snow-dusted peaks in The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (1942) to an aerial shot of a knotted roadway in Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles (1967). The exhibition looks both backward and forward in time: his black-and-white photographs are displayed alongside prints by several of the 19th-century government survey photographers who greatly influenced Adams, as well as work by contemporary artists whose modern-day concerns centred on the environment, land rights, and the use and misuse of natural resources point directly to Adams’ legacy.

While crafting his own modernist vision, Adams was inspired by precursors in government survey and expedition photography such as Carleton Watkins (1829-1916), Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), Timothy O’Sullivan (1840-1882) and Frank Jay Haynes (1853-1921), who worked with large bulky cameras and glass-plate negatives and set off into the wilderness carrying their equipment on mules. In some cases, Adams replicated their exact views of the Yosemite Valley, Canyon de Chelly, and Yellowstone, producing images that would become emblematic of the country’s national parks. In Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park (about 1937), the granite crags of the Yosemite Valley are wreathed in clouds after a sudden storm. Executed with unrivalled sensitivity and rigorous exactitude, the artist’s photographs popularised the notion that the American West was a pristine, and largely uninhabited, wilderness.

Ansel Adams in Our Time also brings Adams forward in time, juxtaposing his work with that of contemporary artists such as Mark Klett (born 1962), Trevor Paglen (born 1974), Catherine Opie (born 1961), Abelardo Morell (born 1948), Victoria Sambunaris (born 1964), and Binh Danh (born 1977). The more than 20 present-day photographers in the exhibition have not only been drawn to some of the same locations, but also engaged with many of the themes central to Adams’ legacy: desert and wilderness spaces, Native Americans and the Southwest, and broader issues affecting the environment: logging, mining, drought and fire, booms and busts, development, and urban sprawl.

Adams’ stunning images were last on view at the MFA in a major exhibition in 2005; this new, even larger presentation places his work in the context of the 21st century, with all that implies about the role photography has played – and continues to play – in our changing perceptions of the land. The Adams photographs in the exhibition are drawn from the Lane Collection, one of the largest and most significant gifts in MFA history.

Text from the MFA website

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Lone Pine Peak, Sierra Nevada, California' 1948

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Lone Pine Peak, Sierra Nevada, California
1948
Gelatin silver print
38.8 x 49.1 cm (15 1/4 x 19 5/16 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Marion Lake, Kings River Canyon, California' c. 1925

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Marion Lake, Kings River Canyon, California (from Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras)
c. 1925; print date: 1927
Gelatin silver print
14.6 x 19.8 cm (5 3/4 x 7 13/16 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Early Morning, Merced River Canyon, Yosemite National Park' c. 1950

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Early Morning, Merced River Canyon, Yosemite National Park
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 39.4 x 49.7 cm (15 1/2 x 19 9/16 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado' 1941

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
1941
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 19.1 x 23.8 cm (7 1/2 x 9 3/8 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Thunderstorm, Ghost Ranch, Chama River Valley, Northern New Mexico' 1937

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Thunderstorm, Ghost Ranch, Chama River Valley, Northern New Mexico
1937; print date: about 1948
Gelatin silver print
16.6 x 22.9 cm (6 9/16 x 9 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park' c. 1937

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles' 1967

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles
1967
Gelatin silver print
37.2 x 34.8 cm (14 5/8 x 13 11/16 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Self‑Portrait, Monument Valley, Utah' 1958

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
SelfPortrait, Monument Valley, Utah
1958
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

 

Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is the rare artist whose works have helped to define a genre. Over the last half-century, his black-and-white photographs have become, for many viewers, visual embodiments of the sites he captured: Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks, the Sierra Nevada, the American Southwest and more. These images constitute an iconic visual legacy – one that continues to inspire and provoke. Organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), Ansel Adams in Our Time offers a new perspective on one of the best-known and most beloved American photographers by placing him into a dual conversation with his predecessors and contemporary artists. While crafting his own modernist vision, Adams followed in the footsteps of 19th-century forerunners in government survey and expedition photography such as Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, Timothy O’Sullivan and Frank Jay Haynes. Today, photographers including Mark Klett, Trevor Paglen, Catherine Opie, Abelardo Morell, Victoria Sambunaris and Binh Danh are engaging anew with the sites and subjects that occupied Adams, as well as broader environmental issues such as drought and fire, mining and energy, economic booms and busts, protected places and urban sprawl. Approximately half of the nearly 200 works in the exhibition are photographs by Adams, drawn from the Lane Collection – one of the largest and most significant gifts in the MFA’s history, which made the Museum one of the major holders of the artist’s work. The photographs by 19th-century and contemporary artists are on loan from public institutions, galleries and private collectors. Ansel Adams in Our Time is on view in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery from December 13, 2018 through February 24, 2019. Visitors are encouraged to use #AnselAdamsInOurTime to share their exhibition experiences on social media, as well as submit Adams-inspired landscape photos on Instagram for a chance to win an MFA membership, Ansel Adams publication and a private curatorial tour. Ansel Adams in Our Time is presented with proud recognition of The Wilderness Society and the League of Conservation Voters, made possible by Scott Nathan and Laura DeBonis. Sponsored by Northern Trust. Additional support from the Robert and Jane Burke Fund for Exhibitions, and Peter and Catherine Creighton. With gratitude to the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust for its generous support of Photography at the MFA.

“Ansel Adams is a larger-than-life figure in the field of photography, and the generous gift of more than 450 of his prints from the Lane Collection has inspired me to revisit his work. With this exhibition, I hope to open up new conversations around this seminal artist, by looking both backward and forward in time,” said Karen Haas, Lane Curator of Photographs. “I invite our visitors to explore the role that photography has historically played in our changing perceptions of the American West, as well as to consider Adams’ legacy of environmental activism – one that still speaks to us today.”

 

Exhibition overview

Capturing the View

Organised both thematically and chronologically into eight sections, the exhibition begins where Adams’ own photographic life began. Perhaps no place had a more lasting influence on him than Yosemite National Park, in his native California. Adams first visited Yosemite at age 14, bringing along a Kodak Box Brownie camera given to him by his father, and returned almost every year for the rest of his life. It was not only where he honed his skills, but also where he came to recognise the power of photographs to express emotion and meaning. Showcasing its spectacular granite peaks, lakes, rivers and waterfalls, Adams’ photographs of Yosemite have become virtually synonymous with the park itself. Adams, however, was not the first to take a camera into the mountains of California. He acknowledged his debt to the earliest photographers to arrive in the Yosemite Valley, including Carleton Watkins, who in the 1860s began to record scenic views with a cumbersome large-format camera and fragile glass plate negatives processed in the field. Watkins’ 19th-century photographs helped to introduce Americans “back east” to the nation’s dramatic western landscapes, while Adams’ 20th-century images made famous the notion of their “untouched wilderness.” Today, photographers such as Mark Klett are grappling with these legacies. Klett and his longtime collaborator Byron Wolfe have studied canonical views of Yosemite Valley by Adams and Watkins, using the latest technology to produce composite panoramas that document changes made to the landscape over more than a century, as well as the ever-growing presence of human activity.

 

Marketing the View

As a member of the Sierra Club, which he joined in 1919 at age 17, Adams regularly embarked on the environmental organisation’s annual, month-long “High Trips” to the Sierra Nevada mountains. He produced albums of photographs from these treks, inviting club members to select and order prints. This precocious ingenuity ultimately led to the Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras (1927) – one of the earliest experiments in custom printing, sequencing and distributing fine photographs. Sixteen of the 18 prints from the portfolio, including the iconic Monolith – The Face of Half Dome, are on view in the second gallery of the exhibition, which connects Adams’ innovations in marketing his views of the western U.S. to those of his predecessors. In the 19th century, an entire industry of mass-marketing and distributing images of “the frontier” emerged, catering to a burgeoning tourist trade. In addition to engravings and halftones published in books, magazines and newspapers, photographs such as Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point, No. 33 (1872) by Eadweard Muybridge were circulated through stereo cards, which allowed armchair travellers to experience remote places in three dimensions when viewed through a stereoscope. Today, photography remains closely linked with scenic vistas of the American West. Creating works in extended series or grids, artists including Matthew Brandt, Sharon Harper and Mark Rudewel seem to be responding to the earlier tradition of mass-marketing western views, using photography as a medium to call attention to the passage of time and the changing nature of landscapes.

 

San Francisco – Becoming a Modernist

The third section of the exhibition focuses on Adams’ hometown of San Francisco, which has long captured photographers’ imaginations with its rolling hills and dramatic orientation toward the water. The city’s transformation over more than a century – including changes made to the urban landscape following the devastating earthquake and fire in 1906 and the rise of skyscrapers in the later 20th century – can be observed in the juxtaposition of panoramas by Eadweard Muybridge and Mark Klett, taken from the same spot 113 years apart. Adams’ images of San Francisco from the 1920s and 1930s trace his development into a modernist photographer, as he experimented with a large-format camera to produce maximum depth of field and extremely sharp-focused images. During the Great Depression, Adams also took on a wider range of subjects, including the challenging reality of urban life in his hometown. He photographed the demolition of abandoned buildings, toppled cemetery headstones, political signs and the patina of a city struggling during difficult times. One sign of hope for the future at the time was the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, which began in 1933. Adams’ The Golden Gate before the Bridge (1932), taken near his family home five years before the bridge’s opening in 1937, is displayed alongside four contemporary prints from the Golden Gate Bridge project (Private Collection, Cambridge) by Richard Misrach, taken from his own porch in Berkeley Hills. Placing his large-format camera in exactly the same position on each occasion, Misrach recorded hundreds of views of the distant span, at different times of the day and in every season. The series, photographed over three years from 1997 to 2000, was reissued in 2012 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate’s landmark opening. The vast expanses of sky in Misrach’s works echo the focus on the massive cumulus cloud in the earlier photograph by Adams, who was fascinated with changing weather and landscapes with seemingly infinite space.

 

Adams in the American Southwest

Adams produced some of his most memorable images – among them, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941; print date: 1965-75) – during his frequent travels to the American Southwest. He was intrigued by the region’s distinctive landscape, brilliant sunlight and sudden dramatic storms, as well as its rich mix of cultures. Shortly after his first trip to New Mexico in 1927, Adams collaborated with author Mary Hunter Austin on the illustrated book Taos Pueblo (1930, Harvard Art Museums), for which he contributed 12 photographs that reflect his interest in Taos Pueblo’s architecture and activities. Adams shared Austin’s concern that the artistic and religious traditions of the Pueblo peoples were under threat from the increasing numbers of people traveling through or settling in the region. In contrast to the indigenous peoples of Yosemite, who had been forced out of their native lands many years earlier, Pueblo peoples were still living in their ancestral villages. On his return visits to the American Southwest, Adams often photographed the native communities, their dwellings and their ancient ruins. He also photographed Indian dances, which had become popular among tourists who came by train and automobile to be entertained and to buy pottery, jewellery and other souvenirs. Adams’ images of dancers, which emphasise their costumes, postures and expressions, therefore have a complex legacy, as he was one of the onlookers – though he carefully cropped out any evidence of the gathered crowds. Today, indigenous artists including Diné photographer Will Wilson, are creating work that responds to and confronts past depictions of Native Americans by white artists who travelled west to “document” the people who were viewed as a “vanishing race” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

 

Picturing the National Parks

The largest section of the exhibition examines the critical role that photography has played in the history of the national parks. In the 19th century, dramatic views captured by Carleton Watkins and other photographers ultimately helped convince government officials to take action to protect Yosemite and Yellowstone from private development. Adams, too, was aware of the power of the image to sway opinions on land preservation. In 1941 Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, hired Adams to make a series of mural-sized photographs of the national parks for the capital’s new Interior Building. Although his government funding was cut short by America’s entry into World War II and the murals were never realised, Adams felt so strongly about the value of the project that he sought financial assistance on his own. He secured Guggenheim Foundation grants in 1946 and 1948, which allowed him to travel to national parks from Alaska to Texas, Hawaii to Maine. Marked by a potent combination of art and environmental activism, the photographs he made spread his belief in the transformative power of the parks to a wide audience. Many contemporary artists working in the national parks acknowledge, as Adams did, the work of the photographers who came before them. But the complicated legacies of these protected lands have led some – including Catherine Opie, Arno Rafael Minkkinen, Binh Danh and Abelardo Morell – to take more personal and political approaches to the work they are making in these spaces.

 

The Other Side of the Mountains

Adams made his reputation mainly through spectacular images of “unspoiled” nature. Less well known are the photographs he produced of the more forbidding, arid landscapes in California’s Death Valley and Owens Valley, just southeast of Yosemite. Here, on the other side of the Sierra Nevada, Adams’ work took a dramatic detour. Fellow photographer Edward Weston introduced Adams to Death Valley, where he captured images of sand dunes, salt flats and sandstones canyons. Owens Valley, located to the west, was once verdant farmland, but was suffering by the 1940s, its water siphoned off to supply the growing city of Los Angeles. In 1943, Adams also traveled to nearby Manzanar, where he photographed Japanese Americans forcibly relocated to internment camps shortly after the U.S. entered World War II. Trevor Paglen, Stephen Tourlentes and David Benjamin Sherry are among the contemporary photographers who continue to find compelling subjects in these remote landscapes. Some are drawn to them as “blank slates” upon which to leave their mark, while others explore the raw beauty of the desolate terrain and the many, sometimes unsettling ways it used today – including as a site for maximum-security prisons and clandestine military projects.

 

The Changing Landscape

Adams’ photographs are appreciated for their imagery and formal qualities, but they also carry a message of advocacy. The last two sections of the exhibition examine the continually changing landscapes of the sites once captured by Adams. In his own time, the photographer was well aware of the environmental concerns facing California and the nation – thanks, in part, to his involvement with the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society. As his career progressed, Adams began to move away from symphonic and pristine wilderness landscapes in favour of images that showed a more nuanced vision. He photographed urban sprawl, freeways, graffiti, oil drilling, ghost towns, rural cemeteries and mining towns, as well as quieter, less romantic views of nature, such as the aftermath of forest fires – subjects that resonate in new ways today. For contemporary photographers working in the American West, the spirit of advocacy takes on an ever-increasing urgency, as they confront a terrain continually altered by human activity and global warming. Works by artists including Laura McPhee, Victoria Sambunaris, Mitch Epstein, Meghann Riepenhoff, Bryan Schutmaat and Lucas Foglia bear witness to these changes, countering notions that natural resources are somehow limitless and not in need of attention and protection.

Press release from the MFA

 

Carelton E. Watkins. 'The Yosemite Falls' 1861

 

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Printed by Taber & Co. (American, active in 1850-1860)
The Yosemite Falls
1861, printed 1880-1890
Albumen print
Image/Sheet: 39.8 x 51.2 cm (15 11/16 x 20 3/16 in.)
A. Shuman Collection – Abraham Shuman Fund

 

Catherine Opie (American, born in 1961) 'Untitled #1 (Yosemite Valley)' 2015

 

Catherine Opie (American, born in 1961)
Untitled #1 (Yosemite Valley)
2015
Pigment print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul
© Catherine Opie

 

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916) 'Mount Starr King and Glacier Point, Yosemite, No. 69' 1865-66

 

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Mount Starr King and Glacier Point, Yosemite, No. 69
1865-66
Mammoth albumen print from wet collodion negative
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow Fund
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Eadweard J. Muybridge (American, 1830-1904) 'Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point, No. 33' 1872

 

Eadweard J. Muybridge (American, 1830-1904)
Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point, No. 33
1872
Albumen print
Image/Sheet: 42.5 x 54.2 cm (16 3/4 x 21 5/16 in.)
Gift of Charles T. and Alma A. Isaacs
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Frank Jay Haynes (American, 1853-1921) 'Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Falls' c. 1887

 

Frank Jay Haynes (American, 1853-1921)
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Falls
c. 1887
Albumen print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Sophie M. Friedman Fund
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming' 1942

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
1942
Gelatin silver print
47.1 x 61.2 cm (18 9/16 x 24 1/8 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Abelardo Morell (American (born in Cuba, 1948)) 'Tent‑Camera Image on Ground: View of Mount Moran and the Snake River from Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming' 2011

 

Abelardo Morell (American (born in Cuba, 1948))
TentCamera Image on Ground: View of Mount Moran and the Snake River from Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
2011
Inkjet print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Adam Clark Vroman. 'Four of Hearts (Bashful)' c. 1894

 

Adam Clark Vroman (American, 1856-1916)
Publisher Lazarus and Melzer (American)
Four of Hearts (Bashful)
c. 1894
Playing card with halftone print
8.9 x 6.4 cm (3 1/2 x 2 1/2 in.)
Gift of Lewis A. Shepard
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

John K. Hillers (American (born in Germany), 1843-1925) 'Big Navajo' c. 1879-80

 

John K. Hillers (American (born in Germany), 1843-1925)
Big Navajo
c. 1879-80
Albumen print
22.9 x 19.1 cm (9 x 7 1/2 in.)
Gift of Jessie H. Wilkinson – Jessie H. Wilkinson Fund
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

John K. Hillers. 'Heaipu, Navaho Woman' c. 1879

 

John K. Hillers (American (born in Germany), 1843-1925)
Heaipu, Navaho Woman
c. 1879
Albumen print
Gift of Jessie H. Wilkinson – Jessie H. Wilkinson Fund
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Will Wilson (Diné (Navajo), born in 1969) 'How the West is One' 2014

 

Will Wilson (Diné (Navajo), born in 1969)
How the West is One
2014
Inkjet print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Will Wilson

 

Trevor Paglen (American, born in 1974) 'Untitled (Reaper Drone)' 2015

 

Trevor Paglen (American, born in 1974)
Untitled (Reaper Drone)
2015
Pigment print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Monolith - The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park' 1927

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Monolith – The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
1927; print date: 1950-60
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Bryan Schutmaat (American, born in 1983) 'Cemetery, Tonopah, NV' 2012

 

Bryan Schutmaat (American, born in 1983)
Cemetery, Tonopah, NV
2012
Archival inkjet print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico' 1941

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico
1941; print date: 1965-75
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico' 1941 (detail)

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (detail)
1941; print date: 1965-75
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Pine Forest in Snow, Yosemite National Park' c. 1932

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Pine Forest in Snow, Yosemite National Park
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Laura McPhee (American, born in 1958) 'Midsummer (Lupine and Fireweed)' 2008

 

Laura McPhee (American, born in 1958)
Midsummer (Lupine and Fireweed)
2008
Archival pigment print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Laura McPhee

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Grass and Burned Stump, Sierra Nevada, California' 1935

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Grass and Burned Stump, Sierra Nevada, California
1935
Gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Cemetery Statue and Oil Derricks, Long Beach, California' 1939

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Cemetery Statue and Oil Derricks, Long Beach, California
1939
Gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Mitch Epstein (American, born in 1952) 'Altamont Pass Wind Farm, California' 2007

 

Mitch Epstein (American, born in 1952)
Altamont Pass Wind Farm, California
2007
Chromogenic print
Reproduced with permission
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts

Opening hours:
Monday and Tuesday 10am – 5 pm
Wednesday – Friday 10am – 10 pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am – 5 pm

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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