Posts Tagged ‘American social documentary photographs

29
May
22

Exhibition: ‘Real Photo Postcards: Pictures from a Changing Nation’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 17th March – 25th July, 2022

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Photographer in the Field' 1907 or later

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Photographer in the Field
1907 or later
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

 

Life in all its variety!

A fascinating look at American real photo postcards and the stories they tell about the US in the early 20th century. They “reveal truths about a country that was growing and changing with the times – and experiencing the social and economic strains that came with those upheavals.”

Sometimes all is not as clear cut as the professional (vernacular) photographers would have us believe when they recorded a moment that would otherwise have been lost to posterity. For example, the Just Government League formed in 1909 – Maryland’s largest organisation advocating for women’s suffrage – was, like many suffrage organisations, predominantly white, Protestant, highly-educated, and financially well-off.

“In the early 20th century, in addition to its large African American population, Baltimore saw an influx of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe who were Jewish and Catholic. Anti-immigrant sentiment was widespread and supported by the eugenic science of the period, to which many of Baltimore’s elite subscribed.”

As with everything in life and photography, nothing is ever black and white. While the photograph captures one moment, one time freeze, the hidden stories embedded in light and language can be excavated with patience and understanding to reveal the many truths of life – that is, the hopes and fears, the discriminations and freedoms of fallible human beings.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Lumberjacks' 1907 or later

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Lumberjacks
1907 or later
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'The Lions, Scio, Oregon' 1907

 

Unidentified artist (American)
The Lions, Scio, Oregon
1907
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Telephone Operator' 1907 or later

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Telephone Operator
1907 or later
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

 

Through occupational portraits as well as workplace snapshots, real photo postcards served as means of visually representing women’s work outside the home. Snapshot photography’s aesthetic norms may have privileged domesticity, but the same cannot be said for real photo postcards, which illustrate a broad gamut of jobs that women undertook outside of the domestic realm. In this way, real photo postcards both captured women’s participation in public life and, through the cards’ subsequent distribution, visually reinforced it.

Women’s work as shown in real photo postcards includes representations of both exceptional forms of labor and quotidian but under acknowledged ones. Some postcards illustrate the degree to which women were beginning to enter lines of work widely considered too hazardous for their participation. One card, for example, depicts a female lion tamer named Holmes, brandishing a whip as she poses flanked by four lions who sit neatly on pedestals (187). Others show an early female truck driver, Luella Bates (193), and the race car driver Irene Dare (194).

In other fields of work outside the home, women constituted a more expected class of labourers. Postcards depicting telephone exchanges featured women operators, who quickly came to dominate this field of work, owing in part to employers’ belief that they had better telephone manners than men, and in part to the fact that they could be paid considerably less than men.11 On the back of one postcard (188), which depicts an Elmira, New York, roomful of telephone exchange operators clad in shirtwaists and skirts, the sender identifies herself as one of those pictured: “This is where I hold forth,” she writes. Another operator (195), this one pictured solo at the switchboard as she offers a smile to the camera…

Annie Rudd. “Between Private and Public,” in Lynda Klich and Benjamin Weiss (eds.,). Real Photo Postcards: Pictures from a Changing Nation. MFA Publications, 2022, p. 177.

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Street paving, Wyalusing, Pennsylvania' 1907 or later

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Street paving, Wyalusing, Pennsylvania
1907 or later
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

 

This postcard depicts street layers working outside the Wyalusing Hotel in the town of Wyalusing, Pennsylvania, in 1907. According to the book, real estate development provided good opportunities for photo postcard photographers.

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Photographer and Sitter with Dog' 1907

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Photographer and Sitter with Dog
1907
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Votes for Women' 1907 or later

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Votes for Women
1907 or later
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

 

In 1903, at the height of the worldwide craze for postcards, the Eastman Kodak Company unveiled a new product: the postcard camera. The device exposed a postcard-sized negative that could print directly onto a blank card, capturing scenes in extraordinary detail. Portable and easy to use, the camera heralded a new way of making postcards. Suddenly almost anyone could make photo postcards, as a hobby or as a business. Other companies quickly followed in Kodak’s wake, and soon photographic postcards joined the billions upon billions of printed cards in circulation before World War II.

Real photo postcards, as such photographic cards are called today, captured aspects of the world that their commercially published cousins never could. Big postcard publishers tended to play it safe, issuing sets that showed celebrated sites from towns across the United States like town halls, historic mills, and post offices. But the photographers who walked the streets or set up temporary studios worked fast and cheap. They could take a risk on a scene that might appeal to only a few, or capture a moment that would otherwise have been lost to posterity. As the Victorian formality of earlier photography fell away, shop interiors, construction sites, train wrecks, and people acting silly all began to appear on real photo postcards, capturing everyday life on film like never before.

Featuring more than 300 works drawn from the MFA’s Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive, this exhibition takes an in-depth look at real photo postcards and the stories they tell about the US in the early 20th century. The cards range from the dramatic and tragic to the inexplicable, funny, and just plain weird. Along the way, they also reveal truths about a country that was growing and changing with the times – and experiencing the social and economic strains that came with those upheavals.

Today, real photo postcards open up the past in ways that can surprise and puzzle. Few of them come with explanations, so over and over again even the most striking images leave only questions: “why?” and sometimes even “what?” “Real Photo Postcards: Pictures from a Changing Nation” is a forceful reminder that memory and historical understanding are evanescent.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website [Online] Cited 06/05/2022

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'A man poses in an Uncle Sam costume in Patchogue, Long Island, New York' c. 1908

 

Unidentified artist (American)
A man poses in an Uncle Sam costume in Patchogue, Long Island, New York
c. 1908
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

 

A man poses for a studio photo in an Uncle Sam costume in Patchogue – a village in Long Island, New York – circa 1908. The author writes: ‘Uncle Sam as a symbol for the U.S. was ensured not only by the works of nineteenth-century cartoonists like Thomas Nast and James Montgomery Flagg’s “I Want You” recruiting poster during WWI, but also because of everymen like this one, who emulated Sam’s long white whiskers and stars-and-stripes suit.’

Sarah Holt and Sadie Whitelocks. “Step back in time to yesteryear America: Fascinating new book of vintage photo postcards reveals life in the U.S during the early 20th century, from gun gangs to Grand Canyon visits,” on the Mailonline website 14 April 2022 [Online] Cited 02/05/2022

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Group of men outside the post office in the city of Lenox, Iowa' 1909 or later

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Group of men outside the post office in the city of Lenox, Iowa
1909 or later
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Streetcar in Columbus, Ohio' around 1909 or later

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Streetcar in Columbus, Ohio
around 1909 or later
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'The Strike is On' 1910

 

Unidentified artist (American)
The Strike is On
1910
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Smith Studio (publisher) 'U.S President Theodore Roosevelt speaking to a crowd at Freeport, Illinois' 1910

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Smith Studio (publisher)
U.S President Theodore Roosevelt speaking to a crowd at Freeport, Illinois
1910
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

 

Look up and you’ll see former U.S President Theodore Roosevelt speaking to a crowd at Freeport, Illinois. It’s thought the picture was captured in 1910, the year after his presidency came to an end. The book reads: ‘In 1910, Roosevelt undertook a transcontinental trip that passed through Illinois, stopping in Freeport, Belvedere, and Chicago. The events in Freeport were planned for September 8, 1910’.

Sarah Holt and Sadie Whitelocks. “Step back in time to yesteryear America: Fascinating new book of vintage photo postcards reveals life in the U.S during the early 20th century, from gun gangs to Grand Canyon visits,” on the Mailonline website 14 April 2022 [Online] Cited 02/05/2022

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Man in a fur coat' 1910

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Man in a fur coat
1910
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

 

Featuring a moustachioed man in a fur coat, this postcard is from 1910. ‘Bearing a message in Norwegian, this card, addressed to Ole Flatland, of Canby, Minnesota, is testimony to the large and vibrant Scandinavian community in the upper Midwest,’ the book notes. It says in the absence of contextual information, ‘it is still possible to read images through clues offered in the physical object of the postcard itself, such as a caption on the front or message on the back, the clothes or uniforms that were worn, an object that was held, a person’s expression or body position, or the props and background chosen by the sitter to express a meaningful representation of themselves’

Sarah Holt and Sadie Whitelocks. “Step back in time to yesteryear America: Fascinating new book of vintage photo postcards reveals life in the U.S during the early 20th century, from gun gangs to Grand Canyon visits,” on the Mailonline website 14 April 2022 [Online] Cited 02/05/2022

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Flood at H. H. Miller's Place Sample Room, Galena, Illinois' 1911

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Flood at H. H. Miller’s Place Sample Room, Galena, Illinois
1911
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

 

Men huddle together outside a bar, HH Miller’s Palace Sample Room, in the small town of Galena in Illinois, during the Valentine’s Day flood of 1911. The book says that the town ‘faced flooding every spring, but the Valentine’s Day flood of 19111 was particularly bad’. It continues: ‘HH Miller, the proprietor of the bar in this postcard, used the card as a New Year’s greeting the following January: “This is my saloon, the water was to the floor. Behind poast [sic] is myself and Berne and the man with white coat is my bartender. Good night.”‘ The tome also notes that these ‘news-style’ photo postcards, documenting ‘fires, floods, explosions, political rallies, strikes, and parades’ were ‘the direct forebear to the citizen journalism of the digital age, captured by ubiquitous smartphones and disseminated through social media’.

Sarah Holt and Sadie Whitelocks. “Step back in time to yesteryear America: Fascinating new book of vintage photo postcards reveals life in the U.S during the early 20th century, from gun gangs to Grand Canyon visits,” on the Mailonline website 14 April 2022 [Online] Cited 02/05/2022

 

Unidentified artist (American) R. & H. Photo (publisher) 'Seen in Chinatown, San Jose, California' 1912 or later

 

Unidentified artist (American)
R. & H. Photo (publisher)
Seen in Chinatown, San Jose, California
1912 or later
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Electricia, the Woman Who Tames Electricity' 1912

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Electricia, the Woman Who Tames Electricity
1912
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Gensmer & Wolfram Grocery Store, Portland, Oregon' 1913

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Gensmer & Wolfram Grocery Store, Portland, Oregon
1913
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Sufragists' about 1912

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Suffragists
about 1912
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Mary F. Mitchell Feeding Chickens, Wichita, Kansas' about 1912

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Mary F. Mitchell Feeding Chickens, Wichita, Kansas
about 1912
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Washerwomen' 1913

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Washerwomen
1913
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Long's Place Lunch Car' about 1914

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Long’s Place Lunch Car
about 1914
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Teacher in the Classroom' about 1914

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Teacher in the Classroom
about 1914
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'National Woollen Mills in Wheeling, West Virginia' around 1914

 

Unidentified artist (American)
National Woollen Mills in Wheeling, West Virginia
around 1914
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Men Drinking' about 1914

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Men Drinking
about 1914
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Tourists at Mariposa Grove of Big Trees' about 1914

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Tourists at Mariposa Grove of Big Trees
about 1914
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

T. W. Stewart (American, active early 20th century) 'Members of the Just Government League of Maryland' 1914

 

T. W. Stewart (American, active early 20th century)
Members of the Just Government League of Maryland
1914
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

 

Established in 1909, the Just Government League became the largest organisation in Maryland advocating for women’s suffrage. Local chapters were founded throughout the state including in Westminster in 1913. By 1915 statewide membership numbered 17,000. The League’s campaign centred on public education to affirm the social benefits of votes for women. After Congress passed the 19th Amendment in 1920, the League turned its focus to women’s civil and political rights, and won the right for women to hold public office in Maryland in 1922.

 

The Just Government League formed in 1909. Its leaders were Edith Houghton Hooker, a former Hopkins medical student, and her husband Donald Hooker, a Hopkins physician. They were aided by two close friends: Mabel Glover Mall, Edith’s classmate, and Florence Sabin, who completed her MD at Hopkins and became its first female senior faculty member.

Starting in 1910, suffragists began using cross-country hikes to “reach all sorts and conditions of people” outside of urban centres. The women of Maryland’s Just Government League hiked from Baltimore through Garrett County, about seventy miles, holding public meetings along the way.

Edith Hooker admired the direct-action approach of Alice Paul, and helped Paul to split the more radical National Woman’s Party from the moderate NAWSA. Though the Just Government League joined the National Woman’s Party in 1917, it remained more focused on diplomatic than on militant efforts, conducting intensive lobbying in Annapolis and Washington.

Despite their interest in reaching “all sorts” of people, the League, like many suffrage organisations, was predominantly white, Protestant, highly-educated, and financially well-off. In the early 20th century, in addition to its large African American population, Baltimore saw an influx of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe who were Jewish and Catholic. Anti-immigrant sentiment was widespread and supported by the eugenic science of the period, to which many of Baltimore’s elite subscribed.

Anonymous text. “The Just Government League,” on the John Hopkins Library website Nd [Online] Cited 03/05/2022

 

Unidentified artist (American) Rose Studio (publisher) 'Railroad worker, Portland, Oregon' 1911 or later

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Rose Studio (publisher)
Railroad worker, Portland, Oregon
1911 or later
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Butcher and his Son' about 1914

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Butcher and his Son
about 1914
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Woman with Flowers' about 1914

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Woman with Flowers
about 1914
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Roller skater, Frankfort, Michigan' about 1914

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Roller skater, Frankfort, Michigan
about 1914
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

 

Featuring more than 300 works drawn from the Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive, a promised gift to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Real Photo Postcards: Pictures from a Changing Nation takes an in-depth look at the innovative early-20th-century medium that enabled both professional and amateur photographers to capture everyday life in U.S. towns big and small. The photographs on these cards, which range from the dramatic and tragic to the inexplicable and funny, show this moment in history with striking immediacy – revealing truths about a country experiencing rapid industrialisation, mass immigration, technological change, and social and economic uncertainty. The exhibition is on view from March 17 through July 25, 2022 in the Herb Ritts Gallery and Clementine Brown Gallery. It is accompanied by an illustrated volume, Real Photo Postcards: Pictures from a Changing Nation, produced by MFA Publications and authored by Lynda Klich and Benjamin Weiss, the MFA’s Leonard A. Lauder Senior Curator of Visual Culture, with contributions by Eric Moskowitz, Jeff. L Rosenheim, Annie Rudd, Christopher B. Steiner and Anna Tome.

In 1903, at the height of the worldwide craze for postcards, the Eastman Kodak Company unveiled a new product: the postcard camera. The device exposed a postcard-sized negative that could print directly onto a blank card, capturing scenes in extraordinary detail. Portable and easy to use, the camera heralded a new way of making postcards. Suddenly almost anyone could make photo postcards, as a hobby or as a business. Other companies quickly followed in Kodak’s wake, and soon photographic postcards joined the billions upon billions of printed cards in circulation before World War II.

“Real photo postcards bring us back to the exciting early years of photojournalism. The new flexibility and mobility of this medium created citizen photographers who captured life on the ground around them. These cards particularly excite me because we learn from them both the grand historical narrative and the smaller events that made up the daily lives of those who participated in that history,” said Leonard A. Lauder.

Real photo postcards, as such photographic cards are called today, caught aspects of the world that their commercially published cousins never could. Big postcard publishers tended to play it safe, issuing sets that showed celebrated sites from towns across the U.S. like town halls, historic sites and post offices. But the photographers who walked the streets or set up temporary studios worked fast and cheap. They could take a risk on a scene that might appeal to only a few, or record a moment that would otherwise have been lost to posterity. As the Victorian formality of earlier photography fell away, shop interiors, constructions sites, train wrecks and people being silly all began to appear on real photo postcards – capturing everyday life on film like never before.

Real Photo Postcards: Pictures from a Changing Nation is organised thematically, with groupings of postcards centred around various events and activities that captivated both professional and amateur photographers at the time – from public festivities and organised sports to people at work in professions ranging from telephone operators to farmers. Many of the cards convey local spot news – fires, floods, explosions, political rallies, strikes and parades – presaging the digital journalism of our own age. The exhibition also features a wide array of postcard portraits, which were inexpensive and affordable to people from most walks of life. Popular categories of postcard portraits included workers posing with the tools of their trade or people posing with studio props or backgrounds, sitting on paper moons or “flying” in a fake airplane or hot-air balloon. Collectively, these portraits offer a rare view of a modern America in the making – one constructed by the people, for themselves.

“The postcards in this exhibition are precious, intricately detailed windows into life a century ago. In exploring the Lauder Archive, we selected and arranged the cards with the hope of conveying a measure of the intimacy and serendipity that might come from walking the streets of a town of that time,” said Weiss.

“Some of those cards reveal their history in great detail, while others are resolutely mute about who made them and why. That is one of the pleasures of working with postcards, and one of the things that makes the Lauder Archive such an inexhaustible mine of stories and mysteries,” added Klich.

Real Photo Postcards: Pictures from a Changing Nation is the third exhibition at the MFA drawn from the Leonard A. Lauder Archive, following The Art of Influence: Propaganda Postcards from the Era of World Wars (2018-2019) and The Postcard Age: Selections from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection (2012-2013).

Press release from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Circus at Bi-County Fair, Union City, Indiana' 1917 or later

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Circus at Bi-County Fair, Union City, Indiana
1917 or later
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

 

An image taken at Union City Bi-County Fair in Indiana around 1917. The book says of the photo postcard industry: ‘Just as postcard studios could flourish in the quieter corners of the country, away from the commercial photo studios of the big cities, so could postcard photographers find success close to home. They just needed to make sure that their products were tailored to local tastes: local celebrities, local sports teams, champion livestock and vegetables, the midway at the county fairgrounds, or the local quack–medicine salesmen’.

Sarah Holt and Sadie Whitelocks. “Step back in time to yesteryear America: Fascinating new book of vintage photo postcards reveals life in the U.S during the early 20th century, from gun gangs to Grand Canyon visits,” on the Mailonline website 14 April 2022 [Online] Cited 02/05/2022

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Man and Woman in an Automobile' 1918

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Man and Woman in an Automobile
1918
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Swimmers at Saltair, Utah Levene' 1918

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Swimmers at Saltair, Utah Levene
1918
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

The Northern Photo Company (publisher) 'Advanced Room, Indian School, Wittenberg Wisconsin' 1919

 

Unidentified artist (American)
The Northern Photo Company (publisher)
Advanced Room, Indian School, Wittenberg Wisconsin
1919
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) Harbaugh Photo (publisher) 'Paper Moon Portrait of a Barber' about 1914

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Harbaugh Photo (publisher)
Paper Moon Portrait of a Barber
about 1914
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Paper Moon Portrait of a Young Woman' 1917 or later

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Paper Moon Portrait of a Young Woman
1917 or later
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Amish market in Lancaster, Pennsylvania' 1925

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Amish market in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
1925
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Assembly line, Ford Motor Company factory, Dearborn, Michigan' mid-1920s

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Assembly line, Ford Motor Company factory, Dearborn, Michigan
mid-1920s
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

 

An assembly line of the Ford Motor Company factory photographed in the mid-1920s in Dearborn, Michigan. The authors write: ‘The photographs on these cards capture the United States in the early twentieth century with a striking immediacy. It was a time of rapid industrialisation, mass immigration, technological change, and social uncertainty – in other words, a time much like our own’.

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Alma Mae Bradley' 1926 or later

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Alma Mae Bradley
1926 or later
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

 

Sometime in the early 1930s, a young Black woman posed for a portrait in what appears to be a makeshift photo studio, set up perhaps on the grounds of her high school campus (144). Affixed to the wall behind her is a cloth banner, its creases still visible from where it had been neatly pressed prior to being unfolded as a backdrop. Although the felt letters on the banner are mostly cut off from the image’s frame, there are enough letters visible to make out that the photograph was taken at Downingtown Industrial and Agricultural School, a vocational high school established in 1905 to educate Black children in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. The young woman is dressed in the uniform of her school team, and she is wearing a pair of Ball-Band high-top canvas rubber-soled sneakers, the latest innovation in competitive athletic footwear. She stands with one foot in front of the other, her left knee slightly bent, and she appears ready to throw a basketball while looking off somewhere into the distance. Although the photograph represents a unique likeness or portrait of this individual, the image closely follows the stylistic conventions of this period – photographing athletes in the artificial surroundings of a photo studio while presenting them as if caught in a frozen moment of action during a game or sporting event. On the back of the postcard is written: “When you look at this, think of me. Keep this to remember me by. Love Alma Mae Bradley.” Beyond the small clues presented in the brief handwritten text and in the image, virtually nothing else is known about this young woman – who she was, whom she was writing to, and how exactly she would want to be remembered.1 Like so many other portraits on photo postcards produced in the early twentieth century, this one has been separated from its original context and from its intended recipient. What had started as a personal memento from a life being lived, is now a public document detached from individual experience and meaning.

Christopher B. Steiner. “When You Look at This, Think of Me,” in Lynda Klich and Benjamin Weiss (eds.,). Real Photo Postcards: Pictures from a Changing Nation. MFA Publications, 2022, p. 138.

 

Mitchell (American, photographer) 'Birger and his gang' October 1926

 

Mitchell (American, photographer)
Birger and his gang
October 1926
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

 

This incredible photograph was taken in Harrisburg, Illinois, by local resident and photographer Alvis Michael Mitchell and shows notorious gangster Charlie Birger and his gun-toting gang. Birger, reveals the book, was ‘as notorious as any gangster anywhere from 1926 to 1928’, with one newspaper story at the time describing Al Capone as ‘the Charlie Birger of Cook County’. Birger’s gang, we learn in the tome, ‘controlled bootlegging and “adult entertainment” across Southern Illinois’, with Birger eventually convicted of orchestrating the murder of a small-town mayor and becoming the last man publicly hanged in Illinois on April 19, 1928. He can be seen in the picture sitting sidesaddle on the porch rail at back-right in a bulletproof vest, the book reveals. Adding further insight, it says: ‘The inscription on [this] card, “Birger and His Gang”, vaults the viewer from quietly eyeing a band of outlaws to considering what photographer Mitchell might have felt as he steadied his camera before all that brandished firepower… though Mitchell suggested to a reporter years later that he had arranged the photo, family lore has it the other way: Birger’s gang enlisted the reluctant photographer, knocking on the door and spooking his wife.’ Despite the 1927 notation on the card, the book’s authors say the date ‘can be narrowed down to within a few days in October 1926, based on the movements, arrests, and deaths of the pictured gang members’.

Sarah Holt and Sadie Whitelocks. “Step back in time to yesteryear America: Fascinating new book of vintage photo postcards reveals life in the U.S during the early 20th century, from gun gangs to Grand Canyon visits,” on the Mailonline website 14 April 2022 [Online] Cited 02/05/2022

 

Unidentified artist (American) 'Two elegantly dressed women at the Grand Canyon' January 14, 1929

 

Unidentified artist (American)
Two elegantly dressed women at the Grand Canyon
January 14, 1929
Gelatin silver print on card stock
Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive

 

 

This photo, taken on January 14, 1929, shows two elegantly dressed women at the Grand Canyon. The book says of the shot: ‘The women stand before what is today a hackneyed tourist view… but what was then remarkable, a novelty. Their heeled shoes and clutches indicate that they did not rough it to get there, but were neatly dropped, likely by a driver, in a predetermined location designed to ensure that they could procure a photograph that would communicate, in effect, that they had “been there, done that”‘.

Sarah Holt and Sadie Whitelocks. “Step back in time to yesteryear America: Fascinating new book of vintage photo postcards reveals life in the U.S during the early 20th century, from gun gangs to Grand Canyon visits,” on the Mailonline website 14 April 2022 [Online] Cited 02/05/2022

 

'Real Photo Postcards: Pictures from a Changing Nation' book cover

 

Real Photo Postcards: Pictures from a Changing Nation book cover. The cover picture shows tourists at the Wawona Tree in California’s Yosemite National Park in 1908.

 

 

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Avenue of the Arts
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19
Dec
21

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

There is no more time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

Marion Palfi portraits

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

~ Marion Palfi

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Sono Osato (American, 1919-2018)

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

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

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dean Dixon (American, 1915-1976)

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

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

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

About the exhibition

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

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

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

Text from the Phoenix Art Museum website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the Phoenix Art Museum

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

THE SOUTH: Death of Picky Pie

Monday, June 13, 1949
Time Magazine

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Biography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Phoenix Art Museum
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1625 N. Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85004

Opening hours:
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Wednesday: 10am – 7pm
Thursday – Sunday: 10am – 5pm

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22
Jan
21

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

January 2021

 

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

 

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

 

 

Unguarded moments

“Tell those friends with cameras for eyes”

 

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

The Unguarded Moment  ~ The Church

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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20
Dec
20

Exhibition: ‘Bruce Davidson: Brooklyn Gang’ at Cleveland Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 25th October 2020 – 28th February 2021

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

For a few brief moments, rebels with a cause

This is one of my favourite photo essays of all time. The story Davidson tells of this male-orientated Brooklyn gang and its culture through his photographs is one of brotherhood, friendship, rivalry, love, longing, agony, depression and death at a time of utter poverty and rock ‘n roll rebellion. He produced “unflinchingly honest images of these American youths.” Now, all these years later, the photographs possess a powerful nostalgia for the era mixed with the desolation of destroyed lives and lost youth.

Davidson gets under the skin of his subjects, embeds himself firmly in their milieu. The subjects allow him to photograph their most intimate moments, seemingly free from worry or anxiety. There is an insouciance to their attitude, a knowing insouciance. In one photograph inside Helen’s Candy Store, Bob Powers stares directly and disarmingly at the camera while the girl playing with the yo-yo and the youth in the background also stare directly into the lens, forming a strong compositional triangle of the gaze. Powers said he was voted “most likely to die before I was 21 years old.” He lived with his seven siblings and alcoholic parents in a three-bedroom apartment that had a coal-powered cookstove and no hot water or central heating.

There is a dark undertone to the narrative. While there are moments of joy and happiness, you can sense the isolation and despair of these disaffected youths. Cathy O’Neal, seen in front of a cigarette machine at Coney Island, committed suicide by shotgun. Jimmie and his family were wiped out by drugs. Junior Rice became a heroin dealer. Lefty od’d in bed at 19. “He was the first in the group to die from a drug overdose… within a few years, drugs would claim the lives of many in the gang and in the neighbourhood.” In picturing their lives, the photographs gather moments (in time), enunciating how the gang members railed against the conformity and materialism of 1950s America whilst imbibing its rebellious iconography. Only occasionally does the artist pull back to show us the wider picture, the context of the action, with photographs of New York skyscrapers seen in the distance and the Statue of Liberty.

Davidson does not let his spontaneity slip. He is informed, aware, absent (but present) in all of these photographs waiting for that special moment. In the photograph above, a bird-like creature swoops down on something invisible on the ground. In informal yet tightly focused photographs – of sunbathing or walking the boardwalks of Coney Island, gang members fixing their hair, rolling up their sleeves, dead beat(s) in the back of the bus, making out in the back seat of a car, walking in the park or hooning around on the Metro – Davidson is there to capture the off-beat moments of gang existence and the members relationship to each other.

Through a superb eye, a feeling, a sensibility and connection towards the gang members desperation and isolation, universally acknowledged by the photographer himself, Davidson sets them all on the path to immortality. Do not forget, these photographs seem to be saying. For a few brief moments these people did exist, their lives were valuable, these rebels with a cause.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

One of Davidson’s best-known series, Brooklyn Gang was inspired by a news story he read about a teenage gang called the Jokers.

Davidson contacted the Jokers, one of Brooklyn’s roughest gangs, through their social worker. In the summer of 1959, Davidson roamed the streets of New York with these teens, loitered in stores that the Jokers called their own, and sunbathed with them on the beach at Coney Island. Eventually they allowed him to photograph even their most intimate, private moments. He responded by producing unflinchingly honest images of these American youths.

Gang membership was exclusively male, but the members’ girlfriends appear frequently in Davidson’s photographs. Some of the pictures depict the teenagers exploring lust and love and the boys struggling to define and prove their masculinity. Looking back at the series in 1998, Davidson said that he felt “the reason that body of work has survived is that it’s about emotion. That kind of mood and tension and sexual vitality, that’s what those pictures were really about.”

 

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The pleasures and agonies of teenage romance are captured in Bruce Davidson’s photographs of the gang’s dance parties, which were held variously in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, at a neighbourhood school, and in members’ homes. The basement wallpaper seen here – with its fairy-tale figures, including horses, queens, knights, marionettes, and jokers – suggests a domestic setting. The event could have been a farewell party for an older gang member going off to join the army, which was a common occurrence.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16 x 23.9cm (6 5/16 x 9 7/16 in.)
Paper: 20.3 x 25.2cm (8 x 9 15/16 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

This rooftop view in Park Slope, Brooklyn, was taken from a building in the gang’s “turf,” which was a block anchored by the intersection of 17th Street and 8th Avenue. Davidson spent the summer hanging out with the gang and photographing them. Describing his process, the artist said, “I stay a long time. … I am an outsider on the inside.” Park Slope, now one of New York’s most desirable neighbourhoods, was then a poor, mostly Irish area.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.9 x 14.6cm (8 5/8 x 5 3/4 in.)
Paper: 25.1 x 20.2cm (9 7/8 x 7 15/16 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Davidson contacted the Jokers, one of Brooklyn’s roughest gangs, through their social worker. In the summer of 1959, Davidson roamed the streets of New York with these teens, loitered in stores that the Jokers called their own, and sunbathed with them on the beach at Coney Island. Eventually they allowed him to photograph even their most intimate, private moments. He responded by producing unflinchingly honest images of these American youths.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The pleasures and agonies of teenage romance are captured in Bruce Davidson’s photographs of the gang’s dance parties, which were held variously in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, at a neighbourhood school, and in members’ homes.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.1 x 24.1cm (6 5/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Paper: 20.2 x 25.3cm (7 15/16 x 9 15/16 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Childhood pastimes like playing yo-yo were a thing of the distant past for 15-year-old Bob Powers, a Joker seen here leaning against a fixture in Helen’s Candy Store. He had already been in and out of the court system numerous times by 1959. Powers stabbed someone when he was 12 and had been incarcerated for bringing zip guns (homemade firearms) and chains to school, where, Powers said, he was voted “most likely to die before I was 21 years old.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The gang members, most of whom were 15 or 16 years old, thought tattoos made them look older and might help them get served at bars. Tattoos were also a demonstration of masculinity and a rite of passage. Bob Powers, seen here at age 15 displaying his first tattoo, recalled years later that “the first time you get a tattoo it’s scary. I was sitting back with a cigarette like it’s nothing. Meanwhile, it was killing me. … I got ‘Bobby’ with stars around it. … They said, ‘Get your name.’ … I hated it forever.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 61 x 50.8cm (24 x 20 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

One of the gang members – Bob Powers – suggested that Davidson follow him to a rooftop on the gang’s block. “I remember thinking,” said Davidson, “‘This kid’s going to throw me off the roof and then rob me,’ but he’s pointing down at the stickball game (an informal form of baseball played in the street) and saying, ‘Get that,’ and saying: ‘Oh, there’s the Statue of Liberty. You can see it through all these television antennas.'”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The gang members were very concerned with their appearance, although they did not have much money to spend on grooming or clothes. “If you see a picture of me,” said former gang member Bob Powers, “the broken tooth, my teeth were green because I didn’t go to the dentist. We never had any money even though my father worked. … We used Vaseline petroleum jelly to make our hair stick like iron in a pompadour. We combed our hair constantly, wore sunglasses, and all thought we were Marlon Brandos.”

The Jokers’ slicked-back pompadours … and their clothing echoed the greaser style, a rebellious youth subculture that was promoted by cinematic antiheroes of the era. Role models included Marlon Brando’s portrayal of a motorcycle gang member in The Wild One (1953) and James Dean as a troubled teen in Rebel without a Cause (1955). The “bad boy” image flouted the aspirational role model of the time, the upwardly mobile white-collar worker in a business suit and short haircut.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Petey, a Jokers member who looks out the second-story window here, was injured in that fight. Petey’s best friend, fellow Jokers member Bob Powers, walks by the house. Housing in the gang’s neighbourhood, the then-impoverished Park Slope, Brooklyn, was overcrowded and rundown. Powers lived with his seven siblings and alcoholic parents in a three-bedroom apartment that had a coal-powered cookstove and no hot water or central heating.

 

 

One of the most highly respected and influential American documentary photographers of the past half century, Bruce Davidson spent several months photographing the daily lives of a teenage street gang for his 1959 series Brooklyn Gang. A new exhibition in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Mark Schwartz and Bettina Katz Photography Gallery, Bruce Davidson: Brooklyn Gang features 50 black-and-white photographs from that series, which are part of a recent anonymous gift to the museum of extensive selections from the artist’s archives. The exhibition is on view now through February 28, 2021.

Brooklyn Gang was Davidson’s first major project after joining the distinguished photo agency Magnum and was the fruit of several months spent immersing himself in the daily lives of the Jokers, one of the many teenage street gangs worrying New York City officials at the time. He recorded the teenagers’ pleasures and frustrations as they attempted to define masculinity and mimic adult behaviour. The photographs reflect the group’s camaraderie but also their alienation from societal norms. While many officials and commentators at the time saw the gangs as evidence of social deterioration resulting from poverty, others regarded them as the most visible manifestations of a socially disengaged generation of males – rebels without a cause.

“Bruce Davidson: Brooklyn Gang presents an intimate portrayal of the teens’ lives,” said William Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “Davidson was an outsider, but one who spent so much time with the gang that he became, as he liked to say, ‘an outsider on the inside.’ Davidson offered an independent look at the lives of these disadvantaged youths; this view of society was quite different from the age of visual and social homogenisation of the 1950s presented in mainstream magazines such as Life and Look and predicts the social turmoil of the 1960s.”

The images reflect the time Davidson spent with the teens hanging out on street corners and in the local candy store and accompanying them to the beach at Coney Island with their girlfriends. Included are several sets of variant images, affording a rare glimpse into Davidson’s working process.

“Despite a more than ten-year age difference, Davidson describes recognising his own repression in his subjects and feeling a connection to their desperation,” said Barbara Tannenbaum, the CMA’s chair of prints, drawings, and photographs and curator of photography.

Press release from the Cleveland Museum of Art

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 40.6 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The museum owns several groups of images from the series taken during the same shoot at Coney Island. They provide a rare glimpse of the artist’s selection process (see 2018.688, 2018.696, 2018.697, 2018.701, 2018.706, and 2018.735). The size of these prints, and the fact that the artist printed them long after they were shot, suggest he considered all four images worthwhile. In an exhibition print, the white marks on the woman’s cheek here, made by dust on the negative, would have been covered up with ink or dye, a process known as spotting. This may be a work print, made to aid in decisions on exactly how to print this picture. It has become one of the better-known images from Brooklyn Gang.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

In this photograph, gang member Bob Powers talks with friends in one of the many Coney Island bathhouses where people could change, shower, or swim in pools. “We’d come down on a Friday and sometimes we’d stay the whole weekend till Monday, down on the beach, me, Lefty, Junior,” Powers recalled. “The girls would stay too… We would light fires and bury all the cans of beer. I remember stealing cars and driving down there. We’d drive the car under the boardwalk and bring it right onto the bay and leave it there.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 50.8 x 61cm (20 x 24 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Shown here on the Coney Island boardwalk, from left to right, are gang members Junior Rice, Bob Powers, and Lefty, who “was a pretty tough guy in the gang and then he went to jail for about a year,” according to Powers. “He came out and he just lost it. He wasn’t the same guy. Something happened and nobody knew what. … We protected him a bit, but he caught a couple of bad beatings and lost his reputation. He ate a lot of pills one night and never woke up. His mother found him dead. OD’d in bed at 19. He was the first in the group to die from a drug overdose.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.1 x 24.1 cm (6 5/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Paper: 20.2 x 25.3 cm (7 15/16 x 9 15/16 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

This print is vintage – made soon after the picture was shot – and its 8 x 10-inch size was typical of the period and preferred for making reproductions for magazines and books. As photography began gaining acceptance into the gallery and museum world in the 1980s, larger prints became the norm. The museum also owns an unusually large print of the same image, made in the 1990s or 2000s, which was created to be exhibited in galleries and museums. The two may look the same on the computer screen, but do not feel the same when viewed in real life.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.8 x 24.1 cm (6 1/4 x 9 1/2 in.)
Paper: 20.1 x 25.4 cm (7 15/16 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

After a day at the beach at Coney Island, the teens “would take the long bus ride back to their neighbourhood,” remembered Bruce Davidson. “As they sat in the rear of the bus, the sunlight burned through the windows, giving them an angelic glow. They would drift into their dreams and awake alert to the mean streets awaiting them.”

 

 

Bruce Davidson

Barbara Tannenbaum

Curator of Photography

A hot topic in the 1950s, gangs were avidly analysed by sociologists, the press, and artists. Gordon Parks’s photographs of a young black Harlem gang leader were published in Life magazine in 1948. The musical West Side Story, which pitted a Polish gang against a Puerto Rican one, debuted on Broadway in 1957. The following year, a seven-part series in the New York Times analysed the social, economic, and psychological causes of this juvenile delinquency.

In the summer of 1959, Bruce Davidson went to Brooklyn to meet and photograph a teenage street gang called the Jokers. Davidson’s series Brooklyn Gang provided an in-depth view into the daily activities of an Irish and Polish gang whose turf was a block in the impoverished Park Slope neighbourhood. The Jokers were teenagers who were mostly students at the neighbourhood Catholic school or dropouts. They shoplifted and fought with members of rival gangs in rumbles that involved bricks, bats, knives, and occasionally zip (homemade) guns.

At age 25, Davidson was an outsider to them. He had been raised in a Jewish family in suburban Chicago and held an MFA in photography from Yale University. His images were being published in major magazines, and he had just joined Magnum, a distinguished, artist-run photographic agency. The Jokers’ role models were the greasers, a rebellious youth subculture promoted by cinematic antiheroes such as Marlon Brando’s motorcycle gang member in The Wild One (1953) and James Dean’s troubled teen in Rebel without a Cause (1955). The gang members’ “bad boy” image, replete with Vaseline-slicked pompadours and blue-collar clothing, flouted the era’s aspirational role model of an upwardly mobile white-collar worker in a business suit and short haircut.

Davidson did not sport a pompadour, but making a living as a freelance photojournalist was itself a rebellion against the nine-to-five office world. He spent the summer with the Jokers, hanging out on street corners, in the local candy store, and on the beach at Coney Island. His images reflect their alienation and anxieties but also their camaraderie. The boys explore male bonding rituals and act out their visions of maleness and adulthood. They may roughhouse, but gang ethics dictated that they were not to hurt each other. Real violence was reserved for rival gangs and, like their criminal acts, was not shown by Davidson.

He did capture the teens’ early experiences with lust and love. The Lothario in the back seat of a car is Lefty, of whom Bob Powers, a gang member who wrote a memoir 40 years later, remarked, “We never thought he was good-looking, but all the girls loved him.” This well-known image of Lefty is joined in the exhibition by three others from that same make-out session. Together they form an almost cinematic progression. Several other groups of related images of events are also included in the exhibition. These rare glimpses into the artist’s shooting and editing processes are all drawn from the recent anonymous gift to the museum of 367 works from Davidson’s archive, selections that span his 70-year career.

Davidson was careful not to pass judgment in his Brooklyn Gang photographs. The youngsters’ hairstyles, tattoos, and underage drinking, smoking, and sex were considered ruinous behaviour at the time. The memoirs of Bob Powers and the reminiscences of other members give the Jokers’ story a dark tone. The best-known image in the series, taken in front of a cigarette machine at Coney Island, shows Artie Giammarino, who later became a transit police detective, and Cathy O’Neal, whom the boys considered “beautiful like Brigitte Bardot.” Cathy is seen here at age 13 or 14, around the time she began dating the “coolest” of the gang, Junior Rice. At 14 she got pregnant. Though they were both under the legal age, they married. They later divorced, and Junior became a heroin dealer and user; within a few years, drugs would claim the lives of many in the gang and in the neighbourhood. Years after their divorce, Cathy committed suicide by shotgun.

Davidson would always remain an outsider to the gang, but his working process allowed for intimacy and trust to grow between the gang members and the photographer. By the end of the summer, Davidson realised that he and the Jokers were all considered outsiders in the conformist, materialistic 1950s. “I could see my own repression in them, and I began to feel a connection to their desperation,” he remembered. “I began to feel their isolation and even my own.”

Cleveland Art, Fall 2020

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 61 x 50.8cm (24 x 20 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Although most of the gang members’ time was spent in their neighbourhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn, the Jokers sometimes took excursions. Few had access to cars, so most travel was by bus and subway. The subway fare of 15 cents – the equivalent of $1.33 today – would take them anywhere in New York City. Here a gang member and his girlfriend wait for a train on the neighbourhood subway platform. The beach at Coney Island was a favourite summer destination for the gang.

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

“We used to hang out in [Brooklyn’s] Prospect Park all the time,” recalled Jokers member Bob Powers. “We did a lot of drinking and sleeping overnight in the park. … The cops with their bats would push us along, tell us to move. We were very defiant. If we moved, we moved ten feet. Then they had to tell us to move another ten feet. We’d kind of like move around in a circle and come back to where we originally started. The cops were mean at that time, but then we weren’t the best of kids either.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 13.9 x 17.6cm (5 1/2 x 6 15/16 in.)
Image: 11.4 x 16.9cm (4 1/2 x 6 5/8 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The Jokers roughhoused and fought among themselves but were not allowed to hurt each other. Real violence was reserved for those in other gangs or occasionally for civilians. “Did we fight with chains and pipes and knives? Yeah,” gang member Bob Powers reminisced years later. “Did people get stabbed? Yeah, people got stabbed. And people got their heads cracked open with bats.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

The gang member making out in the back seat of a car on the way home from Coney Island is Lefty, identifiable by his tattoo. “We always wondered why the girls liked him,” recalled Jokers member Bob Powers. “We never thought he was good-looking, but all the girls loved him. It was amazing.”

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Untitled' 1959

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
1959
Gelatin silver print
Paper: 61 x 50.8 cm (24 x 20 in.)
Gift of an anonymous donor
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

 

Jimmie, an older member of the gang, watched over the younger members with his brother Johnny. In 1998, Jokers member Bob Powers recalled, “Later, the whole family, all six of them … died, wiped out, mostly from drugs. It’s amazing because at this particular time, if you see Jimmie, he’s like the ‘Fonz,’ like James Dean – handsome. He was good-looking, he had the women, and he was always working on cars.”

 

 

Cleveland Museum of Art
11150 East Boulevard
Cleveland, Ohio 44106

Opening hours:
Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays 10.00am – 5.00pm
Wednesdays, Fridays 10.00am – 9.00pm
Closed Mondays

Cleveland Museum of Art website

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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

.
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.”

.
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.”

.
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, 1931-2016)
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

The Photographers’ Gallery website

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20
Feb
14

Exhibition: ‘Walker Evans American Photographs’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 19th July 2013 – 9th March 2014

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'City Lunch Counter, New York' 1929

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
City Lunch Counter, New York
1929
Gelatin silver print
4 3/16 x 6 5/16″ (10.7 x 16.1cm)
Gift of the photographer
© 2013 Walker Evans Archive, Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Picture this

That is what Walker Evans does in his unique, forthright way. He shows you what he is seeing in a very straight forward way – directly, purposefully, in images where the artist seems to have no presence, no ego to impart. As artist Chris Killip observes, “Walker Evans is serious and smart and purposeful. He is trying to show you very clearly what he is seeing. It is very unadorned, as if nobody had taken the photograph. He conveys what is in front of him as clearly as possible.”1

But further than this, Evans presents us with a photographic version of Tomas Tranströmer’s poems which were seen by his English admirers in terms of “deep image”, a vaguely Jungian concept which suggests that “poetry could state absolute truths if only the images poets evoked welled up from deep enough sources uncontaminated by history and the follies of reason.”2

Evans direct, plainspoken images picture reality whilst hovering above the void – flirting with the duality of absolute truth and metaphysical inquiry. Whether Evans was consciously aware of this elemental antinomy is unlikely. Nevertheless we can read it in his images, even if we cannot read it in his prosaic words. You only have to look at the jet-black trees on a rainy day in Main Street, Saratoga Springs, New York (1931, below), or the justly famous Sharecropper’s Family, Hale County, Alabama (March 1936, below).

The people in the photograph have been posed but there is an intimate relationship here between the artist and his subjects. It is a loving photograph, for Evans cares for the dignity of these people in their naked condition. The grandmother wary of the camera with clasped hands, the weary husband, stick thin with glazed eyes, the young girl child with sallow stare, and the pensive mother with sleeping baby staring directly into camera, all of them dirty and in rags. In this absolute reality there is a nobility to these people and there, buried in the image, a relationship to the metaphysical essence of what it is to be human – the pictures of children on the back wall with text I can’t quite make out; the glorious arrangement of feet that run along the bottom of the image in all different angles and positions, the mothers folded under her almost collapsing with the weight of her burden; and what is that black shape prostrate on the floor? A rag? death? No! A cat.

The blackest most thinnest small cat that you ever seen, lingering on the edge of starvation, hovering in the void of existence.

As Thomas Sleigh writes of his first meeting with Tomas Tranströmer as he stepped from a small plane onto the ground, “I don’t mind large planes or middle-sized planes (his English was slightly guttural, his intonations lilting in a mild brogue), but small planes – you feel too much of the air under you.”3

And so with Evans if you know where to look.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

PS. For a fascinating insight into how these photographs were hung in the 1938 exhibition at MoMA see installation views of “Walker Evans American Photographs” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, 1938 on the ASX website. Notice the smallness of the photographs, their different sizes, the juxtaposition of disparate images, some double or triple hung one above the other, some printed in the centre of white sheets of photographic paper, others displayed on dark walls. The image that I describe above, Sharecropper’s Family, Hale County, Alabama (March 1936) is shown in an installation photograph below. Notice how small the image is and what affect this size of image has on the viewer, its shear concentration and intensity.

A friend Christopher Young tells me, “The install was done by Evans himself the night before and very chaotically. I love the poetry of the 1938 opening in that he got to the front door and couldn’t enter the show. He instead circled the block a number of times before going home…” Sounds like my early exhibitions. I could be found next door in a cafe playing pinball, I couldn’t face the crowd!

 

Installation view of "Walker Evans American Photographs" at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, 1938

Installation view of "Walker Evans American Photographs" at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, 1938

 

Installation views of “Walker Evans American Photographs” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, 1938 with at bottom right, Sharecropper’s Family, Hale County, Alabama (March 1936)
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Images used under conditions of fair use for the purpose of art criticism.

 

Endnotes

  1. Interview with Chris Killip about his exhibition Work at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Renia Sofia, October 2013 [Online] Cited 11/02/2021
  2. Sleigh, Tom. “Too Much of the Air: Tomas Tranströmer,” 2005, on the Poets.org website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014. No longer available online
  3. Ibid.,

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

 

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) '42nd Street, New York' 1929

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
42nd Street, New York
1929
Gelatin silver print
4 1/4 x 6 1/2″ (10.8 x 16.6cm)
Purchase
© 2013 Walker Evans Archive, Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Church Organ and Pews, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Church Organ and Pews, Alabama
1936
Gelatin silver print, printed 1970
7 9/16 x 9 1/8″ (19.2 x 23.2cm)
Printer: James Dow
Mr. and Mrs. John Spencer Fund

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Sharecropper's Family, Hale County, Alabama' March 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Sharecropper’s Family, Hale County, Alabama
March 1936
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 x 9 5/8″ (19.4 x 24.4 cm)
Gift of the Farm Security Administration

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Sharecropper's Family, Hale County, Alabama' (detail) March 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Sharecropper’s Family, Hale County, Alabama (detail)
March 1936
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 x 9 5/8″ (19.4 x 24.4cm)
Gift of the Farm Security Administration

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Sharecropper's Family, Hale County, Alabama' (detail) March 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Sharecropper’s Family, Hale County, Alabama (detail)
March 1936
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 x 9 5/8″ (19.4 x 24.4cm)
Gift of the Farm Security Administration

 

 

This installation celebrates the 75th anniversary of the first one-person photography exhibition in MoMA’s history, and the accompanying landmark publication, which established the potential of the photographer’s book as an indivisible work of art. Through these projects Walker Evans created a collective portrait of the eastern United States during a decade of profound transformation – one that coincided with the flood of everyday images, both still and moving, from an expanding mass culture, and the construction of a Modernist history of photography. As Lincoln Kirstein wrote in his essay for the book, “After looking at these pictures with all their clear, hideous and beautiful detail, their open insanity and pitiful grandeur, compare this vision of a continent as it is, not as it might be or as it was, with any other coherent vision that we have had since the war. What poet has said as much? What painter has shown as much? Only newspapers, the writers of popular music, the technicians of advertising and radio have in their blind energy accidentally, fortuitously, evoked for future historians such a powerful monument to our moment. And Evans’s work has, in addition, logic, continuity, climax, sense and perfection.”

Comprising approximately 60 prints from the Museum’s collection that were included in the 1938 exhibition or the accompanying publication, the current installation maintains the bipartite presentation of the originals; the first section portrays American society through images of its individuals and social environments, while the second consists of photographs of the relics that constitute expressions of an American cultural identity – the architecture of Main streets, factory towns, rural churches, and wooden houses. The pictures provide neither a coherent narrative nor a singular meaning, but rather create connections through the repetition and interplay of pictorial structures and subject matter. Its placement on the fourth floor of the Museum – between galleries featuring the paintings of Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol – underscores the continuation of prewar avant-garde practices in America and the unique legacy of Evans’s explorations of signs and symbols, commercial culture, and the vernacular. Their profound impact on not only photography, but also film, literature, and the visual arts, reverberates today.

Text from The Museum of Modern Art website

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'American Legionnaire' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
American Legionnaire
1936
Gelatin silver print
5 3/4 x 5 1/8″ (14.6 x 13cm)
Gift of the Farm Security Administration

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Interior Detail of Portuguese House' 1930

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Interior Detail of Portuguese House
1930
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 x 6 1/8″ (20.2 x 15.5cm)
Purchase
© 2013 Walker Evans Archive, Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Penny Picture Display, Savannah, Georgia' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Penny Picture Display, Savannah, Georgia
1936
Gelatin silver print
8 5/8 x 6 15/16″ (21.9 x 17.6cm)
Gift of Willard Van Dyke
© 2013 Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Main Street, Saratoga Springs, New York' 1931

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Main Street, Saratoga Springs, New York
1931
Gelatin silver print
7 1/16 x 5 9/16″ (18 x 14.2cm)
Gift of the photographer
© 2013 Walker Evans Archive, Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Negro Church, South Carolina' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Negro Church, South Carolina
1936
Gelatin silver print
9 x 6 15/16″ (22.9 x 17.6cm)
Gift of Willard Van Dyke

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
Phone: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
10.30am – 5.30pm
Open seven days a week

MoMA website

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10
Dec
13

Exhibition: ‘Detroit 1968: Photographs by Enrico Natali’ at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, CA – Part 2

Exhibition dates: 2nd November – 21st December 2013

 

Enrico Natali. 'Ford Motor Company press conference, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Ford Motor Company press conference, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

 

The second tranche of images from the artist Enrico Natali demonstrate his command of visual space. Groups of people face away from the camera, then towards it (image above and below), people clutch at each other or walk in opposite directions (next two images). There is the comparison of races, between abject poverty and young people dressed in fur going to the prom. There is the silence of the singular women in the office, and the (op)posed camaraderie of the Detroit Bolt and Nut Company workers (1968, below). Above all, there is light and shade coupled with a sensitive understanding of how human beings interact – with themselves and the camera. Newlywed couple, Detroit, 1968 (1968, below) is a case in point: the clock on the wall, the record player with single, the hand on the shoulder and the ash lengthening on the cigarette complement the presence of the couple and the wonderful look on their faces. Somehow Natali adds genuine charisma to these people, a dignity and poignancy that makes these photographs memorable.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
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.

 

 

Enrico Natali. 'Ford Motor Company press conference, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Ford Motor Company press conference, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Office workers, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Office workers, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Couple at Metropolitan Beach, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali. 'Pedestrians at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Conners, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Pedestrians at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Conners, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'High school prom, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
High school prom, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Secretary with abstract painting, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Secretary with abstract painting, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Detroit Bolt and Nut Company workers, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Detroit Bolt and Nut Company workers, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Computer room, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Computer room, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Ann Davis at home with her daughter and son, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Ann Davis at home with her daughter and son, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Couple at home with their daughter, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Couple at home with their daughter, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Jim and Judy Yardley with their dogs, Sport and Barney, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Jim and Judy Yardley with their dogs, Sport and Barney, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Pool player in an east side poolroom, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Pool player in an east side poolroom, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Typesetter at work, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Typesetter at work, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Dean Turner with his parents and cat, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Dean Turner with his parents and cat, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Father and child at the Detroit Auto Show, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Father and child at the Detroit Auto Show, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali Enrico.'Natali's son, Vincenzo Natali, on the day of his birth, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Enrico Natali’s son, Vincenzo Natali, on the day of his birth, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Suburban girls shopping in downtown Detroit, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Suburban girls shopping in downtown Detroit, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Man with injured knee at the beach smoking, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Man with injured knee at the beach smoking, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Beauty salon client smoking, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Beauty salon client smoking, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Gala hostess, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Gala hostess, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Woman outside a tire factory waiting for the bus, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Woman outside a tire factory waiting for the bus, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Spectators at an Armed Forces Day parade, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Spectators at an Armed Forces Day parade, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'High school student in mini dress, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
High school student in mini dress, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Couple outside of an art museum, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Couple outside of an art museum, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Woman at an art exhibition in Grosse Pointe, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Woman at an art exhibition in Grosse Pointe, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Newlywed couple, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Newlywed couple, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery
7661 Girard Avenue
La Jolla, CA 92037
Phone: (858) 456-5620

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

Joseph Bellows Gallery website

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06
Dec
13

Exhibition: ‘Detroit 1968: Photographs by Enrico Natali’ at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, CA – Part 1

Exhibition dates: 2nd November – 21st December 2013

 

Enrico Natali. 'Spectators at a public demonstration, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Spectators at a public demonstration, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

 

It takes about five or six photographs. Then, in a light bulb moment, you realise what the artist is doing and how good these images really are.

They stink of humanity!

They are good because the humanity is not something that the photographer has been able to whip around to serve his photography. In fact, because of the milieu in which they were made, he might not have even been aware of it as an outstanding feature. But after looking at contemporary photography, Natali serves up something that is now missing in aces. As a full house in fact.

The strength of these photographs lies in their directness, intimacy and immediacy. The 35mm format adds to latter quality, as does the photographers ability to get his subjects to engage with the process of having their photograph taken. In different contexts, Natali seems to have a wonderful rapport with all sorts of people, whether it be office workers, people at home, students at school or men sitting under hair dryers. The look of the woman with sunglasses fourth in line in the photograph Women’s Convention, Detroit, 1968 (1968, below) is priceless.

Natali never defines his point of departure and just moves around it but in his case it doesn’t matter, for the “humanity” present in his work is obvious. Admittedly, there are elements that Natali borrows from people such as Robert Frank and Diane Arbus. And a photographer such as Lee Friedlander for example, by his intellect / aesthetic, tops the attribute of humanity under a layer of quality and a veneer of fame. But this work has a wonderful presence and substance, a respect for human beings and their worlds and real guts to the work. You can absolutely feel his love for the medium, the craft of photography, and the capturing of these self-contained moments.

Today – all too often (as in most of the photography in the Melbourne Now exhibition) – we have a top layer of aesthetic / intellect etc… but there is rarely anything under it. And that my friends, gives me the shits.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
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.

 

 

Enrico Natali. 'Incident at Bell Isle Park, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Incident at Bell Isle Park, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Businessmen at a squash match, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Businessmen at a squash match, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Woman at a gym, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Woman at a gym, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Husband and wife at home with their youngest child, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Husband and wife at home with their youngest child, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Office workers, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Office workers, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Woman in her kitchen with rollers in her hair, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Woman in her kitchen with rollers in her hair, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Students at school, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Students at school, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Waitress in an empty restaurant, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Waitress in an empty restaurant, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'High school basketball, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
High school basketball, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Formal cocktail party, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Formal cocktail party, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Programmer with computer, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Programmer with computer, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Women's gymnastics class, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Women’s gymnastics class, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Couple picnicking, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Couple picnicking, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Beauty salon client with a new haircut, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Beauty salon client with a new haircut, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Men under hairdryers, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Men under hairdryers, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Shoe repair shop owner, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Shoe repair shop owner, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Women waiting at a bus stop in the rain, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Women waiting at a bus stop in the rain, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Women's Convention, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Women’s Convention, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

 

As the fall of Detroit began, as her middle class American Dreamers began moving to greener pastures, and while the Motor City’s status as one of the shining stars of the industrial revolution began to fade, Detroit became a locus for the racial conflict and political upheaval that swept the country during the late 1960s. Throughout this pivotal moment, Enrico Natali was present, empathically documenting Detroit, her people and their environments, and their lives and conditions in his compelling photographs.

Forty-one years later, Natali’s photographs of Detroit still resonate with hope and emotion, and indeed, have taken on an added pathos. These pictures capture the relative calm before the storm: people attending art exhibitions, sporting events, a high school prom; families posing together for portraits; secretaries smoking their afternoon cigarettes; children, parents and grandparents, workers of every stripe – machinists, waitresses, beauticians – plying their trades with what might be described in retrospect as innocence. The spirits of these nameless faces, young and old, are the ghosts that haunt what is now – very literally – this bankrupt metropolis.

Enrico Natali was born in 1933, in Utica, New York. During the 1960s he lived and photographed in various American cities, including New York, New Orleans, Chicago, and Detroit. At the end of that decade he ceased work as a photographer and began a meditation practice that became his primary focus, as he built a home and raised his family in California’s Los Padres National Forest. In 1990 Natali and his wife Nadia founded the Blue Heron Center for Integral Studies, a Zen meditation center in Ojai, California. A handsome, timely and poignant publication, Detroit 1968, published by Foggy Notion Books, including an essay by Mark Binelli, author of the critically acclaimed Detroit City is the Place to Be (2012, Metropolitan Books), accompanies the exhibition.

Press release from the Joseph Bellows Gallery website

 

Enrico Natali. 'Young woman on a street, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Young woman on a street, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Warehouse foreman, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Warehouse foreman, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Community organizer, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Community organiser, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Opening night at the Detroit Opera, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Opening night at the Detroit Opera, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Hair stylist smoking, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Hair stylist smoking, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Boy in a backyard, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Boy in a backyard, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Young men at a debutante ball, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Young men at a debutante ball, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Ana Kuzick at home in high chair, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Ana Kuzick at home in high chair, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Businessman at a press party, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Businessman at a press party, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Margaret Carpenter at home, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Margaret Carpenter at home, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'William Day, president of Michigan Bell Telephone Company, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
William Day, president of Michigan Bell Telephone Company, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Bolt and nut sorters, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Bolt and nut sorters, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Executive secretary, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Executive secretary, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Go-Go dancer, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Go-Go dancer, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Warehouse worker, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Warehouse worker, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Trucking company executive, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Trucking company executive, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Sales meeting in an auditorium, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Sales meeting in an auditorium, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Enrico Natali. 'Elevator operator, Detroit, 1968' 1968

 

Enrico Natali (American, b. 1933)
Elevator operator, Detroit, 1968
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery
7661 Girard Avenue
La Jolla, CA 92037
Phone: (858) 456-5620

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

Joseph Bellows Gallery website

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24
Dec
12

Exhibition: ‘Lewis Hine: Photography for a Change’ at the Netherlands Museum of Photography, Rotterdam

Exhibition dates: 15th September – 6th January 2013

 

Lewis Hine
. 'Man on hoisting ball, Empire State building' 1931

 

Lewis Hine
 (American, 1874-1940)
Man on hoisting ball, Empire State building
1931
Gelatin silver print
© George Eastman House

 

 

“In the last analysis, good photography is a question of art.”

“I wanted to show the thing that had to be corrected: I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated.”

.
Lewis Wickes Hines

 

 

Something that you really don’t get in reproductions is the absolutely beautiful tonality of Hine’s social documentary photography. Even less so when the images provided by the institution are degraded by scratches, dust, spots and colour irregularities. Despite these media images being 300 dpi when I received them from the museum media department they were in very average condition. For example, the image of Christmas Fiddles (below) was in such poor condition when enlarged that I had to spend over half and hour cleaning up the image to make it pictorially legible to the viewer at a larger size.

This is not an unusual occurrence and, unbeknownst to the readers of the blog, I spend many hours quickly cleaning the digital files before they are presented to you. Some individual images and sets of images are of such poor quality that I simply cannot use them at all. I will do a posting on this issue soon, but suffice to say that museums that spend thousands of hours and dollars staging impressive photographic exhibitions really let themselves down in the promotion of the exhibition if they provide dodgy scans and unusable media images to people that promote the exhibition for free. In this world of media saturated images it should be the norm that the “quality” of the image outweighs the indifferent quantity. With faster and faster download speeds larger images can be viewed more readily online and therefore scans provided by institutions must live up to this enlarged capacity.

Hopefully you can get some idea of the work of this socially conscious photographer, an American photographer who saw the camera as both a research tool and an instrument of social reform, whose images helped change the world with regard to child labour. Unfortunately success and reputation counted for nought. He died totally impoverished in 1940, shortly before a resurgence of public interest in his work raised him to the highest level of American photographers. What an infinite sadness.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

Lewis Hine. 'Lunch Time, New York' 1910

 

Lewis Hine
 (American, 1874-1940)
Lunch Time, New York
1910
Gelatin silver print
© George Eastman House

 

Lewis Hine. 'Belgrade. Christmas Fiddles' 1918

 

Lewis Hine
 (American, 1874-1940)
Belgrade. Christmas Fiddles
1918
Gelatin silver print
© George Eastman House

 

Lewis Hine. 'Belgrade. Christmas Fiddles' 1918 (detail)

 

Lewis Hine
 (American, 1874-1940)
Belgrade. Christmas Fiddles (detail)
1918
Gelatin silver print
© George Eastman House

 

Lewis Hine. 'Steelworker standing on beam' 1931

 

Lewis Hine
 (American, 1874-1940)
Steelworker standing on beam
1931
Gelatin silver print
© George Eastman House

 

 

From 15 September 2012 to 6 January 2013, the Netherlands Museum of Photography will present the first large retrospective in the Netherlands of the work of the renowned American photographer Lewis Hine. Hine was an enthusiastic photographer who wished to improve people’s lives through his photos. His pictures of immigrants on Ellis Island, of child labour, and of workers busy on the Empire State Building high above New York belong to the visual icons of the 20th century. The internationally touring exhibition contains more than 200 photos and documents, many in their original state and originating from the collection of the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York State. Lewis Hine is an initiative of three European institutions: Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson (Paris), Fundación MAPFRE (Madrid) and the Netherlands Museum of Photography (Rotterdam). It is with great pride that the Netherlands Museum of Photography can now present this exhibition that harmonizes perfectly with its aim to pay attention to the canon of international documentary photography.

Lewis W. Hine (Wisconsin, 1874 – New York, 1940), a sociologist and photographer, belongs to the group of famous photographers such as Joel Meyerowitz, Robert Frank, Robert Capa, Eugène Atget to whom the Netherlands Museum of Photography has previously devoted impressive exhibitions. Hine is known as a 20th-century pioneer of social documentary photography. It is characteristic of Hine that he strongly believed in the camera’s powers of conviction. Thus, armed only with a heavy camera he fought for social justice. For the National Child Labor Committee he travelled more than 75,000 kilometres through the United States to photograph children working in agriculture, the mines, factories, sewing attics, and on the streets. His photos were partly responsible for reforms in these fields. The themes in Hine’s work – child labour, situations of human indignity, and the vulnerability of immigrants and refugees – are still current. Despite his present reputation, his early successes and the fact that many governmental organisations made use of his photos, he died totally impoverished in 1940.

 

Empire State Building and Building the Rotterdam

In 1932 Lewis Hine published the famous photographic book entitled Men at Work, which covered the construction of the Empire State Building. From the most audacious vantage points he took photos of the 381-metre building, showing the strength and willpower of humankind, man’s contribution to industry. The tall buildings on the Wilhelminapier have determined the skyline of Rotterdam for many years, just as the Empire State Building did in New York around 1930. The Wilhelminapier is now under full development. De Rotterdam Building, designed by Rem Koolhaas of OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architectural) will be completed in 2013-2014. The photographer Ruud Sies has followed the genesis of the largest building in the Netherlands for four years now. The project entitled Building the Rotterdam – a work in progress by Ruud Sies was inspired by the work of Lewis Hine and establishes the connection with the Wilhelminapier as a historical location. To the Netherlands Museum of Photography, this is a reason to include this project in the exhibition of the work of Lewis Hine.

 

Exhibition

With 170 vintage photos from the period 1903-37 as well as 42 documents, this exhibition of Hine’s work is the first extensive and well-documented overview in the Netherlands and even in Europe. Hine’s entire oeuvre is on show, ranging from his earliest portraits of immigrants on Ellis Island to his work in Europe after the First World War. The Lewis Hine touring exhibition was on display in Paris toward the end of 2011, and in Madrid at the beginning of this year. For this international journey, Hine’s work has undergone preventative preservation treatment and is exposed to a minimum amount of light. After the exhibition in the Netherlands, the work will return to the George Eastman House in America to relax in a dark depot.”

Press release from the Netherlands Museum of Photography website

 

Lewis Hine. 'The Sky Boy' 1931

 

Lewis Hine
 (American, 1874-1940)
The Sky Boy
1931
Gelatin silver print
© George Eastman House

 

Lewis Hine. 'Waiting for the dispensary to open Hull House District, Chicago' 1910

 

Lewis Hine
 (American, 1874-1940)
Waiting for the dispensary to open Hull House District, Chicago
1910
Gelatin silver print
© George Eastman House

 

 

Lewis Hine was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in 1874. He moved to New York City in 1901 to teach at the Ethical Culture School. There Hine used photographs as educational tools, and soon began to photograph immigrants at Ellis Island. He hoped his photographs would encourage people to “exert the force to right wrongs.” While continuing to teach at ECS, Hine began to do freelance work for the National Child Labor Committee, an association that transformed his professional life.

In 1908, the NCLC provided Hine a monthly salary to photographically document children in factories, mills, canneries, textile mills, street trades, and agricultural industries. Through his photographs he sought to alert the public to the extent of child labor in America, and the degree to which it denied these children their childhood, health, and education. In one year, Hine covered 12,000 miles in his quest to end abusive child labor. By 1913, Hine was considered the leading social welfare photographer in America.

Hine enjoyed a long and successful career following his work for the NCLC. He worked for the American Red Cross (1917-20), photographing refugees and civilians in war-torn Europe, a new series of photographs of immigrants at Ellis Island (1926), a series of photographs documenting the construction of the Empire State Building (1930), photographs of drought-ridden communities in Arkansas and Kentucky (1931), as well as work for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

In 1936-37 Hine was appointed head photographer for the National Research Project of the Works Progress Administration. The aging Hine, however, was disappointed at the rebuff of his attempts to secure work with the Farm Services Administration, where director Roy Stryker considered Hine old fashioned and difficult. Lewis Hine died in 1940, shortly before a resurgence of public interest in his work raised him to the highest level of American photographers.

Text from Child Labour in Virginia: Photographs by Lewis Hine web page [Online] Cited 21/12/2012 no longer available online

 

Lewis Hine. 'Mechanic at steam pump in electric power house' 1920

 

Lewis Hine
 (American, 1874-1940)
Mechanic at steam pump in electric power house
1920
Gelatin silver print
© George Eastman House

 

Lewis Hine. 'Candy Worker, New York' 1925

 

Lewis Hine
 (American, 1874-1940)
Candy Worker, New York
1925
Gelatin silver print
© George Eastman House

 

Lewis Hine. 'Paris Gamin' 1918

 

Lewis Hine
 (American, 1874-1940)
Paris Gamin
1918
Gelatin silver print
© George Eastman House

 

 

Netherlands Museum of Photography
Wilhelminakade 332
3072 AR Rotterdam
The Netherlands

Opening hours
Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 5pm

Nederlands Museum of Photography website

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12
Oct
12

Exhibition: ‘Dennis Hopper – The Lost Album. Vintage Photographs of the 1960s’ at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 20th September – 17th December 2012

 

Dennis Hopper. 'Guy With 5 Hogs' 1961-67

 

Dennis Hopper (American, 1936-2010)
Guy With 5 Hogs
1961-67
Location: USA
6.97 x 9.85 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

 

 

 

 

“I never made a cent from these photos. They cost me money but kept me alive. These are my photos. I started at eighteen taking pictures. I stopped at thirty-one. (…) These represent the years from twenty-five to thirty-one, 1961 to 1967. I didn’t crop my photos. They are full frame natural light Tri-X. I went under contract to Warner Brothers at eighteen. I directed Easy Rider at thirty-one. I married Brooke at twenty-five and got a good camera and could afford to take pictures and print them. They were the only creative outlet I had for these years until Easy Rider. I never carried a camera again.”

.
Dennis Hopper 1986

 

“The necessity to make these photos and paintings came from a real place – a place of desperation and solitude – with the hope that someday these objects, paintings, and photos would be seen filling the void I was feeling.”

.
Dennis Hopper 2001

 

 

Unlike an earlier posting of photographs by a well known film director (the underwhelming, in fact pretty awful, Wim Wenders: Places, Strange and Quiet), these “lost” photographs by Dennis Hopper are very good. They perfectly capture the social milieu of the time and the pervading ethos of the fracturing of the image plane, a la Gary Winogrand or Lee Friedlander. Nice to see the work full frame as well, meaning that the photographers’ previsualisation was strong in camera; that Hopper had an excellent understanding of the construction of the pictorial frame negating the necessity for cropping of the image. Enlarging the face of Martin Luther King Jr., (below) and then looking into his eyes, I felt I had a connection with this person. Nostalgia, longing, sadness and joy at his life and the feeling that I was looking into the eyes of one of the great human beings of the twentieth century.

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

 

Dennis Hopper. 'Double Standard' 1961

 

Dennis Hopper (American, 1936-2010)
Double Standard
1961
Location: Los Angeles, Ca USA
6.87 x 9.79 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

 

Dennis Hopper. 'James Rosenquist' 1964

 

Dennis Hopper (American, 1936-2010)
James Rosenquist
1964
Location: Billboard Factory, Los Angeles, Ca USA
6.81 x 9.68 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

 

 

The exhibition shows a spectacular portfolio of over four hundred vintage photographs taken by Dennis Hopper in the 1960s. Tucked away in five crates and forgotten, they were discovered after his death. There can be no doubt that these works are those personally selected by Hopper from the wealth of shots he took between 1961 and 1967 for the first major exhibition of his photography. The pictures themselves document how the works were installed in the Fort Worth Art Center Museum, Texas, in 1970 by himself and Henry T. Hopkins, the museum’s director at the time. None of these works have been displayed in Europe before. The portfolio that has now come to light is a treasure. It consists of small plates, sometimes numbered on the back with brief notes in Hopper’s hand and showing traces of wear. Mounted on cardboard, without frame of glass, they were attached directly to the wall.

The images have a legendary quality. Spontaneous, intimate, poetic, unabashedly political and keenly observed, they document an exciting epoch, its protagonists and milieus. These photographs reflect the atmosphere of an era, being outstanding testimonials to America’s dynamic cultural scene in the 1960s. On the viewer they exercise an irresistible attraction, bearing him away on a journey into the past, often into his own history.

Many of these pictures are icons, such as the portraits of Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Paul Newman and Jane Fonda. They also cover a wide range of subjects. Dennis Hopper is interested in everything. Wherever he happens to be, whether in Los Angeles, New York, London, Mexico or Peru, he takes in his surroundings with empathy, enthusiasm and intense curiosity. He seeks and savours the “essential moment”, capturing the celebrities and types of his time with the camera: actors, artists, musicians, his family, bikers and hippies. He leaves an impressive photographic record of the “street life” of Harlem, of cemeteries in Mexico, and of bullfights in Tijuana. Hopper accompanies Martin Luther King Jr. on the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and, in images of great beauty and serenity, he converts the every day life and the neglected into a picture of beauty and silence as if converting Abstract Expressionism from the language of painting into that of photography.

Between 1961 and 1967 Hopper applied himself intensely on photography.

Hopper’s photographs are legendary images, spontaneous, intimate, and poetic as well as decidedly political and keenly observant – documents of an exciting period, its protagonists and milieus. Many of these photos have become iconic: the portraits of Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Paul Newman or Jane Fonda. They also cover a range of topics and motifs. Hopper was interested in everything. Wherever he was, in Los Angeles, New York, London, Mexico or Peru, he was a precise observer, full of empathy and curiosity. He captured the geniuses of his day, the actors, artists, musicians and poets, his family and friends, the “scene”, bikers and hippies. He wandered the streets of Harlem and the graveyards of Durango and watched the bullfights in Tijuana with fascination. Hopper followed Martin Luther King Jr. with his camera on the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. And he paid attention to things small, ordinary, and neglected, transforming the “remains of our world” into images of great beauty and tranquility, as if converting Abstract Expressionist painting into the language of photography.

Press release from the Martin-Gropius-Bau website

 

Dennis Hopper. 'Andy Warhol and Members of The Factory (Gregory Markopoulos, Taylor Mead, Gerard Malanga, Jack Smith)' 1963

 

Dennis Hopper (American, 1936-2010)
Andy Warhol and Members of The Factory (Gregory Markopoulos, Taylor Mead, Gerard Malanga, Jack Smith)
1963
Location: in The Factory, NYC, NY USA
6.57 x 9.87 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

 

Dennis Hopper. 'Niki de Saint Phalle (kneeling)' 1963

 

Dennis Hopper (American, 1936-2010)
Niki de Saint Phalle (kneeling)
1963
Location: USA
6.66 x 9.83 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

 

 

The Lost Album

Gelatine silver vintage prints, 1970
Collection of the Dennis Hopper Art Trust

More than four hundred photos came to light after Hopper’s death. He had selected them for his first photography exhibition in 1970 at the Fort Worth Art Center Museum. They show signs of wear: fingerprints, scratches, discolouration, a frayed corner or tiny dent. Mounted on cardboard, numbered on the back with notes in Hopper’s handwriting, they were hung directly on the wall from small wooden strips without frames or glass. The hanging in the Martin-Gropius-Bau is based on the original installation of 1970.

The vintage prints, in portrait and landscape format, are all of a similar size, c. 24 x 16cm; twenty of them are in a larger format (c. 33 x 23cm). Of the 429 Hopper chose for his first exhibition, eleven are believed lost; they are replaced here by new prints, which will be clearly indicated. In only two cases was it impossible to locate the corresponding negative, and a placeholder with the title is mounted instead. The rediscovered boxes contained an additional nineteen, unnumbered vintage prints along with the 429, which Hopper took with him to Fort Worth but probably never hung in the exhibition. They have been incorporated into the “Album” here (I-XIX).

 

Additional information on the photographs

1. Brooke Hayward, Marin Hopper

Brooke Hayward, born and raised in Los Angeles, was at home in the glamorous world of Hollywood through her parents, the film producer Leland Hayward and Hollywood star Margaret Sullavan, and Hopper in turn knew a lot of extraordinary people through his involvement in the acting and art worlds. Hopper and Hayward’s home became the center of an illustrious group of actors, artists, musicians, writers, and film producers. Soon after moving [into their house] they threw a “movie star party” for Andy Warhol to celebrate his second exhibition at the Ferus Gallery (1963).

“Since I was a small child, growing up in L.A., I remember that my dad was always capturing the scene around him through the lens of his camera. What he always described as taking the most pleasure in exploring, or focusing on, much like Marcel Duchamp signing the Hotel-Green-Sign for him on the night of his opening at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1963, and Rauschenberg’s practice, was the philosophy that an artist can point to something and claim it’s art because in that moment it is to them.” (Marin Hopper, 2012)

 

2. Los Angeles Art Scene

Walter Hopps and Edward Kienholz founded the Ferus Gallery at 736A North La Cienega Boulevard in March 1957. Ferus was very underground, like a crazy club with exhibitions, readings and fashion shows. “The openings were wild, everybody had a blast, and nobody made a penny.” Hopper attended every opening and went to performances and happenings, whether it was Oldenburg’s Los Angeles performance Autobodys in 1963, Robert Rauschenberg’s performance Pelican at the Culver City Ice Rink in 1966, or Allan Kaprow’s Fluids in 1967, when with the help of friends he stacked blocks of ice to form enclosures at different sites in Los Angeles.

In 1966, Claes Oldenburg made a piece of plaster wedding cake (which he stamped on the back) for each guest at the wedding party for Jim Elliot, curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Rauschenberg was wearing this stamp on his tongue when Hopper photographed him at the wedding.

 

3. New York

Hopper frequently traveled to New York, strolling through the Museum of Modern Art and the galleries, sometimes in the company of Henry Geldzahler, curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and visited Warhol, at whose Factory he encountered Gerard Malanga, Taylor Mead or David Hockney. Hopper met Robert Rauschenberg in New York and visited Roy Lichtenstein in his studio.

In London, where he exhibited his assemblages at the Robert Fraser Gallery in 1964, he made the acquaintance of Peter Blake, one of the key figures of British Pop Art, David Hemmings, the star of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow up (1966), and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.

 

4. Civil Rights Marches

The Selma to Montgomery March: “[Marlon] Brando got me involved [in the march] … He pulled up in his car and said, ‘What are you doing day after tomorrow?’ and I said ‘Nothing’, and he said, ‘You want to go to Selma?’ And I said, ‘Sure, man. Thanks for asking me!’ [Then at the march, police] dogs were biting, and people were being bombed, and it was like, ‘Where are we?'” (Dennis Hopper)

The third march from Selma to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, began on March 21, 1965, extended for 54 miles, took five days, and involved 4,000 marchers led by Martin Luther King Jr. and allies such as Ralph David Abernathy, Sr. It was the highpoint of the American Civil Rights Movements. Hundreds of ministers, priests, nuns, and rabbis followed King’s call to Selma. “It was like a holy crusade …” Numerous photographers, such as Spider Martin, James Karales, Steve Shapiro, and Bruce Davidson, documented the largest ever gathering of people during the civil rights movement in the South.

 

5. Mexico

He was completely obsessed with bullfighting and began attending fights regularly at the Tijuana arena in the 1950s. Hopper went to Mexico as an actor in 1965 when Henry Hathaway surprisingly offered him a role in his film The Sons of Katie Elder (1965).

A Western town was erected in the middle of Durango. Of course, Hopper had his camera with him. He photographed John Wayne and Dean Martin on the set and natives who were part of the crew or who just stopped by to watch, but he also roamed the area and the streets of Durango and Mexico City. In the 1920s and 1930s Mexico had held a great fascination for European as well as American avant-garde painters, photographers, and writers. Edward Weston lived in Mexico City; Henri Cartier-Bresson went there for a year in 1934, befriending the young photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo. Their images have shaped our perception of that country, a perception that is also echoed by some of Hopper’s photographs.

Wall texts from the exhibition

 

Dennis Hopper. 'Martin Luther King, Jr.' 1965

 

Dennis Hopper (American, 1936-2010)
Martin Luther King, Jr.
1965
Location: Montgomery, Alabama, USA
9.2 x 13.6 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

 

Dennis Hopper. 'Martin Luther King, Jr.,' 1965 (detail)

 

Dennis Hopper (American, 1936-2010)
Martin Luther King, Jr. (detail)
1965
Location: Montgomery, Alabama, USA
9.2 x 13.6 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

 

Dennis Hopper. 'James Brown' 1966

 

Dennis Hopper (American, 1936-2010)
James Brown
1966
Location: USA
9.7 x 6.77 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

 

Dennis Hopper. 'Paul Newman' 1964

 

Dennis Hopper (American, 1936-2010)
Paul Newman
1964
Location: Malibu, Ca USA
9.7 x 6.66 inches
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

 

 

Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
Corner Stresemannstr. 110
10963 Berlin
Phone: +49 (0)30 254 86-0

Opening hours:
Friday – Wednesday 10.00 – 19.00
Thursday 10.00 – 21.00
Tuesday closed

Martin-Gropius-Bau 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, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor 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.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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