Posts Tagged ‘Andre Kertesz

15
Nov
19

European photographic research tour exhibition: ‘The Photojournalist Robert Capa II’ at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

September 2019

First gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Photojournalist Robert Capa II at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

 

I didn’t have time on my European photographic research tour to post about this exhibition at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest.

Let me say right off bat, that I’m not a great fan of Capa’s work and the larger, 1990s non-vintage prints presented in this exhibition were unimpressive.

I admire Capa’s courage in order to get the shot (“If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”), but his photographs leave me cold. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but his objectivity, his reportage, is just that. Looking back 80 years later, we must remember how raw, how radical and confronting these photographs would have been when viewed in Life magazine and Picture Post at the time: authentic representations of war and death straight from the front. But in terms of the image, what you see is what you get. The framing is not particularly good, the angles are pretty conventional and front on, the occurrences direct and focused. The immediacy of the image, that is their strength.

For me they don’t leave a lasting impression, never have done. Yes, the D-Day landings because he was there; The death of a Loyalist militiaman because it is so famous; the shaving of the women collaborators heads because they are so vile … but you wonder, does his greatness come from the fact that, time and time again, he got the job done and produced the goods (as in a saleable image). That and the reality that he was a great self promoter: labelled the ‘Greatest War Photographer in the World’ by Picture Post in 1938. But was he a good image maker?

They are what they are. That’s really all you can say.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Installation views of the exhibition The Photojournalist Robert Capa II at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

"La Guerre Civile en Espagne,' in Vu Magazine No. 445 September 23, 1936

"La Guerre Civile en Espagne,' in Vu Magazine No. 445 September 23, 1936

 

 

“La Guerre Civile en Espagne,’ in Vu Magazine No. 445 September 23, 1936

Caption: “Le jarret vif, la poitrine au vent, fusil au poing, il dévalaient la pente couverte d’un chaume raide.. Soudain l’essor est brisé, une balle a siffle – une balle fratricide – et leur sang est bu par la terre natale … ”

“His step quick, his chest to the wind, his rifle in his hand, he hurtled down the steep slope. Suddenly the boom was broken, a bullet whistled – a fratricidal bullet – and their blood is drunk by the homeland … ”

The caption as published in LIFE magazine: “Robert Capa’s camera catches a Spanish soldier the instant he is dropped by a bullet through the head in front of Cordoba.”

Installation view of the exhibition The Photojournalist Robert Capa II at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Robert Capa. 'September 5, 1936. The death of a Loyalist militiaman' 1936

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
September 5, 1936. The death of a Loyalist militaman
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

“The Spanish War Kills Its First Woman Photographer,” in LIFE magazine (Gerda Taro, July 1937)

 

 

Gerda Taro (1910-1937)

Gerta Pohorylle (1 August 1910 – 26 July 1937), known professionally as Gerda Taro, was a German Jewish war photographer active during the Spanish Civil War. She is regarded as the first woman photojournalist to have died while covering the frontline in a war.

Taro was the companion and professional partner of photographer Robert Capa. The name “Robert Capa” was originally an alias that Taro and Capa (born Endre Friedmann) shared, an invention meant to mitigate the increasing political intolerance in Europe and to attract the lucrative American market. A significant amount of what is credited as Robert Capa’s early work was actually made by Taro.

Coverage of the Spanish Civil War

When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Taro travelled to Barcelona, Spain, to cover the events with Capa and David “Chim” Seymour. Taro acquired the nickname of La pequeña rubia (“The little blonde”). They covered the war together in northeastern Aragon and in the southern Córdoba province. Always together under the common and using the bogus signature of Robert Capa, they succeeded in publishing through important publications (the Swiss Zürcher Illustrierte, the French Vu). Their early war photographs are distinguishable since Taro used a Rollei camera which rendered squared photographs while Capa produced rectangular pictures using a Contax camera[citation needed] or a Leica camera. However, for some time in 1937 they each produced similar 35 mm pictures under the label of Capa&Taro.

Subsequently, Taro attained some independence. She refused Capa’s marriage proposal. Also, she became publicly related to the circle of anti-fascist European and intellectuals (such as Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell) who crusaded particularly for the Spanish Republic. fr:Ce Soir, a communist newspaper of France, signed her for publishing Taro’s works only. Then, she began to commercialise her production under the Photo Taro label. Regards, Life, Illustrated London News and Volks-Illustrierte (the exile edition of Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung) were amongst the publications that used her work.

Reporting the Valencia bombing alone, Taro obtained the photographs which are her most celebrated. Also, in July 1937, Taro’s photographs were in demand by the international press when, alone, she was covering the Brunete region near Madrid for Ce Soir. Although the Nationalist propaganda claimed that the region was under its control, the Republican forces had in fact forced that faction out. Taro’s photographs were the only testimony of the actual situation.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

“So nobody will forget your unconditional struggle for a better world” (epitaph in French and Catalan on her tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

“The Spanish War Kills Its First Woman Photographer,” in LIFE Magazine (Gerda Taro, July 1937)

 

 

Robert Capa

(Endre Ernő Friedmann)
22 October 1913, Budapest, Hungary – 25 May 1954, Thái Bình, Vietnam

He never avoided challenges – he brought his restless, adventurous spirit and toughness from Hungary. He hardly had anything else in his luggage when he left his native country in 1931. He made photo-history with his war reportage on the Spanish Civil War, WWII, China, and Vietnam. His stories and, in particular, his slogan – “if your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” – made him a legendary person. But he made a mistake in Thái Bình. He went too close.

His brother wrote about him: “He lived a lot and suffered a lot during his short life. He was born poor and died poor. He bequeathed us the chronicle of his unique career along with the visual proof of his conviction: not only can mankind endure a lot but it is able to win every now and then.”

His parents – Júlia Berkovits and Dezső Friedmann – were tailors, who ran a prosperous show-room in Budapest. Their first child was László, followed by Endre and five years later by Kornél. After a Lutheran elementary school, Robert Capa went to study at Madách Secondary School. Inspierd by Lajos Kassák, he became interested in journalism in 1929, one year before his matriculation. After 1930, he was a photographer.

He was a good friend of Suzanne Szász, i.e. Székely Zsuzsa, already in Budapest. He lived at the same house as Éva Besnyő, who was his first childhood love.

He was shortly imprisoned because of his leftist connections and his participation in a leftist demonstration on 1 September 1930. In prison, he learnt the methods of the infamous investigator Péter Hain, who beat him so hard that he lost consciousness. He was released through his parents’ connections and he almost immediately left the country.

According to one of the legends, he only had a stick of salami in his luggage when he left. His train ticket to Vienna was paid by the Jewish Community of Pest, from there he went on to Prague through Brno and somehow he eventually arrived in Berlin. He left in July 1931 and it took him two or three weeks to get to the German capital. He studied journalism at the German Political College (Deutsche Hochschule für Politik). Since his parents were becoming poor and were not able to support him, he went to work as a photo lab assistant at the photo agency Dephot (Deutscher Photodienst). In the beginning, almost everybody spoke Hungarian at Dephot. No wonder since it was founded by Simon Guttmann and its financial manager was László Fekete, known as Ladislaus Glück at that time.

There were László Czigány (Taci) and György Markos among his fellow-workers and friends. He received his first camera at this time, a Voigtländer 6×9 from György Kepes. Later he got a Leica from Guttmann to carry out smaller assignments.

In 1932, he was sent by Guttmann to make the report which made him famous: he took the photo of Leon Trotsky at the Socialist Congress in Copenhagen. He was the only one to succeed in taking a photo of Trotsky, since photography was strictly forbidden at the meeting. The photo was published by Weltspiegel on a full page.

He was assisted in adapting himself to the foreign city and culture by his friends from Budapest, György Kepes and Éva Besnyő. They often invited him for dinner at their home, actively contributing to his subsistence besides his spiritual development. (At this time he stealthily ate the everyday roast-meat chop of his landlady’s dachshund.) He had to leave Berlin in 1933, which became more and more dangerous for left-wing Jewish intellectual immigrants. He went to Vienna and from there to Budapest by boat. He went to court schoolgirls at Lajos Pécsi’s studio in Dorottya Street almost everyday with his friends from the Munka-kör (Work Circle), among them Lajos Kassák. He worked for photographer Ferenc Veres in Budapest, taking photos of Budapest for touristic leaflets and publications. But he did not do it just howsoever! He did it by the metre. The photographer bought the exposed and developed Leica-films by 26 frames, i.e. by the metre from Endre Friedmann. We do not know what happened to these pictures or those he made in 1933 at the World Scout Jamboree in Gödöllő. Some of them were certainly taken to Paris, where a photographer friend of his tried to sell them to French photo agencies – without any success.

He moved to Paris in September 1933, still not as Capa, but neither as Bandi Friedmann any more; he tried to sell his photos under his new name André Friedman – with little success. He was starving more often than eating well. The young Hungarian with many names yet being actually an unknown photographer was helped by André Kertész with work, connections, his friendship and – knowing Capa – certainly with some money, too. (Later – already in America – he designed Capa’s book titled Death in the Making [Így készül a halál] from Gerda Taro’s and Capa’s photos taken in Spain.) He came into contact with Gisèle Freund, Hans Namuth and Chim at this time. Soon after he made friends with Henri Cartier-Bresson.

His first photo report was published in 1934 in Vu Magazine. He changed his name to Capa around this time almost together with his girlfriend Gerda Pohorylle, whose name became Gerda Taro. Foreign literature wrongly put together the name of Robert Capa from those of Robert Taylor and Frank Capra, but, to our knowledge, he was called Cápa (shark) because of his big mouth and pushy behaviour already at secondary school in Budapest. All he did abroad was to make it sound English by dropping the accent. The change of his name was also motivated by financial interests, since Gerda was able to sell the photos of a successful American photographer at a price three times higher than those of André. His appearance was also significantly transformed together with the change of his name. He had his long hair cut and he began to wear well-ironed suits, believing that it would be the seal of his success. However, it was difficult for him to work up the change of his name and the radical transformation of his appearance mentally.

He went to record the Spanish Civil War in 1936/37 together with Gerda Taro (whom he taught photography), assigned by Regards, a leftist French weekly magazine. And why should he not have received accreditation when his commissioner, Regards had a Hungarian editor, Pál Aranyossy writing under the name of Falus? Dezső Hoffmann was also working here at this time. Gerda died during an air-raid, but Spain became the springboard to world-wide fame for Capa since his photo titled “The Falling Soldier” irrevocably became a classic.

He worked in London, Paris and returned to Spain to take photos at the fall of Barcelona. He was everywhere where the sky was resounding. Besides the weekly magazine Regards, his photos were also published in LIFE. A countless number of his photos were published by Stefan Lorant in his journals, in Weekly Illustrated and in Picture Post. Lorant coined the slogan “The Greatest War Photographer in the World: Robert Capa,” which accompanied him all through his life.

He spent six months in China with film director Joris Ivens and cameraman John Fernhout during the Japanese occupation. He learnt English from the Dutch in the middle of China and he taught them songs of Hungarian highwaymen in exchange. By the way, Fernhout was Éva Besnyő’s first husband, whom she met earlier in the Spanish Civil War.

Capa returned to Paris, then went back to Spain again to take the series of photos published on 11 pages in Picture Post, two pages in LIFE and five pages in Regards.

After his father died in Budapest, he had nothing else binding him to Europe, so he moved to the United States in 1939 following his mother and his younger brother. Not only his photography, but also the typical Hungarian “lecho” (lecsó) dish cooked by Júlia Friedmann became a legend in the larger group of their friends. He preserved his Hungarian bonds: in his writing “Why have I left home?” he wrote about the conspiracy with his secondary schoolmates under the pillars of the Chain Bridge in Budapest. At the time, he mostly made reportage for LIFE, for example about the presidential elections in Mexico, where he met Kati Deutsch again, a former pupil of Hungarian photographer Lajos Pécsi.

He authored a book in 1941 together with writer Diana Forbes-Robertson about the air battle of London, entitled The Battle of Waterloo Road. After Hungary’s declaration of war, for being a citizen of an enemy state, he was not allowed to leave a ten-mile range of New York and he was also forbidden to take photos. However, in a rather short time, as perhaps the only alien enemy, he achieved to be accredited by the U. S. Army. He only had these personal documents at that time: U. S. residence permit, a Hungarian passport and letters of assignment from various journals. It did not pose an unsolvable problem to him, since he already succeeded in crossing international borders with an expired passport and a nicely decorated Hungarian restaurant menu – and with his big talk – already ten years earlier.

He took photos in England, North Africa, Sicily and in other parts of Italy. He landed with the first American troops on D-Day. He covered the last German offensive in Belgium and took photos about the fall of Leipzig. In the last day of the war he was asked by the Paris correspondent of the American Army’s radio to read an appeal in Hungarian on the air to persuade the population of besieged Budapest to turn against the Germans. Capa accepted to do it; however, by this time his Hungarian had become so rusty that he had to give it up in disgrace. After this incident, his friends were teasing him unmercifully about being a fake Hungarian. At this time Hemingway’s saying became a classic: “Capa speaks seven languages, but all of them poorly.”

At the end of the war, he was about to have a business-card printed with the title “Robert Capa, war photographer, unemployed.” Being aware of the course of world history since that time and Capa’s life story, he could hardly have distributed a lot of these cards. He received U. S. citizenship after the war, officially under the name of Robert Capa.

He went to the Soviet Union in 1947 with John Steinbeck, who wrote about him: “Capa was able to see and use what he had discovered. He was able to show the whole population’s hatred on a child’s face… Capa’s work is the proof of his great heart and his exuberant compassion… I frequently travelled and worked with Capa. He may have had much closer friends but nobody liked him as much as I did. He liked to seem to be easy and carefree in his work. But he was not. His photos are not accidental.”

In the same year, he founded Magnum in New York with Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, George Rodger, Maria Eisner, William Vandivert and his wife. Organising the agency, getting clients and making money took much of his time. He wrote to Maria Eisner around 1950: “I enjoy so much to be able to take photos again that I think I will get into to the habit.” After his death, Magnum was taken on and managed by his younger brother, Kornél Friedmann – or as he is better known: Cornell Capa.

In 1947, Robert Capa went to Turkey with a 16 mm film camera. A little bit later he covered the birth of the State of Israel. In Tel Aviv he met a lot of Hungarian acquaintances and then, guided by Paul Goldmann, a photographer of Hungarian origins, he took pictures of the heroic defence at the Kibbutz Negba in the Negev Desert. He also recorded the immigrant Hungarian battalion fighting for the liberation of Jerusalem.

In 1948, he spent six weeks in Hungary, taking photos of the war-torn country with the more and more evident signs of communist influence. At this time reconstruction works were implemented under the first three-year plan. He was accompanied by György Markos, his friend in Berlin and then in Paris. He took photos at the Ganz Shipyard, he recorded the first rice harvest in Békés County and the city of Budapest reviving from the ruins. “The day before I left, I went to get my exit visa. The sergeant who handled foreigners studied my passport very thoroughly. After stamping my exit visa, he asked me which school I went to. I told him the name of my secondary school in Budapest and he promptly listed my teachers and found out the year of my matriculation. He attended the same school, which he finished two years later than me. He gave back my passport and said: “If you had been born two years later with your talent, you either would not be alive today or you would be a secretary of a minister. This way, however, you are only a troubled Western liberal. This is historical materialism.”” This story, entitled “Conversation in Budapest” was published a year later in Holiday Magazine.

Until 1952, he mostly reported about his travels on assignment by Holiday Magazine, often writing the articles as well. Although he never grew rich, he was always full of ideas hiding opportunities to make a lot of money. Once he said: “I will never make millions. You make millions if you have one good idea. When you have twenty a day, you have to share them.” He was proud of his shrewdness that he attributed to being Hungarian. He reversed the well-known slogan from Hollywood, quoted earlier. In his version he said: “It is not enough to have talent, you also have to be Hungarian.”

In 1954, he was sent to Indochina by LIFE to cover the French colonies. On 25 May, he stepped on a land-mine and died. He was honoured with a posthumous Croix de Guerre by General René Cogny.

Capa’s memory has not faded – neither in Hungary, nor abroad. This is, not the least, due to his younger brother who, after the deaths of Capa, Bischof and Chim, felt that he did not have a more important task in his life than ensuring eternal life for these geniuses of photography. His zeal is attested by several exhibitions and books. His work was not without success: almost thirty years after Capa’s death, one of the best Hungarian writers, Ferenc Karinthy wrote about the photographer in his book The End of the World (Vége a világnak). Also András Simor wrote a poem as an homage to the photographer and to the soldier he made immortal. Film director Miklós Jancsó wrote an essay for the fortieth anniversary of Thái Bình. And above all: there is no photographic history or textbook without mentioning both of their names with Robert Capa on the top.

Károly Kincses (2005) “Robert Capa,” on the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center website [Online] Cited 03/11/2019

 

Please note: according to Capa’s birth entry his fathers name was Dávid Friedman (one n) and he was named Endre Ernő Friedman (one n). According to my friend György Németh whom this information came from, he later used his name with two N. As György says, it’s a bit of a mess as he used all kind of spelling throughout his life. Thank you György!

 

Robert Capa's birth entry

 

Robert Capa’s birth entry

 

Second gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Photojournalist Robert Capa II at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'Fountain rubble in city square, Stalingrad, USSR' August 1-31, 1947

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
Fountain rubble in city square, Stalingrad, USSR
August 1-31, 1947
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
50 x 40 cm

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'Student civil-defense volunteers assisting the wounded, Guangzhou, China' July-September 1938

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
Student civil-defense volunteers assisting the wounded, Guangzhou, China
July-September 1938
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
40 x 50 cm

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Installation views of the exhibition The Photojournalist Robert Capa II at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'Funeral procession for victim killed on the day of the presidential elections, Mexico City, Mexico' July 9, 1940

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
Funeral procession for victim killed on the day of the presidential elections, Mexico City, Mexico
July 9, 1940
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
40 x 50 cm

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'Man and cat outside an air-raid shelter, London, UK' June-July 1941

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
Man and cat outside an air-raid shelter, London, UK
June-July 1941
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
40 x 50 cm

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Installation views of the exhibition The Photojournalist Robert Capa II at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'Medical transport craft for men wounded in the first wave of American troops landing on D-Day, off Omaha Beach, near Colelville-sur-Mer, Omaha Beach, Normandy, France' June 6, 1944

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
Medical transport craft for men wounded in the first wave of American troops landing on D-Day, off Omaha Beach, near Colelville-sur-Mer, Omaha Beach, Normandy, France
June 6, 1944
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
50 x 40 cm

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'German soldiers captured by American forces burying some of the men killed during the D-Day landings, near Colelville-sur-Mer, Omaha Beach, Normandy, France' June 1944

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
German soldiers captured by American forces burying some of the men killed during the D-Day landings, near Colelville-sur-Mer, Omaha Beach, Normandy, France
June 1944
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
50 x 40 cm

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'American soldiers guard a group of captured Germans, southwest of Saint-Lð, Normandy, France' July 26-30, 1944

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
American soldiers guard a group of captured Germans, southwest of Saint-Lð, Normandy, France
July 26-30, 1944
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
40 x 50 cm

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'Cow in the middle of a street lined with ruined buildings, Normandy, France' June-July 1944

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
Cow in the middle of a street lined with ruined buildings, Normandy, France
June-July 1944
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
40 x 50 cm

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'Soldiers leading a French woman who had collaborated with the Germans to the Préfecture de Police to have her head shaved, Chartres, France' August 18, 1944

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
Soldiers leading a French woman who had collaborated with the Germans to the Préfecture de Police to have her head shaved, Chartres, France
August 18, 1944
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
40 x 50 cm

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Photojournalist Robert Capa II at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'German soldiers captured by American forces during the Battle of the Bulge, south of Bastogne, Belgium' December 23-26, 1944

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
German soldiers captured by American forces during the Battle of the Bulge, south of Bastogne, Belgium
December 23-26, 1944
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
50 x 40 cm

 

 

Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest
8 Nagymező Street, 1065 Budapest, Hungary
Phone: +36 1 413 1310

Opening hours:
Monday – Sunday: 11 am – 7 pm

Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest website

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06
May
18

Exhibition: ‘The Polaroid Project’ at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Exhibition dates: 16th March – 17th June 2018

 

Anna Reynolds. 'Marcus / Mutilation of the Soul' October 1992

 

Anna Reynolds
Marcus / Mutilation of the soul
October 1992
Phillip Institute, Melbourne
Polaroid

 

 

I love Polaroid photography. As “instant” photography it can have immediacy, but it can also be used for conceptual work as can be see in this posting. You can manipulate the image while it is still developing, and you can also later reclaim the negative from the Polaroid itself, providing a useful scannable or printable negative for further experimentation.

The idea of “instant” photography bemuses me. Nothing is ever “instant”. For example, in the Polaroid image of me above (and in all of the images below), there was thought, an idea, a process, and imagination going on well before the photograph was taken, and during its development (the manipulation of the Polaroid around the figure). Even a simple, vernacular photograph of a family scene contains the fact that the person behind the camera made a conscious decision to capture something that they saw, and press the shutter at a particular moment. It is never a “snapshot” for the process of taking a photograph is always a sub/conscious, imaginative, exclamation of choice.

So there is this space and time of in/decision; there is also the space and time of waiting (and manipulating if so desired) for the Polaroid to develop. That is the magical part for me… to see the image develop not in the drip tray of the darkroom, but holding the image in your hand, watching it emerge from the ether right in front of your eyes. Instant no, unforgettable, yes.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The Polaroid Project will shed light on the broad aesthetic spectrum made possible by the groundbreaking technology of instant photography, showcasing around 220 works by over 100 artists. Polaroid – a brand that has long since become a legend – revolutionised photography in a way that can still be felt today and which lives on in photo apps and on Instagram. The exhibition was developed by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, Minneapolis/ New York/ Paris/ Lausanne, the MIT Museum in Cambridge (Massachusetts), and WestLicht. Schauplatz für Fotografie (Vienna), in cooperation with MKG, and will be shown at numerous international museums.

 

James Nitsch. 'Razor Blade' 1976

 

James Nitsch
Razor Blade
1976
Polaroid SX-70 assemblage with razor blade
10.7 x 8.8 cm
© James Nitsch

 

Guy Bourdin. 'Charles Jourdan' 1978

 

Guy Bourdin
Charles Jourdan 1978
1978
C-Print
88.9 x 116.8 cm
© The Guy Bourdin Estate 2017 / Courtesy of Louise Alexander Gallery

 

André Kertész. 'August 13' 1979

 

André Kertész
August 13, 1979
1979
Polaroid SX-70
10.7 x 8.8 cm
© The Estate of André Kertész, courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery

 

Victor Landweber. 'Garbage Candy' 1979

 

Victor Landweber
Garbage Candy
1979
Polaroid Polacolor Type 669 composite, bound in a book
10.8 x 16.1 cm
© Victor Landweber, Collection Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona

 

Bruce Charlesworth. 'Untitled' 1979

 

Bruce Charlesworth
Untitled
1979
Hand-painted Polaroid SX-70
10.7 x 8.8 cm
© Bruce Charlesworth 1979

 

Barbara Crane. 'Private Views' 1981

 

Barbara Crane
Private Views
1981
Polaroid Polacolor 4×5 Type 58
10.2 x 12.7 cm
© Barbara Crane

 

Sandi Fellman. 'Grey Lion, Tokyo, Japan' 1983

 

Sandi Fellman
Grey Lion, Tokyo, Japan
1983
Polaroid 20 x 24 Polacolor
73.7 x 56 cm
© Sandi Fellman

 

Şahin Kaygun. 'Buttock' 1983

 

Şahin Kaygun
Buttock
1983
Hand coloured, manipulated Polaroid Type 600 High Speed
10.7 x 8.8 cm
© Şahin Kaygun

 

David Levinthal. 'Untitled' 1983-85

 

David Levinthal
Untitled from the series Modern Romance
1983-1985
Polaroid SX-70
10.7 x 8.8 cm
© David Levinthal, ARS, NY and DACS, London 2017

 

 

In the exhibition The Polaroid Project, the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg presents for the first time the full scope of the phenomenon of the Polaroid photograph. Based on some 220 photos by over 100 artists, as well as 90 camera models and prototypes, the show sheds light on the whole aesthetic spectrum of instant photography and on the innovative technology that made this visual revolution possible. Polaroid stands for a technology, an industry, a company, and its products. Presented to the public for the first time in 1947 by Edwin Land in New York, instant camera film made the photo lab superfluous. As if by magic, the picture gradually appears before the eyes of the photographer and subject. Polaroid – a brand that has long since attained legendary status – thus transformed our handling of photography in a way that is still pervasive today, living on in photo apps and Instagram. In the heyday of the company in the mid-20th century, Polaroid sold its cameras and film to millions of amateurs and professionals. The technical and aesthetic qualities of the new medium, and above all the immediacy and spontaneity of the photos, made it an exciting field of experimentation for artists as well.

Polaroid itself has worked closely with photographers from the start. One of the earliest advisors to Edwin Land, inventor and founder of the Polaroid Corporation, was Ansel Adams, the godfather of American landscape photography. In its Artist Support Program, the company provides film and cameras to both established figures and nascent talents in the art and photography scene. In return, it receives not only feedback on its products but also selected works for the company collection. For artists, the inventions from Land’s company offer a playground for their own discoveries, one that provides fresh inspiration for their photography. It thus came about that the exponents of Pop Art – chief among them Andy Warhol – raised the status of the Polaroid photo to a whole new level with their excessive use of the medium, securing for it a place in the artistic sphere.

Press release from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Dennis Hopper. 'Los Angeles, Back Alley' 1987

 

Dennis Hopper
Los Angeles, Back Alley
1987
Polaroid SX-70
10.7 x 8.8 cm
© Dennis Hopper, Courtesy of The Hopper Art Trust

 

Pierre-Louis Martin. 'Graines de Pissenlit' 1990

 

Pierre-Louis Martin
Graines de Pissenlit
1990
Gelatin silver print from Polaroid-Film Type 55
48.9 x 40 cm
© Pierre-Louis Martin

 

Shelby Lee Adams. 'Esther and Bee Jay' 1991

 

Shelby Lee Adams
Esther and Bee Jay
1991
Polaroid Polapan 4×5 Type 52
12.7 x 10.2 cm
© Shelby Lee Adams

 

Kunihiro Shinohara. 'Cosmic #9' 1993-2000

 

Kunihiro Shinohara
Cosmic #9
1993-2000
Inkjet print from Polaroid-Film Type 55
29.8 x 22.3 cm
© Kunihiro Shinohara

 

Mark Klett. 'Contemplating the View at Muley Point, Utah' 1994

 

Mark Klett
Contemplating the View at Muley Point, Utah
1994
Gelatin silver print from Polaroid-Film Type 55
40.6 x 50.8 cm
© Mark Klett

 

Ellen Carey. 'Pulls (CMY)' 1997

 

Ellen Carey
Pulls (CMY)
1997
Polaroid 20 x 24 Polacolor-Montage
210.8 x 167.6 cm
© Ellen Carey, Jayne H. Baum Gallery, NYC, NY and M+B Gallery, LA, CA

 

Timothy White. 'Untitled' 1998

 

Timothy White
Untitled
1998
Inkjet print from Polaroid-Film Type 665
50.8 x 40.6 cm
© Timothy White

 

Toshio Shibata. 'Untitled (# 228)' 2003

 

Toshio Shibata
Untitled (#228)
2003
Gelatin silver print from Polaroid-Film, Type 55
61 x 50.8 cm
© Toshio Shibata

 

Chen Wei. 'Everlasting Radio Wave-Test #5' 2008

 

Chen Wei
Everlasting Radio Wave-Test #5
2008
Fujifilm FP-100C
8.5 x 10.8 cm
© Chen Wei

 

Paolo Gioli. 'This Is Not My Face' 2010

 

Paolo Gioli
Questo volto non è il mio volto (This Face Is Not My Face)
2010
Polaroid 20 x 24 Polacolor and Polacolor transfer on acrylic
71 x 55 cm
© Paolo Gioli

 

 

Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Steintorplatz, 20099 Hamburg

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 10 am – 6 pm
Thursday 10 am – 9 pm
Closed Mondays

Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg website

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01
May
17

Exhibition: ‘The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 10th November 2016 – 7th May 2017

 

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

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of the world’s greatest private collections of photography, drawn from the classic modernist period of the 1920s-50s. An incredible group of Man Ray portraits are exhibited together for the first time, having been brought together by Sir Elton John over the past twenty-five years, including portraits of Matisse, Picasso, and Breton. With over 70 artists and nearly 150 rare vintage prints on show from seminal figures including Brassai, Imogen Cunningham, André Kertész, Dorothea Lange, Tina Modotti, and Aleksandr Rodchenko, this is a chance to take a peek inside Elton John’s home and delight in seeing such masterpieces of photography.”

Text from the Tate Modern website

 

Paul Strand. 'Wall Street, New York' 1915

 

Paul Strand
Wall Street, New York
1915
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

 

Tate Modern presents a major new exhibition, The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection, drawn from one of the world’s greatest private collections of photography. This unrivalled selection of classic modernist images from the 1920s to the 1950s features almost 200 works from more than 60 artists, including seminal figures such as Berenice Abbott, André Kertész, Man Ray, Alexandr Rodchenko and Edward Steichen among many others. The exhibition consists entirely of rare vintage prints, all created by the artists themselves, offering a unique opportunity to see remarkable works up close. The quality and depth of the collection allows the exhibition to tell the story of modernist photography in this way for the first time in the UK. It also marks the beginning of a long term relationship between Tate and The Sir Elton John Collection, as part of which Sir Elton and David Furnish have agreed to give important works to the nation.

The Radical Eye introduces a crucial moment in the history of photography – an exciting rupture often referred to as the ‘coming of age’ of the medium, when artists used photography as a tool through which they could redefine and transform visions of the modern world. Technological advancements gave artists the freedom to experiment and test the limits of the medium and present the world through a new, distinctly modern visual language. This exhibition reveals how the timeless genres of the portrait, nude and still life were reimagined through the camera during this period, also exploring photography’s unique ability to capture street life and architecture from a new perspective.

Featuring portraits of great cultural figures of the 20th century, including Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston by Tina Modotti, Jean Cocteau by Berenice Abbott and Igor Stravinsky by Edward Weston, the exhibition gives insight into the relationships and inner circles of the avant-garde. An incredible group of Man Ray portraits are exhibited together for the first time, having been brought together by Sir Elton John over the past twenty-five years, depicting key surrealist figures such as Andre Breton and Max Ernst alongside artists including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar. Ground-breaking experimentation both in the darkroom and on the surface of the print, such as Herbert Bayer’s photomontage and Maurice Tabard’s solarisation, examine how artists pushed the accepted conventions of portraiture.

As life underwent rapid changes in the 20th century, photography offered a new means to communicate and represent the world. Alexandr Rodchenko, László Moholy-Nagy and Margaret Bourke-White employed the ‘worm’s eye’ and ‘bird’s eye’ views to create new perspectives of the modern metropolis – techniques associated with constructivism and the Bauhaus. The move towards abstraction is also explored, from isolated architectural elements to camera-less photography such as Man Ray’s rayographs and Harry Callahan’s light abstractions.

A dedicated section of the exhibition looks at the new approaches that emerged in capturing the human form, highlighted in rare masterpieces such as André Kertész’s Underwater Swimmer, Hungary 1917, while Imogen Cunningham’s Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels 1925 and Tina Modotti’s Bandelier, Corn and Sickle 1927 feature in a large presentation dedicated to the Still Life. The important role of documentary photography as a tool of mass communication is demonstrated in Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother 1936 and Walker Evans’ Floyde Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama 1936, from the Farm Security Administration project.

The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection is at Tate Modern from 10 November 2016 until 7 May 2017. It is curated by Shoair Mavlian with Simon Baker and Newell Harbin, Director of The Sir Elton John Photography Collection. The exhibition is accompanied by an exclusive audio tour of the exhibition featuring commentary from Sir Elton John, and a major new catalogue from Tate Publishing including an interview with Sir Elton John by Jane Jackson.

Press release from Tate Modern

 

Edward Weston. 'White Door, Hornitos, California' 1940

 

Edward Weston
White Door, Hornitos, California
1940
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

 

“We possess an extraordinary instrument for reproduction. But photography is much more than that. Today it is … bringing something entirely new into the world.”

.
László Moholy-Nagy, 1932

 

 

Artists in the modernist period explored what the camera could do that the human eye alone could not, and how this could be harnessed to present a new modern perspective on the world. Artist and theorist László Moholy-Nagy proclaimed that photography could radically change not just what, but how we see. He called this the ‘new vision’. Rather than emulating other art forms, photography began to embrace qualities unique to itself, from its ability to reproduce the world in sharp detail to its capacity to create new realities through the manipulation of light, chemicals and paper.

This re-evaluation of photography coincided with a period of upheaval. War, revolution and economic depression led to mass movements of people and great social change. The idea of the avant-garde took hold and dada and surrealism emerged, challenging both the art and social norms that had come before. At the same time, new art schools such as the Bauhaus in Germany and Vkhutemas in Russia fostered the role of the professional artist and challenged divisions between art and design.

The Radical Eye is arranged thematically and charts a changing emphasis from the subject of an image to the visual qualities of the photograph itself, irrespective of what it represents. The many vintage prints in this exhibition – made soon after the photographs were taken – give a rare insight into the artists’ processes and creative decisions, and foreground the photograph as a physical object. All works are shown in the frames in which they are displayed in the home of Sir Elton John and David Furnish.

Together, the works in this exhibition show how photography pushed the boundaries of the possible, changing the world through the ways in which it was seen and understood. ‘Knowledge of photography is just as important as that of the alphabet. The illiterates of the future will be ignorant of the use of camera and pen alike,’ wrote Moholy-Nagy in 1927, foreseeing the cultural dominance of the photographic image. This extraordinary period still impacts how we, the photo-literate future, read and create images today.

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain
Sunbaker
1937
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

 

“They collect themselves. Carefully, as if tying a cravat, they compose their features. Insolent, serious and conscious of their looks they turn around to face the world.”

.
From ‘Men before the Mirror’, published alongside portraits by Man Ray, 1934

 

 

Portraits

Modernist portraiture harnessed photography’s capacity to render an accurate likeness in clear, sharp focus and detail. But at the same time, artists and sitters pushed the conventions of portraiture with innovations in pose, composition and cropping.

Many of the portraits in this room are of artists, writers and musicians, giving a cross section of key cultural players of the time. Issues of control and collaboration arise particularly when the subject is an artist, raising the question of who is responsible for conveying the sitter’s persona. The modernist period also saw a boom of the illustrated press. Magazines reproduced photographic portraits of well-known figures which were instrumental in shaping their public images.

 

Alfred Stieglitz. 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1922

 

Alfred Stieglitz
Georgia O’Keeffe
1922
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Man Ray. 'Nusch Éluard' 1928

 

Man Ray
Nusch Éluard
1928
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

 

Nusch Éluard (born Maria Benz; June 21, 1906 – November 28, 1946) was a French performer, model and surrealist artist…

Nusch arrived in France as a stage performer, variously described as a small-time actress, a traveling acrobat, and a “hypnotist’s stooge”. She met Paul Éluard in 1930 working as a model, married him in 1934, produced surrealist photomontage and other work, and is the subject of “Facile,” a collection of Éluard’s poetry published as a photogravure book, illustrated with Man Ray’s nude photographs of her.

She was also the subject of several cubist portraits and sketches by Pablo Picasso in the late 1930s, and is said to have had an affair with him. Nusch worked for the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. She died in 1946 in Paris, collapsing in the street due to a massive stroke.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'Actress Gloria Swanson' 1924

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Actress Gloria Swanson
1924
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

Adolph de Meyer. 'For Elizabeth Arden (The Wax Head)' 1931

 

Adolph de Meyer
For Elizabeth Arden (The Wax Head)
1931
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Edward Weston. 'Igor Stravinsky' 1935

 

Edward Weston
Igor Stravinsky
1935
Silver gelatin print
© 1981 Center for Creative Photography

 

George Platt Lynes. 'A Forgotten Model' c. 1937

 

George Platt Lynes
A Forgotten Model
c. 1937
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Man Ray. 'Juliet and Margaret Nieman in Papier-Mâché Masks' c. 1945

 

Man Ray
Juliet and Margaret Nieman in Papier-Mâché Masks
c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: © Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Irving Penn. 'Salvador Dali in New York' 1947

 

Irving Penn
Salvador Dali in New York
1947
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: The Irving Penn Foundation

 

 

“The enemy of photography is convention, the fixed rules ‘how to do’. The salvation of photography comes from the experiment.”

.
László Moholy-Nagy, c. 1940

 

 

Experiments

This was not a period of discovery but of rediscovery. Artists were rewriting the preceding century’s rules of photographic technique, harnessing ‘mistakes’ such as distortions and double exposures, or physically manipulating the printed image, cutting, marking and recombining photographs. These interventions could occur at any point in the process, from taking the image to the final print.

Used in portraiture, such experiments allowed for more psychologically charged representations. However, the transformative power of a particular technique often becomes much more important than the particular subject of the image. Above all, the rich creative possibilities of the photographic process come to the fore. While artists were seriously investigating the medium, the results are often surprising and playful.

 

Herbert Bayer. 'Self-Portrait' 1932

 

Herbert Bayer
Self-Portrait
1932
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© DACS 2016

 

Otto Umbehr. "Katz" - Cat 1927

 

Otto Umbehr
“Katz” – Cat
1927
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© Phyllis Umbehr/Galerie Kicken Berlin/DACS 2016

 

Josef Breitenbach. 'Patricia, New York' c. 1942

 

Josef Breitenbach
Patricia, New York
c. 1942
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Josef and Yaye Breitenbach Charitable Foundation, Courtesy Gitterman Gallery

 

 

“The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.”

.
Edward Weston, 1924

 

 

Bodies

Experimental approaches to shooting, cropping and framing could transform the human body into something unfamiliar. Photographers started to focus on individual parts of the body, their unconventional crops drawing attention to shape and form, accentuating curves and angles. Fragmented limbs and flesh were depersonalised and could be treated like a landscape or still life, dissolving distinctions between different genres. Thanks to faster shutter speeds and new celluloid roll film, photographers could also freeze the body in motion outside of the studio for the first time, capturing dancers and swimmers with a clarity impossible for the naked eye.

 

André Kertész. 'Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary, 30 June 1917' 1917

 

André Kertész
Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary, 30 June 1917
1917
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures

 

Rudolph Koppitz. 'Movement Study' 1925

 

Rudolph Koppitz
Movement Study
1925
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2016

 

Man Ray. 'Noire et Blanche' 1926

 

Man Ray
Noire et Blanche
1926
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Man Ray (1890-1976) 'Glass Tears (Les Larmes)' 1932

 

Man Ray (1890-1976)
Glass Tears (Les Larmes)
1932
Gelatin silver print on paper
229 x 298 mm
Collection Elton John
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Edward Weston. 'Nude' 1936

 

Edward Weston
Nude
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Man Ray. 'Dora Maar' 1936

 

Man Ray
Dora Maar
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Nino Migliori. 'Il Tuffatore' (The Diver) 1951

 

Nino Migliori
‘Il Tuffatore’ (The Diver)
1951
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

 

“The documentary photographer is trying to speak to you in terms of everyone’s experience.”

.
Dorothea Lange, 1934

 

 

Documents

During the 1930s, photographers refined the formula for what we now know as social documentary. To compel the public to look at less palatable aspects of contemporary society they married creative manipulation with an appeal to viewers’ trust in the photograph as an objective visual record. This combination proved itself uniquely capable of eliciting empathy but is fraught with artistic and ethical complexity. These works highlight the vexed position of documentary photographs: historical evidence, instruments of propaganda and, latterly, works of art.

The development of new technology – particularly the portable camera and roll film – allowed photographers to capture spontaneous moments unfolding in the everyday world. Taking viewers into neighbourhoods where they might never set foot, street photography and documentary opened up new perspectives socially as much as visually.

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Walker Evans. 'Floyde Burroughs, a cotton sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans
Floyde Burroughs, a cotton sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Dorothea Lange. 'A young girl living in a shack town near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
A young girl living in a shack town near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Walker Evans. 'Christ or Chaos?' 1946

 

Walker Evans
Christ or Chaos?
1946
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Walker Evans Archives, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

“Contradictions of perspective. Contrasts of light. Contrasts of form. Points of view impossible to achieve in drawing and painting.”

.
Aleksandr Rodchenko, 1920s

 

 

Objects, Perspectives, Abstractions

The subjects and approaches of modernist photography vary widely, but are united by a fascination with the medium itself. Every image asks what photography is capable of and how it can be pushed further. This final room brings together three interlinked approaches. It shows the still life genre reimagined by photographers who used the technical capabilities of the camera to reveal the beauty of everyday things. Objects captured at unconventional angles or extreme close-up become strange, even unrecognisable.

A similar effect of defamiliarisation was accomplished by taking photographs from radically new perspectives, positioning a camera at the point of view of the ‘worm’s eye’ or ‘bird’s eye’. This created extreme foreshortening that transformed photographs from descriptive images of things into energetic compositions hovering between abstraction and representation.

Abstraction pushes against photography’s innate ability to record objectively. Radical techniques such as cameraless image-making simplified the medium to the point of capturing the play of light on photosensitive paper. By stripping it back to its most basic components, artists celebrated photography, not as a tool for reproduction, but as a creative medium capable of producing new imagery.

 

Alexander Rodchenko. 'Shukov Tower' 1920

 

Alexander Rodchenko
Shukov Tower
1920
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© A. Rodchenko & V. Stepanova Archive, DACS, RAO 2016

 

Edward Steichen. 'A Bee on a Sunflower' c. 1920

 

Edward Steichen
A Bee on a Sunflower
c. 1920
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Man Ray. "Rayograph" 1923

 

Man Ray
“Rayograph”
1923
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

André Kertész. 'Mondrian's Glasses and Pipe' 1926

 

André Kertész
Mondrian’s Glasses and Pipe
1926
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures

 

Tina Modotti. 'Bandelier, Corn and Sickle' 1927

 

Tina Modotti
Bandelier, Corn and Sickle
1927
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Werner Mantz. 'Staircase Ursuliner Lyzeum Cologne 1928'

 

Werner Mantz
Staircase Ursuliner Lyzeum Cologne 1928
1928
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Margaret Bourke-White. 'George Washington Bridge' 1933

 

Margaret Bourke-White
George Washington Bridge
1933
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

 

László Moholy-Nagy
View from the Berlin tower
1928
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Margaret de Patta. 'Ice Cube Tray with Marbles and Rice' 1939

 

Margaret de Patta
Ice Cube Tray with Marbles and Rice
1939
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© Estate of Margaret de Patta

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
Sunday –  Thursday 10.00 – 18.00
Friday – Saturday 10.00 – 22.00

Tate Modern website

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21
Apr
17

Exhibition: ‘The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 29th October 2016 – 7th May 2017

 

Photography is … a language for asking questions about the world. The Shape of Things imbues this aphorism with a linear taxonomy in its written material (while the installation “occasionally diverges from a strict chronological progression”), no matter that each “moment” in the history of photography – historical, modern, contemporary – is never self contained or self sufficient, that each overlaps and informs one another, in a nexus of interweaving threads.

Charles Harry Jones’ Peapods (c. 1900) are as modern as Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Cooling Towers (1973); Margaret Watkins’ Design Angles (1919) are as directorial as Jan Groover’s Untitled (1983) or Charles Harry Jones’ Onions (c. 1900). And so it goes…

The ideation “the shape of things” is rather a bald fundamental statement in relation to how we imagine and encounter the marvellous. No matter the era, the country or the person who makes them; no matter the meanings readable in photographs or their specific use value in a particular context – the photograph is still the footprint of an idea and, as John Berger asks, a trace naturally left by something that has past? That flicker of imagination in the mind’s eye which has no time.

As Sartre says in Being and Nothingness, “Temporality is only a tool of vision.”

Marcus

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

 

 

The Shape of Things presents a compact and non-comprehensive history of photography, from its inception to the early twenty-first century, in one hundred images. The exhibition is drawn entirely from the 504 photographs that have entered The Museum of Modern Art’s collection with the support of Robert B. Menschel over the past forty years, including a notable selection of works from his personal collection that were given in 2016 and are being shown here for the first time.

“Photography is less and less a cognitive process, in the traditional sense of the term, or an affirmative one, offering answers, but rather a language for asking questions about the world,” wrote the Italian photographer and critic Luigi Ghirri in 1989. Echoing these words, the exhibition presents the history of the medium in three parts, emphasising the strengths of Menschel’s collection and mirroring his equal interest in historical, modern, and contemporary photography. Each section focuses on a moment in photography’s history and the conceptions of the medium that were dominant then: informational and documentary in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, more formal and subjective in the immediate postwar era, and questioning and self-referential from the 1970s onward. The installation occasionally diverges from a strict chronological progression, fuelled by the conviction that works from different periods, rather than being antagonistic, correspond with and enrich each other.

 

Installation view of 'The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel' at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 - May 7, 2017

Installation view of 'The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel' at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 - May 7, 2017

Installation view of 'The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel' at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 - May 7, 2017

Installation view of 'The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel' at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 - May 7, 2017

Installation view of 'The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel' at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 - May 7, 2017

 

Installation views of The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 – May 7, 2017
© 2016 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

The exhibition The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel presents a compact history of photography, from its inception to the early 21st century, in 100 images. On view from October 29, 2016, through May 7, 2017, the exhibition is drawn entirely from the 504 photographs that have entered The Museum of Modern Art’s collection over the past 40 years with the support of longtime Museum trustee Robert B. Menschel. It includes a notable selection of works from his personal collection that were given in 2016 and are being shown here for the first time. The Shape of Things is organised by Quentin Bajac, the Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, with Katerina Stathopoulou, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, MoMA.

Borrowing its title from the eponymous work by Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953), the exhibition presents the history of the medium in three parts, emphasising the strengths of Menschel’s collection and mirroring his equal interest in historical, modern, and contemporary photography. Each section focuses on a moment in photography’s history and the conceptions of the medium that were dominant then: informational and documentary in the 19th and early 20th centuries, more formal and subjective in the immediate postwar era, and questioning and self-referential from the 1970s onward. The installation occasionally diverges from a strict chronological progression, fuelled by the conviction that works from different periods, rather than being antagonistic, correspond with and enrich each other.

 

Historical

From 1840 to 1900, in photography’s infancy as a medium, artists principally sought to depict truthful representations of their surrounding environments. This primal stage is distinguished by a debate on the artistic-versus-scientific nature of the invention. Photographers engaged with the aesthetic and technical qualities of the medium, experimenting with tone, texture, and printing processes. The exhibition begins with seminal photographs such as William Henry Talbot Fox’s (British, 1800-1877) 1843 picture Rue Basse des Remparts, Paris, taken from the windows of the Hôtel de Douvres. Also on view is the astronomer Jules Janssen’s (French, 1824-1907) masterpiece L’Atlas de photographies solaires (Atlas of solar photographs), published in 1903. Summing up a quarter-century of daily photography at Janssen’s observatory in Meudon, France, the volume on view contains 30 images of the photosphere, demonstrating photography’s instrumental role in advancing the study of science. Other artists included in this section are Louis-August and Auguste-Rosalie Bisson (Bisson brothers), Eugène Cuvelier, Roger Fenton, Hugh W. Diamond, Charles Marville, and Henri Le Secq.

 

Modern

As photographers grappled with war and its aftermath, they began to turn their focus away from documenting the world around them and toward capturing their own personal experiences in a more formal, subjective way. A selection of works from 1940 to 1960 explores this theme, including works by two artists whose images Menschel collected extensively: Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) and Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991). A selection from Callahan’s quintessential photographs of urban environments – from Chicago and New York to Aix-en Provence and Cuzco, Peru – double exposures of city views, and portraits of his wife Eleanor and daughter Barbara, underscore the breadth of his oeuvre. In the summer of 1951, while teaching alongside Callahan at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Siskind began the series of pictures of the surfaces of walls for which he is best known. One of the early works in the series on view, North Carolina 30 (1951), shows the bare legs of a woman framed by the words “IN” and”AND” amid layers of peeling layers of posters. In their planarity and graphic quality, these pictures also have a kinship with paintings by the Abstract Expressionists, alongside whom Siskind began exhibiting in the late 1940s. Other artists in this section include Berenice Abbott, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, John Gossage, André Kertész, Clarence John Laughlin, and Dora Maar.

 

Contemporary

From the 1970s onward, photographers began working in what A. D. Coleman defined as “The Directorial Mode,” wherein the photographer consciously creates events for the sole purpose of making images. John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) took his own body, naked and with the head invisible, as the subject of his work – both carrying on and contradicting the tradition of the self-portrait centered on the face – as seen in Self-Portrait (Back with Arms Above) (1984). Joan Fontcuberta’s (Spanish, b. 1955) series Herbarium appears at first glance to be a collection of botanical studies, depicting plants with new and distinctive contours and rigorously scientific names. However, as revealed by his fictional character Dr. Hortensio Verdeprado (“green pasture” in Spanish), the “plants” are actually carefully composed by the photographer using scrap picked up in industrial areas around Barcelona. Made of bits of paper and plastic, small animal bones, and other detritus, these forms are not only non-vegetal – there is almost nothing natural about them at all. Fontcuberta is interested in the way data assumes meaning through its presentation and in the acceptance of the photographic image as evidence of truth. Other artists in this section include Jan Groover, David Levinthal, An-My Lê, Michael Spano, JoAnn Verburg, and William Wegman.

Press release from the Museum of Modern Art

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869) 'Greek Hero' c. 1857

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869)
Greek Hero
c. 1857
Salted-paper print from a wet-collodion glass negative
13 7/16 × 10 3/16″ (34.2 × 25.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Robert and Joyce Menschel Fund

 

Hugh W. Diamond (British, 1809-1886) 'Untitled' c. 1852-55

 

Hugh W. Diamond (British, 1809-1886)
Untitled
c. 1852-55
Albumen silver print from a glass negative
6 1/2 x 5 5/16″ (16.6 x 13.5 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877) 'Rue Basse des Remparts, Paris' May 1843

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877)
Rue Basse des Remparts, Paris
May 1843
Salted paper print
6 11/16 × 6 3/4″ (17 × 17.2 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879) 'Pont Neuf' 1870s

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879)
Pont Neuf
1870s
Albumen silver print
14 1/8 x 8 1/4″ (36 x 23.5 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879) 'Rue des Prêtres-Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois' c. 1866

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879)
Rue des Prêtres-Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois
c. 1866
Albumen silver print
11 13/16 × 10 1/2″ (30 × 26.6 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879) 'Rue du Cygne' c. 1865

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879)
Rue du Cygne
c. 1865
Albumen silver print from a glass negative
11 3/4 x 10 9/16″ (29.9 x 26.9 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'The Terminal' 1893

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
The Terminal
1893
Photogravure mounted to board
10 × 13 3/16″ (25.4 × 33.5 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

 

Truthful representations, 1840-1930

“One advantage of the discovery of the Photographic Art will be, that it will enable us to introduce into our pictures a multitude of minute details which add to the truth and reality of the representation, but which no artist would take the trouble to copy faithfully from nature.

Contenting himself with a general effect, he would probably deem it beneath his genius to copy every accident of light and shade; nor could he do so indeed, without a disproportionate expenditure of time and trouble, which might be otherwise much better employed.

Nevertheless, it is well to have the means at our disposal of introducing these minutiae without any additional trouble, for they will sometimes be found to give an air of variety beyond expectation to the scene represented.”

William Henry Fox Talbot, The Pencil of Nature, 1844-46

 

“I was interested in a straightforward 19th-century way of photographing an object. To photograph things frontally creates the strongest presence and you can eliminate the possibilities of being too obviously subjective. If you photograph an octopus, you have to work out which approach will show the most typical character of the animal. But first you have to learn about the octopus. Does it have six legs or eight? You have to be able to understand the subject visually, through its visual appearance. You need clarity and not sentimentality.”

Hilla Becher, in “The Music of the Blast Furnaces: Bernhard and Hilla Becher in Conversation with James Lingwood,” Art Press, no. 209 (1996)

 

Charles Harry Jones (British, 1866-1959) 'Peapods' c. 1900

 

Charles Harry Jones (British, 1866-1959)
Peapods
c. 1900
Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print
6 5/16 x 8 1/4″ (16 x 20.9 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Cooling Towers' 1973

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Cooling Towers
1973
Gelatin silver prints
Each 15 3/4 × 11 13/16″ (40 × 30 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel
© 2016 Estate Bernd and Hilla Becher

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'George Washington Bridge, Riverside Drive and West 179th Street, Manhattan' January 17, 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
George Washington Bridge, Riverside Drive and West 179th Street, Manhattan
January 17, 1936
Gelatin silver print
9 9/16 x 7 5/8″ (24.3 x 19.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel
© 2016 Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Gunsmith, 6 Centre Market Place, Manhattan' February 4, 1937

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Gunsmith, 6 Centre Market Place, Manhattan
February 4, 1937
Gelatin silver print 9 5/8 x 7 9/16″ (24.4 x 19.1 cm)
Gift of the Robert and Joyce Menschel Foundation

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Hannover Mine 1/2/5, Bochum-Hordel, Ruhr Region, Germany' 1973

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Hannover Mine 1/2/5, Bochum-Hordel, Ruhr Region, Germany
1973
Gelatin silver print
18 7/16 x 22 11/16″ (46.9 x 57.6 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Duisburg-Bruckhausen, Ruhr Region, Germany' 1999

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Duisburg-Bruckhausen, Ruhr Region, Germany
1999
Gelatin silver print
19 5/16 x 24″ (49.1 x 60.9 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Louis-Auguste Bisson (French, 1814-1876) 'Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris (detail of facade)' c. 1853

 

Louis-Auguste Bisson (French, 1814-1876)
Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris (detail of facade)
c. 1853
Albumen silver print from a glass negative
14 7/16 x 17 13/16″ (36.6 x 45.3 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Robert B. Menschel

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch, born Germany. 1897-1985) 'Rails' c. 1927

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch, born Germany. 1897-1985)
Rails
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
15 7/16 x 10 3/8″ (39.2 x 26.3 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch, born Germany. 1897-1985) 'Le Metal Inspirateur d'Art (Metal Inspiration of Art)' 1930

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch, born Germany. 1897-1985)
Le Metal Inspirateur d’Art (Metal Inspiration of Art)
1930
Gelatin silver print
6 5/8 x 8 7/16″ (16.8 x 21.5 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

 

Personal experiences, 1940-1960

“As photographers, we must learn to relax our beliefs. Move on objects with your eye straight on, to the left, around on the right. Watch them grow large as you approach, group and regroup themselves as you shift your position. Relationships gradually emerge, and sometimes assert themselves with finality. And that’s your picture.

What I have just described is an emotional experience. It is utterly personal: no one else can ever see quite what you have seen, and the picture that emerges is unique, never made and never to be repeated. The picture – and this is fundamental – has the unity of an organism. Its elements were not put together, with whatever skill or taste or ingenuity. It came into being as an instant act of sight.”

Aaron Siskind, “The Drama of Objects,” Minicam Photography 8, no. 9 (1945)

 

“The business of making a photograph may be said in simple terms to consist of three elements: the objective world (whose permanent condition is change and disorder), the sheet of paper on which the picture will be realized, and the experience which brings them together. First, and emphatically, I accept the flat plane of the picture surface as the primary frame of reference of the picture. The experience itself may be described as one of total absorption in the object. But the object serves only a personal need and the requirements of the picture. Thus rocks are sculptured forms; a section of common decorated ironwork, springing rhythmic shapes; fragments of paper sticking to a wall, a conversation piece. And these forms, totems, masks, figures, shapes, images must finally take their place in the tonal field of the picture and strictly conform to their space environment. The object has entered the picture in a sense; it has been photographed directly. But it is often unrecognizable; for it has been removed from its usual context, disassociated from its customary neighbours and forced into new relationships.”

Aaron Siskind, “Credo,” Spectrum 6, no. 2 (1956)

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, born Austria. 1899-1968) 'The Gay Deceiver' c. 1939

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, born Austria. 1899-1968)
The Gay Deceiver
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
13 x 10 1/4″ (33 x 26 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Chicago' 1951

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Chicago
1951
Dye transfer print
10 5/16 x 15 11/16″ (26.2 x 39.9 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Clarence John Laughlin (American, 1905-1985) 'Spectre of Coca-Cola' 1962

 

Clarence John Laughlin (American, 1905-1985)
Spectre of Coca-Cola
1962
Gelatin silver print, printed 1981
13 1/4 x 10 3/8″ (33.6 x 26.4 cm)
Robert B. Menschel Fund

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Siena' 1968

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Siena
1968
Gelatin silver print
9 × 8 7/8″ (22.9 × 22.5 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Chicago' c. 1952

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Chicago
c. 1952
Dye transfer print
8 3/4 × 13 7/16″ (22.3 × 34.1 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Chicago' c. 1949

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Chicago
c. 1949
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 x 9 9/16″ (19.5 x 24.3 cm)
Gift of Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago' 1953

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago
1953
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 x 9 11/16″ (19.5 x 24.6 cm)
Gift of Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Providence' 1974

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Providence
1974
Gelatin silver print
6 9/16 × 6 7/16″ (16.6 × 16.3 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary. 1894-1985) 'New York' August 10, 1969

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary. 1894-1985)
New York
August 10, 1969
Gelatin silver print
13 11/16 x 9 3/4″ (34.7 x 24.7 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

 

Directorial modes, 1970s and beyond

“Here the photographer consciously and intentionally creates events for the express purpose of making images thereof. This may be achieved by intervening in ongoing ‘real’ events or by staging tableaux – in either case, by causing something to take place which would not have occurred had the photographer not made it happen.

Here the authenticity of the original event is not an issue, nor the photographer’s fidelity to it, and the viewer would be expected to raise those questions only ironically. Such images use photography’s overt veracity by evoking it for events and relationships generated by the photographer’s deliberate structuring of what takes place in front of the lens as well as of the resulting image. There is an inherent ambiguity at work in such images, for even though what they purport to describe as ‘slices of life’ would not have occurred except for the photographer’s instigation, nonetheless those events (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) did actually take place, as the photographs demonstrate.

… This mode I would define as the directorial.”

A. D. Coleman, “The Directorial Mode: Notes Towards a Definition,” Artforum 15, no. 1 (1976)

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'Chicago 30' 1949

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Chicago 30
1949
Gelatin silver print
14 x 17 13/16″ (35.6 x 45.3 cm)
Gift of Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'North Carolina 30' 1951

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
North Carolina 30
1951
Gelatin silver print
13 1/16 × 9 11/16″ (33.2 × 24.6 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Lee Friedlander (American, born 1934) 'Glenwood Springs, Colorado' 1981

 

Lee Friedlander (American, born 1934)
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
1981
Gelatin silver print
8 5/8 x 12 15/16″ (21.9 x 32.8 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' 1983

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
1983
Gelatin silver print
10 3/16 x 13 1/2″ (25.9 x 34.3 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Margaret Watkins (Canadian, 1884-1969) 'Design Angles' 1919

 

Margaret Watkins (Canadian, 1884-1969)
Design Angles
1919
Gelatin silver print
8 5/16 x 6 3/8″ (21.1 x 16.2 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Robert B. Menschel

 

Charles Harry Jones (British, 1866-1959) 'Onions' c. 1900

 

Charles Harry Jones (British, 1866-1959)
Onions
c. 1900
Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print
5 7/8 x 8 1/4″ (15 x 21cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'Jalapa 30 (Homage to Franz Kline)' 1973

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Jalapa 30 (Homage to Franz Kline)
1973
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 9 15/16″ (24.1 x 23.6 cm)
Gift of Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'Jalapa 38 (Homage to Franz Kline)' 1973

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Jalapa 38 (Homage to Franz Kline)
1973
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 8 15/16″ (24.1 x 22.8 cm)
Gift of Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'Lima 89 (Homage to Franz Klein)' 1975

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Lima 89 (Homage to Franz Klein)
1975
Gelatin silver print
10 3/16 × 9 5/8″ (25.9 × 24.4 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

John Gossage (American, born 1946) 'Monumentenbricke' 1982

 

John Gossage (American, born 1946)
Monumentenbricke
1982
Gelatin silver print
12 3/16 x 9 11/16″ (30.9 x 24.6 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Val Telberg (American, born Russia. 1910-1995) 'Exhibition of the Witch' c. 1948

 

Val Telberg (American, born Russia. 1910-1995)
Exhibition of the Witch
c. 1948
Gelatin silver print
10 15/16 × 13 3/4″ (27.8 × 35 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel
© 2016 Estate of Val Telberg

 

Frederick Sommer (American, born Italy. 1905-1999) 'I Adore You' 1947

 

Frederick Sommer (American, born Italy. 1905-1999)
I Adore You
1947
Gelatin silver print
7 9/16 × 9 1/2″ (19.2 × 24.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self-Portrait (Back with Arms Above)' 1984

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self-Portrait (Back with Arms Above)
1984
Gelatin silver print
19 13/16 × 15″ (50.4 × 38.1 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, born 1955) 'Giliandria Escoliforcia' 1983

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, born 1955)
Giliandria Escoliforcia
1983
Gelatin silver print
10 9/16 x 8 1/2″ (26.8 x 21.5 cm)
Robert and Joyce Menschel Fund

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, born 1955) 'Mullerpolis Plunfis' 1983

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, born 1955)
Mullerpolis Plunfis
1983
Gelatin silver print
10 9/16 x 8 1/2″ (26.8 x 21.5 cm)
Robert and Joyce Menschel Fund

 

An-My Lê (American, born Vietnam 1960) '29 Palms: Mortar Impact' 2003-04

 

An-My Lê (American, born Vietnam 1960)
29 Palms: Mortar Impact
2003-04
Gelatin silver print
26 1/2 × 38 1/16″ (67.3 × 96.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Robert B. Menschel Fund
© 2016 An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (American, born Vietnam 1960) '29 Palms: Infantry Platoon (Machine Gunners)' 2003-04

 

An-My Lê (American, born Vietnam 1960)
29 Palms: Infantry Platoon (Machine Gunners)
2003-04
Gelatin silver print
26 1/2 × 38 1/16″ (67.3 × 96.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Robert B. Menschel Fund
© 2016 An-My Lê

 

David Levinthal and Garry Trudeau. 'Hitler Moves East' 1977

 

David Levinthal (American, born 1949)
Untitled from the series Hitler Moves East
1975
Gelatin silver print
10 9/16 x 13 7/16″ (26.8 x 34.1 cm)
The Fellows of Photography Fund and Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

William Wegman (American, born 1943) 'Contemplating the Bust of Man Ray from the portfolio Man Ray' 1976

 

William Wegman (American, born 1943)
Contemplating the Bust of Man Ray from the portfolio Man Ray
1976
Gelatin silver print
7 5/16 × 6 7/8″ (18.5 × 17.5 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Michael Spano (American, born 1949) 'Photogram-Michael Spano' 1983

 

Michael Spano (American, born 1949)
Photogram-Michael Spano
1983
Gelatin silver print
57 7/8 x 23 15/16″ (145.2 x 60.8 cm) (irregular)
Robert B. Menschel Fund

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, born 1953) 'The Shape of Things' 1993

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, born 1953)
The Shape of Things
1993
Gelatin silver prints
a) 26 7/8 x 26 15/16″ (68.2 x 68.4 cm) b) 26 15/16 x 26 7/8″ (68.5 x 68.3 cm)
Gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

 

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New York, NY 10019
T: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
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12
Jul
16

Review: ‘Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 31st May – 24th July 2016

National Gallery of Australia touring exhibition

Curator: Shaune Lakin

 

 

An independent vision

 

Pictorialism, Surrealism and Modernism: Light, geometry and atmosphere

This is the quintessential hung “on the line” exhibition from the National Gallery of Australia which features the work of two well respected Australian photographers, Max Dupain and Olive Cotton, showing over three gallery spaces at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne. Of its type, it is a superb exhibition which rewards repeated viewing and contemplation of the many superb photographs it contains.

While Dupain may be the more illustrious of the two featured artists – notable for taking the most famous photograph in Australian photographic history (Sunbaker, 1937, below); for being the first Australian photographer to embrace Modernism; and for bringing a distinctly Australian style to photography (sun, sea, sand) – it is the artist Olive Cotton’s work that steals almost every facet of this exhibition through her atmospheric images.

Dupain’s importance in the history of Australian photography cannot be underestimated. He dragged Australian photography from Pictorialism to Modernism in a few short years and met fierce resistance from the conservative camera clubs, stuck in the age of Pictorialism, because of it. He was the first to understand what Modernism meant for the medium in Australia, and how photographers would in future picture the country. He wanted to see the world through ‘modern’ eyes. As he observed, ‘(photography) belongs to the new age … it is part and parcel of the terrific and thrilling panorama opening out before us today – of clean concrete buildings, steel radio masts, and the wings of the air line. But its beauty is only for those who themselves are aware of the ‘zeitgeist’ – who belong consciously and proudly to this age, and have not their eyes forever wistfully fixed on the past.’ Dupain’s awareness of the ‘zeitgeist’ of modernity was coupled with a keen eye for composition, light and form (what Dupain later termed ‘passing movement and changing form’), and an understanding of photography’s expressive potential. Over the next 50 years he captured many memorable images, some of the most famous images ever taken of this sun burnt country.

Dupain started to hit his straps with his early cross-over images which contained elements of both Pictorialism and Modernism. His 1930s series of three photographs of Fire Stairs at Bond Street Studio (one of which is feature in the exhibition), and images such as Design – suburbia (1933, below) and Still life (1935, below) still possess that soft, raking light that was so beloved by Pictorialists, coupled with an implicit understanding of form, geometry and light. As fellow photographer David Moore observes, by the time of photographs such as Pyrmont silos (1935, below) and Through the Windscreen (1935), ‘any return to sentimental Pictorialism was precluded’. That sense of the European avant-garde, the aesthetics of contemporary European photography, the strength of industrial forms, imbues Dupain’s photographs with a crisp, clean decisiveness, that ‘symphony of forms and textures’. Whether it be the monumentalism of silos, or the monumentalism of bodies (such as in the classic Bondi, 1939), Dupain relished the opportunity to merge aesthetics with representation, pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible within the medium, believing that both representation and aesthetics could exist within the same frame. Evidence of this merging of can be seen in photographs such as Untitled [Factory chimney stacks] (1940, below) and Backyard, Forster, New South Wales (1940, below). These images are silent in their formalism… they are very quiet, and still, and rather haunting, beautiful in their tonality (with lots of yellow in the 8 x 10 and perhaps even small prints).

Dupain and Cotton both revel “in photography’s great capacity to make sense of the relations of light, texture and form as they exist in the present,” and evidence “a modernist concern with line, form and space; documentary photography’s interest in realism and ‘the living moment’; and the pictorial and formal attributes of commercial photography.” But as the press release insightfully observes, “Comparisons articulate and make apparent Dupain’s more structured – even abstracted – approach to art and to the world; similarly, comparisons highlight Cotton’s more immersive relationship to place, with a particularly deep and instinctual love of light and its ephemeral effects.” And this is where the photographs of Olive Cotton are so much more engaging, and alive, than those of Max Dupain.

While Dupain was busy running a commercial studio (with Cotton his assistant and for a couple of years his wife), Olive seems to have had more freedom to experiment, to express herself in a less structured way than her erstwhile husband. Walking around this exhibition my initial thoughts were wow, Olive Cotton, you are an absolute star. Photographs such as The way through the trees (1938, below), while not possessing the technical brilliance of a Dupain, possess something inherently more appealing – a sensitivity and feeling for subject that nearly overwhelms the senses. Truly here is a symphony of texture, light and form. The composition is a subtle paean, a song of praise to the natural and modern world – a world of geometry, textures, light and form. The rendition of this image, a performance of interpretation, is simply magnificent in its sensitivity to subject matter. The print is also glorious in its delicacy and colour. For me, this is what is so appealing about the work of Olive Cotton, an innate sensitivity that all of her photographs seem to possess – in composition, in proportion, in printing and in colour. Cotton maintained an independent vision forged out of experimentation, creating spaces for erotic imaginings, spaces for action and spaces for quiet contemplation. Her use of light and shade, of body and shadow, of classical and modernist motifs …. is superlative. While Dupain’s photographs are more structured and more dazzling in a technical sense, Cotton’s photographs possess more “atmosphere”, a complex and insightful way of seeing and imaging the world which has few equals in the annals of Australian photography.

Below is a short transcription of a voice memo I made on my phone as I toured around the exhibition for the third time:

“What a great show this is, the photographs of Max Dupain and Olive Cotton. But it is the photographs of Olive Cotton that are the wonder of this exhibition. Photographs such as Orchestration in light (1937, below), Sky submerged (c. 1937) and especially The way through the trees (1938, below) are just masterpieces of complex seeing. A sort of… mmmm … an intimate previsualisation where there are hints of Pictorialism – dappled light, moss on the trees – and yet there is a geometric form to the composition that marks it as definitively Modernist. As the wall text states, “this exceptional landscape appears at first glance like a classic Pictorialist view of the Australian bush but typical of Cotton’s best pictures, this landscape merges Pictorialism’s stylistic and formal codes  with those of a cosmopolitan modernist sensibility. Cotton pays particular attention to the similarly angled tree trunks, as well as the all over pattern of the spotted gums and the dapples of light, not bound or hemmed in dogma, Cotton created a view of being completely immersed in the landscape.” The colour of the print, there are hints of pinks and greens and beiges. When was it taken and printed, it must have been an early one, 1938 … and then again the beautiful tonality of it. Wow!

As with all of her best work Cotton is constructing her environment – through music, through geometry, through light. Over the city (1940, below), the light over the city, the shadow of the city, the silhouette of the city in outline, followed by Grass at sundown (1939, below) shooting contre jour, into the light. In Max after surfing (1937, below) there is evidence of Cotton’s understanding of the play of form, of light, of shadow and the composition of the pictorial plane into triangles, horizontals and verticals. This creates a sense of mystery within the four walls of the photograph. As art historian Tim Bonyhady observes, it ‘is not just one of the most erotic Australian photographs, but possibly the first sexually charged Australian photograph by a woman of a man’. The sensuality and atmosphere of the Cotton’s are just gorgeous. Olive Cotton just has such a marvellous grasp of the construction of the picture plane using form, texture and shadow… and feeling. If had a choice I would take away most of the Cotton’s (laughs), because I think they are just amazing…”

There are so many great images in this exhibition, from both Cotton and Dupain, that is hard to know where to start. I haven’t even mentioned images such as Dupain’s sensual but commercial Jean with wire mesh (c. 1935, below), his seminal Street at Central (1939, below) with its raking light and abstraction, or Cotton’s most famous image Teacup ballet (1935, below). I could go on and on. The only disappointment with the exhibition is that, for the uninitiated, there is little to place both photographers works in the context of their time and place, other than a few The Home magazines in a couple of display cases and the wall text. There is little sense of what a tumultuous period this was in Australian history – between two world wars, during a depression, with the advent of modernity, freedom of movement through cars, White Australia policy in full swing, meat and four veg on the table, women’s place in the home, the rise of vitalism and the cult of the bronzed Aussie body and the worship of nature and the outdoors, mateship and the beach as a place of socialisation. But that is the nature of such a classic, hung “on the line” exhibition. It would have been great to see some large photographs, floor to ceiling, of the environment from which all these nearly contextless (as in a particular time and place) images emerged but this is a minor quibble. In the end, I restate that this is a stunning exhibition that is a must see for any aficionado of great Australian photography. Go see it before it closes.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,685

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

 

 

“I like few people … to go into a room of strangers is a chore for me … I can effect a relationship, but afterwards, I think: was it worth it?”

.
Max Dupain

 

“Looking at the work of these two great Australian photographers together is enlightening; they were often shooting the same subjects, or pursuing subjects and pictorial effects in similar ways. Rarely do we get to see two great Australian artists working side-by-side in this way. And while Max Dupain’s reputation might now stand well above most other Australian photographers, this exhibition shows that Olive Cotton had a significant role to play in his development as a photographer, and was in many ways his equal.”

.
Shaune Lakin

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Gallery one

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

installation-g

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

At left, Max Dupain’s Bawley Point landscape (1938) and middle, Dupain’s Untitled [Factory chimney stacks], 1940

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s famous Sunbaker (1937) is second from the right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Olive Cotton’s most famous image, Teacup ballet (1935) at left

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s Jean with wire mesh (c. 1935) at right

Gallery two

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Cabinet with view of The Home magazine (April 1st 1933 right) which feature the photographs of Max Dupain

Gallery three

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s Street at Central (1939) left, followed by his Thin man (1936) and Olive Cotton’s Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model) (1937) at right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne
All images © Marcus Bunyan, The National Gallery of Australia and The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

 

Olive Cotton (1911-2003) and Max Dupain OBE (1911-1992) were pioneering modernist photographers. Cotton’s lifelong obsession with photography began at age eleven with the gift of a Kodak Box Brownie. She was a childhood friend of Dupain’s and in 1934 she joined his fledgling photographic studio, where she made her best-known work, Teacup Ballet, in about 1935. Throughout the 1930s, Dupain established his reputation with portraiture and advertising work and gained exposure in the lifestyle magazine The Home. Between 1939 and 1941, Dupain and Cotton were married and she photographed him often; her Max After Surfing is frequently cited as one of the most sensuous Australian portrait photographs. While Dupain was on service during World War II Cotton ran his studio, one of very few professional women photographers in Australia. Cotton remarried in 1944 and moved to her husband’s property near Cowra, New South Wales. Although busy with a farm, a family, and a teaching position at the local high school, Cotton continued to take photographs and opened a studio in Cowra in 1964. In the 1950s, Dupain turned increasingly to architectural photography, collaborating with architects and recording projects such as the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Dupain continued to operate his studio on Sydney’s Lower North Shore until he died at the age of 81. Cotton was in her seventies when her work again became the subject of attention. In 1983, she was awarded a Visual Arts Board grant to reprint negatives that she had taken over a period of forty years or more. The resulting retrospective exhibition in Sydney in 1985 drew critical acclaim and has since assured her reputation.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind' c. 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

 

Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind appears to have been the only print Cotton made of this image. It was found in the late 1990s and has been shown only once, in an exhibition at the AGNSW in 2000 where it was also used on the catalogue cover. It was unusual for Cotton to print so large, yet it is entirely fitting that this monumental head and shoulder shot of a beautiful young woman should be presented in this way. The subject was a model on a fashion shoot at which Cotton was probably assisting. Cotton often took her own photographs while on such shoots and used them for her private portfolio. The photograph transcends portraiture, fashion and time to become a remarkable image of harmony with the elements.

Cotton took the title for this photograph from an 1895 poem by English poet Laurence Binyon, ‘O summer sun’:

O summer sun, O moving trees!
O cheerful human noise, O busy glittering street!
What hour shall Fate in all the future find,
Or what delights, ever to equal these:
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind,
Only to be alive, and feel that life is sweet?1

A photographer whose work straddles pictorialism, modernism and documentary, Cotton maintained an independent vision throughout her working life, based on the close observation of nature. Her understanding of the medium of photography was not to do with capture, but rather ‘drawing with light’.

1. 1915, ‘Poems of today’, English Association, London p 96

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max' c. 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max
c. 1935
gelatin silver photograph
14.8 x 14.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1998

 

 

In this highly abstracted portrait, Cotton seems to present Dupain as an athlete – perhaps, with his strangely extended arms, a hammer thrower, in an image that predates by at least two years Dupain’s own photographs of athletes outdoors. It is likely that Cotton photographed her friend in this way because of the graphic pictorial effect she wished to achieve. Cotton exploits the shape of the Rolleiflex camera’s square-format film: Dupain’s body cuts across the right-hand corner of the picture, from which his overstretched forearms (the shape and tone of which were the result of much dodging and burning in the darkroom) create a diagonal oblique angle that is classically modernist. A similar conflation of diagonal lines, which was common to the ways that modern life in Australia at the time was represented in advertising and architectural photography, can also be seen in pictures such as Surf’s edge and Teacup ballet.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

“Max Dupain put his lack of clannishness down to a temperament which inclined to the stoic and an early life as an only child. He relished the solitude of his darkroom, familiar places and routines and the early morning calm of Sydney Harbour, where he rowed his scull until prevented by ill health in the early 1990s. He was not a joiner or follower of teams; he was republican in politics and agnostic. Philosophically, Dupain mixed rationalism and a less defined alliance with the passionate exhortation to live directly in one’s environment, body and heart. This philosophy was espoused by poets and writers such as D.H Lawrence, from the movement known in the 1920s and 1930s as Vitalism.

Although he acknowledged that he was a bit of a loner by temperament, portraiture was a significant part of Max Dupain’s personal and professional work. He included some dozen or so portraits in his selection for his 1948 monograph, fifty plates showing ‘my best work since 1935’. Dupain’s images, including many portraits especially of the 1930s to 1960s, have stamped the public image of this era of rapid progress and increasing cultural sophistication in Australia. Portraiture was at the top stratum of Dupain’s first three decades of work but volume decreased markedly from the 1960s, when Max Dupain and Associates, his business, began to specialise in architectural and industrial commissions.”

‘Vintage Max’ by Gael Newton, 1 June 2003

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Sunbaker
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
37.7 x 43.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The photographer's shadow (Olive Cotton and Max Dupain)' c. 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The photographer’s shadow (Olive Cotton and Max Dupain)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
16.6 x 15.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The sleeper' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The sleeper
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
29.2 h x 25.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

The sleeper 1939, Olive Cotton’s graceful study of her friend Olga Sharp resting while on a bush picnic, made around the same time as Max Dupain’s Sunbaker, presents a different take upon the enjoyment of life in Australia. The woman is relaxed, nestled within the environment. The mood is one of secluded reverie.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Untitled [Olive Cotton in Wheat Fields]' Nd (probably late 1930s)

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Untitled [Olive Cotton in Wheat Fields]
Nd (probably late 1930s)
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Cotton shot this portrait of fellow Australian photographer, Max Dupain during their brief marriage at their home in Longueville on Sydney’s lower north shore. Dupain is captured affectionately in the portrait, represented as at once casual through pose and, as industrious on account of his rolled up sleeves and the Rolleiflex TLR camera which hangs from his neck. It is indicative of the combination of a working and personal relationship Cotton and Dupain shared during the late 1930s when they operated a commercial studio together. The couple separated in 1941 but Cotton went on to manage the Dupain Studio while Max was away serving as a camouflage officer during the Second World War 1.

1. Ennis H 2005, ‘Olive Cotton: photographer’, National Library of Australia, p. 6

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max after surfing' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max after surfing
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2006

 

 

This intimate study of Dupain, who Cotton was romantically involved with at the time, first appeared in the mid-1990s; Cotton did not include it in her reassessment of her oeuvre in the mid-1980s that involved making prints of her best images. For many commentators, this remains a radical image in the history of Australian photography. For the art historian Tim Bonyhady, it ‘is not just one of the most erotic Australian photographs, but possibly the first sexually charged Australian photograph by a woman of a man’. This is the only known vintage print of the image, which inexplicably carries the signature and a message from the fashion photographer George Hoyningen‑Huene, who visited Sydney in December 1937 and spent time with Dupain. It suggests perhaps that Hoyningen-Huene was present when Cotton made the print.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max after surfing is a portrait of Dupain taken in 1939, around the time of their brief marriage. While the photograph was taken indoors, the sharply delineated contrast and the dramatic interplay between light and shade evoke harsh sunlight. The work is loaded with suggestion and emotional intimacy. As art historian and curator Helen Ennis noted in 2000, the close vantage point and the tension between visible form and dense shadow ‘creates a space for erotic imaginings’.

A photographer whose work straddles pictorialism, modernism and documentary, Cotton maintained an independent vision throughout her working life, based on the close observation of nature. Her understanding of the medium of photography was not to do with capture, but rather ‘drawing with light’.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Jean with wire mesh' c. 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Jean with wire mesh
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
46.0 h x 34.5 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2006

 

 

This portrait of Jean Lorraine, a close friend of Cotton, was one of many taken of her by Cotton and Dupain. This photograph is notable for its technical virtuosity – Dupain’s control of the variegated light across Jean’s body, beautifully lyrical and sensuous, is masterful. It also reflects Dupain’s active interest in the work of Man Ray, whose earlier Shadow patterns on Lee Miller’s torso (1930) was no doubt an influence. Like Man Ray’s image of his lover, Dupain’s portrait of Jean is also notable for its eroticism. While Dupain might have argued that this photograph was a study of light falling on surfaces, the light and shade take particular pleasure in the form of Jean’s naked torso. This eroticism has been underplayed throughout the history of the picture, not surprising given the nature of the relationships involved: when it was published in The Home in February 1936, Jean with wire mesh was known simply as a Photographic study. Dupain printed at least two versions of this shot, another with Jean’s eyes open.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Girl with mirror' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Girl with mirror
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 31.7 h x 29.9 w cm sheet 32.6 h x 30.6 w cm
Purchased 1987

 

 

The photographs Cotton took while attending Dupain’s fashion shoots often focussed on the graphic effects created by light rather than fashion or the dynamics of the shoot itself. Cotton’s role as assistant left her free to explore personal interests, without the imperative of getting a shot for the assignment. This image of a model attending to her make-up, seemingly absorbed in her own image, is primarily concerned with the patterns created by light falling on sand dunes and the way they contrast with the decorative print of her clothing. It is notable that the image we see in the mirror is not the model’s face, but the patterns created by light hitting the sand. As Cotton later remembered, ‘I took it mostly because I really liked the pattern in the sand and the contrasting pattern in the left-hand corner’, which includes a series of diagonal shadows cast by Dupain’s tripod.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'The floater' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
The floater
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia
Purchased 1976

 

 

Two versions of this image of a woman floating in water were printed by Dupain, so like Sunbaker it held particular interest for him. It acknowledges one of the great moments in avant-garde photography, André Kertész’s iconic study of underwater distortion Underwater swimmer (1917). As with Kertész, Dupain’s interest was with the visual effects created by light hitting the water and the impact of this on the contours of the swimmer. In his personal copy of the anthology Modern Photography (1931), Dupain highlighted the writer G.H. Saxon Mills’ claim that photography’s value existed in both its capacity to record the world and the optical effects it found or created – ‘its … symphony of forms and textures.’ (Wall text)

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model)' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model)
1937
Cronulla, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 30.4 h x 38.5 w cm sheet 40.2 h x 48.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1988

 

As the studio assistant, Cotton accompanied Dupain on fashion shoots to attend to models, doing their make-up and helping with costume changes. She often used these opportunities to take her own photographs, including this wonderful image of Dupain photographing the model Noreen Hallard for David Jones. As well as producing a striking image of Dupain and Hallard at work, Cotton was interested in the landscape in which they operated, paying particular attention to the pattern created by their footsteps in the sand.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“Olive Cotton and Max Dupain are key figures in Australian visual culture. They shared a long and close personal and professional relationship. This exhibition looks at their work made between 1934 and 1945, the period of their professional association; this was an exciting period of experimentation and growth in Australian photography, and Cotton and Dupain were at the centre of these developments.

This is the first exhibition to look at the work of these two photographers as they shared their lives, studio and professional practice. Looking at their work together is instructive; they were often shooting the same subjects, or pursuing subjects and pictorial effects in similar ways. Comparisons articulate and make apparent Dupain’s more structured – even abstracted – approach to art and to the world; similarly, comparisons highlight Cotton’s more immersive relationship to place, with a particularly deep and instinctual love of light and its ephemeral effects.

This exhibition focuses on the key period in each of their careers, when they made many of their most memorable images. Keenly aware of international developments in photography, Cotton and Dupain experimented with the forms and strategies of modernist photography, especially Surrealism and the Bauhaus, and drew upon the sophisticated lighting and compositions of contemporary advertising and Hollywood glamour photography.

They brought to these influences their own, close association with the rich context of Australian life and culture during the 1930s and ’40s. Their achievement can be characterised, borrowing terms they used in discussions of their work, as the development of a ‘contemporary Australian photography’: a modern photographic practice that reflected their own, very particular relationships to the world and to each other.

Lives

Cotton and Dupain’s friendship stretched back to childhood summers spent at Newport Beach, NSW, where their families spent summer holidays. They were both given their first cameras – Kodak Box Brownies – by relatives as young teenagers, and spent days together wandering around taking photographs. They shared a similar commitment to photography as teenagers and young adults: both made and published or exhibited photographs while at school, and in 1929 they became members of the Photographic Society of New South Wales. But their approach to achieving the ‘professional life’ of a photographer took different paths: Dupain undertook a formal apprenticeship with the pictorialist master Cecil Bostock between 1930-33, while Cotton studied arts at Sydney University with the idea of becoming a teacher and photographed after hours.

Cotton and Dupain became romantically involved in 1928 and married in 1939; they separated in 1941 and eventually divorced in 1944. In spite of these personal vicissitudes, Cotton and Dupain remained professionally connected. Cotton managed the Dupain studio from late 1941-45, while he worked with the Department of Home Security’s Camouflage Unit during the Second World War. On his return, Cotton left Sydney and spent the rest of her life in relative isolation near Cowra, NSW, where she raised her family of two with husband Ross McInerney and, between 1964 and 1983, operated a small studio. And while Dupain returned from the war to develop his reputation and significance as Australia’s most recognised twentieth-century photographer, his work was deeply affected by his experience of the war and took on a completely different complexion to his work from the previous decade.

Studio

In 1934, Dupain opened a studio in a rented room at 24 Bond Street, Sydney; Cotton joined him as his assistant soon after. By 1936, the Dupain studio’s business had expanded to the extent that it moved into larger premises in the same building, before relocating in early 1941 to a whole floor of a building at 49 Clarence Street.

Their positions at the Dupain studio were clearly defined – he was the photographer, she the studio assistant. Even so, Cotton and Dupain each maintained distinct but in some ways closely aligned practices, both in and out of the studio. Cotton did not tend to take photographs commercially until after she took over the management of the Dupain studio in late 1941, when photographs were circulated in her name. Before then, she made use of the studio’s equipment afterhours, including Dupain’s large Thornton Pickard camera; her work was exhibited and published on occasion, both locally and internationally.

At the same time, Dupain’s photographs became increasingly widely-seen and influential. Sydney Ure Smith’s iconic monthly magazine The Home regularly published Dupain’s portraits, documentary work, social photographs (often actually taken by Cotton), and fashion and product photographs made for clients such as David Jones. When Dupain went to war, the studio continued to operate successfully under Cotton’s management. While some long-standing clients such as David Jones took their business elsewhere, Cotton took some of her most important pictures in the early 1940s, and her increasing confidence at this time can be identified across images of the city, industry and labour.

Dialogue

Cotton and Dupain were active members of Sydney’s network of young artists and photographers, of which the Dupain studio was a centre. Along with their contemporaries, including figures like Geoffrey Powell, Damien Parer and Lawrence Le Guay, they staked a claim for photography as a vital part of contemporary culture, exhibiting photographs alongside other artworks at venues like Sydney’s David Jones Gallery.

Their networks included members of Sydney’s progressive architectural, design, publishing and advertising communities, with whom they often collaborated. The threads of influence within this complex network of making, exhibiting, publishing and commissions were intricate. It is possible, for example, to see Dupain’s strong visual style affect those around him. His interest in surrealist style, which really took hold in 1935, can be identified in work by other, often lesser photographers working at the time, and indeed in the design of The Home, which published his work in editorial and advertisements. There were also times when Cotton indicated certain directions for Dupain. For example, her images of bodies outdoors, which cleverly pulled together classical and modernist motifs, predate similar images by Dupain.

It is clear also that Cotton and Dupain were engaging in dialogue within their own work. Their shared interest in photographing form, texture and shadow is seen across many pictures throughout the mid- to late 1930s. Their pictures also engage critically with photography as a medium, in images that draw attention to the photograph as a double of its subject, and in pictures that seem to play with photograph’s stillness. As Dupain later remembered, together they ‘shared the problems of photography’.

Contemporary Australian Photography

What were ‘the problems of photography’ that Dupain and Cotton sought to settle? In the most straightforward sense, they involved the assumption that Australian photographers were yet to completely embrace or realise the medium’s potential, which rested in careful attention to its aesthetic possibilities, recognition of its mechanical origins, and negotiation of the particular way the medium engaged notions of objectivity and subjectivity. Their solution to these problems involved a progressive photographic practice that intended to release photography from the shackles of history and orthodoxy, and to revel in photography’s great capacity to make sense of the relations of light, texture and form as they exist in the present.

Cotton’s and Dupain’s solution to ‘the problems of photography’ was to make work that made a feature of the medium’s modernity, and the strange way that mechanics, physics and aesthetics come together in modern photography to look at the world and to find beauty in it. They did this in a way that remained firmly footed in their own, very particular place in the world and history. In terms of style, their solution integrated legacies of Pictorialism – especially its interest in the atmospheric effects found in landscape – with a range of other, often competing modes and styles: a modernist concern with line, form and space; documentary photography’s interest in realism and ‘the living moment’; and the pictorial and formal attributes of commercial photography.

It is possible that, for the first time, Australian photography found in the work of Cotton and Dupain a contemporary expression: a photographic practice that emerged from, responded to and expressed the mood, ambitions and sensibility of its time.”

Press release from The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Street at Central' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Street at Central
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
45.6 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Street at Central' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Street at Central
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
45.6 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Two different versions of this photograph. Notice the different cropping and colour of each image, and how it adds emphasis to the light and to the shadows of the people.

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Teacup ballet' 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Teacup ballet
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
37.5 x 29.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

‘This picture evolved after I had bought some inexpensive cups and saucers from Woolworths for our studio coffee breaks to replace our rather worn old mugs. The angular handles reminded me of arms akimbo, and that led to the idea of making a photograph to express a dance theme.

When the day’s work was over I tried several arrangements of the cups and saucers to convey this idea, without success, until I used a spotlight and realised how important the shadows were. Using the studio camera, which had a 6 ½ x 4 ½ inch ground glass focusing screen, I moved the cups about until they and their shadows made a ballet-like composition and then photographed them on a cut film negative. The title of the photograph suggested itself.

This was my first photograph to be shown overseas, being exhibited, to my delight, in the London Salon of Photography in 1935.’ Olive Cotton 1995 1

Olive Cotton and Max Dupain were childhood friends and, although she graduated in English and mathematics from the University of Sydney in 1934, her interest in photography led her to work in Dupain’s studio from this year. Cotton was employed as a photographer’s assistant in the studio, however she worked assiduously on her own work and continued to exhibit in photography salon exhibitions. Tea cup ballet is one of Cotton’s most well-known photographs and yet it is somewhat eccentric to her main practice, being at first glance typically modernist with its dramatic lighting and angular shapes. Her longstanding interest in organic forms provides a deeper reading. The abstraction of form by the lighting and the placement of the cups and saucers enables the relationship to dancers on a stage to become clear.

1. Ennis H 1995, ‘Olive Cotton: photographer’, National Library of Australia, Canberra p. 25

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Among Cotton’s most famous photographs, Teacup ballet has very humble origins. It was taken after hours in the Dupain studio and used a set of cheap cups and saucers Cotton had earlier bought from a Woolworths store for use around the studio. As she later recounted: ‘Their angular handles suggested to me the position of “arms akimbo” and that led to the idea of a dance pattern’. The picture uses a range of formal devices that became common to Cotton’s work, especially the strong backlighting used to create dramatic tonal contrasts and shadows. The picture achieved instant success, and was selected for exhibition in the London Salon of Photography for 1935.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Shasta daisies' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Shasta daisies
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

 

Celebrated Australian photographer Olive Cotton was given her first Box Brownie by her family for her eleventh birthday (1922) and continued to experiment with taking and developing pictures throughout the 1920s. By the early 1930s Cotton had mastered the Pictorialist style so popular at the time and was on her way to establishing her own approach which also incorporated Modernist principles. The recurrent themes of landscape and plant-life are important to the photographer’s approach, which photography scholar Helen Ennis describes as Cotton’s concern for the ‘potential for pattern-making’.

Shasta daisies is an interesting and rare combination of natural form and a highly-constructed scenario, the flowers having been photographed in Cotton’s studio and carefully arranged for the camera. Cotton, in the 1995 book, wrote of the photograph: “I chose to photograph these in the studio because out of doors I would have had less control of the lighting and background. I examined the composition very carefully through the studio camera’s large ground glass focussing screen and – the view from the camera’s position being slightly different to my own – made as many rearrangements to the flowers as seemed necessary. I then used (apart from a background light) one source of light to try and convey a feeling of outdoors.” Shasta daisies is important within Cotton’s oeuvre for uniting her interest in plants in their natural ‘outdoors’ environment with her enquiry into photographic form and space.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Homage to D.H. Lawrence' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Homage to D.H. Lawrence
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
45.8 x 33.9 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

Dupain admired vitalist philosophies, which argued that modern identity had become fragmented and asserted the importance of the integration of body and emotion, of sensual and emotional experience. He was attracted to the work of British writer D.H. Lawrence, especially his insistence on the ‘thingness’ of things as a way of embodying a properly integrated mind and body. This photograph uses surrealist juxtaposition to draw together a copy of Lawrence’s Selected poems, a flywheel (representing the modern world) and a classical bust, recalling the idealised relationship of natural and sensual worlds in ancient Greece and Rome. Other images incorporating classical busts appeared in the pages of the Modern Photography annuals, but Dupain makes them his own, lifted above mere pastiche.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Orchestration in light' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Orchestration in light
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 24.1 h x 27.4 w cm sheet 25.4 h x 28.2 w cm
Purchased with assistance from the Helen Ennis Fund
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Cotton took this landscape early one morning at Wullumbi Gorge in the New England tablelands, during a camping trip with Dupain. It is remarkable for both the way the light transforms the landscape into quivering energy and the way Cotton makes sense of that enigmatic experience in pictorial form. As its title suggests, the photograph recalled for Cotton – who trained as a musician as a girl – a musical composition, particularly ‘the beautiful graduation in tone going from a bass tone to a high treble at the top of the picture’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The patterned road' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The patterned road
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
24.6 h x 28.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Bawley Point landscape' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Bawley Point landscape
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29 x 26.6 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

This landscape, one of many taken by Dupain on the south coast of New South Wales, was made in the same year as Cotton’s similar study of shadow and landscape, The patterned road (above). These two landscapes share an interest in what Dupain later termed ‘passing movement and changing form’. Although Dupain rarely published or circulated his landscapes at this time, pictures such as Bawley Point landscape certainly relate to a broad range of other images, perhaps most notably still lifes and nudes, that articulated an Australian modernist photography through the interplay of light passing through openings. These images find monumental stillness in movement and strong shadows, which quite literally ‘double’ their subject.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Over the city' 1940

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Over the city
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
32.2 h x 30.3 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Grass at sundown' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Grass at sundown
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
Primary Insc: Signed and dated l.l. pencil, “Olive Cotton ’39”. Titled l.r. pencil, “Grass at sundown”.
Printed image 28.9 h x 30.8 w cm sheet 30.0 h x 31.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 - 1992) 'Design - suburbia' 1933

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 – 1992)
Design – suburbia
1933
Gelatin silver photograph
29.4 h x 23.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

This early image proudly displays the influence of the work of pictorialist photographers that Dupain knew well, most notably the Sydney-based photographer, Harold Cazneaux. At the time Dupain made this image, he was serving an apprenticeship in the commercial studio of Cecil Bostock, a Pictorialist and founding member with Cazneaux of the Sydney Camera Circle in 1916. Dupain’s interest in the pictorial effects created by light passing through apertures (here, the posts and beams of a suburban fence) seems to remember similar images of light streaming through blinds and pergolas by Cazneaux, who Dupain called ‘the father of modern Australian photography’. The fascination with capturing light as it passes through openings will stay with Dupain throughout his life, though the focus will sharpen as he moves away from the diffused effects favoured by art photographers in the early decades of the century.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 - 1992) 'Still life' 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 – 1992)
Still life
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 h x 20.8 w cm
Purchased 1982

 

 

While the subject of this photograph seems to be a simple, lidded pail (which featured in a number of Dupain’s still lifes) seen in morning light, it is actually an exercise in abstraction. Of most interest to Dupain is the complex network of diagonal lines created by light, shadow and timber boards. The picture reflects the pleasure Dupain took in the pictorial effects created by light (he was fond of quoting the Belgian photographer Léonard Misonne’s dictum, ‘the subject is nothing, light is everything’), and at the same time expresses the fundamental principle upon which his photographic practice was always based. While the image of light passing through apertures is an analogy for the way the camera operates, the still life also embodies photography’s expressive potential. As Dupain later stated, ‘with still-life you can arrange or rearrange or do what you like, it becomes a very, very personal exercise that you have total control over’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain. 'Pyrmont silos' 1933, printed later

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Pyrmont silos
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
Printed image 25.2 h x 19.2 w cm sheet 31.2 h x 26.2 w cm mount 42.4 h x 32.0 w
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

 

Max Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace Modernism, and took a number of photographs of Pyrmont silos in the 1930s. There were no skyscrapers in Sydney until the late 1930s so the silos, Walter Burley Griffin’s incinerators and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were the major points of reference for those interested in depicting modern expressions of engineering and industrial power. Olive Cotton’s Drainpipes 1937 shows the precisely formed circles and curves of the pipes, interspersed with slivers of light and long shadows.

In almost text-book fashion, this image reflects Dupain’s assimilation of the aesthetics of contemporary European photography, which he encountered in publications such as the Das Deutsche Lichtbild [The German photograph] and Modern Photography annuals, the 1932 edition of which was edited by Man Ray. While Dupain’s relationship to the contemporary world was complicated, he nonetheless advocated for the latest photographic trends out of Europe and America, and for photographing modern, industrial subjects; as he asserted in 1938, ‘great art has always been contemporary in spirit’. Writing in 1975 about this image for Dupain’s retrospective at the Australian Centre for Photography, fellow photographer David Moore, who had worked with Dupain in the late 1940s, saw it as a turning point in Dupain’s career, believing that here ‘his awareness of the strength of industrial forms was confirmed with confident authority … From this moment any return to sentimental Pictorialism was precluded’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Pyrmont silos is one of a number of photographs that Dupain took of these constructions in the 1930s. In all cases Dupain examined the silos from a modernist perspective, emphasising their monumentality from low viewpoints under a bright cloudless sky. Additionally, his use of strong shadows to emphasise the forms of the silos and the lack of human figures celebrates the built structure as well as providing no sense of scale. Another photograph by Dupain in the AGNSW collection was taken through a car windscreen so that the machinery of transport merges explicitly with industrialisation into a complex hard-edge image of views and mirror reflections. There were no skyscrapers in Sydney until the late 1930s so the silos, Walter Burley Griffin’s incinerators and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were the major points of reference for those interested in depicting modern expressions of engineering and industrial power.

Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace modernism. One of his photographs of the silos was roundly criticised when shown to the New South Wales Photographic Society but Dupain forged on regardless with his reading, thinking and experimentation. Some Australian painting and writing had embraced modernist principles in the 1920s, but as late as 1938 Dupain was writing to the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Great art has always been contemporary in spirit. Today we feel the surge of aesthetic exploration along abstract lines, the social economic order impinging itself on art, the repudiation of the ‘truth to nature criterion’ … We sadly need the creative courage of Man Ray, the original thought of Moholy-Nagy, and the dynamic realism of Edouard [sic] Steichen.”1

1. Dupain, M 1938, “Letter to the editor,” in Sydney Morning Herald, 30 March

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Backyard, Forster, New South Wales' 1940

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Backyard, Forster, New South Wales
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
30.5 h x 30.5 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

This highly formal view of the backyard of a hotel in the coastal town of Forster embodies Dupain’s sense of Australian modernist photography. The picture’s frontalism and overriding use of horizontals and verticals acknowledge that the camera faced its subject face-to-face and that the view has been consciously framed. But as the title of the photograph makes clear, it is also a record of a particular place. In his personal copy of G.H. Saxon Mills’ essay ‘Modern photography’, which greatly assisted Dupain to conceptualise his own sense of a contemporary photographic practice, Dupain highlighted and annotated with a question mark the following statement: ‘”modern” photography means photography whose aim is partly or wholly aesthetic, as opposed to photography which is merely documentary or representational.’ Dupain believed that both were possible within the same frame.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) '(Factory chimney stacks)' 1940

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
[Factory chimney stacks]
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
49.0 h x 38.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

Dupain highlighted the writer G.H. Saxon Mills’ claim that photography’s value existed in both its capacity to record the world and the optical effects it found or created – ‘its … symphony of forms and textures.’

These factory chimney stacks are reduced to their most simple and direct form, which is shown free of any distraction. As Dupain noted, borrowing from the great American architectural historian Lewis Mumford, the ‘mission of the photograph is to clarify the subject’. The choice of subject matter was influenced by an essay by the English journalist, G.H. Saxon Mills, written in 1931 and read by Dupain soon after: ‘(photography) belongs to the new age … it is part and parcel of the terrific and thrilling panorama opening out before us today – of clean concrete buildings, steel radio masts, and the wings of the air line. But its beauty is only for those who themselves are aware of the ‘zeitgeist’ – who belong consciously and proudly to this age, and have not their eyes forever wistfully fixed on the past.’

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The way through the trees' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The way through the trees
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29.6 h x 29.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'An old country homestead, Western Australia' 1946

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
An old country homestead, Western Australia
1946
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
Swanston Street (between Elgin and Faraday Streets)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria
Tel: +61 3 8344 5148

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 – 5 pm

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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08
Oct
15

Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Animalia’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 26th May – 18th October 2015

 

Some of the photographs in this postings are sad, others are just gruesome.

One animal’s in/humanity to many others.

Marcus

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

 

 

Taryn Simon. 'White Tiger (Kenny)' 2007

 

Taryn Simon
White Tiger (Kenny), Selective Inbreeding Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge and Foundation Eureka Springs, Arkansas
2007
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Taryn Simon

 

In the United States, all living white tigers are the result of selective inbreeding to artificially create the genetic conditions that lead to white fur, ice-blue eyes and a pink nose. Kenny was born to a breeder in Bentonville, Arkansas on February 3, 1999. As a result of inbreeding, Kenny is mentally retarded and has significant physical limitations. Due to his deep-set nose, he has difficulty breathing and closing his jaw, his teeth are severely malformed and he limps from abnormal bone structure in his forearms. The three other tigers in Kenny’s litter are not considered to be quality white tigers as they are yellow-coated, crosseyed, and knock-kneed.

 

Frank Haes (British, 1832-1916) The South African Cheetah (Felis Jubata.) c. 1865

 

Frank Haes (British, 1832-1916)
The South African Cheetah (Felis Jubata.)
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
8.2 x 17.2 cm (3 1/4 x 6 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Frank Haes (British, 1832-1916) The South African Cheetah (Felis Jubata.) c. 1865 (detail)

 

Frank Haes (British, 1832-1916)
The South African Cheetah (Felis Jubata.) (detail)
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
8.2 x 17.2 cm (3 1/4 x 6 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Frank Haes (British, 1832-1916) 'The Zebra, Burchell's, or Dauw. (Asinus Burchellii.)' c. 1865

 

Frank Haes (British, 1832-1916)
The Zebra, Burchell’s, or Dauw. (Asinus Burchellii.)
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
8.3 x 17.2 cm (3 1/4 x 6 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Frank Haes (British, 1832-1916) 'The Zebra, Burchell's, or Dauw. (Asinus Burchellii.)' c. 1865 (detail)

 

Frank Haes (British, 1832-1916)
The Zebra, Burchell’s, or Dauw. (Asinus Burchellii.) (detail)
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
8.3 x 17.2 cm (3 1/4 x 6 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Frank Haes (British, 1832-1916) 'The Tiger. (Felis Tigris.)' c. 1865

 

Frank Haes (British, 1832-1916)
The Tiger. (Felis Tigris.)
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
8.2 x 17.1 cm (3 1/4 x 6 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Frank Haes (British, 1832-1916) 'The Tiger. (Felis Tigris.)' c. 1865 (detail)

 

Frank Haes (British, 1832-1916)
The Tiger. (Felis Tigris.) (detail)
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
8.2 x 17.1 cm (3 1/4 x 6 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Daniel Naudé (South African, born 1984) 'Africanis 17. Danielskuil, Northern Cape, 25 February 2010' 2010

 

Daniel Naudé (South African, born 1984)
Africanis 17. Danielskuil, Northern Cape, 25 February 2010
2010
Chromogenic print
60 x 60 cm (23 5/8 x 23 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Daniel Naudé

 

Capt. Horatio Ross (British, 1801-1886) '[Dead stag in a sling]' c. 1850s - 1860s

 

Capt. Horatio Ross (British, 1801-1886)
[Dead stag in a sling]
c. 1850s – 1860s
Albumen silver print
27.9 x 33.2 cm (11 x 13 1/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Capt. Horatio Ross (British, 1801-1886) '[Dead stag in a sling]' (detail) c. 1850s - 1860s

 

Capt. Horatio Ross (British, 1801-1886)
[Dead stag in a sling] (detail)
c. 1850s – 1860s
Albumen silver print
27.9 x 33.2 cm (11 x 13 1/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

“Animals have never been camera shy – almost since the introduction of the medium in 1839, they have appeared in photographs. While early photographs typically depicted animals that were tame, captive, or dead, modern and contemporary artists have delved into the interdependent relationship between man and beast.

Drawn entirely from the J. Paul Getty Museum’s photographs collection, In Focus: Animalia, on view May 26-October 18, 2015 at the Getty Center, illustrates some of the complex relationships between people and animals. From an intimate studio portrait with dog and owner to the calculated cruelty of inbreeding practices, these photographs offer nuanced views of the animal kingdom.

“It is easy to understand why artists choose animals for their subject matter – their lives are profoundly intertwined with our own, often eliciting powerful emotions,” says Timothy Potts, Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Whether seen as beloved pets, kept in zoos, or threatened by human activity, animals continue to fascinate and act as catalysts for artistic creativity. This exhibition highlights the many different ways in which animals as subject matter have served as an endearing theme for photographers throughout history right up to the present day.”

Photographs of pets, working animals, taxidermied game, and exotic beasts in newly opened zoos circulated widely during the second half of the 19th century. Early daguerreotypes required a subject to remain still for several minutes to ensure that the image would not blur, so photographing moving animals posed a problem. In Study of a White Foal (about 1845) the Swiss nobleman and amateur daguerreotypist Jean-Gabriel Eynard (1775-1863), focused the lens of his camera on a foal at rest, a moment when its movements were limited, in order to make a successful picture.

By the early 1850s most major cities in Europe and America could boast studios specializing in daguerreotype photography. Customers sat for portraits in order to preserve their own images, and also commissioned photographs of their family members and loved ones, including pets. In Dog Sitting on a Table (about 1854; artist unknown) an eager dog is photographed sitting on a tasseled pedestal. The slight blurring of the head, indicating movement during exposure, betrays the barely contained energy of this otherwise well-trained animal.

The mid-19th century saw increasing demand for stereoscopic photographs – two nearly identical prints made with a double lens camera that created a three-dimensional image when viewed in a stereoscope viewer. Frank Haes (British, 1832-1916) made a reputation for himself by photographing animals at the London Zoo, much to the delight of those fascinated by hippos, lions, zebras, and other exotic beasts. Eadweard J. Muybridge’s (American, born England, 1830-1904) pioneering work in motion studies are best remembered for his depictions of animals. Devising a system for successively tripping the shutters of up to 24 cameras, Muybridge created the illusion of movement in a galloping horse.

Artists have also relied on animals to convey symbolism and to represent fantastical worlds. A photograph by Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) of a harnessed and castrated horse serves as a critical metaphor for American identity in the early 1920s, which Stieglitz viewed as materialist and culturally bankrupt. An elaborately staged photograph by Sandy Skoglund (American, born 1946) presents a dreamlike atmosphere filled with handmade, larger-than-life sculptures of goldfish that create a scene at once playful and disturbing. Recently-acquired works by Daniel Naudé (South African, born 1984) depict portraits of wild dogs the photographer found on the arid plains of South Africa. Made from a low vantage point, individual dogs are cast against broad views of the landscape, and the photographs harken back to the equestrian portrait tradition popular during the 17th century. Taryn Simon’s photograph of a caged white tiger (American, born 1975) demonstrates the oftentimes debilitating results of the inbreeding practices utilized to obtain highly desired traits such as a white coat. This work illuminates the mistakes and failures of human intervention into a territory governed by natural selection.

In Focus: Animalia is on view May 26-October 18, 2015 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center. The exhibition will be accompanied by the publication of Animals in Photographs (Getty Publications) by Arpad Kovacs.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Sandy Skoglund. 'Revenge of the Goldfish' 1981

 

Sandy Skoglund
Revenge of the Goldfish
1981
Color photograph
27 1/2″ x 35″
Individually hand-made ceramic goldfish by the artist, with live models in painted set
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 1981 Sandy Skoglund

 

Like many of her other works, such as Radioactive Cats and Fox Games, the piece is a set composed of props and human models, which Skoglund poses and then photographs. In the piece, a child sits on the edge of a bed while an adult sleeps next to him. The set of the scene is a monochromatic blue, with contrasting bright orange goldfish floating through the room. The goldfish in the piece were sculpted by Skoglund out of terracotta and bring an element of fantasy to an otherwise normal scene. According to Skoglund, “If the fish are eliminated the image shows nothing unusual; just a room with two people in bed.” The piece was first on display at the Saint Louis Art Museum in 1981. Since then, the piece has been in several collections at various museums, including Smith College Museum of Art, Dallas Museum of Art, Akron Art Museum, and Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Smith College Museum of Art also owns the original installation. (Text from Wikipedia website)

 

Eadweard J. Muybridge (American, born England, 1830-1904) 'Running (Galloping)' 1878 - 1881

 

Eadweard J. Muybridge (American, born England, 1830-1904)
Running (Galloping)
1878 – 1881
Iron salt process
18.9 x 22.6 cm (7 7/16 x 8 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Unknown maker, American. 'Portrait of a Girl with her Deer' c. 1854

 

Unknown maker, American
Portrait of a Girl with her Deer
c. 1854
Daguerreotype 1/4 plate
Image: 6.9 x 9 cm (2 11/16 x 3 9/16 in.)
Plate: 8.1 x 10.7 cm (3 3/16 x 4 3/16 in.)
Mat: 8.2 x 10.6 cm (3 3/16 x 4 3/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Unknown maker, American. 'Portrait of a Girl with her Deer' c. 1854 (detail)

 

Unknown maker, American
Portrait of a Girl with her Deer (detail)
c. 1854
Daguerreotype 1/4 plate
Image: 6.9 x 9 cm (2 11/16 x 3 9/16 in.)
Plate: 8.1 x 10.7 cm (3 3/16 x 4 3/16 in.)
Mat: 8.2 x 10.6 cm (3 3/16 x 4 3/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

William Eggleston (American, born 1939) 'Memphis' Negative 1971; print 1974

 

William Eggleston (American, born 1939)
Memphis
Negative 1971; print 1974
Dye imbibition print
32.9 x 47.9 cm (12 15/16 x 18 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Eggleston Artistic Trust

 

Keith Carter (American, born 1948) 'Goodbye to a Horse' 1993

 

Keith Carter (American, born 1948)
Goodbye to a Horse
1993
Gelatin silver print
39 x 39.2 cm (15 3/8 x 15 7/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Keith Carter

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894-1985) '[Wooden Mouse and Duck]' 1929

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894-1985)
[Wooden Mouse and Duck]
1929
Gelatin silver print
20.9 x 16.7 cm (8 1/4 x 6 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Estate of André Kertész

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'Spiritual America'
 1923

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Spiritual America

1923
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Unknown maker, American. '[Dog sitting on a table]' c. 1854

 

Unknown maker, American
[Dog sitting on a table]
c. 1854
Hand-colored daguerreotype 1/6 plate
Image: 6.8 x 5.7 cm (2 11/16 x 2 1/4 in.)
Mat: 8.3 x 7 cm (3 1/4 x 2 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Hiro (American, born China, born 1930) 'David Webb, Jeweled Toad, New York, 1963' 1963

 

Hiro (American, born China, born 1930)
David Webb, Jeweled Toad, New York, 1963
1963
Dye imbibition print
50.2 x 39.1 cm (19 3/4 x 15 3/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council
© Hiro

 

Soon Tae (Tai) Hong (South Korean, born 1934) 'Chong Ju' 1970

 

 

Soon Tae (Tai) Hong (South Korean, born 1934)
Chong Ju
1970
Gelatin silver print
24.8 x 20 cm (9 3/4 x 7 7/8 in.)
Object Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Hong Soon Tae (Tai)

 

William Wegman (American, born 1943) 'In the Box/Out of the Box [right]' 1971

 

William Wegman (American, born 1943)
In the Box/Out of the Box [right]
1971
Gelatin silver print
35.4 x 27.7 cm (13 15/16 x 10 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© William Wegman

 

William Wegman (American, born 1943) 'In the Box/Out of the Box [left]' 1971

 

William Wegman (American, born 1943)
In the Box/Out of the Box [left]
1971
Gelatin silver print
35.5 x 27.7 cm (14 x 10 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© William Wegman

 

 

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08
Jul
15

Exhibition: ‘Germaine Krull (1897-1985) A Photographer’s Journey’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 2nd June 2015 – 27th September 2015

Curator: Michel Frizot, historian of photography

 

 

Je l’adore cette femme. Je pense que je suis en amour.

I absolutely love this women’s art. Everything she touches is inventive, vibrant, made with panache. The light, the hands, the angles, the objects – cranes and barges, brooding ancient architecture hanging in time – and then, to top it all off, the sensuality!

Left-wing convictions, lesbian love affairs, “the love of cars and road trips, the interest in women (whether writers or workers), the fascination with hands, and the free, maverick spirit that drove her work and kept her outside schools and sects.”

How can an artist make two piles of cauliflowers seem so enigmatic, so surreal and wondrous – like so many excised eyes of dead creatures staring at you, coming at you from out of the darkness. Les Halles de nuit (en toute amitié à Van Ecke) (around 1920, below) amazes me every time I look at it.

If I had to name one period above all others that I enjoy looking at most in the history of photography, the avant-garde period of the 1920s-30s would be up there near the very top. Especially the female photographers.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

 

 

Germaine Krull. 'Rue Auber in Paris' about 1928

 

Germaine Krull
Rue Auber in Paris
about 1928
Gelatin Silver Print
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of David H. McAlpin, by exchange
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Étalage: les mannequins [Display: mannequins]' 1928

 

Germaine Krull
Étalage: les mannequins [Display: mannequins]
1928
Gelatin Silver Print
10.8 x 15.7 cm
Amsab-Institut d’Histoire Sociale, Gand
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Mannequins in a shop window' 1930

 

Germaine Krull
Mannequins in a shop window
1930
Gelatin Silver Print
13.7 x 23.5 cm
Collection Bouqueret-Rémy
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Hans Basler. 'Portait of Germaine Krull, Berlin' 1922

 

Hans Basler
Portait of Germaine Krull, Berlin
1922
Gelatin Silver Print
15.9 x 22 cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Nude' Nd

 

Germaine Krull
Nude
Nd
Gelatin Silver Print
Collection Dietmar Siegert
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Anonymous. 'Germaine Krull in her car, Monte-Carlo' 1937

 

Anonymous
Germaine Krull in her car, Monte-Carlo
1937
Gelatin Silver Print
13 x 18.3 cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

“Germaine Krull (Wilda-Poznań, East Prussia [after 1919: Poland], 1897-Wetzlar, Germany, 1985) is at once one of the best-known figures in the history of photography, by virtue of her role in the avant-garde’s from 1920 to 1940, and a pioneer of modern photojournalism. She was also the first to publish in book form as an end in itself.

The exhibition at Jeu de Paume revisits Germaine Krull’s work in a new way, based on collections that have only recently been made available, in order to show the balance between a modernist artistic vision and an innovative role in print media, illustration and documentation. As she herself put it – paradoxically, in the introduction to her Études de nu (1930) -, ‘The true photographer is the witness of each day’s events, a reporter.’

If Krull is one of the most famous women photographers, her work has been little studied in comparison to that of her contemporaries Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy and André Kertész. Nor has she had many exhibitions: in 1967, a first evocation was put on at the Musée du Cinéma in Paris, then came the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn, in 1977, the Musée Réattu, Arles, in 1988, and the 1999 retrospective based on the archives placed at the Folkwang Museum, Essen.

The exhibition at Jeu de Paume focuses on the Parisian period, 1926-1935, and more precisely on the years of intensive activity between 1928 and 1933, by relating 130 vintage prints to period documents, including the magazines and books in which Krull played such a unique and prominent role. This presentation gives an idea of the constants that run through her work while also bringing out her aesthetic innovations. The show features many singular but also representative images from her prolific output, putting them in their original context.

Born in East Prussia (later Poland) to German parents, Krull had a chaotic childhood, as her hapless father, an engineer, travelled in search of work. This included a spell in Paris in 1906. After studying photography in Munich, Krull became involved in the political upheavals of post-war Germany in 1919, her role in the communist movement leading to a close shave with the Bolsheviks in Moscow. Having made some remarkable photographs of nudes during her early career, noteworthy for their freedom of tone and subject, in 1925 she was in the Netherlands, where she was fascinated by the metal structures and cranes in the docks, and embarked on a series of photographs that, following her move to Paris, would bear fruit in the portfolio Métal, publication of which placed her at the forefront of the avant-garde, the Nouvelle Vision in photography. Her new-found status earned her a prominent position on the new photographic magazine VU, created in 1928, where, along with André Kertész and Eli Lotar, she developed a new form of reportage that was particularly congenial to her, affording freedom of expression and freedom from taboos as well as closeness to the subject – all facilitated by her small-format (6 x 9 cm) Icarette camera.

This exhibition shows the extraordinary blossoming of Krull’s unique vision in around 1930, a vision that is hard to define because it adapted to its subjects with a mixture of charisma and empathy, while remaining constantly innovative in terms of its aesthetic. It is essential, here, to show that Krull always worked for publication: apart from the modernist VU, where she was a contributor from 1928 to 1933, she produced reportage for many other magazines, such as Jazz, Variétés, Art et Médecine and L’Art vivant. Most importantly, and unlike any other photographer of her generation, she published a number of books and portfolios as sole author: Métal (1928), 100 x Paris (1929), Études de nu (1930), Le Valois (1930), La Route Paris-Biarritz (1931), Marseille (1935). She also created the first photo-novel, La Folle d’Itteville (1931), in collaboration with Georges Simenon. These various publications represent a total of some five hundred photographs. Krull also contributed to some important collective books, particularly on the subject of Paris: Paris, 1928; Visages de Paris, 1930; Paris under 4 Arstider, 1930; La Route Paris-Méditerranée, 1931. Her images are often disconcerting, atypical and utterly free of standardisation.

An energetic figure with strong left-wing convictions and a great traveller, Krull’s approach to photography was antithetical to the aesthetically led, interpretative practice of the Bauhaus or Surrealists. During the Second World War, she joined the Free French (1941) and served the cause with her camera, later following the Battle of Alsace (her photographs of which were made into a book). Shortly afterwards she left Europe for Southeast Asia, becoming director of the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, which she helped turn into a renowned establishment, and then moving on to India where, having converted to Buddhism, she served the community of Tibetan exiles near Dehra-Dun.

During all her years in Asia, Krull continued to take photographs. Her thousands of images included Buddhist sites and monuments, some of them taken as illustrations for a book planned by her friend André Malraux. The conception of the books she published throughout her life was unfailingly original: Ballets de Monte-Carlo (1937); Uma Cidade Antiga do Brasil; Ouro Preto (1943); Chieng Mai (c. 1960); Tibetans in India (1968).

In her photojournalism, Krull began by focusing on the lower reaches of Parisian life, its modest, working population, the outcasts and marginal of the “Zone,” the tramps (subject of a hugely successful piece in VU), Les Halles and the markets, the fairgrounds evoked by Francis Carco and Pierre Mac Orlan (her greatest champion). The exhibition also explores unchanging aspects of her tastes and attachments: the love of cars and road trips, the interest in women (whether writers or workers), the fascination with hands, and the free, maverick spirit that drove her work and kept her outside schools and sects.

The works come from a public and private collections including the Folkwang Museum, Essen; Amsab, Institute for Social History, Ghent; the Ann and Jürgen Wilde Foundation, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris; the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris; the Collection Bouqueret-Rémy; the Dietmar Siegert Collection.”

Press release from the Jeu de Paume

 

Germaine Krull. 'Self Portrait with Icarette' around 1925

 

Germaine Krull
Self Portrait with Icarette
around 1925
Gelatin silver print
23.6 x 17.5 cm
Purchase through the patronage of Yves Rocher, 2011. Former collection Bouqueret Christian. Centre Pompidou, Paris. National Museum of Modern Art / Industrial Design Centre
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen
Photo: © Centre Pompidou MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN / picture Centre Pompidou-CCI MNAM

 

Germaine Krull. 'Self Portrait, Paris' 1927

 

Germaine Krull
Self Portrait, Paris
1927
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 17.9 cm
Foundation Ann and Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Assia's profile' 1930

 

Germaine Krull
Assia’s profile
1930
Gelatin Silver Print
22.2 x 15.8 cm
Collection Bouqueret-Rémy
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Étude pour La Folle d’Itteville [Study for The Madwoman of Itteville]' 1931

 

Germaine Krull
Étude pour La Folle d’Itteville [Study for The Madwoman of Itteville]
1931
Gelatin Silver Print
21.9 x 16.4 cm
Purchase through the patronage of Yves Rocher, 2011. Former collection Bouqueret Christian. Centre Pompidou, Paris. National Museum of Modern Art / Industrial Design Centre
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen.
Photo: © Centre Pompidou MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN / Guy Carrard

 

Germaine Krull. 'Advertising Study for Paul Poiret' 1926

 

Germaine Krull
Advertising Study for Paul Poiret
1926
Gelatin Silver Print
Purchase through the patronage of Yves Rocher, 2011. Former collection Bouqueret Christian. Centre Pompidou, Paris. National Museum of Modern Art / Industrial Design Centre
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen
Photo: © Centre Pompidou MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN / Georges Meguerditchian

 

Germaine Krull. 'Female nude' 1928

 

Germaine Krull
Female nude
1928
Gelatin Silver Print
21.6 x 14.4 cm
Purchase through the patronage of Yves Rocher, 2011. Former collection Bouqueret Christian. Centre Pompidou, Paris. National Museum of Modern Art / Industrial Design Centre
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen
Photo: © Centre Pompidou MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN / Guy Carrard

 

Germaine Krull. 'Jean Cocteau' 1929

 

Germaine Krull
Jean Cocteau
1929
Gelatin Silver Print 1976
23.7 x 17.2 cm
Bouqueret Remy collection
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'André Malraux' 1930

 

Germaine Krull
André Malraux
1930
Gelatin Silver Print
23 x 17.3 cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Tibetan religious ceremony offering of the white scarf' Undated

 

Germaine Krull
Tibetan religious ceremony offering of the white scarf
Undated
Gelatin silver print
24.1 x 18.5 cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) A Photographer’s Journey

A famous figure of the avant-garde in the 1920-1940s, Germaine Krull (Wilda, Poland, 1897-Wetzlar, Germany, 1985) was a pioneer of modern photojournalism and of the photographic book. Produced mainly between 1928 and 1931, her innovative work cannot be understood outside the context of her chaotic and poorly educated childhood and her activist youth, which saw her become involved in the Spartacist uprising in Germany in 1919.

After Berlin, where she produced some ambiguous nude photographs in 1923, Paris was where her career as a photographer took off. She won acclaim for her fers, the photographs of metal structures, bridges and cranes that featured in her portfolio Métal (1928), their unusual angles and framing typical of the New Vision in photography. In March 1928 she began producing innovative reportage for the newly created photographic magazine VU, focusing particularly on Parisian life, the marginal world of humble folk and popular neighbourhoods, and the “Zone.”

Often disconcerting and seemingly casual, these images taken with a hand-held Icarette were nevertheless well received by a number of illustrated magazines. Krull innovated even more as sole author of books and portfolios, which were a novelty at this time: 100 x Paris (1929), Études de nu (1930), Le Valois (1930), La Route Paris-Biarritz (1931), Marseille (1935), and the first photo-novel (phototexte) with Georges Simenon, La Folle d’Itteville (1931). Taken together, these publications represent some five hundred photos.

A woman of action and initiative, Krull had a great love of cars and road travel (which inspired  several books), and was particularly interested in behaviour, gesture and the work of women, as well as in the expressiveness of hands. Her free, maverick spirit was always in evidence, as if taking a fresh look at the world also meant constantly rising to new challenges in her photography. “Germaine Krull,” noted Pierre Mac Orlan, “does not create easy anecdotes, but she makes visible the secret details that people do not always see.”

Berlin and Paris: early days

After a free adolescence, Germaine Krull studied  photography in Munich, later contributing to a portfolio of female nudes. Her involvement with the Spartacist uprising of 1919 led all the way to prisons in Moscow in 1921. Returning to photography in 1923, she produced more female nudes, with strong erotic connotations (one series shows two women “friends”). Moving to Paris in 1926, she worked as a fashion photographer, mainly for Sonia Delaunay’s textile studio.

1928: “My fers” and VU

In 1928 Krull became known for her fers, dramatically framed photographs of cranes, bridges and silos, and of the Eiffel Tower. Often low-angle shots, these established her as an “avant-garde” photographer. At the end of  the year her portfolio Métal (64 plates) had a tremendous impact in modernist photographic circles and in progressive artistic magazines (L’Art vivant, Jazz).

Reportage and magazines

Krull’s greatest contribution was in the field of  reportage, which she pioneered in March 1928 for the magazine VU. Her favourite subject was Parisian popular culture – fairgrounds and flea markets, bars and dance halls, tramps. Her approach was free and spontaneous, favouring closeness to the subject, photographed at eye height (as enabled by her 6 x 9 Icarette), rather than elegance and balance of composition. Her idiosyncratic and highly evocative images were appreciated by the bolder magazines, which published some six hundred of them between 1928 and 1934.

Paris, Paris!

For a determined photographer like Krull, the big city represented a unique set of opportunities with real potential: department stores, shop window mannequins, effects of lighting at night and the banks of the Seine were among the subjects. Enthusiastic about the book format, she published 100 x Paris, a book of a hundred unusual views of Paris, in 1929, and contributed to Visages de Paris by Warnod (1930), and Paris by Adolf Hallman (1930). Her images gave visual expression to the “social fantastic” explored by her friend, writer Pierre Mac Orlan (Quai des Brumes, 1927).

Cars, the open road

Krull was fascinated by cars, speed and machines. In Paris she photographed the teeming traffic. After a commission to take advertising photos for  the Peugeot 201 in 1929, she developed a strong enthusiasm for road trips, the great novelty of the day, and photographed sites glimpsed from inside the vehicle. This daring work bore fruit in a new kind of photography book, Le Valois de Gérard de Nerval (1930), La Route Paris-Biarritz (1931), La Route de Paris à la Méditerranée (1931) and Marseille (1935), an aesthetic and mental as well as geographical journey to the south.

Women

As a woman photographer, Krull took an interest in artistic women such as Colette, the actress Berthe Bovy who played in La Voix humaine by Cocteau, and the singer Damia. She was especially keen to do social reportage on women’s themes, a notable example being her series on working women in Paris, published by VU in 1931-1932. Her Études de nu (1930) was an aesthetic manifesto by virtue of its  fragmented and unstructured vision of the female body. Another innovation was her photography for La Folle d’Itteville, a ground-breaking photographic version of a Simenon story, featuring an enigmatic Mrs Hubbell.

“My collection of hands”

Krull was fascinated by hands, which she  photographed with a blend of imagination and  invention. Her “collection” included Cocteau with his hand in front of his eyes or mouth, and Malraux with his cigarette. In her reportage, she homed in on gestures and postures in which the hands were signally expressive. Shown on their own, they became portraits, intriguing the viewer.

Le Courrier littéraire, 1930

The second issue (April-May-June 1930) of this ephemeral magazine contained an astonishing  portfolio of Krull’s work, with 24 photos over 17  pages. The rather emphatic presentation showed  her as a true artist, and as part of the avant-garde of the day. A letter from Cocteau was reprinted by way of an introduction. In it, the poet, Krull’s friend, expresses his surprise at her striking photos, both of Berthe Bovy in La Voix humaine and of his own hands.

Free spirit

Krull liked to concentrate on “the visual side  of things” and escape from the documentary imperatives of reportage. Her bold framing, details and situations, her use of cast shadow and touch of fantasy stimulate the imagination and create surprise. Her series on superstitions, published in VU and Variétés, was conceived with the enthusiasm of an amateur photographer exclusively intent on the narrative power of the images. Without ever entering the world of Surrealism, her very individual vision brought out an unexpected strangeness in apparently ordinary things.

War

In 1940 Krull took the boat to Brazil, aiming to work for Free France. In 1942 she was sent to Brazzaville to set up a propaganda photography  service. She also produced reportage around French Equatorial Africa. In 1943 she travelled to Algiers as a reporter, then sailed with the troops of De Lattre, arriving in the South of France and heading up to Alsace, where she witnessed the Battle of Alsace and the liberation of the Vaihingen  concentration camp.

Asia

Keen to continue working as a reporter in Southeast Asia, in 1946 Krull settled in Bangkok. Not long after, she became manager of the Oriental Hotel there, which she turned into a highly renowned establishment. Drawn to Buddhism, she photographed its temples and statues in Thailand and Burma. Leaving her position at the hotel, she travelled to India, where she took up  the cause of the Tibetan exiles (Tibetans in India, 1968). Ill, impecunious, and having lost most of her prints, Krull returned to Germany, where she died on 30 July 1985.

The films

Through Joris Ivens, Krull was in touch with many of the avant-garde filmmakers of the day, including René Clair, Georges Lacombe and Alberto  Cavalcanti. Although she claimed to dislike cinema’s complicated interdependence of machines, script and actors, she did make two short films, both in 1931: Six pour dix francs (9 min) and Il partit pour un long voyage (11 min 20 s). The second, about a young boy who dreams of travel and distant  lands and hides on a barge on the Seine at Bercy, allowed her to take some “photographically” meticulous shots of activities along the river.

.
Michel Frizot
Exhibition curator

 

Germaine Krull. 'Gibbs Advertising' L'Illustration, No. 4533, January 18, 1930

 

Germaine Krull
Gibbs Advertising
L’Illustration, No. 4533, January 18, 1930
36.7 x 27.8 cm
Private collection
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Pol Rab (illustrator)' 1930

 

Germaine Krull
Pol Rab (illustrator)
1930
Photomontage, Gelatin silver print
19.5 x 14.5 cm
Amsab-Institute of Social History, Ghent
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. '100 x Paris' 1929

 

Germaine Krull
100 x Paris
1929
Cover, Publisher of the series Berlin-Westend
24.3 x 17.3 cm
Private collection
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Cover of the photogravure portfolio Métal (set of 64 plates)' 1928

 

Germaine Krull
Métal
Cover of the photogravure portfolio Métal (set of 64 plates)
1928
30 x 23.5 cm
Collection Bouqueret-Rémy
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Bridge crane, Rotterdam' from the series 'Métal', about 1926

 

Germaine Krull
Bridge crane, Rotterdam
about 1926
from the series Métal
Gelatin Silver Print
21.9 x 15.3 cm
Foundation Ann and Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Ancient architecture: printing house Clock' 1928

 

Germaine Krull
Architecture ancienne: imprimerie de l’Horloge [Ancient architecture: printing house Clock]
1928
Gelatin Silver Print
21.9 x 15.2 cm
Amsab-Institute of Social History, Ghent
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Electric plant, Issy les Moulineaux' 1928

 

Germaine Krull
Electric plant, Issy les Moulineaux
1928
Gelatin Silver Print
22.6 x 16.6 cm
Amsab-Institute of Social History, Ghent
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Halls of Night (in friendship to Van Ecke)' around 1920

 

Germaine Krull
Les Halles de nuit (en toute amitié à Van Ecke) [Halls of Night (in friendship to Van Ecke)]
around 1920
Gelatin Silver Print
22 x 16.2 cm
Amsab-Institute of Social History, Ghent
© Germaine Krull Estate, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'At the right corner, Paris' 1929

 

Germaine Krull
Au bon coin, Paris [At the right corner, Paris]
1929
Gelatin Silver Print
14.2 x 10.5 cm
Collection Bouqueret-Rémy
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull. 'Marseille' June 1930

 

Germaine Krull
Marseille
June 1930
Gelatin Silver Print
21.2 x 15.3 cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection.Gift of Thomas Walther
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen
Photo: © 2015. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 12.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Friday: 12.00 – 19.00
Saturday and Sunday: 10.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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