Posts Tagged ‘architectural photography

09
May
18

Exhibition: ‘Balthasar Burkhard’ at Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich

Exhibition dates: 10th February – 21st May 2018

 

Balthasar Burkhard

Balthasar Burkhard

 

 

As is so often the case with an artist, it is the early work that shines brightest in this posting.

The works from On the Alp possess an essential power; the daring capture of actions and performances by the international avant-garde of the day make you wish you had been there; and the installation photograph of ‘The Knie’, Kunsthalle Basel in 1983 (below) makes me want to see more of his 1980s installations, with their shift in scale and repetitive nature. There are no more examples online, but a couple of photographs can be seen in the first installation photograph below.

I can leave the underwhelming aerial, cloud and landscape work well alone. There are many people in the history of photography who have taken better photographs of such subject matter. His life-sized photographs of animals again do nothing for me. They possess a reductive minimalism riffing on the canvas backgrounds of Avedon blown up to enormous size (as in most contemporary photography, as if by making something large the photograph gains aura and importance) but they lead nowhere. Perhaps in their actual presence (the physicality of the print) I might be transported to another place, but in reproduction they are a one-dimensional non sequitur.

From the energy of the earlier work emerges “a beauty contest between animals in a photo-shoot”, scrupulous studio photos that demand to be taken seriously, but mean very little. Here, passion has lost out to rigorous and deathly control.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Together, Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz will showcase the oeuvre of Swiss artist Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) in a major retrospective. Burkhard’s work spans half a century: from his early days as a trainee photographer with Kurt Blum to his seminal role in chronicling the art of his time, eventually becoming a photographic artist in his own right who brought photography into the realms of contemporary art in the form of the monumental tableau. More than 150 works and groups of works chart not only the progress of his own photographic career, but also the emergence of photography as an art form in the second half of the twentieth century. An exhibition in collaboration with Museum Folkwang, Essen, and Museo d’arte della Svizzera italiana, Lugano.

 

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) from 'On the Alp' 1963

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
from On the Alp
1963
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'oT (Urs Luthi, Balthasar Burkhard, Jean-Frederic Schnyder), Amsterdam' 1969

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
oT (Urs Luthi, Balthasar Burkhard, Jean-Frederic Schnyder), Amsterdam
1969
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Untitled (Jean-Christophe Ammann at Andy Warhol's Factory), New York' 1972

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Untitled (Jean-Christophe Ammann at Andy Warhol’s Factory), New York
1972
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Jean-Christophe Ammann. 'oT (Balthasar Burkhard), USA' 1972

 

Jean-Christophe Ammann
oT (Balthasar Burkhard), USA
Venice, 1972
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

 

Together, Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz have launched a major retrospective exhibition dedicated to the lifetime achievement of Swiss artist Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010). His oeuvre is almost unparalleled in the way it reflects not only the self-invention of a photographer but also the emancipation of photography as an artistic medium in its own right during the second half of the twentieth century.

The exhibition charts the many facets of Burkhard’s career, step by step, from his apprenticeship with Kurt Blum – in which he adhered closely to the traditional reportage and illustrative photography of the 1960s, and undertook his first independent photographic projects – to his role alongside legendary curator Harald Szeemann, and his documentation of Bern’s bohemian scene in the 1960s and 1970s. Balthasar Burkhard is the author of many iconic images of such groundbreaking exhibitions as When Attitudes Become Form at Kunsthalle Bern in 1969 and the 1972 documenta 5, capturing radical and frequently ephemeral works, actions and performances by the international avant-garde of the day.

Meanwhile, Burkhard endeavoured to make his mark both as a photographer and as an artist, developing his first large-scale photographic canvases in collaboration with his friend and colleague Markus Raetz, trying out his skills as an actor in the USA, and ultimately being invited to hold his own highly influential exhibitions at Kunsthalle Basel and Musée Rath in Geneva in 1983 and 1984. These enabled him to liberate photography from its purely documentary role by creating monumental tableaux in which he developed the motif of the body into sculptural human landscapes and site-specific architectures.

Throughout the course of his career, Burkhard turned time and again to portraiture. Whereas his early photographs tended to show artists in action within their own setting, his later portraits adopted an increasingly formalised approach. During the 1990s, he transposed this stylistic reduction to a wide-ranging series of animal portraits reminiscent of the encyclopaedic style of nineteenth century photography.

Another milestone of Burkhard’s oeuvre can be found in his vast aerial photographs of major mega cities such as Tokyo and Mexico City. These images, shot from an aircraft, like his images of the earth’s deserts, were destined to become a personal passion. Balthasar Burkhard’s quest for a morphology, for a formula that could encapsulate both nature and culture, is particularly evident in his later work, which ranges from pictures of waves and clouds, Swiss mountains and rivers, to the delicate fragility of plants. His interest was always focused on the materiality of the image. Alongside the highly idosyncratic and somewhat darkly sombre tonality of his prints, Burkhard constantly sought to explore every aspect of photography’s aesthetic and technical potential.

Encompassing half a century of creativity, the joint exhibition by Fotomuseum and Fotostiftung not only shows individual works, but also reflects on Balthasar Burkhard’s own view of how his photographs should be presented, underpinned by a wealth of documents from the archives of the artist. The exhibition is divided in two parts and shown in parallel in the exhibition spaces of Fotomuseum and Fotostiftung.

Press release

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) / Markus Raetz. 'The Bed' 1969/70

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) / Markus Raetz
The Bed
1969/70
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'oT (Michael Heizer, Berne Depression), Berne' 1969

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
oT (Michael Heizer, Berne Depression), Berne
1969
© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Untitled (Richard Serra, Splash Piece), Berne' 1969

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Untitled (Richard Serra, Splash Piece), Berne
1969
© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'oT (Harald Szeemann, the last day of documenta 5), Kassel' 1972

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
oT (Harald Szeemann, the last day of documenta 5), Kassel
1972
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

 

With this major retrospective, Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz pay homage to the Swiss artist Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010). His oeuvre is almost unparalleled in the way it reflects not only the self-invention of a photographer, but also the emancipation of photography as an artistic medium in its own right during the second half of the twentieth century.

Together, the two institutions chart the many and varied facets of Burkhard’s career, step by step. Fotostiftung presents early works from the days of his apprenticeship with Kurt Blum and his first independent documentary photographs. The exhibition also traces Burkhard’s role as a photographer alongside the curator Harald Szeemann and capturing images of Bern’s bohemian scene in the 1960s and 1970s. During that time, Burkhard carved his niche as a photographer and artist, developing his first large-scale photographic canvases in collaboration with his friend Markus Raetz and eventually breaking away from the European art world in search of both himself and new inspiration in the USA.

The second part of the exhibition at Fotomuseum shows the work created by Burkhard after his return to Europe, and his exploration of the photographic tableau. It was during this phase that he largely succeeded in emancipating photography from its purely documentary function. Using monumental formats, he translated the motif of the human body into sculptural landscapes and site-specific architectures. He went on to apply his stylistic device of formal reduction to portraits and landscapes. This marked the beginning of a series of experiments in the handling of photographic techniques. From long-distance aerial photographs of mega-cities such as Mexico City and Tokyo to close-up studies of flowers and plants, Burkhard seemed to be constantly seeking a formula that would embrace both nature and culture, encapsulating a sensory and sensual grasp of visible reality.

Encompassing half a century of creativity, the exhibition not only shows individual works, but is also underpinned by applied projects, films and many documents from the archives of the artist. This wealth of material allows a reflection both on Balthasar Burkhard’s own view of how his photographs should be presented in the exhibition space as well as his constant weighing-up of other media.

 

Part I (Fotostiftung Schweiz)

Early photographs

Balthasar Burkhard was just eight years old when his father gave him a camera to take along on a school excursion. Burkhard himself describes this early experience with the camera as the starting point of his career. It was also his father who suggested an apprenticeship with Kurt Blum, one of Switzerland’s foremost photographers, ranking along-side Paul Senn, Jakob Tuggener and Gotthard Schuh. Blum taught the young Balz, as he was nicknamed, all the finer points of darkroom technique as well as the art of large-format photography. The earliest work from Burkhard’s apprentice years is a reportage of the school, in the form of a book, while his documentation of the Distelzwang Society’s historic guildhall in the old quarter of Bern was clearly a lesson in architectural photography. Yet, no sooner had he completed his apprenticeship than Burkhard was already embarking on his very own independent projects inspired by post-war humanist photography, such as Auf der Alp, a study of rural Alpine life, for which he was awarded the Swiss Federal Grant for Applied Arts in 1964.

 

Chronicler of Bohemian Life in Bern

Even during his apprenticeship, Burkhard moved in the Bernese art circles to which his teacher Kurt Blum also belonged. In 1962, he created a first portrait, in book form, of painter and writer Urs Dickerhof. Shortly after that, he became friends with his near-contemporary Markus Raetz, and started taking photographs for the charismatic curator Harald Szeemann, who was director of Kunsthalle Bern from 1961 to 1969. Burkhard immersed himself in the vibrantly dynamic Swiss art scene, documenting the often controversial exhibitions of conceptual art at the Kunsthalle, and capturing the lives of Bern’s bohemian set with his 35mm camera. These visual mementos would later be collated in a kind of photographic journal. Initial collaborative projects with artists included a 1966 artists’ book about the village of Curogna (Ticino) and a window display for the Loeb department store in Bern featuring photographic portraits of the Bernese artist Esther Altorfer, devised in collaboration with Markus Raetz and his later wife, fashion designer Monika Raetz-Müller.

 

Landscapes 1969

Inspired by his friend Raetz, Burkhard photographed bleak and rugged snow-covered landscapes in the Bernese Seeland region. Heaps of earth piled up along the wayside reminded him of Robert Smithson’s Earthworks, which had just emerged in contemporary art. As Burkhard would later explain, “I wanted to leave out everything relating to myself, so that I could truly relate to what remained. I distanced myself from my subject-matter. I succeeded in stepping back both from myself and from my work.”

A close-up of bare agricultural soil, vaguely reminiscent of a lunar landscape, forms the basis for an object with a neon tube created in 1969 for the legendary exhibition When Attitudes Become Form in collaboration with Harald Szeemann, Markus Raetz and Jean-Frédéric Schnyder. In 1969, Burkhard’s brown-toned landscapes were included in the 1969 exhibition photo actuelle suisse in Sion. They were subsequently published as his first independent portfolio by Allan Porter in the May issue of Camera magazine, which was dedicated to avant-garde European photography and its affinity with contemporary art.

 

The Amsterdam Canvases 1969-70

When Markus Raetz took a studio in Amsterdam in 1969, he and Burkhard continued to work on joint projects. Photographs of everyday motifs were enlarged, practically life-sized, onto canvas, and caused a sensation in the spring 1970 exhibition Visualisierte Denkprozesse (Visualised thought processes) at Kunstmuseum Luzern, curated by Jean-Christophe Ammann, who wrote: “On huge canvases, they [Raetz and Burkhard] showed, among other things, a spartan studio space, a bedroom, a kitchen, a curtain. They relativised the purely object-like character by hanging the canvases on clips. The resulting folds enriched the images by adding a new dimension.” In other words, the folds in the canvas created a “quasi ironic and disillusioning barrier.” Burkhard’s large-format works foreshadowed the monumental photographic tableaux that would eventually herald the ultimate march of photography into the museum space some ten years later.

 

Documentarist of the International Art Scene

By the end of the 1960s, Harald Szeemann and his polarising, controversial exhibitions were drawing increasing attention far beyond the boundaries of Switzerland. In particular, his (in)famous 1969 show When Attitudes Become Form unleashed heated debates that ultimately led to Szeemann’s resignation as director of Kunsthalle Bern. Then, in 1970, he shocked the members and visitors of the Kunstverein in Cologne with an exhibition dedicated to Happening & Fluxus. Here, too, Burkhard was on hand with his camera. Jean-Christophe Ammann, with whom Burkhard undertook a research trip to the USA in 1972, photographing many artists’ studios, proved no less controversial a figure. Moreover, Burkhard also photographed artists, actions and installations at the 1972 documenta 5 in Kassel, which was headed by none other than Szeemann himself. Given the expanded concept of art that prevailed at the time, which strengthened the role of performance art and installation works alike, photography, too, gained a newfound core significance. Indeed, it was only through photography that many of these innovative works were preserved for posterity.

 

Chicago and the Self-Invention of the Artist

Following a relatively unproductive period in the wake of documenta 5, during which he worked, among other things, on an unfinished documentary project about the small Swiss town of Zofingen, Burkhard spent the years between 1975 and 1978 in Chicago, where he taught photography at the University of Illinois. It was while he was there that he once again reprised the series of photo canvases he had been working on in Amsterdam between 1969 and 1970. This led to new large-format works portraying everyday scenes such as the back seat of an automobile or the interior of a home with a TV, as well as three now lost photographs of roller skaters and a very androgynous back-view nude study of a young man. In 1977 the Zolla/Lieberman Gallery in Chicago presented these canvases together with a selection of the Amsterdam works in what was Burkhard’s first solo exhibition. Critics were impressed by his “soft photographs”. The Chicago Tribune, for instance, enthused: “‘European’ grace is wedded to ‘American’ strength in a supreme artistic fiction that suggests the wide-screen format of film.”

 

Self-Portraits

In Chicago, Burkhard rekindled his friendship with performance and conceptual artist Thomas Kovachevic, whom he had first met at documenta 5 and who now introduced him to the local art scene. At the same time, Burkhard toyed with the notion of trying his chances as a film actor in Hollywood. With Kovachevich’s help, he produced a series of self-portraits, both Polaroids and slides, which he presented in a small snakeskin-covered box as his application portfolio. He approached Alfred Hitchcock and Joshua Shelley of Columbia Pictures, albeit unsuccessfully. His only film role was in Urs Egger’s 1978 Eiskalte Vögel (Icebound; screened in seminar room I). Burkhard later transformed some of his self-portraits into large-scale canvases, through which he asserted his newfound sense of identity as an artist, making himself the subject-matter of his own artistic work. One of these was also shown in the Photo Canvases exhibition at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery.

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'feet 2' 1980

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
feet 2
1980
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'The Knie', Kunsthalle Basel (installation view) 1983

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
‘The Knie’, Kunsthalle Basel 
(installation view)
1983
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Study of The Head' c. 1983

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Study of The Head
c. 1983
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Design for Body II' c. 1983

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Design for Body II
c. 1983
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

 

 

Part II (Fotomuseum Winterthur)

Body and Sculpture

The 1980s heralded the advent of a particularly productive period for Balthasar Burkhard in which he adopted a more sculptural approach to photography, treating his prints as an integral part of the exhibition architecture. Just as he himself had witnessed how the generation of artists before him had called the classic exhibition space into question, so too did his own latest works now begin to take control of that space. Burkhard became one of the foremost proponents of large-scale photographic tableaux, as evidenced by his groundbreaking exhibitions at Kunsthalle Basel in 1983 and Museé Rath, Geneva, in 1984.

It was in the photo canvases he made in Chicago during the late 1970s that Burkhard first turned towards the motif of the body as a sculptural form with which he would continue to experiment over the coming years. Such an overtly sculptural approach to the body and to the nude as landscape soon began to demand a larger format than Burkhard had previously been using. An arm, almost four metres long, framed by heavy steel, or the multipart installation Das Knie (Knee), reflect the very core of his creative oeuvre in all its many facets: monumentality, fragmentation and the breaking of genre boundaries by transposing two-dimensional images into spatially commanding installations.

 

Portraits: Types and Individuals

The increasing formal reduction of Balthasar Burkhard’s images continued in the field of portraiture. He invited fellow artists such as Lawrence Weiner and Christian Boltanski to sit for him. With this series, it seemed that he had finally put behind him his days as a chronicler of the art scene, reliant on the techniques of applied photography.

Portraits of a rather different kind are his profiles of animals, in an equally reduced setting, against the backdrop of a tarpaulin. Redolent of Renaissance drawings or nineteenth century animal photography, his images of sheep, wolves and lions come across as representing ideal and typical examples of their species without anthropomorphising them, while at the same time wrenching them out of their natural environment. These images reached a broad audience through the popular 1997 children’s book “Click!”, said the Camera, which was republished in its second edition in 2017.

 

Architectural Photography

Given his increasing success in the art world, Burkhard could well afford to be selective about his choice of commissioned works. He had already been taking photographs for architects connected with the Bern-based firm Atelier 5 back in the 1960s, and was still accepting commissions in this field in the 1990s. Burkhard’s photographic essay on the Ricola building designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron indicates just how thoroughly his own distinctive artistic syntax permeates his commissioned and architectural photography, right through to the details of fragments and materials. These photographs were shown in the Swiss Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 1991, having been explicitly designed for this particular exhibition space. As in his artistic oeuvre, Burkhard operates here with spatially commanding installations, skilfully dovetailing the architectural motif with the presentational form.

 

Aerial Photography

In the 1990s, before the art world had even begun to turn its attention to the subject of megacities, Burkhard was already taking a keen interest in the world’s major conurbations. Following in the footsteps of his father, who had been a Swiss airforce pilot, he took bird’s-eye-view photographs from a plane. His panoramic shots of cities such as London, Mexico City and Los Angeles were preceded by small-format studies of clouds: the so-called Nuages series. Having incorporated a study of rural Switzerland into his formative training in 1963 with the series Auf der Alp (On the Alp), he returned once more to focus on the landscape of his homeland in the early 2000s with an entire series of aerial photographs of the Bernina mountain range.

 

Landscape and Flora

In the last two decades of his life, Burkhard concentrated primarily on landscape and flora, turning to historical precedents both in his techniques and in his choice of motif. The desert formations of Namibia, in which all sense of proportion is lost amid the remote and untouched wilderness, set a counterpoint to the sprawling urban expanses of Mexico City and London. The diptych Welle (Wave), by contrast, pays homage to the work of French artist Gustave Courbet, with Burkhard making a pilgrimage to the tide swept shores where the father of Realism had painted in 1870.

In another series, Burkhard adapts the aesthetics of botanical plant studies, which were as widely used around the turn of the twentieth century as the complex photographic process of heliography, and transposes these to larger-than-life formats. Whereas Burkhard, as a young photographer, had captured the exuberant art scene of the 1960s and 1970s, snapshot-style, he later went on, as an artist-photographer, to explore the potential of the photographic tableau, diligently researching near-forgotten techniques and the sensual details of the visible world.

 

Artwork and Commissioned Work

The site-specific installations of his photographs and Burkhard’s own dedicated approach to museum spaces warrant an excursion into the archives of the artist, paying particular attention to four exemplary exhibitions.

One spectacular and iconic show was the Fotowerke (Photo works) exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel in 1983. Curated by artist Rémy Zaugg, the installations can be reconstructed thanks to the catalogue and copious documentation. Contact prints and studies, for instance, help to give an insight into the no longer extant thirteen metre work Körper I (Body I) as well as shedding light on the choice of motif for further body fragments.

A 1984 solo exhibition at the Le Consortium in Dijon, on the other hand, shows how Burkhard responded with his group of works Das Knie (Knee) to an entirely different installation context within the given space. Similarly, at the Musée Rath in Geneva that same year, Burkhard, together with his friend Niele Toroni, instigated a radical juxtaposition of photography and painting based on the pillars of the exhibition venue.

At Grand-Hornu in the Belgian town of Mons, by contrast, his life-sized photographs of animals were mounted at eye level. While Burkhard chose a large format for the exhibition venue, the images in his children’s book “Click!”, said the Camera tell of a beauty contest between animals in a photo-shoot. This apparent discrepancy between artwork and commissioned work never seemed to be relevant to Burkhard. The sheer volume of his studio photos, alone, indicates just how scrupulously precise he was about the way he wanted to be perceived as a serious photographer.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Balthasar Burkhard' at Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich February - May 2018

Installation view of the exhibition 'Balthasar Burkhard' at Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich February - May 2018

Installation view of the exhibition 'Balthasar Burkhard' at Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich February - May 2018

Installation view of the exhibition 'Balthasar Burkhard' at Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich February - May 2018

Installation view of the exhibition 'Balthasar Burkhard' at Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich February - May 2018

 

Installation views of the exhibition Balthasar Burkhard at Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich February – May 2018

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Balthasar Burkhard in his studio' 1995

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Balthasar Burkhard in his studio
1995
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Camel' 1997

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Camel
1997
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Bull' 1996

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Bull
1996
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'The Reindeer' 1996

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
The Reindeer
1996
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Mexico City' 1999

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Mexico City
1999
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Mexico City' 1999

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Mexico City
1999
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Nuages ​​8' 1999

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Nuages ​​8
1999
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Ecosse' (Scotland) 2000

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Ecosse (Scotland)
2000
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Bernina' 2003

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Bernina
2003
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Silberen' 2004

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Silberen
2004
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Rio Negro' 2002

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Rio Negro
2002
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

 

Fotostiftung Schweiz
Grüzenstrasse 45
CH-8400 Winterthur (Zürich)
Tel: +41 52 234 10 30

Opening hours:
Daily 11 am – 6 pm
Wednesday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed on Mondays

Fotostiftung Schweiz website

Fotomuseum Winterthur
Grüzenstrasse 44 + 45
CH-8400
Winterthur (Zürich)

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Wednesday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed on Mondays

Fotomuseum Winterthur website

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16
Feb
18

Review: ‘John Gollings: The history of the built world’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 2nd December 2017 – 4th March 2018

 

John Gollings. 'Berman House (Harry Seidler), Joadja, New South Wales' 2007

 

John Gollings
Berman House (Harry Seidler), Joadja, New South Wales
2007

 

 

From ancient to modern; different but same

This is a solid exhibition of the work of architectural photographer John Gollings, which features highly colour saturated photographs of the built environment, from ancient to modern.

The formal, classical images are well seen and photographed, mainly for commercial clients who, at the end of the project, want to document their construction in the most flattering light. And that’s what you get with a Gollings architectural photograph – a known “style” used again and again to document an object devoid of human presence, usually photographed at the bewitching hour for photographers (dawn or dusk) or illuminated, to give the building that special glow. Sounds easy, but it isn’t!

For some people the intention of the photographer is primary… later on comes the  successful manifestation of that intention. And of course, there is the public intention stated in the brief directed to a photographer who has accepted that brief. As well, there are the photographer’s private intentions and for these we have to refer to the image(s). I then ask, what happens when the photographer’s private intentions becomes his commercial practice, when his style becomes his trademark?

In these photographs which are about multiplicity / difference (in the sense of a different set of objects) / series and the pursuit of spirit (as compared to the pursuit of ego), Gollings evidences something inherent in man that has shown itself from the start – inhabitation – that has now has become something else. He has put these series together to make sense / no sense / nonsense and through this juxtaposition, he hopes that something transcendent happens when these environments are seen together. The contemporary structures are made by extraordinary people who keep pushing to make an ultimate ideal of their belief, and so they are extraordinary, yet different from each other. Gollings captures this difference.

“What is it that asks a question that cannot be answered” is a question that I believe that Gollings is interested in, and it manifests itself in people and some of their works, e.g. poetry, cinema, photography, music… and this is the scope of that question in architecture. I think that Gollings has just tried to be clear about this question in his work, in the images straightforward yet dramatic way.

In their usually monolithic grounding, the building is always front and centre, even in his views of ancient structures or the landscape. “Gollings will use dramatic lighting and acute points of view to create a moody effect, and draw people into the ambience of the architect’s creation.” (Wall text) That is the key word, effect. While Gollings has stripped everything back to the bare minimum, removed ego, has it got him any closer to that place of magic and noumenality – that place that we can know but never experience (e.g. death). SOME of the images work towards an exploration of this subliminal state of being, the unconscious raised to the surface (images such as Habitat filter (Matt Drysdale, Matt Myers and Tim Dow), Southbank, Victoria, 2017 and The Lotus Building (Studio 505), Changzhou, China, 2013), yet others just sit there, the camera angles too regulated, the monolithic structure too central. How I longed for a more unusual positioning of the camera – something Atget might have done for example – to capture the personality of the building, for I never really “get” the personality of the building in Gollings representational photographs.

Personally, what I love about photography is the magical space of exploration in the image, and that is something that I don’t really get in these photographs, from one image to the next. The same feeling emanates from them time after time. They have little human warmth despite their high colour sheen. But I think that a lot of the absence of the magical that I regret is probably quite intentional. That is not Gollings’ project or his projection, his “effect” if you like, for he is a very intelligent artist, and a very well informed photographer. He has considered all of this, and his photographs come out exactly the way he wants them to come out. They might not be my cup of tea but I can appreciate and understand them on an intellectual and aesthetic, if not a spiritual, level. Gollings’ holistic vision over more than 40 years has stood the test of time, proving that he is, indeed, a damn good photographer.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the media photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All installation photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan, the artist and the Monash Gallery of Art.

 

Installation photographs

First gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Rear of opening wall featuring at right, Kay Street housing (Edmond &Corrigan), Carlton, Victoria 1983

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Left, Melbourne CBD, Melbourne, Victoria 2009; middle, Federation Square, Melbourne, Victoria 2010; and right, Melbourne CBD, Melbourne, Victoria 2010

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Melbourne CBD, Melbourne, Victoria 2010

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Vineyard House (Denton Corker Marshall), Yarra Valley, Victoria 2013

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Somers House (Kai Chen), Somers, Victoria 1997

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Main gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Sabratha Theatre, Sabratha, Libya 2005

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Underground temple, Kep, Cambodia 2007

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Jiaohe Old City, Turfan, China 2005

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Right, Sidney Myer Music Bowl refurbishment (Yuncken Freeman/Greg Burgess), Melbourne, Victoria 2001

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Second left, The Lotus Building (Studio 505), Changzhou, China 2013; third left, Croft House (James Stockwell), Inverloch, Victoria 2013; second right, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (Wood Marsh), Southbank, Victoria 2002; and right, Habitat filter (Matt Drysdale, Matt Myers and Tim Dow), Southbank, Victoria 2017

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Croft House (James Stockwell), Inverloch, Victoria 2013

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Nawarla Gabarnmang, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory 2015

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Third gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Left, El Dorado Motel, Surfers Paradise, Queensland 1973; second left, Golden Sun Motel, Surfers Paradise, Queensland 1973; second right, Biscayne Apartments, Surfers Paradise, Queensland 1973; and right, Cuba Flats, Surfers Paradise, Queensland 1973

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Left, Mid-century house, Surfers Paradise, Queensland 2017; middle, Mid-century house, Surfers Paradise, Queensland 2017; and right, Mid-century house, Surfers Paradise, Queensland 2017

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Every building on Surfers Paradise Boulevard west 1973 (detail)

Installation view of the exhibition 'John Gollings' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Every building on Surfers Paradise Boulevard west 1973 (detail)

 

 

John Gollings is Australia’s most pre-eminent and prolific photographer of the built environment. For the past 50 years he has been synthesising his parallel interests in photography and architecture to explore the cultural construction of social spaces. From sacred rock art sites and ancient temples to suburban dream homes and the monuments of corporate architecture, Gollings’s catalogue of images provides a remarkable visual history of human habitats. The history of the built world is the first major survey of Gollings photographic practice, and offers a much anticipated opportunity to appreciate the full breadth of his unique photographic vision.

 

John Gollings. 'Monash Gallery of Art (Harry Seidler), Wheelers Hill, Victoria' 1990

 

John Gollings
Monash Gallery of Art (Harry Seidler), Wheelers Hill, Victoria
1990

 

 

Waverley City Gallery

Gollings photographed Harry Seidler’s Waverley City Gallery before it was extended and renamed as Monash Gallery of Art. Gollings worked under Seidler’s direction to document the building, and the photographs clearly reflect Seidler’s architectural philosophy of organic geometric forms and interlocking planes.

Gollings’s interior view shows a Josef Albers tapestry hanging in the original foyer; an artwork that Seidler donated to the gallery with the intention of it remaining a permanent feature. Seidler once stated that he learnt more about design from Albers than any architectural school, and two of Albers’s design principles are clearly articulated in the architecture of MGA. The first of these is the notion that a high centre of gravity makes visual forms more dynamic, as evidenced in MGA’s top-heavy roofline. And the second – that irregular forms are more interesting to the eye than symmetrical grids – is apparent in the complex geometry of the building. (Wall text)

 

John Gollings. 'Webb Bridge (Robert Owen with Denton Corker Marshall), Docklands, Victoria' 2003

 

John Gollings
Webb Bridge (Robert Owen with Denton Corker Marshall), Docklands, Victoria
2003

 

 

Melbourne architecture

Gollings’s photographs of Melbourne offer a compelling portrait of the city he knows best. His aerial photographs draw out different features of Melbourne’s character, from the flatness of its suburban sprawl to the resplendent jewel box quality of its central business district. The sequence of images along this wall emphasises Gollings’s ability to metaphorically crawl inside the skin of his home town. Whether he’s photographing temporary architectural interventions or monumental entertainment stadiums, he finds ways to render them as skeletal structures or translucent surfaces. Gollings’s ability to embed the viewer in a scene is apparent across his work, but this is particularly evident in his images of Melbourne, where it seems he wears the built environment like a second skin. Even in his photograph of the Eureka Tower, Gollings uses the reflected light of a sunset to subdue this monolithic form and embed a reflected image of himself in the glass facade. (Wall text)

 

John Gollings. 'Federation Square, Melbourne, Victoria' 2010

 

John Gollings
Federation Square, Melbourne, Victoria
2010

 

John Gollings. 'Hotel Hotel foyer (March Studio), New Acton, Australian Capital Territory' 2013

 

John Gollings
Hotel Hotel foyer (March Studio), New Acton, Australian Capital Territory
2013

 

John Gollings. 'Karijini Visitor Centre (Woodhead International BDH), West Pilbara, Western Australia' 2001

 

John Gollings
Karijini Visitor Centre (Woodhead International BDH), West Pilbara, Western Australia
2001

 

 

Modern and contemporary architecture

Gollings’s professional practice has always included fashion and advertising projects, and one could argue that his treatment of architecture is invested with a certain dramatic fl air that owes something to these other genres of photography. Rather than using a sequence of photographs to systematically document different aspects of an architect’s design, Gollings often composes a single shot that captures the personality of a building. These are like portrait photographs, which use props and the surrounding backdrop to accentuate a sitter’s identity. A domestic house might be photographed through foliage in order to give it a bucolic character. Or a photograph might include more sky than building in order to evoke the vista that can be enjoyed by the inhabitants. In a similar vein, Gollings will use dramatic lighting and acute points of view to create a moody effect, and draw people into the ambience of the architect’s creation. (Wall text)

 

John Gollings. 'Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School (McBride Charles Ryan), Essendon, Victoria' 2011

 

John Gollings
Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School (McBride Charles Ryan), Essendon, Victoria
2011

 

John Gollings. 'Featherston House (Robin Boyd), Ivanhoe, Victoria' 2011

 

John Gollings
Featherston House (Robin Boyd), Ivanhoe, Victoria
2011

 

 

“Gollings’s photographic practice is driven by a deep enthusiasm and interest in the built environment,” explains MGA Senior Curator, Stephen Zagala. “He loves architecture and he uses photography to share his passion, bringing constructed spaces to life and drawing viewers into sensual encounters with architectural form.”

John Gollings is Australia’s pre-eminent, and most prolific, photographer of the built environment. For the past 50 years he has been synthesising his parallel interests in photography and architecture to explore the cultural construction of social spaces. While Gollings is well known for his documentation of new buildings and cityscapes, this survey exhibition situates these images within the broader context of his photographic practice. Alongside his commercial work, Gollings has always engaged in projects concerned with architectural history and heritage. This includes photographs of iconic modernist buildings, ancient sites of spiritual significance and the ruins of abandoned cities. Gollings’s interest in architectural heritage is also apparent in his documentation of places such as Melbourne and Surfers Paradise, where he has recorded the evolution of the built environment over extended periods of time.

From sacred rock art sites and ancient temples, to suburban dream homes, iconic monuments and architectural interventions, Gollings’s catalogue of images provides a remarkable visual history of how humans have chosen to inhabit their world. Constantly innovating with photographic technologies, and investigating new architectural subjects with a restless enthusiasm, Gollings has developed a distinctive visual style. This style typically conveys a personal or physical connection with the structure being photographed. Rather than documenting buildings in a way that reproduces the impersonal elevation plans of an architectural diagram, Gollings embeds the viewer in face-to-face encounters with built environments. Using a range of compositional techniques and visual effects to invest architecture with personality, he portrays buildings as lively habitats rather than static monuments.

The history of the built world is the first major survey of Gollings’s photographic practice and offers a much anticipated opportunity to appreciate the full breadth of his unique vision. With academic training in the history of architecture, and a professional grounding in photographic practice, Gollings documents and dramatises architecture with an informed artistic flair. Constantly innovating with photographic technologies, and investigating new architectural subjects with a restless enthusiasm, Gollings’s connoisseurship of the built world is unparalleled.

Press release from the Monash Gallery of Art

 

John Gollings. 'Uluru Visitor Centre (Gregory Burgess), Uluru, Northern Territory' 1999

 

John Gollings
Uluru Visitor Centre (Gregory Burgess), Uluru, Northern Territory
1999

 

John Gollings. 'Kabaw Berber Granary, Kabaw, Libya' 2005

 

John Gollings
Kabaw Berber Granary, Kabaw, Libya
2005

 

John Gollings. 'Bayon, Angkor Thom, Cambodia' 2012

 

John Gollings
Bayon, Angkor Thom, Cambodia
2012

 

John Gollings. 'North face, south gate, Angkor Thom, Cambodia' 2007

 

John Gollings
North face, south gate, Angkor Thom, Cambodia
2007

 

John Gollings. 'Buddha detail, Borobudur, Java, Indonesia' 2011

 

John Gollings
Buddha detail, Borobudur, Java, Indonesia
2011

 

John Gollings. 'Mori Tim Stupa, Silk Road, China' 2005

 

John Gollings
Mori Tim Stupa, Silk Road, China
2005

 

John Gollings. 'Jiaohe Old City, Turfan, China' 2005

 

John Gollings
Jiaohe Old City, Turfan, China
2005

 

John Gollings. 'Pushkarani Kund (King’s Bath), Hampi, India' 1988

 

John Gollings
Pushkarani Kund (King’s Bath), Hampi, India
1988

 

John Gollings. 'Ta Prohm Temple, Angkor Thom, Cambodia' 2007

 

John Gollings
Ta Prohm Temple, Angkor Thom, Cambodia
2007

 

John Gollings 'Hanuman Temple, Hampi, India' 2006

 

John Gollings
Hanuman Temple, Hampi, India
2006

 

John Gollings. 'Small Ganesh, Hampi, India' 2006

 

John Gollings
Small Ganesh, Hampi, India
2006

 

John Gollings. 'Vittala Dance Mandapa interior, Hampi, India' 2005

 

John Gollings
Vittala Dance Mandapa interior, Hampi, India
2005

 

 

Ancient architecture

Gollings has embarked on a number of heritage projects that document the evolution of architectural history under various religious and political regimes across Asia. This includes the Chinese city of Jiaohe, which was carved out of the earth 2 000 years ago and then abandoned after Genghis Khan invaded the area in the 13th century; the Khmer temples of the Angkor Empire that once extended across much of mainland south-east Asia; and the architecture of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire that ruled over southern India for 200 years before being conquered by Muslim sultanates in the 16th century. Further a fi eld, Gollings has documented the grain stores of the nomadic Berbers in Lybia, and the marble theatres that supplanted them when the Roman Empire occupied northern Africa at the dawn of the Common Era. Gollings brings his characteristic style to bear on all these subjects, drawing the viewer into the built environment with embedded perspectives and dramatic lighting. (Wall text)

 

John Gollings. 'Nawarla Gabarnmang, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory' 2015

 

John Gollings
Nawarla Gabarnmang, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory
2015

 

 

The Nawarla Gabarnmang rock shelter is the oldest human construction that Gollings has photographed. Located in southwestern Arnhem Land, on the traditional lands of the Jawoyn people, the architecture of this site was created by tunnelling into a naturally eroding cliff face. The roof is supported by 36 pillars, formed by the natural erosion of fissure lines in the bedrock. Archaeologists have shown that some pre-existing pillars were removed, some were reshaped and others were moved to new positions in order to modify the interior space. The ceiling, walls and pillars feature paintings of fi sh, wallabies, crocodiles, people and spiritual figures. Radiocarbon dating of floor deposits indicates that humans have used the shelter for over 45 000 years, and the rock art itself has been firmly dated back 28 000 years, making it some of the oldest surviving artwork in the world. Gollings’s photographs, with their accentuated perspectives and saturated colours, celebrate Nawarla Gabarnmang as a site of imagination and awe.

 

John Gollings. 'Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (Wood Marsh), Southbank, Victoria' 2002

 

John Gollings
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (Wood Marsh), Southbank, Victoria
2002

 

John Gollings. 'Habitat filter (Matt Drysdale, Matt Myers and Tim Dow), Southbank, Victoria' 2017

 

John Gollings
Habitat filter (Matt Drysdale, Matt Myers and Tim Dow), Southbank, Victoria
2017

 

John Gollings. 'Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre (Renzo Piano), Nouméa, New Caledonia.' 1997

 

John Gollings
Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre (Renzo Piano), Nouméa, New Caledonia
1997

 

John Gollings. 'The Lotus Building (Studio 505), Changzhou, China' 2013

 

John Gollings
The Lotus Building (Studio 505), Changzhou, China
2013

 

 

Illuminated architecture

Photographing an inanimate object in the half light of dusk or dawn tends to invest it with a sense of life. A house with its interior lights on as night falls can seem enlivened with nocturnal possibilities. A building emerging from the shadows at daybreak might appear to be stirring from sleep. Gollings often takes advantage of the half light to give architecture a quiet vitality. He sometimes describes these photographs as ‘efficient images’, when the balance of sunlight and internal lighting allows him to make the interior and exterior of a building simultaneously visible. In effect, these images draw attention to the skin of architecture, rendering buildings as shells or envelopes rather than solid volumes. This approach is a particularly effective way of giving a sense of spiritual lightness to ancient stone temples. (Wall text)

 

John Gollings. 'Surfers Paradise aerial, Surfers Paradise, Queensland' 2012

 

 

John Gollings
Surfers Paradise aerial, Surfers Paradise, Queensland
2012

 

 

Surfers Paradise

Gollings’s relationship with the Gold Coast stretches back to childhood road trips that he made to Queensland with his parents in the late 1950s and 1960s. While he was still a teenager, Gollings took photographs that testify to an early fascination with the fanciful architecture of roadside motels. And in recent years he has continued to record the quaint postwar architecture of Surfers Paradise, along with the high rise developments that now overshadow them.

During 1973 and 1974 Gollings embarked on a major survey of architecture in Surfers Paradise. This project was specifically inspired by a seminal book on postmodern architecture, Learning from Las Vegas, authored by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour in 1972. This book turned its back on the formal purism of modernist architecture and argued for an approach to urban design that embraced popular culture, personal narratives and humour. Gollings, along with Mal Horner (urban planner), Julie James (graphic designer) and Tony Styant-Browne (architect), set out to produce a complimentary publication, Learning from Surfers Paradise. The publication was abandoned in 1975, but Gollings’s photographs remain an important record of Surfers Paradise and the postmodern condition in Australian culture.

The ideas associated with postmodern architecture have had a lasting influence on Gollings’s approach to photography. Throughout his work, Gollings subverts pure formalism with humorous juxtapositions and personal affectations. (Wall text)

 

John Gollings. 'Every high rise on the Gold Coast' 2012

 

John Gollings
Every high rise on the Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise, Queensland
2012

 

John Gollings. 'Every high rise on the Gold Coast' 2012 (detail)

 

John Gollings
Every high rise on the Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise, Queensland (detail)
2012

 

 

Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

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Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

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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

.
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

 

 

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12
Sep
14

Exhibition: ‘Max Dupain 
The Paris ‘private’ series and other pictures’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 24th May – 14th September 2014

 

A good friend of mine, who should know what she is talking about, observed that you cannot look at Dupain’s photographs of Paris without first looking at his commissioned photographs of the then new Embassy of Australia. Unfortunately, I could only find one photograph online to show to you, Embassy of Australia, Paris, France (1978, below), but you get the idea. Dupain’s The Paris ‘private’ series were taken during a couple of days off that he had from the commissioned job. Basically they are tourist photographs, a record of things Dupain wanted to see in Paris on one of his few overseas trips. Most of them are disappointing images, serviceable but disappointing.

Having studied Eugène Atget I expected more from Dupain. In these photographs he tends to shoot obliquely into the object of his attention, directing the lead in and vanishing point(s) within the image. For example, in Untitled (the balustrade of Pont Alexandre III) and Untitled (Pont Alexandre III with sculptural balustrade) (both 1978, below), Dupain allows the bridge parapet to lead the eye into the image, while the vanishing point is positioned at far right. Neither are very successful as formal compositions. The same can be said of Untitled (statue of Maréchal Joffre, Place Joffre, Champ-de-Mars) (1978, below) with the vanishing point this time at the left of the image. More successul is Dupains’s Untitled (staircase to the park, looking toward Bassin des Serruriers, Domaine de Chantilly) (1978, below) with its foreshortened out of focus entrance, geometric planes and multiple exit points – but then he goes and spoils it with the simplistic Untitled (staircase and statue of Anne de Montmorency 1886 by Paul Dubois, Domaine de Chantilly) (1978, below) taken at the same location. The best image from the series is undoubtedly Untitled (the statue of Christ at the portal of La Sainte-Chapelle) (1978, below) with its restrained and refined aesthetic. A beautiful image and a wondrous space. The photograph of the people at the Eiffel Tower is also a cracker.

As I said at the beginning, these are tourist art photographs of Paris, but they could have been so much more.

Marcus

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

 

Max Dupain (1911-92) is one of the leading figures of 20th-century Australian photography. The group of 21 photographs in his Paris ‘private’ series was taken when he travelled to Paris in 1978 with architect Harry Seidler to photograph the Australian Embassy, designed by Seidler. The series consists of transcendent photographs of Paris. Dupain had studied the work of Eugène Atget, and there is a similar enigmatic atmosphere to be found in Dupain’s examination of the city. Primarily depicting 18th- to 19th-century landmarks such as the ornate Alexandre III bridge, the Grand Palais and Chantilly, this compilation offers a view of the city and its environs shaped by layers of history, mythology and art.

Given to the Gallery by Penelope Seidler in memory of her husband and the photographer, this portfolio is shown alongside other photographs of made and natural structures by Dupain from the 1930s to the 1980s.

 

 

Max Dupain. 'Embassy of Australia, Paris, France' 1978

 

Max Dupain
Embassy of Australia, Paris, France
1978
Silver gelatin print

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (cars on rue de Rivoli)' from The Paris 'private' series Year 1978

 

Max Dupain
Untitled (cars on rue de Rivoli)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Silver gelatin print
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

“I like to involve myself in, maybe, a small area geographically and work it out, as simple as that” said Max Dupain in a 1991 interview.1 During his lifetime the photographer visited only three countries outside of Australia. His 1978 trip to Paris was made together with architect Harry Seidler, whose newly built Australian embassy building Dupain was commissioned to document. The long professional association between the architect and the photographer stretched back to the early 1950s, soon after Seidler’s arrival in Australia. Dupain, through his expressive architectural photographs, was closely involved in popularising the modernist aesthetic espoused by Seidler’s starkly functional buildings.

Conversely, the set of 21 photographs of Paris which Dupain compiled and presented to Seidler as a personal gift, does not contain any images of modern architecture. Primarily depicting 18-19th century landmarks such as the ornate Alexandre III bridge, the Grand Palais and Versailles this compilation offers a view of the city and its environs shaped by layers of history, mythology and art. Dupain was nonetheless well read in modern French culture and aware of photographers such as Eugène Atget and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

The Parisian images vary from pure architectural studies to compositions with an almost literary scope. They demonstrate Dupain’s signature trait of combining the formal and social aspects of photography. In some of the works, Dupain gives classical architecture the same reductive treatment he brought to modern buildings. Stripped of embellishments, these photographs bring to the fore the essence of order, logic and harmony which lies at the core of classicism. The presence of human figures in photographs such as that of Napoleon’s statue on the balcony of Les Invalides adds a dramatic element to the compositions. Dupain wanted “to extract every ounce of content from any exciting form and I want to give life to the inanimate.”2 Time and the built environment converge in this personal ode to Paris, manifesting the incessant flow of life and the connectedness of past with the present.

1. Max Dupain interviewed by Helen Ennis in Max Dupain: Photographs, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1991, p. 13
2. Max Dupain, “Max Dupain – modernist”, exhibition catalogue, State library of NSW, Sydney, 2007, p. 9

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 - 27 Jul 1992) 'Untitled (statue of Maréchal Joffre, Place Joffre, Champ-de-Mars)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992)
Untitled (statue of Maréchal Joffre, Place Joffre, Champ-de-Mars)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
30.0 x 33.7 cm image
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (staircase to the park, looking toward Bassin des Serruriers, Domaine de Chantilly)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992)
Untitled (staircase to the park, looking toward Bassin des Serruriers, Domaine de Chantilly)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
30.5 x 36.7 cm image
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 - 27 Jul 1992) 'Untitled (staircase and statue of Anne de Montmorency 1886 by Paul Dubois, Domaine de Chantilly)' from 'The Paris 'private' series' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992)
Untitled (staircase and statue of Anne de Montmorency 1886 by Paul Dubois, Domaine de Chantilly)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
31.2 x 30.3 cm image
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (the balustrade of Pont Alexandre III)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (the balustrade of Pont Alexandre III)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (Pont Alexandre III with sculptural balustrade)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (Pont Alexandre III with sculptural balustrade)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (the glass dome of Grand Palais)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (the glass dome of Grand Palais)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (interior staircase and cart wheels)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (interior staircase and cart wheels)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (cannon with a guard standing in a doorway)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (cannon with a guard standing in a doorway)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (the statue of Christ at the portal of La Sainte-Chapelle)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (the statue of Christ at the portal of La Sainte-Chapelle)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (Place Vendôme with the column)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (Place Vendôme with the column)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 - 27 Jul 1992) 'Untitled (tree on Boulevard de la Tour Maubourg, with Hôtel des Invalides in the distance)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992)
Untitled (tree on Boulevard de la Tour Maubourg, with Hôtel des Invalides in the distance)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
35.6 x 30.2 cm image
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (mythological sculptural group at the Grand Palais)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (mythological sculptural group at the Grand Palais)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (woman with pram in Jardin des Tuileries)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (woman with pram in Jardin des Tuileries)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (group of people near the Eiffel tower)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (group of people near the Eiffel tower)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (Les Invalides)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (Les Invalides)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (Napoleon's statue on the balcony of Les Invalides)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (Napoleon’s statue on the balcony of Les Invalides)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

“An exhibition of 36 photographs – 21 of which were taken in Paris in 1978 by one of Australia’s most well-known photographers, Max Dupain (1911-92) – will go on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Donated to the Gallery by Penelope Seidler in 2012, this will be the first time the Paris ‘private’ series portfolio will have ever been seen publicly. Max Dupain had gifted these works to renowned architect Harry Seidler and in a handwritten note he wrote:

I owe you so much. For nearly twenty five years I have dwelt on your philosophy of architecture. We register alike about clear thinking, logic of application, poetry of form etc etc. [sic] I have tremendous regard for architecture as a stabilising force in this turbulent society and I think my best work will ultimately show the significance of this by virtue of the photographed form thrown up by architecture and by engineering.

Dupain made the trip to Paris, his second outside Australia and his first to Europe, to accompany his long-time colleague and friend, Harry Seidler (1923-2006). Dupain’s task was to photograph the Australian Embassy there, which Seidler had designed (completed 1977). The pair were not only friends but shared a deep appreciation for form and light, for the modernist curves in space that can be created both architecturally and photographically.

Dupain explored many monuments around Paris. These impressions of a place he was seeing for the first time reveal his exploration of a new city and its sites, varying from formal compositions of photographic space, such as the image of Napoleon’s statue on the balcony of Les Invalides, to more personal or candid moments, as with the group of people captured beneath the Eiffel Tower. Many photographs depict 18th- and 19th-century landmarks such as the ornate Alexandre III bridge, the Grand Palais and Chantilly; the compilation offers a view of Paris and its environs shaped by layers of history, mythology and art.

Despite the diversity of subject matter across the 21 images, Dupain always maintained his signature poise and rigour, appreciation of the way light interacts with the objects it touches, and attention to the composition of photographic space through a play of scale.

In addition to the Paris ‘private’ series, 15 of Dupain’s photographs of architectural and botanical forms will be on display. Almost all are taken in and around Sydney; some of the flowers are from Dupain’s Castlecrag garden and iconic Sydney buildings such as the Opera House are included. These images cover 50 years of the photographer’s practice from 1933 to 1983, and indicate his enduring appreciation for the order, logic and harmony which lie at the core of classicism, the movement that produced many of the iconic Parisian monuments he saw, and for the modernism which Seidler endorsed through his work.”

Press release from the AGNSW website

 

Max Dupain. 'Pyrmont silos' 1933, printed later

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Pyrmont silos
1933, printed later
Gelatin silver photograph
Purchased 1976

 

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
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain. 'Monstera deliciosa' 1970

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Monstera deliciosa
1970
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of the artist 1981
© Max Dupain, 1970. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain 'Nasturtium leaves' 1981

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Nasturtium leaves
1981
Gelatin silver photograph
40 × 50.4 cm
Gift of Edron Pty Ltd 1995 through the auspices of Alistair McAlpine
© Estate of Max Dupain, licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain 'Australia Square and Calder sculpture, Sydney' 1968

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Australia Square and Calder sculpture, Sydney
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of the artist 1981
© Estate of Max Dupain, licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'The magnolia' 1983

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
The magnolia
1983
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of the artist 1986
© Max Dupain, 1983. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Stair rail' 1975

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Stair rail
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of the artist 1981
© Max Dupain, 1975. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

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13
Feb
14

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

Exhibition dates: 15th October 2013 – 2nd March 2014

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Another gem of a photography exhibition from the Getty. These In Focus exhibitions are just a treasure: from Making a Scene, Still Life and The Sky to Los Angeles, Picturing the Landscape and now Architecture. All fabulous. To have a photography collection such as the Getty possesses, and to use it. To put on these fantastic exhibitions…

I like observing the transition between epochs (or, in more architectural terms, ‘spans’ of time), photographers and their styles. From the directness and frontality of Fox Talbot’s Boulevard des Italiens, Paris (1843, below) to the atmospheric ethereality of Atget’s angular The Panthéon (1924, below) taken just three years before he died; from the lambent light imbued in Frederick Evans’ architectural study of the attic at Kelmscott Manor (1896, below) to the blocked, colour, geometric facade of William Christenberry’s Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama (1964, below).

I love architecture, I love photography. Put the two together and I am in heaven.

Marcus

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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.

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William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800 - 1877) 'Boulevard des Italiens, Paris' 1843

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William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800 – 1877)
Boulevard des Italiens, Paris
1843
Salted paper print from a Calotype negative
Image: 16.8 x 17.3 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Eugéne Atget (French, 1857 - 1927) 'The Panthéon' 1924

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Eugéne Atget (French, 1857 – 1927)
The Panthéon
1924
Gelatin silver chloride print on printing-out paper
Image: 17.8 x 22.6 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Eugène Atget made this atmospheric study across the place Sainte-Geneviève toward the back of the Panthéon, a church boldly designed to combine the splendor of Greece with the lightness of Gothic churches. The church’s powerful colonnaded dome, Atget’s primary point of interest, hovers in the background, truncated by the building in the left foreground.

In order to make the fog-veiled Panthéon visible when printing this negative, Atget had to expose the paper for a long period of time. As a consequence of the long printing, the two buildings in the foreground are overexposed, appearing largely as black silhouettes. Together they frame the Panthéon, rendered entirely in muted grays. This photograph exceeds documentation to become more a study of mood and atmospheric conditions than of architecture.

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Frederick H. Evans (British, 1863 - 1943) 'Kelmscott Manor: In the Attics (No. 1)' 1896

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Frederick H. Evans (British, 1863 – 1943)
Kelmscott Manor: In the Attics (No. 1)
1896
Platinum print
Image: 15.6 x 20.2 cm
© Mrs Janet M. Stenner, sole granddaughter of Frederick H, Evans
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Frederick Evans’s architectural study of the attic at Kelmscott Manor, a medieval house, part of which dates from 1280, is a visual geometry lesson. The composition is all angles and intersections, formed not only by the actual structure but also by the graphic definition of light within the space. Soft illumination bathes the area near the stairs, while the photograph’s foreground plunges into murky darkness. The sharp angles of intersecting planes are mediated by the rough-hewn craftsmanship of the beams and posts, almost sensuous in their sinewy imperfection and plainly wrought by hand. The platinum print medium favored by Evans provides softened tonalities that further unify the triangles, squares, and diagonal lines of the dynamic composition.

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William Christenberry (American, born 1936) 'Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama' 1964

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William Christenberry (American, born 1936)
Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama
1964
Image: 44.5 x 55.9 cm
© William Christenberry
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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William Christenberry began photographing this makeshift wooden structure in his native Alabama in 1974. Since that time, he has made nearly annual trips to document the facade of this isolated dwelling, located deep in the Talladega National Forest. Such vernacular structures were uncommon photographic subjects until Walker Evans, Ed Ruscha, William Eggleston, and other twentieth-century photographers elevated their stature. Like the edifices photographed by Eugène Atget, Bernd and HIlla Becher, and others, the buildings Christenberry recorded in the southern United States were often in disrepair and in danger of disappearing altogether.

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Soon after its invention in 1839, photography surpassed drawing as the preferred artistic medium for recording and presenting architecture. Novel photographic techniques have kept pace with innovations in architecture, as both media continue to push artistic boundaries. In Focus: Architecture, on view October 15, 2013 – March 2, 2014 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, traces the long, interdependent relationship between architecture and photography through a selection of more than twenty works from the Museum’s permanent collection, including recently acquired photographs by Andreas Feininger, Ryuji Miyamoto, and Peter Wegner.

“Architectural photography was an integral part of the early days of the medium, with the construction of many of the world’s most important and magnificent structures documented from start to finish with the camera,” explains Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “This exhibition demonstrates how architectural photography has grown from straightforward documentary style photographs in its early days to genre-bending works like those of Peter Wegner from 2009.”

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Beginnings of Architectural Photography

Recognized for their accuracy and precision, photographs could render architectural details as never before and show the built environment during construction, after completion, or in ruin. Nineteenth-century photographers were eager to utilize the new medium to document historic sites and structures, as well as buildings that rose alongside them, or in their place. In 1859, Gustave Le Gray photographed the Mollien Pavilion, a structure that constituted part of the “New Louvre,” a museum expansion completed during the reign of Napoleon III. Le Gray’s picturesque composition highlighted the Pavilion’s ornamented façade and other intricate details that could inform the work of future architects. Louis-Auguste Bisson, a trained architect, worked with his brother Auguste-Rosalie to photograph grand architectural spaces such as Interior of Saint-Ouen Church in Rouen (1857). The Bisson brothers produced a monumental print, derived from a glass negative of the same size, to feature the nave of the structure in an interior view rarely depicted in 19th century photographs.

A burgeoning commercial market for tourist photographs emerged toward the end of the nineteenth century. Views of architectural landmarks and foreign ruins became popular souvenirs and tokens of the ancient world. Artists such as J.B. Greene, who ventured to exotic destinations, provided visions of historic sites in Egypt, while Louis-Émile Durandelle took a series of photographs that documented the construction of the Eiffel Tower in the years before it became a symbol of the modern era at the World’s Exposition of 1889. Durandelle’s frontal view of the structure underscored its perfect geometric form, and his photographs were the earliest of what became a popular motif for amateur and professional photographers. Other noted photographers of this period included Eugène Atget, who obsessively documented the streets and buildings of Paris before its modernization, and Frederick H. Evans, who created poetic photographs of Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals.

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The Rise of Modern Architectural Photography

As the commercial market for photographs expanded and technologies advanced, representations of architectural forms began to evolve as well. In the twentieth century, images of buildings developed in conjunction with the rise of avant-garde, experimental, documentary, and conceptual modes of photographic expression.

Andreas Feininger, who studied architecture in Weimar, followed what Bauhaus instructor László Moholy-Nagy called a “new vision” of photography as an autonomous artistic practice with its own laws of composition and lighting. In Portal in Greifswald (1928), Feininger created a negative print, or a photograph with reversed tonalities, resulting in a high contrast image that enhanced the mystery of the architectural subject and removed it from its ecclesiastical context.

“The experimental spirit that permeated photography in the first half of the twentieth century inspired new ways to look at architectural forms,” says Amanda Maddox, assistant curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition. “As photographs could present buildings in abstracted, close-up, or fragmented views, they encouraged viewers to see the built environment around them as never before.”

At the same time the Bauhaus was influencing photographers throughout Europe, Walker Evans was at the forefront of vernacular photography in the United States, which elevated ordinary objects and events to photographic subjects. In keeping with this trend, architectural photography shifted its focus to ordinary domestic and functional buildings. Derelict and isolated dwellings feature prominently in the work of William Christenberry, whose photograph and “building construction” of Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama (1994) will be on display in the exhibition.

Architecture as a photographic subject became more malleable at the end of the twentieth century, as artists continued to explore the symbolism and vitality of the modern cityscape. This transition is exemplified in Peter Wegner’s 32-part Building Made of Sky III (2009), in which the spaces between skyscrapers in New York, San Francisco and Chicago create buildings of their own. Wegner described the series as “the architecture of air, the space defined by the edges of everything else.” When presented as a grid, the works form a new, imaginary city.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty website

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Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820 - 1884) 'Mollien Pavilion, the Louvre' 1859

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Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820 – 1884)
Mollien Pavilion, the Louvre
1859
Albumen silver print
Image: 36.7 x 47.9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Standing opposite a newly built pavilion of the Louvre, Gustave Le Gray made this photograph when the sun’s position allowed him to best capture the details of the heavily ornamented facade, from the fluted columns on the ground level to the figurative group on the nearest gable. Paving stones lead the viewer’s eye directly to the corner of the pavilion, where the sunlit facade is further highlighted beside an area blanketed in shadow.

Though the extensive art collections of the Louvre had first been opened to the public in 1793, after the French Revolution, it was not until 1848 that the museum became the property of the state. Le Gray’s image shows the exuberance of the architecture undertaken shortly thereafter, during the reign of Napoléon III, when large sections of the building housed government offices.

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Ryuji Miyamoto (Japanese, born 1947) 'Kowloon Walled City' 1987

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Ryuji Miyamoto (Japanese, born 1947)
Kowloon Walled City
1987
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.4 x 51.1 cm
© Ryuji Miyamoto
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Robert Adams (American, born 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973

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Robert Adams (American, born 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.4 cm
© Robert Adams
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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“The long, interdependent relationship between photography and architecture is the subject of this survey drawn from the Getty Museum’s collection. Spanning the history of the medium, the exhibition features twenty-four works by such diverse practitioners as William Henry Fox Talbot, Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, Bernd and Hilla Becher, and Ryuji Miyamoto. Seen together, the varied photographic representations of secular and sacred structures on display reveal how the medium has impacted our understanding and perception of architecture.

In the nineteenth century, photography surpassed drawing as the preferred artistic medium for recording and presenting architecture. Recognized for their accuracy and precision, photographs could render architectural elements as never before. The intricate ornamented facade, the sprawling sunlit Napoléon Courtyard, and the classical design of the Louvre appear in magnificent detail in Gustave Le Gray’s picturesque image of the Mollien Pavilion, a structure completed in the 1850s during the reign of Napoléon III.

Photographers working in the nineteenth century documented historic structures on the verge of disappearance as well as contemporary buildings erected before their eyes. They also captured the built environment during construction, after completion, and in ruin. This photograph by Louis-Émile Durandelle shows the Eiffel Tower, the centerpiece of the 1889 World Exposition, in November 1888 when only its four columns, piers, and first two platforms were in place.

With the advancement of photographic technologies and the modernization of the built environment around the turn of the twentieth century came innovative representations of architecture. Compositions and photographic processes began to reflect the avantgarde and modernist sensibilities of the time, and photographs of buildings, churches, homes, and other structures often showcased these developments. Andreas Feininger, who trained as an architect, utilized an experimental printing technique to depict gothic St. Nikolai cathedral in Greifswald in a nontraditional way.

Images of architecture by contemporary photographers Robert Adams, William Christenberry, and others working in the documentary tradition often underscore the temporality of buildings. Vernacular structures found in his native Alabama are among the subjects Christenberry has systematically recorded for the past six decades. By returning year-after-year to photograph the same places, such as the red building shown above, Christenberry chronicles the decay (and sometimes the ultimate disappearance) of stores, tenant houses, churches, juke joints, and other rural buildings.

Experimental and conceptual approaches toward the representation of architecture have been embraced by photographers. Peter Wegner used skyscrapers in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago as his framing devices to feature the spaces between high rises that form buildings of their own. By upending images of these canyons, he created buildings made of sky. When presented as a grid, they form a new, imaginary city.”

Text from the J.Paul Getty website

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Henri Le Secq (French, 1818 - 1882) 'Tour de Rois à Rheims' ('Tower of the Kings at Rheims Cathedral') 1851

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Henri Le Secq (French, 1818 – 1882)
Tour de Rois à Rheims (Tower of the Kings at Rheims Cathedral)
1851
Salted paper print
Image: 35.1 x 25.9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Louis-Émille Durandelle (French, 1839 - 1917) 'The Eiffel Rower: State of Construction' 1888

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Louis-Émille Durandelle (French, 1839 – 1917)
The Eiffel Rower: State of Construction
1888
Albumen silver print
Image: 43.2 x 34.6 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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The Centennial Exposition of 1889 was organized by the French government to commemorate the French Revolution. Bridge engineer Gustave Eiffel’s 984-foot (300-meter) tower of open-lattice wrought iron was selected in a competition to erect a memorial at the exposition. Twice as high as the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome or the Great Pyramid of Giza, nothing like it had ever been built before. This view was made about four months short of the tower’s completion. Louis-Émile Durandelle photographed the tower from a low vantage point to emphasize its monumentality. The massive building barely visible in the far distance is dwarfed under the tower’s arches. Incidentally, the tower’s innovative glass-cage elevators, engineered to ascend on a curve, were designed by the Otis Elevator Company of New York, the same company that designed the Getty Center’s diagonally ascending tram.

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Andreas Feininger (American, born France, 1906 - 1999) 'Portal in Greifswald' 1928

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Andreas Feininger (American, born France, 1906 – 1999)
Portal in Greifswald
1928
Gelatin silver print
Image: 23.4 x 17.5 cm
© Estate of Gertrud E. Feininger
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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William Eggleston (American, born 1939) '(Untitled)' Negative about 1967 - 1974; print 1974

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William Eggleston (American, born 1939)
(Untitled)
Negative about 1967 – 1974; print 1974
Chromogenic print
Image: 22.2 x 15.2 cm
© Eggleston Artistic Trust
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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

Opening hours:
Tues – Friday 10 am – 5.30 pm
Saturday 10 am – 9 pm
Sunday 10 am – 9 pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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17
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Concrete – Photography and Architecture’ at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich

Exhibition dates: 2nd March – 20th May 2013

 

When creating this blog, so much of my time is spent cleaning up clearly inadequate media images, an example of which can be seen below. I have become very adept at this process and my thoughts are this: would you want to be the artist whose work is displayed to the public in a remarkably decomposed manner, one not up to a standard of any artist who cares about their prints and reputation? I certainly would not. It is a wonder to me that museums and galleries spend thousands of dollars staging exhibitions and producing costly catalogues and yet cannot spend a tiny proportion of time, money and care on their media images to promote artist and said exhibition. I had to spend a lot of time on over half of these images to bring them up to presentable standard.

Having said that, there are some cracking photographs in this posting. The Sugimoto is sublime, Walker Evans so muscular, Lucien Hervé a masterpiece of light and texture, and Moriz Nähr a symphony of light and tone, to name but a few. I hope you enjoy all the effort it takes to bring these images to you.

Marcus

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

 

 

Naehr-composite

 

Moriz Nähr

Stiegenhaus im Haus Stonborough-Wittgenstein [Staircase in the house Stonborough-Wittgenstein] (composite)
1928

 

Anonymous.
 'Hardstrasse with Hardbrücke in construction' 1972


 

Anonymous
Hardstrasse with Hardbrücke in construction
1972
Gelatin-silver print
8,8 x 12,6 cm
Baugeschichtliches Archiv der Stadt Zürich

 

Michael Wesely.
 'Canadian Embassy, Leipziger Platz, Berlin (5.2.2003 – 28.4.2005)' 
C-print

 

Michael Wesely
Canadian Embassy, Leipziger Platz, Berlin (5.2.2003 – 28.4.2005)

C-print
125 x 175 cm
Galerie Fahnemann, Berlin
© Michael Wesely/Courtesy Galerie Fahnemann

 

William Henry Fox Talbot
. 'The Bridge of Sighs, St. John’s College, 
Cambridge' 1845

 

William Henry Fox Talbot
The Bridge of Sighs, St. John’s College, 
Cambridge
1845
Salt print from calotype negative
16.4 x 20.6 cm
Museum Folkwang Essen

 

Charles-Marville-24-Rue-Bièvre-Paris-1865–1869-WEB

 

Charles Marville
24, Rue Bièvre, Paris
1865-1869
Albumin print
27.4 x 36.6 cm
Collection Thomas Walther

 

Lucien Hervé.
 'Le Corbusier: Façade of the Secretariat Building, Chandigarh, 1961' 1961


 

Lucien Hervé
Le Corbusier: Façade of the Secretariat Building, Chandigarh, 1961
1961
Gelatin-silver print
25.5 x 25.4 cm
Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal
© Estate Lucien Hervé

 

F.C. Gundlach.
 '"Op Art" bathing suit by Sinz, Vouliagmeni/Greece' 1966

 

F.C. Gundlach
“Op Art” bathing suit by Sinz, Vouliagmeni/Greece
1966
Gelatin-silver print
50 x 50 cm
F.C. Gundlach, Hamburg
© F.C. Gundlach

 

Laurence Bonvin.
 'Blikkiesdorp, Cape Town, South Africa' 2009

 

Laurence Bonvin
Blikkiesdorp, Cape Town, South Africa
2009
Inkjet-print
40 x 50 cm
Courtesy the artist
© Laurence Bonvin

 

 

“Architectures and cities are both volumes and images alike. We experience them directly, physically and sensually, as well as through pictures. Pictures speak a language of their own. They offer a discourse that is quite unlike the physical experience of architecture. They transform volume into surface; distil matter into forms and signs – rarely, if ever, leaving it as it is. That is probably why so many architects try to get involved in determining the image of their buildings. Concrete – Photography and Architecture seeks to approach the singular and complex relationship between architecture and photography in light-hearted, narrative and dialectical ways. The exhibition explores issues of history and ideology, as well as the specifics of form and material, in the photographic image.

The visual appeal of destroyed or dilapidated buildings is also addressed, as are their powerful demonstrations of power and exclusivity, fragility and beauty. To what extent does photography influence not only the way architecture is perceived, but also the way it is designed? How does an image bring architecture to life, and at what point does it become uncanny? How do settlements develop into cities? Or, in sociological terms: how do work and life interconnect differently in, say, Zurich and Winterthur, as opposed to, say, Calcutta? And how do skyscrapers and living spaces translate into the flat, two-dimensional world of photography?

Concrete – Photography and Architecture is not, however, chronologically arranged. Instead, it is based on compelling positions, counterpositions and thematic fields that connect various concrete, fundamental and historical aspects. Alongside everyday buildings and prestigious architecture, structured by horizontal and vertical axes, alongside homes and houses, utopian fantasies, design and reality, an important aspect of the exhibition is the compelling appeal of architectural decay due to the passage of time, through both natural and deliberate destruction. It is almost as though photography were providing a moral reminder even such magnificence and presence, whether hewn in stone or cast in concrete, has its weaknesses too.

Architecture has always been an important platform for the frequently heated discussion of ideas and views, zeitgeist and weltanschauung, everyday life and aesthetics. Architecture is the bold materialisation of private and public visions, functionality and avant-garde art alike. It is, as Slavoj Žižek puts it, ideology in stone. Photography and architecture both play an undisputed role in our everyday lives. They confront us on a daily basis, often without our even noticing, and they influence how we think, act and live in subliminal and lasting ways. Concrete – Photography and Architecture provides visual answers to the question of what it is that makes up the intimate yet complex relationship between architecture and photography, architect and photographer.

The exhibition presents more than 400 photographs and groups of works from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, including William Henry Fox Talbot, Domenico Bresolin and Charles Marville as well as Germaine Krull, Lucia Moholy and Julius Shulman, and spanning an arc to contemporary works by Georg Aerni, Iwan Baan, Luisa Lambri and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Projects such as the long-term observations of Schlieren photography or Wolfgang Scheppe’s Migropolis show how the art of photography is playing an increasingly important role as an instrument of research and knowledge. The exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated book published by Scheidegger & Spiess, with some 300 colour and black-and-white pictures, essays by Jochen Becker, Johannes Binotto, Verena Huber Nievergelt, Michael Jakob, Nicoletta Leonardi, Lorenzo Rocha, Caspar Schärer, Aveek Sen and Urs Stahel as well as a conversation with Annette Gigon, Meret Ernst and Armin Linke.”

Press release from the Fotomuseum Winterthur website.

 

Guido Guidi. '#1176 01 29 1997 3:30PM Looking Southeast' From 'Carlo Scarpa's Tomba Brion' 
1997

 

Guido Guidi
#1176 01 29 1997 3:30PM Looking Southeast
From Carlo Scarpa’s Tomba Brion
1997
C-print
19,5 x 24,6 cm
Courtesy the artist
© Guido Guidi

 

Tobias Zielony.
 'Le Vele di Scampia' 2009

 

Tobias Zielony
Le Vele di Scampia
2009
Blu Ray photoanimation
8.57 min
Courtesy Koch Oberhuber Wolff, Berlin
© Tobias Zielony/ KOW

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto.
 'Seagram Building, New York City' 1997

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto
Seagram Building, New York City
1997
Gelatin-silver print
58,4 x 47 cm
Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal
© Hiroshi Sugimoto/Courtesy of Gallery Koyanagi Tokyo

 

Aage Strüwing.
 'Arne Jacobsen: Rødovre Town Hall' 1955


 

Aage Strüwing
Arne Jacobsen: Rødovre Town Hall
1955
Gelatin-silver print
23,7 x 17 cm
EPFL Archives de la construction moderne, Lausanne
© Estate Strüwing

 

Moriz Nähr. '
Stiegenhaus im Haus Stonborough-Wittgenstein' 1928


 

Moriz Nähr

Stiegenhaus im Haus Stonborough-Wittgenstein [Staircase in the house Stonborough-Wittgenstein]
1928
Silbergelatine-Abzug
13.8 x 8.9 cm
Albertina, Wien
© Estate Moriz Nähr

 

 

Haus Wittgenstein, also known as the Stonborough House and the Wittgenstein House) is a house in the modernist style designed and built on the Kundmanngasse, Vienna, by the Austrian architect Paul Engelmannand the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

In November 1925, Wittgenstein’s sister Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein commissioned Engelmann to design and build a large townhouse. Margaret also invited her brother to help with the design in part to distract him from an incident that had happened while he had been a primary school teacher: he had hit a boy for getting an answer wrong and the boy had collapsed. The architect was Paul Engelmann, someone Wittgenstein had come to know while training to be an Artillery Officer in Olmutz. Engelmann designed a spare modernist house after the style of Adolf Loos: three rectangular blocks. Wittgenstein showed a great interest in the project and in Engelmann’s plans and poured himself into the project for over two years. He focused on the windows, doors, door knobs, and radiators, demanding that every detail be exactly as he specified, to the point where everyone involved in the project was exhausted. One of the architects, Jacques Groag, wrote in a letter: “I come home very depressed with a headache after a day of the worst quarrels, disputes, vexations, and this happens often. Mostly between me and Wittgenstein.” When the house was nearly finished he had a ceiling raised 30mm so the room had the exact proportions he wanted.

Waugh writes that Margaret eventually refused to pay for the changes Wittgenstein kept demanding, so he bought himself a lottery ticket in the hope of paying for things that way. It took him a year to design the door handles, and another to design the radiators. Each window was covered by a metal screen that weighed 150 kg, moved by a pulley Wittgenstein designed. Bernhard Leitner, author of The Architecture of Ludwig Wittgenstein, said of it that there is barely anything comparable in the history of interior design: “It is as ingenious as it is expensive. A metal curtain that could be lowered into the floor.”

The house was finished by December 1928, and the family gathered there that Christmas to celebrate its completion. Describing the work, Ludwig’s eldest sister, Hermine, wrote: “Even though I admired the house very much, I always knew that I neither wanted to, nor could, live in it myself. It seemed indeed to be much more a dwelling for the gods than for a small mortal like me”. Paul Wittgenstein, Ludwig’s brother, disliked it, and when Margaret’s nephew came to sell it, he reportedly did so on the grounds that she had never liked it either. Wittgenstein himself found the house too austere, saying it had good manners, but no primordial life or health. He nevertheless seemed committed to the idea of becoming an architect: the Vienna City Directory listed him as “Dr Ludwig Wittgenstein, occupation: architect” between 1933 and 1938. 

After World War II, the house became a barracks and stables for Russian soldiers. It was owned by Thomas Stonborough, son of Margaret until 1968 when it was sold to a developer for demolition. For two years after this the house was under threat of demolition. The Vienna Landmark Commission saved it – after a campaign by Bernhard Leitner – and made it a national monument in 1971, and since 1975 it has housed the cultural department of the Bulgarian Embassy.

(Text from Wikipedia)

 

Lala Aufsberg.
 'Cathedral of Light' c. 1937


 

Lala Aufsberg
Cathedral of Light
c. 1937
Gelatin-silver print
24 x 18 cm
Town Archive Nuremberg
© Photo Marburg

 

 

Lala Aufsberg (actually, Ida Louise Aufsberg, born 26 February 1907 in Sonthofen, May 18, 1976 ibid) was a well-known art photographer. After attending primary school and six years of school for Higher daughters in Immenstadt she began training for the 1932 photo dealer in Oberstdorf. After completion of the training Lala Aufsberg moved to Nuremberg, where she worked in the photographers’ studios of Seitz and Rosemary. In 1931 she joined the photo club of friends of photography in Nuremberg.

From April 1938 Lala Aufsberg attended the State School of Applied Arts and Crafts in Weimar, Department Lichtbildnerei at Walter Hege. In July 1938, she passed the exam for the master photographer’s craft, and in the same year returned to Sonthofen and opened a photographic studio. In the years 1937 and 1938 she documented the Nazi Party rallies in Nuremberg (see above photograph). She received her first artistic job in the years 1941-1942, in which she photographed the murals in churches and monasteries in Carinthia and Styria. Owned by the University of Marburg “German documentation center for art history” – Bildarchiv Foto Marburg (listed in UNESCO Archives Portal) acquired 1976/1977 and 1996, the Lala-Aufsberg archive with about 46,000 art history, black and white negatives in sizes 6×6 and 9×12 and 103,000 photos.

 

Walker Evans. 
'Chrysler Building under construction, New York' 1929


 

Walker Evans

Chrysler Building under construction, New York
1929
Gelatin-silver print
16.8 x 8.3 cm
Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Fotomuseum Winterthur
Grüzenstrasse 44 + 45
CH-8400
Winterthur (Zürich)

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Wednesday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed on Mondays

Fotomuseum Winterthur website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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