Posts Tagged ‘Aveux non avenus

28
Aug
22

Exhibition: ‘Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 16th April – 2nd October 2022

Organised by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator of Photography, with Dana Ostrander, Curatorial Assistant, and Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, MoMA

 

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990) 'Head of the Dancer' 1929

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990)
Head of the Dancer Niura Norskaya
1929
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 × 9 3/8″ (19.1 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

With a focus on people, this is a challenging exhibition that can only scratch the surface of the importance of the photographic work of women artists to the many investigations critical to the promotion of equality and diversity in a complex and male orientated world.

Germaine Krull is always a favourite, as is the work of neutered genius (and my hero), Claude Cahun. Susan Meiselas’s immersive work is also impressive in its “understanding of social, political and global issues and of the potentially complex ethical relationship between photographer and subject”, especially in her early work Carnival Strippers (1972-1975). I also particularly like the sensibility of the Mexican women photographers: sensitive portraits of strong women.

The most cringe worthy photograph that illustrates some of the ills associated with a male-orientated society is Ruth Orkin’s staged but spontaneous photograph, American Girl in Florence, Italy (1951, below) which was “an instant conversation starter about feminism and street harassment long… [and which is] more relevant now than ever for what it truly represents: independence, freedom and self-determination.”

“The photos ran in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1952 in a photo essay, “When You Travel Alone…”, offering tips on “money, men and morals to see you through a gay trip and a safe one.” The article encourages readers to buy ship and train tickets ahead of time. It reminds them to bring their birth certificate and check in with the State Department. The caption on the photo of Craig walking down the street reflects cultural mores of the era.

“Public admiration … shouldn’t fluster you. Ogling the ladies is a popular, harmless and flattering pastime you’ll run into in many foreign countries. The gentlemen are usually louder and more demonstrative than American men, but they mean no harm.”

It’s a far cry from what we tell women these days, but for its time the mere notion of encouraging women to travel alone was progressive. That’s what made the photos so special, Craig says. They offered a rare glimpse of two women – behind and in front of the camera – challenging the era’s gender roles and loving every minute of it.”1

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Talking of challenging gender roles, I’m rather surprised there aren’t any photographs by Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman or Francesca Woodman for example, critical women photographers who challenge our orientation towards our selves and the world. Many others could have been included as well. But that is the joy and paradox of collecting: what do you collect and what do you leave out. You have to focus on what you like and what is available.

“Rather than presenting a chronological history of women photographers or a linear account of feminist photography, the exhibition prompts new appraisals and compelling dialogues from a contemporary, intersectional feminist perspective. African-diasporic, queer, and postcolonial / Indigenous artists have brought new mindsets and questions to the canonical narratives of art history. Our Selves will reexamine a host of topics, countering racial and gender invisibility, systemic racial injustice, and colonialism, through a diversity of photographic practices, including portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, advertising, avant-garde experimentation, and conceptual photography.” (Press release)

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

  1. Emanuella Grinberg. “The real story behind ‘An American Girl in Italy’,” on the CNN website March 30, 2017 [Online] Cited 28/08/2022

 

The Museum of Modern Art announces Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum, an exhibition that will present 90 photographic works by female artists from the last 100 years, on view from April 16 to October 2, 2022. Drawn exclusively from the Museum’s collection, thanks to a transformative gift of photographs from Helen Kornblum in 2021, the exhibition takes as a starting point the idea that the histories of feminism and photography have been intertwined.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

 

How have women artists used photography as a tool of resistance? Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum reframes restrictive notions of womanhood, exploring the connections between photography, feminism, civil rights, Indigenous sovereignty, and queer liberation. “Society consumes both the good girl and the bad girl,” wrote artist Silvia Kolbowski in 1984. “But somewhere between those two polarities, space must be made for criticality.”

Spanning more than 100 years of photography, the works in this exhibition range from Frances Benjamin Johnston’s early documentary photographs of racially segregated education in turn-of-the-century United States, to a contemporary portrait by Chemehuevi artist Cara Romero that celebrates the specificity of Indigenous art forms. A tribute to the generosity of collector Helen Kornblum, Our Selves features women’s contributions to a diversity of practices, including portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, avant-garde experimentation, advertising, and performance.

As we continue to reckon with equity and diversity, Our Selves invites viewers to meditate on the artist Carrie Mae Weems’s evocative question: “In one way or another, my work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition. I’m determined to find new models to live by. Aren’t you?”

Text from the MoMA website

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989) 'Self-Portrait' 1932

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989)
Self-Portrait
1932
Gelatin silver print
9 × 11 7/8″ (22.9 × 30.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985) 'The Hands of the Actress Jenny Burnay' c. 1930

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)
The Hands of the Actress Jenny Burnay
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 8 5/8″ (16.5 × 21.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)

Germaine Krull was a pioneer in the fields of avant-garde photomontage, the photographic book, and photojournalism, and she embraced both commercial and artistic loyalties. Born in Wilda-Poznań, East Prussia, in 1897, Krull lived an extraordinary life lasting nine decades on four continents – she was the prototype of the edgy, sexually liberated Neue Frau (New Woman), considered an icon of modernity and a close cousin of the French garçonne and the American flapper. She had a peripatetic childhood before her family settled in Munich in 1912. She studied photography from 1916 to 1918 at Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Lichtbildwesen (Instructional and Research Institute for Photography), and in 1919 opened her own portrait studio. Her early engagement with left-wing political activism led to her expulsion from Munich. Then, on a visit to Russia in 1921, she was incarcerated for her counterrevolutionary support of the Free French cause against Hitler. In 1926, she settled in Paris, where she became friends with artists Sonia and Robert Delaunay and intellectuals André Malraux, Jean Cocteau, Colette, and André Gide, who were also subjects of her photographic portraits.

Krull’s artistic breakthrough began in 1928, when she was hired by the nascent VU magazine, the first major French illustrated weekly. Along with photographers André Kertész and Éli Lotar, she developed a new form of reportage rooted in a freedom of expression and closeness to her subjects that resulted in intimate close-ups, all facilitated by her small-format Icarette, a portable, folding bed camera. During this period, she published the portfolio, Metal (Métal) (1928), a collection of 64 pictures of modernist iron giants, including cranes, railways, power generators, the Rotterdam transporter bridge, and the Eiffel Tower, shot in muscular close-ups and from vertiginous angles. Krull participated in the influential Film und Foto, or Fifo, exhibition (1929-1930), which was accompanied by two books, Franz Roh’s and Jan Tschichold’s Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) and Werner Gräff’s Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!). Fifo marked the emergence of a new critical theory of photography that placed Krull at the forefront of Neues Sehen or Neue Optik (New Vision) photography, a new direction rooted in exploring fully the technical possibilities of the photographic medium through a profusion of unconventional lens-based and darkroom techniques. After the end of World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia, and then moved to India, where, after a lifetime dedicated to recording some of the major upheavals of the twentieth century, she decided to live as a recluse among Tibetan monks.

Introduction by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, 2016

 

Ruth Orkin. 'American Girl in Italy' 1951

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985)
American Girl in Florence, Italy
1951
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 × 11 15/16″ (21.6 × 30.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Although this photograph appears to be a street scene caught on the fly-an instance of what Henri Cartier-Bresson called the “decisive moment”  – it was actually staged for the camera by Orkin and her model. “The idea for this picture had been in my mind for years, ever since I had been old enough to go through the experience myself,” Orkin later wrote. While traveling alone in Italy, she met the young woman in the photograph at a hotel in Florence and together they set out to reenact scenes from their experiences as lone travellers. “We were having a hilarious time when this corner of the Piazza della Repubblica suddenly loomed on our horizon,” the photographer recalled. “Here was the perfect setting I had been waiting for all these years… And here I was, camera in hand, with the ideal model! All those fellows were positioned perfectly, there was no distracting sun, the background was harmonious, and the intersection was not jammed with traffic, which allowed me to stand in the middle of it for a moment.” The picture, with its eloquent blend of realism and theatricality, was later published in Cosmopolitan magazine as part of the story “Don’t Be Afraid to Travel Alone.”

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Three Harps' 1935

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Three Harps
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 7 1/2″ (24.4 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978) 'School Girl, St. Croix' 1963

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)
School Girl, St. Croix
1963
Gelatin silver print
12 13/16 × 8 15/16″ (32.5 × 22.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000) 'Untitled (Masked Self-Portrait, Dessau)' 1930

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000)
Untitled (Masked Self-Portrait, Dessau)
1930
Gelatin silver print
9 × 5 5/8 in. (22.9 × 14.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000)

Gertrud Arndt (born Gertrud Hantschk in Upper Silicia) set out to become an architect, beginning a three-year apprenticeship in 1919 at the architecture firm of Karl Meinhardt in Erfurt, where her family lived at the time. While there, she began teaching herself photography by taking pictures of buildings in town. She also attended courses in typography, drawing, and art history at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of design). Encouraged by Meinhardt, a friend of Walter Gropius, Arndt was awarded a scholarship to continue her studies at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Enrolled from 1923 to 1927, Arndt took the Vorkurs (foundation course) from László Moholy-Nagy, who was a chief proponent of the value of experimentation with photography. After her Vorkurs, Georg Muche, leader of the weaving workshop, persuaded her to join his course, which then became the formal focus of her studies. Upon graduation, in March 1927, she married fellow Bauhaus graduate and architect Alfred Arndt. The couple moved to Probstzella in Eastern Germany, where Arndt photographed buildings for her husband’s architecture firm.

In 1929, Hannes Meyer invited Alfred Arndt to teach at the Bauhaus, where Arndt focused her energy on photography, entering her period of greatest activity, featuring portraits of friends, still-lifes, and a series of performative self-portraits, as well as At the Masters’ Houses, which shows the influence of her studies with Moholy-Nagy as well as her keen eye for architecture. After the Bauhaus closed, in 1932, the couple left Dessau and moved back to Probstzella. Three years after the end of World War II the family moved to Darmstadt; Arndt almost completely stopped making photographs.

Introduction by Mitra Abbaspour, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, 2014

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954) 'M.R.M (Sex)' c. 1929-1930

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954)
M.R.M (Sex)
c. 1929-1930
Gelatin silver print
6 × 4 in. (15.2 × 10.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Juliet Jacques: I’m Juliet Jacques. I am a writer and filmmaker based in London. You’re looking at a photomontage by the French artist Claude Cahun, entitled M.R.M (Sex). It’s a photomontage of Cahun’s self-portraits.

Claude Cahun was born in 1894 in France into a family of prominent Jewish intellectuals and began making photomontages in 1912 when she was 18. The works were often exploring Cahun’s own identity in terms of gender and sexuality, but also this sense of a complex and fragmented personhood. Nonbinary pronouns, as we’d understand them now, weren’t officially in existence in the 1920s. Cahun actually wrote “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” So, I think either she or they is appropriate.

M.R.M was published as one of the illustrations in Cahun’s book Aveux non Avenus in 1930. Throughout the book you see this playing with the possibilities of gender expression that are kind of funny, sometimes melancholic, but are very emotionally complicated and do really speak to a sense of sometimes being trapped by the confines of gender and sometimes finding these very playful and beautiful ways to break out of it.

Artists and writers, we’re supposed to be dreamers, I think, and people who want to come up with a better world. And of course Cahun’s work is really suggesting different possibilities of free expression.

It’s hard to know how Cahun might have felt about being included in an exhibition of women artists. But, I think Cahun definitely deserves a place within this feminist canon, if not a strictly female one.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954) 'Aveux non avenus' (Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions) 1930

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954)
Aveux non avenus (Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions)
1930
Illustrated book with photogravures
Cover (closed) approx. 8 11/16 × 6 11/16″ (22 × 17cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Juliet Jacques: My name is Juliet Jacques.

You’re looking at Claude Cahun’s book Aveux non Avenus, which has been translated variously as “denials” or “disavowals” or “cancelled confessions.”

It’s an autobiographical text that doesn’t just refuse the conventions of memoir, it also really refuses to open up to the reader in a clearly understandable way. It’s this mixture of photography and aphorisms and longer prose-poetic passages. It doesn’t have a formalised narrative. It’s rather just exploring the fragmented and somewhat chaotic nature of their own consciousness and what they are able to access.

I’ve just flipped to page 91. Cahun writes:

“Consciousness. The carver. My enthusiasms, my impulses, my little passions were irksome. … Come on, then. … By a process of elimination, what is necessary about me? … The material is badly cut. I want it to be straightened up. A clumsy snip with the scissors. Bach! Let’s even it up on the other side. … A stain? We’ll cover it up. Let’s trim it again. I no longer exist. Perfect. Now nothing can come between us.”

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The affinity I felt with Cahun is because I ended up doing a lot of writing that got bracketed as confessional or sort of first-person autobiographical writing. You can get yourself into a situation where you’re constantly expected to give away details about your personal life. And what I have always found really interesting about Cahun is the refusal of that trap, even in the project of putting oneself on the page.

I was always looking for queer and trans writers, and Cahun’s work gave me this gender non-conforming take on art that I thought always should have been there.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (Native American (Seminole-Muscogee-Navajo)) 'Vanna Brown, Azteca Style' 1990

 

Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (Native American (Seminole-Muscogee-Navajo))
Vanna Brown, Azteca Style
1990
Photocollage
15 11/16 × 22 13/16″ (39.9 × 58cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Veronica Passalacqua: My name is Veronica Passalacqua, and I’m a curator at the C.N. Gorman Museum at the University of California Davis. My research focus is upon contemporary Native American art with a specialty in photography. This is a work called Vanna Brown, Azteca Style by the Navajo-Tuskegee artist Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie.

It’s a hand collage that depicts Tsinhnahjinnie’s friend, dressed in her Azteca dancing regalia within the frame of a Philco television set. It was the beginning of a series of works and videos related to a project called NTV, or Native Television. She wanted to create her own vision of what she’d like to see on television.

Curator, Roxana Marcoci: The photograph makes reference to Wheel of Fortune, a televised game show where contestants guess words and phrases one letter at a time. Vanna White has been the show’s co-host for 40 years.

Veronica Passalacqua: Vanna White was always dressed in these elaborate gowns to show the letters of the enduring game show. She was there really as a symbol of the idealised beauty that television was portraying. Tsinhnahjinnie changes the name from Vanna White to Vanna Brown, addressing the beauty that she sees in her friend. What Tsinhnahjinnie wanted to focus on was this notion that you can create these beautiful images when you have a relationship with the sitter.

I’d like to read you a quote by Tsinhnahjinnie: “No longer is the camera held by an outsider looking in, the camera is held with brown hands opening familiar worlds. We document ourselves with a humanising eye, we create new visions with ease, and we can turn the camera to show how we see you.”

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Laura Gilpin (American, 1881-1979) 'Navajo Weaver' 1933

 

Laura Gilpin (American, 1881-1979)
Navajo Weaver
1933
Platinum print
13 1/8 × 9 3/8 in. (33.3 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Lola Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1907-1993) 'Frida Kahlo' c. 1945

 

Lola Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1907-1993)
Frida Kahlo
c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 × 6 1/4″ (21.3 × 15.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Prague, 1894-1989) 'Frau Finsler' 1926

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Prague, 1894-1989)
Frau Finsler
1926
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 × 10″ (20 × 25.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'Woman, Locket, Georgia' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Woman, Locket, Georgia
1936
Gelatin silver print
13 × 9 3/4″ (33 × 24.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Margrethe Mather (American, 1885-1952) 'Buffie Johnson, Painter' 1933

 

Margrethe Mather (American, 1885-1952)
Buffie Johnson, Painter
1933
Gelatin silver print
3 3/4 × 2 7/8″ (9.5 × 7.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Meridel Rubenstein (American, b. 1948) 'Fatman with Edith' 1993

 

Meridel Rubenstein (American, b. 1948)
Fatman with Edith
1993
Palladium print
18 1/2 × 22 1/2″ (47 × 57.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Helen Kornblum: I’m Helen Kornblum. If there’s a theme in my collection, I’d say it’s people. My interest in people, meeting people, knowing people, learning about people.

I have felt about my photographs almost like a third child. Each one actually has its own story for me. Where I found them, who led me to them. I’ve just attached myself in different ways to each one.

One, for instance, is Fatman with Edith by Meridel Rubenstein. With this photograph she conflates war with the feminine. She has the inhumanly destructive warhead, the plutonium bomb, called Fatman, dropped on Nagasaki, juxtaposed with a portrait of a woman, Edith Warner, and a nurturing, warm cup of tea.

Curator, Roxana Marcoci: In the early 1940s Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist in charge of The Manhattan Project developed the first atomic bomb.This photograph belongs to a series that explores encounters in New Mexico between indigenous communities and the scientists who created the bomb. These two worlds collided in the home of Edith Warner, who ran a tearoom in Los Alamos.

Helen Kornblum: Oppenheimer knew Edith Warner, who lived near Santa Fe. And when he came to create the bomb at Los Alamos, he asked Edith if he could bring scientists to her home for a place away from the creation of this bomb, and he would come with them for dinner, all during the Manhattan Project.

Roxana Marcoci: By pairing two seemingly dissimilar images, Rubenstein said she hopes “to enlarge the lives of ordinary people, and strip the mythic characters of history down to their ordinariness.”

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Edith Warner (1893-1951), also known by the nickname “The Woman at Otowi Crossing”, was an American tea room owner in Los Alamos, New Mexico, who is best known for serving various scientists and military officers working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory during the original creation of the atomic bomb as a part of the Manhattan Project. Warner’s influence on the morale and overall attitude of the people there has been noted and written about by various journalists and historians, including several books about her life, a stage play, a photography exhibition, an opera, and a dance.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rosemarie Trockel (German, b. 1952) 'Untitled' 2004

 

Rosemarie Trockel (German, b. 1952)
Untitled
2004
Chromogenic print
20 3/4 × 19″ (52.7 × 48.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Tatiana Parcero (Mexican, b. 1967) 'Interior Cartography #35' 1996

 

Tatiana Parcero (Mexican, b. 1967)
Interior Cartography #35
1996
Chromogenic print and acetate
9 3/8 × 6 3/16 in. (23.8 × 15.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Artist, Tatiana Parcero

My name is Tatiana Parcero. I’m from Mexico and I’m a visual artist and a psychologist. The work is called Interior Cartography #35, and belongs to the series of the same name.

Cartography is a science that deals with maps. I am interested in working with the body as a territory, where I can explore different paths at a physical and also in a symbolic level.

I am the one that appears in all the photographs. When I did this specific shot, I wanted to show a moment of introspection and calm. And when you see my hands near my cheeks, I wanted to represent a way to be in touch with myself, not just in a physical way, but in a more spiritual way.

The image superimposed on the face is from the Codex Tudela of the 16th century. The codices are documents that were created by ancient civilisations, like Mayans, Aztecs, that represent the pre-Columbian cultures of Mexico, their amazing universe, and the way that they lived.

When I moved to New York from Mexico, I was feeling a little bit out of place and I wanted to recreate a sense of belonging. The work is a way to connect myself with my country and the ancient cultures that are before me.

I decided to study psychology because I wanted to help people. I wanted to be able to understand emotions and be able to translate personal experiences into images and make them more accessible. It’s important for me to give the viewer several layers so that you can really explore the image and make your own interpretations and reflections. I think art can transform you and take you to a parallel universe. That is where I feel that you can be able to heal and to cure.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Lorie Novak (American, b. 1954) 'Self-Portraits' 1987

 

Lorie Novak (American, b. 1954)
Self-Portraits
1987
Chromogenic print
22 1/2 × 18 9/16″ (57.2 × 47.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art announces Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum, an exhibition that will present 90 photographic works by female artists from the last 100 years, on view from April 16 to October 2, 2022. Drawn exclusively from the Museum’s collection, thanks to a transformative gift of photographs from Helen Kornblum in 2021, the exhibition takes as a starting point the idea that the histories of feminism and photography have been intertwined. Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum is organised by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator, with Dana Ostrander, Curatorial Assistant, and Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, MoMA.

Rather than presenting a chronological history of women photographers or a linear account of feminist photography, the exhibition prompts new appraisals and compelling dialogues from a contemporary, intersectional feminist perspective. African-diasporic, queer, and postcolonial / Indigenous artists have brought new mindsets and questions to the canonical narratives of art history. Our Selves will reexamine a host of topics, countering racial and gender invisibility, systemic racial injustice, and colonialism, through a diversity of photographic practices, including portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, advertising, avant-garde experimentation, and conceptual photography. Highlighting both iconic and rare or lesser-known images, the exhibition’s groupings and juxtapositions of modern and contemporary works will encourage unexpected connections in the Museum’s fifth-floor collection galleries, which are typically devoted to art from the 1880s through the 1940s.

Our Selves will open with a wall of self-portraits and portraits of female artists by such modernist photographers as Lola Álvarez Bravo, Gertrud Arndt, Lotte Jacobi, and Lucia Moholy, alongside contemporary practitioners including Tatiana Parcero, Rosemarie Trockel, and Lorie Novak. Inviting viewers to consider the structural relationship between knowledge and power, Frances Benjamin Johnston’s Penmanship Class (1899) – a depiction of racially segregated education at the turn of the 20th century in the United States – will hang near Candida Höfer’s Deutsche Bucherei Leipzig IX (1997) – a part of Höfer’s series documenting library interiors weighted by forms of social inequality and colonial supremacy. Lorna Simpson’s Details (1996), a portfolio of 21 found photographs, signals how both the camera and language can culturally inscribe the body and reinforce racial and gender stereotypes.

Works by Native artists including Cara Romero and Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie, and non-Native practitioners such as Sharon Lockhart and Graciela Iturbide, explore indigeneity and its relationship to colonial history. Photographs by Flor Garduño, Ana Mendieta, Marta María Pérez Bravo, and Mariana Yampolsky attest to the overlapping histories of colonialism, ethnographic practice, and patriarchy in Latin America.

Our Selves is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue that features more than 100 colour and black-and-white photographs. A critical essay by curator Roxana Marcoci asks the question, “What is a Feminist Picture?” and a series of 12 focused essays by Dana Ostrander, Caitlin Ryan, and Phil Taylor address a range of themes, from dance to ecology to perception. The catalogue offers both historical context and critical interpretation, exploring the myriad ways in which different photographic practices can be viewed when looking through a feminist lens.

Press release from the MoMA website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1943) 'Mujercita' 1981

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1943)
Mujercita
1981
Gelatin silver print
10 1/8 × 6 3/4″ (25.7 × 17.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, 1925-2002) 'Mujeres Mazahua' 1989

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, 1925-2002)
Mujeres Mazahua
1989
Gelatin silver print
13 5/8 × 18 1/2″ (34.6 × 47cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957) 'Reina (Queen)' 1989

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957)
Reina (Queen)
1989
Gelatin silver print
12 1/4 × 8 3/4″ (31.1 × 22.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992) 'Corn Stalks Growing' 1945

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992)
Corn Stalks Growing
1945
Gelatin silver print
12 3/16 × 9″ (31 × 22.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Sonya Noskowiak (American born Germany, 1900-1975) 'Plant Detail' 1931

 

Sonya Noskowiak (American born Germany, 1900-1975)
Plant Detail
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 11/16 × 7 1/2″ (24.6 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Agave Design I' 1920s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Agave Design I
1920
Gelatin silver print
12 7/8 × 9 13/16″ (32.7 × 24.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Florence Henri (Swiss born United States, 1893-1982) 'Composition Nature Morte' 1931

 

Florence Henri (Swiss born United States, 1893-1982)
Composition Nature Morte
1931
Gelatin silver print
3 3/8 × 4 1/2″ (8.6 × 11.4cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989) 'Eucalyptus Leaves' 1933

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989)
Eucalyptus Leaves
1933
Gelatin silver print
12 × 9″ (30.5 × 22.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Ruth Bernhard (American born Germany, 1905-2006) 'Angel Wings' 1943

 

Ruth Bernhard (American born Germany, 1905-2006)
Angel Wings
1943
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 6 1/4″ (24.4 × 15.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Nelly (Elli Sougioultzoglou-Seraidari) (Greek born Turkey, 1899-1998) 'Elizaveta "Lila" Nikolska in the Parthenon, Athens, Greece' November 1930

 

Nelly (Elli Sougioultzoglou-Seraidari) (Greek born Turkey, 1899-1998)
Elizaveta “Lila” Nikolska in the Parthenon, Athens, Greece
November 1930
Gelatin silver print
6 × 8 1/2″ (15.2 × 21.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Laurie Simmons (American, b. 1949) 'Three Red Petit-Fours' 1990

 

Laurie Simmons (American, b. 1949)
Three Red Petit-Fours
1990
Chromogenic print
23 × 35″ (58.4 × 88.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000) 'Figurines' c. 1933

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000)
Figurines
c. 1933
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 × 8″ (21.6 × 20.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Dora Maar (French 1907-1997) 'Mannequin in Window' 1935

 

Dora Maar (French 1907-1997)
Mannequin in Window
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 6″ (24.1 × 15.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002) 'Siesta of a Lottery Ticket Vendor, Plaza Mayor, Madrid' 1955

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002)
Siesta of a Lottery Ticket Vendor, Plaza Mayor, Madrid
1955
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 4 3/4″ (18.3 × 12.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Ringl + Pit (German) Grete Stern (Argentine born Germany, 1904-1999) Ellen Auerbach (German, 1906-2004) 'Columbus' Egg' 1930

 

Ringl + Pit (German)
Grete Stern (Argentine born Germany, 1904-1999)
Ellen Auerbach (German, 1906-2004)
Columbus’ Egg
1930
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 × 7 1/2″ (22.2 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer) (German, 1900-1942) 'Untitled' 1935

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer) (German, 1900-1942)
Untitled
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 × 6 11/16″ (23 × 17cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Marie Cosindas (American, 1923-2017) 'Masks, Boston' 1966

 

Marie Cosindas (American, 1923-2017)
Masks, Boston
1966
Dye transfer print
10 × 7″ (25.4 × 17.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000) 'Man and Candlesticks' c. 1933

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000)
Man and Candlesticks
c. 1933
Gelatin silver print
8 × 7 3/4″ (20.3 × 19.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Barbara Probst (German, b. 1964) 'Exposure #78, NYC, Collister and Hubert St.' 2010

 

Barbara Probst (German, b. 1964)
Exposure #78, NYC, Collister and Hubert St.
2010
Two inkjet prints (diptych)
18 3/4 × 28″ (47.6 × 71.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Barbara Probst (German, b. 1964)

Artist, Barbara Probst: I am Barbara Probst. I’m an artist working with photography. I’m born in Munich, in Germany, and I live in New York.

I’m interested in photography as a phenomenon that seemingly and supposedly depicts reality. But maybe it is the subjectivity of the photographer, which determines the image. And not the objectivity of the world.

I get a set of pictures from the same moment. By comparing these pictures, it becomes quite clear that the link between reality and photography is very thin and fragile because every picture from this moment gives a different take of this moment.

None of these images is more true or more false than any others. They are equally truthful. The viewpoints and angles and settings of the cameras and the framing and all these things determine the picture.

It’s not what is in front of the camera that determines the picture. It’s the photographer behind the camera that decides how reality is translated into an image.

Audio of Barbara Probst from the video “Elles X Paris Photo: Barbara Probst.” © Fisheye l’Agence 2021

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup)' 1990

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup)
1990
Gelatin silver print
27 3/16 × 27 3/16″ (69.1 × 69.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

“My work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition.”

.
Carrie Mae Weems

 

What does it mean to bear witness to history? The artist Carrie Mae Weems has asked this question for decades through photography, video, performance, installation, and social practice. For Weems, to examine the past is to imagine a different future. “In one way or another, my work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition,” she declared in an interview with her friend, the photographer Dawoud Bey. “I’m determined to find new models to live by. Aren’t you?”1

Weems was trained as both a dancer and a photographer before enrolling in the folklore studies program at the University of California, Berkeley, in the mid-1980s, where she became interested in the observation methods used in the social sciences. In the early 1990s, she began placing herself in her photographic compositions in an “attempt to create in the work the simultaneous feeling of being in it and of it.”2 She has since called this recurring figure an “alter-ego,” “muse,” and “witness to history” who can stand in for both the artist and audience. “I think it’s very important that as a Black woman she’s engaged with the world around her,” Weems has said, “she’s engaged with history, she’s engaged with looking, with being. She’s a guide into circumstances seldom seen.”3

In her 1990 Kitchen Table series – 20 gelatin silver prints and 14 texts on silkscreen panels – Weems uses her own persona to “respond to a number of issues: woman’s subjectivity, woman’s capacity to revel in her body, and the woman’s construction of herself, and her own image.”4 Weems, or rather her protagonist, inhabits the same intimate domestic interior throughout the series. Anchored around a wooden table illuminated by an overhead light, scenes such as Untitled (Man smoking) and Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup) portray the protagonist alongside a rotating cast of characters (friends, children, lovers) and props (posters, books, playing cards, a birdcage). In Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup), for example, the woman sits at the table with a young girl; they gaze into mirrors at their own reflections, applying lipstick in parallel gestures. The photograph shows that gender is a learned performance, at the same time tenderly centering its Black women subjects.

With projects such as From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995), the act of witnessing is suggested in the first-person title. The J. Paul Getty Museum commissioned the work in 1994, inviting the artist to respond to 19th-century photographs of African American subjects collected by the lawyer Jackie Napoleon Wilson. In 28 chromogenic photographic prints overlaid with text on glass, Weems appropriated images from a variety of sources: Wilson’s collection, museum and university archives, The National Geographic, and the work of photographers like Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Garry Winogrand. The artist cropped and reformatted these photographs, adding blue and red tints, text, and circular mats resembling a camera lens. Through this reframing, Weems poses a question about power: Who is doing the looking, and for what reasons?

Among the rephotographed images are four daguerreotypes by photographer J. T. Zealy of enslaved men and women – two father-and-daughter pairs, named Renty, Delia, Jack, and Drana – commissioned as racial types by Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz in 1850. Weems exposes Agassiz’s racist pseudoscience and the violence of the white Anglo-American gaze through the addition of texts that address the subjects: “You became a scientific profile,” “a negroid type,” “an anthropological debate,” “& a photographic subject.” Discussing the daguerreotypes, the artist has described the sitters as agents of resistance and refusal: “In their anthropological way, most of these photographs were meant to strip the subjects of their humanity. But if you look closely, what you see is the evidence of a contest of wills over contested territory, contested terrain – contested by the by the owner of the Black body and the photographer’s attempt to conquer it vis-à-vis the camera.”5

Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, 2021

 

  1. “Carrie Mae Weems by Dawoud Bey,” BOMB, July 1, 2009, https://bombmagazine.org/articles/carrie-mae-weems/
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Weems, quoted in Carrie Mae Weems: The Kitchen Table Series (Houston: Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 1996), 6.
  5. Weems to Deborah Willis, “In Conversation with Carrie Mae Weems,” in To Make Their Own Way in the World: The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerreotypes, eds. Ilisa Barbash, Molly Rogers, and Deborah Willis (Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum Press; New York, NY: Aperture, 2020), 397.

 

Curator, Roxana Marcocci: We’re looking at a photograph from Carrie Mae Weems’s larger body of work, the Kitchen Table series.

Artist, Carrie Mae Weems: About 1990, I think, I had been really thinking a lot about what it meant to develop your own voice. And so I made this body of work.

It started as a kind of response to my sense of what needed to happen, what needed to be and these ideas about the sort of spaces of domesticity that have historically belonged to women.

Roxana Marcoci: In this image, Weems applies makeup in front of a mirror while a young girl seated in front of another mirror, puts on lipstick and looks at her own reflection. The two enact beauty in a synchronised performance, through posing, mirroring, and self-empowerment.

Carrie Mae Weems: I made them all in my own kitchen, using a single light source hanging over the kitchen table. It just swung open this door of what I could actually do in my own environment. What I’m suggesting really is that the battle around the family, the battle around monogamy, the battle around polygamy, the social dynamics that happens between men and women, that war gets carried on in that space.

The Kitchen Table series would not be simply a voice for African-American women, but more generally for women.

Audio of Carrie Mae Weems in the Art21 digital series Extended Play, “Carrie Mae Weems / ‘The Kitchen Table Series.'” © Art21, Inc. 2011

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Cara Romero (Native American (Chemehuevi), b. 1977) 'Wakeah' 2018

 

Cara Romero (Native American (Chemehuevi), b. 1977)
Wakeah
2018
Inkjet print
52 × 44″ (132.1 × 111.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Artist, Cara Romero: My name is Cara Romero, and this photograph is called Wakeah.

The inspiration for the First American Girl series was a lifetime of seeing Native American people represented in a dehumanised way. My daughter was born in 2006 and I really wanted her self image to be different. But all of the dolls that depict Native American girls were inaccurate. They lacked the detail. They lacked the love. They lacked the historical accuracy. So the series began with Wakeah.

Wakeah is Wakeah Jhane Myers and she is an incredible artist in her own right. She descends from both the Kiowa and Comanche tribes of Oklahoma. We posed Wakeah in the doll box much like you would find on the store shelves, placing all of her cultural accoutrement around her. She is wearing a traditional Southern Buckskin dress. She has a change of moccasins and her fan that she uses in dance. A lot of people ask me about the suitcase, and this is an inside joke between Native people, many of us carry our regalia in a suitcase as a way to keep it safe.

It took five family members over a year to make her regalia that she wears to compete at the pow wow dance. These contemporary pieces of regalia are really here against all odds. They exist through activism, through resistance.

A lot of what I’m doing is constructing these stories about resisting these ideas of being powerless, of being gone. Instead, I’m constructing a story of power and of knowledge and of presence. I want the viewer to fall in love. I want them to see how much I love the people that I’m working with.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Angela Scheirl' 1993

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Angela Scheirl
1993
Silver dye bleach print
19 5/16 × 15″ (49.1 × 38.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Louise Lawler (American, b. 1947) 'Sappho and Patriarch' 1984

 

Louise Lawler (American, b. 1947)
Sappho and Patriarch
1984
Silver dye bleach print
39 3/4 × 27 1/2″ (101 × 69.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Deutsche Bücherei Leipzig IX' 1997

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Deutsche Bücherei Leipzig IX
1997
C-print
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Sharon Lockhart (American, b. 1964) 'Untitled' 2010

 

Sharon Lockhart (American, b. 1964)
Untitled
2010
Chromogenic print
37 × 49″ (94 × 124.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The images below are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Tiny, Halloween, Seattle' 1983

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Tiny, Halloween, Seattle
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 5/16 × 9″ (33.8 × 22.9cm)
Sheet: 14 × 11″ (35.6 × 27.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Mother and Child, San Joaquin Valley' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Mother and Child, San Joaquin Valley
1938
Gelatin silver print
7 × 9 1/2″ (17.8 × 24.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Anne Noggle (American, 1922-2005) 'Shirley Condit de Gonzales' 1986

 

Anne Noggle (American, 1922-2005)
Shirley Condit de Gonzales
1986
Gelatin silver print
18 1/8 × 13″ (46 × 33cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Nell Dorr (American, 1893-1988) 'Mother and Child' 1940

 

Nell Dorr (American, 1893-1988)
Mother and Child
1940
Gelatin silver print
13 15/16 × 10 13/16″ (35.4 × 27.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'Carnival Strippers' book cover 1975

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
Carnival Strippers
1976
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'Tentful of marks, Tunbridge, VT' 1974

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
Tentful of Marks, Tunbridge, Vermont
1974, printed c. 2000
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 × 11 3/4″ (19.5 × 29.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Wary of photography’s power to shape our understanding of social, political and global issues and of the potentially complex ethical relationship between photographer and subject, Susan Meiselas has developed an immersive approach through which she gets to know her subjects intimately. Carnival Strippers is among her earliest projects and the first in which she became accepted by the community she was documenting. Over the summers of 1972 to 1975, she followed an itinerant, small-town carnival, photographing the women who performed in the striptease shows. She captured not only their public performances, but also their private lives. To more fully contextualise these images, Meiselas presents them with audio recordings of interviews with the dancers, giving them voice and a measure of control over the way they are presented.

Additional text from “Seeing Through Photographs online course”, Coursera, 2016

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)

Artist, Susan Meiselas: My name is Susan Meiselas. I’m a photographer based in New York.

Carnival Strippers is my first real body of work. The idea of projecting a self to attract a male gaze was completely counter to my sense of culture, what I wanted for myself. So I was fascinated by women who were choosing to do that. I just felt, magnetically, I need to know more.

The feminists of that period were perceiving the girl shows as exploitative institutions that should be closed down. I actually was positioned in the place of feeling these voices should be heard. They should self-define as to who they are and what their economic realities are.

Getting to know the women was very much one by one, obviously I’m in the public fairgrounds making this photograph so there are many other people surrounding me. There weren’t many other cameras. I mean, if we were making this picture today, it’s interesting the differences of how many people would have been with cameras, iPhones, etc. So I don’t think she’s performing for me. She’s performing for the public.

The girl show moves around from town to town. My working process was to be somewhere on a weekend, go back to Boston, which at the time was my base, and process the work and bring back the contact sheets and show whoever was there the following weekend, what the pictures were. And they left little initials saying, I like this one, I don’t like that one.

This negotiated or collaborative space with photography really still fascinates me. It’s a kind of offering, it’s a moment in which someone says, I want you to be here with us. The challenge of making that moment, creating that moment, that’s what still intrigues me, I think, and keeps me engaged with photography.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'Traditional Indian dance mask from the town of Monimbó, adopted by the rebels during the fight against Somoza to conceal identity, Nicaragua' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
Traditional mask used in the popular insurrection, Monimbo, Nicaragua
1978
Chromogenic print
23 1/2 × 15 3/4″ (59.7 × 40cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Traditional Indian dance mask from the town of Monimbó, adopted by the rebels during the fight against Somoza to conceal identity, Nicaragua

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'A Funeral Procession in Jinotepe for Assassinated Student Leaders. Demonstrators Carry a Photograph of Arlen Siu, an FSLN Guerilla Fighter Killed in the Mountains Three Years Earlier' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
A Funeral Procession in Jinotepe for Assassinated Student Leaders. Demonstrators Carry a Photograph of Arlen Siu, an FSLN Guerilla Fighter Killed in the Mountains Three Years Earlier
1978
Chromogenic print
15 3/8 × 23 1/4″ (39.1 × 59.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

“The camera…gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.”

.
Susan Meiselas

 

“The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong,” said the photographer Susan Meiselas. “It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.” Meiselas studied anthropology before turning to teaching and photography, and her photographic work has remained firmly rooted in those early interests.

Beginning in 1972, Meiselas spent three consecutive summers documenting women who performed stripteases as part of itinerant, small-town carnivals throughout New England. She not only photographed them at work and during their down time, but she made audio recordings of interviews she conducted with the dancers (and the men who surrounded them), to add context and give her subjects a voice. Meiselas later reflected, “The feminists of that period were perceiving the girls’ shows as exploitative institutions that should be closed down, and so I actually was positioned in the place of feeling these voices should be heard, they should self-define as to who they are and what their economic realities are.”1 Meiselas travelled with the dancers from town to town, eventually becoming accepted by the community of women. This personal connection comes across in the intimacy of the scenes. Her photo book Carnival Strippers2 was published in 1976, the same year that Meiselas was invited to join the international photographic cooperative Magnum Photos.

Over the last 50 years, Meiselas has remained dedicated to getting to know her subjects, and she maintains relationships with them, sometimes returning to photograph them decades after the initial project. One place she has photographed again and again is Nicaragua, starting with the burgeoning Sandinista revolution. From June 1978 to July 1979, she documented the violent end of the regime of dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. In 1990 she returned to the country with her book of photographs made at that time, Nicaragua3, and used it as a tool to track down as many subjects of those photographs as she could: “Now I want to retrace my steps, to go back to the photos I took at the time of the insurrection, and search for the people in them. What brought them to cross my path at the moment they did? What’s happened to them since? What do they think now? What do they remember?”4 She gathered their testimonies and co-directed a film, Pictures from a Revolution 5, that explored the Nicaraguan people’s hardships after the revolution. She went back to Nicaragua yet again in 2004, on the 25th anniversary of Somoza’s overthrow, and worked with local communities to install murals of her photographs on the sites where they were taken.6 It is the job of a photojournalist to bear witness, but Meiselas also considers ways in which she can challenge and confront future communities with the scenes she has witnessed.

In 1997, Meiselas completed a six-year-long project about the photographic history of the Kurds, working to piece together a collective memory of people who faced extreme displacement and destruction. She gathered these memories in a book – Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History7 – an exhibition and an online archive that can still be added to today. Throughout this project Meiselas worked with both forensic and historical anthropologists who added their own specialised context; the innumerable oral accounts from the Kurdish people themselves provide a perspective often left out of history books.

Referring to her early studies in anthropology, Meiselas said, “Those very primary experiences of diversity led me to be more curious about the world, putting me into a certain mode of exploration and openness to difference at a young age.” She has long understood the importance of giving a voice to her often little-known and marginalised subjects, and through her work she draws attention to a wide variety of human rights and social justice issues. Meiselas constantly considers the challenging relationship between photographer and subject, and the relationship of images to memory and history, always looking for new cross-disciplinary and collaborative ways to evolve the medium of documentary storytelling.

Jane Pierce, Carl Jacobs Foundation Research Assistant, Department of Photography

 

  1. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, “Seeing Through Photographs,” YouTube video, 5:03. February 13, 2019 https://youtu.be/HHQwAkPj8Bc
  2. Susan Meiselas, Carnival Strippers (New York: Noonday Press, 1976) and a revised second edition with bonus CD (New York: Steidl, 2003).
  3. Susan Meiselas, Nicaragua (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981).
  4. Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti and Richard P. Rogers, Pictures from a Revolution, DVD (New York: Kino International Corp., 1991).
  5. Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti, and Richard P. Rogers, Pictures from a Revolution, DVD (New York: Kino International Corp., 1991).
  6. Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti, and Pedro Linger Gasiglia, Reframing History, DVD (2004).
  7. Susan Meiselas, Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History (New York: Random House, 1997).

 

Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952) 'Penmanship Class' 1899

 

Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952)
Penmanship Class
1899
Platinum print
7 3/8 × 9 3/8 in. (18.7 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952)

After setting up her own photography studio in 1894, in Washington, D.C., Frances Benjamin Johnston was described by The Washington Times as “the only lady in the business of photography in the city.”1 Considered to be one of the first female press photographers in the United States, she took pictures of news events and architecture and made portraits of political and social leaders for over five decades. From early on, she was conscious of her role as a pioneer for women in photography, telling a reporter in 1893, “It is another pet theory with me that there are great possibilities in photography as a profitable and pleasant occupation for women, and I feel that my success helps to demonstrate this, and it is for this reason that I am glad to have other women know of my work.”2

In 1899, the principal of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia commissioned Johnston to take photographs at the school for the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. The Hampton Institute was a preparatory and trade school dedicated to preparing African American and Native American students for professional careers. Johnston took more than 150 photographs and exhibited them in the Exposition Nègres d’Amerique (American Negro Exhibit) pavilion, which was meant to showcase improving race relations in America. The series won the grand prize and was lauded by both the public and the press.

Years later, writer and philanthropist Lincoln Kirstein discovered a leather-bound album of Johnston’s Hampton Institute photographs. He gave the album to The Museum of Modern Art, which reproduced 44 of its original 159 photographs in a book called The Hampton Album, published in 1966. In its preface, Kirstein acknowledged the conflict inherent in Johnston’s images, describing them as conveying the Institute’s goal of assimilating its students into Anglo-American mainstream society according to “the white Victorian ideal as criterion towards which all darker tribes and nations must perforce aspire.”3 The Hampton Institute’s most famous graduate, educator, leader, and presidential advisor Booker T. Washington, advocated for black education and accommodation of segregation policies instead of political pressure against institutionalised racism, a position criticised by anti-segregation activists such as author W. E. B. Du Bois.

Johnston’s pictures neither wholly celebrate nor condemn the Institute’s goals, but rather they reveal the complexities of the school’s value system. This is especially clear in her photographs contrasting pre- and post-Hampton ways of living, including The Old Well and The Improved Well (Three Hampton Grandchildren). In both images, black men pump water for their female family members. The old well system is represented by an aged man, a leaning fence, and a wooden pump that tilts against a desolate sky, while the new well is handled by an energetic young boy in a yard with a neat fence, a thriving tree, and two young girls dressed in starched pinafores. Johnston’s photographs have prompted the attention of artists like Carrie Mae Weems, who has incorporated the Hampton Institute photographs into her own work to explore what Weems described as “the problematic nature of assimilation, identity, and the role of education.”4

Johnston’s photographs of the Hampton Institute were only a part of her long and productive career. Having started out by taking society and political portraits, she later extensively photographed gardens and buildings, hoping to encourage the preservation of architectural structures that were quickly disappearing. Her pictures documenting the changing landscape of early-20th-century America became sources for historians and conservationists and led to her recognition by the American Institute for Architects (AIA). At a time when photography was often thought of as scientific in its straightforwardness, Johnston recognised its expressive power. As she wrote in 1897, “It is wrong to regard photography as purely mechanical. Mechanical it is, up to a certain point, but beyond that there is great scope for individual and artistic expression.”5

Introduction by Kristen Gaylord, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography, 2016

 

  1. “Washington Women with Brains and Business,” The Washington Times, April 21, 1895, 9.
  2. Clarence Bloomfield Moore, “Women Experts in Photography,” The Cosmopolitan XIV.5 (March 1893), 586.
  3. Lincoln Kirstein, “Introduction,” in The Hampton Album: 44 photographs by Frances B. Johnston from an album of Hampton Institute (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1966), 10.
  4. Quoted in Denise Ramzy and Katherine Fogg, “Interview: Carrie Mae Weems,” Carrie Mae Weems: The Hampton Project (New York: Aperture, 2000), 78.
  5. Frances Benjamin Johnston, “What a Woman Can Do with a Camera,” The Ladies’ Home Journal (September 1897): 6-7.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

 

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06
Feb
22

Exhibition: ‘Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940: The Thomas Walther Collection at The Museum of Modern Art, New York’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 14th September 2021 – 13th February 2022

Curated by Sarah Meister, former Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, New York and Quentin Bajac, Director, Jeu de Paume, with Jane Pierce, Carl Jacobs Foundation Research Assistant, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961) 'Lotte (Eye)' 1928

 

Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961)
Lotte (Eye)
1928
Gelatin silver print
30.2 × 40cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Acquired through the generosity of Peter Norton © 2021 Max Burchartz/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Germany
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

A huge posting today that took hours to compile and all I can think of to say is – wow, I want them all in my collection!

If I had to specify one era of photography that is my favourite it would be the experimental, avant-garde photographs from the interwar period. There was such freedom, revolution and danger in the air which encouraged artists to produce radical art that defined a generation (and which ideological others found offensive and degenerate).

The tremendous diversity of “modern” photography is on show in the different sections of the exhibition – from portraiture to perspective, from science to magic realism, from interiority and surrealist dreams to new objective visions of self and the landscape – the works investigating how photographs transcend their conventional function of documentation through their social, psychological, and metaphysical implications.

I have added relevant biographical details and salient book covers and pages from the exhibition catalogue to enhance the viewing experience. My particular favourites in the posting are Willi Ruge’s vertiginous Seconds before Landing (1931, below); Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz’s unforgettable portrait of Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane (1911-1912, below); Lyonel Feininger’s almost-there, atmos/sphere Bauhaus (February 26, 1929 below); and Gertrud Arndt’s masterpiece, At the Masters’ Houses (1929-1930, below).

I hope you enjoy your Sunday looking at these stunning images.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Kate Steinitz (American born Poland, 1889-1975) 'Backstroke' 1930

 

Kate Steinitz (American born Poland, 1889-1975)
Backstroke
1930
Gelatin silver print
26.6 × 34.1cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Reprinted with permission of the Steinitz Family Art Collection
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Record' 1926

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Runner in the City (Experiment for a Fresco for a Sports-Club)
1926
Gelatin silver print
26.7 × 22.4cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Lotte (Charlotte) Beese (German-Dutch, 1903-1988) 'Untitled (Bauhaus Weavers)' 1928

 

Lotte (Charlotte) Beese (German-Dutch, 1903-1988)
Untitled (Bauhaus Weavers)
1928
Gelatin silver print
8.4cm (diam.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984) 'Test for the Film "Culte Vaudou," Exposition 1937' 1936

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984)
Test for the Film “Culte Vaudou,” Exposition 1937
1936
Gelatin silver print with cellophane sheet
29.3 × 23cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897–1984) 'Untitled (Self-Portrait with Roger Parry)' c. 1936

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897–1984)
Untitled (Self-Portrait with Roger Parry)
c. 1936
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 × 6 5/8″ (23.5 × 16.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Roger M. Parry (French, 1905-1977)

Born and educated in Paris, Roger Parry was originally interested in painting and worked as a draftsman after graduation. In 1928 he met Maurice Tabard, who taught him photography and for whom Parry worked as a darkroom assistant. Parry published his photographs in Art et Métiers Graphiques, a photographic annual, and Banalités, a book of poems. These publications gained the attention of André Malraux, with whom Parry became associated around 1930.

Parry worked for Malraux and the Gallimard publishers for more than forty years. In 1934 Gallimard published Parry’s photographs of Tahiti. During World War II Parry was a photography war correspondent for the news agency L’Express. He eventually became head of photography and art director for the Gallimard publication Nouvelle Revue Française.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website [Online] Cited 25/01/2022

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990) 'Franz Lederer' c. 1929

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990)
Franz Lederer
c. 1929
Gelatin silver print
21.3 × 15.5cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Grace M. Mayer Fund
© Lotte Jacobi Collection, University of New Hampshire
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Francis Lederer (November 6, 1899 Prague – May 25, 2000) was a Czech-born American film and stage actor with a successful career, first in Europe, then in the United States. His original name was Franz (Czech František) Lederer.

 

Unknown photographer / Press-Photo G.M.B.H. 'Untitled (Cover illustration from 'Here Comes the New Photographer')' c. 1928-1929

 

Unknown photographer / Press-Photo G.M.B.H.
Untitled (Cover illustration from Here Comes the New Photographer)
c. 1928-1929
Gelatin silver print
21.9 × 16.2cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Edward Steichen, by exchange
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Masterworks of MoMA

Introduction

In 2001 and 2017, The Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired more than 350 photographs from the collector Thomas Walther. This collection, which is now one of the pillars of MoMA’s modern collection, is presented for the first time in France in an exhibition of some 230 images.

Comprising iconic works from the first half of the twentieth century, the exhibition provides a history of the European and American photographic avant-gardes. Through the works of a hundred or so photographers, from Berenice Abbott to Karl Blossfeldt, from Claude Cahun to El Lissitzky, from Edward Weston to André Kertész, this fusion of masterpieces and lesser-known images traces the history of modernity in photography. Mixing genres and approaches – architecture and urban landscapes, portraits and nudes, reportage, photomontage, experimentation, etc. – the exhibition delves deep into the artistic networks of the inter-war period, from the Bauhaus to Surrealist Paris, via Moscow and New York.

In their visually radical inventiveness, these images capture perfectly the utopian spirit of those who wanted to change images in order to change the world; now we fully understand the words of the photographer and theoretician Lázló Moholy-Nagy who, a century ago, stated that “the illiterate of the future will be ignorant of the camera and the pen alike.”

 

The Exhibition

Life as an artist

While it is true that throughout the 20th century photographers took great pleasure in portraiture, the Thomas Walther Collection also illustrates the spirit of freedom that characterised the lives of these artists and the circles they moved in.

Marcel Duchamp once described the Paris of the 1920s as home to the first truly international community of artists. The body of photographs by André Kertész assembled by Thomas Walther offers a fine summary of the photographer’s affinities, empathies and networking during his Parisian years, while also reflecting his interest in abstract and post-Cubist art and the play of light on highly geometric volumes.

The period between the two World Wars saw the affirmation of a collective artistic adventure most strikingly evidenced by the Bauhaus – one of the main axes of the Thomas Walther collection. From Florence Henri to Lotte Beese and Umbo, many of the artists represented in the collection spent time there; and all of them practiced photography without necessarily being photographers. Thus the works relating to the Bauhaus here are essentially snapshots of documentary interest. Lázsló Moholy-Nagy and Lucia Moholy were both very active photographers, but while Lázsló’s work attracted considerable critical attention, this is less true of his wife, who, although not an official member of the school, took numerous photographs of architecture and portraits.

Similarly, Lyonel Feininger, a trained painter and head of the engraving workshop, and Gertrud Arndt and Lotte Beese, students in the weaving workshop, acquired skills through an intense photographic activity that went far beyond the official teaching.

Experiments with night photography, high- and low-angle shots, multiple exposures, distorting reflections: a large part of the vocabulary of the avant-gardes can be found at the Bauhaus.

The third body of work in this section documents these artistic networks and communities in a different way. The self-portrait plays a predominant role here, revealing the shaping of a new identity for the photographer via an emphasis on the camera that underscored photography’s mechanical character – an aspect often skirted by the art photographers of the previous generation.

Now, whether on a tripod or in the hand, the camera was omnipresent, to the point where it merged completely with the user as an artificial extension of the eye.

El Lissitzky redefined photography as a mental activity and the photographer as a “constructor”, a producer of images who must unify the work of eye and hand, in a context of photography become inseparable from graphics.

 

Here comes the new photographer!

Photography was the ideal medium for catching the feel of modern life in the aftermath of the First World War: looking both up and down – from planes, bridges and skyscrapers – photographers discovered unparalleled views and a new, dynamic visual language, free of convention.

A new thirst for photographic images took hold of the illustrated press between the wars, a period that saw the advent of reports and magazines built entirely around the photographic image. Another feature of this period was its passion for sport and speed. Advances in the sensitivity of photographic film and paper and the development of more manageable cameras allowed artists to capture movement as never before.

Totally unexpected points of view were thus created. One of the most famous is doubtless the aerial view, where the aviator embodies this new sporting modernity, as does the racing driver.

A sense of weightlessness and lightness is found in the images of Kate Steinitz and John Gutmann, both influenced by Dada and European Surrealism. Alexander Rodchenko’s images of divers emphasise the space that the body travels through as well as the athlete himself.

Their out-of-kilter framing, pushing the bodies into the corners of the image, attempts to summarise a rapid, complex movement in a single still image. While using an overtly avant-garde photographic grammar – high-angle, low angle – the themes of these photographs seem to be fully in line with the political context of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Lissitzky too was fascinated by the figure of the athlete: his photomontage Rekord (Record), a model of a project for the photographic decoration of a sports club in Moscow, offers a modernist yet dreamlike vision in which the entire illuminated metropolis mutates into a sports arena.

Finally, this exaltation of a new humanity underlies in a much more literal way Leni Riefenstahl’s images of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Armed with impressive technical and financial resources, photographer / filmmaker Riefenstahl directed Olympia, commissioned by the Hitler regime to hymn the new Aryan type. In images markedly avant-garde in style, one finds many features of the aesthetics of the Third Reich, from the references to antiquity to the celebration of the athlete-hero and the geometrisation and perfect synchronisation of figures in movement.

 

Discovering photography

In 1925, László Moholy-Nagy asserted that although photography had been invented a hundred years earlier, its true aesthetic potential had only just been discovered when he and other members of avant-garde circles adopted the medium. With their brief history and no connection to traditional fine arts disciplines, photography and film became true modernist instruments.

Moving away from the efforts of the art photographers of the previous generation, out to obscure the mechanical nature of the photographic print through various subterfuges – timeless subjects, use of blur, etc. – the photographic avant-gardes of the early 20th century drew on images from non-art spheres: X-rays, astronomy, medicine and science provided them with representations of the invisible; photojournalism revealed forms in motion, improbably frozen by the snapshot; amateur photography offered a repertoire of strange viewpoints and aberrations of perspective. See differently, that was the maxim.

They experimented every which way, playfully and undeterred by reversion to archaic forms and processes. The photogram is probably the best illustration of this new language. This camera-less technique, which simply prints images of objects directly onto sensitised paper that has been exposed to light, is the origin of photography. It was practiced by all of photography’s pioneers before falling into disuse except as a mere laboratory exercise. It was only after the First World War that it was rediscovered by a few enthusiasts and became a major avant-garde gambit.

Appreciated for its simplicity, playfulness, and undeniable visual impact, it also became a much appreciated tool in the field of applied photography. Moreover, in addition to the photogram as such, advertising, Industry, and publishing were becoming broadly receptive to the new avant-garde photographic language, just as photography was gradually beginning to oust graphic techniques in their respective fields.

At the same time the laboratory began to function as a venue for exploration of both the negative and the print. The stretching of exposure times, with the resultant blurring of movement, allows the representation of time to be modified by embedding duration and movement in the still image. In some cases – think Albert Renger-Patzsch and Jean Painlevé – the precision of a simple close-up framing a particular being or thing as closely as possible, sufficed to imbue the subject with fresh presence and reality.

Last but not least, the avant-gardes revelled in the construction of composite images, notably through collage and photomontage, using all the resources made available to them by the illustrated press and publishing of the time. To these image games we should add the multiple exposure, long considered as no more than a photographer’s failure. In this sense, this generation was the first to practice borrowing and reusing images and forms on such a scale, attesting to the – already – rapid circulation of images within the European avant-garde.

 

Magic Realisms

In the mid-1920s, members of European art movements ranging from Surrealism to New Objectivity moved away from a realist approach, seeking instead to highlight the strangeness of everyday life or to bring together dreams and unusual states of consciousness. Echoes of these preoccupations, centred on the human figure, can be found throughout the Thomas Walther collection.

The images in this section hijack two traditional photographic genres, the portrait and the nude, with the aid of various processes: close-ups, inversion of negative-positive values through solarisation, photograms, overprints. Many of the techniques employed by photographers close to Surrealism aimed to transform reality by pushing technique to the point of destroying the human form. The diffuse influence of Surrealism is of course particularly evident among Parisian photographers, as can be seen in the numerous, often virtuoso laboratory games of commercial, advertising or fashion photographers like Maurice Tabard or Aurel Bauh, and even André Kertész in the early 1930s. The “distortions” Kertész produced, using the countless optical possibilities offered by deforming mirrors, are part of a photographic tradition that goes back to the 19th century, but also remind us of the representation and deformation of the human body undertaken by Picasso and Dalí in the same years.

The press of the 1920s was fond of optical visual games, transforming the human body in line with a certain objectification: loss of scale and reference points, oddness induced by a detail or the texture of skin. Of all the parts of the body, it was undoubtedly the eye, the organ of sight, that attracted the attention of distinction between the real and the fantastic – and created interplay between the animate and the inanimate by approaching the human body through substitutes such as dolls, mannequins, or masks.

 

Symphony of a Great City

Like the cinema, photography in the first half of the 20th century achieved a fragmentation and recomposition of an increasingly insistent urban reality. In an era of rapidly advancing urbanisation, the big city was the stamping ground par excellence for photographers and filmmakers.

The period saw the emergence of a large number of films that treated the city as a living organism: Paul Strand’s Manhattan, Charles Sheeler on New York and Berlin, Walther Ruttmann’s Symphony of a Great City. Often consisting of short, rapidly edited shots, these films have obvious links with the photography of the time: the German photographer Umbo was involved in the making of Ruttmann’s film. The four images on display here play on some of the optical games dear to the avant-garde: the derealisation effected by the bird’s-eye view and cast shadows, the simultaneous transparency and reflection of store windows, and the repetitive geometry of certain urban spaces.

The advent of an architecture of mobility was exactly contemporary with that of the first Kodak-type cameras, which allowed the operator a hitherto unknown freedom and mobility. Photographers would take full advantage of all the new possibilities open to them by favouring symbols and places emblematic of the contemporary: factory chimneys and industry at work; the iron architecture of buildings like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Brooklyn Bridge in New York; subjects and objects in movement, such as cyclists caught in urban traffic; newly pullulating public spaces; and, of course, the omnipresent street. The city was indeed this dynamic organism, the locus of human encounters, of incongruous objects and visual signs, captured at random in its streets. Constantly on the lookout, the pedestrian-photographer of the inter-war period appears as a modern version of the Baudelairean flâneur of the preceding century. With its unprecedented vertical extension, the modern city offers a multitude of new points of view, high-angle or low-angle, magnifying the impression of vertigo or crushing weight.

The city allowed for all kinds of new visual and optical experiments. Iron architecture, by erasing the boundaries between interior and exterior, offered countless possibilities for framing, as in the work of Germaine Krull, a photographer particularly attentive to these exercises in “framing within the frame”. Night shots, which gave pride of place to lighting effects, renewed the experience of nocturnal vision to a point of near-abstraction, simple luminous inscriptions of objects in movement.

But the fragmenting dear to Walter Benjamin is probably nowhere more perceptible than in photomontage, with its fantasised, idealised or monstrous version of the urban and industrial universe. The visual chaos of Paul Citroën’s Metropolis, composed of some two hundred images pasted together, is a perfect example. Citroën evokes a city not in ruins but in pieces, a cacophonous space, all the elements piled up in an incoherent spirit close to Dada.

 

High fidelity

At a time when, in Europe, experimentation was being put forward as a core concept by the photographic avant-gardes, the Americans seem to have put more emphasis on a search for a truth of the world through exact representation. “High fidelity”, a term borrowed from the world of acoustics, was used to designate this approach and its taste for a clear and faithful image.

Pure photography is a discipline in search of perfection and technical mastery at all stages of the production of the image. It is in this near-contradictory tension between the “highly detailed” and the “abstract”, between the use of a large format camera combining an almost hyper-realistic rendering with simplified shooting strategies, that lies one of the main characteristics of a certain American modernist approach. It seems logical, then, that this aesthetic of attention to object, texture and form, quickly pervaded various spheres of American commercial photography of the time.

At Film und Foto, the flagship exhibition of the international photographic avant-garde, some people remarked on the extent to which the American section, with its “refined technique that can rightly be described as cultivated”, contrasted with the more raw work of the Europeans.

However, while straight photography remained a very American movement, it also had ramifications in Europe. In Germany, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, voices began to be raised in photographic circles against the expressive experiments of the previous decade, urging respect for reality and greater objectivity. Karl Blossfeldt’s direct and unmanipulated approach to plants, produced for documentary purposes as part of his teaching at the Berlin School of Applied Arts, was praised. At the same time, it was the sweeping aerial views of Germany taken by balloonist Robert Petschow that aroused the enthusiasm of avant-garde circles, which exhibited them and celebrated both their quasi-abstract singularity and their informative content, blended in the manner of a topographical survey.

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) (German, 1902-1980) 'View of Berlin's Department Store Karstadt' 1929

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) (German, 1902-1980)
View of Berlin’s Department Store Karstadt
1929
Gelatin silver print
23.7 × 15.5cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
© ADAGP, Paris, 2021
© 2021 Umbo/ Gallery Kicken Berlin/ Phyllis Umbehr/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Cover study for America: The Development of Style in New Buildings in the United States (New Ways of Building in the World)' 1929-1930

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Cover study for America: The Development of Style in New Buildings in the United States (New Ways of Building in the World)
1929-1930
Gelatin silver print
10 1/4 × 7 5/8″ (26 × 19.4cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Henri Cartier-Bresson, by exchange
© 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Fifth Avenue, Nos. 4, 6, 8, Manhattan' March 20, 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Fifth Avenue, Nos. 4, 6, 8, Manhattan
March 20, 1936
Gelatin silver print
38.6 × 49.5cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Mr. Robert C. Weinberg, by exchange
© 2021 Estate of Berenice Abbott
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966) 'Pitmen's houses in Essen, Stoppenberg' 1929

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966)
Pitmen’s houses in Essen, Stoppenberg
1929
Gelatin silver print
10 3/4 × 14 13/16″ (27.3 × 37.6cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of James Thrall Soby, by exchange
© 2022 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Germany

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933) 'Summer Swimming' 1925-1930

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933)
Summer Swimming
1925-1930
Gelatin silver print
17.8 × 20cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Bequest of Ilse Bing, by exchange
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Aurel Bauh (Romanian, 1900-1964) 'Untitled' 1929-1932

 

Aurel Bauh (Romanian, 1900-1964)
Untitled
1929-1932
Gelatin silver print
29.4 × 23.3cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932) 'Acanthus mollis (Soft Acanthus, Bear's Breeches. Bracteoles with the Flowers Removed, Enlarged 4 Times)' 1898-1928

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Acanthus mollis (Soft Acanthus, Bear’s Breeches. Bracteoles with the Flowers Removed, Enlarged 4 Times)
1898-1928
Gelatin silver print
29.8 × 23.8cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933) 'Ficus elastica' 1926

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933)
Ficus elastica
1926
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 × 11 1/8″ (37.5 × 28.2cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

John Gutmann (American born Germany, 1905-1998)
Classe (Marjorie Gestring, championne olympique 1936 de plongeon de haut vol)
Class (Marjorie Gestring, 1936 Olympic champion in high diving)

1935
Gelatin silver print
22.3 x 19.2cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Girl with Leica' 1932-1933

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Girl with a Leica
1932-1933
Gelatin silver print
30 x 20.3cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Collection Thomas Walther
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
© ADAGP, Paris 2021
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Wanda Wulz (Italian, 1903-1984) 'Exercise' 1932

 

Wanda Wulz (Italian, 1903-1984)
Exercise
1932
Gelatin silver print
11 1/2 × 8 5/8″ (29.2 × 21.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
© Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections-Studio Wulz Archive, Florence

 

George Hoyningen-Huene (American born Russia, 1900-1968) 'Henri Cartier-Bresson' 1935

 

George Hoyningen-Huene (American born Russia, 1900-1968)
Henri Cartier-Bresson
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 11/16 × 7 11/16″ (24.6 × 19.5cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
© George Hoyningen-Huene Estate Archives

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Self-Portrait' 1924

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Self-Portrait
1924
Gelatin silver print
5 1/2 × 3 1/2″ (13.9 × 8.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
© 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

The essence of New Vision photography is pointedly expressed in this picture, commonly known as The Constructor, which puts the act of seeing at center stage. Lissitzky’s hand, holding a compass, is superimposed on a shot of his head that explicitly highlights his eye: insight, it expresses, is passed through the eye and transmitted to the hand, and through it to the tools of production. Devised from six different exposures, the picture merges Lissitzky’s personae as photographer (eye) and constructor of images (hand) into a single likeness. Contesting the idea that straight photography provides a single, unmediated truth, Lissitzky held instead that montage, with its layering of one meaning over another, impels the viewer to reconsider the world. It thus marks a conceptual shift in the understanding of what a picture can be.

Gallery label from The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook, April 16, 2012 – April 29, 2013

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956) 'Demonstration' 1932

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Demonstration
1932
Gelatin silver print
11 5/8 × 9″ (29.6 × 22.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966) 'The Octopus' 1909

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966)
The Octopus
1909
Gelatin silver print
22 1/8 × 16 3/4″ (56.2 × 42.6cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© George Eastman House

 

Franz Roh (German, 1890-1965) 'Lightbulb' 1928-1933

 

Franz Roh (German, 1890-1965)
Lightbulb
1928-1933
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 9 7/16″ (18.2 × 23.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Willys P. Wagner and Mrs. Gerald F. Warburg, by exchange
© Estate Franz Roh, Munich

 

Hans Finsler (Swiss, 1891-1972) 'Incandescent Lamp' 1928

 

Hans Finsler (Swiss, 1891-1972)
Incandescent Lamp
1928
Gelatin silver print
14 1/2 × 9 3/4″ (36.9 × 24.7cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© Stiftung Moritzburg, Kunstmuseum des Landes. Sachsen-Anhalt

 

Jaroslav Rössler (Czech, 1902-1990) 'Untitled' 1923-1925

 

Jaroslav Rössler (Czech, 1902-1990)
Untitled
1923-1925
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 × 8 9/16″ (22.1 × 21.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel
© 2022 Sylva Vitove-Rösslerova

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Les Lunettes et la Pipe de Mondrian, Paris' 'Glasses and Pipe of Mondrian, Paris' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Les Lunettes et la Pipe de Mondrian, Paris (Glasses and Pipe of Mondrian, Paris)
1926
Gelatin silver print
3 1/8 × 3 11/16″ (7.9 × 9.3cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund
© 2022 Estate of André Kertész

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Chez Mondrian, Paris' 1926

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary. 1894–1985)
Chez Mondrian
1926
Gelatin silver print
4 1/4 × 3 1/16″ (10.8 × 7.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund and gift of the artist, by exchange
© 2022 Estate of André Kertész

 

Gertrud Arndt. 'At the Masters' Houses' (An den Meisterhäusern) 1929-30

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903-2000)
At the Masters’ Houses
1929-1930
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 × 6 1/4″ (22.6 × 15.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985) 'Untitled' 1927-1928

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)
Untitled
1927-1928
Gelatin silver print
9 × 6 1/4″ (22.9 × 15.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)

Germaine Krull was a pioneer in the fields of avant-garde photomontage, the photographic book, and photojournalism, and she embraced both commercial and artistic loyalties. Born in Wilda-Poznań, East Prussia, in 1897, Krull lived an extraordinary life lasting nine decades on four continents – she was the prototype of the edgy, sexually liberated Neue Frau (New Woman), considered an icon of modernity and a close cousin of the French garçonne and the American flapper. She had a peripatetic childhood before her family settled in Munich in 1912. She studied photography from 1916 to 1918 at Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Lichtbildwesen (Instructional and Research Institute for Photography), and in 1919 opened her own portrait studio. Her early engagement with left-wing political activism led to her expulsion from Munich. Then, on a visit to Russia in 1921, she was incarcerated for her counterrevolutionary support of the Free French cause against Hitler. In 1926, she settled in Paris, where she became friends with artists Sonia and Robert Delaunay and intellectuals André Malraux, Jean Cocteau, Colette, and André Gide, who were also subjects of her photographic portraits.

Krull’s artistic breakthrough began in 1928, when she was hired by the nascent VU magazine,the first major French illustrated weekly. Along with photographers André Kertész and Éli Lotar, she developed a new form of reportage rooted in a freedom of expression and closeness to her subjects that resulted in intimate close-ups, all facilitated by her small-format Icarette, a portable, folding bed camera. During this period, she published the portfolio, Metal (Métal) (1928), a collection of 64 pictures of modernist iron giants, including cranes, railways, power generators, the Rotterdam transporter bridge, and the Eiffel Tower, shot in muscular close-ups and from vertiginous angles. Krull participated in the influential Film und Foto, or Fifo, exhibition (1929-1930), which was accompanied by two books, Franz Roh’s and Jan Tschichold’s Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) and Werner Gräff’s Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!). Fifo marked the emergence of a new critical theory of photography that placed Krull at the forefront of Neues Sehen or Neue Optik (New Vision) photography, a new direction rooted in exploring fully the technical possibilities of the photographic medium through a profusion of unconventional lens-based and darkroom techniques. After the end of World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia, and then moved to India, where, after a lifetime dedicated to recording some of the major upheavals of the twentieth century, she decided to live as a recluse among Tibetan monks.

Introduction by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, 2016, text from the MoMA website [Online] Cited 01/02/2022

 

Paul Citroen (Dutch born Germany, 1896-1983) 'Metropolis' 1923

 

Paul Citroen (Dutch born Germany, 1896-1983)
Metropolis (City of My Birth) (Weltstadt (Meine Geburtsstadt))
1923
Gelatin silver print
8 × 6″ (20.3 × 15.3cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Paul Citroen/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/Pictoright, Amsterdam

 

César Domela-Nieuwenhuis (Dutch, 1900-1992) 'Hamburg, Germany's Gateway to the World' 1930

 

César Domela-Nieuwenhuis (Dutch, 1900-1992)
Hamburg, Germany’s Gateway to the World
1930
Gelatin silver print
Dimensions
15 7/8 × 16 1/2″ (40.3 × 41.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
© 2022 César Domela/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940 book

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book cover

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

 

The creative possibilities explored through photography were never richer or more varied than in the years between the two world wars, when photographers tested the medium with unmatched imaginative fervor. This moment of inventive approaches to documentary, abstract, and architectural subjects is dramatically captured in the more than three hundred and fifty photographs that constitute the Thomas Walther Collection at The Museum of Modern Art. The Museum acquired these photographs from Thomas Walther’s private collection, which includes exceptionally striking prints by towering figures in the field alongside lesser known treasures by more than one hundred other practitioners. This exhibition also highlights the artists whose work Walther collected in depth, including André Kertész, Germaine Krull, Franz Roh, Willi Ruge, Maurice Tabard, Umbo, and Edward Weston. Made on the street and in the studio, intended for avant-garde exhibitions and the printed page, these photographs provide unique insight into the radical objectives of their creators. The transatlantic circulation of ideas, images, objects, and people stimulated vibrant dialogues concerning the transformation of vision, and the varied uses and capacities of photography. Organised to explore thematic connections between the works, the exhibition testifies to the dynamic experience of modernity through genres such as portraiture, expressions of the urban experience, and techniques of estrangement and experimentation, including unfamiliar points of view and distortions.

 

Purisms

Beginning in the 1890s, in an attempt to distinguish their efforts from those of the growing ranks of professionals and the new hordes of Kodak-wielding amateurs, “artistic” photographers referred to themselves as Pictorialists. They embraced soft focus and painstakingly wrought prints to encourage an awareness of the preciousness of their photographs as objects, often emulating strategies from contemporary fine-art prints and drawings and choosing subjects that underscored the ethereal effects of their methods. Before long, however, some avant-garde photographers came to celebrate precise and distinctly photographic qualities as virtues, and by the early twentieth century, photographers on both sides of the Atlantic were transitioning from Pictorialism to Modernism – and occasionally blurring the distinction. Modernist photographers made exhibition prints using precious platinum or palladium, or, particularly after World War I, matte surfaces that mimicked those materials. These techniques are in evidence in the work of Edward Weston, whose suite of prints in the Walther Collection suggests the range of appearances achievable with unadulterated contact prints from large-format negatives.

 

Edward Weston (United States, 1886-1958)

In 1922, en route from his home in Los Angeles to New York City, where he planned to meet Alfred Stieglitz, Weston stopped to visit his sister in Ohio. There he made a series of pictures of the Armco Steel factory that signalled a break from the ethereal portrait practice that characterised his early professional work and an embrace of pure, industrial form. The following year Weston relocated to Mexico City, where he expanded his modernist vocabulary in the company of his apprentice, lover, and muse, the photographer Tina Modotti. In 1926, Weston returned to the United States, where he received increasingly international recognition for the formal rigour of his distilled subjects and the expressive luminosity of his prints.

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Shells' 1927

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Shells
1927
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 7 1/2″ (24.1 × 19cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Purchase
© 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Books and Magazines

The extraordinary fecundity of the photographic medium between the First and Second World Wars can be persuasively attributed to the dynamic circulation of people, ideas and images that was a hallmark of that era in Europe and the United States. Migration, a profusion of publications distributed and read on both sides of the Atlantic, and landmark exhibitions that brought artistic achievements into dialogue with one another all contributed to a period of innovation that was a creative peak both in the history of photography and in the field of arts and letters. Overall, only a small number of European photobooks made their way to the United States, but their significance was evidently appreciated by those Americans who encountered them. These publications signalled a recognition of the artistic potential of photography while also cementing its centrality in the popular imagination, as well as providing the opportunity to discover photographic works no matter the artist’s place of origin. Photographs also circulated in Europe and America through various types of publications such as avant-garde magazines and more widely circulated periodicals. The vast majority of magazines and reviews founded in the 1910s and 1920s did not survive the economic crisis of the end of the decade. This is not to say that the era of photographs in magazines was over – far from it. Life was founded in 1936, and its extraordinary success was followed, if not matched, by dozens of other magazines in the United States and Europe. These, however, did not embrace the experimental artistic and literary practices that had flourished on the pages of magazines and journals in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

 

László Moholy-Nagy, 'Painting, Photography, Film' 1925

 

Cover of László Moholy-Nagy (Hungarian, 1895-1946)
Painting, Photography, Film (Malerei, Fotografie, Film)
Munich: Albert Langen Verlag, 1925

 

 

Malerei Photographie Film (Painting Photography Film) marked the beginning of an explosively creative and influential decade of photography books. The book features the work of Walther Collection artists Paul Citroen, Georg Muche, and István Kerny in addition to Moholy-Nagy, and was the eighth in the Bauhausbücher (Bauhaus Books) publications series, which was edited by Moholy-Nagy and Walter Gropius, the German art school’s founding director. Although photography was central to the thinking of Moholy-Nagy and his fellow Bauhaus teacher Josef Albers, and each incorporated it into the school’s preliminary course, the medium was not formally made a part of the curriculum until 1929, when the Bauhaus hired photographer Walter Peterhans. Peterhans balanced a rigorous attention to technical detail with the reputational benefits of having his work circulate in publications and exhibitions, and he was responsible for teaching a significant number of Walther Collection photographers – from the Argentine Horacio Coppola to the German Umbo.

 

In 1922, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy published the short article “Produktion-Reproduktion” in the Dutch journal De Stijl, identifying the potential for the relatively new mediums of photography and film to transcend their conventional function of documentation. He advocated for their creative application – through multiple exposures, typographic interventions, montage, and oblique perspectives – to produce “new, as yet unfamiliar relationships” in the visual field. In the first half of the twentieth century, publications featuring photography were one of the primary outlets for expressing these new ways of seeing. Viewing these books and journals today provides a richer understanding of modernist photography and its impact on other mediums.

Text from the MoMA website

 

Werner Gräff. 'Es kommt der neue Fotograf!' (Here comes the new photographer!) 1929

 

Cover of Werner Gräff (German, 1901-1978)
Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here comes the new photographer!)
Berlin: H. Reckendorf, 1929

 

 

Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!) features eleven artists (and four artworks) of the Walther Collection, and was likewise designed as a primer for those interested in but unfamiliar with the experimental front lines of its medium. “The purpose of this book is to break down barriers, not create them,” wrote the author of the book Werner Gräff. He declared his bias in favour of “unconventional photographs,” including photomontage, which is featured in a dedicated section.

 

Cover of Franz Roh and Jan Tschichold. 'Foto-Auge: 76 Fotos der Zeit' (Photo-eye: 76 photos of the time) Stuttgart: F. Wedekind, 1929

 

Cover of Franz Roh (German, 1890-1965) and Jan Tschichold (German, 1902-1974)
Foto-Auge: 76 Fotos der Zeit (Photo-eye: 76 photos of the time)
Stuttgart: F. Wedekind, 1929
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York
© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) features on its cover El Lissitzky’s work Self-Portrait (The Constructor), a complex photomontage that collapses pictorial and graphic space, merging image with text, geometry with human form, and the act of seeing with, as the title suggests, constructing. In 1931, just two years after it appeared, Foto-Auge was recognised as a vital publication by the American photographer Walker Evans. Evans wrote, “Photo-Eye is a nervous and important book. Its editors call the world not only beautiful but exciting, cruel, and weird. In intention social and didactic, this is an anthology of the ‘new’ photography; yet its editors knew where to look for their material, and print examples of the news photo, aerial photography, microphotography, astronomical photography, photomontage and the photogram, multiple-exposure and the negative print.”

 

Cover from August Sander and Alfred Döblin. 'Antlitz der Zeit. Sechzig Aufnahmen Deutscher Menschen Des 20. Jahrhunderts' (Face of our time: Sixty portraits of twentieth-century Germans) Munich: Transmare Verlag, 1929

 

Cover from August Sander (German, 1876-1964) and Alfred Döblin (German, 1878-1957)
Antlitz der Zeit. Sechzig Aufnahmen Deutscher Menschen Des 20. Jahrhunderts (Face of our time: Sixty portraits of twentieth-century Germans)
Munich: Transmare Verlag, 1929

 

 

By the mid-1920s, August Sander had fixed on a wildly ambitious (if not intentionally impossible) goal of publishing a synthetic portrait – Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the Twentieth Century) – comprising hundreds of individual portraits of his fellow Germans. Although this project of capturing “an absolutely faithful historical picture of our time” would remain unrealised in his lifetime, Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time), published in Munich in 1929, distilled his vision into a suite of sixty photographs accompanied by an essay by novelist Alfred Doblin.

 

Cover of Albert Renger-Patzsch. 'Die Welt ist schön' 1928

 

Cover of Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966)
Die Welt ist schön
1928
Munich: Kurt Wolff Verlag, 1928

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966) 'Die Welt ist schön' 1928

 

Pages from Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966)
Die Welt ist schön. Einhundert photographische Aufnahmen (The world is beautiful: One hundred photographic images)
Munich: Kurt Wolff Verlag, 1928
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York
© 2014/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Germany

Left: Albert Renger-Patzsch. Kauper, von unten gesehen. Hochofenwerk. Herrenwyk (Cowper, Seen from below. Blast furnace plant. Herrenwyk).
Right: Albert Renger-Patzsch. Bügeleisen für Schuhfabrikation (Iron shoe for fabrication).

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932) .Urformen der Kunst' (Art forms in nature). Berlin: Ernst Wasmuth, 1928

 

Cover from Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Urformen der Kunst (Art forms in nature) with original dust jacket
Berlin: Ernst Wasmuth, 1928
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Ford Motor Company Collection. Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell
© 2014 Karl Blossfeldt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932) .Urformen der Kunst' (Art forms in nature). Berlin: Ernst Wasmuth, 1928

 

Pages from Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Urformen der Kunst (Art forms in nature)
Berlin: Ernst Wasmuth, 1928
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Ford Motor Company Collection. Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell
© 2014 Karl Blossfeldt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Left: Adiantum pedatum. Haarfarn
Right: Acanthus mollis. Akanthus. Bärenklau

 

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch’s Die Welt ist schön (The World Is Beautiful) and Karl Blossfeldt’s Urformen der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature) both appeared in 1928, published in Munich and Berlin, respectively. Renger-Patzsch and Blossfeldt represented two threads of the New Vision: the former was committed to unadulterated photographic depiction as the essence of a modern way of seeing, while the latter explored the intersection of mechanical processes and natural form. Neither chose the path of experimentation that Moholy-Nagy had defined earlier in the decade with Malerei Photographie Film, but in their embrace of the camera’s mechanical capacity, their work resonated with avant-garde practices.

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch was one of the most important promoters of modern photography in Weimar Germany. Die Welt ist Schön (The World is Beautiful) is his most well-known book, and the one that has come to define his career. It contains 100 closeup photographs of natural and man-made objects which are sequenced in progression from plants, animals, people, and the natural landscape, to turbines, girders, and other elements of industry before ending with a pair of hands clasped in prayer. The book was hugely popular at the time but received some criticism, particularly over the title which has contributed to a possible misreading of the work. In A Short History of Photography, Walter Benjamin wrote: ‘Therein is unmasked a photography which is able to relate a tin of canned food to the universe, yet cannot grasp a single one of the human connections in which that tin exists.’ Renger-Patzsch himself maintains that he would have preferred to have used the title Die Dinge (Things), which is more in keeping with his straight documentary approach. He maintained that his aesthetic arose from an interest in the precise nature of scientific photography and an interest in the composition of visual structures of the outside world, rather than from a desire to create a harmonic universal design. In a 1930 letter to Franz Roh he expressed his concern that Die Welt ist Schön was being interpreted philosophically, holding it up instead as his declared belief in optimism. To the end of his life Renger-Patzsch rejected any attempts to push photography toward total abstraction. He maintained his belief that photography was not an art but a means of documenting and recording, and that any attempt to compete with the graphic arts would cause photography to lose it own inherent characteristics of nuance and detail.

Text from the Oliver Wood Books website [Online] Cited 26/01/2022

 

Artist’s Life

Photography is particularly well suited to capture the distinctive nuances of the human face, and photographers delighted in portraiture throughout the twentieth century. In the Thomas Walther Collection, portraits and self-portraits of artists – as varied as the individuals portrayed – are complemented by works that convey a free-spirited sense of artists’ lives and communities, generously represented here through photographs made by André Kertész in Paris, and by students and faculty at the Bauhaus. When the Hungarian-born Kertész moved to the French capital in 1925, large sheets of photographic paper were a luxury he couldn’t afford. Choosing less expensive postcard stock instead, he made intimate prints that function as miniature windows into the lives of his bohemian circle of friends. The group of photographs made at the Bauhaus in the mid-1920s, before the medium was formally integrated into the school’s curriculum, includes playful and spontaneous snapshot-like pictures, as well as more considered compositions in which students explore their relationship to the architecture of the school and other aspects of their coursework.

 

Lucia Moholy (European, 1894-1989) 'Florence Henri' 1927

 

Lucia Moholy (European, 1894-1989)
Florence Henri
1927
Gelatin silver print
37.2 × 27.9cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2021 Lucia Moholy Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Between 1924 and 1930, Moholy photographed dozens of Bauhaus students, masters, and their families, creating often startlingly close views with her large-format camera. Within very narrow parameters, Moholy conveys her sensitivity to her sitters. Having printed many enlargements for her husband, László Moholy-Nagy, she was well aware of the visual impact afforded by large prints, and she had the experience and talent required to produce them.

The glass plate negative from which this image was made is the largest Moholy used, exposed in a large wooden camera on a tripod. The advantage to working with these fragile and cumbersome glass plates is their exceptionally high resolution, as well as the possibility that one could retouch directly on the negative. Indeed, this print reveals extensive retouching, both in the negative and on the print.

 

Lyonel Feininger (German-American, 1871-1956) 'Bauhaus' February 26, 1929

 

Lyonel Feininger (German-American, 1871-1956)
Bauhaus
February 26, 1929; print 1929-1932
Gelatin silver print
7 × 8 1/2″ (17.8 × 21.6cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

At the Bauhaus in Dessau, all members of the Feininger family (Lyonel, his wife, Julia, and their sons, Andreas, Laurence, and Theodore Lux) were active photographers. In 1927, Andreas built a darkroom in the Feininger basement. The year after, his father also took up photography, initially as an activity to enliven his long, solitary evening walks. Bauhaus is a view of the workshop wing of the school, carefully trimmed, retouched, and inscribed on the verso with the time and place it was taken. Feininger chose a matte paper that invites the eye to sink into the velvety blacks and allows the gradual discrimination of degrees of darkness within this nocturne.

 

In 1926, Lyonel Feininger, accompanied by his wife, Julia, and their adolescent sons, Andreas, Laurence, and Theodore Lux, moved into one of the double Masters’ Houses at the Dessau Bauhaus. In the other half of the house – designed by Walter Gropius, the director of the school – lived the photographer Lázsló Moholy-Nagy with his wife, Lucia Moholy, a skilled professional photographer. Moholy-Nagy enthusiastically advocated photography as the essential modern language, a message he broadcast in his influential book Malerei, Fotographie, Film (Painting, Photography, Film), which was published by the school in 1925 and reprinted in 1927. Feininger initially considered Moholy’s vigorous embrace of camera optics, new perspectives, and recombinant techniques to be outside the realm of art, but after a few years of living in the same house he changed his views: Moholy’s ideas and vitality had proved irresistible not only to the painter but to his three sons as well.

From the Feininger basement, where Andreas built a darkroom in 1927, emerged lively photographs of Bauhaus theatre productions, of the Bauhaus jazz band in which T. Lux and other students played, and of their friends involved in all manner of events. To enlarge their images, the young Feiningers fabricated a projector from a wood box, four lightbulbs, and a camera lens. They secured a glass negative to the front of the device and projected the negative’s image onto sheets of unexposed photographic paper pinned to an easel. The only signs of this procedure in the prints are the tiny white lines of shadow cast by the pins, which blocked the paper’s exposure to the light.

Prior to his arrival at the Bauhaus, in 1919, Feininger had shown his paintings with the artist group Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider), at the Galerie der Sturm and at the Galerie Dada. Because of these and other accomplishments, Gropius deferred to the somewhat older master and let him give up teaching and devote himself entirely to painting. In 1928 Feininger also took up photography, initially as an activity to enliven his long, solitary evening walks. Bauhaus is a view of the workshop wing of the school printed from a 4.5 by 6 centimeter (1 3/4 by 2 3/8 inch) glass-plate negative using the projection technique worked out by his sons. Feininger carefully trimmed, retouched, and inscribed this large print on the verso with the time and place it was taken.

In making his prints Feininger drew from his experience as a printmaker who knew the critical role of craft and materials – of inks and papers – and Lucia Moholy’s fine printing may also have made him especially attentive to print quality. Feininger chose a thin matte paper with a high rag content, which instead of reflecting light, as glossy papers do, absorbs it. This invites the viewer’s eye to sink into the velvety blacks and allows the gradual discrimination of degrees of darkness within these meditative nocturnes.

Lee Ann Daffner, Maria Morris Hambourg on the Object: Photo MoMA website [Online] Cited 26/01/202

 

Hajo Rose (German, 1910–1989) 'Untitled (Self-Portrait)' 1931

 

Hajo Rose (German, 1910-1989)
Untitled (Self-Portrait)
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 7 1/16″ (23.9 × 17.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Hajo Rose/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Germany

 

 

Trained first as a graphic artist and introduced to photography only upon enrolling at the Bauhaus in 1930, Rose applied his talents with both disciplines to generate this superimposition made from two different negatives: the distinctive facade of the Bauhaus in Dessau circumscribed by a self-portrait. Photography was formally integrated into the Bauhaus curriculum with the appointment of Walter Peterhans to the faculty in 1929, and this image may have been Rose’s response to a Peterhans assignment. Like the school’s curriculum, the picture weaves together photography, graphic design, and architecture into a unique, instructive whole, suggesting the collective nature of the school and the inculcation of Constructivist ideals in the individuals that made up the student body.

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954), Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe) (French, 1892-1972) 'Untitled' 1921-1922

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954), Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe) (French, 1892-1972)
Untitled
1921-1922
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 × 5 7/8″ (23.7 × 15cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. Leon Dabo, by exchange
© 2022 Estate of Claude Cahun

 

 

Lucy Schwob was a writer, actress, and outspoken member of the lesbian community of Paris between the two world wars. She and her half-sister, Suzanne Malherbe, became partners in life, love, and art, and took the ambiguously gendered pseudonyms Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore for their theatrical and photographic works. These mostly depict Cahun, and sometimes Moore, in a variety of masculine, androgynous, and feminine personas in minimally staged scenes in their home. This cropped image shows just Cahun’s head. In the full negative she appears full-length as a dandy in a man’s evening suit, her stance brazen, with hand on hip and improper cigarette in hand.

 

Lucy Schwob was a writer, actress, and outspoken member of the Parisian lesbian community between the two world wars. She and Suzanne Malherbe, her stepsister, became partners in life, love, and art, and took the ambiguously gendered pseudonyms Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore for their collaborative theatrical and photographic works. The images they made mostly depict Cahun, and sometimes Moore, in a variety of masculine, androgynous, and feminine personas set in minimally staged scenes in their home.

This print is an enlargement from a negative that was cropped to frame Cahun’s face and torso; the full-length image reveals a dandy in a men’s evening suit, her stance brazen, with hand on hip and cigarette in hand. Cahun erased the visible traces of her femininity by shaving her head, wearing masculine clothes, and avoiding jewellery and makeup. Through her wide variety of self-portrayals, she undercut the notion of a fixed identity and challenged the concept of a strict gender binary. Cahun and Moore’s writings – particularly their 1930 book Aveux non avenus (Disavowals), where this photograph was reproduced – also explored a shifting, malleable concept of personhood. Cahun considered their self-imaging project to be never-ending, explaining, “Under this mask another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.”

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019

 

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Aveux Non Avenus' Paris- Éditions du Carrefour, 1930

 

Cover of Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954)
Aveux Non Avenus
Paris- Éditions du Carrefour, 1930

 

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Aveux Non Avenus' Paris- Éditions du Carrefour, 1930

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Aveux Non Avenus' Paris- Éditions du Carrefour, 1930

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Aveux Non Avenus' Paris- Éditions du Carrefour, 1930

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Aveux Non Avenus' Paris- Éditions du Carrefour, 1930

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Aveux Non Avenus' Paris- Éditions du Carrefour, 1930

 

Pages of Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954)
Aveux Non Avenus
Paris- Éditions du Carrefour, 1930

 

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) (American, 1890-1976) 'Three Heads – Joseph Stella and Marcel Duchamp' 1920

 

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) (American, 1890-1976)
Three Heads – Joseph Stella and Marcel Duchamp
1920
Gelatin silver print
8 1/8 × 6 3/16″ (20.7 × 15.7cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

In 1920, collector-philanthropist Katherine Dreier and Marcel Duchamp cofounded the Société Anonyme, an organisation intended to promote and exhibit modern European and American art in New York. Various other artists assisted in this enterprise, including Man Ray, who photographed the art and artists for publicity and postcards, and the Italian Futurist Joseph Stella, who helped to select and hang the early exhibitions.

The presence of Stella and Duchamp together on the couch in this image reflects their close association with Dreier at this moment. Stella contrasts in joviality and girth with the monkish intensity of Duchamp; combined with the photograph of the woman smoking on the wall (an image also taken by Man Ray) this incidental pairing was just the sort of delicious, lightly barbed nonsense that delighted Man Ray. He referred to portrait photography, with which he would earn his living in Paris, as “taking heads”; that he considered the picture of the woman an essential part of this image is indicated by his title, Three Heads.

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'High School Student' 1926

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
High School Student
1926
Gelatin silver print
10 3/16 × 7 3/8″ (25.8 × 18.7cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Edward Steichen, by exchange
© 2022 Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne / ARS, NY

 

 

Around 1910 Sander began producing his monumental project, Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the Twentieth Century): a photographic catalogue of the German people that traces the country’s transformation from agrarian society into modern industrialised nation, organised in seven categories: farmers, workers, women, professionals, artists, urbanites, and the “last people,” or those individuals on the fringe of society. In 1929, he published Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time), a group of sixty of these photographs that outlined his ideas about the existing social order, but the project’s incompatibility with Nazi ideology eventually caught the attention of Third Reich censors, who destroyed the printing plates in 1936. This portrait appeared in Antlitz der Zeit, and was classified in Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts as a representative image of a modern high school student.

 

Atelier Stone. Sasha Stone (Russian, 1895-1940) and Cami Stone (born Wilhelmine Schammelhout, Belgian 1892-1975) 'Woman Smoking' 1928

 

Atelier Stone. Sasha Stone (Russian, 1895-1940) and Cami Stone (born Wilhelmine Schammelhout, Belgian 1892-1975)
Woman Smoking
1928
Gelatin silver print
23 1/16 × 16 5/16″ (58.6 × 41.4cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Committee on Photography Fund

 

 

Atelier Stone was a photography studio founded in Berlin by Sasha and Cami Stone, a married couple who collaborated professionally. Their pictures were disseminated in German magazines throughout the 1920s, and in 1929 their photographs were included in the exhibition Film und Foto. This large-scale print was almost certainly made for display, rather than reproduction. Oozing cool confidence, the figure portrayed here is emblematic of the Weimar-era “neue Frau,” or “new woman,” a social type whose independence, feminist outlook, and daring style challenged traditional gender expectations.

 

Magic Realisms

In the mid-1920s, members of European artistic movements ranging from Surrealism to New Objectivity shifted away from a realist approach, instead seeking to highlight the strangeness of everyday life or to mingle dreams and conscious states. Echoes of these concerns, centred on the human figure, can be found throughout the Walther Collection. Some photographers used anti-naturalistic methods – capturing hyperreal, close-up details, playing with scale, or rendering the body as landscape – to challenge the viewer’s perception. Others, in line with Sigmund Freud’s definition of “the uncanny” in 1919 as an effect resulting from the blurring of distinctions between the real and the fantastic, offered plays on life and the lifeless, the animate and the inanimate, engaging the human body through surrogates in the form of dolls, mannequins, and masks. Photographers influenced by Surrealism, such as Maurice Tabard, subjected the human figure to distortions and transformations by experimenting with photographic techniques while capturing the image or developing prints in the darkroom.

 

Maurice Tabard (France, 1897-1984)

Although he started out as a more conventional portrait photographer in the United States, Tabard made his name internationally as a magician of solarisation – a method that creates a hybrid image (part negative, part positive) by interrupting the development process to expose the image to an additional flash of light – and other darkroom manipulations. From 1928 to 1931 he was director of the photography lab at the Parisian type foundry Deberny & Peignot, which was at the forefront of the printing, advertising, and magazine trades, bringing him into contact with leading writers and artists of the day.

 

Herbert Bayer (American born Austria, 1900-1985) 'Humanly Impossible (Self-Portrait)' 1932

 

Herbert Bayer (American born Austria, 1900-1985)
Humanly Impossible (Self-Portrait)
1932
Gelatin silver print
38.9 × 29.3cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Acquired through the generosity of Howard Stein
© ADAGP, Paris, 2021
© 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

In the case of the Germans Herbert Bayer and John Guttman, it is the photographer’s own body that is the object of this doubling. In his Humanly Impossible – part of a series of photomontages titled Man and Dream – Bayer calls up the themes of the double and the ancient. Mingling disbelief and horror, the photographer watches himself performing his own amputation. The reflection in the mirror shows him his own body turned into a statue, his own flesh transformed into marble, and the present reverting to antiquity.

 

From 1925 to 1928 Bayer led the workshop in printing and advertising at the Bauhaus. In 1928, he relocated to Berlin, where he became the art director of the German edition of Vogue magazine and of Dorland Studio, an international advertising agency. It is at that time that he started creating dramatic montages, including this one, in which Bayer observes his reflected double in a mirror. A slice of his arm is severed from his torso. Although the picture is playful, reflecting both Dada humour and Surrealist dream states, the horror on Bayer’s face could reflect something darker, perhaps the physical and psychological traumas of World War I and the growing fears that such a cataclysmic nightmare might recur.

 

Raoul Hausmann (Austrian, 1886-1971) 'Untitled' February 1931

 

Raoul Hausmann (Austrian, 1886-1971)
Untitled
February 1931; print 1931-1933
Gelatin silver print
5 3/8 × 4 7/16″ (13.7 × 11.3cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2015 Raoul Hausmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Pari

 

 

A key Berlin-based Dadaist, Hausmann exhibited assemblage sculptures, collages, and photomontages made with magazines and newspaper clippings between 1918 and 1922. By the late 1920s he had taken up photography in earnest, making straight camera-based images of landscapes and plants before turning to more experimental works on light and optics. Hausmann made this untitled image during these years of intense focus on photography. The model is his second wife, Hedwig Mankiewitz-Hausmann. The reflection in the shaving mirror magnifies the organ of vision, the eye, a strategy popular in avant-garde photography of that period. The round mirror becomes a metaphor for the camera’s mechanical lens, which enables the operator to see the world literally larger than life.

 

Jindřich Štyrský (Czech, 1899-1942) 'Untitled' 1934-1935

 

Jindřich Štyrský (Czech, 1899-1942)
Untitled
1934-1935
From Na jehlách těchto dní. On the Needles of These Days
Gelatin silver print
3 9/16 × 3 3/8″ (9 × 8.5cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

 

Štyrský – an avant-garde poet, photographer, editor, painter, and collagist – was among the many avant-garde artists between the two world wars who were interested in the mannequin motif. Like the Surrealists in France, he was drawn to the bizarre, erotic, and morbid, and to the symbolic forms in which they appeared in popular culture. Štyrský trawled the streets of Paris and Prague, looking for such subjects. In 1941, in occupied Czechoslovakia, he published a clandestine edition of On the Needles of These Days, a book of photographs accompanied by Jindřich Heisler’s poems. This print of a mannequin in the window of a Prague shop comes from a maquette for the book.

 

“Na Jehlach Techto Dni (On the Needles of These Days)” published by Fr. Borovy v Praze, Prague in 1945 was preceded by the extremely scarce clandestine self-published edition of 1941 with original tipped-in silver gelatin prints. In “The Photobook: A History”, Parr and Badger write, “This remains a haunting photobook, 50 years after the war. It is a prime example of one of the photobook’s great truths – it’s not necessarily the individual pictures that count, but what you do with them”. Commenting in the book, “The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century”, Vince Aletti states, “On the Needles of These Days” is a Surrealist meditation on war and resistance the book’s aura of alienation, repression, and anxiety not only captured the war’s home front theatre of the absurd, it anticipated the depth of postwar pessimism.” Cited in all three reference books on photobooks: “The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century” by Andrew Roth and “The Photobook: A History”, by Parr and Badger, and “The Open Book” by Andrew Roth.

Text from the Abebooks website

 

Raoul Ubac (Belgian born Germany, 1910-1985) 'The Secret Gathering' 1938

 

Raoul Ubac (Belgian born Germany, 1910-1985)
The Secret Gathering
1938
Gelatin silver print
15 5/8 × 11 11/16″ (39.7 × 29.7cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
© 2022 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

At the time of his association with Surrealism in the 1930s, Ubac distinguished himself with deft darkroom manipulations, creating complex photographs through multiple experimental techniques. This image is from a series that has come to be associated with the legend of Penthesilea, the mythical queen of the Amazons. To construct this picture, Ubac carefully lit and posed his wife, Agui, and a friend in the studio. The resulting images were collaged into a new composition, which he rephotographed and solarised (exposed to an additional flash of light) to partially annihilate their forms. Recalling the transformative rituals of secret societies, the tangled mass of naked flesh and hair evokes unconscious sexual and aggressive drives, while the title suggests secret societies and subterfuge.

 

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939) 'Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane' 1911-1912

 

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939)
Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane
1911-1912
Gelatin silver print
6 11/16 × 4 3/4″ (17 × 12.1 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. Willard Helburn, by exchange

 

 

Writer, painter, and philosopher, Witkiewicz made extraordinary close-up portraits of himself, his parents, and his friends, including this elusive portrait of his lover, Anna Oderfeld. This photograph is an intimate record of a young man’s romantic obsession, yet the blurred image and extremely tight cropping look nothing like a traditional portrait of a sweetheart. As evidenced by the dark oval left by a negative clip in the top right corner, this is a contact print, and the light source – a paned window – is reflected in the dark of the subject’s eyes. Witkiewicz’s embrace of these technical “flaws” was not merely a signal of creative license; he was keenly attuned to their social, psychological, and metaphysical implications.

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987) 'Articulated Mannequin' 1931

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987)
Articulated Mannequin
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 × 6 13/16″ (23 × 17.3cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Makoto Yamawaki

 

 

Trained in architecture at the Tokyo School of Arts but disenchanted with architectural practice in his native country, Yamawaki applied to study architecture and interior design at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Once in Germany, however, he turned to photography, creating images of architecture, people, furniture, and objects. This image is a prime example of the exquisite sculptural quality Yamawaki could achieve in his photographs. Involved in designing and producing theatre and dance at the school, Yamawaki employed theatrical lighting to emphasise the voluminous forms of a commonly available artist’s mannequin.

 

Experiments in Form

In 1925 László Moholy-Nagy asserted that although photography had been invented one hundred years earlier, its true aesthetic possibilities were only then being discovered, as he and others in his avant-garde circles adopted the medium. As products of technological culture, with short histories and no connection to the old fine-art disciplines, photography and cinema were truly modern instruments with the greatest potential for transforming visual habits – a key goal of the New Vision, the movement of young photographers synthesised through Moholy’s writing. These ideas were distilled in widely circulated publications by Moholy-Nagy, Franz Roh, and others who deployed innovative combinations of text and image. From the photogram to solarisation, from negative prints to double exposures, New Vision photographers explored the medium in countless ways, rediscovering older techniques and inventing new ones. Echoing the cinematic experiments of the same period, their emerging photographic vocabulary was adopted by the advertising industry, which was quick to exploit the visual efficiency of its bold graphic simplicity.

 

Franz Roh (Germany, 1890-1965)

Roh was an art historian and a pioneering critic of the twentieth-century avant-garde, with a special interest in photography. In 1927, encouraged by his friend László Moholy-Nagy, whom he had visited at the Bauhaus in Dessau the year before, he started making his own experimental photos. Some of Roh’s favourite techniques were photomontage, which he often used to combine shots of nudes and of architecture in nonsensical compositions; negative printing; and sequenced contact prints that suggest a film-like narrative. He coauthored the seminal photography book Foto-Auge with the Dutch graphic designer Jan Tschichold in 1929 and launched Fotothek (Photo Library), a short-lived series of small books about new photographers, in 1930.

 

Florence Henri (European born America, 1893-1982) 'Composition No.19' 1928-1930

 

Florence Henri (European born America, 1893-1982)
Composition No.19
1928-1930
10 5/16 × 14 3/8″ (26.2 × 36.5cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
© 2022 Florence Henri, Galleria Martini e Ronchetti, Genova, Italy

 

 

Henri arrived at the Bauhaus in Dessau in 1927 as a painter and left a few short months later as a photographer. Back in Paris in 1928 and influenced by Lucia Moholy’s ideas about photography, Henri started a series of still lifes with mirrors, playing with photography’s usual perspective. Every adjustment of mirrors and objects yielded fascinating new perceptions in this elastic environment. These images circulated in avant-garde magazines and major photography exhibitions of the day, including the 1929 exhibition Film und Foto.

 

“With photography, what I really want to do is compose the image, as I do in painting,” the artist Florence Henri has said about her artistic approach. “The volumes, lines, shadows and light should submit to my will and say what I would like them to say. All of this under the strict control of the composition, because I do not claim to be able to explain the world or to explain my own thoughts.” …

Henri turned to photography after spending a semester at the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany, in 1927. Even though photography wasn’t introduced into the curriculum until 1929, it had already been used on campus for documentary, publicity, and experimental purposes for years. Henri’s professor, László Maholy-Nagy said, “With Florence Henri’s photos, photographic practice enters a new phase, the scope of which would have been unimaginable before today… Reflections and spatial relationships, superposition and intersections are just some of the areas explored from a totally new perspective and viewpoint.”

Though photography is a medium that uses light to capture the surfaces of physical objects, she manipulated light and manipulated objects to create a dialogue between realism and abstraction. Henri frequently experimented with mirror, angling them to create surreal still lives and self-portraits marked by spatial ambiguity. She also manipulated her images via photomontage, multiple exposures, and negative printing. This experimental work exemplified the New Vision movement (a term coined by Moholy-Nagy), and it earned its place on the walls of the prominent international photography exhibitions of the time, including Fotografie der Gegenwart (1929), Film und Foto (1929), and Das Lichtbild (1930).

In 1929, Henri established her own successful studio in Paris, and she taught photography to artists such as Gisèle Freund and Lisette Model. During the Nazi occupation, photographic supplies became difficult to acquire, and Henri’s experimental style was in danger of being deemed “degenerate” by the regime. Henri returned to painting, but it was her photographs, taken mainly between 1927 and 1940, that left lasting impressions on her contemporaries and later generations alike.

Jane Pierce, Carl Jacobs Foundation Research Assistant, Department of Photography. “Florence Henri,” on the MoMA website Nd [Online’ Cited 292/01/2022

 

The Modern World

Even before the introduction of the handheld Leica camera in 1925, photographers were avidly exploring the unique experience of capturing the world through a camera’s lens. Photography was ideally suited to express the tenor of modern life in the wake of World War I: looking both up and down (from airplanes, bridges, and skyscrapers), photographers found unfamiliar points of view and a new dynamic visual language, freed from convention. Improvements in the light sensitivity of photographic films and papers meant that photographers could capture motion as never before. At the same time, technological advances in printing resulted in an explosion of opportunities for photographers to present their work to ever-widening audiences. From inexpensive weekly magazines to extravagantly produced journals, periodicals exploited the potential of photographs and imaginative layouts to tell a story. It wasn’t just photojournalists like Willi Ruge whose work appeared in magazines and newspapers; the illustrated press was a primary means of distribution and circulation for most photographers of this era.

 

Leni Riefenstahl (German, 1902-2003) 'Schönheit im Olympischen Kampf'. Berlin: Deutschen Verlag 1937

 

Leni Riefenstahl (German, 1902-2003)
Schönheit im Olympischen Kampf
Berlin: Deutschen Verlag 1937

 

 

Having enjoyed success as a dancer and actress, Riefenstahl pivoted to directing films in the 1930s. Although never a formal member of the Nazi Party, she infamously made propaganda films for the Nazi Party and cultivated a close personal and professional relationship with Hitler. With the assistance of various cameramen Riefenstahl extensively documented the 1936 Olympics in Berlin in both still photography and film, using her technical virtuosity to craft an image of German triumph for an international audience. The resultant 1938 film Olympia broke ground with its innovative cinematography, and many photographs of the games taken by her and her team, including this one, were compiled in the 1936 multilingual publication Schönheit im Olympischen Kampf (Beauty in the Olympic Games) [above]. During post-war denazification proceedings, Riefenstahl was classified as a Nazi sympathiser.

 

Willi Ruge. 'Seconds before Landing' (Sekunden vor der Landung) 1931

 

Willi Ruge (German, 1892-1961)
Seconds before Landing
1931
From the series I Photograph Myself during a Parachute Jump
Gelatin silver print
20.4 × 14.1cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

In 1931, the photojournalist Willi Ruge took a series of photographs during a parachute jump over Berlin, using a camera attached to his waist. The reportage was backed up by a number of more conventional shots from another plane and from the ground. The story was published in the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, at the time Germany’s leading magazine using photography. Such was the success of the story that it was subsequently picked up by other magazines ranging from England to the United States.

 

Oscillating between documentation and entertainment stunt, this series depicts a parachute jump made by press photographer Ruge in 1931 from the Staaken airfield, near Berlin. In addition to the photographs Ruge made during his descent using a camera strapped to his belt, published accounts included pictures made from a second plane, and by at least one other photographer on the ground before and after the jump. The images Ruge produced while jumping echo many of the concerns and qualities put forward by New Vision photographers, including taking a more personal and almost amateur approach; unusual, dynamic vantage points; unexpected cropping; fractured, collage-like images; and the exaltation of modern sporting heroism. Distributed by the Berlin-based press agency Fotoaktuell, the pictures were published in a variety of magazines, first in Germany and then in Great Britain.

 

 

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26
Sep
21

Exhibition: ‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 2nd July – 3rd October, 2021

Curators: The New Woman Behind the Camera is curated by Andrea Nelson, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The Met’s presentation is organised by Mia Fineman, Curator, with Virginia McBride, Research Assistant, both in the Department of Photographs.

 

 

Marion Post Wolcott (American, 1910–1990) '[Haircutting in Front of General Store and Post Office on Marcella Plantation, Mileston, Mississippi]' 1939

 

Marion Post Wolcott (American, 1910-1990)
[Haircutting in Front of General Store and Post Office on Marcella Plantation, Mileston, Mississippi]
1939
Gelatin silver print
9 13/16 × 12 11/16 in. (25 × 32.2cm)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

This is the first of two postings on this exhibition, this first one when it is taking place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The second posting will be its iteration at the National Gallery of Art, Washington starting on 31st October, with many more images. I will write more about the exhibition in the second posting.

The only thing you really need to know is… I bought the catalogue. Rarely do I buy catalogues, but that’s how important I think this exhibition is.

My favourite photographs in this posting are two atmospheric self-portraits: Gertrud Arndt’s Masked Self-Portrait (No. 16) (1930, below) and Marta Astfalck-Vietz’s Self-Portrait (nude with lace) (c. 1927, below). The most disturbing but uplifting are Margaret Bourke-White’s photographs of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp: after all that he had gone through, how the young man can smile at the flash of the camera is miraculous.

But really, there is not a dud photograph in this posting. They are all strong, intelligent, creative images. I admire them all.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

The New Woman of the 1920s was a powerful expression of modernity, a global phenomenon that embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Featuring more than 120 photographers from over 20 countries, this groundbreaking exhibition explores the work of the diverse “new” women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and artistic expression from the 1920s through the 1950s. During this tumultuous period shaped by two world wars, women stood at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

The exhibition is the first to take an international approach to the subject, highlighting female photographers’ innovative work in studio portraiture, fashion and advertising, artistic experimentation, street photography, ethnography, and photojournalism. Among the photographers featured are Berenice Abbott, Ilse Bing, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Florestine Perrault Collins, Imogen Cunningham, Madame d’Ora, Florence Henri, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Consuelo Kanaga, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Dora Maar, Tina Modotti, Niu Weiyu, Tsuneko Sasamoto, Gerda Taro, and Homai Vyarawalla. Inspired by the global phenomenon of the New Woman, the exhibition seeks to reevaluate the history of photography and advance new and more inclusive conversations on the contributions of female photographers.

 

 

 

 

The New Woman Behind the Camera Virtual Opening

The New Woman of the 1920s through the 1950s was a powerful expression of modernity, a global phenomenon that embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. During this tumultuous period shaped by two world wars, women stood at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

Join Mia Fineman, Curator in the Department of Photographs, for a tour of The New Woman Behind the Camera, a groundbreaking exhibition, which features more than 120 photographers from over 20 countries and explores the work of the diverse “new” women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and artistic expression.

 

 

 

New Woman Behind the Camera

The New Woman of the 1920s was a powerful expression of modernity, a global phenomenon that embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Featuring more than 120 photographers from over 20 countries, this groundbreaking exhibition explores the work of the diverse “new” women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and artistic expression from the 1920s through the 1950s. During this tumultuous period shaped by two world wars, women stood at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978) 'Annie Mae Merriweather' 1935

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)
Annie Mae Merriweather
1935
Gelatin silver print
32.9 × 24.8cm (12 15/16 × 9 3/4 in.)
Purchase, Dorothy Levitt Beskind Gift, 1974
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Consuelo Kanaga photographed Annie Mae Merriweather for the October 22, 1935 issue of New Masses (vol. 17, no. 4). This portrait accompanies a Merriweather’s account of a lynch mob in Lowndes County, Alabama. In response to a strike of the Sharecropper’s Union, members of the mob terrorised demonstrators, attacking Merriweather and murdering her husband.

The artist created this portrait of Annie Mae Meriwether for New Masses magazine, an Marxist periodical published in the United States from 1926 to 1948. The picture was commissioned to accompany an account of Meriwether’s escape from the lynch mob that had murdered her husband as retribution for his involvement with an Alabama sharecroppers’ union.

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)

Born in Astoria, Oregon, Consuelo Kanaga came from a family that valued ideals of social justice. After completing high school, she began writing for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1915. Within three years, she had learned darkroom technique from the paper’s photographers and become a staff photographer. She met Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, and Dorothea Lange through the California Camera Club, and was interested in the fine-art photography in Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Work. A series of three marriages and one canceled engagement precipitated Kanaga’s periodic relocations between New York and San Francisco, where she established a portrait studio in 1930. While not an official member of the f/64 group, her images were exhibited in its first exhibition at San Francisco’s M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in 1932. Kanaga was involved in West Coast liberal politics, and when she returned to New York in 1935, she was associated with the leftist Photo League; she lectured there in 1938 with Aaron Siskind, then occupied with his Harlem Document. Her photography was championed by Edward Steichen, who included her in ‘The Family of Man’ exhibition in 1955. Kanaga’s work was featured in the 1979 ICP exhibition “Recollections: Ten Women of Photography,” and she was the subject of a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1992.

In terms of photographic technique and depiction of subjects, romantic instincts characterise Kanaga’s work. An advocate for the rights of African-Americans and other people of colour, Kanaga distinguished her portraits from the documentary images of the Farm Security Administration by conveying her subject’s physical comfort and personal pride. The tactile sense of volume in her work is reinforced by strong contrasts in printing light and dark forms.

Meredith Fisher in Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 219 published on the International Center of Photography website [Online] Cited 16/07/2021.

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992) 'Martha Graham – Lamentation' 1935

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992)
Martha Graham – Lamentation
1935
Gelatin silver print
12 5/16 × 10 9/16 in. (31.2 × 26.9cm)
Purchase, Dorothy Levitt Beskind Gift, 1974
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992)

Barbara Morgan (July 8, 1900 – August 17, 1992) was an American photographer best known for her depictions of modern dancers. She was a co-founder of the photography magazine Aperture.

Morgan is known in the visual art and dance worlds for her penetrating studies of American modern dancers Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins, José Limón, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and others. Morgan’s drawings, prints, watercolours and paintings were exhibited widely in California in the 1920s, and in New York and Philadelphia in the 1930s. …

In 1935 Barbara attended a performance of the young Martha Graham Dance Company. She was immediately struck with the historical and social importance of the emerging American Modern Dance movement:

“The photographers and painters who dealt with the Depression, often, it seemed to me, only added to defeatism without giving courage or hope. Yet the galvanising protest danced by Martha Graham, Humphrey-Weidman, Tamiris and others was heartening. Often nearly starving, they never gave up, but forged life affirming dance statements of American society in stress and strain. In this role, their dance reminded me of Indian ceremonial dances which invigorate the tribe in drought and difficulty.”

.
Morgan conceived of her 1941 book project Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs – the year she met Graham. From 1935 through the 1945 she photographed more than 40 established dancers and choreographers, and she described her process:

“To epitomise… a dance with camera, stage performances are inadequate, because in that situation one can only fortuitously record. For my interpretation it was necessary to redirect, relight, and photographically synthesise what I felt to be the core of the total dance.”

.
Many of the dancers Morgan photographed are now regarded as the pioneers of modern dance, and her photographs the definitive images of their art. These included Valerie Bettis, Merce Cunningham, Jane Dudley, Erick Hawkins, Hanya Holm, Doris Humphrey, José Limón, Sophie Maslow, May O’Donnell, Pearl Primus, Anna Sokolow, Helen Tamiris, and Charles Weidman. Critics Clive Barnes, John Martin, Elizabeth McCausland, and Beaumont Newhall have all noted the importance of Morgan’s work.

Graham and Morgan developed a relationship that would last some 60 years. Their correspondence attests to their mutual affection, trust and respect. In 1980, Graham stated:

“It is rare that even an inspired photographer possesses the demonic eye which can capture the instant of dance and transform it into timeless gesture. In Barbara Morgan I found that person. In looking at these photographs today, I feel, as I felt when I first saw them, privileged to have been a part of this collaboration. For to me, Barbara Morgan through her art reveals the inner landscape that is a dancer’s world.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Austria-Hungary, 1894-1989) 'László Moholy-Nagy' 1925-26

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Austria-Hungary, 1894-1989)
László Moholy-Nagy
1925-1926
10 3/16 × 7 15/16 in. (25.8 × 20.1cm)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Austria-Hungary, 1894-1989)

Lucia Moholy was one of the most prolific photographers at the Bauhaus between 1923 and 1928, while her husband, László Moholy-Nagy, was an instructor there. For both, photography was not simply a transparent window onto objective reality but a specific technology to be systematically explored in the modern spirit of exuberant experimentation. Here, illustrating the effect of selective focus, Moholy imprints his hand against the invisible picture plane that separates viewer and subject-a playful, disorienting gesture that collapses illusionistic depth into the concrete reality of the photographic image.

 

Lucia Moholy’s 1925-26 image of her celebrated photographer husband, László Moholy-Nagy, extending his hand in front of the camera was long assumed to be his own self-portrait, but research has led scholars to conclude that his wife shot the image. A wall label calls it “a striking example of the tendency to attribute the work of women artists to their male partners”.

Text from Nancy Kenney. “Triumphant in their time, yet largely erased later: a Met exhibition explores ‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’,” on The Art Newspaper website 1st July 2021 [Online] Cited 22/07/2021

 

Ringl and Pit (German, active 1930-1933) Grete Stern (Argentinian born Germany, 1904-1999) Ellen Auerbach (German, 1906-2004) 'Pétrole Hahn' 1931

 

Ringl and Pit (German, active 1930-1933)
Grete Stern (Argentinian born Germany, 1904-1999)
Ellen Auerbach (German, 1906-2004)
Pétrole Hahn
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 11 1/8 in. (23.9 × 28.2cm)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2021 VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Wanda Wulz. 'Io + gatto (Cat + I)' 1932

 

Wanda Wulz (Italian, 1903-1984)
Io + gatto (Cat + I)
1932
Gelatin silver print
11 9/16 × 9 1/8 in. (29.4 × 23.2cm)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Wulz, a portrait photographer loosely associated with the Italian Futurist movement, created this striking composite by printing two negatives – one of her face, the other of the family cat – on a single sheet of photographic paper, evoking by technical means the seamless conflation of identities that occurs so effortlessly in the world of dreams.

 

Lucy Ashjian (American, 1907-1993) '[Savoy Dancers]' 1935-43

 

Lucy Ashjian (American, 1907-1993)
[Savoy Dancers]
1935-1943
Gelatin silver print
24 × 18.8cm (9 7/16 × 7 3/8 in.)
Gift of Gregor Ashjian Preston, 2004
Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Lucy Ashjian Estate

 

 

Lucy Ashjian (1907-1993) was an American photographer best known as a member of the New York Photo League. Her work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona and the Museum of the City of New York.

 

 

Groundbreaking Exhibition to Explore How Women Photographers Worldwide Shaped the Medium from the 1920s to the 1950s

The New Woman of the 1920s was a powerful expression of modernity, a global phenomenon that embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Opening July 2, 2021 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The New Woman Behind the Camera will feature 185 photographs, photo books, and illustrated magazines by 120 photographers from over 20 countries. This groundbreaking exhibition will highlight the work of the diverse “new” women who made significant advances in modern photography from the 1920s to the 1950s. During this tumultuous period shaped by two world wars, women stood at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

The exhibition is made possible in part by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Daniel and Estrellita Brodsky Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. It is organised by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met, commented, “The international scope of this project is unprecedented. Though the New Woman is often regarded as a Western phenomenon, this exhibition proves otherwise by bringing together rarely seen photographs from around the world and presenting a nuanced, global history of photography. The women featured are responsible for shifting the direction of modern photography, and it is exhilarating to witness the accomplishments of these extraordinary practitioners.”

The first exhibition to take an international approach to the subject, The New Woman Behind the Camera will examine women’s pioneering work in a number of genres, from avant-garde experimentation and commercial studio practice to social documentary, photojournalism, ethnography, and sports, dance, and fashion photography. It will highlight the work of photographers such as Ilse Bing, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Claude Cahun, Florestine Perrault Collins, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Dorothea Lange, Lee Miller, Niu Weiyu, Tsuneko Sasamoto, Gerda Taro, and Homai Vyarawalla, among many others.

 

About the exhibition

Known by different names, from nouvelle femme and neue Frau to modan gāru and xin nüxing, the New Woman of the 1920s was easy to recognise but hard to define. Her image – a woman with bobbed hair, stylish dress, and a confident stride – was everywhere, splashed across the pages of magazines and projected on the silver screen. A symbol that broke down conventional ideas of gender, the New Woman was inspiring for some and controversial for others, embraced and resisted to varying degrees from country to country.

For many of these daring women, the camera was a means to assert their self-determination and artistic expression. The exhibition begins with a selection of compelling self-portraits, often featuring the photographer with her camera. Highlights include innovative self-portraits by Florence Henri, Annemarie Heinrich, and Alma Lavenson.

For many women, commercial studios were an important entry point into the field of photography, allowing them to forge professional careers and earn their own income. From running successful businesses in Berlin, Buenos Aires, and Vienna to earning recognition as one of the first female photographers in their respective country, women around the world, including Karimeh Abbud, Steffi Brandl, Trude Fleischmann, Annemarie Heinrich, Eiko Yamazawa, and Madame Yevonde, reinvigorated studio practice. Photography studios run by Black American women, such as Florestine Perrault Collins, not only preserved likenesses but also countered racist images then circulating in the mass media.

The availability of smaller, lightweight cameras spurred a number of women photographers to explore the city and the diversity of urban experience outside the studio. The exhibition features stunning street scenes and architectural views by Alice Brill, Rebecca Lepkoff, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model, Genevieve Naylor, and Tazue Satō Matsunaga, among others. Creative formal approaches – such as photomontage, photograms, unconventional cropping, and dizzying camera angles – came to define photography during this period. On view are experimental works by such artists as Valentina Kulagina, Dora Maar, Tina Modotti, Lucia Moholy, Toshiko Okanoue, and Grete Stern, all of whom pushed the boundaries of the medium.

During this period, many women traveled extensively for the first time and took photographs documenting their experiences abroad in Africa, China, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Others, including Marjorie Content, Eslanda Goode Robeson, and Anna Riwkin, engaged in more formal ethnographic projects. This period also gave rise to new ideas about health and sexuality and to changing attitudes about movement and dress. Women photographers such as Lotte Jacobi, Jeanne Mandello, and Germaine Krull produced images of liberated modern bodies, from pioneering photographs of the nude to exuberant pictures of sport and dance.

The unprecedented demand for fashion and advertising pictures between the world wars provided new employment opportunities for many female photographers, including Lillian Bassman, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Toni Frissell, Frances McLaughlin-Gill, Margaret Watkins, Caroline Whiting Fellows, and Yva. Fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar visually defined the tastes and aspirations of the New Woman and offered a space in which women could experiment with pictures intended for a predominantly female readership.

The rise of the picture press also established photojournalism and social documentary photography as dominant forms of visual expression. Galvanised by the effects of a global economic crisis and growing political unrest, many women photographers, including Lucy Ashjian, Margaret Bourke-White, Kati Horna, Dorothea Lange, and Hansel Mieth, created powerful images that exposed injustice and swayed public opinion. While women photojournalists often received so-called “soft assignments” on the home front, others risked their lives on the battlefield. The exhibition features combat photographs by Thérèse Bonney, Galina Sanko, and Gerda Taro, as well as unsparing views of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps by Lee Miller. Views of Hiroshima by Tsuneko Sasamoto and photographs of the newly formed People’s Republic of China by Hou Bo and Niu Weiyu underscore the global complexities of the postwar era.

 

Credits

The New Woman Behind the Camera is curated by Andrea Nelson, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The Met’s presentation is organised by Mia Fineman, Curator, with Virginia McBride, Research Assistant, both in the Department of Photographs.

Following its presentation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibition will travel to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., where it will be on view from October 31, 2021 through January 30, 2022. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, published by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and distributed by DelMonico Books.

Press release from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Elizabeth Buehrmann (American, 1886-1965) 'Advertisement for Robert Burns Cigar' c. 1920

 

Elizabeth Buehrmann (American, 1886-1965)
Advertisement for Robert Burns Cigar
c. 1920
Gelatin silver print mounted in press book
Image: 19.69 x 18.42cm (7 3/4 x 7 1/4 in.)
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library

 

 

Elizabeth Buehrmann (1886-1965)

Elizabeth “Bessie” Buehrmann (1886-1965) was born June 13, 1886, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Elizabeth was an American photographer and artist who was one of the pioneers of taking formal portraits of people in their own homes rather than in a studio. …

At about the age of 15 she enrolled in painting and drawing classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. While she was still a teenager she began assisting Eva Watson-Schütze in her photography studio on West 57th Street, and it was there that she learned both the technical and aesthetic aspects of photography. She made such progress that by the time she was just 18 years old she was accepted as an Associate Member in Alfred Stieglitz’s important Photo-Secession.

Buehrmann specialised in taking portraits of clients in their homes, and she never used artificial scenery or props. She said “I have never had a studio at home but take my pictures in houses. A person is always much more apt to be natural, and then I can get different background effects.” She also did not pose her subjects; instead she would “spend several hours getting acquainted with her subjects before attempting to reproduce the character found in an interesting face.” Leading businessmen and diplomats commissioned her as well as prominent society women, and she was well known for both her artistry and her ability to capture “some of the soul along with the physical features of her sitters.”

In 1906-1907 she spent a year living in London and Paris in order to learn the latest techniques and styles of European photographers. As another sign of her prominence, she was invited to join the Photo-Club de Paris, where she worked for several months.

When she returned, the Art Institute of Chicago gave her a large exhibition of 61 prints, including portraits, landscapes and still lifes. Included among her portraits were photographs of Alvin Langdon Coburn, Robert Demachy, Russell Thorndike, Fannie Zeisler, Sydney Greenstreet and Helena Modjeska.

In 1909 Stieglitz included three of her prints in the prominent National Arts Club exhibition which he organised. Another photographer, Robert Demachy, insisted her prints be included in an important show he was organising in Paris the next year. She is shown as still living with her parents, in Chicago, in the 1910 census. She continued doing portraiture until the late 1910s when she began exploring the then relatively new market for advertising photography. She spent the next decade working on a variety of advertising commissions. Her last known commercial photography took place in the early 1930s.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Charlotte Rudolph (German, 1896-1983) 'Gret Palucca' 1925

 

Charlotte Rudolph (German, 1896-1983)
Gret Palucca
1925
Gelatin silver print
8 13/16 × 6 9/16 in. (22.4 × 16.6cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

 

Charlotte Rudolph (German, 1896-1983)

Charlotte Rudolph (1896-1983) was a German photographer. After training with Hugo Erfurth, Charlotte Rudolph opened a photo studio in Dresden in 1924 and concentrated on portrait and dance photography. In particular, Rudolph became known through her photographs of dancers such as Gret Palucca, with whom she was friends, Mary Wigman , Vera Skoronel and countless Wigman students such as Chinita Ullmann.

Her photos of the avant-garde German dancers of the 1920s and 1930s are among the most important documents of expressive dance today. In contrast to other photographers, Charlotte Rudolph did not take the dancers in a pose, but in action. Her pictures of Gret Palucca’s jumps made a major contribution to Palucca’s international fame in 1924 and were also Charlotte Rudolph’s breakthrough. As a result, many women went to their studio because they were hoping for such jump pictures from Rudolph.

Charlotte Rudolph continued to work in Germany during the Nazi era, and temporarily also in the USA after the Second World War. Her archives and her studio in Dresden, which she took over in 1938 after the death of Genja Jonas, were destroyed in the Second World War when Dresden was bombed on February 13, 1945.

Text from the German Wikipedia website

 

Gret Palucca, born Margarethe Paluka (8 January 1902 – 22 March 1993), was a German dancer and dance teacher, notable for her dance school, the Palucca School of Dance, founded in Dresden in 1925.

 

Yvonne Chevalier (French, 1899-1982) 'Nu' (Nude) 1929

 

Yvonne Chevalier (French, 1899-1982)
Nu (Nude)
1929
Gelatin silver print
15 3/8 × 10 1/8 in. (39 × 25.7cm)
© National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

 

Yvonne Chevalier (French, 1899-1982)

Yvonne Chevalier (French, 1899-1982). Coming from a well-to-do background, Yvonne Chevalier went to study drawing and painting after high school. Her first photographs of seascapes and cliffs date back to 1909. She married a doctor in 1920, with whom she had a daughter the following year. She and her husband welcomed and socialised with many artists and writers, including her friends Colette (1873-1954), Adrienne Monnier (1892-1955) and Mariette Lydis (1887-1990), whom she photographed. In 1929 she devoted herself entirely to her art and in 1930 she opened a portrait studio which was a great success. She became the official photographer of painter Georges Rouault. In 1936 she joined the association of French illustrator and advertising photographers, Le Rectangle, founded by Emmanuel Sougez, René Servant and Pierre Adam, which demanded a return to classicism.

The artist exhibited her photos of nudes, architecture and landscapes during two solo exhibitions, in 1935 and 1937. She explored portraiture and photojournalism (Algeria and Southern France, 1937), worked on sculpture (Rodin, 1935), architecture (Thoronet Abbey, 1936) and objects, particularly musical instruments. She tightly framed images – hands, for example – and used high- and low-angle shots, close-ups, shadow and light effects. In 1932 her portrait of Colette submerged in almost total darkness left only the writer’s eye fully illuminated. Included in many group exhibitions, she also regularly published in various magazines, such as Arts et métiers graphiquesCinégraph and Musica. Following the bombings of of the Second World War, the majority of her works disappeared in a fire.

In 1946 she became one of the founding members of the group XV, which wanted photography to be recognised as an art in and of itself. She exhibited with this group on several occasions. Together with the writer Marcelle Auclair, in 1949 she made a long report on the Spanish Carmelites to commemorate the foundation of the order by Teresa of Avila. She continued working extensively as a book illustrator, but stopped taking photographs in 1970. In 1980 the artist sorted and destroyed a large number of her prints.

Catherine Gonnard

Translated from French by Katia Porro.
From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions

Catherine Gonnard. “Yvonne Chevalier,” on the AWARE: Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions website [Online] Cited 24/08/2021

 

Karimeh Abbud (Palestinian, 1893-1940) 'Three Women' 1930s

 

Karimeh Abbud (Palestinian, 1893-1940)
Three Women
1930s
Gelatin silver print
3 1/2 × 5 1/2 in. (8.9 × 14 cm)
Issam Nassar

 

Gertrud Arndt (German born Poland, 1903-2000) 'Masked Self-Portrait (No. 16)' 1930

 

Gertrud Arndt (German born Poland, 1903-2000)
Masked Self-Portrait (No. 16)
1930
Gelatin silver print
8 15/16 × 6 15/16 in. (22.7 × 17.6cm)
Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

Costuming played a central role at the Bauhaus. From the very beginning, masquerade balls were celebrated regularly under a wide variety of mottoes. And the Bauhaus people rushed over, sometimes preparing for weeks in the workshops and privately the Bauhaus festivals that were popular beyond the walls of the school: Decorations, demonstrations, but above all their costumes – made of simple materials – transformed the Bauhaus people into miraculous figures, incarnate objects and masked beings. Gertrud Arndt’s mask photographs (a series of 43 self-portraits) derive directly from these Bauhaus festivals. …

Arndt’s mask photos are private photographs and were never intended for the public. The mask photographs were taken, rather, independently of viewers, as an experimental excursion into the possibilities and limits of one’s own face – and into the many different characters Arndt transformed herself into in her pictures. They are the record of an intimate conversation conducted between Arndt and her camera. The special thing about Gertrud Arndt’s mask photos is that they were taken in a comprehensive series. Within the 43 photos in the series, smaller picture series can be recognized. In her mask photos, Gertrud Arndt developed a kind of external image of herself, a “visual identity.”12 Arndt only rarely photographed herself once in the same costume. She often made two, three or four pictures in the same costume (or with minor changes). Here the pose, facial expression or picture detail change. In a series of three pictures within the series, Arndt shows herself in a high-necked top with a frill collar and hat, frontally with her eyes closed, then looking directly into the camera in a half-profile, and finally posing in a larger frame with a surprised facial expression. In another mini-series consisting of two photos, Arndt once photographed herself with her eyes closed, her head raised high, and in the next picture, squinting at her nose. The true woman behind the façade is not visible to the viewer. The pictures can illustrate the conflict women faced during the Weimar Republic: faced by entrenched, conservative notions of femininity on the one hand while opposed models for how a modern emancipated woman might act were also present, if to a lesser degree. The contradictory models available within society may be one source behind Arndt’s decision to use her mask photographs as a means to observe herself from the outside, as it were, and to investigate to what degree the many women into whom she transformed herself were actually part of her own feminine persona. At the same time, perhaps unconsciously, she may have also used her portrait project in the service of the traditionally feminine image expected of her, which also did not necessarily correspond to reality. Stereotypical ideas of womanhood with broad social currency circulating during the Weimar Republic included conservative images of women – such as the wife and mother, the widow and the naïve young girl – and these clichés are present in Arndt’s photographs. Or was it that she deliberately exaggerated these role models because she herself felt like a “non-doer” at the Bauhaus, was uncomfortable in this role and felt herself degraded by being thought thusly when her own self-image was that of an emancipated a modern woman? And then again, perhaps Gertrud Arndt’s mask photos are actually merely the result of her “boredom,” which she was desperately trying to alleviate, with role plays.

Extract from Anja Guttenberger. “Festive and Theatrical: The Mask Photos of Gertrud Arndt and Josef Albers as an Expression of Festival Culture,” on the Bauhaus Imaginista Journal website Nd [Online] Cited 16/09/2021

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908–1973) 'Man Selling Lemons, Vienna' c. 1932, printed later

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (Austrian-British, 1908–1973)
Man Selling Lemons, Vienna
c. 1932, printed later
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 × 9 7/16 in. (23 × 24cm)
Collection of Peter Suschitzky. Julia Donat and Misha Donat

 

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (née Suschitzky; 28 August 1908 – 12 May 1973) was an Austrian-British photographer and spy for the Soviet Union. Brought up in a family of socialists, she trained in photography at Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus in Dessau, and carried her political ideals through her art. Through her connections with Arnold Deutsch, Tudor-Hart was instrumental in the recruiting of the Cambridge Spy ring which damaged British intelligence from World War II until the security services discovered all their identities by the mid-1960s. She recommended Litzi Friedmann and Kim Philby for recruitment by the KGB and acted as an intermediary for Anthony Blunt and Bob Stewart when the rezidentura at the Soviet Embassy in London suspended its operations in February 1940.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998) 'Ballet "L'Errante", Paris' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998)
Ballet “L’Errante”, Paris
1933
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.3 x 22.2 cm (11 1/8 x 8 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

 

Andrea Nelson, an associate curator in the department of photographs at the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, DC who conceived and organised the exhibition, says the idea for it arose after she was hired in 2010 and was ruminating about generating shows drawn from the NGA’s permanent collection. She was struck by a trove of 90 images by the interwar photographer Ilse Bing that were variously donated by the artist or left by her estate after Bing died in 1998. “She was actually one of the few women photographers that the National Gallery had collected in depth,” Nelson said in an interview. (The show, which was originally scheduled to open first at the NGA last September but was then deferred because of the coronavirus pandemic, travels there this autumn.)

Born into a Jewish family in Frankfurt, Bing became interested in photography while creating architectural illustrations for her art history dissertation there, and eventually gave up her academic studies to pursue a career with the camera. She bought a Leica 35mm model in 1929 and moved the following year to Paris, where she met leading lights in avant-garde photography including Brassaï and André Kertész. Bing began experimenting compositionally and with light effects in self-portraits, images of Parisian streets and photographs of quotidian objects, followed by a striking series of pictures of dancers at the Moulin Rouge and other performers as well as commercial and fashion work in the burgeoning German and French magazine industry.

Known to the cognoscenti as “the Queen of the Leica”, she became a firmament in the constellation of Modernist photographers, included in important exhibitions in Paris and New York. Then the Second World War intervened, and Bing and her husband were both interned with other Jews in the south of France before fleeing to New York in 1941. Her photographic career gradually diminished after that, and she gave it up altogether in 1959.

Yet what she achieved from 1930 to 1940 remains a wonder to behold. “To me, she represents the established narrative of the interwar photographer,” says Nelson. “And as I began to dive deeper, I started to think about this larger community of women photographers who were entering the field, particularly in Germany and France. Did they have the same experiences as Bing, different experiences? But then I just started asking, wait a minute, was that true elsewhere [in the world]? What I really wanted to do was hopefully move beyond the Euro-American narrative that has really structured the history of photography.”

“I just felt that there wasn’t a look at the greater diversity of practitioners during the Modern period. So I took off down that road.”

Extract from Nancy Kenney. “Triumphant in their time, yet largely erased later: a Met exhibition explores ‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’,” on The Art Newspaper website 1st July 2021 [Online] Cited 22/07/2021

 

Germaine Krull. 'La Tour Eiffel' (The Eiffel Tower) c. 1928

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch (born Poland) 1897-1985 Wetzlar, Germany)
La Tour Eiffel (The Eiffel Tower)
c. 1928
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 in. × 6 in. (22.5 × 15.2cm)
Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Elfriede Stegemeyer (German, 1908-1988) 'Glühbirne, Spiralfeder, Quadrate und Kreise' (Light Bulb, Spring, Squares, and Circles) 1934

 

Elfriede Stegemeyer (German, 1908-1988)
Glühbirne, Spiralfeder, Quadrate und Kreise (Light Bulb, Spring, Squares, and Circles)
1934
Gelatin silver photogram
Image: 23.5 x 17.1cm (9 1/4 x 6 3/4 in.)
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

 

From 1929 to 1932, Stegemeyer (German, 1908-1988) studied art in Berlin and Cologne. In Cologne she was involved in the activities of the Cologne Progressive art association together with Raoul Ubac, Heinrich Hoerle and others. From 1932 to 1938 Stegemeyer concentrated on photographic experiments such as cameraless photography, multiple exposure, photomontage and object studies. Meeting Raoul Hausmann in his Ibiza exile in 1935 nourished her photographic studies of landscape and rural architecture (also during travels in Eastern Europe in the late 1930s). Stegemeyer took part in underground political resistance activities in Nazi Germany, which led to her imprisonment in 1941. Her archive was destroyed during air raids in Berlin in 1943. After the war, Stegemeyer’s work shifted towards drawing, painting, writing and prize-winning animation. In her late work in the 1980s, the artist turned to montage work of different materials.

Text from the Kicken Berlin website [Online] Cited 16/09/2021

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) '[Boy with a Cat]' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
[Boy with a Cat]
1934
Gelatin silver print
16 5/16 × 11 7/16 in. (41.4 × 29cm)
Purchase, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund and Kurtz Family Foundation Gift, 2015
Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

From 1930 to 1934 Maar turned her camera to the inhabitants of the streets of Paris and London, blending documentary and Surrealist modes. Her photographs often focus on socially marginal figures such as the poor or disabled, revealing her own political engagement. In this striking image, an adolescent with rumpled hair protectively grasps a cat to his chest, his gaze challenging Maar’s camera. The boy’s expression and posture imbue this chance encounter – and the composition – with an arresting psychological dimension.

 

Marjorie Content (American, 1895-1984) 'Adam Trujillo and His Son Pat, Taos' Summer 1933

 

Marjorie Content (American, 1895-1984)
Adam Trujillo and His Son Pat, Taos
Summer 1933
Gelatin silver print
4 1/2 × 5 9/16 in. (11.5 × 14.2 cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Purchased as the Gift of the Gallery Girls

 

 

Marjorie Content (1895-1984) was an American photographer from New York City active in modernist social and artistic circles. Her photographs were rarely published and never exhibited in her lifetime. Since the late 20th century, collectors and art historians have taken renewed interest in her work. Her photographs have been collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Chrysler Museum of Art; her work has been the subject of several solo exhibitions.

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'Fort Peck Dam, Montana' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Fort Peck Dam, Montana
1936
Gelatin silver print
12 15/16 × 10 13/16 in. (32.9 × 27.4cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Patrons’ Permanent Fund

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'World's Highest Standard of Living' 1937

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
World’s Highest Standard of Living
1937
Gelatin silver print

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000) 'Stairway to the Cathedral, Spain' 1938

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Stairway to the Cathedral, Spain
1938
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 7 1/16 in. (24.1 × 17.9cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000) 'Sin titulo (Milicianos en una trinchera/Militiamen in a trench) '1937-38

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)
Sin titulo (Milicianos en una trinchera/Militiamen in a trench)
1937-1938
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (19 × 19cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, R. K. Mellon Family Foundation

 

 

Kati Horna (Mexican born Hungary, 1912-2000)

Kati Horna (May 19, 1912 – October 19, 2000), born Katalin Deutsch, was a Hungarian-born Mexican photojournalist, surrealist photographer and teacher. She was born in Budapest and lived in France, Berlin, Spain, and later was naturalised Mexican. Most of her work was lost during the Spanish Civil War. She was also one of the most influential women artists/photographers of her time. Through her photographs she was able to change the way that people viewed war. One way that Horna was able to do this was through the utilisation of a strategy called “gendered witnessing”. Gendered witnessing consisted of putting a more “feminine” view on the notion that war was a predominantly masculine thing. Horna became a legendary photographer after taking on a woman’s perspective of the war, she was able to focus on the behind the scenes, which led her to portraying the impact the war had on women and children. One of her most striking images is the Tête de poupée. Horna worked for various magazines including Mujeres and S.NOB, in which she published a series of Fétiches; but even her more commercial commissions often contained surreal touches. …

In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, she moved to Barcelona, commissioned by the Spanish Republican government and the Confédération Générale du Travail, to document the war as well as record the everyday life of communities on the front lines, such as Aragón, Valencia, Madrid, and Lérida. She photographed elderly women, young children, babies and mothers, and was considered visionary for her choice of subject matter. She was editor of the magazine Umbral (where she me José Horna). Kati Horna collaborated with other magazines, most of which were anarchic, such as Tiempos Nuevos, Libre-Studio, Mujeres Libres and Tierra y Libertad. Her images of scenes from the civil war not only revealed her Republican sympathies but also gained her almost legendary status. Some of her photos were used as posters for the Republican cause.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lisette Model (American born Austria, 1901-1983) 'Blind Man Walking, Paris' 1933-38

 

Lisette Model (American born Austria, 1901-1983)
Blind Man Walking, Paris
1933-1938
Gelatin silver print on newspaper mount
11 3/16 × 8 3/4 in. (28.4 × 22.3cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Japanese-American owned grocery store in Oakland, California March' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Japanese-American owned grocery store in Oakland, California
March 1942
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Children of the Weill Public School shown in a flag pledge ceremony, San Francisco, California
April 1942, printed c. 1965
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 × 6 7/8 in. (23.5 × 17.4cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

Hansel Mieth (German, 1909-1998) 'March of Dimes Dance' 1943

 

Hansel Mieth (German, 1909-1998)
March of Dimes Dance
1943
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Ron Perisho

 

Homai Vyarawalla (Indian, 1913-2012) 'The Victoria Terminus, Bombay' early 1940s, printed later

 

Homai Vyarawalla (Indian, 1913-2012)
The Victoria Terminus, Bombay
early 1940s, printed later
Inkjet print
11 9/16 × 11 13/16 in. (29.3 × 30cm)
Homai Vyarawalla Archive / The Alkazi Collection of Photography

 

 

Homai Vyarawalla (Indian, 1913-2012)

Homai Vyarawalla (9 December 1913 – 15 January 2012), commonly known by her pseudonym Dalda 13, was India’s first woman photojournalist. She began work in the late 1930s and retired in the early 1970s. In 2011, she was awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award of the Republic of India. She was amongst the first women in India to join a mainstream publication when she joined The Illustrated Weekly of India. …

Vyarawalla started her career in the 1930s. At the onset of World War II, she started working on assignments for Mumbai-based The Illustrated Weekly of India magazine which published many of her most admired black-and-white images. In the early years of her career, since Vyarawalla was unknown and a woman, her photographs were published under her husband’s name. Vyarawalla stated that because women were not taken seriously as journalists she was able to take high-quality, revealing photographs of her subjects without interference:

People were rather orthodox. They didn’t want the women folk to be moving around all over the place and when they saw me in a sari with the camera, hanging around, they thought it was a very strange sight. And in the beginning they thought I was just fooling around with the camera, just showing off or something and they didn’t take me seriously. But that was to my advantage because I could go to the sensitive areas also to take pictures and nobody will stop me. So I was able to take the best of pictures and get them published. It was only when the pictures got published that people realised how seriously I was working for the place.

~  Homai Vyarawalla in Dalda 13: A Portrait of Homai Vyarawalla (1995)

Eventually her photography received notice at the national level, particularly after moving to Delhi in 1942 to join the British Information Services. As a press photographer, she recorded many political and national leaders in the period leading up to independence, including Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Indira Gandhi and the Nehru-Gandhi family.

The Dalai Lama in ceremonial dress enters India through Nathu La in Sikkim on 24 November 1956, photographed by Homai Vyarawalla. In 1956, she photographed for Life Magazine the 14th Dalai Lama when he entered Sikkim in India for the first time via the Nathu La.

Most of her photographs were published under the pseudonym “Dalda 13”. The reasons behind her choice of this name were that her birth year was 1913, she met her husband at the age of 13 and her first car’s number plate read “DLD 13”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'Buchenwald Prison' 13th April 1945

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Buchenwald Prison
13th April 1945
Gelatin silver print

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'The Liberation of Buchenwald' April 1945

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
The Liberation of Buchenwald
April 1945
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Caption from LIFE. “Deformed by malnutrition, a Buchenwald prisoner leans against his bunk after trying to walk. Like other imprisoned slave labourers, he worked in a Nazi factory until too feeble.”

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'Self-Portrait with Camera' c. 1933

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Self-Portrait with Camera
c. 1933
Gelatin-silver print, toned
13 1/4 × 9 1/8 in. (33.66 × 23.18cm)

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977) 'Dead SS Prison Guard Floating in Canal, Dachau, Germany' 1945

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Dead SS Prison Guard Floating in Canal, Dachau, Germany
1945
Gelatin silver print
6 1/4 in. × 6 in. (15.9 × 15.2cm)
Lee Miller Archives
© Lee Miller Archives, England 2021

 

 

Sometime in the 1930s, Hungarian photographer Anna Barna shot “Onlooker,” a picture of a boy standing on a chair seen from behind as he peers over a palisade.

As his shadow stretches out across the planks blocking his way, it takes the shape of a bearded profile that reads as a second “onlooker” in the shot. A bit further off stands yet a third “looker” who, though quite invisible in the image, was very much present in the mind of any prewar viewer who saw the shot’s photo credit: That looker is Anna Barna, a woman who has dared to pick up the camera that would normally have been held by a man. Like all the camera-wielding women of her era, Barna made a bold move that gave her a powerful cultural presence.

That presence is on display in “The New Woman Behind the Camera,” an inspired and inspiring exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through Oct. 3. In late October, it moves on to the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Curated by Andrea Nelson of the NGA, the show has been installed at the Met by Mia Fineman.

The more than 200 pictures on view, taken from the 1920s through the ’50s, let us watch as women everywhere become photo pros. I guess some of their shots could have been snapped by men, but female authorship shaped what these images meant to their contemporaries. It shapes what we need to make of them now, as we grasp the challenges their makers faced.

The Met shows women photographing everything from factories to battles to the oppressed, but also gowns and children and other traditionally “feminine” subjects. Sometimes the goal is straight documentation: Figures like Dorothea Lange in the United States and Galina Sanko in the Soviet Union recorded the worlds they moved through, often at the request of their governments. But many of their sisters prefer the aggressive viewpoints and radical lightings of what was then called the New Vision, as developed at the Bauhaus and other hot spots of modern style. It was to sight what jazz was to sound.

That made the New Vision a perfect fit for the New Woman, a term that went global early in the 20th century to describe all the many women who took on roles and responsibilities – new personas and even new powers – they’d rarely had before. When a New Woman took up photography, she often turned her New Vision on herself, as one of the modern world’s most striking creations.

A self-portrait by American photographer Alma Lavenson leaves out everything but her hands and the camera they’re holding; the only thing we need to know is that Lavenson is in control of this machine, and therefore of the vision it captures.

German photographer Ilse Bing shoots into the hinged mirrors on a vanity, giving us both profile and head-on views of her face and of the Leica that almost hides it. Since antiquity, the mirror had been a symbol of woman and her vanities; Bing claims that old symbol for herself, making it yield a new image.

The mirror deployed by the German Argentine photographer Annemarie Heinrich is a silvered sphere; capturing herself and her sister in it, she depicts the fun-house pleasures, and distortions, of being a woman made New.

Heinrich’s European peers sometimes go further in disturbing their self-presentation. In “Masked Self-Portrait (No. 16),” Gertrud Arndt double- or maybe triple-exposes her face, as though to convey the troubled identity she’s taken on as a woman who dares to photograph. (Multiple exposure is almost a hallmark of New Woman photographers; maybe that shouldn’t surprise us.) In a collage titled “I.O.U. (Self-Pride),” French photographer Claude Cahun presents herself as 11 different masked faces, surrounded by the words “Under this mask, another mask. I’ll never be done lifting off all these faces.”

It’s as though the act of getting behind a camera turns any New Woman into an ancestor and avatar of Cindy Sherman, trying on all sorts of models for gender.

If there’s one problem with this show, it’s that it mostly gives us women who succeeded in achieving the highest levels of excellence, barely hinting at the much greater number of women who were prevented from reaching their creative goals by the rampant sexism of their era: talented women whose places in a photo school were given to men instead, or who were streamed into the lowest or most “feminine” tiers of the profession – retouching, or cheap kiddie portraits – or who were never promoted above studio assistant.

It’s a problem that bedevils all attempts at recovering the lost art of the disadvantaged: By telling the same stories of success that you do with white males, you risk making it look as though others were given the same chance to rise.

A quite straight shot of Chinese photojournalist Niu Weiyu may best capture what it really meant for the New Woman to start taking pictures. As snapped by her colleague Shu Ye, Niu stands perched with her camera at the edge of a cliff. Every female photographer adopted this daredevil pose, at least in cultural terms, just by clicking a shutter.

Several of the women featured at the Met actually took over studios originally headed by husbands or fathers. In the Middle East and Asia, this gave them access to a reality that men could not document: Taken in 1930s Palestine, a photo by an entrepreneur who styled herself as “Karimeh Abbud, Lady Photographer” shows three women standing before the camera with complete self-confidence – the youngest smiles broadly into the lens – in a relaxed shot that a man would have been unlikely to capture.

Gender was almost as powerfully in play for women in the West. If taking up a camera was billed as “mannish,” many a New Woman in Europe was happy to go with that billing: Again and again, they portray themselves coiffed with the shortest of bobs, sometimes so short they read as male styles. Cahun, who at times was almost buzz-cut, once wrote “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.”

Margaret Bourke-White, an American photographer who achieved true celebrity, shoots herself in a bob long enough to just about cover her ears, but this almost girlish style is more than offset by manly wool slacks. (In the 1850s, Rosa Bonheur had to get a police license to wear pants when she went to draw the horse-breakers of Paris. As late as 1972, my grandmother, born into the age of the New Woman, boasted of the courage she’d recently mustered to start wearing pants to work.)

A New Woman clicking the shutter might seem almost as much on display as any subject before her lens. Bourke-White’s photo of the Fort Peck dam graced the cover of Life magazine’s first modern issue, in 1936, and it got that play in part because it had been shot by her: The editors go on about that “surprising” fact as they introduce their new magazine, and how they were “unable to prevent Bourke-White from running away with their first nine pages.”

When a subject is in fact another woman, shooter and sitter can collapse into one. Lola Álvarez Bravo, the great Mexican photographer, once took a picture of a woman with shadows crisscrossing her face, titling it “In Her Own Prison.” As a photographic Everywoman, Álvarez Bravo comes off as in that same jail.

To capture the predicament of women in Catholic Spain, Kati Horna double-exposed a girl’s face onto the barred windows beside a cathedral; it’s hard not to see the huge eye that looks out at us from behind those bars as belonging to Horna herself, peering through the viewfinder.

For centuries before they went New, women had been objectified and observed as few men were likely to be. Picking up the camera didn’t pull eyes away from a New Woman; it could put her all the more clearly on view. But thanks to photography, she could begin to look back, with power, at the world around her.

Blake Gopnik. “Women Who Shaped Modern Photography,” on The New York Times website July 11, 2021 [Online] Cited 16/07/2021

 

Bernice Kolko (American born Poland, 1905-1970) 'Photogram' c. 1944

 

Bernice Kolko (American born Poland, 1905-1970)
Photogram
c. 1944
Gelatin silver print
9 3/4 × 11 1/2 in. (24.8 × 29.2cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

 

Bernice Kolko (American born Poland, 1905-1970)

Bernice Kolko (1905-1970) was a Polish-American photographer. During World War II, she joined the Women’s Army Corps as a photographer. In 1953 she became friends with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, who she had met when they visited Chicago. They invited her to Mexico, where she travelled, taking pictures of the women of Mexico. She and Kahlo travelled frequently, with Kolko taking photos of Kahlo in the two years before Kahlo’s death. In 1955 she became the first woman to exhibit at the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rebecca Lepkoff (American, 1916–2014) '14th Street, New York City' 1947-48

 

Rebecca Lepkoff (American, 1916–2014)
14th Street, New York City
1947-48
Gelatin silver print
10 5/8 × 12 9/16 in. (27 × 31.9cm)
Purchase, Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation Gift, 2012
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Rebecca Lepkoff (American, 1916–2014)

Rebecca Lepkoff (born Rebecca Brody; 1916-2014) was an American photographer. She is best known for her images depicting daily life in the Lower East Side neighbourhood of New York City in the 1940s. …

Fascinated by the area where she lived, she first photographed Essex and Hester Street which, she recalls, “were full of pushcarts.” They no longer exist today but then “everyone was outside: the mothers with their baby carriages, and the men just hanging out.” Her photographs captured people in the streets, especially children, as well as the buildings and the signs on store fronts.

In 1950, she also photographed people at work and play in Vermont. The images were used to illustrate the book Almost Utopia: The Residents and Radicals of Pikes Falls, Vermont, 1950, published by the Vermont Historical Society. They present the area before its character was changed with paved roads and vacationers. In the 1970s, she photographed the next generation of inhabitants in a series she called Vermont Hippies.

Rebecca Lepkoff was an active member of the Photo League from 1947 until 1951 when it was dissolved as a “communist organisation” in the McCarthy era.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Grete Stern (Argentinian, born Germany, 1904-1999) 'Sueño No. 1: "Articulos eléctricos para el hogar" (Dream No. 1: "Electrical Household items")' c. 1949

 

Grete Stern (Argentinian born Germany, 1904-1999)
Sueño No. 1: “Articulos eléctricos para el hogar” (Dream No. 1: “Electrical Household items”)
1949
Gelatin silver print
18 1/4 × 15 11/16 in. (46.4 × 39.8 cm)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2012
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

In 1948 the Argentine women’s magazine Idilio introduced a weekly column called “Psychoanalysis Will Help You,” which invited readers to submit their dreams for analysis. Each week, one dream was illustrated with a photomontage by Stern, a Bauhaus-trained photographer and graphic designer who fled Berlin for Buenos Aires when the Nazis came to power. Over three years, Stern created 140 photomontages for the magazine, translating the unconscious fears and desires of its predominantly female readership into clever, compelling images. Here, a masculine hand swoops in to “turn on” a lamp whose base is a tiny, elegantly dressed woman. Rarely has female objectification been so erotically and electrically charged.

 

Alice Brill (Brazilian born Cologne, 1920-2013) 'Street Vendor at the Chá Viaduct, São Paulo' c. 1953

 

Alice Brill (Brazilian born Cologne, 1920-2013)
Street Vendor at the Chá Viaduct, São Paulo
c. 1953
Gelatin silver print
32 × 32cm (12 5/8 × 12 5/8 in.)
Instituto Moreira Salles

 

 

Alice Brill (Brazilian born Germany, 1920-2013)

Alice Brill (December 13, 1920 – June 29, 2013) was a German-born Brazilian photographer, painter, and art critic.

Alice Brill Czapski was born in Cologne, Germany, in 1920. She was Jewish, the daughter of the painter Erich Brill [de] and the journalist Martha Brill [de]. In 1934 she and her parents left Germany to escape the National Socialist (Nazi) regime; her mother, long divorced from Erich Brill, emigrated to Brazil, and in 1935 Alice Brill and her father also emigrated there. Influenced by a schoolteacher, she recorded in a diary the trips made during exile, with a photographic camera given to her by her father. She passed through Spain, Italy and the Netherlands before landing in Brazil. Her father returned alone to Germany in 1936. He was subsequently imprisoned and died, a Holocaust victim, in 1942 at the Jungfernhof concentration camp.

At age 16 she studied with the painter Paulo Rossi Osir, who influenced her production of photographs and batik paintings. She participated in the Santa Helena Group, an informal association of painters from São Paulo, maintaining contact with artists such as Mario Zanini and Alfredo Volpi. In 1946, she won a Hillel Foundation scholarship to study at the University of New Mexico and the Art Students League of New York where she studied photography, painting, sculpture, engraving, art history, philosophy and literature.

After returning to Brazil in 1948, she worked as a photographer for Habitat magazine, coordinated by architect Lina Bo Bardi. She documented architecture, fine arts and made portraits of artists, as well as recording works and exhibitions of the São Paulo Art Museum and Sao Paulo Museum of Modern Art He also participated in an expedition in Corumbá organised by the Central Brazil Foundation, photographing the Carajás people. In 1950, she performed the essay at the Psychiatric Hospital of Juqueri at the invitation of the plastic artist Maria Leontina da Costa, registering the wing of the Free Art Workshop. In the same year, Pietro Maria Bardi commissioned an essay on São Paulo for the city’s fourth centennial. It portrayed the process of modernisation of the city between 1953 and 1954, but the publication project was not completed.

In addition to being a photographer, she worked as a painter, participating in the I and IX Bienal de São Paulo (1951 and 1967 respectively), as well as several individual and collective exhibitions. Her subjects involved urban landscapes and abstractionism, performing watercolours and batik paintings. She graduated in philosophy from PUC-SP in 1976, graduating in 1982 and a doctorate in 1994 and worked as an art critic, writing articles for the culture section of the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, which were later collected in the book “Da arte e da linguagem” (Perspectiva, 1988).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Frieda Gertrud Riess (German, 1890-1957) 'The Sculptor Renée Sintenis' 1925, printed 1925-35

 

Frieda Gertrud Riess (German, 1890-1957)
The Sculptor Renée Sintenis
1925, printed 1925-1935
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 × 6 13/16 in. (22.6 × 17.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Bequest of Gertrude Palmer, by exchange

 

 

Frieda Gertrud Riess (German, 1890-1957)

Frieda Gertrud Riess (1890 – c. 1955) was a German portrait photographer in the 1920s with a studio in central Berlin.

In 1918, she opened a business on the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin; it became one of the most popular studios in the city. Partly as a result of her marriage to the journalist Rudolf Leonhard in the early 1920s, she extended her clientele to celebrities such as playwright Walter Hasenclever, novelist Gerhart Hauptmann and actors and actresses including Tilla Durieux, Asta Nielsen and Emil Jannings. This group extended to include dancers, music-hall stars and fine artists: Anna Pavlova, Mistinguett, Lil Dagover, Renée Sintenis, Max Liebermann and Xenia Boguslawskaja. Other clients included representatives of the old aristocracy, diplomats, politicians and bankers. Boxers (and nudes thereof) were a notable group in which she specialised, including Erich Brandl, Hermann Herse, Max Schmeling, Ensor Fiermonte.

Such was her renown that she became known simply as Die Reiss. While on a trip to Italy in 1929, she was invited to photograph Benito Mussolini. In addition, she contributed to the journals and magazines of the day including Die Dame, Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, Der Weltspiegel, Querschnit and Koralle. In 1932, after falling in love with Pierre de Margerie, the French ambassador in Berlin (1922-1931). She moved to Paris with him, and he died in 1942. She disappeared from the public eye during the Occupation. Even the date of her death cannot be clearly established and her place of burial remains unknown.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Renée Sintenis (German, 1888-1965)

Renée Sintenis, née Renate Alice Sintenis (March 20, 1888, Glatz – April 22, 1965, West Berlin), was a German sculptor, medalist and graphic artist who worked in Berlin. She created mainly small-sized animal sculptures, female nudes, portraits (drawings and sculptures) and sports statuettes. …

In 1928 Sintenis won the bronze medal in the sculpture section of the art competition for the Summer Olympics in Amsterdam; she is thought to be the first LGBTQ+ Olympic medallist. Renée Sintenis took part in the 1929 exhibition of the German Association of Artists in the Cologne State House, with five small-format animal sculptures. In 1930 she met the French sculptor Aristide Maillol in Berlin. In 1931 she was appointed as the first sculptor, and second woman after Käthe Kollwitz, together with 13 other artists, to join the Berlin Academy of the Arts – Fine Arts section, although the National Socialists forced her to leave in 1934.

Due to her body size, slim figure, charisma, her self-confident, fashionable demeanor and androgynous beauty, she was often portrayed by artists like her husband, Emil Rudolf Weiß and Georg Kolbe, and by photographers, like Hugo Erfurth, Fritz Eschen and Frieda Riess. She embodied perfectly the type of the ‘new woman’ of the 1920s, even if she appeared rather reserved.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Renée Sintenis’ work was included in the Schwules Museum’s exhibition LESBIAN VISIONS – Artistic positions from Berlin, May – August 2018.

The exhibition conceptualised a utopian and melancholic gallery that follows the tracks of lesbian forms of pleasure and experience as well as lesbian identity constructions and lifestyles. In this context, the exhibition understood and recognised the term “lesbian” in its broadest sense, which is to say that desire and gender can be fluid.

 

Yevonde Cumbers Middleton (British, 1893–1975) 'Lady Bridget Poulett as 'Arethusa'' 1935

 

Yevonde Cumbers Middleton (British, 1893–1975)
Lady Bridget Poulett as ‘Arethusa’
1935
Vivex colour print
14 3/4 × 10 3/4 in. (37.5 × 27.3cm)
National Portrait Gallery, London, Given by Madame Yevonde, 1971

 

 

Yevonde Philone Middleton (English, 1893-1975)

Yevonde Philone Middleton (English, 1893-1975) was an English photographer, who pioneered the use of colour in portrait photography. She used the professional name Madame Yevonde. …

Cumbers sought, and was given, a three-year apprenticeship with the portrait photographer Lallie Charles. With the technical grounding she received from working with Charles, and a gift of £250 from her father, at the age of 21 Yevonde set up her own studio at 92 Victoria Street, London, and began to make a name for herself by inviting well-known figures to sit for free. Before long her pictures were appearing in society magazines such as the Tatler and The Sketch. Her style quickly moved away from the stiff “pouter pigeon” look of Lallie Charles, toward a still formal, but more creative, style. Her subjects were often pictured looking away from the camera, and she began using props to creative effect.

By 1921 Madame Yevonde had become a well-known and respected portrait photographer, and moved to larger premises at 100 Victoria Street. Here she began taking advertising commissions and also photographed many of the leading personalities of the day, including A.A. Milne, Barbara Cartland, Diana Mitford, Louis Mountbatten and Noël Coward.

In the early 1930s, Yevonde began experimenting with colour photography, using the new Vivex colour process from Colour Photography Limited of Willesden. The introduction of colour photography was not universally popular; indeed photographers and the public alike were so used to black-and-white pictures that early reactions to the new process tended toward the hostile. Yevonde, however, was hugely enthusiastic about it and spent countless hours in her studio experimenting with how to get the best results. Her dedication paid huge dividends. In 1932 she put on an exhibition of portrait work at the Albany Gallery, half monochrome and half colour, to enthusiastic reviews.

In 1933, Madame Yevonde moved once again, this time to 28 Berkeley Square. She began using colour in her advertising work as well as her portraits, and took on other commissions too. In 1936, she was commissioned by Fortune magazine to photograph the last stages in the fitting out of the new Cunard liner, the Queen Mary. This was very different from Yevonde’s usual work, but the shoot was a success. People printed twelve plates, and pictures were exhibited in London and New York City. One of the portraits was of artist Doris Zinkeisen who was commissioned together with her sister Anna to paint several murals for the Queen Mary. Another major coup was being invited to take portraits of leading peers to mark the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. She joined the Royal Photographic Society in 1933, and became a Fellow in 1940. The RPS Collection holds examples of her work.

Yevonde’s most famous work was inspired by a theme party held on 5 March 1935, where guests dressed as Roman and Greek gods and goddesses. Yevonde subsequently took studio portraits of many of the participants (and others), in appropriate costume and surrounded by appropriate objects. This series of prints showed Yevonde at her most creative, using colour, costume and props to build an otherworldly air around her subjects. She went on to produce further series based on the signs of the zodiac and the months of the year. Partly influenced by surrealist artists, particularly Man Ray, Yevonde used surprising juxtapositions of objects which displayed her sense of humour.

This highly creative period of Yevonde’s career would only last a few years. At the end of 1939, Colour Photographs Ltd closed, and the Vivex process was no more. It was the second major blow to Yevonde that year – her husband, the playwright Edgar Middleton, had died in April. Yevonde returned to working in black and white, and produced many notable portraits. She continued working up until her death, just two weeks short of her 83rd birthday, but is chiefly remembered for her work of the 1930s, which did much to make colour photography respectable.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lady Bridget Elizabeth Felicia Henrietta Augusta Poulett (English, 1912-1975), was an English socialite, sometime model of Cecil Beaton.

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942) 'La técnica [or, Mella's Typewriter]' 1928

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
La técnica [or, Mella’s Typewriter]
1928
Gelatin silver print
24 × 19.2cm (9 7/16 × 7 9/16 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Anonymous gift

 

Irene Bayer-Hecht (American, 1898-1991) 'Female Student with Beach Ball' c. 1925

 

Irene Bayer-Hecht (American, 1898-1991)
Female Student with Beach Ball
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print
4 1/8 × 3 1/16 in. (10.5 × 7.8cm)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Irene Bayer-Hecht (1898-1991) was an American born photographer involved in the Bauhaus movement. Her photographs “feature experimental approaches and candid views of life at the Bauhaus.”

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Jean Cocteau with Gun, Paris' c. 1926

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Jean Cocteau with Gun, Paris
c. 1926
From Faces of the 20’s
Gelatin silver print
34 x 25.5cm (13.4 x 10 in.)

 

Berenice Abbott in an undated photo. Photographer and source unknown 1930s

 

Berenice Abbott in an undated photo. Photographer and source unknown 1930s
Public domain

 

Annelise Kretschmer (German, 1903–1987) 'Young Woman' 1928

 

Annelise Kretschmer (German, 1903–1987)
Young Woman
1928
Gelatin silver print
18 3/8 × 15 11/16 in. (46.7 × 39.8cm)
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Museum Folkwang Essen – ARTOTHEK

 

 

Annelise Kretschmer (1903-1987) was a German portrait photographer. Kretschmer is best known for her depictions of women in Germany in the early 20th century and is credited with helping construct the ‘Neue Frau’ or New Woman image of modern femininity.

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'I.O.U. (Self-Pride) in Aveux non avenus' 1930

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
I.O.U. (Self-Pride) in Aveux non avenus
1930
Book
Open: 8 3/4 × 12 1/2 in. (22.2 × 31.8cm)
Closed: 8 3/4 × 6 3/4 in. (22.2 × 17.2cm)
National Gallery of Art Library, Washington, DC,

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'Self-portrait (reflected image in mirror with chequered jacket)' 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (reflected image in mirror with chequered jacket)
1927
Silver gelatin print

 

Ruth Harriet Louise (American, 1906-1944) 'Carmel Myers' 1925-30

 

Ruth Harriet Louise (American, 1906-1944)
Carmel Myers
1925-1930
Gelatin silver print
12 7/16 × 9 1/4 in. (31.6 × 23.5cm)
The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

 

 

Ruth Harriet Louise (American, 1906-1944)

Ruth Harriet Louise (born Ruth Goldstein, January 13, 1903 – October 12, 1940) was an American photographer. She was the first woman photographer active in Hollywood, and she ran Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s portrait studio from 1925 to 1930.

Ruth Harriet Louise was born Ruth Goldstein in New York City and raised in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She was the daughter of Klara Jacobson Sandrich Goldstein, who was born in Rajec, Hungary (present-day Slovakia) and Jacob Goldstein, who was a rabbi originally from England. Her brother was director Mark Sandrich, and she was a cousin of silent film actress Carmel Myers.

Louise began working as a portrait photographer in 1922, working out of a music store down the block from the New Brunswick temple at which her father was a rabbi. Most of her photographs from this period are of family members and members of her father’s temple congregation.

In 1925 she moved to Los Angeles and set up a small photo studio on Hollywood and Vine. Louise’s first published Hollywood photo was of Vilma Banky in costume for Dark Angel, and appeared in Photoplay magazine in September 1925. When Louise was hired by MGM as chief portrait photographer, she was twenty-two years old, and the only woman working as a portrait photographer for the Hollywood studios. In a career that lasted only five years, Louise photographed all the stars, contract players, and many of the hopefuls who passed through the studio’s front gates, including Greta Garbo (Louise was one of only seven photographers permitted to make portraits of her), Lon Chaney, John Gilbert, Joan Crawford, Marion Davies, Anna May Wong, Nina Mae McKinney, and Norma Shearer. It is estimated that she took more than 100,000 photos during her tenure at MGM. Today she is considered an equal with George Hurrell Sr. and other renowned glamour photographers of the era.

In addition to paying close attention to costume and setting for studio photographs, Louise also incorporated aspects of modernist movements such as Cubism, futurism, and German expressionism into her studio portraits.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Carmel Myers (American, 1899-1980)

Carmel Myers (American, 1899-1980) was an American actress who achieved her greatest successes in silent film.

Myers left for New York City, where she acted mainly in theatre for the next two years. She was signed by Universal, where she emerged as a popular actress in vamp roles. Her most popular film from this period – which does not feature her in a vamp role – is probably the romantic comedy All Night, opposite Rudolph Valentino, who was then a little-known actor. She also worked with him in A Society Sensation. By 1924, she was working for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, making such films as Broadway After Dark, which also starred Adolphe Menjou, Norma Shearer, and Anna Q. Nilsson.

In 1925, she appeared in arguably her most famous role, that of the Egyptian vamp Iras in Ben-Hur, who tries to seduce both Messala (Francis X. Bushman) and Ben-Hur himself (Ramón Novarro). This film was a boost to her career, and she appeared in major roles throughout the 1920s, including Tell It to the Marines in 1926 with Lon Chaney, Sr., William Haines, and Eleanor Boardman. Myers appeared in Four Walls and Dream of Love, both with Joan Crawford in 1928; and in The Show of Shows (1929), a showcase of popular contemporary film actors.

Myers had a fairly successful sound career, mostly in supporting roles, perhaps due to her image as a vamp rather than as a sympathetic heroine. Subsequently, she began giving more attention to her private life following the birth of her son in May 1932. Amongst her popular sound films are Svengali (1931) and The Mad Genius (1931), both with John Barrymore and Marian Marsh, and a small role in 1944’s The Conspirators, which featured Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Hildegard Rosenthal (Brazilian born Zürich, 1913-1990) 'Street Scene, São Paulo' c. 1940, printed later

 

Hildegard Rosenthal (Brazilian born Switzerland, 1913-1990)
Street Scene, São Paulo
c. 1940, printed later
Gelatin silver print
24 × 36cm (9 7/16 × 14 3/16 in.)
Instituto Moreira Salles

 

 

Hildegard Rosenthal (Brazilian born Switzerland, 1913-1990)

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

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

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Marta Astfalck-Vietz (German, 1901-1994) 'Ohne Titel (Marta Vietz, Akt mit Spitze)' c. 1927

 

Marta Astfalck-Vietz (German, 1901-1994)
Self-Portrait (Marta Vietz, Akt mit Spitze)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
Berlinische Galerie – Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur
© 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Marta Astfalck-Vietz (German, 1901-1994)

Astfalck-Vietz‘s works offer a “range of her personal responses to the social, sexual and political transformations that shaped the German metropolis after World War One. Inspired by film and dance, they are all mediated realities in which human figures imply the figurative: a black dancer embraces a white woman, stirring Germany’s fears and fascinations about blackness and the primitive; a woman’s decapitated head conjures gutter-press reports of the grisly stigmata borne by victims of Berlin’s seedy underworld. Comprising mostly self-portraits, this show is a rich microcosm of creative registers: courage, black humour and sexual passion. In Astfalck-Vietz’s erotic images, domestic objects take on a powerful fantasy life – with a piece of lace she becomes a high society lady, a remote goddess, a masked seductress. The erotic atmosphere in these photographs encompasses dream and loneliness, joie de vivre and the mourning of lost love. Berlin, oft mythologised as a mercurial woman, is reflected in this romantic, bittersweet array of female fortunes; through it, Marta Astfalck-Vietz makes the city her own.

Almost all of her archive was lost when her Berlin home was bombed in 1943. What remains was discovered by the curator Janos Frecot in 1989 and is now housed at the Berlinische Galerie in Berlin. Sadly, her original photographs are in bad condition and rarely travel. This show, however, is a precious opportunity to see reproduction prints. These works are a valuable addition to the history of Berlin’s avant-garde, but they have wider significance. They add a new facet to the practice of female self-portraiture in photography. Like Lady Hawarden before her and Cindy Sherman after, Marta Astfalck-Vietz is model, stylist and creative director in images that provocatively examine the construction of identity. As she once put it:Only when your self is no longer visible, may you be as you are.

Anonymous text from The Glasgow School of Art website 2012 [Online] Cited 22/07/2021.

 

Dorothy Wilding (English, 1893-1976) 'Diana Wynyard' 1937

 

Dorothy Wilding (English, 1893-1976)
Diana Wynyard
1937

 

 

Dorothy Frances Edith Wilding (10 January 1893 – 9 February 1976) was an English professional portrait photographer from Gloucester, who established successful studios in both London and New York. She is known for her portraits of the British Royal Family, some of which were used to illustrate postage stamps, and in particular for her studies of actors and celebrities which fused glamour with modernist elegance. The historian Val Williams noted Wilding’s combination of business savvy and deep understanding of aesthetic impact: ‘nobody knew better than Dorothy Wilding the power of the photograph to create or destroy the desired image’.

Diana Wynyard, CBE (born Dorothy Isobel Cox, 16 January 1906 – 13 May 1964) was an English stage and film actress.

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer-Simon) (German, 1900-1944) 'Fashion Photograph' c. 1930

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer-Simon) (German, 1900-1944)
Fashion Photograph
c. 1930
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection

 

 

Yva (26 January 1900 – 31 December 1944) was the professional pseudonym of Else Ernestine Neuländer-Simon who was a German Jewish photographer renowned for her dreamlike, multiple exposed images. She became a leading photographer in Berlin during the Weimar Republic.

When the Nazi Party came to power, she was forced into working as a radiographer. She was deported by the Gestapo in 1942 and murdered, probably in the Majdanek concentration camp during World War II.

 

Marianne Breslauer (German, 1909-2001) 'Circus, Berlin' 1931

 

Marianne Breslauer (German, 1909-2001)
Circus, Berlin
1931

 

 

Marianne Breslauer (German, 1909-2001)

Marianne Breslauer (married surname Feilchenfeldt, 20 November 1909 – 7 February 2001) was a German photographer, photojournalist and pioneer of street photography during the Weimar Republic.

Marianne was born in Berlin, the daughter of the architect Alfred Breslauer (1866-1954) and Dorothea Lessing (the daughter of art historian Julius Lessing). She took lessons in photography in Berlin from 1927 to 1929, and she admired the work of the then well-known portrait photographer Frieda Riess and later of the Hungarian André Kertész.

In 1929 she travelled to Paris, where she briefly became a pupil of Man Ray, whom she met through Helen Hessel, a fashion correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung and family friend. Man Ray encouraged Breslauer to “go her own way without his help.” A year later she started work for the Ullstein photo studio in Berlin, headed up by Elsbeth Heddenhausen, where she mastered the skills of developing photos in the dark-room. Until 1934 her photos were published in many leading magazines such as the Frankfurter Illustrierten, Der Querschnitt, Die Dame, Zürcher Illustrierten, Der Uhu and Das Magazin.

In the early 1930s, Breslauer travelled to Palestine and Alexandria, before traveling with her close friend, the Swiss writer, journalist, and photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach, whom she met through Ruth Landshoff and whom she photographed many times. She described Schwarzenbach as: “Neither a woman nor a man, but an angel, an archangel.” In 1933 they travelled together to the Pyrenees to carry out a photographic assignment for the Berlin photographic agency Academia. This led to Marianne’s confrontation with the anti-Semitic practices then coming into play in Germany. Her employers wanted her to publish her photos under a pseudonym, to hide the fact that she was Jewish. She refused to do so and left Germany. However her photo Schoolgirls won the “Photo of the Year” award at the “Salon international d’art photographique” in Paris in 1934.

She emigrated in 1936 to Amsterdam where she married the art dealer Walter Feilchenfeldt [de] – he had previously left Germany after seeing Nazis break up an auction of modern art. Her first child, Walter, was born here. Family life and work as an art dealer hindered her work in photography, which she gave up to concentrate on her other activities. In 1939 the family fled to Zurich where her second son, Konrad, was born.

After the war, in 1948, the couple set up an art business specialising in French paintings and 19th-century art. When her husband died in 1953 she took over the business, which she ran with her son Walter from 1966 to 1990. She died in Zollikon, near Zurich.

Breslauer’s work demonstrates an interest in overlooked or marginalised subjects. Her earlier work in Paris, encouraged by the surrealist photographer Man Ray, focused on the homeless along the river Seine.

Her portraits show influence from the photographic experiments of Bauhaus students and the contemporary style Neues Sehen. Nonetheless, her photography conveys a strong personal interest in and approach to capturing dynamic motion, conveyed partially through her selection of bustling urban settings.

Breslauer ended work in her photographic career in 1936 due to the rise of Nazism.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985) 'Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris at the Opening Night Party for "The Member of The Wedding," New York City' 1950

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985)
Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris at the Opening Night Party for “The Member of The Wedding,” New York City
1950
Gelatin silver print
39.7 × 49.5cm (15 5/8 × 19 1/2 in.)
Purchase, Dorothy Levitt Beskind Gift, 1980
Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Ruth Orkin

 

Sandra Weiner (American, 1921-2014) 'Boy Smoking' c. 1948

 

Sandra Weiner (Polish-American, 1921-2014)
Boy Smoking
c. 1948
Gelatin silver print
6 1/4 x 9 3/8in (16.58 x 24.7cm)

 

 

Sandra Weiner (née Smith; 1921-2014) was a Polish-American street photographer and children’s book author.

Weiner was born in Drohiczan, Poland, and emigrated to the United States in 1928. She joined the Photo League in 1942. There, she first studied under photographers Paul Strand, and Dan Weiner whom she would later marry. Following the dissolution of the Photo League in 1951, she was a commercial photographer in the 1950s and later wrote four published children’s books.

 

Lola Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1903-1993) 'The Freeloaders' c. 1955

 

Lola Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1903-1993)
The Freeloaders
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 11 3/4 in. (24.4 × 29.8cm)
Collection of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York, New York 10028-0198
Phone: 212-535-7710

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Thursday: 9.30am – 5.30pm*
Friday – Saturday: 9.30am – 9.00pm*
Sunday: 9.30am – 5.30pm*
Closed Monday (except Met Holiday Mondays**), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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24
May
17

Exhibition: ‘Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 9th March – 29th May 2017

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1929

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (reflected image in mirror with chequered jacket)
1927
Silver gelatin print

 

 

This is the last posting for a while as my hand operation is tomorrow… so let’s make the most of the occasion!

 

“… the life of spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. It is this power, not as something positive, which closes its eyes to the negative as when we say of something that it is nothing or is false, and then having done with it, turn away and pass on to something else; on the contrary, spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being.”

.
George Wilhelm Frederich Hegel, 1807. Phenomenology of Spirit, Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977), Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 10

 

 

This is an interesting pairing for an exhibition but the connection between the artists is unconvincing. This is because Wearing and Cahun are talking to different aspects of the self.

Wearing’s self-portraits, her mask-querades, her shielded multiple personalities, talk to a “postmodern meditation on the slipperiness of the self” in which there is little evidence of the existence of any “real” person. Wearing wears her identities in a series of dress-ups, performances where only the eyes of the original protagonist are visible. These identities evidence Jung’s shadow aspect, “an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself.” Rather than an assimilation of the shadow aspect into the self followed by an ascent (enantiodromia), Wearing’s images seem to be mired in a state of melancholia, a “confrontation with the shadow which produces at first a dead balance, a stand-still that hampers moral decisions and makes convictions ineffective… tenebrositas, chaos, melancholia.” This is not a confrontation that leads anywhere interesting, by looking the negative in the face and tarrying with it. These split personalities rise little above caricature, an imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are over emphasised, such as in Wearing’s portraits of her as Andy Warhol or Robert Mapplethorpe. To me, the photograph of Wearing as Mapplethorpe is a travesty of the pain that artist was feeling as he neared the end of his life, dying from HIV/AIDS.

Cahun’s self-portraits contain all the depth of feeling and emotion that Wearing’s can never contain. Here, identity and gender is played out through performance and masquerade in a constructive way, a deep, probing interrogation of the self in front of the camera. While Cahun engages with Surrealist ideas – wearing masks and costumes and changing her appearance, often challenging traditional notions of gender representation – she does so in a direct and powerful way. As Laura Cumming observes, “She is not trying to become someone else, not trying to escape [as Wearing is]. Cahun is always and emphatically herself. Dressed as a man, she never appears masculine, nor like a woman in drag. Dressed as a woman, she never looks feminine. She is what we refer to as non-binary* these days, though Cahun called it something else: “Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.””

*Those with nonbinary genders can feel that they: Have an androgynous (both masculine and feminine) gender identity, such as androgyne. Have an identity between male and female, such as intergender. Have a neutral or unrecognised gender identity, such as agender, neutrois, or most xenogenders.*

Cahun had a gift for the indelible image but more than that, she possesses the propensity for humility and openness in these portraits, as though she is opening her soul for interrogation, even as she explores what it is to be Cahun, what it is to be human. This is a human being in full control of the balance between the ego and the self, of dream-state and reality. The photographs, little shown in Cahun’s lifetime, are her process of coming to terms with the external world, on the one hand, and with one’s own unique psychological characteristics on the other. They are her adaption** to the world.

**“The constant flow of life again and again demands fresh adaptation. Adaptation is never achieved once and for all.” (Carl Jung. “The Transcendent Function,” CW 8, par. 143.)**

.
Claude Cahun is person I would have really liked to have met. Affiliated with the French Surrealist movement, living with her partner the artist and stage designer Marcel Moore, the two women left Paris for the Isles of Scilly and were then imprisoned in Nazi-occupied Jersey during the Second World War as a result of their roles in the French Resistance.

“Fervently against war, the two worked extensively in producing anti-German fliers. Many were snippets from English-to-German translations of BBC reports on the Nazis’ crimes and insolence, which were pasted together to create rhythmic poems and harsh criticism. The couple then dressed up and attended many German military events in Jersey, strategically placing them in soldier’s pockets, on their chairs, etc. Also, they inconspicuously crumpled up and threw their fliers into cars and windows. In many ways, Cahun and Malherbe’s [Marcel Moore] resistance efforts were not only political but artistic actions, using their creative talents to manipulate and undermine the authority which they despised. In many ways, Cahun’s life’s work was focused on undermining a certain authority, however her specific resistance fighting targeted a physically dangerous threat. In 1944 she was arrested and sentenced to death, but the sentence was never carried out. However, Cahun’s health never recovered from her treatment in jail, and she died in 1954.” (Wikipedia)

Undermining a certain authority … while ennobling her own identity and being. Love and respect.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the National Portrait Gallery, London for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. For more information please see the blog entry “Claude Cahun: Freedom Fighter” on the National Portrait Gallery Blog 09 May 2017.

 

This exhibition brings together for the first time the work of French artist Claude Cahun and British contemporary artist Gillian Wearing. Although they were born almost seventy years apart and came from different backgrounds, remarkable parallels can be drawn between the two artists. Both of them share a fascination with the self-portrait and use the self-image, through the medium of photography, to explore themes around identity and gender, which is often played out through masquerade and performance.

 

 

“Under this mask, another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.”

.
Claude Cahun, 1930

 

 

 Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1928

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait
1928
Gelatin silver print
13.9 x 9cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

 

 

“Once seen, never forgotten: Cahun had a gift for the indelible image. Even when the signals are jammed, and the meaning deliberately baffled, her vision always holds strong. This is partly convenienced by the artist’s exceptional looks. Her long, thin face, with its shaved eyebrows, large eyes and linear nose, takes paint like a canvas. She converts herself into a harpy, a lunatic or a doll with equal ease. In one self-portrait, she even holds her own bare face like a mask…

Peering into these monochrome images, so delicate and small, the viewer might inevitably wonder which is the real Cahun: the woman in the aviator goggles, the pensive Buddhist, the young man in a white silk scarf? But this is not the right question. She is not trying to become someone else, not trying to escape. Cahun is always and emphatically herself.

Dressed as a man, she never appears masculine, nor like a woman in drag. Dressed as a woman, she never looks feminine. She is what we refer to as non-binary these days, though Cahun called it something else: “Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” …

There is little evidence that she ever displayed these photographs, which were forgotten for decades after her death. It seems that her partner was generally behind the lens, but we know almost nothing about how they were made. Of her lifelong project, Cahun wrote: “Under this mask, another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.”

Commentators have taken this to mean that she thought of herself as a series of multiple personalities, and the double exposures, shadows and reflections in her work all seem to undermine the idea of a singular self. Yet Cahun is formidably and unmistakably Cahun, her force of personality registering every time in that utterly penetrating look. Far from some postmodern meditation on the slipperiness of the self, her images are completely direct. They acknowledge the sufferings of a double life and are deepened by them every time; and yet they rejoice in that life too.”

Laura Cumming. “Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the Mask, Another Mask – review,” on The Observer website Sunday 12 March 2017 [Online] Cited 17/12/2021

 

 

 

Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask

This exhibition brings together for the first time the work of French artist Claude Cahun and British contemporary artist Gillian Wearing. Although they were born almost seventy years apart and came from different backgrounds, remarkable parallels can be drawn between the two artists. Both of them share a fascination with the self-portrait and use the self-image, through the medium of photography, to explore themes around identity and gender, which is often played out through masquerade and performance.

 

Claude Cahun in collaboration with Marcel Moore. 'Aveux non avenus frontispiece' 1929-30

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) in collaboration with Marcel Moore (French, 1892-1972)
Aveux non avenus frontispiece
1929-30
Photomontage
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

 

“Cahun appears in enigmatic guises, playing out different personas using masks and mirrors, and featuring androgynous shaven or close-cropped hair – as can be seen in the multiple views of her in the lower left-hand side of this collage. The image also includes symbols made up by the women to represent themselves – the eye for Moore, the artist, and the mouth for Cahun, the writer and actor. Whereas the majority of Surrealists were men, in whose images women appear as eroticised objects, Cahun’s androgynous self-portraits explore female identity as constructed, multifaceted, and ultimately as having a nihilistic absence at the core.”

~ Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (as a dandy, head and shoulders)' 1921-22

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (as a dandy, head and shoulders)
1921-22
Silver gelatin print
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection
Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence

 

Claude Cahun. 'Studies for a keepsake' c. 1925

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Studies for a keepsake
c. 1925
Silver gelatin prints
Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
© Musée d’Art moderne / Roger-Viollet

 

Claude Cahun. 'Study for a keepsake' c. 1925

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Study for a keepsake
c. 1925
Silver gelatin print
Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
© Musée d’Art moderne / Roger-Viollet

 

Claude Cahun. 'I am in training don't kiss me' c. 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
I am in training don’t kiss me
c. 1927
Silver gelatin print
117mm x 89mm (whole)
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

 

Totor (progenitor of Tintin) and Popol are two comic characters by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé. Castor and Pollux are the twin stars; Pollux and Helen were the children of Zeus and Leda, while Castor and Clytemnestra were the children of Leda and Tyndareus.

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (kneeling, naked, with mask)' c. 1928

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (kneeling, naked, with mask)
c. 1928
Silver gelatin print
116mm x  83mm
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (full length masked figure in cloak with masks)' 1928

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (full length masked figure in cloak with masks)
1928
Silver gelatin print
109 x 82mm
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait' 1929

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait
1929
Silver gelatin print

 

Claude Cahun. 'Je tends les bras (I extend my arms)' c. 1932

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Je tends les bras (I extend my arms)
c. 1932
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (in cupboard)' c. 1932

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (in cupboard)
c. 1932
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

 

Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask (9 March – 29 May 2017) draws together over 100 works by French artist Claude Cahun (1894-1954) and British contemporary artist Gillian Wearing (b.1963). While they were born 70 years apart, they share similar themes of gender, identity, masquerade and performance.

Cahun, along with her contemporaries André Breton and Man Ray, was affiliated with the French Surrealist movement although her work was rarely exhibited during her lifetime. Together with her partner, the artist and stage designer Marcel Moore, the two women left Paris and were then imprisoned in Nazi-occupied Jersey during the Second World War as a result of their roles in the French Resistance. In her photographs she is depicted wearing masks and costumes and engaging with Surrealist ideas. She also changes her appearance by shaving her hair and wearing wigs, often challenging traditional notions of gender representation.

Gillian Wearing studied at Goldsmiths University, winning the Turner Prize in 1997. She has exhibited extensively in the United Kingdom and internationally, including solo exhibitions at the Whitechapel Gallery and Serpentine Gallery, whilst overseas, recent retrospectives include IVAM Valencia and K20 Dusseldorf. Wearing’s photographic self-portraits incorporate painstaking recreations of her as others in an intriguing and sometimes unsettling range of guises such as where she becomes her immediate family members using prosthetic masks.

Despite their different backgrounds, obvious and remarkable parallels can be drawn between the artists whose fascination with identity and gender is played out through performance and masquerade. Wearing has referenced Cahun overtly in the past: Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face is a reconstruction of Cahun’s self-portrait Don’t kiss me I’m in training of 1927, and forms the starting point of this exhibition, the title of which (Behind the mask, another mask) adapts a quotation from Claude Cahun’s Surrealist writings.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘This inspired, timely and poignant exhibition pairs the works of Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun. These pioneering artists, although separated by several decades, address similarly compelling themes around gender, identity, masquerade, performance and the idea of the self, issues that are ever more relevant to the present day.’

Sarah Howgate, Curator, Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask, says: ‘It seems particularly fitting that at the National Portrait Gallery on International Women’s Day we are bringing together for the first time Claude Cahun’s intriguing and complex explorations of identity with the equally challenging and provocative self-images of Gillian Wearing.’

Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask is curated by Sarah Howgate, Senior Curator of Contemporary Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait as a young girl' 1914

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait as a young girl
1914
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait as a young girl' 1914

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait as a young girl
1914
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (shaved head, material draped across body)' 1920

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (shaved head, material draped across body)
1920
Silver gelatin print
115 x 89mm

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait
1927
Silver gelatin print

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-Portrait' 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-Portrait
1927
Silver gelatin print

 

Claude Cahun. 'Que me veux tu?' 1929

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Que me veux tu? (What do you want from me?)
1929
Gelatin silver print
18 x 23 cm (7 1/16 x 9 1/16 ins)
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait' 1929

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait
1929
Gelatin silver print

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1939

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait
1939
Gelatin silver print
10 x 8 cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (with Nazi badge between her teeth)' 1945

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-portrait (with Nazi badge between her teeth)
1945
Photograph – Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Ten things you need to know about this extraordinary artist

1. Her real name was Lucy Schwob.
She was born 25 October 1894 in Nantes, daughter of newspaper owner Maurice Schwob and Victorine Marie Courbebaisse; her uncle was the Symbolist writer Marcel Schwob. Subjected to anti-Semitic acts following the Dreyfus Affair, she was removed to a boarding school in Surrey, where she studied for two years.

2. Cahun’s lover was also her stepsister.
In 1909, she met her lifelong partner and collaborator Suzanne Malherbe while studying in Nantes, in what she described as a ‘thunderbolt encounter’. Eight years later, Cahun’s father married Suzanne’s widowed mother.

3. The couple adopted gender-neutral names.
Schwob first used the name Claude Cahun in the semi-biographical text ‘Les Jeux uraniens’, Cahun being a surname from her father’s side. Malherbe changed her name to Marcel Moore and the pair moved to Paris in 1914, where they began their artistic collaborations and Cahun studied literature and philosophy at the Sorbonne.

4. Cahun was one of the few female Surrealists.
In 1932 she was introduced to André Breton, who called her ‘one of the most curious spirits of our time’. Four years later, Cahun participated in the Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Charles Ratton, Paris, and visited the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries, London. Whereas in the works of male Surrealists women often appear as eroticised objects, Cahun’s self-portraits explore female identity as constructed and multifaceted.

5. She was first and foremost a writer.
Now best known for her striking self-portraits, Cahun saw herself primarily as a writer. In 1930 she published Aveux non avenus (translated into English as Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions), an ‘anti-memoir’ including ten photomontages created in collaboration with Moore.

6. In 1937 the couple swapped Paris for Jersey.
Cahun and Moore moved to La Rocquaise, a house in St Brelade’s Bay, Jersey, where they led a secluded life. The couple reverted to their given names, Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe, and were known by the islanders as ‘les mesdames’.

7. They were actively involved in the resistance against Nazi Occupation.
When the Germans invaded Jersey in 1940 they decided to stay and produced counter-propaganda tracts. In July 1944 they were found out, arrested, stood trial, and were, briefly, sentenced to death (though these sentences were commuted). The couple were imprisoned in separate cells for almost a year before Liberation in May 1945.

8. In 1951 Cahun received the Medal of French Gratitude for her acts of resistance during the Second World War. Suffering increasingly from ill health, she died in 1954 at the age of sixty. Moore died eighteen years later, in 1972.

9. She remained forgotten for half a century
Following her move to Jersey, Cahun slipped from critical attention. After the death of Marcel Moore, much of Cahun’s work was put up for auction and acquired by collector John Wakeham, who then sold it to the Jersey Heritage Trust in 1995. The publication in 1992 of the definitive biography by Francois Leperlier, Claude Cahun: l’ecart et la metamorphose, and subsequent exhibition, Claude Cahun: Photographe, at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1995 encouraged a growing interest in the artist’s work. It was during this time that Gillian Wearing discovered Claude Cahun.

10. She was an artist ahead of her time
Wearing speaks of a ‘camaraderie’ between her and Cahun but she is not the only contemporary artist to have been influenced by her work. Cahun has a dedicated following among artists and art historians working from postmodern, feminist and queer theoretical perspectives; the American art critic Hal Foster described Cahun as ‘a Cindy Sherman avant la lettre’.

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Self-portrait as my brother Richard Wearing' 2003

 

Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
Self-portrait as my brother Richard Wearing
2003
Heather Podesta Collection
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Mapplethorpe' 2009

 

Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
Me as Mapplethorpe
2009
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Warhol in Drag with Scar' 2010

 

Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
Me as Warhol in Drag with Scar
2010
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Diane Arbus' 2008-2010

 

Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
Me as Diane Arbus
2008-2010
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face' 2012

 

Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face
2012
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Self-portrait of me now in a mask' 2011

 

Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
Self-portrait of me now in a mask
2011
Collection of Mario Testino
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as mask' 2013

 

Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
Me as mask
2013
Private collection, courtesy Cecilia Dan Fine Art
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'At Claude Cahun's grave' 2015

 

Gillian Wearing (English, b. 1963)
At Claude Cahun’s grave
2015
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

 

 

National Portrait Gallery
St Martin’s Place
London, WC2H 0HE

Opening hours:
Monday – Wednesday, Saturday – Sunday 10am – 6pm
Thursday – Friday 10am – 9pm

National Portrait Gallery website

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29
May
12

Exhibition: ‘Entre Nous: The Art of Claude Cahun’ at the Art Institute of Chicago

Exhibition dates:  25th February – 3rd June 2012

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1929

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait
1929
Gelatin silver print
24 x 19cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes
© RMN/Gérard Blot

 

 

“In many ways, Cahun’s life was marked by a sense of role reversal, and her public identity became a commentary upon not only her own, but the public’s notions of sexuality, gender, beauty, and logic. Her adoption of a sexually ambiguous name, and her androgynous self-portraits display a revolutionary way of thinking and creating, experimenting with her audience’s understanding of photography as a documentation of reality. Her poetry challenged gender roles and attacked the increasingly modern world’s social and economic boundaries. Also Cahun’s participation in the Parisian Surrealist movement diversified the group’s artwork and ushered in new representations. Where most Surrealist artists were men, and their primary images were of women as isolated symbols of eroticism, Cahun epitomised the chameleonic and multiple possibilities of the female identity. Her photographs, writings, and general life as an artistic and political revolutionary continue to influence countless artists, namely Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin and Del LaGrace Volcano.”

.
Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Cahun was a resistance fighter during the Second World War, was arrested, sentenced to death and survived. She lived with her longtime female partner and collaborator on Jersey from 1937 until 1954, the year of her death. Entre Nous means “Between Us,” such an appropriate title for their collaboration, love and partnership. What a talent, what a woman and gay to boot!

Marcus

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

 

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1929

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait
1929
Gelatin silver print
11.5 x 8.5cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1928

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait
1928
Gelatin silver print
13.9 x 9cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait
1927
Gelatin silver print
10.4 x 7.6cm
Soizic Audouard Collection

 

 

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) has something approaching cult status in today’s art world. However, her work was almost unknown until the early 1980s, when it was championed by the research of François Leperlier, after which exhibitions at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nantes (1994) and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1995) brought it to public attention. Her life and work (both literary and artistic) bespeak an extraordinary libertarian personality who defied sexual, social and ethical conventions in what was an age of avant-garde and moral upheaval. Among her many photographs, it is undoubtedly her self-portraits that have aroused the greatest interest in recent years. Throughout her life, Cahun used her own image to dismantle the clichés surrounding ideas of identity. She reinvented herself through photography, posing for the lens with a keen sense of performance and role-play, dressed as a woman or a man, as a maverick hero, with her hair long or very short, or even with a shaved head. This approach was extended in innovative ways in her photographs of objects and use of photomontages, which asserted the primacy of the imagination and of metamorphosis.

By exploring the many different analyses made of Cahun’s work since the 1990s, and ranging across its different themes: from the subversive self-portraits that question identity, to her surrealist compositions, erotic metaphors and political forays, this exhibition confirms the modernity of a figure who, as a pioneer of self-representation and the poetry of objects, has been an important influence for many contemporary artists.

 

Metamorphoses of identity and the subversion of gender (I)

This set of photographs, going from 1913 to the end of the 1920s, includes some of Cahun’s major works, in which she staged her own persona, emphasising disguise and masks, and working through variations on gender: feminine, masculine, androgyne, undifferentiated. Sexual ambiguity is consciously cultivated and calls into question established norms and conventions. In 1928, she even represented herself with her head shaved, wearing a singlet, in profile, or with her hands against her face, or wearing a loose man’s jacket. Some of the mise-en-scènes from this period seem to anticipate contemporary performance.

 

Poetics of the object

The “assemblages of objects,” which make their appearance in around 1925, inventively explore what at the time was still a rather new form. This work came to wider attention in the Surrealist exhibition at the Charles Ratton gallery, in May 1936, and then with the commissioning of 22 photographic plates to illustrate a book of poems by Lise Deharme, Le Coeur de Pic (1937), prefaced by Paul Eluard. These photographs capture ephemeral set-ups, often in a natural setting (garden, beach). Each “sketch” is a composition of heterogeneous elements, both found and made, such as knickknacks in spun glass, sewing items, twigs, bones, insects, feathers, gloves, pieces of fabric, shoes, tools, etc. This “theatre of objects” has both a visual and symbolic significance, which Cahun explained in her text Prenez garde aux objets domestiques (1936).

 

Metamorphoses of identity and the subversion of gender (continued)

The 1930s saw Cahun continuing to explore images of the self. However, questions of sexual difference and its social and cultural construction were now less to the fore as she went deeper into the potential of situations and disguises and experimented with duplication in a way that extended the work of the photomontages from the late 1920s.

 

Metaphors of desire

Eschewing the direct and sometimes reifying display of the female body found in many paintings and photographs, Cahun opted for a more subtle kind of “veiled eroticism” using distance and irony. Here we find some very evocative examples of her calculating games with desire. Whether through the contained display of the body, allegory (the bacchante or faun, surrounded by sensuous vegetation), or anthropomorphic objects (the hermaphroditic “père”), she aimed to capture the essence of desire, to bring out its essential grounding in fantasy.

 

The two of us. Claude Cahun and Suzanne Malherbe (Marcel Moore)

The photograph Entre nous (1926) clearly establishes the spirit of this section, which evokes various aspects of Claude Cahun’s intimate relationship and artistic collaboration with her partner, Suzanne Malherbe. In fact, a number of the photographs here were taken by Suzanne following Claude’s suggestions. A double portrait from 1921 shows a surprising parallel which could be read as a metaphor of their relationship, a deep closeness and understanding between two strong personalities. The linchpin of this section is constituted by the four photomontages used to illustrate Aveux non avenus (1930), Cahun’s most significant literary work, gathering together all the artist’s main themes and obsessive metaphors. The plates were executed by Moore in collaboration with Claude Cahun.

 

Elective encounters

This series of portraits, which reflect the importance of friendship in the development of Cahun’s work, gives an idea of the figures who were important to her and influenced her, or to whom she felt close, among them Henri Michaux, Robert Desnos, André Breton, Jacqueline Lamba and Suzanne Malherbe. There are also two photographs from performances at Pierre Albert-Birot’s theatre Le Plateau (1929). They attest Cahun’s keen interest in theatre and acting.

 

Poetry and politics

In the 1930s Cahun’s positions grew increasingly radical in response to the rise of totalitarianism. She joined the Surrealists and associated with a number of groups on the left and far left. This radicalisation is reflected in her aesthetic. In line with the ideas put forward in her pamphlet Les Paris sont ouverts (1934), she exploited the subversive qualities of “indirect action” in the sphere of symbolic expression, making a number of objects in which poetry and politics are intimately intertwined. This process culminated when she used these pieces for two big series of photographs dominated by a mood of irony, revolt and provocation: “La Poupée” (The Doll), a figure fashioned out of newspaper, and “Le Théâtre” (The Theatre), a wooden mannequin surrounded by various elements and placed under a glass dome.

 

Beyond the visible. The last self-portraits

Close study of Cahun’s photographs reveals the presence of allusions to non-visible phenomena, pointing the way to other realities – and perhaps, too, beyond death. Her attraction to symbolism, her interest in Eastern doctrines and her closeness to Surrealism only confirmed the primacy of fantasy and metamorphosis evidenced in the intellectual and aesthetic approaches she took throughout her life. The series Le Chemin des chats (The Way of Cats, around 1949 and 1953), suggests a mediation on and questioning of reality and appearance. Cahun was a true cat lover: for her, this animal was the great intercessor, the medium of an intuitive contact between the visible and the invisible, leading to sensorial worlds that are both unfamiliar and yet very near.

Juan Vicente Aliaga and François Leperlier, curators of the exhibition

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1939

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait
1939
Gelatin silver print
10 x 8cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1926

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait
1926
Gelatin silver print
11.1 x 8.6cm
IVAM, Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Generalitat

 

 

Born Lucy Schwob to a family of French intellectuals and writers, Claude Cahun (who adopted the pseudonym at age 22) is best known for the staged self-portraiture, photomontages, and prose texts she made principally between 1920 and 1940. Rediscovered in the late 1980s, her work has not only expanded our understanding of the Surrealist era but also serves as an important touchstone to later feminist explorations of gender and identity politics. In her self-portraits, which she began creating around 1913, Cahun dismantled and questioned preexisting notions of self and sexuality. Posing in costumes and elaborate make-up, Cahun appears masked as various personae: man or woman, hero or doll, both powerful and vulnerable. Almost a century after their making, these innovative photographs and assemblages remain remarkably relevant in their treatment of gender, performance, and identity.

From her university years until her death, Cahun was accompanied by her partner and artistic collaborator, Suzanne Malherbe, a childhood friend and stepsister. They surrounded themselves with members of the Surrealist movement and created work that embraced leftist politics. Cahun, with assistance from Malherbe (under the pseudonym Marcel Moore), produced photographs, assemblages, and publications from the 1920s on. The photograph Entre Nous (Between Us), featuring a pair of masks embedded in sand, gives the title to this show and is emblematic of their multifaceted relationship.

The first retrospective exhibition in the United States of Cahun’s work, Entre Nous: The Art of Claude Cahun brings together over 80 photographs and published material by Cahun and Moore, including several photomontages from their 1930 collaborative publication Aveux non avenus (Disavowals), and the only surviving object by Cahun, which is in the Art Institute’s permanent collection.

Organiser: This exhibition was organised by the Jeu de Paume, Paris, and coproduced with La Virreina Centre de la Imatge, Barcelona.

Press release from the Art Institute of Chicago website

 

Claude Cahun. 'Combat de pierres' 1931

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Combat de pierres
1931
Gelatin silver print
21 x 15.5cm
Private collection
© Béatrice Hatala

 

Claude Cahun. 'Le Père' 1932

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Le Père
1932
Gelatin silver print
23.6 x 17.7cm
LAC

 

Claude Cahun. 'Aveux non avenus, planche III' 1929-1930

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Aveux non avenus, planche III
1929-1930
Gelatin silver print photomontage
15 x 10cm
Private collection

 

 

The Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60603-6404
Phone: (312) 443-3600

Opening hours:
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The Art Institute of Chicago website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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

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