Posts Tagged ‘Beginnings of Learning

24
Oct
12

Exhibition: ‘Eugène Atget: Old Paris’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 24th August – 4th November 2012

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“…I have assembled photographic glass negatives… in all the old streets of Old Paris, artistic documents showing the beautiful civil architecture from the 16th to the 19th century. The old mansions, historic or interesting houses, beautiful façades, lovely doors, beautiful panelling, door knockers, old fountains, stylish staircases (wrought iron and wood) and interiors of all the churches in Paris… This enormous documentary and artistic collection is now finished. I can say that I possess the whole of Old Paris.”

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Eugène Atget 1920

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“The first time I saw photographs by Eugène Atget was in 1925 in the studio of Man Ray in Paris. Their impact was immediate and tremendous. There was a sudden flash of recognition – the shock of realism unadorned. The subjects were not sensational, but nevertheless shocking in their very familiarity. The real world, seen with wonderment and surprise, was mirrored in each print.”

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Berenice Abbott 1964

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Spaces That Matter…

[In revelatio, in revelation] the photographers trained eye is perhaps more of a hindrance than may at first be thought. The photographer may struggle with, “a sense of intense inevitability, insofar as this kind of image seems to be one that the photographer ‘could not not photograph’.”Awareness may become a double bind for the photographer. It may force the photographer to photograph because he can do nothing else, because he is aware of the presence of ‘punctum’ within a space, even an empty ‘poetic space’, but this awareness may then blind him, may ossify the condition of revealing through his directed gaze, unless he is very attentive and drops, as Harding says, “memory and imagination and desire, and just take what’s given.”10 The object, as Baudrillard notes,“isolates itself and creates a sense of emptiness … and then it irradiates this emptiness,”11 but this irradiation of emptiness does require an awareness of it in order to stabilise the transgressive fluctuations of the ecstasy of photography (which are necessarily fluid), through the making of an image that, as Baudrillard notes, “may well retrieve and immobilise subjective and objective punctum from their ‘thunderous surroundings’.”12 Knowledge of awareness is a key to this immobilisation and image making. The philosopher Krishnamurti has interesting things to say about this process, and I think it is worth quoting him extensively here:

“Now with that same attention I’m going to see that when you flatter me, or insult me, there is no image, because I’m tremendously attentive … I listen because the mind wants to find out if it is creating an image out of every word, out of every contact. I’m tremendously awake, therefore I find in myself a person who is inattentive, asleep, dull, who makes images and gets hurt – not an intelligent man. Have you understood it at least verbally? Now apply it. Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action. And if anybody says something to you, you are tremendously attentive, not to any prejudices, but you are attentive to your conditioning. Therefore you have established a relationship with him, which is entirely different from his relationship with you. Because if he is prejudiced, you are not; if he is unaware, you are aware. Therefore you will never create an image about him. You see the difference?”13

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Now apply this attention to the awareness of the photographer. If he does not create images that are prejudice, could this not stop a photographer ‘not not’ photographing because he sees spaces with clarity, not as acts of performativity, spaces of ritualised production overlaid with memory, imagination, desire, and nostalgia?

Here an examination of the work of two photographers is instructive. The first, the early 20th century Parisian photographer Eugène Atget, brings to his empty street and parkscapes visions that elude the senses, visions that slip between dreaming and waking, between conscious and subconscious realms. These are not utopian spaces, not felicitous spaces that may be grasped and defined with the nostalgic fixity of spaces we love,14 but spaces of love that cannot be enclosed because Atget made no image of them.

I believe Atget moved his photographs onto a different spatio-temporal plane by not being aware of making images, aware-less-ness, dropping away the appendages of image making (technique, reality, artifice, reportage) by instinctively placing the camera where he wanted it, thus creating a unique artistic language. His images become a blend of the space of intimacy and world-space as he strains toward, “communion with the universe, in a word, space, the invisible space that man can live in nevertheless, and which surrounds him with countless presences.”15 These are not just ‘localised poetics’16 nor a memento of the absent, but the pre-essence of an intimate world space reinscribed through the vision (the transgressive glance not the steadfast gaze) of the photographer. Atget is not just absent or present, here or there,17 but neither here nor there. His images reverberate (retentir), in Minkowski’s sense of the word, with an essence of life that flows onward in terms of time and space independent of their causality.18″

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Excerpt from the paper Spaces That Matter: Awareness and Entropia in the Imaging of Place (2002). Read the full paper…

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

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Eugène Atget
Fireplace, Hôtel Matignon, former Austrian embassy, 57 rue de Varenne, 7th arrodissement
1905
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Eugène Atget
Boulevard de Strasbourg
1912
Albumen photograph
George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester

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Eugène Atget
Cabaret au Tambour, 62 quai de la Tournelle, 5th arrodissement
1908
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Eugène Atget
Street vendor, place Saint-Médard, 5th arrondissement
September 1898
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Eugène Atget
‘Spring’, by the sculptor François Barois,
jardin des Tuileries, 1st arrondissement
1907
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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“The first comprehensive exhibition in Australia of Eugène Atget’s (1857-1927) work will showcase over 200 photographs primarily from the more than 4000 strong collection of Musée Carnavalet, Paris with the important inclusion of Atget’s work, as compiled by Man Ray, from the collection of George Eastman House, Rochester, USA.

Atget was considered a commercial photographer who sold what he called ‘documents for artists’, ie. photographs of landscapes, close-up shots, genre scenes and other details that painters could use as reference. As soon as Atget turned his attention to photographing the streets of Paris, his work attracted the attention of leading institutions such as Musée Carnavalet and the Bibliothèque Nationale which became his principal clients. It is in these photographs of Paris that we find the best of Atget, the artist who shows us a city remote from the clichés of the Belle Époque. Atget’s images of ‘old Paris’ depict areas that had not been touched by Baron Haussmann’s 19th century modernisation program of the city. We see empty streets and buildings, details that usually pass unnoticed, all presented as rigorous, original compositions that offer a mysterious group portrait of the city.

The exhibition is organised into 11 sections that correspond to the thematic groupings used by Atget himself. They are: small trades, Parisian types and shops 1898-1922; the streets of Paris 1898-1913; ornaments 1900-1921; interiors 1901-1910; vehicles 1903-1910; gardens 1898-1914; the Seine 1900-1923; the streets of Paris 1921-1924; and outside the city centre 1899-1913.

The equipment and techniques deployed by Atget link him to 19th-century photography. He had an 18 x 24 cm wooden, bellows camera which was heavy and had to be supported on a tripod. The use of glass plates allowed Atget to capture every tiny detail with great precision. Also traditional was his printing method, usually on albumen paper made light-sensitive with silver nitrate, exposed under natural light and subsequently gold-tinted. Atget’s vision of photography was, however, an astonishingly modern one. The photographs selected by Man Ray, who met Atget in the 1920s, indicate the immediate interest that the work aroused among the Surrealists because of the composition, ghosting, reflections, and its very mundanity. The first to appreciate his talents and importance as an artist were the photographer Berenice Abbott and Man Ray himself, both of whom lobbied to preserve Atget’s photographs.

As a result, he inspired artists and photographers such as Brassaï, the Surrealists, Walker Evans and Bernd & Hilla Becher amongst many others, and he can also be considered a starting-point for 20th-century documentary photography.”

Press release from the AGNSW website

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Eugène Atget
The former Collège de Chanac, 12 rue de Bièvre, 5th arrondissement
August 1900
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Eugène Atget
Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville
1921
Gelatin silver photograph
22.8 x 17.7 cm
Collection Art Gallery of New South Wales

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Eugène Atget
Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville (detail)
1921
Gelatin silver photograph
22.8 x 17.7 cm
Collection Art Gallery of New South Wales

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Eugène Atget
Rue Hautefeuille, 6th arrondissement
1898
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Eugène Atget
Shop sign, au Rémouleur
on the corner of the rue des Nonnains-d’Hyères and rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville, 4th arrondissement
July 1899
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Endnotes

9. Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida. (trans. Richard Howard). New York: Hill and Wang, 1981, p.47, quoted in Zurbrugg, Nicholas. “‘Apocalyptic’? ‘Negative’? ‘Pessimistic’?: Baudrillard, Virilio, and techno-culture,” in Koop, Stuart (ed.,). Photography Post Photography. Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography, 1995, p.79.

10. See Endnote 2. I believe that this form of attentiveness to present experience is not the same as Featherstone’s fragmentation of time into affect-charged experiences of the presentness of the world in postmodern culture. “Postmodern everyday culture is … a culture of stylistic diversity and heterogeneity (comprising different parts or qualities), of an overload of imagery and simulations which lead to a loss of the referent or sense of reality. The subsequent fragmentation of time into a series of presents through a lack of capacity to chain signs and images into narrative sequences leads to a schizophrenic emphasis on vivid, immediate, isolated, affect-charged experiences of the presentness of the world – of intensities.”
Featherstone, Mike. Consumer Culture and Postmodernism. London: Sage Publications, 1991, p.124.

11. Baudrillard, Jean. The Transparency of Evil. (trans. James Benedict). London: Verso, 1993, quoted in Zurbrugg, Nicholas. “‘Apocalyptic’? ‘Negative’? ‘Pessimistic’?: Baudrillard, Virilio, and techno-culture,” in Koop, Stuart (ed.,). Photography Post Photography. Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography, 1995, p.80.

12. Baudrillard, Jean. The Art of Disappearance. (trans. Nicholas Zurbrugg). Brisbane: Institute of Modern Art, 1994, p.9, quoted in Zurbrugg, Nicholas. “‘Apocalyptic’? ‘Negative’? ‘Pessimistic’?: Baudrillard, Virilio, and techno-culture,” in Koop, Stuart (ed.,). Photography Post Photography. Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography, 1995, p.83.

13. Krishnamurti. Beginnings of Learning. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1978, pp.130-131.

14. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. (trans Maria Jolas). Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, p.xxxv.

15. Ibid., p.203.

16. Palmer, Daniel. “Between Place and Non-Place: The Poetics of Empty Space,” in Palmer, Daniel (ed.,). Photofile Issue 62 (‘Fresh’). Sydney: Australian Centre for Photography, April 2001, p.47.

17. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. (trans Maria Jolas). Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, p.212.

18. See the editor’s note by Gilson, Etienne (ed.,) in Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. (trans Maria Jolas). Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, p.xvi.

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Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Opening hours:
Open every day 10am – 5pm
except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Art Gallery of New South Wales website

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30
Jul
12

Artwork: ‘Transit’ series by Katrin Koenning, Melbourne

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Transit is a stimulating body of work by Melbourne artist Katrin Koenning that documents mostly everyday journeys. As Koenning notes, “It is concerned with the space that lies between destinations, routines and obligations – the space between distances, if you so like,” where strangers are thrown together in an intimate space. The outcome of these encounters is mainly silence. In these works photography and the depiction of the lived world becomes the primer and reference point for a mediated existence, one based on longing, desire, reverie, absent presence and the phantasies of daydreams.

Compositionally the work is strong. Koenning shows an excellent understanding of the construction of the image plane and the use of colour, light and dark complements her intellectual enquiry. This much is given: these are excellent images that immerse the viewer in a visual dreamscape. What I am more interested in here is the transitional spaces of the journey, the traces of light that reflect back to us the concerns of the photographer and the conceptual ideas upon which the work is based.

Even when people are asleep in these photographs (which they sometimes are) it is as if an internal image, a day dream, a subconscious image is projected into/onto the external world in an act of scopophilic [the desire for pleasurable looking] voyeurism. It is as though our daydreams are inscribed in a physical location and we identify with this imaginary image and take it for reality.1 “This specific joy of receiving from the external world images that are usually internal… of seeing them inscribed in a physical location… of discovering in this way something almost realizable in them”2 becomes one reality of the journey. We become possessed, possessed by the phantasies of our daydreams, possessed by desire for this imaginary image.
Paradoxically these daydreams, the longing and yearning of the inner voice for a better place to be, for a holiday, for an escape from the drudgery of everyday life (for an imaginary, hallucinatory image) promote an escapism in the traveller and the absenting of presence that can be seen on any tram or train, any day of the week in cities throughout the world. The enactment of absent presence is usually performed through technology of some kind – a book, headphones, smart phones that connect to the internet, conversation on the mobile which is mainly gossip and texting – that distract people from having a quiet mind that leads to the contemplation of Self. The fear of silence is the fear of quietening the chattering voice in your head, being afraid of what you might find. The act of non-engagment is supplemented by the necessity of avoiding eye contact with fellow travellers, of making conversation, of engaging with strangers in any meaningful way. Hence the silence of forcibly intimate spaces.

The photographs that make up the series Transit form a theatrical space, a dramatic space where the people in them are separated from the outside world, neither here nor there, present but absent at one and the same time. This ritual of (non)spectatorship begins long before we begin our journey: the preparation, leaving the house with headphones and iPod, iPad, iPhone and I. This is followed by the ritual of buying a ticket (or not), boarding the train, tram, bus, plane or car being an effective way of transforming time and space. Our practices of mobility, that is our acts of moving are constituted in our acts of staying. What we take with us (for example our passport when we go overseas), always takes our place of residing, of staying, with us. Travel becomes the enactment or enfolding of bodies that move and bodies that stay, of stability.3 As Mary Louise Pratt has observed recently, the Western subject is an autonomous being with inherent conditions attached to its body and mobility is the privileged figure of its freedom, the proof and performance of its liberated state. In the metaphor of flow there is the enactment of freedom.4 Ironically, in the flow of travel envisaged in these photographs there is a dis/placement of desire onto the object of our (non)attention: in other words if we observe the world and desire it (as in the woman looking out of the window onto the distant view of the city, below) we displace our desire onto the object of our affection. If, on the other hand, we ignore the distant vista (as in the man playing with his iPod while the world flashes past outside, below) we displace our own presence through non-attention and our desire becomes a narcissistic attraction to Self. The remainer (who remains) and the remainder (what is left) is dictated by the place and placedness of the encounter, the interdependent modalities along the points of un/freedom (displacement of desires onto other may, in fact, not be freedom at all!)

In a sense, and I use that word advisedly, these images become trans-sensual, hovering between one desirous place and the next, between one condition or possibility of becoming and another. Here I must note that I see a philosophical difference between ‘transit’ and ‘in transit’. ‘Transit’ suggests a pre-determined path between point A and point B: for example in the transit of Venus that recently took place the path that Venus would take was already mapped out, even before the event happened, even if Venus was absent. The DNA of the journey, its blueprint if you like, is already formed in the knowledge: we are going to Collins Street, Melbourne, the path immanent in the tabula rasa of the journey even before it has started. ‘In transit’ on the other hand, suggests an amorphous space that has no beginning and no end. There is no boundary that defines the journey, much as in these images “amorphous thinking in visual terms is inextricably bound up with sensation and perception. In many ways, how we think is how we see and vice versa.”5 Perhaps the series should have been called In Transit, for the images visualise a conception of boundary and form that is constantly in flux, emanating as it does from the subconscious desires of the traveller. These are scenarios for an intuitive vision of an amorphous space that image a lapse in time, where energy and information, light and shadow, harmony and form challenge an absolute identity, the pre-determined path.6

Projection of inner desires onto the actual world becomes the locality for the contemporary mythologies of values, beliefs, dreams and desires.7 In a Buddhist sense, in the longing of an individual to effect his or her liberation this flow of sense-desire must be cut completely. Instead of a desire to possess the object of their longing and then to be possessed by that desire (desire to possess / possessed by desire) we must learn, as Krishnamurti has insightfully observed, not to make images out of every word, out of every vision and desire. We must be attentive to the clarity of not making images – of desire, of prejudice, of flattery – and then we might become aware of the world that surrounds us, just for what it is and nothing more.8 Then there would be less need for the absenting of self into the technological ether or the day dreams of foreign lands or the desire for a better life.

The strength of this work is the trans-sensuality of the photographs. Their trans-sensuality initiates differently configured constructions of the world, one that will not allow the world to simply be displaced by a lack of awareness, a lack of presence in the world. The photographs physically queer the performative aspect of the actor upon the stage, allowing the viewer to understand the process that is happening within the photographs and then NOT construct alternate narratives of longing and desire if they so wish. What they do for the viewer is collapse the boundaries between the subjective and the objective, between the conscious and the subconscious, inducing in the viewer a glimpse of self-actualization,9 whereby the viewer has the ability to enjoy the experience of just being. As the viewer becomes the person in the photograph (by understanding the experience of being, not by making an image) the permeability and lack of fixity of the boundaries between self and other, between self and amorphous space, between self and the physical world becomes evident. We become aware of the suspension of time and space in these momentary, (photographic) acts of transcendence. These wonderful, never ending moments.

Dr Marcus Bunyan July 2012

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Many thankx to Katrin Koenning for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs Untitled from the series Transit (2009 – ) © Katrin Koenning.

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“Transit documents people on mostly everyday journeys. It is concerned with the space that lies between between destinations, routines and obligations – the space between distances, if you so like. While I travel and observe, I write down snippets of overheard conversations. Old ladies talk about the weather, teenagers gossip, you hear laughter and bits of stories in amongst the monotonous sighing of the train or the mourning sound of an aching ship. Mostly, you hear silence – strangers are thrown together for a short while, forced to share an intimate space. They rarely talk.”

Artist statement

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1. Leonard, Richard. The Mystical Gaze of the Cinema: the Films of Peter Weir. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2009, p.23.

2. Metz, C. Essais Sémiotiques. Paris: Klincksieck, 1977, p.136 quoted in Leonard, Op. cit.

3. Pratt, Mary Louise. “On Staying.” Keynote speech presented at the international conference Travel Ideals: Engaging with Spaces of Mobility. July 18th 2012 at The University of Melbourne.

4. Ibid.,

5. Navarro, Kevin. “An Amorphous Image Process,” on Rhizome: Image Theory website. January 19th 2010 [Online] Cited 29/07/2012. rhizome.org/discuss/view/44895/

6. Ibid.,

7. Leonard Op. cit., p.56.

8. KrishnamurtiBeginnings of Learning. London: Penguin, 1975, p.131.

9. “It must be noted that self-actualization is not necessarily related to vocation or career choice … From Malsow’s (Maslow, A (1970) Motivation and Personality. New York, Harper & Row) standpoint, self-actualization is not primarily concerned with results of a particular kind of activity – it is concerned with the experience of the activity itself – not the composition but the composing – not the work of art but the creative process by which it is produced – not the taste of the food, but the creativity in the cooking of it. This is not to say that the product has no importance. What Maslow is emphasizing is the fact that the self-actualized persons is fulfilling his potentiatlities in the act itself. A byproduct of this creative act is a unique outcome. He may admire the result of this process. But the enjoyment of the process itself is also extremely important. The ability to enjoy the experience of being, therefore, is one of the essential capabilities of the healthy individual.” (My italics)

Benson, Lou. Images,Heroes and Self-Perceptions. Englewood Hills, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1974, pp.352-354.

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Katrin Koenning website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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