Posts Tagged ‘Billie Holiday

02
Nov
18

Text: Marcus Bunyan. ‘Death and the image’ 2018

November 2018

 

This text was written in 2017 for a special issue of the international magazine Text on the subject ‘Writing Trauma’. While the text was accepted, the peer-reviewers wanted heavy revisions, including reordering the piece and editing out my personal stories. At the time, I was going into hospital for an operation on my hand and such revisions were impossible to undertake.

Now, over a year later, I have reread the text… and I have amended and extended it, but otherwise I am going to leave it as I wrote it in the first place. I like the way I write and I like my personal stories. While it is a long read the writing addresses an important subject with, I hope, some interesting insights along the way.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 8,137

Download Death and the image (4.3Mb pdf)

 

 

Abstract

This text investigates how the act of photography visually writes trauma. Through an analysis of the context of images of death by artists such as Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, and Walker Evans the paper ponders how the camera captures human beings ante-mortem, at the death point, post-mortem and vita ad mortem.

It seeks to understand that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present. How does the act and performance of photography depict the trauma of death, this double death (for the photograph is a memento mori and/or the person in the photograph may already know that they are going to die).

“The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal” the pronouncement of the perfect paradox (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.”

Keywords

Trauma, photography, death, art, memento mori, war, execution, memory, victim, representation, Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, Walker Evans, ante-mortem, point of death, death point, post-mortem, punctum, empathy, vita ad mortem, life after death.

 

 

Death and the image

 

 

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“Photography, because it stops the flow of life, is always flirting with death…”

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John Berger1

 

“On the most fundamental level there are transitions from continuous to discontinuous or from discontinuous to continuous. We are discontinuous beings, individuals who perish in isolation in the midst of an incomprehensible adventure, but we yearn for our lost continuity. We find the state of affairs that binds us to our random and ephemeral individuality hard to bear. Along with our tormenting desire that this evanescent thing should last, there stands our obsession with a primal continuity linking us with everything that is.”

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Georges Bataille2

 

 

German Gen. Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution

 

“German General Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade. The General was convicted and sentenced to death by an American military tribunal. Aversa, Italy.” Blomgren, December 1, 1945. 111-SC-225295. National Archives Identifier: 531326

 

 

Trial and Execution of General Anton Dostler

The still photograph (above) can be seen being taken by the flash from a still camera that occurs at 5.16 secs in the YouTube film. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

 

 

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One of life’s recurrent themes is mortality. As Bataille notes, we are discontinuous beings: we live, we breathe, and we die. Photography’s recurrent theme is also mortality. In a ghostly evocation, the medium possesses an odour of death that sticks in the throat. So how then does photography visually write the trauma of death – over time, through space, in different contexts, with multiple narratives and different points of view?

As a first point of reference, we need to define trauma. Trauma can be an injury to living tissue; a disordered psychic or behavioural state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury; an emotional upset and an agent, force or mechanism that causes all or any of these conditions.3 Atkinson and Richardson note that the work of theorists such as Nicolas Abraham, Maria Torok, Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, Dominick LaCapra, and Cathy Caruth in broad terms view trauma,

“… as the delayed manifestation of a psychic wound sustained during an experience that has happened too quickly to allow registration and processing of the event at the time of its occurrence. To study trauma in literary or cultural terms, then, is to be concerned with the tension between what is known and what is not known, and with the impact and dynamics of the woundedness and machinations of trauma – not only its purely physical instantiation, but in all its reverberations. This is what brings the study of trauma to the uncertainty of truth, the impossibility of bearing absolute witness to catastrophe, the multiplicity of historical narratives.”4

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Constitutive of trauma and its affects is the “piercing of the psychic shield” which protects a fragile subjectivity leaving in its wake shattered individuals, communities and even whole nations.5 Further, Michalinos Zembylas citing Kaplan (2005) notes that “an important distinction that needs to be made here is one’s positioning and context of encountering trauma,”6 between being a primary or secondary witness. Personally, I believe that a testimony (a formal written or spoken statement that something is true) in the first instance… becomes a testament (something that serves as a sign or evidence of a specified fact) in the second.

When looking death in the face, we can state that death is a trauma not only for the physical body and the psyche of the person involved (the direct trauma victim), but also for the witness of the event, be they a primary witness – one who actually witnesses the traumatic event – or a secondary witness, a person “who has no personal connection to the victim but may encounter trauma through other sources such as the media and oral or written accounts of a catastrophe.”7

These secondary encounters can never be the actual experience of trauma but, acting through language (be it oral, written or visual), they may embody sensations that stimulate feelings and thoughts in the secondary observer. A social construction of a testament may produce an empathetic engagement in viewers as “secondary witnesses.”8 Through an understanding of spectatorship, experience, aesthetic effects, narrative strategies and temporal shifts in the polyvocal nature of language we can begin to understand how the affect of secondary traumatisation – on memory, history and the body – can break down the subject-object dichotomy, can break down the realist norms of representation to produce “a mode of cognition involving sensuous, somatic and tactile forms of perception.”9 Here language (the photograph in this case, reinforced by the title of the photograph) stands in for that which is absent, but it is not in opposition to an intensity of feeling. The language of the photograph can intensify the affect of the image, especially if the photograph becomes transcendent, embodied, in the vitality and “aliveness” of the viewer.10

This mimetic experience “promotes a critical and self-reflexive empathy” and knowledge in the secondary witness that LaCapra observes is a “virtual, not vicarious, experience … in which emotional response comes with respect for the other and the realization that the experience of the other is not one’s own.”11 Essentially, this is a social concept, a social construction of reality, a matrix-like view of the world that draws on relational and contextual dimensions for understanding trauma. This concept requires careful consideration of issues related to history, culture, race, gender, ideology, beliefs, agency and power.

“From a social constructionist and narrative perspective, people reconstruct their selves through the stories they tell about their past and the meaning they ascribe to the present in anticipation of the future. They shape their stories through active and creative interpretation of their lives and are in turn shaped by these stories. However, the self is not only a product of narratives. People are purposeful and moral beings, having the power and agency to change scripts, discourses and ideologies…”12

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Here we can ask, what are the machinations of the image in the affective dynamics of photographs of trauma and how are they situated in a certain relation to trauma? What do photographs actually do that give rise to a way of thinking and feeling about trauma?

Although no representation can fully describe the first hand experience of trauma because of the partial nature of language – its gaps, elisions and impossibilities of speech13 – it is because of these very gaps that new spaces of interpretation can open up. Rather than just representing the perceived reality of trauma (this happened, at this time, in this location – an ordering of reality), images have the unique ability to transcend their indexical relationship to the real, pointing and touching (as if with the index finger) to the relationality of trauma as it touches human emotion. With its ability to police and regulate it subject, the implicit violence of photography is a predatory means of taking possession of both its victim (the subject) and its viewer.

Anna Gibbs has stated that we live, “in a more or less continuous state of mediatized emergency and traumatic aftermath, desensitized by the onslaught of images … to the affect we ought to feel.”14 I strongly disagree. I would argue that the traumatic numbing15 and supposed “death of experience”16 allegedly present in the world of image circulation, translation, and accumulation only occurs if the witness lets it be so.

Personally, I believe that something in the image is transferred to the witness pre-cognition – intuitively, imaginatively – which can then be interpreted cognitively and relationally with regard to history and memory, art and culture, politics and experience through an orthogonal movement through time and space. As viewers and interpreters, we are not fixed at a particular point in time and space, nor do we observe from one particular point of view. Our existential engagement provides a space to close the gap between affect and enunciation.

“Facts can vibrate; they can give of colors, sounds, smells, images. To talk of these facts with no recognition of this is to lack any awareness of the act of enunciation, of the gaps between language and experience and the unpredictable ways that sparks can break out of language, leap across the gap and ignite the tinderbox of traumatic memory.”17

 

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Surfing Pinterest (a photo sharing website) recently, I absentmindedly clicked on an abstract image of three hanging black shapes from the pantheon of image tiles that presented itself to me. Up popped this horrific image of three Afro-Americans who had been lynched in the Southern United States in the 1920s. I was shocked and dismayed. I had such a strong emotional reaction to the image. But more than that, my feelings and memories of the bigotry that I had faced as a young gay man growing up in the 1970s swelled in my consciousness. This story is a example of how exposure to an image can bring to the surface unresolved aspects of being ‘Other’, of being different, and being persecuted for that difference. I thought about the lives of these people that had led them to that point, their families, their histories and the terror that they must have experienced on that day. You cannot begin to understand that, but you can have empathy and anger against the systems of racism and bigotry that exist in the world.

Then the cognitive part of my brain linked the image to a report I had only just seen a few days before on lynching, which told of the thousands of Afro-Americans who had been killed between 1882 and 1968.18 Mentally, I then linked this to a Facebook posting which put forward the analogy that the current killing of Afro-Americans by police in the United States was akin to a contemporary and publicly endorsed and enforced form of lynching. Finally, in my head I heard Billie Holiday singing that famous song Strange Fruit, “a dark and profound song about the lynching of African Americans in the Southern United States during the Jim Crow Era, “strange fruit,” as they hang from trees, rotting in the sun, blowing in the wind, and becoming food for crows upon being burned.”19 I watched the video of Billie Holiday singing this song on YouTube.20 Every time I think of this image I have these associations of animate thought intrinsic to the original experience,21 where the micro and macro conditions of production work to “embody and register trauma,”22 a communicable language of sensation and affect, time and time again.

 

 

Billie Holiday – Strange fruit

 

 

These chains of affect, the nexus between affect / feeling / emotion / cognition, are a form of synaesthesia where facts, emotions, feelings, memories, sounds and images vibrate against each other as an active and continuous engagement of the self with the world in which one lives. In a human being who is un/consciously aware, these real and mediated experiences may encourage a sensory intensification that elicits thought and empathic vision in the materiality of embodied experience, something (the punctum?) that takes us out of our selves into a higher register of being.

As part of this system of impressions, of an instantaneous, affective response triggered by an image,23 photographs force us to engage visually and involuntarily. “Impressions that force us to look, encounters which force us to interpret, expressions which force us to think.”24 Encounters which force us to comprehend. The conjunction of affect and critical awareness “constitute the basis of an empathy grounded … on a feeling for another that entails an encounter with something irreducible and different, often inaccessible.”25 This combination of affective and intellectual operations – about forcing oneself to look (and that process of looking/surrendering) but never forgetting your ‘point of view’, your memory, history and identity, is when empathy becomes that process of surrender, “but also the catch that transforms your perception.”26 How is this “catch” enunciated in photographs? I now want to look at a few images that explicate these phenomena.

 

Ante-mortem: present but absent

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With the invention of photography in the late 1830s, the photograph as memento mori allows the spectator to observe death not at first hand, but through the representation of the image “taken from life.” Photographs provide a verification of reality through their apparent verisimilitude, while being woven into narratives – oral, textual, intertextual, spatial and temporal – that frame the event in multiple ways.

“Photographs … have come to stand in for reality … despite the fact that it is relatively easy to manipulate their meaning. As a result of their ability to project reality, images, and particularly those that depict death and destruction, are seen as potentially powerful pieces of documentary evidence…”27

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Photographs are embedded in “a context of the cultural circumstances at the time, and therefore exist rarely in isolation or without meaning”28 and can be seen as having a denotative level (what they physically represent) and a connotative level (the meanings attached to that representation).29 Photography quickly changed how death was displayed because it introduced a “reality” and immediacy of representation that was democratic, personal and everyday.30

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Lewis Paine
26th April 1865
Albumen silver print from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

An example of the personal, everyday and documentary nature of photography can be seen in the photograph taken by Alexander Gardner in April 1865. This portrait is of Lewis Thornton Powell (aka Lewis Payne or Paine) who was one of the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln which occurred the same month. The photograph has a background of dark metal, and was taken on one of the ironclads U.S.S. Montauk or Saugus, where the conspirators were for a time confined. The reality is Paine was executed in July 1865 just eight short weeks after this photograph was taken, so in effect (and in the affect on us of this knowledge), he is (already) a dead man walking. This is a double death – that death buried in the very act of taking any photograph, La petite mort or “the little death,” an idiom and euphemism for the orgasm of the photographic time freeze; and the fact that we know that he was going to die, those short weeks later.

The photograph forms the central panel of a three-panel Renaissance-like altarpiece, the form in which the three photographs are usually displayed. The left and right hand photographs were taken within minutes of each other, with the camera in the same position, whereas in the centre photograph the camera has been lowered to show more of the body, and the image has been cropped at the top. In the central plate the figure of Paine has been raised up in the frame – almost prematurely brought back to life by his placement. The centre image is the only one where Paine stares directly at the camera. He surveys the viewer with a gaze I find enigmatic.

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Three photographs of Lewis Paine
26th April, 1865
Albumen silver prints from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

This is a very modern face, a very contemporary face. His hair is similar to Justin Beiber’s. Who brushed his hair across for this picture, and would it normally be this long, or has it just been ignored because of his fate? He still has good muscle tone – has he been exercising in his ironclad cell? And finally, his clothing – are they navy issue, as his top appears to have been given to him, perhaps the coarse, navy blue wool of the Northern states. If we were to place this image within the metaphysical school of photography which peaked with Paul Caponigro and Minor White we could say: Hovering above his head, has his spirit already begun to leave his body?

One reading of his gaze is that he is interested in what the photographer is doing – almost the gaze of an apprentice wanting to apply these skills in the future. Given his fate is he insane because of his interest? Another reading could be that he is looking out to the future in the hope of finding that he will be judged in another way. And another is the immediacy of his gaze – it is a gaze that is happening now!

The other thing that I find mysterious is the distance of the photographer from the subject. Was it fear or the presence of the guards that stopped Gardner getting any closer, or are there deck fittings we cannot see that prevented his approach. Imagine being Paine, having a photographer point a damn great view camera at you, documenting your countenance for prosperity. What was going on in Paine’s mind – what is his perspective on this performance by the photographer? And what brought Paine to this place?

Michel Foucault calls the methods and techniques by which human beings constitute themselves, “technologies of the self.” Foucault argued that we as subjects are perpetually engaged in processes whereby we define and produce our own ethical self-understanding. According to Foucault, technologies of the self are the forms of knowledge and strategies that “permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of immortality.”31 As we look into his eyes he knows that we know he is going to die, has already died but the intensity of that knowledge is brought into present time. In this instant, what Paine emanates is a form of i-mortality.

Roland Barthes in his seminal work Camera Lucida observes in Section 39:

“He is dead and he is going to die… The photograph is handsome, as is the boy: that is the studium. But the punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: this will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose, the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence.”32

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This is Barthes anterior future, a moment where truth is interpreted in the mind of the photographer, not out there but in here (your head and your heart), where past, present and future coalesce into a single point in time: his death and our death connected through his gaze, and the knowledge of our joint discontinuity. In this moment in time, what we are doing is making a list about the human condition when we talk about something that is remarkable. Language can never fully describe the human condition, much as it may try… and this is why this photograph is remarkable, because it is ineffable, unknowable. The photograph inhabits you; it haunts you like few others, because it is a memoriam to a young man and his present death. Here he is present but absent at one and the same time.

As such, this is an image as triple death – the death of the photograph (past time / memento mori / remembrance of death), the death of the person in the photograph and also a third death, the knowledge that Paine is going to die. Death, like life, can be cyclical. This is the catch that transforms your perception, in Barthes terms the punctum of the image, in which the wounding, personally touching detail (past pose, future death) establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.

“The punctum (a Latin word derived from the Greek word for trauma [my emphasis]) … inspires an intensely private meaning, one that is suddenly, unexpectedly recognized and consequently remembered (it “shoots out of [the photograph] like an arrow and pierces me”); it ‘escapes’ language (like Lacan’s real); it is not easily communicable through/with language. The punctum is ‘historical’ as an experience of the irrefutable indexicality of the photograph (its contingency upon a referent). The punctum is a detail or “partial object” that attracts and holds the viewer’s (the Spectator’s) gaze; it pricks or wounds the observer.”33

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This trauma, prick or wound that lifts the viewer out of themselves, out of their everyday existence, “points to those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognizable symbolic system. This kind of meaning is unique to the response of the individual viewer of the image.”34 This punctum also accounts for the importance of emotion and subjectivity in interacting with photographs; memory of that photograph displaces it from its moment of origin.35 Photography enacts the trauma of death even while being enacted upon.

Now we can read Eduardo Cadava’s comments on Walter Benjamin’s analysis of the photograph:

“As Benjamin suggests … the photograph, like the souvenir, is the corpse of an experience. A photograph therefore speaks as death, as the trace of what passes into history. I, the photograph, the spaced out limit between life and death, I, the photograph, am death. Yet, speaking as death, the photograph can be neither death nor itself. At once dead and alive, it opens the possibility of our being in time.”36

 

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Photography then, can be seen as death taken away from itself.

Through the oscillation between studium (historical, social or cultural meanings extracted via semiotic analysis) and punctum (those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognisable symbolic system) the traumatic photograph of death, death’s afterimage, transcends the initial shock inducing signifier leading to a more extended form of engagement that addresses the duration of trauma in memory – through the images elisions, slippages, and conceptual, political and historical complexities. Our negotiation with imaging and imagining, therefore, takes place within ever-expanding contexts of meaning – some relating to the past and some to the present – which impact future interpretations.

I believe that these negotiations are, firstly, linked to what Deleuze calls the encountered sign, a “sign that is felt, rather than recognized, or perceived through cognition.”37 A feeling that is a catalyst for critical enquiry or deep thought. “For Deleuze, affect or emotion is a more effective trigger for profound thought because of the way in which it grasps us, forcing us to engage involuntarily…”38 Secondly, I believe that these negotiations are linked to what Barthes calls the images “third meaning.”

“In Barthes’ view, the image’s third meaning compels viewers after they encounter and deplete both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions. Barthes argued that the third meaning is difficult to locate, because it is not situated structurally or in a certain place of the image. It is similarly difficult to describe, because it involves what he called the image’s obtuseness, its accent or anaphoric side.”39

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Again, we have this idea of the catch, accent, or punctum that grasps us and takes us out of ourselves, that modulates the images “voice” (which is how the image takes on an already provided meaning upon its initial appearance), a voice which then also “helps us to understand both the image’s third meaning and the role of contingency in visual memory.”40

 

Death point

5

 

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“Ah, wretched as I am … to dwell not among the living, not among the dead.”

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Sophocles, ‘Antigone’41

 

 

Commentators such as Barbie Zelizer observe that images, especially about-to-die images, easily “reduce complex issues and circumstances to memorable but simplistic visual frames.”42 The image,

“… depicts for its onlookers a moment in an event’s unfolding to which they attend while knowing where that unfolding leads. This means that visual work often involves catching the sequencing of events or issues midstream, strategically freezing it at its potentially strongest moment of meaningful representation.”43

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Other writers such as Susan Sontag note that these images have the potential to stir public emotions, simply because they freeze a moment in time and can be looked at again and again… but at the same time the repeated viewing of images of atrocity can have a numbing effect.44 The pain and fear evidenced in the photograph as seen in the victim’s eyes (for example in the photograph of the shooting of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy), expands the literal / informational side and its symbolic dimensions (chivalry, love, devotion, hope – Camelot!) into a Barthes’ third space. While Kennedy is a victim twice over (the victim of the assassin and the camera) in a guttural interpretation of the image he is to remain a victim for eternity in the contingency of the future, as long as we continue to look at this photograph.

For me, this is sad and painful photograph. I remember the day it happened. I was ten years old at the time. It’s one of those events that you will remember for the rest of your life – where you were, who you were with – like the moon landings or 9/11. I was in a car outside a small newsagent when the news came on the radio. Robert F. Kennedy had been shot: first aural, then visual on the black and white TV that night, then textual in the newspapers and then visual again with this photograph, then associative. The pain of the loss of those heady days of hope lessens not.

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938) 'LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING' June 5, 1968

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938)
LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy Lies Gravely Wounded on the floor at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after midnight today, moments after he was shot during a celebration of his victory in yesterday’s California primary election
June 5, 1968
Gelatin silver print
17.2 x 21.1 cm (6 3/4 x 8 5/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2010

 

While photographs of the actual moment of death are rare I have been able to find around ten images that capture this vital moment, a freezing of reality at the point of death, the death point: that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present.

However, I would argue that in the contextual language of the photograph, there is no singular death point. I would propose the idea of an extended period of time and space embedded in the spatio-temporal matrix of the image, so that there is no single point, no singular resolution to the traumatic moment of death – either for the person involved, nor the witness or viewer.

Setting aside the concept that the image could have been staged, in Robert Capa’s famous photograph Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936 (below), there is something about this image where space or some basic element is being democratised at the moment of death – or maybe in the choice to struggle with death. In an ontological sense of becoming, perhaps it is this that becomes the pure representation of time. In contrapunto, there is an anonymous image of a German soldier at the point of death on the steppes of Russia that is totally unknown. Why has one become famous and the other not?

Has it to do with the fame of the photographer, the pose of the person, or the agency of photography itself, where one photograph regarding the pain of others is too damning a legacy and of too plain a purpose to bare contemplating, while the other – with its masked face, outflung arm and falling, quasi-religious nature – has become possibly the most famous of war photographs through its proliferation in newspapers and magazines.

Whatever the merits of each image, these death point photographs are noteworthy for what is not said: the violence that is being perpetrated on the victim every time a person looks, and looks again, at the photograph. The writing of trauma by photography never ends, is always and forever infinite.

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954) 'Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936' 1936

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954)
Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936
1936
Gelatin silver print
Photograph by Robert Capa © Cornell Capa / Magnum

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front' c. 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front
c. 1942
akg-images / Interfoto AKG138118

Caption: A German soldier pays the ultimate price of war. German casualties were less than those of the Red Army, but the steady attrition suffered by the Wehrmacht began to undermine its effectiveness.46

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942
1942
Rare Historical Photos website 2013

Caption: A Soviet spy laughs at his executioner in a picture taken in Rukajärvi, in East Karelia, in November 1942. It has been thought within the Finnish Defence Forces that the decision to withhold pictures of the fate of Russian POWs and spies may also have been prompted by concerns that pro-Soviet elements in Finnish society could have used the images for propaganda purposes. This picture was declassified by the Ministry of Defense of Finland in 2006, with the description: Unknown Soviet intelligence officer before being shot, Finland, 1942.

It’s a pretty amazing picture. To capture the last few moments of life. He knows he will die in a few seconds, in a forest in the snow. And there he will bleed out and be forgotten. His life, his experience, has come to an end. What else could he do but smile? That smile was his final defiance. Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.47

 

 

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Here we might ask, is it possible, through the use of encountered signs, “voice”, punctum, catch or accent, to extend the unreal time of death?

Personally, I believe it is and I would argue for a sense of a Buddhist “no-time”. A transcendent time embedded into the fabric of the image. In Walker Evans’ terms an “unconscious phenomenon” that culminates in amazing accidents of composition, where things constantly rub up against each other “in the desire to create a type of friction that tests the boundaries of representation.”48 An example of this spatio-temporal dimensionality, third meaning or Thirdspace, can be seen in the interplay between the still image and film footage of the execution of German General Anton Dostler by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade December 1, 1945. By examining the film we see a flash of light at 5.16 secs, which is the still photograph at the top of this text being taken by the flash of a camera. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

The fluidity of Barthes’ third meaning, where the image’s obtuseness compels viewers, has obvious links to Edward Soja’s conceptualisation of “Thirdspace”, which emerged from the spatial trialectics established by Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space and Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia. Soja defines Thirdspace as, “an-Other way of understanding and acting to change the spatiality of human life, a distinct mode of critical spatial awareness that is appropriate to the new scope and significance being brought about in the rebalanced trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality.”49 In this amorphous space, “everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history.”50

A further example of the presence of a third meaning in a still photograph can be seen in the image by an unknown photographer Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans (1944, below). Caught like a rabbit in headlights, the flash illuminates the collaborator kneeling, bound, and masked but it is not quick enough to freeze the explosion of wood, the dynamic breaking of the rope or the slight movement of the hands. The body seems to float on a bed of leaves. The cheap, dirty shoes and striped trousers leading up to the material that covers the victim’s face. Is that his hair, or a hat or another hood over his head? Although we know the what, why, and where of the photograph – an encounter with both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions – the placing of the image, its accent and obtuseness is much more difficult to understand. The photograph and its protagonist seem to exist beyond time and space, the anonymous man surrounded by a death bed of leaves, bursting the bonds that wrapped him and held him tight. Like the mystery of Man Ray’s L’Enigme d’Isidore Ducasse (1920), the photograph has disturbed the trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality, destroying the imploring label, “Do not disturb.”

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944'

 

Unknown photographer
Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944
1944
Silver gelatin photograph
U.S. Army Signal Corps
National Archives Identifier (NAID)

 

 

Post-mortem: absent but present

7

 

Letherolfsvile Oct 29 AD 1859

This is the likeness of Catherine Christ

When I am dead and in my grave

And when my bones are rotten

Remember me

When this you see

Or I shall be forgotten

The grass is green The rose is red

here is my name when I am dead 51

 

 

This short poem written on a piece of paper hidden underneath an image in a daguerreotype case implores us to remember the person – a plea to the future to remember them – through a composite narrative of portrait and text. Through the creative addition of text, the language of photographs can be supplemented which adds to the functionality of the photograph as an effective memory object.52 But what if the scene of the text (the photograph) contains an absence, no depiction of the person who has died? What happens to the writing of trauma in images of the dead then?

If we acknowledge that a photograph of a person always prefigures its subjects passing then what we are doing “in reality” is deferring the death of an/other onto the foreseen death of ourselves. In this process, we must remember that every photograph is a construct, a performative act by the photographer. What the photographer chooses to record is an act of will, whether ethical or not. Photographers have the presence of mind to attend to a certain manufacture of history. When viewing this instant narrative the viewer must acknowledge a loss of a sense of time:

“This lost sense could manifest as reliving a traumatic episode as if it is taking place in the present … In the context of trauma… a loss of sense of time deprives one of the ability of remembering and telling one’s narrative in a chronological order.”53

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941) 'Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia' 1972

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941)
Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia
1972
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Emmet and Edith Gowin
© Edith and Emmet Gowin and courtesy of Pace MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

One way that artist’s upset this chronological order is by playing with the fragmentary nature of time, space and memory – of present absence/absent presence. In Emmet Gowin’s accidentally double-exposed negative, Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia, 1972 (above), the photograph combines “a funerary image of his wife’s grandmother, Rennie Booher, with the surface of a Neolithic monumental stone he had photographed in England a few days earlier.” Floating through eternity, encased in ancient rock that nourishes her spirit, Gowin’s photograph acts as a kind of testament of absent but present, neither here not there. This loss of sense of space and time can be deeply disturbing (like trauma) as it questions one’s physical presence in the world, but it can also have a transcendental dimension as both time and space are inextricably bound to the very specific conditions of the material world. Photographs like the one of Booher have the potential to draw together what would otherwise seem to be incompatible. To form what Jacob Bronowsi calls a “hidden likeness”, one that transcends time and space, one that is reactivated with every looking.

“The poem or the discovery exists in two moments of vision: the moment of appreciation as much as that of creation; for the appreciator must see the movement, wake to the echo which was started in the creation of the work. In the moment of appreciation we live again the moment when the creator saw and held the hidden likeness. When a simile takes us aback and persuades us together, when we find a juxtaposition in a picture both odd and intriguing, when a theory is at once fresh and convincing, we do not merely nod over someone else’s work. We re-enact the creative act, and we ourselves make the discovery again…”54

.
An important fact about the nature of trauma is the compulsion of the human psyche to repeat traumatic events over and over again. The reproducibility of photographs and the ability to look at them again and again – their machine-like repeatability, their citationality or iterability to use Derrida’s signature term – feeds into this repetitive “death instinct” (Thanatos). However, Bronowsi’s “hidden likeness” (also the name of one of Emmet Gowin’s exhibitions and a form of punctum) is perhaps a liminal moment, one that may upset the death instinct. These liminal moments may occupy a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. By disrupting the threshold – between life and death, between past, present and future time – they are requisite of the ghost (the soul) in the machine (the camera).

As Derrida observes, building on the work of Barthes,

“It belongs to it without belonging to it and is unlocatable in it; it never inscribes itself in the homogenous objectivity of the framed space but instead inhabits, or rather haunts it: “it is the addition [supplement]: it is what I add to the photograph and what is none the less already there.” … Neither life nor death, it is the haunting of the one by the other … Ghosts: the concept of the other in the same, the punctum in the studium, the dead other alive in me.”57

 

8

In this scenario, perhaps the act of writing trauma through death in the image becomes the true act of learning, and the interpretation of that act becomes an act of creation rather than one of rote memorialisation. These are images that require contemplation, time, analysis, and sensation, where the subject of the photograph is transformed “from somebody merely seen to someone really felt,” which is, as Batchen says, “an emotional exchange transacted in the heart.”58

This emotional exchange can take many forms. It can be triggered when the dead body is only metaphorically represented in the image, when the physicality of death has been transmuted. For example, photographs such as Walker Evan’s Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama (1936, below), or the documentary image Place where the corpse was found (1901-8, below) by the French photographer Alphonse Bertillon, propose a re-imaging and re-imagining of the life of the person. They do so through an un/ambiguous photographic context, that is, through the marking of place in the photograph. In the latter case, this marking of a life is represented by two pieces of wood lying on the ground and two pieces of wood propped at 45 degrees against the wall. As though this is all that is left of the existence of Mademoiselle Mercier in a street (Rue de l’Yvette) that still exists in Paris to this day. A photograph of pieces of wood and an empty space.

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Child's grave, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Silver gelatin print
7 3/8 x 9 7/16″ (18.7 x 23.9 cm)
© 2016 Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914) 'Place where the corpse was found' 1st November 1902

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Place where the corpse was found
1st November 1902
From Album of Paris Crime Scenes
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 24.3 x 31 cm (9 9/16 x 12 3/16 in.)
Page: 23 x 29 cm (9 1/16 x 11 7/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2001

 

 

Other photographs picture the place of death nearly a century later in order to commemorate the traumatic death of “deserters” at the hands of a firing squad during the First World War. These are some of the most traumatic photographs of death I have seen, for they require me to imagine the mise en scène that was enacted at dawn almost 100 years ago, in the very place where these photographs were later “shot” at dawn.

The artist, Chloe Dewe Mathews, realised that “I was placing my tripod around the same spot where the firing squad had stood and looking directly at the place where the victim was placed.” It was, she says, “a solitary and sombre undertaking,” an undertaking (with that name’s etymological link to the word undertaker) which the viewer is invited to partake of, a re-imaging of those traumatic events that requires an active imagining, and thinking, in the neo-spectator. It is this duration of trauma in cultural memory which calls for an active negotiation in ways of seeing, a re-negotiation which can produce an empathic vision that “changes the terms of our engagement” with the image.

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews. 'Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais' 2013

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews (b. 1982)
Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais
2013
Eleven British soldiers were executed here between 1915-18
From the series Shot at Dawn
© Chloe Dewe Mathews

 

 

Vita ad mortem: life after death

9

 

.
“… 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.”

.
George Wilhelm Frederich Hegel61

 

 

The absence/presence contained within all photographs speaks to the ultimate affect: that of la petite mort – the “little death” – the sensation of orgasm as likened to death, a short period of melancholy or transcendence as a result of the expenditure of the “life force.” While Barthes metaphorically used the concept to describe the feeling one should get when experiencing any great literature, it can also be used when some undesired thing has happened to a person and has affected them so much that “a part of them dies inside.”

A photograph can also contain this melancholy transcendence, a catastrophe that has already occurred.

“Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe… This punctum, more or less blurred beneath the abundance and the disparity of contemporary photographs, is vividly legible in historical photographs: there is always a defeat of Time in them: that is dead and that is going to die… At the limit, there is no need to represent a body [in photographs] in order for me to experience this vertigo of time defeated.”63

.
Barthes’ concept of an extended punctum may be useful here, when he states, “I now know that there exists another punctum (another ‘stigmatum’) than the ‘detail’. This new punctum, which is no longer of form but of intensity, is Time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme (‘that-has-been’), its pure representation.”64

Here Barthes is proposing a punctum of intensity; a punctum as lacerating “detail”; and/or “the vertigo of time defeated.” This “temporal hallucination” embedded and embodied in the photograph – the temporality of the “will-have-been”, they are dead (today), they are already dead (yesterday), Barthes’ anterior future – represents a symbolically mediated subject bound up in three extases of time (past, present, and future).65

The subject becomes lost in the language of the photograph, the intersection of Lacan’s the Imaginary (in which the human subject creates fantasy images of both himself and his ideal object of desire), the Symbolic (the social world of linguistic communication and inter-subjective relations), and the Real (defined as what escapes the Symbolic, the Real can be neither spoken nor written, it is impossible, but is ceaselessly writing itself). These concepts serve to situate subjectivity within a system of perception and a dialogue with the external world.

According to Lori Wike, the experience of punctum and the structure of iterability can be aligned to Lacan’s concept of the death drive (or death instinct) present in the Symbolic order, in which the signifier “materializes the agency of death.”66 This may account for the role of the photographic punctum as trauma, in which the punctum opens up “a kind of subtle beyond” where “a blind field is created (is divined)…”67 As Barthes notes, “Photography is a kind of primitive theater, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead.”68 Further, we can say that, “unlike the symbolic, which is constituted in terms of oppositions such as “presence” and “absence”, there is no absence in the real,” for the real is undifferentiated, “it is without fissure.”

“The symbolic introduces “a cut in the real,” in the process of signification: “it is the world of words that creates the world of things.” Thus the real emerges as that which is outside language: “it is that which resists symbolization absolutely.” The real is impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality.”69

.
The “mark” of photography is eviscerated in the intensity of the real, a traumatic loss of time that confronts us with our own mortality and the knowledge that we will not be remembered. This is where images of death can take us once the initial affective connection is established – to a noumenal space where in the play of representation, the point of origin becomes ungraspable (Lacan’s différance).70

“In French, différance simultaneously contains within its neo-graphism the activities of differing and deferring, a distancing acted out temporally as well as spatially.”71 Where the moment (the time freeze of the shutter) turns in, on and around its own fulcrum, where there is always difference at the point of origin. For all of its instantaneous nature, in photography there is always a perverse moment of displacement and deferral. In its history, “a perverse complicity of continuity and resemblance with its supposed opposite, discontinuity and difference”72 … the latter only existing in a reciprocal relationship to the former.

The circle is closing and we return to where we started.

 

10

Human beings in their longing for lost continuity are mirrored by their photographs which transition from continuous to discontinuous and back again. While we yearn for our lost continuity, we must acknowledge that death is an unedited event, one that we cannot look back on. There is no following event to blank out that moment… and the dead are always dying. But what images of death in photography do is this: they allow us to approach the noumenal, that state of being of which we can have knowledge of, but can never know. We can approach, touch, feel, analyse, and have empathy for traumatic events in the representation of an unknowable reality. The photograph has the ability to go beyond the symbolic, to approach the impossible, the real.

The photograph may proffer a ‘releasement toward things’,73 a coexistence between a conscious and unconscious way of perceiving which sustains the mystery of the object confusing the distinction between real time and sensual time, between inside and outside, input and output becoming neither here nor there. As Martin Jolly notes, citing John Thompson, “… images of death can be seen a form of “mediated, non-reciprocal intimacy, stretched across time and space” in which we are increasingly unconstrained by our location or our time.”74 Further, John Thompson observes, “While lived experience remains fundamental, it is increasingly supplemented by, and in some respects displaced by, mediated experience, which assumes a greater and greater role in the project of self-formation.”75

In the sense that the photograph becomes la petite mort, the little death, it embodies our desire for the soul to become eternal in the form of this mediated experience… the displacement of the soul via the ghost in the machine, the soul remembered throughout time in the traumatic trace of the photograph. Death in the language of photography is always postponed and deferred: into the physicality of the photograph; into cultural memory; into the gaze (of the photographer, the camera and the viewer); and into the body of the observer. Here, a relationship exists between an impossible reality (an encounter with an “outside” which is unknowable) and a floating referent in an image that is both formative and transformative. And in that relationship, as Donna Haraway observes, “Relationship is multiform, at stake, unfinished, consequential.”76

The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal”77 the pronouncement of the perfect paradox78 (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.

© Dr Marcus Bunyan 2018

Word count: 8,137

 

 

Addendum

“Empirically acknowledged as tragic, the photographic print was really just that when, at the turn of the century, it became the instrument of the three great authorities over life and death (the law, the army, medicine). This is when it demonstrated its power to reveal the unfolding of a destiny from the word go. As deus ex machina [god from the machine or, providential intervention], it was to become just as ruthless for the criminal, the soldier or the invalid, the conjunction between the immediate and the fatal only becoming more solid, inevitably, with the progress of representation.”

Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, p. 43.

 

“Written with her trademark flair and force, Sontag’s book [On Photography] inaugurated a wave of criticism, much of it influenced by Foucaultian theory, that underscored the instrumentality and implicit violence of photography, its ability to police and regulate it subjects, especially those lacking social and political power: the poor, presumed “deviants” or “criminals,” and workers. As Sontag herself acknowledged, however, photography is not only a predatory means of taking possession, but also a mode of conferring value; it can potentially be put to counter-hegemonic uses, used to see and frame in ways that affirm and legitimate, rather than strictly contain and control, the presence of culturally disenfranchised persons.”

Entin, Joseph. “Milton Rogovin’s Approach: Photography, Class, and the Aesthetics of Making Space (2008),” on the ASX website July 12, 2010 [Online] Cited 27/10/2018

 

“The submissions attest to our insatiable hunger for images of suffering. “Sight can be turned off; we have lids on our eyes,” says Sontag5. But sometimes we  just can’t resist taking a look. Since its inception photojournalism has traded in images of human suffering. If one of its motivations for representing tragedy has been to change the world then it has been unsuccessful. Instead the profession has turned us into voyeurs, passively consuming these images, sharing in the moment without feeling implicated or responsible for what we are seeing. Roland Barthes summed up the analgesic effect of looking at images of horror when he wrote “someone has shuddered for us; reflected for us, judged for us; the photographer has left us nothing – except a simple right of intellectual acquiescence.”6 Put another way, we look at events in photographs and feel relieved that they’re not happening anywhere near us. …

In the final analysis we were choosing between a French landscape, a dead guerrilla, an HIV positive mother and an American soldier. A strange task. Rather predictably the majority vote went to Tim Hetherington’s soldier. Yet comparing so many diverse images and ultimately declaring one of them a winner feels meaningless. Do we even need to be producing these images any more? Do we need to be looking at them? We have enough of an image archive within our heads to be able to conjure up a representation of any manner of pleasure or horror. Does the photographic image even have a role to play any more? Video footage, downloaded from the internet, conveys the sounds and textures of war like photographs never could. High Definition video cameras create high-resolution images twenty-four photographs a second, eliminating the need to click the shutter. But since we do still demand illustrations to our news then there is a chance to make images that challenge our preconceptions, rather than regurgitate old clichés.”

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin. “Unconcerned but not indifferent,” on the FOTO8 website 04 Mar 2008 [Online] Cited 20/11/2018

 

5. Susan Sontag, Regarding The Pain of Others (Penguin, London, 2003) p. 105

6. Roland Barthes, The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies (New York, Hill and Wang, 1979) p. 71. quoted in John Taylor, Body Horror: photojournalism, catastrophe and war (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1988) p. 17

 

Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne) '[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]' c. 1863

 

Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne)
[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]
c. 1863
Albumen print from collodion glass negative
17.9 x 24.2 cm (7 1/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)' 1934

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)
1934
Silver gelatin print

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)' 1939, printed c. 1970s

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)
1939, printed c. 1970s
Silver gelatin print

 

 

One of my early heroes in photography was Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Many Mexican photographs tell such stories based on the mythology of the country: there are elements of the absurd, surrealism, macabre, revolution, political and socio-economic issues, also of death, violence, beauty, youth, sexuality and religion to name but a few – a search for national identity that is balanced in the photographs of Bravo by a sense of inner peace and redemption. This potent mix of issues and emotions is what makes Mexican photography so powerful and substantive. In the “presence” (or present, the awareness of the here and now) of Mexican photography there is a definite calligraphy of the body in space in most of the work. This handwriting is idiosyncratic and emotive; it draws the viewer into an intimate narrative embrace. Two famous photographs by Bravo illustrate some of these themes (Apollonian/Dionysian; utopian/dystopian). When placed together they seem to have a strange attraction one to the other.

 

Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942

 

Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942

 

 

References

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’, in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 1-21

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson (eds) 2013 Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Barthes, Roland 1981 Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography New York: Hill and Wang

Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press

Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography paperback 1999 Massachusetts: MIT Press

Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press

Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International

Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography

Bronowski, Jacob 1958 Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row

Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd.

Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 84-114

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, 110-111

Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller, 1972 in English

Edwards, Janis L. 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Communication Quarterly vol. 60 issue 5, 681-197

Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’ in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 16-49

Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 129-147

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 125-142

Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan

Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

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

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row

Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter

Jolly, Martyn 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’, in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 71-87

Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ in GENDERS no. 7 Spring, 22-31

Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter” in Yale French Studies no. 48 French Freud: Structural Studies in Psychoanalysis Yale University Press, 39-72

Martin, Luther H and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) 1988 Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press

Maxwell, Anne and Josephine Croci (eds) 2015 Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing

O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website

Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change Annandale NSW: Pluto Press Australia, 78-97

Randell, Karen and Sean Redmond (eds) 2008 The war body on screen, New York: Continuum

Rastas, David and Maria Schlachter 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art

Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town

Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 80-103

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Staines, Deborah (ed) 2007 Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website

Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press

Virilio, Paul 1994 The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster

Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, 1-28

Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

Zembylas, Michalinos 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education New York: Palgrave Macmillan

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International, 122

[2] Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company, 15

[3] Anonymous 2016 Definition of Trauma by Mirriam-Webster, at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trauma (accessed 8 November 2016)

[4] Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 5

[5] Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 82

[6] Michalinos Zembylas 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 4

[7] Ibid., 4

[8] Rutherford Op. cit., 87

[9] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 49, 93

[10] Rutherford Op. cit., 94

[11] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 9

[12] Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town, at https://open.uct.ac.za/handle/11427/10884 (accessed 8 November 2016)

[13] Rutherford Op. cit., 85

[14] Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

[15] “Perhaps rather than numbness, what we actually feel is our own helplessness or impotence, and the shame of helplessness, which robs us of agency. Helplessness is what Tomkins calls an affect complex, and within it distress is the dominant affect, although there may be admixtures in it of fear, anger and shame… Helplessness immobilises, and this is what induces the shame which, as a reduction of interest, makes us lower our gaze and look away.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 139-140

[16] “To suffer is one thing; another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more – and more. Images transfix. Images anaesthetize…”

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 20

“Are we making too much of images? Are we lured by our own voyeurism and iconophilia, numbed as we are by the democracy of the spectacle? Or, on the contrary, do images open the eyes of our conscience? In other words do images merely entertain and anaesthetize us or do they shame us and awake our conscience?”

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) in L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/265181/pdf (accessed 8 November 2016)

[17] Rutherford Op. cit., 89

[18] Anonymous 2016 ‘Lynching in the United States’, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching_in_the_United_States (accessed 11 November 2016)

[19] Anonymous 2016 ‘Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday’, at http://genius.com/Billie-holiday-strange-fruit-lyrics (accessed 11 November 2016)

[20] ‘Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit’, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnlTHvJBeP0 (accessed 11 November 2016)

[21] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 55, 95

[22] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 4 quoted in Rutherford, 95

[23] Ibid., 11

[24] Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller (1972 in English) 7, in Bennett 161

[25] Bennett Op. cit., 10

[26] Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change 94-95, in Bennett, 10

[27] Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 55

[28] Ibid., 56

[29] Ibid., 56

[30] Randell, Karen and Redmond, Sean (eds) 2008 The war body on screen New York: Continuum, cited in Hanusch, 30

[31] Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’, in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 18

[32] Barthes, Roland 1980 La Chambre Claire (Camera Lucida) (1981 in English) New York: Hill and Wang Section 39, 94

[33] Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter at http://csmt.uchicago.edu/annotations/barthescamera.htm (accessed 12 November 2016)

[34] Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website 12 March, at https://educationmuseum.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/roland-barthes-studium-and-punctum/ (accessed 11 November 2016)

[35] “For memory is always in a state of ruin; to remember something is already to have ruined it, to have displaced it from its moment of origin. Memory is caught in a conundrum – the passing of time that makes memory possible and necessary is also what makes memory fade and die.”

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 78

[36] Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 110 in Batchen 172

[37] Bennett Op. cit., 7

[38] Ibid., 7

[39] Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory, at http://www.sas.upenn.edu/folklore/center/ConferenceArchive/voiceover/voice_of_the_visual.html (accessed 13 November 2016)

[40] Ibid.,

[41] Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone, lines 850-52 Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd., 91

[42] Edwards, Janis L 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Taylor Francis Online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01463373.2012.725000 (accessed 13 November 2016)

[43] Zelizer Op. cit.,

[44] Sontag Op. cit., 18 cited in F Hanusch 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 105

[45] See ‘Robert Capa: The Falling Soldier’, The Met website, at http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/283315 (accessed 13 November 2016)

[46] Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster, 23

[47] Anonymous photographer 2013 ‘Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942’, Rare Historical Photos website 29 December, at http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/russian-spy-laughing-execution-finland-1942/ (accessed 13 November 2016)

[48] Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography October 7, 5 at https://www.academia.edu/29201498/Damaged_Ruin_and_Decay_in_Walker_Evans_Photographs (accessed 13 November 2016)

[49] Soja, Edward W. 1996 Thirdspace Malden (Mass.): Blackwell, 57

[50] Ibid., 57

[51] Batchen Op. cit., 47

[52] Ibid., 48

[53] Rastas, David 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art, at http://www.davidrastas.com/kunstglaube/madness&mysticism/essays.html (accessed 19 November 2016)

[54] Bronowski, Jacob 1958, Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row, 31

[55] Anonymous 2015. ‘Hidden Likeness: Photographer Emmet Gowin at the Morgan’, The Morgan Library & Museum website May 22 through September 20, 2015 https://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/emmet-gowin (accessed 08 May 2018)

[56] See Turner, Victor 1966 The Ritual Process: Structure and Antistructure Chicago: Aldine. For a definition of liminality see Anonymous ‘Liminality’, Wikipedia website https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liminality (accessed 08 May 2018)

[57] Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (paperback 1999) Massachusetts: MIT Press, 194

[58] Batchen Forget Me Not, 94

[59] O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website 29 June, at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jun/29/chloe-dewe-mathews-shot-at-dawn-moving-photographic-memorial-first-world-war (accessed 25 November 2016)

[60] Bennett 2005 Empathic Vision 69

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

[62] Anonymous 2016 ‘La petite mort’ Wikipedia website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_petite_mort (accessed 25 November 2016)

[63] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[64] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[65] See Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ in In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, at http://www.rochester.edu/in_visible_culture/issue3/wike.htm#BackFromNote10 (accessed 25 November 2016)

[66] Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter’’ in Yale French Studies, no. 48, 53 quoted in Wike 2000

[67] Barthes Camera Lucida, 57-58 quoted in Wike 2000

[68] Barthes Camera Lucida, 31-32 quoted in Wike 2000

[69] Anonymous 2016, ‘The Real’, Wikipedia website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Real (accessed 25 November 2016)

[70] “Derrida sees differences as elemental oppositions working in all languages, systems of distinct signs, and codes, where terms don’t have absolute meanings but instead draw meaning from reciprocal determination with other terms… Différance is the systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences, of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other… the a of différance also recalls that spacing is temporization, the detour and postponement by means of which intuition, perception, consummation – in a word, the relationship to the present, the reference to a present reality, to a being – are always deferred.”

Anonymous 2016 ‘Différance’ at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Différance (accessed 25 November 2016

[71] Batchen Burning with Desire 179. Information on photography and differance 178-179.

[72] Batchen Burning with Desire 186

[73] “We stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery… Releasement towards things and openness to the mystery belong together. They grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way…”

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row, 55-56

[74] Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press, 208 quoted in M Jolly 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’ in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 84

[75] Thompson 233 quoted in Jolly 2015

[76] Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 122, at https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed 26 November 2016)

[77] Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ GENDERS no 7 Spring, 26

[78] You are dead but also alive, the dissolution of the distinction between objective and subjective realities, “the image is an interface connecting inner and outer, past and future, affect and cognition.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect And The Images From Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

 

 

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28
Dec
16

Exhibition: ‘Intersections: Photographs and Videos from the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 29th May 2016 – 2nd January 2017

Curators: Sarah Greenough, senior curator, department of photographs, and Philip Brookman, consulting curator, department of photographs, both National Gallery of Art, are the exhibition curators.

 

 

The last posting of a fruitful year for Art Blart.  I wish all the readers of Art Blart a happy and safe New Year!

The exhibition is organized around five themes – movement, sequence, narrative, studio, and identity – found in the work of Muybridge and Stieglitz, themes then developed in the work of other artists. While there is some interesting work in the posting, the conceptual rationale and stand alone nature of the themes and the work within them is a curatorial ordering of ideas that, in reality, cannot be contained within any one boundary, the single point of view.

Movement can be contained in sequences; narrative can be unfolded in a sequence (as in the work of Duane Michals); narrative and identity have a complex association which can also be told through studio work (eg. Gregory Crewdson), etc… What does Roger Mayne’s Goalie, Street Football, Brindley Road (1956, below) not have to do with identity, the young lad with his dirty hands, playing in his socks, in a poverty stricken area of London; why has Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Oscar Wilde (1999, below) been included in the studio section when it has much more to do with the construction of identity through photography- “Triply removing his portrait from reality – from Oscar Wilde himself to a portrait photograph to a wax sculpture and back to a photograph” – which confounds our expectations of the nature of photography. Photography is nefariously unstable in its depiction of an always, constructed reality, through representation(s) which reject simple causality.

To isolate and embolden the centre is to disclaim and disavow the periphery, work which crosses boundaries, is multifaceted and multitudinous; work which forms a nexus for networks of association beyond borders, beyond de/lineation – the line from here to there. The self-contained themes within this exhibition are purely illusory.

Marcus

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

 

 

“We can no longer accept that the identity of a man can be adequately established by preserving and fixing what he looks like from a single viewpoint in one place.”

.
John Berger. “No More Portraits,” in New Society August 1967

 

 

“Intersections: Photographs and Videos from the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art explores the connections between the two newly joined photography collections. On view from May 29, 2016, through January 2, 2017, the exhibition is organized around themes found in the work of the two pioneers of each collection: Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) and Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946). Inspired by these two seminal artists, Intersections brings together more than 100 highlights of the recently merged collections by a range of artists from the 1840s to today.

Just as the nearly 700 photographs from Muybridge’s groundbreaking publication Animal Locomotion, acquired by the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1887, became the foundation for the institution’s early interest in photography, the Key Set of more than 1,600 works by Stieglitz, donated by Georgia O’Keeffe and the Alfred Stieglitz Estate, launched the photography collection at the National Gallery of Art in 1949.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Art

 

Exhibition highlights

The exhibition is organized around five themes – movement, sequence, narrative, studio, and identity – found in the work of Muybridge and Stieglitz.

Movement

Works by Muybridge, who is best known for creating photographic technologies to stop and record motion, anchor the opening section devoted to movement. Photographs by Berenice Abbott and Harold Eugene Edgerton, which study how objects move through space, are included, as are works by Roger Mayne, Alexey Brodovitch, and other who employed the camera to isolate an instant from the flux of time.

Wall text

Intersections wall text

 

Eadweard Muybridge. 'Horses. Running. Phyrne L. No. 40, from The Attitudes of Animals in Motion' 1879

 

Eadweard Muybridge
Horses. Running. Phyrne L. No. 40, from The Attitudes of Animals in Motion
1879
Albumen print
Image: 16 x 22.4 cm (6 5/16 x 8 13/16 in.)
Sheet: 25.7 x 32.4 cm (10 1/8 x 12 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon

 

 

In order to analyze the movement of racehorses, farm animals, and acrobats, Muybridge pioneered new and innovative ways to stop motion with photography. In 1878, he started making pictures at railroad magnate Leland Stanford’s horse farm in Palo Alto, California, where he developed an electronic shutter that enabled exposures as fast as one-thousandth of a second. In this print from Muybridge’s 1881 album The Attitudes of Animals in Motion, Stanford’s prized racehorse Phryne L is shown running in a sequential grid of pictures made by 24 different cameras with electromagnetic shutters tripped by wires as the animal ran across the track. These pictures are now considered a critical step in the development of cinema.

 

Eadweard Muybridge. 'Internegative for Horses. Trotting. Abe Edgington. No. 28, from The Attitudes of Animals in Motion' 1878

 

Eadweard Muybridge
Internegative for Horses. Trotting. Abe Edgington. No. 28, from The Attitudes of Animals in Motion
1878
Collodion negative
Overall (glass plate): 15.3 x 25.4 cm (6 x 10 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund

 

 

This glass negative shows the sequence of Leland Stanford’s horse Abe Edgington trotting across a racetrack in Palo Alto, California – a revolutionary record of the changes in the horse’s gait in about one second. Muybridge composed the negative from photographs made by eight different cameras lined up to capture the horse’s movements. Used to print the whole sequence together onto albumen paper, this internegative served as an intermediary step in the production of Muybridge’s 1881 album The Attitudes of Animals in Motion.

 

Étienne Jules Marey. 'Chronophotograph of a Man on a Bicycle' c. 1885-1890

 

Étienne Jules Marey
Chronophotograph of a Man on a Bicycle
c. 1885-1890
Glass lantern slide
Image: 4 x 7.5 cm (1 9/16 x 2 15/16 in.)
Plate: 8.8 x 10.2 cm (3 7/16 x 4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson

 

 

A scientist and physiologist, Marey became fascinated with movement in the 1870s. Unlike Muybridge, who had already made separate pictures of animals in motion, Marey developed in 1882 a means to record several phases of movement onto one photographic plate using a rotating shutter with slots cut into it. He called this process “chronophotography,” meaning photography of time. His photographs, which he published in books and showed in lantern slide presentations, influenced 20th-century cubist, futurist, and Dada artists who examined the interdependence of time and space.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot. 'The Boulevards of Paris' 1843

 

William Henry Fox Talbot
The Boulevards of Paris
1843
Salted paper print
Image: 16.6 × 17.1 cm (6 9/16 × 6 3/4 in.)
Sheet: 19 × 23.2 cm (7 1/2 × 9 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, New Century Fund

 

As soon as Talbot announced his invention of photography in 1839, he realized that its ability to freeze time enabled him to present the visual spectacle of the world in an entirely new way. By capturing something as mundane as a fleeting moment on a busy street, he could transform life into art, creating a picture that could be savored long after the event had transpired.

 

David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson. 'Colinton Manse and weir, with part of the old mill on the right' 1843-1847

 

David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson
Colinton Manse and weir, with part of the old mill on the right
1843-1847
Salted paper print
Image: 20.7 x 14.6 cm (8 1/8 x 5 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Paul Mellon Fund

 

 

In 1843, only four years after Talbot announced his negative/positive process of photography, painter David Octavius Hill teamed up with engineer Robert Adamson. Working in Scotland, they created important early portraits of the local populace and photographed Scottish architecture, rustic landscapes, and city scenes. Today a suburb southwest of Edinburgh, 19th-century Colinton was a mill town beside a river known as the Water of Leith. Because of the long exposure time required to make this photograph, the water rushing over a small dam appears as a glassy blur.

 

Thomas Annan. 'Old Vennel, Off High Street' 1868-1871

 

Thomas Annan
Old Vennel, Off High Street
1868-1871
Carbon print
Image: 26.9 x 22.3 cm (10 9/16 x 8 3/4 in.)
Sheet: 50.8 x 37.9 cm (20 x 14 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund

 

 

In 1868, Glasgow’s City Improvements Trust hired Annan to photograph the “old closes and streets of Glasgow” before the city’s tenements were demolished. Annan’s pictures constitute one of the first commissioned photographic records of living conditions in urban slums. The collodion process Annan used to make his large, glass negatives required a long exposure time. In the dim light of this narrow passage, it was impossible for the photographer to stop the motion of the restless children, who appear as ghostly blurs moving barefoot across the cobblestones.

 

Thomas Annan. 'Old Vennel, Off High Street' 1868-1871 (detail)

 

Thomas Annan
Old Vennel, Off High Street (detail)
1868-1871
Carbon print
Image: 26.9 x 22.3 cm (10 9/16 x 8 3/4 in.)
Sheet: 50.8 x 37.9 cm (20 x 14 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund

 

Alfred Stieglitz. 'Going to the Post, Morris Park' 1904

 

Alfred Stieglitz
Going to the Post, Morris Park
1904
Photogravure
Image: 30.8 x 26.4 cm (12 1/8 x 10 3/8 in.)
Sheet: 38.5 x 30.3 cm (15 3/16 x 11 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection

 

 

In the 1880s and 1890s, improvements in photographic processes enabled manufacturers to produce small, handheld cameras that did not need to be mounted on tripods. Faster film and shutter speeds also allowed practitioners to capture rapidly moving objects. Stieglitz was one of the first fine art photographers to exploit the aesthetic potential of these new cameras and films. Around the turn of the century, he made many photographs of rapidly moving trains, horse-drawn carriages, and racetracks that capture the pace of the increasingly modern city.

 

Harold Eugene Edgerton. 'Wes Fesler Kicking a Football' 1934

 

Harold Eugene Edgerton
Wes Fesler Kicking a Football
1934
Gelatin silver print
Image: 11 1/2 x 9 5/8 in.
Sheet: 13 15/16 x 11 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase with the aid of funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, D.C., a Federal Agency, and The Polaroid Corporation)

 

 

A professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Edgerton in the early 1930s invited the stroboscope, a tube filled with gas that produced high-intensity bursts of light at regular and very brief intervals. He used it to illuminate objects in motion so that they could be captured by a camera. At first he was hired by industrial clients to reveal flaws in their production of materials, but bt the mid-1930s he began to photography everyday events… Edgerton captured phenomena moving too fast for the naked eye to see, and revealed the beauty of people and objects in motion.

 

Alexey Brodovitch. 'Untitled from "Ballet" series' 1938

 

Alexey Brodovitch
Untitled from “Ballet” series
1938
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 20.4 x 27.5 cm (8 1/16 x 10 13/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Diana and Mallory Walker Fund

 

 

A graphic artist, Russian-born Brodovitch moved to the United States from Paris in 1930. Known for his innovative use of photographs, illustrations, and type on the printed page, he became art director for Harper’s Bazaar in 1934, and photographed the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo during their American tours from 1935 to 1939. Using a small-format, 35 mm camera, Brodovitch worked in the backstage shadows and glaring light of the theater to produce a series of rough, grainy pictures that convey the drama and action of the performance. This photograph employs figures in motion, a narrow field of focus, and high-contrast effects to express the stylized movements of Léonide Massine’s 1938 choreography for Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

 

Harry Callahan. 'Detroit' 1943

 

Harry Callahan
Detroit
c. 1943
Dye imbibition print, printed c. 1980
Overall (image): 18 x 26.7 cm (7 1/16 x 10 1/2 in.)
Sheet: 27.31 x 36.83 cm (10 3/4 x 14 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Callahan Family

 

Harry Callahan. 'Camera Movement on Neon Lights at Night' 1946

 

Harry Callahan
Camera Movement on Neon Lights at Night
1946
Dye imbibition print, printed 1979
Image: 8 3/4 x 13 5/8 in.
Sheet: 10 3/8 x 13 15/16 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Gift of Richard W. and Susan R. Gessner)

 

Louis Stettner. 'Times Square, New York City' 1952-1954

 

Louis Stettner
Times Square, New York City
1952-1954
Gelatin silver print
Sheet (trimmed to image): 42.1 x 27.5 cm (16 9/16 x 10 13/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund

 

Frank Horvat. 'Paris, Gare Saint-Lazare' 1959

 

Frank Horvat
Paris, Gare Saint-Lazare
1959
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 39.3 x 26.2 cm (15 1/2 x 10 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund

 

 

Gare Saint-Lazare is one of the principal railway stations in Paris. Because of its industrial appearance, steaming locomotives, and teeming crowds, it was a frequent subject for 19th-century French painters – including Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, and Gustave Caillebotte – who used it to express the vitality of modern life. 20th-century artists such as Horvat also depicted it to address the pace and anonymity that defined their time. Using a telephoto lens and long exposure, he captured the rushing movement of travelers scattered beneath giant destination signs.

 

Roger Mayne. 'Goalie, Street Football, Brindley Road' 1956

 

Roger Mayne
Goalie, Street Football, Brindley Road
1956
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.7 × 29.1 cm (13 11/16 × 11 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund

 

 

From 1956 to 1961, Mayne photographed London’s North Kensington neighborhood to record its emergence from the devastation and poverty caused by World War II. This dramatic photograph of a young goalie lunging for the ball during an after-school soccer game relies on the camera’s ability to freeze the fast-paced and unpredictable action. Because the boy’s daring lunge is forever suspended in time, we will never know its outcome.

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu. 'Rush Hour, Tokyo' (detail) 1981

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu
Rush Hour, Tokyo (detail)
1981
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 11 5/16 x 9 7/16 in. (28.73 x 23.97 cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Gift of Michael D. Abrams)

 

 

Best known for his expressive documentation of World War II’s impact on Japanese culture, Tomatsu was one of Japan’s most creative and influential photographers. Starting in the early 1960s, he documented the country’s dramatic economic, political, and cultural transformation. This photograph – a long exposure made with his camera mounted on a tripod – conveys the chaotic rush of commuters on their way through downtown Tokyo. Tomatsu used this graphic description of movement, which distorts the faceless bodies of commuters dashing down a flight of stairs, to symbolize the dehumanizing nature of work in the fast-paced city of the early 1980s.

 

Sequence

Muybridge set up banks of cameras and used electronic shutters triggered in sequence to analyze the motion of people and animals. Like a storyteller, he sometimes adjusted the order of images for visual and sequential impact. Other photographers have also investigated the medium’s capacity to record change over time, express variations on a theme, or connect seemingly disparate pictures. In the early 1920s, Stieglitz began to create poetic sequences of cloud photographs meant to evoke distinct emotional experiences. These works (later known as Equivalents) influenced Ansel Adams and Minor White – both artists created specific sequences to evoke the rhythms of nature or the poetry of time passing.

Wall text

Intersections wall text

 

Alfred Stieglitz. 'From My Window at An American Place, Southwest' March 1932

 

Alfred Stieglitz
From My Window at An American Place, Southwest
March 1932
Gelatin silver print
Sheet (trimmed to image): 23.8 x 18.4 cm (9 3/8 x 7 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection

 

Alfred Stieglitz. 'From My Window at An American Place, Southwest' April 1932

 

Alfred Stieglitz
From My Window at An American Place, Southwest
April 1932
Gelatin silver print
Sheet (trimmed to image): 23.8 x 18.8 cm (9 3/8 x 7 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection

 

Alfred Stieglitz. 'Water Tower and Radio City, New York' 1933

 

Alfred Stieglitz
Water Tower and Radio City, New York
1933
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 23.7 x 18.6 cm (9 5/16 x 7 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection

 

 

Whenever Stieglitz exhibited his photographs of New York City made in the late 1920s and early 1930s, he grouped them into series that record views from the windows of his gallery, An American Place, or his apartment at the Shelton Hotel, showing the gradual growth of the buildings under construction in the background. Although he delighted in the formal beauty of the visual spectacle, he lamented that these buildings, planned in the exuberance of the late 1920s, continued to be built in the depths of the Depression, while “artists starved,” as he said at the time, and museums were “threatened with closure.”

 

Ed Ruscha. 'Every Building on Sunset Strip' 1966

Ed Ruscha. 'Every Building on Sunset Strip' 1966

Ed Ruscha. 'Every Building on Sunset Strip' 1966

 

Ed Ruscha
Every Building on the Sunset Strip
1966
Offset lithography book: 7 x 5 3/4 in. (17.78 x 14.61 cm) unfolded (open flat): 7 x 276 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Gift of Philip Brookman and Amy Brookman)

 

Vito Acconci. 'Step Piece' 1970

 

Vito Acconci
Step Piece
1970
Five gelatin silver prints and four sheets of type-written paper, mounted on board with annotations in black ink
Sheet: 76.2 x 101.6 cm (30 x 40 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection

 

 

Acconci’s Step Piece is made up of equal parts photography, drawing, performance, and quantitative analysis. It documents a test of endurance: stepping on and off a stool for as long as possible every day. This performance-based conceptual work is rooted in the idea that the body itself can be a medium for making art. To record his activity, Acconci made a series of five photographs spanning one complete action. Like the background grid in many of Muybridge’s motion studies, vertical panels in Acconci’s studio help delineate the space. His handwritten notes and sketches suggest the patterns of order and chaos associated with the performance, while typewritten sheets, which record his daily progress, were given to people who were invited to observe.

 

Narrative

The exhibition also explores the narrative possibilities of photography found in the interplay of image and text in the work of Robert Frank, Larry Sultan, and Jim Goldberg; the emotional drama of personal crisis in Nan Goldin’s image grids; or the expansion of photographic description into experimental video and film by Victor Burgin and Judy Fiskin.

Wall text

Intersections wall text

 

Alfred Stieglitz. 'Judith Being Carted from Oaklawn to the Hill. The Way Art Moves' 1920

 

Alfred Stieglitz
Judith Being Carted from Oaklawn to the Hill. The Way Art Moves
1920
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.1 x 18.8 cm (9 1/2 x 7 3/8 in.)
Sheet: 25.2 x 20.1 cm (9 15/16 x 7 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection

 

 

In 1920, Stieglitz’s family sold their Victorian summerhouse on the shore of Lake George, New York, and moved to a farmhouse on a hill above it. This photograph shows three sculptures his father had collected – two 19th-century replicas of ancient statues and a circa 1880 bust by Moses Ezekiel depicting the Old Testament heroine Judith – as they were being moved in a wooden cart from one house to another. Stieglitz titled it The Way Art Moves, wryly commenting on the low status of art in American society. With her masculine face and bared breast, Judith was much maligned by Georgia O’Keeffe and other younger family members. In a playful summer prank, they later buried her somewhere near the farmhouse, where she remained lost, despite many subsequent efforts by the perpetrators themselves to find her.

 

Dan Graham. 'Homes for America' 1966-1967

 

Dan Graham
Homes for America
1966-1967
Two chromogenic prints
Image (top): 23 x 34 cm (9 1/16 x 13 3/8 in.)
Image (bottom): 27.8 x 34 cm (10 15/16 x 13 3/8 in.)
Mount: 101 x 75 cm (39 3/4 x 29 1/2 in.)
Framed: 102 x 76.2 x 2.8 cm (40 3/16 x 30 x 1 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Glenstone in honor of Eileen and Michael Cohen

 

 

Beginning in the mid-1960s, conceptual artist Dan Graham created several works of art for magazine pages and slide shows. When Homes for America was designed for Arts magazine in 1966, his accompanying text critiqued the mass production of cookie-cutter homes, while his photographs – made with an inexpensive Kodak Instamatic camera – described a suburban world of offices, houses, restaurants, highways, and truck stops. With their haphazard composition and amateur technique, Graham’s pictures ironically scrutinized the aesthetics of America’s postwar housing and inspired other conceptual artists to incorporate photographs into their work. Together, these two photographs link a middle-class family at the opening of a Jersey City highway restaurant with the soulless industrial landscape seen through the window.

 

Larry Sultan. 'Thanksgiving Turkey' 1985

Larry Sultan. 'Business Page' from the series 'Pictures from Home' 1985

 

Larry Sultan
Thanksgiving Turkey/Newspaper (detail)
1985-1992
Two plexiglass panels with screenprinting
Framed (Thanksgiving Turkey): 76 × 91 cm (29 15/16 × 35 13/16 in.)
Framed (Newspaper): 76 × 91 cm (29 15/16 × 35 13/16 in.)
Other (2 text panels): 50.8 × 76.2 cm (20 × 30 in.) overall: 30 x 117 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Gift of the FRIENDS of the Corcoran Gallery of Art)

 

 

From 1983 to 1992, Sultan photographed his parents in retirement at their Southern California house. His innovative book, Pictures from Home, combines his photographs and text with family album snapshots and stills from home movies, mining the family’s memories and archives to create a universal narrative about the American dream of work, home, and family. Thanksgiving Turkey/Newspaper juxtaposes photographs of his mother and father, each with their face hidden and with adjacent texts where they complain about each other’s shortcomings. “I realize that beyond the rolls of film and the few good pictures … is the wish to take photography literally,” Sultan wrote. “To stop time. I want my parents to live forever.”

 

Shimon Attie. 'Mulackstrasse 32: Slide Projections of Former Jewish Residents and Hebrew Reading Room, 1932, Berlin' 1992

 

Shimon Attie
Mulackstrasse 32: Slide Projections of Former Jewish Residents and Hebrew Reading Room, 1932, Berlin
1992
Chromogenic print
Unframed: 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 60.96 cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Gift of Julia J. Norrell in honor of Hilary Allard and Lauren Harry)

 

 

Attie projected historical photographs made in 1932 onto the sides of a building at Mulackstrasse 32, the site of a Hebrew reading room in a Jewish neighborhood in Berlin during the 1930s. Fusing pictures made before Jews were removed from their homes and killed during World War II with photographs of the same dark, empty street made in 1992, Attie has created a haunting picture of wartime loss.

 

Nan Goldin. 'Relapse/Detox Grid' 1998-2000

 

Nan Goldin
Relapse/Detox Grid
1998-2000
Nine silver dye bleach prints
Overall: 42 1/2 x 62 1/8 in. (107.95 x 157.8 cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase with funds donated by the FRIENDS of the Corcoran Gallery of Art)

 

 

Goldin has unsparingly chronicled her own community of friends by photographing their struggles, hopes, and dreams through years of camaraderie, abuse, addiction, illness, loss, and redemption. Relapse/Detox Grid presents nine colorful yet plaintive pictures in a slide show-like narrative, offering glimpses of a life rooted in struggle, along with Goldin’s own recovery at a detox center, seen in the bottom row.

 

Nan Goldin. 'Relapse/Detox Grid' 1998-2000 (detail)

 

Nan Goldin
Relapse/Detox Grid (detail)
1998-2000
Nine silver dye bleach prints
Overall: 42 1/2 x 62 1/8 in. (107.95 x 157.8 cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase with funds donated by the FRIENDS of the Corcoran Gallery of Art)

 

Victor Burgin. 'Watergate' 2000

 

Victor Burgin
Watergate
2000
Video with sound, 9:58 minutes
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, with funds from the bequest of Betty Battle to the Women’s Committee of the Corcoran Gallery of Art)

 

 

An early advocate of conceptual art, Burgin is an artist and writer whose work spans photographs, text, and video. Watergate shows how the meaning of art can change depending on the context in which it is seen. Burgin animated digital, 160-degree panoramic photographs of nineteenth-century American art hanging in the Corcoran Gallery of Art and in a hotel room. While the camera circles the gallery, an actor reads from Jean-Paul Satre’s Being and Nothingness, which questions the relationship between presence and absence. Then a dreamlike pan around a hotel room overlooking the nearby Watergate complex mysteriously reveals Niagara, the Corcoran’s 1859 landscape by Frederic Church, having on the wall. In 1859, Niagara Falls was seen as a symbol of the glory and promise of the American nation, yet when Church’s painting is placed in the context of the Watergate, an icon of the scandal that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation, it assumes a different meaning and suggests an ominous sense of disillusionment.

 

Studio

Intersections also examines the studio as a locus of creativity, from Stieglitz’s photographs of his gallery, 291, and James Van Der Zee’s commercial studio portraits, to the manipulated images of Wallace Berman, Robert Heinecken, and Martha Rosler. Works by Laurie Simmons, David Levinthal, and Vik Muniz also highlight the postmodern strategy of staging images created in the studio.

Wall text

Intersections wall text

 

Nadar. 'Self-Portrait with Wife Ernestine in a Balloon Gondola' c. 1865

 

Nadar
Self-Portrait with Wife Ernestine in a Balloon Gondola
c. 1865
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1890
Image: 8.6 × 7.7 cm (3 3/8 × 3 1/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

 

Nadar (a pseudonym for Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) was not only a celebrated portrait photographer, but also a journalist, caricaturist, and early proponent of manned flight. In 1863, he commissioned a prominent balloonist to build an enormous balloon 196 feet high, which he named The Giant. The ascents he made from 1863 to 1867 were widely covered in the press and celebrated by the cartoonist Honoré Daumier, who depicted Nadar soaring above Paris, its buildings festooned with signs for photography studios. Nadar made and sold small prints like this self-portrait to promote his ballooning ventures. The obviously artificial construction of this picture – Nadar and his wife sit in a basket far too small for a real ascent and are posed in front of a painted backdrop – and its untrimmed edges showing assistants at either side make it less of the self-aggrandizing statement that Nadar wished and more of an amusing behind-the-scenes look at studio practice.

 

Alfred Stieglitz. 'Self-portrait' 1907, printed 1930

 

Alfred Stieglitz
Self-Portrait
probably 1911
Platinum print
Image: 24.2 x 19.3 cm (9 1/2 x 7 5/8 in.)
Sheet: 25.3 x 20.3 cm (9 15/16 x 8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection

 

 

Unlike many other photographers, Stieglitz made few self-portraits. He created this one shortly before he embarked on a series of portraits of the artists who frequented his New York gallery, 291. Focusing only on his face and leaving all else in shadow, he presents himself not as an artist at work or play, but as a charismatic leader who would guide American art and culture into the 20th century.

 

Alfred Stieglitz. '291 - Picasso-Braque Exhibition' 1915

 

Alfred Stieglitz
291 – Picasso-Braque Exhibition
1915
Platinum print
Image: 18.5 x 23.6 cm (7 5/16 x 9 5/16 in.)
Sheet: 20.1 x 25.3 cm (7 15/16 x 9 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection

 

 

291 was Stieglitz’s legendary gallery in New York City (its name derived from its address on Fifth Avenue), where he introduced modern European and American art and photography to the American public. He also used 291 as a studio, frequently photographing friends and colleagues there, as well as the views from its windows. This picture records what Stieglitz called a “demonstration” – a short display of no more than a few days designed to prompt a focused discussion. Including two works by Picasso, an African mask from the Kota people, a wasps’ nest, and 291’s signature brass bowl, the photograph calls into question the relationship between nature and culture, Western and African art.

 

James Van Der Zee. 'Sisters' 1926

 

James Van Der Zee
Sisters
1926
Gelatin silver print
Sheet (trimmed to image): 17.6 x 12.5 cm (6 15/16 x 4 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

 

James Van Der Zee was a prolific studio photographer in Harlem during a period known as the Harlem Renaissance, from the end of World War I to the middle of the 1930s. He photographed many of Harlem’s celebrities, middle-class residents, and community organizations, establishing a visual archive that remains one of the best records of the era. He stands out for his playful use of props and retouching, thereby personalizing each picture and enhancing the sitter’s appearance. In this portrait of three sisters, clasped hands show the tender bond of the two youngest, one of whom holds a celebrity portrait, revealing her enthusiasm for popular culture.

 

Wallace Berman. 'Silence Series #7' 1965-1968

 

Wallace Berman
Silence Series #7
1965-1968
Verifax (wet process photocopy) collage
Actual: 24 1/2 x 26 1/2 in. (62.23 x 67.31 cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, William A. Clark Fund)

 

 

An influential artist of California’s Beat Generation during the 1950s and 1960s, Berman was a visionary thinker and publisher of the underground magazine Semina. His mysterious and playful juxtapositions of divers objects, images, and texts were often inspired by Dada and surrealist art. Silence Series #7 presents a cinematic sequence of his trademark transistor radios, each displaying military, religious, or mechanical images along with those of athletes and cultural icons, such as Andy Warhol. Appropriated from mass media, reversed in tone, and printed backward using an early version of a photocopy machine, these found images, pieced together and recopied as photomontages, replace then ew transmitted through the radios. Beat poet Robert Duncan once called Berman’s Verify collages a “series of magic ‘TV’ lantern shows.”

 

Mike and Doug Starn. 'Double Rembrandt with Steps' 1987-1991

 

Doug and Mike Starn
Double Rembrandt (with steps)
1987-1991
Gelatin silver prints, ortho film, tape, wood, plexiglass, glue and silicone
2 interlocking parts:
Part 1 overall: 26 1/2 x 13 7/8 in.
Part  2 overall: 26 3/8 x 13 3/4 in.
Overall: 26 1/2 x 27 3/4 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Susan and Peter MacGill

 

 

Doug and Mike Starn, identical twins who have worked collaboratively since they were thirteen, have a reputation for creating unorthodox works. Using take, wood, and glue, the brothers assembles sheets of photographic film and paper to create a dynamic composition that includes an appropriated image of Rembrandt van Rijn’s Old Man with a Gold Chain (1631). Double Rembrandt (with steps) challenges the authority of the austere fine art print, as well as the aura of the original painting, while playfully invoking the twins’ own double identity.

 

Martha Rosler. 'Cleaning the Drapes', from the series, 'House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home' 1967-1972

 

Martha Rosler
Cleaning the Drapes, from the series, House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home
1967-1972
Inkjet print, printed 2007
Framed: 53.5 × 63.3 cm (21 1/16 × 24 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collectors Committee and the Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund

 

 

A painter, photographer, video artist, feminist, activist writer, and teacher, Martha Rosler made this photomontage while she was a graduate student in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Frustrated by the portrayal of the Vietnam War on television and in other media, she wrote: “The images were always very far away and of a place we couldn’t imagine.” To bring “the war home,” as she announced in her title, she cut out images from Life magazine and House Beautiful to make powerfully layered collages that contrast American middle-class life with the realities of the war. She selected color pictures of the idealized American life rich in the trappings of consumer society, and used black-and-white pictures of troops in Vietnam to heighten the contrast between here and there, while also calling attention to stereotypical views of men and women.

 

Sally Mann. 'Self-Portrait' 1974

 

Sally Mann
Self-Portrait
1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17 × 14.9 cm (6 11/16 × 5 7/8 in.)
Sheet: 35 × 27.2 cm (13 3/4 × 10 11/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Gift of Olga Hirshhorn)

 

 

Sally Mann, who is best known for the pictures of her children she made in the 1980s and 1990s, began to photograph when she was a teenager. In this rare, early, and intimate self-portrait, the artist is reflected in a mirror, clasping her loose shirt as she stands in a friend’s bathroom. Her thoughtful, expectant expression, coupled with her finger pointing directly at the lens of the large view camera that towers above her, foreshadows the commanding presence photography would have in her life.

 

David Levinthal. 'Untitled (from the series Hitler Moves East)' 1975

 

David Levinthal
Untitled (from the series Hitler Moves East)
1975
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 15 15/16 x 20 in. (40.48 x 50.8 cm)
Image: 10 9/16 x 13 7/16 in. (26.83 x 34.13 cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Gift of the artist)

 

 

Levinthal’s series of photographs Hitler Moves East was made not during World War II, but in 1975, when the news media was saturated with images of the end of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. In this series, he appropriates the grainy look of photojournalism and uses toy soldiers and fabricated environments to stage scenes from Germany’s brutal campaign on the Eastern Front during World War II. His pictures are often based on scenes found in television and movies, further distancing them from the actual events. A small stick was used to prop up the falling soldier and the explosion was made with puffs of flour. Hitler Moves East casts doubt on the implied authenticity of photojournalism and calls attention to the power of the media to define public understanding of events.

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto. 'Oscar Wilde' 1999

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto
Oscar Wilde
1999
Gelatin silver print
Image: 148.59 × 119.6 cm (58 1/2 × 47 1/16 in.)
Framed: 182.25 × 152.4 cm (71 3/4 × 60 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection)

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto. 'Oscar Wilde' 1999 (detail)

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto
Oscar Wilde (detail)
1999
Gelatin silver print
Image: 148.59 × 119.6 cm (58 1/2 × 47 1/16 in.)
Framed: 182.25 × 152.4 cm (71 3/4 × 60 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection)

 

 

While most traditional portrait photographers worked in studios, Sugimoto upended this practice in a series of pictures he made at Madame Tussaud’s wax museums in London and Amsterdam, where lifelike wax figures, based on paintings or photographs, as is the case with Oscar Wilde, are displayed in staged vignettes. By isolating the figure from its setting, posing it in a three-quarter-length view, illuminating it to convey the impression of a carefully lit studio portrait, and making his final print almost six feet tall, Sugimoto renders the artificial as real. Triply removing his portrait from reality – from Oscar Wilde himself to a portrait photograph to a wax sculpture and back to a photograph – Sugimoto collapses time and confounds our expectations of the nature of photography.

 

Vik Muniz. 'Alfred Stieglitz (from the series Pictures of Ink)' 2000

 

Vik Muniz
Alfred Stieglitz (from the series Pictures of Ink)
2000
Silver dye bleach print
Image: 152.4 × 121.92 cm (60 × 48 in.)
Framed: 161.29 × 130.81 × 5.08 cm (63 1/2 × 51 1/2 × 2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase with funds provided by the FRIENDS of the Corcoran Gallery of Art)

 

 

Muniz has spent his career remaking works of art by artists as varied as Botticelli and Warhol using unusual materials – sugar, diamonds, and even junk. He has been especially interested in Stieglitz and has re-created his photographs using chocolate syrup and cotton. Here, he refashioned Stieglitz’s celebrated self-portrait using wet ink and mimicking the dot matrix of a halftone reproduction. He then photographed his drawing and greatly enlarged it so that the dot matrix itself becomes as important as the picture it replicates.

 

Identity

Historic and contemporary works by August Sander, Diane Arbus, Lorna Simpson, and Hank Willis Thomas, among others, make up the final section, which explores the role of photography in the construction of identity.”

Wall text

Intersections wall text

 

Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz. 'Self-Portrait (Collapse by the Lamp/Kolaps przy lampie)' c. 1913

 

Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz
Self-Portrait (Collapse by the Lamp/Kolaps przy lampie)
c. 1913
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.86 x 17.78 cm (5 1/16 x 7 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Foto Fund and Robert Menschel and the Vital Projects Fund

 

 

A writer, painter, and philosopher, Witkiewicz began to photograph while he was a teenager. From 1911 to 1914, while undergoing psychoanalysis and involved in two tumultuous relationships (one ending when his pregnant fiancée killed herself in 1914), he made a series of startling self-portraits. Close-up, confrontational, and searching, they are pictures in which the artist seems to seek understanding of himself by scrutinizing his visage.

 

August Sander. 'The Bricklayer' 1929

 

August Sander
The Bricklayer
1929
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1950
Sheet (trimmed to image): 50.4 x 37.5 cm (19 13/16 x 14 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Gerhard and Christine Sander, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art

 

 

In 1911, Sander began a massive project to document “people of the twentieth century.” Identifying them by their professions, not their names, he aimed to create a typological record of citizens of the Weimar Republic. He photographed people from all walks of life – from bakers, bankers, and businessmen to soldiers, students, and tradesmen, as well as gypsies, the unemployed, and the homeless. The Nazis banned his project in the 1930s because his pictures did not conform to the ideal Aryan type. Although he stopped working after World War II, he made this rare enlargement of a bricklayer for an exhibition of his photographs in the early 1950s.

 

Walker Evans. 'Photographer's Display Window, Birmingham, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans
Photographer’s Display Window, Birmingham, Alabama
1936
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.1 x 19.3 cm (9 1/2 x 7 5/8 in.)
Sheet: 25.2 x 20.3 cm (9 15/16 x 8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harry H. Lunn, Jr. in honor of Jacob Kainen and in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art

 

Diane Arbus. 'Triplets in their Bedroom, N.J.,' 1963

 

Diane Arbus
Triplets in their Bedroom, N.J.,
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.7 x 37.8 cm (14 13/16 x 14 7/8 in.)
Sheet: 50.4 x 40.4 cm (19 13/16 x 15 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, R. K. Mellon Family Foundation

 

 

Celebrated for her portraits of people traditionally on the margins of society – dwarfs and giants – as well as those on the inside – society matrons and crying babies – Arbus was fascinated with the relationship between appearance and identity. Many of her subjects, such as these triplets, face the camera, tacitly aware of their collaboration in her art. Rendering the familiar strange and the strange familiar, her carefully composed pictures compel us to look at the world in new ways. “We’ve all got an identity,” she said. “You can’t avoid it. It’s what’s left when you take away everything else.”

 

Lorna Simpson. 'Untitled (Two Necklines)' 1989

 

Lorna Simpson
Untitled (Two Necklines)
1989
Two gelatin silver prints with 11 plastic plaques
Overall: 101.6 x 254 cm (40 x 100 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collectors Committee

 

 

From the mid-1980s to the present, Simpson has created provocative works that question stereotypes of gender, identity, history, and culture, often by combining photographs and words. Two Necklines shows two circular and identical photographs of an African American woman’s mouth, chin, neck, and collarbone, as well as the bodice of her simple shift. Set in between are black plaques, each inscribed with a single word: “ring, surround, lasso, noose, eye, areola, halo, cuffs, collar, loop.” The words connote things that bind and conjure a sense of menace, yet when placed between the two calm, elegant photographs, their meaning is at first uncertain. But when we read the red plaque inscribed “feel the ground sliding from under you” and note the location of the word “noose” adjacent to the two necklines, we realize that Simpson is quietly but chillingly referring to the act of lynching.

 

Hank Willis Thomas. 'And One' 2011

 

Hank Willis Thomas
And One
2011
Digital chromogenic print
Framed: 248.29 × 125.73 × 6.35 cm (97 3/4 × 49 1/2 × 2 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Gift of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York)

 

 

And One is from Thomas’s Strange Fruit series, which explores the concepts of spectacle and display as they relate to modern African American identity. Popularized by singer Billie Holiday, the series title Strange Fruit comes from a poem by Abel Meeropol, who wrote the infamous words “Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze; Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees” after seeing a photograph of a lynching in 1936. In And One, a contemporary African American artist reflects on how black bodies have been represented in two different contexts: lynching and professional sports. Thomas ponders the connections between these disparate forms through his dramatic photograph of two basketball players frozen in midair, one dunking a ball through a hanging noose.

 

 

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22
Jul
15

Exhibition: ‘Art as Activism: Graphic Art from the Merrill C. Berman Collection’ at the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library, New York

Exhibition dates: 26th June – 13th September 2015

 

 

It has been a pleasure researching the artists and the issues for this posting. Strong graphics for just social causes. Words and images are powerful tools against bigotry, racism and extremism of any form.

I realised the other day that the older I get the more liberal and socially conscious I become.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Featuring three main sections, Art as Activism opens with works dating from the Great Depression to World War II. The posters and broadsides from the era focus on the American labor movement, Communism, racism in the South, housing in the North, and the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance.

 

 

Hugo Gellert (1892-1985) 'Daily Worker' c. 1935

 

Hugo Gellert (1892-1985)
Daily Worker
c. 1935
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman
Courtesy Mary Ryan Gallery, New York

 

J. Louis Engdahl (1884-1932) 'Labor Defender' June 1931

 

J. Louis Engdahl (1884-1932)
Labor Defender
June 1931
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

The Scottsboro Boys were nine African-American teenagers accused in Alabama of raping two White American women on a train in 1931. The landmark set of legal cases from this incident dealt with racism and the right to a fair trial. The cases included a lynch mob before the suspects had been indicted, a frameup, all-white juries, rushed trials, and disruptive mobs. It is frequently cited as an example of an overall miscarriage of justice in the United States legal system.

On March 25, 1931, several people were hoboing on a freight train traveling between Chattanooga and Memphis, Tennessee. Several white teenagers jumped off the train and reported to the sheriff that they had been attacked by a group of African-American teenagers. The sheriff deputized a posse comitatus, stopped and searched the train at Paint Rock, Alabama and arrested the African Americans. Two young white women also got off the train and accused the African-American teenagers of rape. The case was first heard in Scottsboro, Alabama, in three rushed trials, in which the defendants received poor legal representation. All but 12-year-old Roy Wright were convicted of rape and sentenced to death, the common sentence in Alabama at the time for black men convicted of raping white women, even though there was medical evidence to suggest that they had not committed the crime.

With help from the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), the case was appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed seven of the eight convictions, and granted 13-year-old Eugene Williams a new trial because he was a minor. Chief Justice John C. Anderson dissented, ruling that the defendants had been denied an impartial jury, fair trial, fair sentencing, and effective counsel. While waiting for their trials, eight of the nine defendants were held in Kilby Prison. The cases were twice appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which led to landmark decisions on the conduct of trials. In Powell v. Alabama (1932), it ordered new trials.

The case was returned to the lower court and the judge allowed a change of venue, moving the retrials to Decatur, Alabama. Judge Horton was appointed. During the retrials, one of the alleged victims admitted fabricating the rape story and asserted that none of the Scottsboro Boys touched either of the white women. The jury found the defendants guilty, but the judge set aside the verdict and granted a new trial.

The judge was replaced and the case tried under a more biased judge, whose rulings went against the defense. For the third time a jury – now with one African-American member – returned a third guilty verdict. The case returned to the US Supreme Court on appeal. It ruled that African Americans had to be included on juries, and ordered retrials. Charges were finally dropped for four of the nine defendants. Sentences for the rest ranged from 75 years to death. All but two served prison sentences. One was shot in prison by a guard and permanently disabled. Two escaped, were later charged with other crimes, convicted, and sent back to prison. Clarence Norris, the oldest defendant and the only one sentenced to death, “jumped parole” in 1946 and went into hiding. He was found in 1976 and pardoned by Governor George Wallace, by which time the case had been thoroughly analyzed and shown to be an injustice. Norris later wrote a book about his experiences. The last surviving defendant died in 1989.

“The Scottsboro Boys,” as they became known, were defended by many in the North and attacked by many in the South. The case is now widely considered a miscarriage of justice, particularly highlighted by use of all-white juries. African Americans in Alabama had been disenfranchised since the turn of the century and thus were generally disqualified from jury duty. The case has been explored in many works of literature, music, theatre, film and television. On November 21, 2013, Alabama’s parole board voted to grant posthumous pardons to the three Scottsboro Boys who had not been pardoned or had their convictions overturned.

Text from Wikipedia website

 

 

Not the usual version of this song by Billie Holiday, but a different rendition by the great Nina Simone (no date to the recording). White southerners lynched nearly 4,000 black men, women and children between the years 1877 and 1950.

This song, written by white teacher ‪Abel Meeropol‬ as a poem and published in 1937, was performed by many artists (but most notably, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone,) is a dark and profound song about the lynching of African Americans in the Southern United States during the Jim Crow Era. In the lyrics, black victims are portrayed as “strange fruit,” as they hang from trees, rotting in the sun, blowing in the wind, and becoming food for crows upon being burned.

 

Southern trees
Bearing strange fruit
Blood on the leaves
And blood at the roots
Black bodies
Swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’
From the poplar trees
Pastoral scene
Of the gallant south
Them big bulging eyes
And the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia
Clean and fresh
Then the sudden smell
Of burnin’ flesh
Here is a fruit
For the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the leaves to drop
Here is
 strange and bitter crop

 

 

Vera Bock (1905-73) 'Haiti; A Drama of the Black Napoleon by William Du Bois at Lafayette Theatre' 1938

 

Vera Bock (1905-73)
Haiti; A Drama of the Black Napoleon by William Du Bois at Lafayette Theatre
1938
Screenprint on board
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture (French pronunciation: ​[tusɛ̃ lu.vɛʁ.tyʁ]; 20 May 1743 – 7 April 1803), also known as Toussaint L’Ouverture, Toussaint-Louverture, Toussaint Bréda, and nicknamed the “Napoléon Noir” (Black Napoleon), was the leader of the Haitian Revolution. His military genius and political acumen transformed an entire society of slaves into the independent state of Haiti. The success of the Haitian Revolution shook the institution of slavery throughout the New World.

Toussaint Louverture began his military career as a leader of the 1791 slave rebellion in the French colony of Saint-Domingue; he was by then a free black man. Initially allied with the Spaniards of neighboring Santo Domingo, Toussaint switched allegiance to the French when they abolished slavery. He gradually established control over the whole island and used political and military tactics to gain dominance over his rivals. Throughout his years in power, he worked to improve the economy and security of Saint-Domingue. He restored the plantation system using paid labour, negotiated trade treaties with Britain and the United States, and maintained a large and well-disciplined army.

In 1801 he promulgated an autonomist constitution for the colony, with himself as governor for life. In 1802 he was forced to resign by forces sent by Napoleon Bonaparte to restore French authority in the former colony. He was deported to France, where he died in 1803. The Haitian Revolution continued under his lieutenant, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who declared independence in early 1804. The French had lost two-thirds of forces sent to the island in an attempt to suppress the revolution; most died of yellow fever. (Text from Wikipedia website)

 

Unidentified artist. 'Negro Peoples Theatre Presents: Langston Hughes' Great Play, "Don’t You Want to be Free?" Directed by Fanny McConnell, Lincoln Centre' 1938

 

Unidentified artist
Negro Peoples Theatre Presents: Langston Hughes’ Great Play, “Don’t You Want to be Free?” Directed by Fanny McConnell, Lincoln Centre
1938
Screenprint on paper mounted on board
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry. Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that “the negro was in vogue”, which was later paraphrased as “when Harlem was in vogue”.

When Langston Hughes returned from his assignment in Spain as a war correspondent, he told Louise Patterson of his idea for establishing a people’s theatre. She suggested the hall of the International Workers Order (a leftist labor-cultural group) above Frank’s Restaurant on 125th Street. This was the first home of the Harlem Suitcase Theatre, in 1937.

Named for its arena staging and lack of scenic properties, Suitcase Theatre was a peoples’ theatre composed of amateur actors. The audiences were seventy-five per cent black; admission was thirty-five cents. The program was usually two or three short pieces; The Slave, or The Man Who Died at Twelve O’Clock, or several skits written by Mr. Hughes lampooning white caricatures of blacks: Em-Fueher Jones, Limitations of Life, and Little Eva’s End. The piece de resistance was always Don’t You Want To Be Free? We had no play so the suggestion came up one evening as we were sitting there plotting the theatre, that Langston should do a play and why not a play of music-drama of many of his folk poems? So that he went home that night after we had had that discussion and sat up all night writing it and came back the next night with Don’t You Want To Be Free? (from an interview with Louise Patterson by Norma Markman, 1969)

Although Suitcase Theater lasted only two years (it did not survive its transplant to the library basement on 135th Street) the idea of a Negro People’s Theater spread to other cities. In March 1939, Mr. Hughes founded the New Negro Theater in Los Angeles.

The success of Don’t You Want To Be Free?, which opened in February 1937 and ran for 135 performances, may be found in three factors: (1) the direct appeal to the problems of the audience (most businesses in Harlem were owned by whites and only one of every six employees of the businesses were black), (2) the simplicity and beauty of the poetry and songs, (3) the appeal to unite poor whites and blacks in a fight against exploitation by the rich.

Text from The University Theatre website

 

Lester Beall (1903-69) 'Cross Out Slums' 1941

 

Lester Beall (1903-69)
Cross Out Slums
1941
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman
© Dumbarton Arts, LLC
Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

 

 

Lester Beall (1903-1969) was an American graphic designer notable as a leading proponent of modernist graphic design in the United States.

His clear and concise use of typography was highly praised both in the United States and abroad. Throughout his career he used bold primary colors and illustrative arrows and lines in a graphic style that became easily recognizable as his own. He eventually moved to rural New York and set up an office, and home, at a premises that he and his family called “Dumbarton Farm”. He remained at the farm until his death in 1969.

Lester Thomas Beall was born in Kansas City, Missouri. His family soon moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and later to Chicago, Illinois. Beall studied at the University of Chicago and was active on the varsity track team coached by Amos Alonzo Stagg. Beall also took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. After a short period of experimentation and professional work in Chicago, Beall moved to New York in 1935. The following year he established his home / office in Wilton, Connecticut.

According to his online AIGA biography by R. Roger Remington: “Through the 1930s and 1940s Beall produced innovative and highly regarded work for clients including the Chicago Tribune, Sterling Engraving, The Art Directors Club of New York, Hiram Walker, Abbott Laboratories and Time magazine. Of particular interest was his work for the Crowell Publishing Company which produced Colliers magazine. The promotional covers “Will There Be War?” and “Hitler’s Nightmare” are powerful designs which distill messages of the time. In these works he utilizes angled elements, iconic arrows, silhouetted photographs and dynamic shapes, all of which captures the essence of his personal style of the late 1930s. Also of interest in this period are the remarkable poster series for the United States Government’s Rural Electrification Administration.” (Text from Wikipedia website)

 

Unidentified artist. 'Vote American Labor Party; Roosevelt and Lehman' 1936

 

Unidentified artist
Vote American Labor Party; Roosevelt and Lehman
1936
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

“Long before digital technology made worldwide communication possible, political protests and calls for action reached the public through posters. Posted on walls and bulletin boards, slapped up on store windows and church doors, these works often featured bright colors and modernist art-inspired graphics, and were quickly mass-produced to inform communities, stir audiences, and call attention to injustice. This summer, the New-York Historical Society will present 72 posters dating from the early 1930s through the 1970s, drawn from one of the world’s finest collections of American protest art in Art as Activism: Graphic Art from the Merrill C. Berman Collection, on view June 26 through September 13, 2015.

“These seemingly ephemeral activist artifacts are of tremendous historical and artistic importance, with deep roots in the past and a lasting influence,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “Merrill Berman’s collection rivals the graphic design holdings of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and we are thrilled to be able to share some highlights with the public this summer.”

Art as Activism presents a wide selection of posters addressing movements that arose in reaction to the Great Depression, World War II, racial inequality, the Vietnam War, and environmental concerns. Featured posters include works by artists such as Emory Douglas, Hugo Gellert, James Rosenquist and Tomi Ungerer, as well as numerous unidentified designers.

Art as Activism will showcase imagery that served as the wallpaper of public discontent,” said New-York Historical’s Chief Curator Stephen Edidin. “Posters shaped the visual language of protest for generations, “going viral” decades before the term was born, until they were replaced by other forms of social media, including street art and ultimately the Internet.”

 

Exhibition highlights

Featuring three main sections, Art as Activism opens with works dating from the Great Depression to World War II, with themes that include electoral politics, workers’ marches and the political, social, and economic inequalities endured by African Americans. Featured works include a poster for Langston Hughes’ political play Don’t You Want to be Free?: From Slavery Through the Blues to Now – and then some! (1938), with bright red and yellow graphics of a whip in a raised fist. A colorful 1941 poster Cross Out Slums promoted the U.S. Housing Authority, which cleared slums and built new low-income housing. Using photomontage and European modernist design, graphic artist Lester Beall shows a bucolic neighborhood in the form of a hand, crossing out substandard accommodations with a large “X.”

The second section of the exhibition explores the Black Panther organization, beginning with its founding in California in 1966 and tracing its rise to national prominence. The Panthers used posters and the press to spread their message, leveraging advertising techniques and celebrity culture to compose and disseminate powerful imagery. One of the most defining photographs of this era is the iconic image Huey Newton seated in a wicker chair (1967), featuring the Panthers’ Minister of Defense enthroned in a wicker chair, holding a rife and a spear. Another highlight is the poster An Attack Against One is An Attack Against All, The Slaughter of Black People Must be Stopped by Any Means Necessary! (circa 1970), featuring the image of a black panther with massive claws and a sinuous body, poised to attack.

The final section of Art as Activism focuses on the anti-Vietnam War movement and other protest movements of the era, such as the American Indian movement and the nascent Environmentalist effort. To cut costs and distribute the message by any means available, activists printed posters on computer paper. In 1970, U.C. Berkeley students protested President Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia with the poster Amerika is Devouring Its Children, making a powerful anti-war statement by appropriating Francisco Goya’s terrifying image of the god Saturn fiendishly eating his own son. Another highlight on view is a poster from the 1975 Central Park rally celebrating the end of the Vietnam War, featuring a photograph of a Hanoi circus performer with doves balanced on her outstretched arms, offering an uplifting image and global message.”

Press release from the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library

 

The second section of the exhibition explores the Black Panther Party, beginning with its founding in California in 1966 and traces its rise to international prominence. Their policies of self-defense and anti-imperialism prompted FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to notoriously condemn them as “the greatest threat to internal security.” Their legacy of lesser-known initiatives to aid impoverished black communities, including a breakfast program that at its height served 10,000 kids in need every day was overshadowed as a result.

 

Unidentified artist. 'Free Angela Davis' c. 1970-72

 

Unidentified artist 
Free Angela Davis
c. 1970-72
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

Angela Yvonne Davis (born January 26, 1944) is an American political activist, scholar, and author. She emerged as a prominent counterculture activist and radical in the 1960s as a leader of the Communist Party USA, and had close relations with the Black Panther Party through her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, although she was never a party member. Her interests included prisoner rights; she founded Critical Resistance, an organization working to abolish the prison-industrial complex. She is a retired professor with the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a former director of the university’s Feminist Studies department.

Davis was arrested, charged, tried, and acquitted of conspiracy in the 1970 armed take-over of a Marin County courtroom, in which four persons died.

On August 7, 1970, Jonathan Jackson, a heavily armed 17-year-old African-American high-school student, gained control over a courtroom in Marin County, California. Once in the courtroom, Jackson armed the black defendants and took Judge Harold Haley, the prosecutor, and three female jurors as hostages.

As Jackson transported the hostages and two black convicts away from the courtroom, the police began shooting at the vehicle. The judge and the three black men were killed in the melee; one of the jurors and the prosecutor were injured. The firearms used in the attack, including the shotgun used to kill Haley, had been purchased by Davis two days prior and the barrel of the shotgun had been sawed off. Davis was also corresponding with one of the inmates involved. Since California considers “all persons concerned in the commission of a crime, whether they directly commit the act constituting the offense… principals in any crime so committed”, Marin County Superior Judge Peter Allen Smith charged Davis with “aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder in the death of Judge Harold Haley” and issued a warrant for her arrest. Hours after the judge issued the warrant on August 14, 1970, a massive attempt to arrest Angela Davis began. On August 18, 1970, four days after the initial warrant was issued, the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover made Angela Davis the third woman and the 309th person to appear on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List.

Soon after, Davis became a fugitive and fled California. According to her autobiography, during this time she hid in friends’ homes and moved from place to place at night. On October 13, 1970, FBI agents found her at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge in New York City. President Richard M. Nixon congratulated the FBI on its “capture of the dangerous terrorist, Angela Davis”.

On January 5, 1971, after several months in jail, Davis appeared at the Marin County Superior Court and declared her innocence before the court and nation: “I now declare publicly before the court, before the people of this country that I am innocent of all charges which have been leveled against me by the state of California.” John Abt, general counsel of the Communist Party USA, was one of the first attorneys to represent Davis for her alleged involvement in the shootings. While being held in the Women’s Detention Center there, she was initially segregated from the general population, but with the help of her legal team soon obtained a federal court order to get out of the segregated area.

Across the nation, thousands of people who agreed with her declaration began organizing a liberation movement. In New York City, black writers formed a committee called the Black People in Defense of Angela Davis. By February 1971 more than 200 local committees in the United States, and 67 in foreign countries worked to liberate Angela Davis from prison. Thanks, in part, to this support, in 1972 the state released her from county jail. On February 23, 1972, Rodger McAfee, a dairy farmer from Fresno, California, paid her $100,000 bail with the help of Steve Sparacino, a wealthy business owner. Portions of her legal defense expenses were paid for by the United Presbyterian Church.

Davis was tried, and the all-white jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The fact that she owned the guns used in the crime was judged not sufficient to establish her responsibility for the plot. She was represented by Leo Branton Jr., who hired psychologists to help the defense determine who in the jury pool might favor their arguments, a technique that was uncommon at the time, and also hired experts to undermine the reliability of eyewitness accounts.

Her research interests are feminism, African-American studies, critical theory, Marxism, popular music, social consciousness, and the philosophy and history of punishment and prisons. Her membership in the Communist Party led to Ronald Reagan’s request in 1969 to have her barred from teaching at any university in the State of California. She was twice a candidate for Vice President on the Communist Party USA ticket during the 1980s.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Photography attributed to Blair Stapp Composition by Eldridge Cleaver. 'Huey Newton seated in wicker chair' 1967

 

Photography attributed to Blair Stapp
Composition by Eldridge Cleaver
Huey Newton seated in wicker chair
1967
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

Huey Percy Newton (February 17, 1942 – August 22, 1989) was an African-American political and urban activist who, along with Bobby Seale, co-founded the Black Panther Party in 1966. Newton had a long series of confrontations with law enforcement, including several convictions, while he participated in political activism. He continued to pursue an education, eventually earning a Ph.D. in Social Science. Newton spent time in prison for manslaughter and was involved in a shooting that killed a police officer, for which he was later acquitted. In 1989 he was shot and killed in Oakland, California by Tyrone “Double R” Robinson, a member of the Black Guerrilla Family. (Text from Wikipedia website)

 

Emory Douglas (b. 1943) 'All Power To The People' 1969

 

Emory Douglas (b. 1943)
All Power To The People
1969
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Emory Douglas (born May 24, 1943) was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a teenager, Douglas was incarcerated at the Youth Training School in Ontario, California; during his time there he worked in the prison’s printing shop. He later studied commercial art, taking graphic design classes, at San Francisco City College. As Erika Doss wrote, “He also joined the college’s Black Students Union and was drawn to political activism.”

In 1967 Douglas became Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. In 2007, The San Francisco Chronicle reporter Jessica Werner Zack reported that he “branded the militant-chic Panther image decades before the concept became commonplace. He used the newspaper’s popularity to incite the disenfranchised to action, portraying the poor with genuine empathy, not as victims but as outraged, unapologetic and ready for a fight.”

Douglas worked at the black community-oriented San Francisco Sun Reporter newspaper for over 30 years after The Black Panther newspaper was no longer published.[5] He continued to create activist artwork. According to Greg Morozumi, of the Bay Area EastSide Arts Alliance,[6] his artwork stayed relevant. “Rather than reinforcing the cultural dead end of “post-modern” nostalgia, the inspiration of his art raises the possibility of rebellion and the creation of new revolutionary culture.”

In 2006, artist and curator Sam Durant edited a comprehensive monograph of Black Panther artist Emory Douglas’ work, Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas, with contributors including Danny Glover, Kathleen Cleaver, St. Clair Bourne, Colette Gaiter (associate professor at the University of Delaware), Greg Morozumi (artistic director of the EastSide Arts Alliance in Oakland, California), and Sonia Sanchez.

“Douglas was the most prolific and persistent graphic agitator in the American Black Power movements. Douglas profoundly understood the power of images in communicating ideas…. Inexpensive printing technologies – including photostats and presstype, textures and patterns – made publishing a two-color heavily illustrated, weekly tabloid newspaper possible. Graphic production values associated with seductive advertising and waste in a decadent society became weapons of the revolution. Technically, Douglas collaged and re-collaged drawings and photographs, performing graphic tricks with little budget and even less time. His distinctive illustration style featured thick black outlines (easier to trap) and resourceful tint and texture combinations. Conceptually, Douglas’s images served two purposes: first, illustrating conditions that made revolution seem necessary; and second, constructing a visual mythology of power for people who felt powerless and victimized. Most popular media represents middle to upper class people as “normal.” Douglas was the Norman Rockwell of the ghetto, concentrating on the poor and oppressed. Departing from the WPA / social realist style of portraying poor people, which can be perceived as voyeuristic and patronizing, Douglas’s energetic drawings showed respect and affection. He maintained poor people’s dignity while graphically illustrating harsh situations.”

Colette Gaiter quoted in the Wikipedia entry for Emory Douglas.

 

Distributed by the Robert Brown Elliott League. 'An Attack Against One is An Attack Against All' c. 1970

 

Distributed by the Robert Brown Elliott League
An Attack Against One is An Attack Against All
c. 1970
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

The final section of Art as Activism focuses on the anti-Vietnam War movement and other protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The mass protest movements varied greatly in their demands and their activist style. Some were violent, others peaceful. Some pushed for reform, others revolution. Regardless of their messages, these movements brought millions to the streets and forever changed American society; they helped end the Vietnam War and gave rise to watershed legislation and fundamental social change.

 

Jay Belloli, Berkeley, California. 'Amerika is Devouring Its Children' 1970

 

Jay Belloli, Berkeley, California
Amerika is Devouring Its Children
1970
Screenprint on computer paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

 

Decade of Dissent – Jay Belloli

 

Jay Belloli is an independent contemporary art curator and writer who created an iconic political poster while a student at UC Berkeley during the strike to oppose Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia in 1970. In this video, Jay discusses his developing politicization during the Vietnam War era and describes the urgent activity of students across the country to use political posters to define the pressing issues of the day.

This interview is part of a video series in which poster artists share stories about art and activism. The interviews accompany Decade of Dissent: Democracy in Action 1965-1975, a traveling political poster art exhibition that premiered at the West Hollywood Library, February-April 2012. Both the exhibition and interviews were produced by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.

1965-1975 – years that span the U.S. war in Viet Nam – was a watershed decade for California and the country as a whole. Through legislation and demonstrations, democracy was both advanced and challenged at the ballot box, in the classroom and in the streets. U.S. democracy embraces free speech, yet California’s students fought for the right to engage in free speech in high schools and college campuses. Our democracy ensures freedom of assembly, yet the police often attacked peaceful demonstrators. The Constitution protects civil liberties and civil rights regardless of race, gender, class or ethnicity, yet African Americans, Asians, Latinos, women, lesbians, gays and others fought – and continue to fight – for their equality.

Whenever people organize and protest, artists are in the forefront of the struggles for greater democracy and justice. This exhibition documents the importance of poster art for developing and promoting the ideas and ideals of democracy in California during a very turbulent decade – not unlike the present. The posters forcefully and graphically demonstrate that democracy includes the obligation to speak-out and struggle for justice. Dissent is patriotic. The exhibition also shows the power of art to recall historical events and views of the world that can create a deeper context for understanding contemporary society. (Text from YouTube)

 

Unidentified artist. 'Red Power' 1970

 

Unidentified artist
Red Power
1970
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

Phil Ochs (1940-76), Cora Weiss (b. 1934) and Dan Luce. 'The War is Over!' 1975

 

Phil Ochs (1940-76), Cora Weiss (b. 1934) and Dan Luce
The War is Over!
1975
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

New-York Historical Society Museum and Library
170 Central Park West
at Richard Gilder Way (77th Street)
New York, NY 10024
Tel: (212) 873-3400

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Thursday, Saturday – 10am – 6pm
Friday – 10am – 8pm
Sunday – 11am – 5pm
Monday – CLOSED

New-York Historical Society Museum and Library website

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04
Sep
14

Exhibition: ‘American Cool’ at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC

Exhibition dates: 7th February – 7th September 2014

 

Bruce Davidson. 'Untitled' from the 'Brooklyn Gang' series 1959

 

Bruce Davidson
Untitled from the Brooklyn Gang series
1959

 

Danny Lyon. 'Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville, 1966' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville, 1966
1966
Silver gelatin print

 

 

Each cool figure was considered with the following historical rubric in mind and possesses at least three elements of this singular American self-concept:

  1. an original artistic vision carried off with a signature style
  2. cultural rebellion or transgression for a given generation
  3. iconic power, or instant visual recognition
  4. a recognized cultural legacy

Every individual here created an original persona without precedent in American culture. These photographs capture the complex relationship between the real-life person, the image embraced by fans and the media, and the person’s artistic work.

What does it mean when a generation claims a certain figure as cool? What qualities does this person embody at that historical moment? American Cool explores these questions through photography, history, and popular culture. In this exhibition, cool is rendered visible, as shot by some of the finest art photographers of the past century.

 

 

When less – less famous, less obvious – is more

I don’t know about you, but the photographs chosen to represent American “cool” in this exhibition – 39 of which are shown in the posting out of a total of 108, but the rest are mainly of the same ilk – seem to me to be a singularly strange bunch of images to choose for such a concept. Personally, I find very few of them are “cool”, that is a mixture of a social charge of rebellious self-expression, charisma, edge and mystery with a certain self-made sense of style.

The only images that I find definitely “cool” among this bunch are, firstly Bob Dylan, closely followed by Jackson Pollock (notice the skull lurking behind him) and Susan Sontag. There is no proposition of cool in these three photographs, the people in them just are. The rest of the photographs, and there really are some atrociously plain and boring portraits among this lot (including a poor portrait of James Dean), really don’t speak to me of cool, don’t speak to me of anything much at all. How you could ever think that the portrait of Willie Nelson, 1989 (printed 2009, below) is cool is beyond me… and what is it with the reprints of the photographs, not originals but modern prints made years later? Perhaps the National Portrait Gallery needed to look beyond their own collection for a more rounded representation of American cool.

The two photographs I have included above are my top picks of American cool, and neither are in the exhibition. These iconic American images don’t feature famous people, they are not “posed” for the camera, and yet there is that ineffable something that makes the people in them absolutely, totally cool. THIS IS AMERICAN COOL: their own style, their own rebelliousness and mystery without possibly realising it = a naturalness that comes from doing their own thing, making their own way. Perhaps that is the point that this exhibition misses: you don’t have to be famous to be “cool”. A portrait is not just a mug shot. And an original persona does not have to come with fame attached.

This exhibition just doesn’t cut the mustard. The whole shebang needed a bloody good rethink, from the concept (does a generation have to “claim” someone is cool? is it necessary or desirable to portray American Cool through media images? do they have to be famous or instantly recognisable people to be “cool”) to the choice of images which could better illustrate the theme. Surely the qualities that person embodies changes from moment to moment, from photographer to photographer, from context to context (just look at the portraits of a haggard James Dean). To attempt to illustrate three elements in a single photograph – good luck with that one!

Marcus

PS I have added the videos to add a bit of spice to the proceedings… in them you can, occasionally, feel the charisma of the person.

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

 

Bob Willoughby. 'Billie Holiday' 1951 (printed 1991)

 

Bob Willoughby
Billie Holiday
1951 (printed 1991)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.2 x 35.3 cm. (19 15/16 x 13 15/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Rare live footage of one of the first anti rascism songs ever.

 

Roger Marshutz. 'Elvis Presley' 1956

 

Roger Marshutz
Elvis Presley
1956
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 40.6 x 50.8cm (16 x20″)
© Estee Stanley

 

 

Herman Leonard. 'Frank Sinatra' c. 1956

 

Herman Leonard
Frank Sinatra
c. 1956
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.5 x 24.1cm (6 1/2 x 9 1/2″)
Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University

 

 

Marcia Resnick. 'David Byrne' 1981

 

Marcia Resnick
David Byrne
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.8 x 32.5 cm (8 9/16 x 12 13/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Julian Wasser. 'Joan Didion' 1970

 

Julian Wasser
Joan Didion
1970
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.3 x 34 cm (9 9/16 x 13 3/8″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Joan Didion (born December 5, 1934) is an American author best known for her novels and her literary journalism. Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation.

 

Roy Schatt. 'James Dean' 1954

 

Roy Schatt
James Dean
1954
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.7 x 42.2cm (13 11/16 x 16 5/8″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

William Claxton. 'Steve McQueen' 1962

 

William Claxton
Steve McQueen
1962
Gelatin silver print
Image: 40 x 58.7cm (15 3/4 x 23 1/8″)
Fahey Klein Gallery

 

Martin Schoeller. 'Tony Hawk' 1999 (printed 2010)

 

Martin Schoeller
Tony Hawk
1999 (printed 2010)
Archival pigment print
Image: 58.5 x 58.6 cm (23 1/16 x 23 1/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

What do we mean when we say someone is cool? Cool carries a social charge of rebellious self-expression, charisma, edge and mystery.

Cool is an original American sensibility and remains a global obsession. In the early 1940s, legendary jazz saxophonist Lester Young brought this central African American concept into the modern vernacular. Cool became a password in bohemian life connoting a balanced state of mind, a dynamic mode of performance, and a certain stylish stoicism. A cool person has a situation under control, and with a signature style. Cool has been embodied in jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and Billie Holiday, in actors such as Robert Mitchum, Faye Dunaway, and Johnny Depp, and in singers such as Elvis Presley, Patti Smith, and Jay-Z. American Cool is a photography and cultural studies exhibition featuring portraits of such iconic figures, each of whom has contributed an original artistic vision to American culture symbolic of a particular historical moment. They emerged from a variety of fields: art, music, film, sports, comedy, literature, and political activism. American Cool is the zeitgeist taking embodied form.

American Cool is captured by a roll call of fine-art photographers from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Annie Leibovitz, from Richard Avedon to Herman Leonard to Diane Arbus. This exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with essays by Joel Dinerstein, the James H. Clark Endowed Chair in American Civilization and Director of the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South at Tulane University, and Frank H. Goodyear III, co-director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and former curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery.

 

Unidentified Artist. 'Jack Nicholson in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"' 1975

 

Unidentified Artist
Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.3 x 25.1cm (6 13/16 x 9 7/8″)
The Kobal Collection

 

John Cohen. 'Jack Kerouac' 1959

 

John Cohen
Jack Kerouac
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.9 x 24.1cm (6 1/4 x 9 1/2″)
Sheet: 20.2 x 25.4cm (7 15/16 x 10″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Leo Fuchs. 'Paul Newman' 1959 (printed 2013)

 

Leo Fuchs
Paul Newman
1959 (printed 2013)
Modern archival print
Sheet: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14″)
© Alexandre Fuchs

 

William Paul Gottlieb. 'Thelonious Monk at Minton's Playhouse, New York City' 1947

 

William Paul Gottlieb
Thelonious Monk at Minton’s Playhouse, New York City
1947
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 25.4 x 20.3cm (10 x 8″)
Estate of William Gottlieb

 

 

Thelonious Monk Quartet – Round Midnight
Thelonious Monk(p) Charlie Rouse(ts) Larry Gales(b) Ben Riley(ds)
Recorded in Norway 1966 dvd “LIVE in ’66”

 

Peter Hujar. 'Susan Sontag' 1975

 

Peter Hujar
Susan Sontag
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.1 x 37.6cm (14 5/8 x 14 13/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Michael O'Brien. 'Willie Nelson' 1989 (printed 2009)

 

Michael O’Brien
Willie Nelson
1989 (printed 2009)
Chromogenic print
Image: 38.1 x 38.1cm (15 x 15″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Introduction

What do we mean when we say someone is cool? To be cool means to exude the aura of something new and uncontainable. Cool is the opposite of innocence or virtue. Someone cool has a charismatic edge and a dark side. Cool is an earned form of individuality. Each generation has certain individuals who bring innovation and style to a field of endeavor while projecting a certain charismatic self-possession. They are the figures selected for this exhibition: the successful rebels of American culture.

The legendary jazz saxophonist Lester Young created the modern usage of “cool” in the 1940s. At first it meant being relaxed in one’s environment against oppressive social forces, but within a generation it became a password for stylish self-control. This exhibition does not reflect our opinion of who’s cool. Each cool figure was considered with the following historical rubric in mind and possesses at least three elements of this singular American self-concept:

  1. an original artistic vision carried off with a signature style
  2. cultural rebellion or transgression for a given generation
  3. iconic power, or instant visual recognition
  4. a recognized cultural legacy

Every individual here created an original persona without precedent in American culture. These photographs capture the complex relationship between the real-life person, the image embraced by fans and the media, and the person’s artistic work.

What does it mean when a generation claims a certain figure as cool? What qualities does this person embody at that historical moment? American Cool explores these questions through photography, history, and popular culture. In this exhibition, cool is rendered visible, as shot by some of the finest art photographers of the past century.

 

The Roots of Cool: Before 1940

The stage was set for the emergence of cool as a cultural phenomenon in the early 1940s by a series of sweeping transformations in the first decades of the twentieth century. The figures in this first section were not called cool in their day but were leading exemplars of new energies that were changing the social contours of American life. A fresh rebelliousness was revealed in the new film capital of Hollywood, in modernist literature and art, in emerging youth entertainments, and in a new music called jazz. The advent of technologies such as radio, film, and the automobile and the increasing diversity in America’s booming cities accelerated the pace of change. Though Prohibition in the 1920s sought to regulate American morality by ending the consumption of alcohol, this period saw the expression of a new independence among young people and others historically on the margins of public life. In particular, both African Americans and women sought and began to attain freedoms long denied. Cool has long denoted a person’s sense of calm and composure. Charismatic individuals such as those featured here contributed greatly to the changing mores in American society before World War II. Cool would ultimately serve as the term that would describe this new rebel.

The Birth of Cool: 1940-59

Being cool was a response to the rapid changes of modernity: it was about maintaining a state of equipoise within swirling, dynamic social forces. The legendary jazz saxophonist Lester Young disseminated the word and concept of cool into jazz culture in the early 1940s, and it quickly crossed over as a rebel masculine sensibility. When Young said, “I’m cool,” he meant, first, that he was relaxed in the environment and, second, that he was keeping it together under social and economic pressure as well as the absurdity of life in a racist society. This mask of cool emerged as a form of American stoicism and was manifested in jazz, film noir, Beat literature, and abstract expressionism. In jazz, a generation of younger musicians rejected big-band swing entertainment to create bebop, a fast, angular, virtuosic style that moved jazz out of dance halls and into nightclubs. In Hollywood, film noir represented postwar anxiety inthrough crime dramas shot through with working-class existentialism and the fear of women’s sexual and economic power. Among Beat writers and abstract painters, cool referred to a combination of wildness and intensity in men unconcerned with social conformity. Starting from jazz, cool was a rebel sensibility suggesting that an individual’s importance could be registered only through self-expression and the creation of a signature style. By 1960 cool was the protean password of a surging underground aesthetic.

 

Cool and the Counterculture: 1960-79

In the 1960s and 1970s, to be cool was to be antiauthoritarian and open to new ideas from young cultural leaders in rock and roll, journalism, film, and African American culture. Cool was a badge of opposition to “the System,” by turns a reference to the police, the government, the military-industrial complex, or traditional morality. Using drugs such as marijuana or even LSD was an indicator of risk taking and expanding one’s consciousness; not experimenting with drugs suggested a fear of opening one’s mind or perspective, of being “uptight” or “square.” The same was true of sexual exploration, social protest, and ethnic politics. The aesthetic of stylized understatement still held power, yet cool itself morphed under the era’s social upheavals. The counterculture valued being authentic and emotionally naked: being cool meant a person was “out-front” with others and comfortable in his or her own skin. For African Americans, what had once been suppressed under the mask of cool transformed into defiant civic engagement in music, sports, and politics. “Cool” meant to communicate a set of emotions without losing control, and rock and roll was the art form (and forum) best suited for this shift, especially for women. Patti Smith, Bonnie Raitt, Deborah Harry, and Chrissie Hynde all carved out new iconic stances, styles, and voices for independent women who were sexy on their own terms. Cool became the supreme compliment for creative public figures who broke new cultural ground and maintained their personal integrity over time.

 

The Legacies of Cool: 1980-Present

In 1980s America, the selling of rebellion as style became ingrained in cool. From highbrow fashion to mass-culture video games, product designers, advertisers, and consumers embraced the cool aesthetic. For many during this era, selling out was no longer a curse, as youth culture increasingly embraced the pursuit of wealth. And though some might proclaim that cool was dead, the concept stayed alive and grew in many quarters. From hip-hop to Seattle grunge, from skateboarding to the Internet, from street graffiti to MTV, cool became central to many of these new cultural forms. While its popularization tended to whiten this phenomenon, African American culture remained central to its growth. By the 1980s cool also had an easily recognizable history, and many figures from its past – like heroes from a bygone era – continued to resonate widely. Indeed, new icons of cool often built careers that owed much to these earlier exemplars. Throughout the twentieth century, cool was America’s chief cultural export. With the rapid growth of global communication and markets, it plays an even larger role both in the world’s understanding of America and in Americans’ own sense of national identity. The figures in this final section are representative of the legacies of cool as a distinct form of American expression.

Press release from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery website

 

Martin Munkacsi. 'Fred Astaire' 1936

 

Martin Munkacsi
Fred Astaire
1936
Gelatin silver print
Image (Image, Accurate): 24.1 x 19cm (9 1/2 x 7 1/2″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Audrey Hepburn' 1955

 

Philippe Halsman
Audrey Hepburn
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 34.9 x 27cm (13 3/4 x 10 5/8″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Dmitri Kasterine. 'Jean-Michel Basquait' 1986

 

Dmitri Kasterine
Jean-Michel Basquait
1986
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.3 x 37.7cm (15 1/16 x 14 13/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Cass Bird. 'Benicio Del Toro' 2008 (printed 2012)

 

Cass Bird
Benicio Del Toro
2008 (printed 2012)
Inkjet print
Image: 45.3 x 35.3 cm (17 13/16 x 13 7/8″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Carl Van Vechten. 'Bessie Smith' 1936

 

Carl Van Vechten
Bessie Smith
1936
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 25.2 x 18.6 cm (9 15/16 x 7 5/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

This is not only a landmark because it contains Bessie Smith’s only known film appearance but also for being one of the very first talkies ever made. This is the complete film co-starring Jimmy Mordecai as her gigolo boyfriend.

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Deborah Harry' 1978

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Deborah Harry
1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.9 x 34.9cm (13 3/4 x 13 3/4″)
Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Humphrey Bogart' 1944

 

Philippe Halsman
Humphrey Bogart
1944
Gelatin silver print
Image: 11.3 x 8.6cm (4 7/16 x 3 3/8″)
Mat: 45.7 x 35.6cm (18 x 14″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Samuel Hollyer. 'Leaves of Grass, 1st Edition' Copy after: Gabriel Harrison 1855

 

Samuel Hollyer
Leaves of Grass, 1st Edition
Copy after: Gabriel Harrison
1855
Book (closed): 28.9 x 20.6 x 1cm (11 3/8 x 8 1/8 x 3/8″)
Private Collection

 

Unidentified Artist. 'Frederick Douglas' 1856

 

Unidentified Artist
Frederick Douglas
1856
Quarter-plate ambrotype
Image: 10.6 x 8.6cm (4 3/16 x 3 3/8″)
Case (open): 11.9 x 19.1 x 1.3cm (4 11/16 x 7 1/2 x 1/2″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Linda McCartney. 'Jimi Hendrix' 1967 (printed later)

 

Linda McCartney
Jimi Hendrix
1967 (printed later)
Platinum print
Image: 51.3 x 35.3 cm (20 3/16 x 13 7/8″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

An incredible live performance of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) by Jimmy and his band in Stockholm, 1969.

 

William Paul Gottlieb. 'Duke Ellington' c. 1946 (printed 1991)

 

William Paul Gottlieb
Duke Ellington
c. 1946 (printed 1991)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.1 x 26.7 cm (13 7/16 x 10 1/2″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Fantastic performance footage of one of Jazz’s greatest stars – Duke Ellington. With performances of song of his most famous songs including “Mood Indigo”, “Caravan” & “Sophisticated Lady”

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was an American composer, pianist, and big-band leader. Ellington wrote over 1,000 compositions. A major figure in the history of jazz, Ellington’s music stretched into various other genres. His career spanned more than 50 years and included leading his orchestra, composing an inexhaustible songbook, scoring for movies, composing stage musicals, and world tours. Several of his instrumental works were adapted into songs that became standards. Due to his inventive use of the orchestra, or big band, and thanks to his eloquence and extraordinary charisma, he is generally considered to have elevated the perception of jazz to an art form on a par with other traditional genres of music. His reputation increased after his death and the Pulitzer Prize Board bestowed on him a special posthumous honor in 1999. Ellington called his music “American Music” rather than jazz, and liked to describe those who impressed him as “beyond category.”

 

Mark Seliger. 'Kurt Cobain' 1993 (printed 2013)

 

Mark Seliger
Kurt Cobain
1993 (printed 2013)
Platinum Palladium print
Image: 46.7 × 35.5 cm (18 3/8 × 14″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Marlon Brando' 1950 (printed later)

 

Philippe Halsman
Marlon Brando
1950 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.4 x 26.8cm (13 9/16 x 10 9/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Charles H. Stewart. 'Muddy Waters' c. 1960

 

Charles H. Stewart
Muddy Waters
c. 1960
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.4 x 18.4cm (10 x 7 1/4″)
Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University

 

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt. 'Lauren Bacall' 1949 (printed 2013)

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt
Lauren Bacall
1949 (printed 2013)
Pigmented ink jet print
Image: 40.3 x 27.9cm (15 7/8 x 11″)

 

Kate Simon. 'Madonna' 1983 (printed 2013)

 

Kate Simon
Madonna
1983 (printed 2013)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 33.7 × 22.9cm (13 1/4 × 9″)
© Kate Simon

 

 

Aram Avakian. 'Miles Davis' 1955 (printed 2012)

 

Aram Avakian
Miles Davis
1955 (printed 2012)
Modern print made from original negative
Image: 34.6 × 24.1cm (13 5/8 × 9 1/2″)

 

 

Unidentified Artist. 'Bix Beiderbecke' c. 1920

 

Unidentified Artist
Bix Beiderbecke
c. 1920
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.1 x 11.4cm (7 1/2 x 4 1/2″)
Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University

 

 

Leon Bismark “Bix” Beiderbecke (March 10, 1903 – August 6, 1931) was an American jazz cornetist, jazz pianist, and composer.

With Louis Armstrong and Muggsy Spanier, Beiderbecke was one of the most influential jazz soloists of the 1920s. His turns on “Singin’ the Blues” and “I’m Coming, Virginia” (both 1927), in particular, demonstrated an unusual purity of tone and a gift for improvisation. With these two recordings, especially, he helped to invent the jazz ballad style and hinted at what, in the 1950s, would become cool jazz. “In a Mist” (1927), one of a handful of his piano compositions and one of only two he recorded, mixed classical (Impressionist) influences with jazz syncopation.

 

Gerard-Malanga-lou-reed-WEB

 

Gerard Malanga
Lou Reed
1966
Gelatin silver print
Image: 48.3 x 36.2cm (19 x 14 1/4″)
© Martin Irvine

 

 

Arnold A. Newman. 'Jackson Pollock' 1949

 

Arnold A. Newman
Jackson Pollock
1949
Gelatin silver print
Image: 46 x 36.7cm (18 1/8 x 14 7/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Lynn Goldsmith. 'Patti Smith' 1976 (printed 2012)

 

Lynn Goldsmith
Patti Smith
1976 (printed 2012)
Digital inkjet print
Image: 46.9 x 30 cm (18 7/16 x 11 13/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Clint Eastwood' 1971

 

Philippe Halsman
Clint Eastwood
1971
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.3 x 27.3cm (13 1/2 x 10 3/4″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Richard Avedon. 'Bob Dylan, Singer, New York City, February 10, 1965' 1965

 

Richard Avedon
Bob Dylan, Singer, New York City, February 10, 1965
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.4 × 20.3cm (10 × 8″)
© Richard Avedon Foundation

 

 

Eli Reed. 'Tupac Shakur' 1992 (printed 2013)

 

Eli Reed
Tupac Shakur
1992 (printed 2013)
Digitally exposed chromogenic print
Image: 34.6 x 27.3 cm (13 5/8 x 10 3/4″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

William Paul Gottlieb. 'Gene Krupa at 400 Restaurant, New York City' June 1946

 

William Paul Gottlieb
Gene Krupa at 400 Restaurant, New York City
June 1946
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 35.6 x 27.9cm (14 x 11″)
Estate of William Gottlieb

 

Eugene Bertram “Gene” Krupa (January 15, 1909 – October 16, 1973) was an American jazz and big band drummer, actor and composer, known for his highly energetic and flamboyant style. In the 1930s, Krupa became the first endorser of Slingerland drums. At Krupa’s urging, Slingerland developed tom-toms with tuneable top and bottom heads, which immediately became important elements of virtually every drummer’s setup. Krupa developed and popularized many of the cymbal techniques that became standards. His collaboration with Armand Zildjian of the Avedis Zildjian Company developed the modern hi-hat cymbals and standardized the names and uses of the ride cymbal, the crash cymbal, the splash cymbal, the pang cymbal and the swish cymbal. One of his bass drums, a Slingerland inscribed with Benny Goodman’s and Krupa’s initials, is preserved at the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. In 1978, Krupa became the first drummer inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.

 

 

 

 

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
8th and F Sts NW
Washington, DC 20001

Opening hours:
11.30 am – 7.00 pm daily

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery 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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