Posts Tagged ‘Black White and Things

09
Oct
20

Exhibition: ‘Robert Frank – Memories’ at the Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zürich

Exhibition dates: 12th September 2020 – 10th January 2021

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'White Tower, New York' 1948

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
White Tower, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

An interesting selection of media images, including some early Swiss and American photographs, which are rarely seen.

Frank’s perceptiveness of human beings and their context of being and becoming is incredible. Look at the faces in Landsgemeinde, Hundwil (1949, below), Paris (1952, below) and the attitude of the bodies, surmounted by the sun (top left), in London (1951, below).

“It is important to see what is invisible to others.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

The recently deceased Robert Frank is widely regarded as one of the most important photographers of our time. His book The Americans, first published in Paris in 1958 and then in New York the following year, is quite possibly the most influential photo book of the 20th century. As a kind of photographic road movie, it sketches a gloomy social portrait that served as a wake-up call to all of America at the time. And his personal style, alternating between documentary and subjective expression, radically changed post-war photography. But The Americans wasn’t merely a spontaneous stroke of genius. Frank’s early works already feature back stories and side plots that are closely connected to the themes and images of his legendary book. The Fotostiftung Schweiz holds a collection of lesser-known works – many of which were donated by the artist – which illustrate the consolidation of Frank’s subjective style. In addition to essays from Switzerland and Europe, it also includes works from early 1950s America that are on par with the well-known classics, but remained unpublished for editorial reasons. At the heart of the exhibition Robert Frank – Memories is the narrative force of Frank’s visual language, which developed in opposition to all conventions and only received international recognition when Frank had already abandoned photography and turned to the medium of film.

The exhibition is accompanied by a presentation of the books that publisher Gerhard Steidl produced with Robert Frank over a period of more than 15 years.

 

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'New York City' 1948

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
New York City
1948
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Landsgemeinde, Hundwil' 1949

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Landsgemeinde, Hundwil
1949
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Landsgemeinde, Hundwil' 1949

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Landsgemeinde, Hundwil
1949
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Landsgemeinde, Hundwil' 1949 (detail)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Landsgemeinde, Hundwil (detail)
1949
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Landsgemeinde, Hundwil' 1949 (detail)

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Landsgemeinde, Hundwil (detail)
1949
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'London' 1951

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
London
1951
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Paris' 1952

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Paris
1952
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'New York City' early 1950s

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
New York City
early 1950s
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

Robert Frank, who was born in Zurich in 1924 and died last year in Canada, is widely regarded as one of the most important photographers of our time. Over the course of decades, he has expanded the boundaries of photography and explored its narrative potential like no other. Robert Frank travelled thousands of miles between the American East and West Coasts in the mid-1950s, going through nearly 700 films in the process. A selection of 83 black-and-white images from this blend of diary, sombre social portrait and photographic road movie would leave its mark on generations of photographers to come. The photobook The Americans was first published in Paris, followed by the US in 1959 – with an introduction by Beat writer Jack Kerouac, no less. Off-kilter compositions, cut-off figures and blurred motion marked a new photographic style teetering between documentation and narration that would have a profound impact on postwar photography.

It is quite possibly the single most influential book in the history of photography; however, rather than being a spontaneous stroke of genius, Frank had worked on his subjective visual language for years. Many of his photographs from Switzerland, Europe and South America, as well as his rarely shown works from the USA in the early 1950s, are on a par with the famous classics from The Americans. The photographer’s early work, which remained unpublished for editorial reasons and is therefore little known to this day, reveals connections to those iconic pictures that still define our image of America, even today.

At the heart of the exhibition Robert Frank – Memories is the narrative force of Robert Frank’s visual language, which developed in opposition to all conventions and only received international recognition after Frank had already abandoned photography and turned to the medium of film. The exhibition mainly features vintage silver gelatin prints from the collection of the Fotostiftung Schweiz, which either come from the former collection of Robert Frank’s long-time friend Werner Zryd (now owned by the Swiss Confederation) or were donated to the Fotostiftung Schweiz by the artist himself. They are complemented by a number of loans from the Fotomuseum Winterthur. A presentation of the books and films that publisher Gerhard Steidl released with Robert Frank over a period of more than 15 years accompanies the exhibition (in the corridor leading to the library and in the seminar room).

 

Early Work

In March 1947, Robert Frank arrived in New York following an adventurous journey on a cargo ship. The young, ambitious photographer had found Switzerland too stifling and he hoped to gain new freedom in America liberated from social and family obligations. The photographer carried a 6×6 Rolleiflex and a small spiral-bound book of 40 photographs taken during his apprentice years from 1941 to 1946. This portfolio included landscapes, portraits, personal photojournalistic works, and meticulously executed still lifes, all of which reveal that the 22-year old was a highly skilled photographer. It is therefore unsurprising that influential Harper’s Bazaar art director Alexey Brodovitch swiftly hired Frank as an assistant photographer after seeing his portfolio and first test photos.

In the magazine’s in-house photo studio, Frank photographed fashion industry products from clinical shots of women’s shoes and every imaginable accessory to laboriously staged fashion shoots and occasionally even photojournalistic assignments offering a little more freedom. Frank was successful and rose through the ranks, but quickly realised that this industry cared only about money, an attitude to which he couldn’t reconcile himself. Only a few months later, he quit his job in order to be able to work wholly free of constraints. He traveled to Peru and Bolivia the following year and often used his 35 mm Leica. Later he recalled: “I was making a kind of diary. I was very free with the camera. I didn’t think of what would be the correct thing to do; I did what I felt good doing. I was like an action painter.”

Frank returned to Europe in spring 1949. He photographed the yearly cantonal assembly in the Swiss canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden, during which citizens (exclusively men back then) voted by a show of hands. However, he was unsuccessful in placing this story with a major periodical, even though he circulated the images via the acclaimed agency Magnum. Evidently, Frank had focused too little on the actual events. He was more interested in the bystanders’ stances than in the pomp of government officials wearing tailcoats and top hats. His photographs of this assembly prefigure the penetrating and critical gaze he would later level on America’s societal and political landscape. Here as there, his was an outsider’s subjective and inward looking perspective.

 

Black White and Things

In late 1949, the international magazine Camera published a first selection of Robert Frank’s work. The accompanying text described him as a photographer who loved “truth and unvarnished reality”, as someone “whose thirst for experience compelled him to get out and capture life with his camera”. Indeed, Frank worked chiefly in Paris, London, and Spain between 1949 and 1953, frequently traveling between Europe and the US. He reported on a bullfighter in Spain and observed life in London’s financial district. In Paris he took pictures of objects – mostly chairs and flowers – photographs he assembled in an album dedicated to his future wife. In subsequent years, he shook off any sentimental tendencies.

Frank continued his attempts to publish both smaller and more substantial stories and photo essays in glossy magazines such as Life, but with limited success. His reportage on Welsh coal miner Ben James, which appeared in U.S. Camera 1955 annual, was a rare exception. But Frank found himself less and less able to reconcile himself with the conventional view of photography as a universal language accessible to all. Instead, he increasingly distanced himself from print media’s expectations and developed a strong aversion to what he once termed stereotypical “Life stories”, “those goddamned stories with a beginning and an end”.

In autumn 1952, Frank created Black White and Things with his Zurich-based friend Werner Zryd. This handmade book comprising 34 photographs was an attempt to counter these expectations with something new: an intuitively ordered series of photos with neither text nor linear narrative structure, introduced simply by Saint-Exupéry’s famed lines from The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Accordingly, Black White and Things is a kind of three-part visual poem: “Black” evokes death, materialism, loneliness, and anonymity; “White” evokes home, love, religion, and camaraderie; and “Things” engages with diametrical oppositions such as friendship and cruelty, and affection and solitude. The order and pairing of the images sparks thoughts, associations, and feelings. Yet Frank’s evocative arrangement is intentionally ambiguous and open: “Something must be left for the onlooker, he must have something to see. It is not all said for him.”

 

America, America

After a further trip to New York – which he assured his mother would be his last – Robert Frank applied for a Guggenheim fellowship in October 1954. His project proposal was for an “observation and record of what one naturalised American finds to see in the United States that signifies the kind of civilisation born here and spreading elsewhere”. The result was to be a book, for which he had already won support from Arnold Kübler, the long-standing editor of the Zurich-based culture magazine Du, and Robert Delpire, a young publisher in Paris. Thanks to help from Alexey Brodovitch, Walker Evans, Edward Steichen and others, Frank was the first European photographer to be awarded this generous fellowship. The award made it possible for him to set off on his now-legendary road trips across the US in spring 1955.

Over almost two years, Frank took more than 20,000 photographs on his travels. He made roughly 1,000 work prints in the autumn and winter of 1956-57, which he pinned to the walls and laid on the floor of his apartment. At the time his home was East Village, New York, where artists including Alfred Leslie and Willem de Kooning also lived. Over many months Frank made countless passes through his photographs, eliminating those images he was unsure of and focusing on specific themes. He constantly rearranged the selection that was gradually coming together until he had a first mocked-up book with just under 90 images and the provisional title America, America. Frank took this book with him when he traveled to Europe in summer 1957, showing it to Delpire and his Swiss photographer friend Gotthard Schuh.

Over the years, the America photographs not included in his final selection disappeared into archives and collections or even got lost altogether. Only recently has it been possible to ascertain that many of the rejected and unpublished photographs were of the same caliber as the 83 book images Frank and Delpire agreed on. Frank’s contact sheets show that these photos were often taken directly before or after the images that have become icons of photographic history. Rather than putting forth a single message, Frank’s dark take on 1950s America contains impressive variations, facets, and excursuses that made a powerful impression on many, including his early supporter, Schuh. Schuh wrote to his young friend: “I don’t know America, but your photographs frighten me because in them you show, with visionary alertness, things that affect us all.”

 

The Americans

Following the first French edition of Les Américains, Robert Frank’s book was published as The Americans in New York in 1959. The English edition dropped the cover illustration and the selection of texts on America (which Delpire had insisted on over Frank’s protests), and added an introduction by Jack Kerouac. Frank had much in common with the Beat poets, though he only met them after his Guggenheim-funded travels. Like Kerouac’s main character in On the Road, Frank crisscrossed the country with apparent aimlessness, working spontaneously. Moreover, his work shares a stylistic consonance with Beat literature: Frank had abandoned all technical conventions and photographed intuitively instead. Many of his photographs are underexposed and grainy; they frame a scene and omit key details; their horizons are slanting and the lighting is often murky. Frank’s focus was the everyday, the fleeting, and the marginal. People are shown turning away from the camera, and his landscapes are desolate and bleak, “really more like Russia”, as Frank once remarked to Kerouac. He flouted the rules he had learned during his early training as a photographer in Switzerland in order to be as true as possible to his subjective experience and to capture unvarnished reality.

Kerouac’s introduction begins with the words: “That crazy feeling in America when the sun is hot on the streets and music comes out of the jukeboxes or from a nearby funeral, that’s what Robert Frank has captured in tremendous photographs taken as he traveled on the road around practically forty-eight states in an old used car (on Guggenheim Fellowship) and with the agility, mystery, genius, sadness and strange secrecy of a shadow photographed scenes that have never been seen before on film …” The Americans is a long, poetic image arc with cross-references, digressions, and associations, but also mental leaps and ambiguities, which provoked many critics. Although most acknowledged that Frank’s photographs were highly powerful, they read his take on Americans as a malicious attack on the country. Frank, a Jewish foreigner, was resented for picking up on the racism, hollow patriotism, commodified cheer, and political corruption lurking behind the façade of American society. Even before his groundbreaking book was published, Robert Frank wrote: “Above all, I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference. Opinion often consists of a kind of criticism. But criticism can come out of love. It is important to see what is invisible to others.”

Martin Gasser, Curator

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) "Los Angeles" 1955

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
“Los Angeles”
1955
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'City fathers – Hoboken, New Jersey' 1955

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
City fathers – Hoboken, New Jersey
1955
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Bus-Stop, Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Bus-Stop, Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Bar – Gallup, New Mexico' 1955

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Bar – Gallup, New Mexico
1955
Gelatin silver print
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Charity Ball – New York' 1954

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Charity Ball – New York
1954
© Andrea Frank Foundation; courtesy Pace / MacGill Gallery, New York
Collection of the Swiss Photo Foundation

 

Müller + Hess, Wendelin Hess and Jesse Wyss, Basel / Zurich

 

Müller + Hess, Wendelin Hess and Jesse Wyss, Basel / Zurich

 

 

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

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

Fotostiftung Schweiz website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

05
Jul
15

Exhibition: ‘In Light of the Past’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 3rd May – 26th July 2015

Curators: The curators of In Light of the Past: Celebrating 25 Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art are Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs, and Diane Waggoner, associate curator, department of photographs, National Gallery of Art.

 

 

What a great title for an exhibition. Photography always evidences light of the past, we live in light of the past (the light of the Sun takes just over 8 minutes to reach Earth) and, for whatever reason, human beings never seem to learn from mistakes, in light of the past history of the human race.

My favourites in this postings are the 19th century photographs, to which I am becoming further attuned the more I look at them. There is almost a point when you become psychologically enmeshed with their light, with the serenity of the images, a quality that most contemporary photographs seem to have lost. There is a quietness to their presence, a contemplation on the nature of the world through the pencil of nature that is captivating. You only have to look at Gustave Le Gray’s The Pont du Carrousel, Paris: View to the West from the Pont des Arts (1856-1858, below) to understand the everlasting, transcendent charisma of these images. Light, space, time, eternity.

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.

The Collection of Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Washington (110kb Word doc)

 

 

William Henry Fox Talbot. 'A Scene in York: York Minster from Lop Lane' 1845

 

William Henry Fox Talbot
A Scene in York: York Minster from Lop Lane
1845
Salted paper print
16.2 x 20.4 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Edward J. Lenkin Fund, Melvin and Thelma Lenkin Fund and Stephen G. Stein Fund, 2011

 

A British polymath equally adept in astronomy, chemistry, Egyptology, physics, and philosophy, Talbot spent years inventing a photographic process that created paper negatives, which were then used to make positive prints – the conceptual basis of nearly all photography until the digital age. Calotypes, as he came to call them, are softer in effect than daguerreotypes, the other process announced in 1839. Though steeped in the sciences, Talbot understood the ability of his invention to make striking works of art. Here the partially obstructed view of the cathedral rising from the confines of the city gives a sense of discovery, of having just turned the corner and encountered this scene.

 

Carleton E. Watkins. 'Piwac, Vernal Falls, 300 feet, Yosemite' 1861

 

Carleton E. Watkins
Piwac, Vernal Falls, 300 feet, Yosemite
1861
Albumen print
39.9 x 52.3 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson, 1995

 

The westward expansion of America opened up new opportunities for photographers such as Watkins and William Bell. Joining government survey expeditions, hired by railroad companies, or catering to tourists and the growing demand for grand views of nature, they created photographic landscapes that reached a broad audience of scientists, businessmen, and engineers, as well as curious members of the middle class. Watkins’s photographs of the sublime Yosemite Valley, which often recall landscape paintings of similar majestic subjects, helped convince Congress to pass a bill in 1864 protecting the area from development and commercial exploitation.

 

Charles Nègre. 'Market Scene at the Port of the Hotel de Ville, Paris' before February 1852

 

Charles Nègre
Market Scene at the Port of the Hotel de Ville, Paris
before February 1852
Salted paper print
14.7 x 19.9 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2003

 

Eugène Cuvelier. 'Belle-Croix' 1860s

 

Eugène Cuvelier
Belle-Croix
1860s
Albumen print
Image: 25.4 x 34.3 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gail and Benjamin Jacobs for the Millennium Fund, 2007

 

In the second half of the nineteenth century, some photographers in France, hired by governmental agencies to make photographic inventories or simply catering to the growing demand for pictures of Paris, drew on the medium’s documentary abilities to record the nation’s architectural patrimony and the modernization of Paris. Others explored the camera’s artistic potential by capturing the ephemeral moods of nature in the French countryside. Though photographers faced difficulties in carting around heavy equipment and operating in the field, they learned how to master the elements that directly affected their pictures, from securing the right vantage point to dealing with movement, light, and changing atmospheric conditions during long exposure times.

 

Gustave Le Gray. 'The Pont du Carrousel, Paris: View to the West from the Pont des Arts' 1856-1858

 

Gustave Le Gray
The Pont du Carrousel, Paris: View to the West from the Pont des Arts
1856-1858
Albumen print
37.8 x 48.8 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1995

 

Édouard-Denis Baldus. 'Toulon, Train Station' c. 1861

 

Édouard-Denis Baldus
Toulon, Train Station
c. 1861
Albumen print
27.4 x 43.1 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1995

 

 

In Light of the Past: Celebrating 25 Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art, on view in the West Building from May 3 through July 26, 2015, will commemorate more than two decades of the Gallery’s robust photography program. Some 175 of the collection’s most exemplary holdings will reveal the evolution of the art of photography, from its birth in 1839 to the late 1970s. In Light of the Past is one of three stellar exhibitions that will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the National Gallery of Art’s commitment to photography acquisitions, exhibitions, scholarly catalogues, and programs.

In Light of the Past includes some of the rarest and most compelling photographs ever created,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art, Washington. “It also honors the generous support of our donors who have enabled us to achieve this new place of prominence for photography at the Gallery.”
.

About the exhibition

In Light of the Past begins with exceptional 19th-century salted paper prints, daguerreotypes, and albumen prints by acclaimed early practitioners such as William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884), Roger Fenton (1819-1869), Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), Albert Sands Southworth (1811-1894, and Josiah Johnson Hawes (1808-1901). It also displays works by American expeditionary photographers, including William Bell (1830-1910) and Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916).

The exhibition continues with late 19th- and early 20th-century American pictorialist photographs by Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), Clarence H. White (1871-1925), Gertrude Käsebier (1852-1934), and Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966), among others, as well as European masters such as Eugène Atget (1857-1927). The exhibition also examines the international photographic modernism of artists such as Paul Strand (1890-1976), André Kertész (1894-1985), Marianne Brandt (1893-1983), László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), and Ilse Bing (1899-1998) before turning to the mid-20th century, where exceptional work by Walker Evans (1903-1975), Robert Frank (b. 1924), Harry Callahan (1912-1999), Irving Penn (1917-2009), Lee Friedlander (b. 1934), and Diane Arbus (1923-1971) will be on view.

The exhibition concludes with pictures from the 1960s and 1970s, showcasing works by photographers such as Robert Adams (b. 1937), Lewis Baltz (1945-2014), and William Eggleston (b. 1939), as well as Mel Bochner (b. 1940) and Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), which demonstrate the diverse practices that invigorated photography during these decades.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Art

 

Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes. 'The Letter' c. 1850

 

Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes
The Letter
c. 1850
Daguerreotype
Plate: 20.3 x 15.2 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1999

 

Working together in Boston, the portrait photographers Southworth and Hawes aimed to capture the character of their subjects using the daguerreotype process. Invented in France and one of the two photographic processes introduced to the public in early 1839, the daguerreotype is made by exposing a silver-coated copper plate to light and then treating it with chemicals to bring out the image. The heyday of the technique was the 1840s and 1850s, when it was used primarily for making portraits. The daguerreotype’s long exposure time usually resulted in frontal, frozen postures and stern facial expressions; this picture’s pyramidal composition and strong sentiments of friendship and companionship are characteristic of Southworth and Hawes’s innovative approach.

 

Clarence H. White. 'The Hillside' c. 1898

 

Clarence H. White
The Hillside
c. 1898
Gum dichromate print
20.8 x 15.88 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2008

 

The Photo-Secession

At the turn of the century in America, Alfred Stieglitz and his colleague Edward Steichen led the movement to establish photography’s status as a fine art. In 1902 Stieglitz founded an organization called the Photo-Secession, consisting of young artists who shared his belief in the creative potential of the medium. Many of the photographers featured here were members of the group, including Gertrude Käsebier, Clarence White, and Alvin Langdon Coburn. Through the exhibitions Stieglitz organized in his New York gallery, called 291, and the essays he published in his influential quarterly, Camera Work, he and the Photo-Secession promoted the pictorialist aesethetic of softly textured, painterly pictures that elicit emotion and appeal to the imagination. Occasionally the photographers’ compositions refer to other works of art, such as Steichen’s portrait of his friend Auguste Rodin, whose pose recalls one of the sculptor’s most famous works, The Thinker. Influenced by the modern European and American painting, sculpture, and drawing he exhibited at 291, Stieglitz lost interest in the Photo-Secession in the early 1910s and began to explore a more straightforward expression.

 

Eugène Atget. 'Saint-Cloud' 1926

 

Eugène Atget
Saint-Cloud
1926
Albumen print
22.2 x 18.1 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2006

 

Using a cumbersome camera mounted on a tripod, Atget recorded the myriad facets of Paris and its environs at the turn of the century. Transforming ordinary scenes into poetic evocations, he created a visual compendium of the objects, architecture, and landscapes that were expressive of French culture and its history. He sold his photographs to artists, architects, and craftsmen, as well as to libraries and museums interested in the vanishing old city. Throughout his career he returned repeatedly to certain subjects and discovered that the variations caused by changing light, atmosphere, and season provided inexhaustible subjects for the perceptive photographer.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'The Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty' June 1866

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
The Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty
June 1866
Albumen print
36.1 x 26.7 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, New Century Fund, 1997

 

Ensconced in the intellectual and artistic circles of midcentury England, Cameron manipulated focus and light to create poetic pictures rich in references to literature, mythology, and history. Her monumental views of life-sized heads were unprecedented, and with them she hoped to define a new mode of photography that would rival the expressive power of painting and sculpture. The title of this work alludes to John Milton’s mid-seventeenth-century poem L’Allegro. Describing the happy life of one who finds pleasure and beauty in the countryside, the poem includes the lines:

Come, and trip it as ye go
On the light fantastic toe;
And in thy right hand lead with thee,
The mountain nymph, sweet Liberty.

 

Dr Guillaume-Benjamin-Amant Duchenne (de Boulogne). 'Figure 63, "Fright" from "Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine (Mechanism of human physiognomy)" (1862)' 1854-1855

 

Dr Guillaume-Benjamin-Amant Duchenne (de Boulogne)
Figure 63, “Fright” from “Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine (Mechanism of human physiognomy)” (1862)
1854-1855
Albumen print
21.5 × 16 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2015

 

A neurologist, physiologist, and photographer, Duchenne de Boulogne conducted a series of experiments in the mid-1850s in which he applied electrical currents to various facial muscles to study how they produce expressions of emotion. Convinced that these electrically-induced expressions accurately rendered internal feelings, he then photographed his subjects to establish a precise visual lexicon of human emotions, such as pain, surprise, fear, and sadness. In 1862 he included this photograph representing fright in a treatise on physiognomy (a pseudoscience that assumes a relationship between external appearance and internal character), which enjoyed broad popularity among artists and scientists.

 

Lewis Hine. 'An Anaemic Little Spinner in a New England Cotton Mill (North Pownal, Vermont)' 1910

 

Lewis Hine
An Anaemic Little Spinner in a New England Cotton Mill (North Pownal, Vermont)
1910
Gelatin silver print
24.1 × 19.2 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2015

 

Trained as a sociologist and initially employed as a teacher, Hine used the camera both as a research tool and an instrument of social reform. One of the earliest and most influential social documentary photographers of his time, he made many pictures under the auspices of the National Child Labor Committee, an organization formed in 1904 to promote better working conditions for children. Hine’s focus on the thin, frail body of this barefoot twelve-year-old spinner, who stands before rows of bobbins in the mill where she worked, was meant to illustrate the unhealthy effects of her employment. Photographs like this one were crucial to the campaign to change American child labor laws in the early twentieth century.

 

 

In Light of the Past: Twenty-Five Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art

Georgia O’Keeffe and the Alfred Stieglitz Estate laid the foundation of the photography collection of the National Gallery of Art in 1949 with their donation of 1,650 Stieglitz photographs, an unparalleled group known as the Key Set. Yet the Gallery did not start actively acquiring photographs until 1990, when it launched an initiative to build a collection of works by European and American photographers from throughout the history of the medium and mount major exhibitions with scholarly publications. Now including nearly fifteen thousand prints, the collection encompasses the rich diversity of photographic practice from fine art to scientific and amateur photography, as well as photojournalism. It is distinguished by its large holdings of works by many of the medium’s most acclaimed masters, such as Paul Strand, Walker Evans, André Kertész, Ilse Bing, Robert Frank, Harry Callahan, Lee Friedlander, Gordon Parks, Irving Penn, and Robert Adams, among others.

In Light of the Past celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1990 initiative by presenting some of the Gallery’s finest photographs made from the early 1840s to the late 1970s. It is divided into four sections arranged chronologically. The first traces the evolution of the art of photography during its first decades in the work of early British, French, and American practitioners. The second looks at the contributions of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century photographers, from Stieglitz and the American pictorialists to European masters such as Eugène Atget. The third section examines the international photographic modernism of the 1920s and 1930s, and the fourth features seminal mid-twentieth-century photographers. The exhibition concludes with pictures representing the varied practices of those working in the late 1960s and 1970s.
.

The Nineteenth Century: The Invention of Photography

In 1839 a new means of visual representation was announced to a startled world: photography. Although the medium was immediately and enthusiastically embraced by the public at large, photographers themselves spent the ensuing decades experimenting with techniques and debating the nature of this new invention. The works in this section suggest the range of questions addressed by these earliest practitioners. Was photography best understood as an art or a science? What subjects should photographs depict, what purpose should they serve, and what should they look like? Should photographers work within the aesthetics established in other arts, such as painting, or explore characteristics that seemed unique to the medium? This first generation of photographers became part scientists as they mastered a baffling array of new processes and learned how to handle their equipment and material. Yet they also grappled with aesthetic issues, such as how to convey the tone, texture, and detail of multicolored reality in a monochrome medium. They often explored the same subjects that had fascinated artists for centuries – portraits, landscapes, genre scenes, and still lifes – but they also discovered and exploited the distinctive ways in which the camera frames and presents the world.
.

Photography at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

In the late nineteenth century, improvements in technology and processing, along with the invention of small handheld cameras such as the Kodak, suddenly made it possible for anyone of middle-class means to take photographs. Many amateurs took up the camera to commemorate family, friends, and special events. Others, such as the sociologist Lewis Hine, used it as a tool for social and political change. Partially in response to the new ease of photography, more serious practitioners in America and Europe banded together to assert the artistic merit of the medium. Called pictorialists, they sought to prove that photography was just as capable of poetic, subjective expression as painting. They freely manipulated their prints to reveal their authorial control, often resulting in painterly effects, and consciously separated themselves from amateur photographers and mechanized processes.
.

Photography Between the Wars

In the aftermath of World War I – the first modern, mechanized conflict – sweeping changes transformed photography. Avant-garde painters, graphic designers, and journalists turned to the medium, seeing it as the most effective tool to express the fractured, fast-paced nature of modernity and the new technological culture of the twentieth century. A wide variety of new approaches and techniques flourished during these years, especially in Europe. Photographers adopted radical cropping, unusual angles, disorienting vantage points, abstraction, collage, and darkroom alchemy to achieve what the influential Hungarian teacher László Moholy-Nagy celebrated as the “new vision.” Other photographers, such as the German August Sander or the Americans Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, and Walker Evans, sought a more rigorous objectivity grounded in a precise examination of the world.
.

Postwar Photography

Photography thrived in the decades after World War II, invigorated by new ideas, practices, and expanding venues for circulating and displaying pictures. Immediately after the war, many photographers sought to publish their pictures in illustrated magazines, which prospered during these years. Some, such as Gordon Parks, made photographs highlighting racial, economic, and social disparities. Others, such as Louis Faurer, Sid Grossman, and Robert Frank, turned to the street to address the conditions of modern life in pictures that expose both its beauty and brutality. Using handheld cameras and available light, they focused on the random choreography of sidewalks, making pictures that are often blurred, out of focus, or off-kilter.

In the later 1950s and 1960s a number of photographers pushed these ideas further, mining the intricate social interactions of urban environments. Unlike photographers from the 1930s, these practitioners, such as Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, and Diane Arbus, sought not to reform American society but to record it in all its complexity, absurdity, and chaos. By the late 1960s and 1970s, other photographers, such as Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz, looked beyond conventional notions of natural beauty to explore the despoliation of the urban and suburban landscape. Their pictures of tract houses, highways, and motels are stripped of any artistic frills, yet they are exquisitely rendered and replete with telling details. Also starting in the 1960s, many conceptual or performance artists working in a variety of media embraced what they perceived to be photography’s neutrality and turned to it as an essential part of their experiments to expand traditional notions of art. In the late 1960s, improvements in color printing techniques led others, such as William Eggleston, to explore the artistic potential of color photography.

 

Edward Steichen. 'An Apple, A Boulder, A Mountain' 1921

 

Edward Steichen
An Apple, A Boulder, A Mountain
1921
Platinum print
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2014

 

After World War I, Steichen became disillusioned with the painterly aesthetic of his earlier work and embarked on a series of experiments to study light, form, and texture. Inverting an apple, he demonstrated how a small object, when seen in a new way, can assume the monumentality and significance of a much larger one. His close-up scrutiny of a natural form closely links this photograph with works by other American modernists of the 1920s, such as Edward Weston, Paul Strand, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

 

Paul Strand. 'People, Streets of New York, 83rd and West End Avenue' 1916

 

Paul Strand
People, Streets of New York, 83rd and West End Avenue
1916
Platinum print
Image: 24.2 x 33 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1990

 

Strand was introduced to photography in high school by his teacher Lewis Hine, who instilled in him a strong interest in social issues. In 1907, Hine took his pupil to Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 gallery in New York, which launched Strand’s desire to become a fine art photographer. By the early 1910s, influenced by Stieglitz, he began to make clearly delineated portraits, pictures of New York, and nearly abstract still lifes. Strand came to believe that photography was a gift of science to the arts, that it was an art of selection, not translation, and that objectivity was its very essence.

 

American 20th Century. 'Untitled' c. 1930

 

American 20th Century
Untitled
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
Image: 5.7 x 10 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert E. Jackson, 2007

 

Snapshots

After World War I, a parade of technological improvements transformed the practice of photography. With smaller cameras, faster shutter speeds, and more sensitive film emulsions, both amateurs and more serious practitioners could now easily record motion, investigate unexpected angles and points of view, and work in dim light and inclement weather. The amateur’s less staid, more casual approach began to play an important role in the work of modernist photographers as they explored spontaneity and instantaneity, seeking to capture the cacophony and energy of modern life. Blurriness, distorted perspectives, and seemingly haphazard cropping-once considered typical amateur mistakes-were increasingly embraced as part of the modern, vibrant way of picturing the world.

 

Robert Frank. 'City of London' 1951

 

Robert Frank
City of London
1951
Gelatin silver print
23 x 33.6 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert Frank Collection, Purchased as a Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, 1991

 

Robert Frank. 'Woman/Paris' 1952

 

Robert Frank
Woman/Paris
1952
Gelatin silver print in bound volume
Image: 35.1 x 25.4 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert Frank Collection, Gift (Partial and Promised) of Robert Frank, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, 1990

 

 

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Frank made several handbound volumes of photographs, exploring different ways to link his pictures through non-narrative sequences. While in Zurich in October 1952, he assembled pictures taken in Europe, South America, and the United States in a book called Black White and Things. With a brief introductory quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” – the photographs are arranged in a sophisticated sequence that uses formal repetition, conceptual contrasts, and, as here, witty juxtapositions to evoke a range of ideas …

While in Zurich in October of 1952, Frank assembled photographs taken in Europe, South America, and the United States in the preceding years into a bound book called Black White and Things. Designed by Frank’s friend Werner Zryd, and with only a brief introductory statement describing the three sections, the photographs appear in a sophisticated sequence that relies on subtle, witty juxtapositions and powerful visual formal arrangements to evoke a wide range of emotions.

Frank made three copies of this book, all identical in size, construction, and sequence. He gave one copy to his father, gave one to Edward Steichen, and kept one. The book that belonged to his father is now in a private collection; Steichen’s copy resides at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and in 1990 Frank gave his copy to the Robert Frank Collection at the National Gallery of Art.

 

Robert Frank. 'Trolley - New Orleans' 1955

 

Robert Frank
Trolley – New Orleans
1955
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 21 x 31.6 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Maria and Lee Friedlander, 2001

 

Roy DeCarava. 'Mississippi Freedom Marcher, Washington, D.C.' 1963

 

Roy DeCarava
Mississippi Freedom Marcher, Washington, D.C.
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.5 x 33 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel, 1999

 

Lee Friedlander. 'New York City' 1966

 

Lee Friedlander
New York City
1966
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13.3 x 20.6 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Trellis Fund, 2001

 

Heir to the tradition of documentary photography established by Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, and Robert Frank, Friedlander focuses on the American social landscape in photographs that can seem absurd, comical, and even bleak. In dense, complex compositions, he frequently depicts surprising juxtapositions that make the viewer look twice. He has made numerous self-portraits, yet he appears in these pictures in oblique and unexpected ways, for example reflected in a mirror or window. The startling intrusion of Friedlander’s shadow onto the back of a pedestrian’s coat, at once threatening and humorous, slyly exposes the predatory nature of street photography.

 

Giovanni Anselmo. 'Entering the Work' 1971

 

Giovanni Anselmo
Entering the Work
1971
Photographic emulsion on canvas
Image: 49 x 63.5 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Glenstone in honor of Eileen and Michael Cohen, 2008

 

 

Conceptual Photography

In the 1960s, many painters and sculptors questioned the traditional emphasis on aesthetics and turned to creating art driven by ideas. Photography’s association with mechanical reproduction appealed to them as they sought to downplay the hand of the artist while promoting his or her role as idea maker. Some conceptual artists, such as Sol Lewitt and Mel Bochner, used photographs to explore an interest in perspective, scale, and mathematics. Others turned to photography as a tool to record performances and artistic undertakings, the resulting pictures acting as an integral part of those projects.

Anselmo was a member of the Italian Arte Povera group, which sought to break down the separation of art and life through experimental performances and the use of natural materials such as trees and leaves. To make this work, Anselmo set his camera up with a timed shutter release, and raced into view so that his running figure creates a modest yet heroic impression on the landscape.

 

Robert Adams. 'Colorado Springs, Colorado' 1974

 

Robert Adams
Colorado Springs, Colorado
1974
Gelatin silver print, printed 1983
Image: 15.2 x 15.2 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2006

 

For more than forty years, Adams has recorded the changing American landscape, especially the ongoing settlement of the West. Although he has photographed roads, tract houses, and strip malls that have utterly transformed the landscape, he has also captured the beauty that remains and indeed, that refuses to die, as in his poetic picture of morning fog over California hills. He is convinced, as he wrote in 1974, that “all land, no matter what has happened to it, has over it a grace, an absolutely persistent beauty.”

 

Margaret Bourke-White. 'Fort Peck Dam, Montana' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke-White
Fort Peck Dam, Montana
1936
Gelatin silver print
Image: 33.02 × 27.31 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2014

 

One of the most iconic photographs by the pioneering photojournalist Bourke-White, Fort Peck Dam, Montana was published on the cover of the inaugural issue of Life magazine on November 23, 1936. A striking representation of the machine age, the photograph depicts the stark, massive piers for an elevated highway over the spillway near the dam. The two men at the bottom of the print indicate the piers’ massive scale while revealing the vulnerable position of the worker in the modern industrial landscape.

 

György Kepes. 'Juliet with Peacock Feather and Red Leaf' 1937-1938

 

György Kepes
Juliet with Peacock Feather and Red Leaf
1937-1938
Gelatin silver print with gouache
15.7 × 11.6 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2014

 

Trained as a painter at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, Kepes was an influential designer, educator, aesthetic theorist, and photographer. In 1930 he moved to Berlin, where he worked with László Moholy-Nagy, but eventually settled in Chicago and later Cambridge, Massachusetts. Created soon after his arrival in America, this startling photograph is both an intimate depiction of Kepes’s wife and a study of visual perception. Like the red leaf that seems to float above the image, the peacock feather – its eye carefully lined up with Juliet’s – obscures not only her vision but also the viewer’s ability to see her clearly.

 

Irving Penn. 'Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in Lafaurie Dress), Paris' 1950

 

Irving Penn
Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in Lafaurie Dress), Paris
1950
Platinum/palladium print, 1977
Overall: 55.1 x 37 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Irving Penn, 2002

 

One of the most influential fashion and portrait photographers of his time, Penn made pictures marked by refinement, elegance, and clarity. Trained as a painter and designer, he began to photograph in the early 1940s while working at Vogue; more than 150 of his photographs appeared on the cover of the magazine during his long career. A perfectionist, Penn explored earlier printing techniques, such as a late nineteenth-century process that used paper coated with solutions of platinum or palladium rather than silver, to achieve the subtle tonal range he desired.

 

 

National Gallery of Art
National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets
Constitution Avenue NW, Washington

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 1000 am – 5.00 pm
Sunday 11.00 am – 6.00 pm

National Gallery of Art website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top




Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

If you would like to unsubscribe from the email list please email me at bunyanth@netspace.net.au and I will remove you asap. Thank you.

Join 2,688 other followers

If you would like to unsubscribe from the email list please email Marcus at bunyanth@netspace.net.au and I will remove you asap. Thank you.

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Recent Posts

Lastest tweets

October 2020
M T W T F S S
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Archives

Categories