Posts Tagged ‘Bob Dylan

23
Sep
16

Exhibition: ‘Danny Lyon: Message to the Future’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 17th June – 25th September 2016

Curator: Julian Cox

 

 

This man is a living legend. What a strong body of socially conscious work he has produced over a long period of time. Each series proposes further insight into the human condition – and adds ‘value’ to series that have gone before. It is a though the artist possesses the intuition for a good story and the imagination to photograph it to best advantage, building the story over multiple encounters and contexts to form a thematic whole.

In a press release for a currently showing parallel exhibition titled Journey at Edwynn Houk Gallery the text states, “Continuing in the tradition of Walker Evans and Robert Frank, Lyon forged a new style of realistic photography, described as “New Journalism,” where the photographer immerses himself in his subject’s world.” This reference to immersion is reinforced by the second quotation below, where “the power of Lyon’s work has often derived from his willingness of immerse himself entirely in the cultures and communities he documents.”

While the observation is correct that the artist immerses himself in the cultures and communities he documents, this is different to the tradition of Robert Frank and to a lesser extent, Walker Evans. Frank was a Swiss man who imaged his impressions of America on a road trip across the country. His “photographs were notable for their distanced view of both high and low strata of American society” which pictured the culture as both alienating and strange, “skeptical of contemporary values and evocative of ubiquitous loneliness”. This is why The Americans had so much power and caused so much consternation when it was first released in 1959 in America, for it held up a mirror to an insular society, one not used to looking at itself especially from the position of an “outsider” – where the tone of the book was perceived as derogatory to national ideals – and it didn’t like what it saw. The American Walker Evans was also an outsider photographing outsiders, journeying through disparate towns and communities documenting his impressions how I can I say, subjectively with an objective focus, at one and the same time. He never immersed himself in the culture but was an active observer and documenter, never an insider.

Lyon was one of the first “embedded” social documentary photographers of the American street photography movement of the 1960s who had the free will and the social conscience to tell it like it is. His self-proclaimed “advocacy journalism” is much more than just advocacy / journalism. It is a vitality of being, of spirit, an inquiry of the mind that allows the artist to get close, both physically and emotionally, to the problems of others through becoming one with them – and then to picture that so that others can see their story, so that he can “change history and preserve humanity.” But, we must acknowledge, that humanity is mainly (good looking) males: outlaw motorcycle clubs, mainly male prisons, mainly male civil rights, tattoo shops, and male Uptown, Chicago. Women are seemingly reduced to bit-players at best, singular portraits or standing in the background at funerals. This is a man’s world and you better not forget it…

Having said that, can you imagine living the life, spending four years as a member of the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club. How exhilarating, how enmeshed with the culture you would become – the people, the travel, the ups and downs, the life, the danger – and then when you get photographs like Funny Sonny Packing with Zipco, Milwaukee (1966, below) with the manic look in Funny Sonny’s eyes, how your heart would sing. If I had to nominate one image that is for me the epitome of America in the 1960s it would be this: Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville (1966, below): all Easy Rider (an 1969 American road movie) encapsulated in one image. The structure and modernism / of the two bridges frames / the speeding / wicked bike / helmet lodged over the headlight; the man / wearing a skull and crossbones emblazoned jacket / helmet-less / head turned / behind / hair flying in the wind / not looking where / he is going / as though his destiny: unknown.

Danny Lyon IS one of the great artists working in photography today. He is a rebel with his own cause. Through his vital and engaging images his message to the future is this: everyone has their own story, their own trials and tribulations, each deserving of empathy, compassion, and non-judgemental acceptance. Prejudice has no voice here, a lesson never more pertinent than for America today as it decides who to elect – a woman who has fought every inch of the way or a narcissistic megalomaniac who preaches hate to minorities.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

“Closeness, both physical and emotional, is a recurring theme throughout the 175 works in “Message to the Future,” Lyon’s Whitney Museum retrospective, a quietly brilliant affair curated with panache by Julian Cox. (Later this year, the show will travel to the Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco, which organized it; Elisabeth Sussman oversaw the Whitney installation.) We see here a photographer who was witness to a changing America and, occasionally, other places in the world. Since the early ’60s, Lyon has been infiltrating outsider groups – talking to and photographing bikers, Texas prison inmates, and hippies, and learning from them by becoming close with them. It’s as if Lyon has no sense of personal space. That, as this revelatory show proves, is his greatest attribute…

Lyon is a deft stylist who cares deeply about his subjects, to the point of exchanging letters with them for years after taking their pictures. What results is something more intimate, more political, and, in some ways, better than traditional photojournalism – a fuller portrait of America since the ’60s.”

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Alex Greenberger on the ArtNews website

 

“Self-taught, and driven by his twin passions for social change and the medium of photography, the power of Lyon’s work has often derived from his willingness of immerse himself entirely in the cultures and communities he documents. This was evident early on in his series ‘Bikeriders’ (1968; reissued in 2003 by Chronicle Books), which evolved from four years spent as a member of the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club. And ‘Conversations with the Dead’ derived from his close study of the Texas prison system; it also revealed Lyon’s novel and distinctive approach to the photobook, which often sees him splicing images with texts drawn from various sources, including interviews, letters, and even fiction.”

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Text from the Edwynn Houk Gallery website

 

 

In his 1981 book, “Danny Lyon: Pictures From the New World,” he wrote of starting out in the early ’60s. “Photography then seemed new and exciting, and all America, which I regarded with mystery and reverence, lay before me.”

That sense of newness and excitement fills the show. What we’re discovering now, Lyon was discovering then – not just seeing or observing, but discovering, with the sense of revelation that brings. Mystery and reverence are here, too, but complicatedly. Framing them – debating with them? – are the clarity of precision the camera affords and a skepticism born of a forthrightly ’60s sensibility. Several photographs of the Occupy movement attest to how vigorous that sensibility remains…

He was working as a documentarian but not a photojournalist. That’s an important distinction. These images are implicitly polemical – inevitably polemical, too. Rarely in our nation’s history has the distinction between what’s right and what’s wrong been as clear cut. Yet then as now, people matter more to Lyon than any ideological stance. Outsiders attract Lyon and populate the show: civil rights demonstrators, transgender people (in Galveston, Texas, of all places), lower Manhattan demolition crews, inmates, undocumented workers, Indians, Appalachian whites transplanted to Chicago, motorcycle gangs…

Enclosure and entrapment are not for Lyon – nor, for that matter, is the absence of people (a very rare condition in his work). A larger restlessness in Lyon’s career reflects the energy so often evident within the frame – within the frame being another form of enclosure and entrapment. The South, Chicago, lower Manhattan, Texas, New Mexico, China, Haiti, Latin America share space in the show. Even so, sense of place doesn’t signify as much for Lyon as a sense of a place’s inhabitants. More likely he’d say that the two are indistinguishable. Looking at his pictures, you can see why he’d think so.”

Mark Feeney. “Outsiders fill compelling Danny Lyon photography show,” on the Boston Globe website 8th July 2016 [Online] Cited 10/09/2016

 

 

Danny Lyon. 'Self-portrait, Chicago' 1965/1995

 

Danny Lyon
Self-portrait, Chicago
1965/1995
Gelatin silver print montage
Image 31.2 x 27.8 cm (12 1/4 x 10 15/16 in.); mount 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Self-Portrait, New Orleans 1964' 1964

 

Danny Lyon
Self-Portrait, New Orleans, 1964
1964
Gelatin silver print
18.2 x 12.2 cm (7 3/16 x 4 13/16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

“The most comprehensive retrospective of the work of American photographer, filmmaker, and writer Danny Lyon in twenty-five years debuts at the Whitney on June 17, 2016. The first major photography exhibition to be presented in the Museum’s downtown home, Danny Lyon: Message to the Future is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, where it will make its West Coast debut at the de Young Museum on November 5, 2016. The exhibition assembles approximately 175 photographs and is the first to assess the artist’s achievements as a filmmaker. The presentation also includes a rare look at works from Lyon’s archives, including vintage prints, unseen 16mm film footage made inside Texas prisons, and his personal photo albums. A leading figure in the American street photography movement of the 1960s, Lyon has distinguished himself by the personal intimacy he establishes with his subjects and the inventiveness of his practice.

Photographer, filmmaker, and writer Danny Lyon (b. 1942) has over the past five decades presented a charged alternative to the sanitized vision of American life presented in the mass media. Throughout, he has rejected the standard detached humanism of the traditional documentary approach in favor of a more immersive, complicated involvement with his subjects. “You put a camera in my hand,” he has explained, “I want to get close to people. Not just physically close, emotionally close, all of it.” In the process he has made several iconic bodies of work, which have not only pictured recent history but helped to shape it.

Lyon committed intensively to photography from the beginning. In 1962, while still a student at the University of Chicago, he hitchhiked to the segregated South to make a photographic record of the civil rights movement. He went on to photograph biker subcultures, explore the lives of the incarcerated, and document the architectural transformation of Lower Manhattan. He has traveled to Latin America and China, and has lived for years in New Mexico; the work he has made throughout these journeys demonstrates his respect for the people he photographs on the social and cultural margins.

Message to the Future, shaped in collaboration with the artist, incorporates seldom-exhibited materials from Lyon’s archive, including rare vintage prints, previously unseen 16mm film footage made inside the Texas prisons, his personal photo albums, and related documents and ephemera. In his roles as a photographer, filmmaker, and writer, Lyon has reinvented the expectations for how the still photographic image can be woven together with journalism, books, films, and collage to present a diverse record of social customs and human behavior. His work, which he continues to make today, reveals a restless idealist, digging deep into his own life and those of his subjects to uncover the political in the personal and the personal in the political.”

Text from the Whitney Museum of American Art

 

Civil rights

In the summer of 1962, Lyon hitchhiked to Cairo, Illinois, to witness demonstrations and a speech by John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), one of the most important organizations driving the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. Inspired to see the making of history firsthand, Lyon then headed to the South to participate in and photograph the civil rights movement. There, SNCC executive director James Forman recruited Lyon to be the organization’s first official photographer, based out of its Atlanta headquarters. Traveling throughout the South with SNCC, Lyon documented sit-ins, marches, funerals, and violent clashes with the police, often developing his negatives quickly in makeshift darkrooms.

Lyon’s photographs were used in political posters, brochures, and leaflets produced by SNCC to raise money and recruit workers to the movement. Julian Bond, the communications director of SNCC, wrote of Lyon’s pictures, “They put faces on the movement, put courage in the fearful, shone light on darkness, and helped make the movement move.”

 

Danny Lyon. 'Arrest of Eddie Brown, Albany, Georgia' 1962

 

Danny Lyon
Arrest of Eddie Brown, Albany, Georgia
1962
Gelatin silver print
Image 22 x 31.7 cm (8 5/8 x 12 1/2 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Sit-In, Atlanta' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Sit-In, Atlanta
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.1 x 24 cm (6 3/8 x 9 1/2 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'The Leesburg Stockade, Leesburg, Georgia' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
The Leesburg Stockade, Leesburg, Georgia
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image 17.5 x 26 cm (6 7/8 x 10 3/16 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Abernathy, Shuttlesworth (SCLC), King and Wilkinson (NAACP)' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Abernathy, Shuttlesworth (SCLC), King and Wilkinson (NAACP)
1963
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Voting Rights Demonstration, Organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Selma, Alabama' October 7, 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Voting Rights Demonstration, Organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Selma, Alabama
October 7, 1963
Gelatin silver print
Image 18.3 x 26.8 cm (7 3/16 x 10 9/16 in.); sheet: 27.8 x 35.4 cm (10 15/16 x 13 15/16 in.)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Photography Committee

 

Danny Lyon. 'Sheriff Jim Clark Arresting Demonstrators, Selma, Alabama' October 7, 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Sheriff Jim Clark Arresting Demonstrators, Selma, Alabama
October 7, 1963
Gelatin silver print
Image 18.4 x 27 cm (7 1/4 x 10 5/8 in.); sheet: 27.8 x 35.4 cm (10 15/16 x 13 15/16 in.)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchased with funds from the Photography Committee

 

Danny Lyon. 'Stokely Carmichael, Confrontation with National Guard, Cambridge, Maryland' 1964

 

Danny Lyon
Stokely Carmichael, Confrontation with National Guard, Cambridge, Maryland
1964
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.5 x 22.2 cm (6 1/2 x 8 3/4 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; purchase with funds from Joan N. Whitcomb

 

Danny Lyon. 'Woman Holds Off a Mob, Atlanta' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Woman Holds Off a Mob, Atlanta
1963
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Bob Dylan behind the SNCC office, Greenwood, Mississippi' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Bob Dylan behind the SNCC office, Greenwood, Mississippi
1963
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Arrest of Taylor Washington, Atlanta' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Arrest of Taylor Washington, Atlanta
1963
Gelatin silver print
24 x 16 cm (9 7/16 x 6 1/4 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'The March on Washington' August 28, 1963

 

Danny Lyon
The March on Washington
August 28, 1963
Gelatin silver print
29.8 x 20.8 cm (11 3/4 x 8 3/16 in.)
Museum of Modern Art, New York; Gift of Anne Ehrenkranz

 

Galveston

Danny Lyon. 'Pumpkin and Roberta, Galveston, Texas' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Pumpkin and Roberta, Galveston, Texas
1967
Gelatin silver print
Image 23.8 x 16.1 cm (6 3/8 x 9 3/8 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

Prisons

In 1967, Lyon applied to the Texas Department of Corrections for access to the state prisons. Dr. George Beto, then director of the prisons, granted Lyon the right to move freely among the various prison units, which he photographed and filmed extensively over a fourteen-month period. The result is a searing record of the Texas penal system and, symbolically, of incarceration everywhere.

Lyon’s aim was to “make a picture of imprisonment as distressing as I knew it to be in reality.” This meant riding out to the fields to follow prisoners toiling in the sun, as well as visiting the Wynne Treatment Centre, which housed primarily convicts with mental disabilities. He befriended many of the prisoners, listening to their stories and finding the humanity in their experiences, and still maintains contact with some of them.

 

Danny Lyon. 'Weight Lifters, Ramsey Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Weight Lifters, Ramsey Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 22.4 x 33.2 cm (8 7/8 x 13 1/16 in.); sheet 27.7 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'New Arrivals from Corpus Christi, The Walls, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
New Arrivals from Corpus Christi, The Walls, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 21.4 x 32 cm (8 7/16 x 12 5/8 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Contents of Arriving Prisoner’s Wallet, Diagnostic Unit, The Walls, Huntsville, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Contents of Arriving Prisoner’s Wallet, Diagnostic Unit, The Walls, Huntsville, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 24.3 x 17.5 cm (9 9/16 x 6 3/4 in.); sheet 25.4 x 20.3 cm (10 x 8 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Six-Wing Cell Block, Ramsey Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Six-Wing Cell Block, Ramsey Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 16 x 24 cm (6 5/16 x 9 7/16 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Charlie Lowe, Ellis Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Charlie Lowe, Ellis Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.2 x 23.8 cm (6 3/8 x 9 3/8 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Shakedown, Ellis Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Shakedown, Ellis Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
21.6 x 31.3 cm (8 1/2 x 12 1/4 in.)
Museum of Modern Art, New York; purchase

 

Danny Lyon. 'Shakedown, Ramsey Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Shakedown, Ramsey Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 17 x 24.2 cm (6 5/8 x 9 9/16 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Convict With a Bag of Cotton, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Convict With a Bag of Cotton, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Two Inmates, Goree Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Two Inmates, Goree Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.8 x 24 cm (6 5/8 x 9 91/6 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

The destruction of Lower Manhattan

In late 1966 and into the summer of 1967, starting from his loft at the corner of Beekman and William Streets near City Hall Park, Lyon documented the demolition of some sixty acres of predominantly nineteenth-century buildings below Canal Street in lower Manhattan. With funding from the New York State Council on the Arts, he photographed most of the buildings that would be torn down to make way for the World Trade Center. Lyon recalled later: “I wanted to inhabit [the buildings] with feelings and give them and their demise a meaning.”

Moving from the outside of the buildings to their deserted interiors, Lyon also took pictures of the workers involved in the demolition. The photographs, together with Lyon’s journal entries, became a book, published by Macmillan in 1969 and dedicated to his close friend, sculptor Mark di Suvero. The volume’s significance lies in part in its depiction of a city – and, more broadly, a culture – cannibalizing its own architectural history for the sake of development.

 

Danny Lyon. 'View South from 100 Gold Street, New York' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
View South from 100 Gold Street, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
18.3 x 18.2 cm (7 1/4 x 7 3/16 in.)
Collection of Melissa Schiff Soros and Robert Soros

 

Danny Lyon. 'Self-Portrait in Susquehanna Hotel, Third-Floor Room with Grass, New York' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Self-Portrait in Susquehanna Hotel, Third-Floor Room with Grass, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
18.2 x 18.2 cm (7 3/16 x 7 3/16 in.)
Collection of Melissa Schiff Soros and Robert Soros

 

Danny Lyon. 'Ruins of 100 Gold Street, New York' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Ruins of 100 Gold Street, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
23.6 x 23.4 cm (9 5/16 x 10 7/16 in.)
Collection of Melissa Schiff Soros and Robert Soros

 

 

The Bikeriders

Lyon purchased his first motorcycle – a 1953 Triumph TR6 – in 1962, after spending weekends watching college friend and motorcycle racer Frank Jenner compete at informal dirt track races across the Midwest. When he returned to Chicago in 1965 after leaving SNCC, Lyon joined the hard-riding, hard-drinking Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club and began making photographs with a goal to “record and glorify the life of the American bike rider.” With clubs like the Hells Angels making headlines for their criminal and vigilante activities at the time, bikeriders were simultaneously feared for their anarchism and romanticized for their independence.

Riding with the Outlaws, Lyon attempted to capture their way of life from the inside out. Their unapologetic pursuit of freedom and libertine pleasures compelled him to get close to them as people. Lyon’s images are intimate and familiar, whether taken during rides or at clubhouse meetings. He also used a tape recorder to document the bikers speaking for themselves, unobtrusively capturing their collective voice. The resulting photographs were gathered into the now classic book of the same name, published in 1968, combining his pictures with an edited transcription of the interviews.

 

Danny Lyon. 'Racer, Schererville, Indiana' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Racer, Schererville, Indiana
1965
Gelatin silver print
13.9 x 20.3 cm (5 1/2 x 8 in.)
Silverman Museum Collection

 

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

 

Danny Lyon
Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville
1966
Gelatin silver print
20.3 x 31.8 cm (8 x 12 1/2 in.)
Silverman Museum Collection

 

Danny Lyon. 'Route 12, Wisconsin' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Route 12, Wisconsin
1963
Gelatin silver print
15.6 x 23.8 cm (6 1/8 x 9 1/8 in.)
Silverman Museum Collection

 

Danny Lyon. 'Sparky and Cowboy, Schererville, Indiana' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Sparky and Cowboy, Schererville, Indiana
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.1 x 23.9 cm (6 3/8 x 9 3/8 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Untitled (Close Up of Cal on the Road)' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Untitled (Close Up of Cal on the Road)
1966
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Renegade's funeral, Detroit' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Renegade’s funeral, Detroit
1966
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon Funny Sonny. 'Packing with Zipco, Milwaukee' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Funny Sonny Packing with Zipco, Milwaukee
1966
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Kathy, Chicago' 1965 (printed 1966)

 

Danny Lyon
Kathy, Chicago
1965 (printed 1966)
Gelatin silver print, printed 1966
25.8 x 25.5 cm (10 1/8 x 10 1/16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Cal on the Springfield Run, Illinois' 1966 (printed 2003)

 

Danny Lyon
Cal on the Springfield Run, Illinois
1966 (printed 2003)
Cibachrome print
Image 22.8 x 32.5 cm (9 x 13 1/4 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Cowboy, Rogue's Picnic, Chicago' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Cowboy, Rogue’s Picnic, Chicago
1966
Gelatin silver print
23.5 x 15.9 cm (9 1/4 x 6 1/4 in.); mount 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Benny, Grand and Division, Chicago' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Benny, Grand and Division, Chicago
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image 24.5 x 17.2 cm (9 5/8 x 6 3/4 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

New Mexico and the West

Lyon headed west from New York in 1969. Tired of the hectic pace of the big city and in search of new surroundings, he settled in Sandoval County, New Mexico. He developed a great admiration for the region’s close knit communities of Native Americans and Chicanos. Lyon’s photographs and, increasingly, his films reflected his growing understanding of the cross-cultural flow between these disparate groups and how they interacted with the geography of the Southwest.

With the help of his good friend, a migrant laborer named Eduardo Rivera Marquez, Lyon built a traditional adobe home for his family in Bernalillo, in the Rio Grande Valley just north of Albuquerque. As Lyon’s family grew, his children also became a frequent subject, often depicted against the dramatic Western landscape. Though Lyon moved back to New York in 1980, New Mexico would remain a center of gravity for the artist, who returned every summer with his family to photograph and make films.

 

Danny Lyon. 'Eddie, New Mexico' 1972

 

Danny Lyon
Eddie, New Mexico
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image 23 x 34.5 cm (9 x 13 5/8 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Navajo Boy, Gallup, New Mexico' 1971

 

Danny Lyon
Navajo Boy, Gallup, New Mexico
1971
Gelatin silver print
Image 23.3 x 33.8 cm (9 1/8 x 13 5/16 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Maricopa County, Arizona' 1977

 

Danny Lyon
Maricopa County, Arizona
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image 22.8 x 33.5 cm (9 x 13 3/16 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Stephanie, Sandoval County, New Mexico' 1969/1975

 

Danny Lyon
Stephanie, Sandoval County, New Mexico
1969/1975
Gelatin silver print (decorated)
Image 16.7 x 25 cm (6 9/16 x 9 3/4 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'El Paso, Texas' 1975 (printed 2015)

 

Danny Lyon
El Paso, Texas
1975 (printed 2015)
Pigmented inkjet print
Image 27.9 x 40.6 cm (11 x 16 in.); sheet 33 x 45.7 cm (13 x 18 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'El Paso, Texas' 1975

 

Danny Lyon
El Paso, Texas
1975

 

 

Films and montages

Lyon started making 16mm films in earnest in the 1970s, focusing on marginalized communities and injustice as he had in his photographs. His subjects included Colombian street kids in Los Niños Abandonados (1975) and undocumented workers from Mexico in El Mojado (1974) and El Otro Lado (1978). Lyon has explained that after leaving the Texas prisons he struggled to move forward, feeling that there were “no more worlds to conquer” in creating photography books. Filmmaking became the means by which he could continue to make sense of the beauty and inequality he saw in the world around him.

Lyon did not give up photography completely, however. He turned to assembling family albums and creating collaged works that he describes as montages, referencing the filmmaking practice of juxtaposing disparate images to form a continuous whole. Lyon’s montages combine multiple images and materials sourced from his archives. Initially meant as vehicles for reflection and, in the case of the albums, as family heirlooms, these deeply personal works bridge past generations of his family with his present.

 

 

Danny Lyon
Los Niños Abandonados
1975

 

 

Danny Lyon
El Mojado
1974
New Mexico, color, 14 minutes [The Wetback]
English and Spanish with subtitles
Aportrait of a hard-working undocumented laborer from Mexico produced by J.J. Meeker

 

 

Danny Lyon
El Otro Lado
1978
Mexico and Arizona, color, 60 minutes [The Other Side]
Spanish with English subtitles
An honest film infused with poignant beauty, without political rhetoric

 

 

Danny Lyon
Dear Mark
1981, New York and France, color and b&w, 15 minutes
A comedy in which the artist’s voice has been replaced by Gene Autry’s
Lyon’s homage to his friend, sculptor Mark di Suvero, from footage shot in 1965 and 1975.

 

 

Danny Lyon
Soc Sci 127
1969
Houston, color and b&w, 21 minutes
A comedy – Danny Lyon’s first film with the late great Bill Sanders and his “painless” tattoo shop.

 

 

Danny Lyon
Willie
1985
New Mexico, color, b&w, 82 minutes
Willie is a realistic film made in Bernalillo, home of Willie Jaramillo and filmmakers Danny and Nancy Weiss Lyon
Defiantly individual and implaccable in the face of authority, Willie is repeatedly thrown into jail for relatively minor offenses. The filmmakers gain access to jail cells, day rooms, lunatic wards, and the worst cellblock in the penitentiary where Willie is locked up next to his childhood friend and convicted murderer, Michael Guzman.

 

Knoxville

Danny Lyon. 'Knoxville' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Knoxville
1967
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Knoxville, Tennessee' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Knoxville, Tennessee
1967
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Leslie, Downtown Knoxville' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Leslie, Downtown Knoxville
1967
Gelatin silver print
Image 28.7 x 19.1 cm (11 1/4 x 7 1/2 in.); mount 56.2 x 45.7 cm (22 1/8 x 18 in.)
Art Institute of Chicago; gift of Mr. Danny Lyon

 

Tattoo

Danny Lyon. 'Bill Sanders, Tattoo Artist, Houston, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Bill Sanders, Tattoo Artist, Houston, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 20.7 x 20.7 cm (8 3/16 x 8 3/16 in.); sheet 35.6 x 27.9 cm (14 x 11 in.)

Collection of the artist

 

Chicago

Danny Lyon. 'Two youths in Uptown, Chicago, Illinois, a neighborhood of poor white southerners' 1974

 

Danny Lyon
Two youths in Uptown, Chicago, Illinois, a neighborhood of poor white southerners
1974

 

Danny Lyon. 'Children at an apartment entrance' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Children at an apartment entrance
1965
From series Uptown, Chicago
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Kathy, Uptown, Chicago' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Kathy, Uptown, Chicago
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image 24.1 x 23.9 cm (9 1/2 x 9 3/8 in.); sheet 35.6 x 27.9 cm (14 x 11 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Uptown, Chicago' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Uptown, Chicago
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.4 x 16.4 cm (6 1/2 x 6 1/2 in.); mount 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

New York

Danny Lyon. 'Subway, New York' 1966 (printed 2015)

 

Danny Lyon
Subway, New York
1966 (printed 2015)
Pigmented inkjet print
Image 23.7 x 24.1 cm (9 5/16 x 9 1/2 in.); sheet 28.8 x 29.2 cm (11 5/16 x 11 1/2 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

Danny Lyon. 'Self-Portrait in Mary Frank’s Bathroom, New York' 1969

 

Danny Lyon
Self-Portrait in Mary Frank’s Bathroom, New York
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image 15.6 x 23.5 cm (6 1/8 x 9 1/4 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.2 cm (8 x 9 15/16 in.)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Joanna Leonhardt Casullo, Niko Elmaleh, Lauren DePalo, Julia Macklowe, and Fern Kaye Tessler

 

Danny Lyon. 'John Lennon and Danny Seymour, The Bowery, New York' 1969 (printed c. 2005)

 

Danny Lyon
John Lennon and Danny Seymour, The Bowery, New York
1969 (printed c. 2005)
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Image 22.3 x 33.3 cm (8 13/16 x 13 1/8 in.); sheet 27.6 x 35.4 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Mark di Suvero and Danny Lyon, Hyde Park, Chicago' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Mark di Suvero and Danny Lyon, Hyde Park, Chicago
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image 23.9 x 16.2 cm (9 3/8 x 6 3/8 in.); sheet 25.4 x 20.3 cm (10 x 8 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Colombia

Danny Lyon. 'Mary, Santa Marta, Colombia' 1972

 

Danny Lyon
Mary, Santa Marta, Colombia
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image 17.1 x 25.3 cm (6 3/4 x 10 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Tesca, Cartagena, Colombia' 1966 (printed 2008)

 

Danny Lyon
Tesca, Cartagena, Colombia
1966 (printed 2008)
Cibachrome print
Image 25.7 x 25.7 cm (10 1/8 x 10 1/8 in.); sheet 35.6 x 27.9 cm (14 x 11 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

“The most comprehensive retrospective of the work of American photographer, filmmaker, and writer Danny Lyon in twenty-five years debuted at the Whitney on June 17, 2016. The first major photography exhibition to be presented in the Museum’s downtown home, Danny Lyon: Message to the Future is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, where it will make its West Coast debut at the de Young Museum on November 5, 2016.

The exhibition assembles approximately 175 photographs and is the first to assess the artist’s achievements as a filmmaker as well as a photographer. The presentation also includes many objects that have seldom or never been exhibited before and offers a rare look at works from Lyon’s archives, including vintage prints, unseen 16mm film footage made inside Texas prisons, and his personal photo albums.

A leading figure in the American street photography movement of the 1960s, Lyon has distinguished himself by the personal intimacy he establishes with his subjects and the inventiveness of his practice. With his ability to find beauty in the starkest reality, Lyon has presented a charged alternative to the vision of American life presented in the mass media. Throughout, he has rejected the traditional documentary approach in favor of a more immersive, complicated involvement with his subjects. “You put a camera in my hand,” he has explained, “I want to get close to people. Not just physically close, emotionally close, all of it.” In the process he has made several iconic bodies of work, which have not only pictured recent history, but helped to shape it.

“We are delighted to partner with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco on Danny Lyon: Message to the Future,” stated Adam D. Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art. “Since the early 1960s, Lyon’s photographs and films have upturned conventional notions of American life. The Whitney has long championed Lyon’s work and we are thrilled to present this retrospective, which encompasses more than half a century of important work.”

In 1962, while still a student at the University of Chicago, Lyon hitchhiked to the segregated South to make a photographic record of the Civil Rights movement. His other projects have included photographing biker subcultures, exploring the lives of individuals in prison, and documenting the architectural transformation of Lower Manhattan. Lyon has lived for years in New Mexico, and his commitment to personal adventure has taken him to Mexico and other countries in Latin America, China, and the less-traveled parts of the American West.

“Danny Lyon is one of the great artists working in photography today,” said Julian Cox, Founding Curator of Photography for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and Chief Curator at the de Young Museum. “Lyon’s dedication to his art and his conviction to produce work underpinned by strong ethical and ideological motivations sets him apart from many of his peers.”

Press release from the Whitney Museum of American Art

 

Ongoing activism

Lyon’s first encounter with Latin America was through a trip to Colombia in February 1966, during which he photographed extensively in and around Cartagena. In the 1970s and 1980s, Lyon’s self-described “advocacy journalism” took him to Bolivia, where he captured the hard lives of rural miners; Mexico, where he photographed undocumented workers moving back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico border; back to Colombia, where he made the film Los Niños Abandonados, chronicling the lives of street children; and to Haiti, where he witnessed firsthand the violent revolution overthrowing Jean-Claude Duvalier’s dictatorship.

More recently, Lyon made six trips between 2005 and 2009 to Shanxi province in northeast China. Aided by a guide, he photographed the people living in this highly polluted coal-producing region. As in his work in the civil rights movement and the Texas prisons, Lyon’s photographs from his travels are examples of his advocacy journalism, part of his effort to “change history and preserve humanity.”

 

Danny Lyon. 'Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Port-au-Prince, Haiti' February 7, 1986

 

Danny Lyon
Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
February 7, 1986
Gelatin silver print
Image 21.3 x 32.1 cm (8 3/8 x 12 5/8 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Occupy

Danny Lyon. 'Occupy Demonstration on Broadway, Los Angeles' 2011

 

Danny Lyon
Occupy Demonstration on Broadway, Los Angeles
2011
Inkjet print
Image 24.5 x 32.9 cm (9 5/8 x 12 15/16 in.); sheet 32.7 x 40 cm (13 x 15 3/4 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Occupy Oakland, City Hall, Oakland' 2011

 

Danny Lyon
Occupy Oakland, City Hall, Oakland
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
Image 24.6 x 33 cm (9 3/4 x 13 in.); sheet 27.3 x 38 cm (10 3/4 x 15 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street
New York, NY 10014
Phone: (212) 570-3600

Opening hours:
Mondays: 10.30 am – 6 pm
Tuesdays: Closed
Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays: 10.30 am – 6 pm
Friday and Saturdays: 10.30 am – 10 pm

Whitney Museum of American Art website

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01
Mar
15

Review: ‘Richard Avedon People’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th December 2014 – 15th March 2015

Curator: Dr Christopher Chapman

 

 

You can tell a lot about a person from their self-portrait. In the case of Richard Avedon’s self-portrait (1969, below), we see a man in high key, white shirt positioned off centre against a slightly off-white background, the face possessing an almost innocuous, vapid affectation as though the person being captured by the lens has no presence, no being at all. The same could be said of much of Avedon’s photography. You can also tell a lot about an artist by looking at their early work. In the exhibition there is a photograph of James Baldwin, writer, Harlem, New York 1945, celebrated writer and close friend of the artist, which evidences Avedon’s mature portrait style: the frontal positioning of Afro-American Baldwin against a white background will be repeated by Avedon from the start to the end of his career. This trope, this hook has become the artist’s defining signature.

Spread across two floors of the exhibition spaces at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, the exhibition hangs well. The tonal black and white photographs in their white frames, hung above and below the line against the white gallery walls, promote a sense of serenity and minimalism to the work when viewed from afar. Up close, the photographs are clinical, clean, pin sharp and decidedly cold in attitude. Overall the selection of work in the exhibition is weak and the show does not promote the artist to best advantage. There are the usual fashion and portrait photographs, supplemented by street photographs, photographs at the beach and of mental asylums, and distorted photographs. While it is good to see a more diverse range of work from the artist to fill in his back story none of these alternate visions really work. Avedon was definitely not a street photographer (see Helen Levitt for comparison); he couldn’t photograph the mentally ill (see Diane Arbus’ last body of work in the book Diane Arbus: Untitled, 1995) and his distorted faces fail miserably in comparison to Weegee’s (Athur Fellig) fabulous distortions. These are poor images by any stretch of the imagination.

That being said there are some arresting individual images. There is a magical photograph of Truman Capote, writer, 1955 which works because of the attitude of the sitter; an outdoors image of Bob Dylan, musician, Central Park, New York, February 20, 1965 (below) in which the musician has this glorious presence when you stand in front of the image – emanating an almost metaphysical aura – due to the light, low depth of field and stance of the proponent. Also top notch is a portrait of the dancer Rudolf Nureyev, Paris, France, July 25, 1961in which (for once), the slightly off-white background and the pallid colour of the dancer’s lithe body play off of each other, his placement allowing him to float in the contextless space of the image, his striking pose and the enormousness of his member drawing the eyes of the viewer. All combine to make a memorable, iconic image. Another stunning image is a portrait of the artist Pablo Picasso, artist, Beaulieu, France, April 16, 1958where the artist’s large, round face fills the picture plane, his craggy features lit by strong side lighting, illuminating the whites of his eyes and just a couple of his eyebrow hairs. Magnificent. And then there are just two images (see below) from the artist’s seminal book In the American West. More on those later. 

Other portraits and fashion photographs are less successful. A photograph of Twiggy, dress by Roberto Rojas, New York, April 1967 (below), high contrast, cropped close top and bottom, is a vapid portrait of the fashion/model. The image of Elizabeth Taylor, cock feathers by Anello of Emme, New York, July 1964 (below) is, as a good friend of mine said, a cruel photograph of the actress. I tend to agree, although another word, ‘bizarre’, also springs to mind. In some ways, his best known fashion photograph, Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955 (below) is a ripper of an image… until you observe the punctum, to which my eyes were drawn like a moth to a flame, the horrible shackles around the legs of the elephants.

Generally, the portraiture and fashion photographs are a disappointment. If, as Robert Nelson in The Age newspaper states, “Avedon’s portraiture is a search for authenticity in the age of the fake,”1 then Avedon fails on many levels. His deadpan portraits do not revive or refresh the life of the sitter. In my eyes their inflection, the subtle expression of the sitter, is not enough to sustain the line of inquiry. I asked the curator and a representative from the Avedon Foundation what they thought Avedon’s photographs were about and both immediately said, together, it was all about surfaces. “Bullshit” rejoined I, thinking of the portrait of Marilyn Monroe, actress, New York, May 6, 1957 (below), in which the photographer pressed the shutter again and again and again as the actress gallivanted around his studio being the vivacious Marilyn, only hours later, when the mask had dropped, to get the photograph that he and everyone else wanted, the vulnerable women. This, and only this image, was then selected to be printed for public consumption, the rest “archived, protected by the Avedon Foundation, never allowed off the negative or the contact sheet.”2 You don’t do that kind of thing, and take that much time, if you are only interested in surfaces.

On reflection perhaps both of us were right, because there is a paradox that lies at the heart of Avedon’s work. There is the surface vacuousness and plasticity of the celebrity/fashion portrait; then the desire of Avedon to be taken seriously as an artist, to transcend the fakeness of the world in which he lived and operated; and also his desire to always be in control of the process – evidenced by how people had to offer themselves up to the great man in order to have their portrait taken, with no control over the results. While Avedon sought to be in touch with the fragility of humanity – the man, woman and child inside – it was also something he was afraid of. Photography gave him control of the situation. In his constructed images, Avedon is both the creator and the observer and as an artist he is always in control. This control continues today, extending to the dictions of The Richard Avedon Foundation, which was set up by Avedon during his lifetime and under his tenants to solely promote his art after he passed away.

When you look into the eyes of the sitters in Avedon’s portraits, there always seems to be a dead, cold look in the eyes. Very rarely does he attempt to reveal the ambiguity of a face that resists artistic production (see Blake Stimson’s text below). And when he does it is only when he has pushed himself to do it (MM, BD). Was he afraid, was he scared that he might have been revealing too much of himself, that he would have “lost control”? If, as he said, there is finally nothing but the face – an autograph, the signature of the face – then getting their autograph was a way to escape his mundane family life through PERFORMANCE. Unfortunately, the performance that he usually evinces from the rich and famous, this “figuring” out of himself through others through control of that performance – is sometimes bland to the point of indifference. Hence my comment on his self-portrait that I mentioned at the start of this review. It would seem to me that Avedon could not face the complex truth, that he could bring himself, through his portraits, to be both inside and outside of a character at one and the same time… to be vulnerable, to be frightened, to loose control!

If he shines himself as a self-portrait onto others, in a quest or search for the human predicament, then his search is for his own frightened face. Only in the Western Project which formed the basis for his seminal book In the American West – only two of which are in the exhibition – does Avedon achieve a degree of insight, humanity and serenity that his other photographs lack and, perhaps, a degree of quietude within himself. Created after serious heart inflammations hindered Avedon’s health in 1974, he was commissioned in 1979 “by Mitchell A. Wilder (1913-1979), the director of the Amon Carter Museum to complete the “Western Project.” Wilder envisioned the project to portray Avedon’s take on the American West. It became a turning point in Avedon’s career when he focused on everyday working class subjects such as miners soiled in their work clothes, housewives, farmers and drifters on larger-than-life prints instead of a more traditional options with famous public figures… The project itself lasted five years concluding with an exhibition and a catalogue. It allowed Avedon and his crew to photograph 762 people and expose approximately 17,000 sheets of 8 x 10 Tri-X Pan film.”3

In his photographs of drifters, miners, beekeepers, oil rig workers, truckers, slaughterhouse workers, carneys and alike the figure is more frontally placed within the image space, pulled more towards the viewer. The images are about the body and the picture plane, about the minutiae of dress and existence and the presence and dignity of his subjects, more than any of his other work. In this work the control of the sitter works to the artist’s advantage (none of these people had ever had their portrait taken before and therefore had to be coached) and, for once, Avedon is not relying on the ego of celebrity of the transience of fashion but on the everyday attitudes of human beings. Through his portrayal of their ordinariness and individuality, he finally reveals his open, exposed self. The project was embedded with Avedon’s goal to discover new dimensions within himself… “from a Jewish photographer from out East who celebrated the lives of famous public figures to an aging man at one of the last chapters of his life to discovering the inner-worlds, and untold stories of his Western rural subjects… The collection identified a story within his subjects of their innermost self, a connection Avedon admits would not have happened if his new sense of mortality through severe heart conditions and aging hadn’t occurred.”4 Definitively, this is his best body of work. Finally he got there. 

Printed on Agfa’s luscious Portriga Rapid, a double-weight, fiber-based gelatin silver paper which has a warm (brown) colouration for the shadow areas and lovely soft cream highlights, the prints in the exhibition are over six-feet high. The presence of Sandra Bennett, twelve year old, Rocky Ford, Colorado, August 23, 1980 – freckles highlighted by the light, folds of skin under the armpit – and Boyd Fortin, thirteen-year-old, Sweetwater, Texas, March 10, 1979 – visceral innards of the rattlesnake and the look in his eyes – are simply stunning. Both are beautiful prints. In the American West has often been criticised for its voyeuristic themes, for exploiting its subjects and for evoking condescending emotions from the audience such as pity while studying the portraits, but these magnificent photographs are not about that: they are about the exchange of trust between the photographer and a human being, about the dignity of that portrayal, and about the revelation of a “true-self” as much as possible through a photograph – the face of the sitter mirroring the face of the photographer.

While it is fantastic to see these images in Victoria, the first time any Avedon photographs have been seen in this state (well done The Ian Potter Museum of Art!), the exhibition could have been so much more if it had only been more focused on a particular outcome, instead of a patchy, broad brush approach in which everything has been included. I would have been SO happy to see the whole exhibition devoted to Avendon’s most notable and influential work (think Thomas Ruff portraits) – In the American West. The exhibition climaxes (if you like) with three huge, mural-scale portraits of Merce Cunningham (1993, printed 2002), Doon Arbus, writer, New York, 2002 and Harold Bloom, literary critic, New York City, October 28, 2001 (printed 202), big-statement art that enlarges Avedon’s work to sit alongside other sizeable contemporary art works. Spanning floor to ceiling in the gallery space these overblown edifices, Avedon’s reaction to the ever expanding size of postmodern ‘gigantic’ photography, fall as flat as a tack. At this scale the images simply do not work. As Robert Nelson insightfully observes, “To turn Avedon’s portraiture into contemporary art is technically and commercially understandable, but from an artistic point of view, the conflation of familiarity to bombast seems to be faking it one time to many.”5

Finally we have to ask what do artists Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe and Richard Avedon have in common? Well, they were all based in New York; they are all white, middle class, and reasonably affluent; they were either gay, Jewish or Catholic or a mixture of each; they all liked mixing with celebrities and fashion gurus; and they all have foundations set up in their honour. Only in New York. It seems a strange state of affairs to set up a foundation as an artist, purely to promote, sustain, expand, and protect the legacy and control of your art after you are gone. This is the ultimate in control, about controlling the image of the artist from the afterlife. Foundations such as the Keith Haring Foundation do good work, undertaking outreach and philanthropic programs, making “grants to not-for-profit groups that engage in charitable and educational activities. In accordance with Keith’s wishes, the Foundation concentrates its giving in two areas: The support of organizations which provide educational opportunities to underprivileged children and the support of organizations which engage in education, prevention and care with respect to AIDS and HIV infection.”6 I asked the representative of The Richard Avedon Foundation what charitable or philanthropic work they did. They offer an internship program. That’s it. For an artist so obsessed with image and surfaces, for an artist that eventually found his way to a deeper level of understanding, it’s about time The Richard Avedon Foundation offered more back to the community than just an internship. Promotion and narcissism are one thing, engagement and openness entirely another.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 2,335

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

 

1. Robert Nelson. “Pin sharp portraits show us real life,” in The Age newspaper, Friday January 2, 2014, p. 22.
2. Andrew Stephens. “Fame and falsehoods,” in Spectrum, The Age newspaper, Saturday November 29, 2014, p. 12.
3. Anon. “Richard Avedon,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 01/03/2015
4. Whitney, Helen. “Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light.” American Masters, Season 10, Episode 3, 1996 quoted in Anon. “Richard Avedon,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 01/03/2015.
5. Robert Nelson op cit.,
6. Anon. “About” on The Keith Haring Foundation website [Online] Cited 01/03/2015

 

 

American photographer Richard Avedon (1923-2004) produced portrait photographs that defined the twentieth century. Richard Avedon People explores his iconic portrait making practice, which was distinctive for its honesty, candour and frankness.

One of the world’s great photographers, Avedon is best known for transforming fashion photography from the late 1940s onwards. The full breadth of Avedon’s renowned work is revealed in this stunning exhibition of 80 black and white photographs dating from 1949 to 2002. Avedon’s instantly recognisable iconic portraits of artists, celebrities, and countercultural leaders feature alongside his less familiar portraiture works that capture ordinary New Yorkers going about their daily lives, and the people of America’s West. With uncompromising rawness and tenderness, Avedon’s photographs capture the character of individuals extraordinary in their uniqueness and united in their shared experience of humanity.

Richard Avedon People pays close attention to the dynamic relationship between the photographer and his sitters and focuses on Avedon’s portraits across social strata, particularly his interest in counter-culture. At the core of his artistic work was a profound concern with the emotional and social freedom of the individual in society. The exhibition reveals Avedon’s sensitivity of observation, empathy of identification and clear vision that characterise these portraits.

Text from The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

 

“There is no truth in photography. There is no truth about anyone’s person.” –

“There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is truth.”

“Sometimes I think all my pictures are just pictures of me. My concern is… the human predicament; only what I consider the human predicament may simply be my own.”

.
Richard Avedon

 

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Richard Avedon People' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, February 2015

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Richard Avedon People' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, February 2015

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Richard Avedon People' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, February 2015

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Richard Avedon People' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, February 2015

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Richard Avedon People at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, February 2015

 

 

“Photography has had its place in the pas de deux between humanism and antihumanism, of course, and with two complementary qualities of its own. In the main, we have thought for a long time now, it is photography’s capacity for technological reproduction that defines its greater meaning, both by indexing the world and through its expanded and accelerated means of semiosis. This emphasis on the proliferation of signs and indices has been part of our posthumanism, and it has turned us away consistently from readings that emphasise photography’s second, humanist quality, its capacity to produce recognition through the power of judgment and thus realise the experience of solidarity or common cause.

In keeping with the framing for this collection of writings, we might call the first of these two qualities photography’s ‘either/and’ impulse and the second its ‘either/or’. Where the first impulse draws its structuring ideal from deferring the moment of judgment as it moves laterally from one iteration to the next, one photograph to the next, the second develops its philosophical ground by seeing more than meets the eye in any given photograph or image as the basis of judgment. For example, this is how Kierkegaard described the experience of a ‘shadowgraph’ (or ‘an inward picture which does not become perceptible until I see it through the external’) in his Either/Or:

Sometimes when you have scrutinised a face long and persistently, you seem to discover a second face hidden behind the one you see. This is generally an unmistakable sign that this soul harbours an emigrant who has withdrawn from the world in order to watch over secret treasure, and the path for the investigator is indicated by the fact that one face lies beneath the other, as it were, from which he understands that he must attempt to penetrate within if he wishes to discover anything. The face, which ordinarily is the mirror of the soul, here takes on, though it be but for an instant, an ambiguity that resists artistic production. An exceptional eye is needed to see it, and trained powers of observation to follow this infallible index of a secret grief. … The present is forgotten, the external is broken through, the past is resurrected, grief breathes easily. The sorrowing soul finds relief, and sorrow’s sympathetic knight errant rejoices that he has found the object of his search; for we seek not the present, but sorrow whose nature is to pass by. In the present it manifests itself only for a fleeting instant, like the glimpse one may have of a man turning a corner and vanishing from sight.

.
Roland Barthes was trying to describe a similar experience with his account of the punctum just as Walter Benjamin did with his figure of the angel of history: ‘His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events [in the same way we experience photography’s ‘either/and’ iteration of images], he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet’. As Kierkegaard, Barthes, and Benjamin suggest, the old humanist experience of struggle with the singular experience of on-going failure to realise its hallowed ideals only ever arose in photography or anywhere else fleetingly, but it is all but invisible to us now.”

Søren Kierkegaard. Either/Or, volume I, 1843, 171, 173 quoted in Blake Stimson. “What was Humanism?” on the Either/And website [Online] Cited 01/03/2015

 

Richard Avedon. 'Andy Warhol, artist, Candy Darling and Jay Johnson, actors, New York, August 20, 1969' 1969

 

Richard Avedon
Andy Warhol, artist, Candy Darling and Jay Johnson, actors, New York, August 20, 1969
1969
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, New York, May 8, 1957' 1957

 

Richard Avedon
Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, New York, May 8, 1957
1957
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Mae West, actor, with Mr. America, New York' 1954

 

Richard Avedon
Mae West, actor, with Mr. America, New York
1954
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'New York Life #5, Lower West Side, New York City, September 9, 1949' 1949

 

Richard Avedon
New York Life #5, Lower West Side, New York City, September 9, 1949
1949
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

 

Richard Avedon People celebrates the work of American photographer Richard Avedon (1923 to 2004), renowned for his achievements in the art of black and white portraiture. Avedon’s masterful work in this medium will be revealed in an in-depth overview of 80 photographs from 1949 to 2002, to be displayed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne from 6 December 2014 to 15 March 2015.

Known for his exquisitely simple compositions, Avedon’s images express the essence of his subjects in charming and disarming ways. His work is also a catalogue of the who’s who of twentieth-century American culture. In the show, instantly recognisable and influential artists, celebrities, and countercultural leaders including Bob Dylan, Truman Capote, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Malcolm X, are presented alongside portraits of the unknown. Always accessible, they convey his profound concern with the emotional and social freedom of the individual.

Ian Potter Museum of Art Director, Kelly Gellatly said, “Richard Avedon was one of the world’s great photographers. He is known for transforming fashion photography from the late 1940s onwards, and his revealing portraits of celebrities, artists and political identities.

“People may be less familiar, however, with his portraiture works that capture ordinary New Yorkers going about their daily lives, and the people of America’s West,” Gellatly continued. “Richard Avedon People brings these lesser-known yet compelling portraits together with his always captivating iconic images. In doing so, the exhibition provides a rounded and truly inspiring insight into Avedon’s extraordinary practice.”

Avedon changed the face of fashion photography through his exploration of motion and emotion. From the outset, he was fascinated by photography’s capacity for suggesting the personality and evoking the life of his subjects. This is evidenced across the works in the exhibition, which span Avedon’s career from his influential fashion photography and minimalist portraiture of well-known identities, to his depictions of America’s working class.

Avedon’s practice entered the public imagination through his long association with seminal American publications. He commenced his career photographing for Harper’s Bazaar, followed by a 20-year partnership with Vogue. Later, he established strong collaborations with Egoiste and The New Yorker, becoming staff photographer for The New Yorker in 1992.

Richard Avedon People is the first solo exhibition of Avedon’s work to be displayed in Victoria following showings in Perth and Canberra. The exhibition was curated by the National Portrait Gallery’s Senior Curator, Dr Christopher Chapman, in partnership with the Richard Avedon Foundation over the course of two years. The Foundation was established by Avedon in his lifetime and encourages the study and appreciation of the artist’s photography through exhibitions, publications and outreach programs.

.
Dr Christopher Chapman

Dr Christopher Chapman is Senior Curator at the National Portrait Gallery where he has produced major exhibitions exploring diverse experiences of selfhood and identity. He joined the Gallery in 2008 and was promoted to Senior Curator in 2011. He works closely with the Gallery’s management team to drive collection and exhibition strategy. Working in the visual arts field since the late 1980s, Christopher has held curatorial roles at the National Gallery of Australia and the Art Gallery of South Australia. He has lectured in visual arts and culture for the Australian National University and his PhD thesis examined youth masculinity and themes of self-sacrifice in photography and film.

A National Portrait Gallery of Australia exhibition presented in partnership with the Richard Avedon Foundation, New York.

 

Richard Avedon. 'Bob Dylan, musician, Central Park, New York, February 20, 1965' 1965

 

Richard Avedon
Bob Dylan, musician, Central Park, New York, February 20, 1965
1965
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955' 1955

 

Richard Avedon
Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955
1955
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Marilyn Monroe, actress, New York, May 6, 1957' 1957

 

Richard Avedon
Marilyn Monroe, actress, New York, May 6, 1957
1957
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Civil rights demonstration, Atlanta, Georgia' c. 1963

 

Richard Avedon
Civil rights demonstration, Atlanta, Georgia
c. 1963
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Self portrait, New York City, July 23, 1969' 1969

 

Richard Avedon
Self portrait, New York City, July 23, 1969
1969
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Michelangelo Antonioni, film director, with his wife Enrica, Rome, 1993' 1993

 

Richard Avedon
Michelangelo Antonioni, film director, with his wife Enrica, Rome, 1993
1993
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

 

“Insights into the crossover of genres and the convergence of modern media gave Avedon’s work its extra combustive push. He got fame as someone who projected accents of notoriety and even scandal within a decorous field. By not going too far in exceeding known limits, he attained the highest rank at Vogue. In American popular culture, this was where Avedon mattered, and mattered a lot. But it was not enough.

In fact, Avedon’s increasingly parodistic magazine work often left – or maybe fed – an impression that its author was living beneath his creative means. In the more permanent form of his books, of which there have been five so far, he has visualized another career that would rise above fashion. Here Avedon demonstrates a link between what he hopes is social insight and artistic depth, choosing as a vehicle the straight portrait. Supremacy as a fashion photographer did not grant him status in his enterprise – quite the contrary – but it did provide him access to notable sitters. Their presence before his camera confirmed the mutual attraction of the well-connected.”

Max Kozloff. “Richard Avedon’s “In the American West”,” on the ASX website, January 24, 2011 [Online] Cited 01/03/2015

 

Richard Avedon. 'Elizabeth Taylor, cock feathers by Anello of Emme, New York, July 1964' 1964

 

Richard Avedon
Elizabeth Taylor, cock feathers by Anello of Emme, New York, July 1964
1964
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Twiggy, dress by Roberto Rojas, New York, April 1967' 1967

 

Richard Avedon
Twiggy, dress by Roberto Rojas, New York, April 1967
1967
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Boyd Fortin, thirteen-year-old, Sweetwater, Texas, March 10, 1979' 1979

 

Richard Avedon
Boyd Fortin, thirteen-year-old, Sweetwater, Texas, March 10, 1979
1979, printed 1984-85
From the project the Western Project and the book In the American West
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Sandra Bennett, twelve year old, Rocky Ford, Colorado, August 23, 1980' 1980

 

Richard Avedon
Sandra Bennett, twelve year old, Rocky Ford, Colorado, August 23, 1980
1980, printed 1984-85
From the project the Western Project and the book In the American West
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
Swanston Street (between Elgin & Faraday Streets)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria
Tel: +61 3 8344 5148

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 – 5 pm

The Ian Potter Museum of Art 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.

 

 

 

 

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8th and F Sts NW
Washington, DC 20001

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Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, 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: ‘Mask’ 1994

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