Posts Tagged ‘British black and white photography

14
Nov
21

Exhibition: ‘John Coplans: La Vie Des Formes’ at Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

Exhibition dates: 5th October 2021 – 16th January 2021

Curators: Jean-François Chevrier and Élia Pijollet

 

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self Portrait (Two Hands Together)' 1988

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self Portrait (Two Hands Together)
1988
Gelatin Silver Print
101.5 x 110.8cm (39.89 x 43.54 ins)
© The John Coplans Trust

 

 

A magnificent posting on the work of John Coplans whose art practice resulted in a photo essay, an extended, creative “body” of work (pardon the pun) which investigated the form, mass, volume and shape of the ageing human body – namely his own (as an auteur) – resulting in the most significant representation of the older human body in the history of photography.

Referencing the abstractions of Aaron Siskind’s Martha’s Vineyard rock formations and Bill Brandt’s nudes on the coast of East Sussex, Coplans abstracts the human body into singular and overlapping forms using shape, multiple self-portrait, multiple prints as frieze and mismatched dissections. As seen in the installation photographs in the video below, Coplans also pulls and pushes at the viewers perception of the scale of representation, the orientation of the body and the physicality of the photograph in the gallery space: a fragmented hand is larger and more imposing than a dissected foot; the body “lies” vertically upside down in Upside down No. 1 (1992, below); and the mass of the back overwhelms the viewer in Back with Arms Above (1984, below). Coplans depictions of large buttocks and back confront the viewer at eye level, much as Carravagio’s use of foreshortening in his paintings disturbed the status quo of the pictorial space in a church especially when seen by candlelight.

The artist frees the body from aesthetics – and the body becomes an/other structure, free of architecture.

This is not a degraded body but another body that just is… not the physicality of the body and certainly not my body as a temple, but an anti-commercial body, one that states that this is what we inevitably will become, despite our attempts to keep our beauty and attain immortality. This is about a recognition of the body as being undeniably present accepting an entire range of corpo/reality. While movement and action are suppressed (in stillness), change is the problem that Coplans has attempted to re/present – that is, “an attempt to capture a moment of transformation. In this case, it is both a physical change and a psychological set of responses…”1 Old age and mortality, age and youth, beauty.

I can also feel – sense, that Coplans work of the body is a tone poem, a piece of music (typically of one movement) on a descriptive theme. Tone is “often described as a “mood” that pervades the experience of reading the poem [as interpreted by the reader], it is created by the poem’s vocabulary, metrical regularity or irregularity, use of figurative language, and rhyme.”2 Here, Coplans figurative language (his life of forms) creates comparisons by linking the senses and the concrete to abstract ideas: the concreteness of the photograph to how we feel about an ageing body or, indeed, our own ageing body; the time freeze of the photograph to the feeling of lost youth; the immortality of the photograph to the knowledge that the artist is alive and dead – we have his preserved, embalmed, dissected body before us but what about his other, spirit?

We can know the phenomenal (the world of representation) but all we can ever do is intimate the noumenal world, the unknowable noumenon as an entity to which we can directly relate but can never know (we can know of death but never experience it).

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. Christopher P. Jones. “Great Paintings: Caravaggio’s ‘The Supper at Emmaus’,” on the Thinksheet magazine website Aug 30, 2019 [Online] Cited 14/11/2021
  2. Unknown author. “Tone,” in Glossary of Poetic Terms on the Poetry Foundation website Nd [Online] Cited 14/11/2021

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Many thankx to the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

In early October, the new exhibition on John Coplans will open at Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, curated by Jean-François Chevrier and Élia Pijollet. It stands out through its selection and conversations with artists that Coplans admired, such as Brancusi, Weegee, Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Philip Guston and Jan Groover.

A formal and fearless photographer, Coplans uses his naked body as the sole material for his sensual, disconcerting, radical and personal compositions. Comprised of original works on loan from numerous French institutions and private lenders, this exhibition breaks new ground for the Fondation HCB, with a rare bird from the history of photography.

 

 

 

Teaser de l’exposition John Coplans – La vie des formes

 

 

Exhibition

Fondation HCB is presenting a remarkable exhibition on the oeuvre of John Coplans (1920-2003), in collaboration with Le Point du Jour, Centre d’Art Éditeur in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin. Works on show here, on loan from French collections, testify to the audacity of this British artist, known for uncompromising representations of his body.

Coplans, who emigrated to the United States at the start of the 1960s, was at first painter, art critic, museum director and curator before devoting himself fully to photography in the early 1980s. At sixty years old, after twenty years of promoting the work of other artists, he retired to take up a life in art. He then developed a photography practice in which he represented himself nude, in black and white and often fragmented, his head always out of frame. To all these images, produced between 1984 and 2002, he attributed the generic title Self Portrait; descriptive titles and subtitles specify the body part depicted or the posture.

As a primary, unique and impersonal object, the body is a medium for jubilant, ever-renewed explorations of the life of form. Coplans’ work, often reductively seen as a representation of the ageing body, has lighter, more universal ambitions and inscribes in a long history of art forms through its metaphorical connections to nature or sculpture. His oeuvre redefines the meaning of age, no longer a progression towards the end of life, instead, an opportunity for a long-term record of humankind and an initiative for recollecting primitive forms.

The absence of the face, and the choice of the fragment as plastic element released a flood of inventions and formal analogies that seemed inexhaustible, only stopping with the artist’s passing. Coplans’ images are by turns subdued and explosive, funny, provocative and always carefully considered. They answer to a demand for clarity that transfigures expressionist pathos.

The exhibition La Vie des Formes (Life of Forms) is structured in three sets presented chronologically. First, small prints made at the start of Coplans’ career in photography (Torso, Back, Hands, Feet…); followed by, in 1988, large formats and montage combining several body fragments to create a single but disjointed image; and finally, as a great connoisseur of art history, Coplans integrated research on artists he studied, exhibited and knew into his own work, and a selection of works by these artists (Brancusi, Carleton Watkins, Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Jan Groover, Weegee…) is presented.

 

Biography

John Coplans was born in London in 1920. The son of a doctor in medicine and art amateur, he spent most of his childhood between London and South Africa. In 1937, aware of the global danger posed by Nazi Germany, he joined the British army. He fought until 1945 in East Africa, then in India and Burma.

In 1946, John Coplans started an art degree but quickly gave up. He moved to London. For ten years or so, he has painted and contributed to the rise of abstract art, in the wake of lyrical abstraction, then Hard Edge. In 1960, Coplans emigrated to the United States and moved to San Francisco. In 1962, he participated in the creation of Artforum. The magazine quickly established itself as a monthly reference for art and creative news. The first of its kind on the West Coast, it supported and united artists, helping to bring out the “Los Angeles scene” and “West Coast art”. Coplans was its editor from 1971 to 1977 (in New York, where the magazine moved in 1967).

John Coplans was also a curator, director of the Art Gallery of the University of California at Irvine (1965-1967) and Senior Curator of the Pasadena Art Museum in (1967-1970). From 1978 to 1980, he directed the Akron Art Museum, Ohio. At this time, he began his first photographic experiments.

In 1980, he decided to cease these activities to become an artist again and to devote himself to photography. He moved to New York. From 1985 onwards, he exhibited regularly in France and Europe. In 1988, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) set up the first major exhibition of the photographer, which was then presented at the MoMA in New York the same year. John Coplans died in New York on August 21, 2003.

 

Publication

The exhibition will be accompanied by a book published by Le Point du Jour: John Coplans. Un corps, under the guidance of Jean-François Chevrier.

Press release from the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self-Portrait: Three Times' 1987

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self-Portrait: Three Times
1987
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self Portrait: Six Times' 1987

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self Portrait: Six Times
1987
Gelatin Silver Prints
© The John Coplans Trust

 

 

Emigrating to the United States in the early 1960s, John Coplans was first a painter, art critic, museum director and curator, before devoting himself fully to photography in the early 1980s. At the age of sixty, after having spent twenty years promoting the work of other artists, he retires to reconnect with the experience of creation. He then developed a photographic practice in which he represented his naked body, in black and white, often fragmented, his head always out of view. He used for all these images made between 1984 and 2002 the generic title Self Portrait; descriptive titles and sub-titles specify the body part or posture depicted.

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Knees with Fist' 1984

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Knees with Fist
1984
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Foot, Four Panels' 1988

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Foot, Four Panels
1988
Gelatin Silver Prints
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Double Feet, Five Panels' 1988

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Double Feet, Five Panels
1988
Gelatin Silver Prints
© The John Coplans Trust

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, East Sussex coast' 1959

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, East Sussex coast
1959
Gelatin silver print

Used under fair use conditions for the purpose of education

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Hand, Two Panels, Vertical' 1988

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Hand, Two Panels, Vertical
1988
Gelatin Silver Prints
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self-Portrait (Back of Hand, No. 1)' 1986

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self-Portrait (Back of Hand, No. 1)
1986
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self-Portrait (Front Hand, No. 3)' 1987

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self-Portrait (Front Hand, No. 3)
1987
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self-Portrait (Front Hand No. 6, Middle Fingers down)' 1988

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self-Portrait (Front Hand No. 6, Middle Fingers down)
1988
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Front Hand, Thumb Up, Middle' 1988

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Front Hand, Thumb Up, Middle
1988
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Clenched thumb No. 2' 1988

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Clenched thumb No. 2
1988
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self-Portrait (Clenched Thumb Sideways)' 1988

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self-Portrait (Clenched Thumb Sideways)
1988
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Back with Arms Above' 1984

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Back with Arms Above
1984
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Body Parts, No. 8' 2001

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Body Parts, No. 8
2001
Gelatin Silver Prints
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Back Torso From Below' 1985

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Back Torso From Below
1985
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Torso' 1984

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Torso
1984
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Hands Holding Feet' 1985

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Hands Holding Feet
1985
Gelatin Silver Prints
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Hands spread on knees' 1985

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Hands spread on knees
1985
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self-Portrait: Hands Squeezing Knees' 1985

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self-Portrait: Hands Squeezing Knees
1985
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Reclining Back, Three Panels, Left' 1990

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Reclining Back, Three Panels, Left
1990
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Upside down No. 1' 1992

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Upside down No. 1
1992
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'Untitled (Martha's Vineyard)' 1954

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Untitled (Martha’s Vineyard)
1954
Gelatin silver print
33.9 × 26.5cm (image); 35.2 × 28cm (paper)
Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Richard L. Menschel
© Aaron Siskind Foundation

Used under fair use conditions for the purpose of education

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Torso Front' 1984

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Torso Front
1984
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Lying Figure, Holding Leg, Four Panels' 1990

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Lying Figure, Holding Leg, Four Panels
1990
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Feet, Frontal' 1984

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Feet, Frontal
1984
Gelatin Silver Print
© The John Coplans Trust

 

 

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
79 rue des Archives
75003 Paris

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday
11am – 7pm
Closed on Mondays

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson website

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06
Oct
13

Exhibition: ‘Another Country: Vintage Photographs of British Life by Tony Ray-Jones’ at James Hyman, London

Exhibition dates: 11th September – 11th October 2013

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Lady's Day' c. 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Lady’s Day
c. 1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
12 x 20cm (5 x 8 inches)

 

 

What a loss to the world when this photographer died aged just thirty. His eye was magnificent. He seems to have instinctively known how to capture the quintessential British at work, rest and play in all that societies class-ridden glory – the fag hanging out of the mouth in Lady’s Day (c. 1967) combining beautifully with the aura of the patterned dresses; the isolation of the figures and their stop-frame movement in Day at the Races (c. 1967), a wonderfully balanced composition caught in the moment; and the orchestral ensemble that is the cast of Bacup, Lancashire, 1968 (1968), each figure playing its part in the overall tension of the picture plane: the brothers at right in matching duffle coats, the boy walking forward down the incline with head thrown sideways balanced at rear by another boy with hands in pockets tossing his head into the wind. Magical.

Just to see this image, to visualise it and have the camera ready to capture its “nature”, its undeniable presence for that one split second, then to develop and find this image on a proof sheet, what joy this would have been for the artist. Equally illustrious is the feeling of Bournemouth, 1969 (1969) with the nuanced use of shadow and light, the occlusion of the figure behind the screen with the turn of the head, and the placement of the two white tea cups at right. Ray-Jones wasn’t afraid to place figures in the foreground of his compositions either as can be seen in Brighton Beach, 1967 (1967) to great effect, framing the mise en scène behind.

These photographs take me way back to my childhood in the 1960s in England, going to Butlin’s Clacton-on-Sea and Bournemouth for our family holidays. Even the name says it all: Clacton “on sea” as though they have to remind people visiting that they are actually at the sea. The photographs perfectly capture the mood of the country in this utilitarian era where holidays at a seaside resort were often dour affairs, punctuated by stony beaches, bad weather and regulated activities. The freedom of the 1970s had yet to arrive and us kids went whether we liked it or not: Mablethorpe, 1967 (1967) perfectly epitomises such an environment, with the long days of pleasure / torture stretching off into the distance much as the sea wall in Ray-Jones’ photo.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to James Hyman for allowing me to publish these magnificent photographs. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Day at the Races' c. 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Day at the Races
c. 1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
13 x 20cm (5 x 8 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'A Day at Richmond Park' c. 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
A Day at Richmond Park
c. 1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
17.5 x 25.6cm (7 x 10 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Chatham May Queen, 1968' 1968

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Chatham May Queen, 1968
1968
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
17.5 x 26.2cm (7 x 10 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Bacup, Lancashire, 1968' 1968

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Bacup, Lancashire, 1968
1968
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
17.5 x 26.5 cms (7 x 10 inches)

 

 

James Hyman is delighted to stage an exhibition of rare, vintage photographs by Tony Ray-Jones to coincide with the opening exhibition of the Science Museum Media Space, Only in England, Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr, in September 2013.

Tony Ray-Jones had a short life. He died in 1972 aged just thirty. But the pictures that he left behind are some of the most powerful British photographs of the twentieth century. His work of the late 1960s and early 1970s documents English culture and identity and brilliantly captures this period in English public life. Inspired by what he learnt in America in the mid-1960s, from photographers such as Lee Friedlander and Joel Meyerowitz, Ray-Jones was keen to make ‘new’ photographs of English life, which did not read simply as documentary, but also as art objects. As he explained in Creative Camera in 1968: “the spirit and the mentality of the English, their habits, and the way they do things, partly through tradition and the nature of their environment and mentality.”

The acclaim that Ray-Jones received after his death, especially from other photographers, testifies to the respect of his elders and his contemporaries. Bill Brandt praised the “very pronounced style all of his own” and lamented that “his death, at such a young age, is a terrible loss to British photography.” Jacques Henri-Lartigue praised Tony Ray-Jones as a “fantaisiste”: “young, free and whimsical with, in addition, a very sound technique and a vision of fire that was full of humour, truth and a sense of poetry” and Paul Strand praised his “remarkable formal organisation” and declared: “I found the photographs of Tony Ray-Jones very outstanding. In them I find that rather rare concurrence when an artist clearly attaining mastery of his medium, also develops a remarkable way of looking at the life around him, with warmth and understanding.”

These tributes are to be found in the most important book of Tony Ray-Jones work, A Day Off. An English Journal, published in 1974. They are included in a beautiful essay in which Ainslie Ellis, one of the photographer’s earliest champions, addresses not only the photographs but also Ray-Jones’s photographic process. Ellis stresses that what mattered to Ray-Jones was not just taking the picture, but also the creative process of deciding which pictures on a contact strip to print, and then making a master-print, from which all subsequent prints would be matched. We are, therefore, delighted that this exhibition should include many of the pictures reproduced in this celebrated book and that it present exclusively vintage prints, which, in a number of identifiable cases, are the actual photographs that Tony Ray-Jones exhibited in his lifetime.

Often playful and sometimes despondent, what Ray-Jones produced was unlike anything which came before, and was the catalyst for a generation of New British Photographers.

Press release from the James Hyman website

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Bournemouth, 1969' 1969

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Bournemouth, 1969
1969
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
16 x 25cm (6 x 10 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Brighton Beach, 1967' 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Brighton Beach, 1967
1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
17.5 x 26.5cm (7 x 10 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Mablethorpe, 1967' 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Mablethorpe, 1967
1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
14 x 21cm (6 x 8 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Waxworks, Eastbourne, 1968' 1968

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Waxworks, Eastbourne, 1968
1968
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
14 x 21cm (6 x 8 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Durham Miners' Gala' 1969

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Durham Miners’ Gala
1969
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
14 x 22.5cm (6 x 9 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Sunday Best' c. 1967

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Sunday Best
c. 1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
30.5 x 20cm (12 x 8 inches)

 

Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Blackpool, 1968' 1968

 

Tony Ray-Jones (British, 1941-1972)
Blackpool, 1968
1968
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
21 x 14.5cm (8.25 x 5.70 ins)

 

 

James Hyman Gallery
16 Savile Row
London W1S 3PL
Phone: 020 7494 3857

Opening hours:
By appointment

James Hyman Gallery website

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07
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light’ at The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 6th March – 12th August 2013

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Parlourmaid Preparing a Bath before Dinner' c. 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Parlourmaid Preparing a Bath before Dinner
c. 1936
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 x 7 11/16″ (23 x 19.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

“Brandt ranks among the visionaries who, in the diversity of their approach, established the creative potential of photography based on observation of the world around them. Brandt’s distinctive vision – his ability to present the mundane world as fresh and strange – emerged in London in the 1930s, and drew from his time in the Paris studio of Man Ray. His visual explorations of the society, landscape, and literature of England are indispensable to any understanding of photographic history and, arguably, to our understanding of life in Britain during the middle of the 20th century.”

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Text from the press release

 

 

Along with Julia Margaret Cameron, Bill Brandt is the greatest British photographer of all time.

Why is it so?

  1. There is the diversity of his approach over decades of artistic endeavour, from social documentary, portrait and landscape photography to nudes.
  2. There is a consistency to this enquiry. He is concerned with the same ideas in the 1930s as the 1960s, only expressed in a different form.
  3. There is a subtle ambiguity to all his work, no doubt influenced by his time in the Paris studio of Man Ray.
    For example, in the portrait of Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal (1937, below), there is an odd sense of surrealism to the mise-en-scène. Notice the placement of the objects on the table, the positioning of both people’s heads with the jardiniere between, and the askance attitude of the satchel and framed image covered by drying, hanging clothes on the wall behind. And then, just to emphasise this pictorial disjunction, we notice that the miner is leaning one way and, in the framed image, another man with a tie is leaning the other, peering around  the edge of the drying clothes. The man and wife and the framed man for a triangle within the pictorial plane
  4. There is his understanding of light. Look at any of the images in this posting – Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair (c. 1942, below), Evening in Kenwood (c. 1934, below) etc… and marvel at Brandt’s “ability to present the mundane world as fresh and strange.” Looking at the light of the world with a sense of wonder!
  5. And his understanding of “perspective”.
    Brandt is not afraid of the out of focus photograph as long as it gives him the “feeling” that he wants from the image. For example, see Losing at the Horse Races, Auteuil, Paris (c. 1932, below), shot from below, quickly, to capture the pensiveness of loosing money.
    Brandt is not afraid of foreshortening as in the photographs Evening in Kenwood (c. 1934, below) or A Snicket in Halifax (1937, below), where the use of this device leads the viewers eye into the body of the image.
    Brandt is also not afraid of a shallow depth of field or of placing objects or people right in the forefront of the image in order to create a complex picture plane. For example, in Kensington Children’s Party (c. 1934, below) the two children at bottom right are completely out of focus but hold up that corner of the image and give the image the stability and energy it needs to lead the eye into the small, frontal boy and the suspended balloons. Notice the really shallow depth of field, as only the girl at extreme right and a small number of balloons are in focus. Another later and more extreme example is the photograph Seaford, East Sussex Coast (1957, below) and the distortions in his book Perspective of Nudes (1961) – “a series that is both personal and universal, sensual and strange… rendering what might otherwise have been hopelessly clichéd aspects of the female form unfamiliar and surprising.

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Brandt’s skewed perspectives are not only literal but also have psychological undertones. His work challenges traditional ideas of identity, place and time and makes the mundane seem fresh and strange. Over and over again. These photographs remain as fresh today as the day they were taken BECAUSE OF THE COMPLEXITY OF THOUGHT THAT LIES BEHIND EACH IMAGE.

Many a photographer could do no better than study the work of this incredible artist. I see so many images in Melbourne and from around the world that really say nothing and go nowhere, because of a lack of understanding of what is POSSIBLE when making a photograph, when telling a story. Rules are there to be broken, out of focus, shallow depth of field, complex pictures, complex thoughts succinctly and elegantly told. For Brandt in any photograph, the artifice necessary to make a work was irrelevant so long as he felt the picture rang true. That does not mean lazy story telling, poor conceptualisation, bland visual construction.

As a good friend of mine artist Joyce Evans is fond of saying, “There is no excuse for bad photography.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal
1937
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 x 7 3/8″ (22.2 x 18.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

brandt-northumbrian-b-web

 

brandt-northumbrian-a-web

 

Analysis of Brandt’s visual exploration in Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal (1937)

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Packaging Post for the War' c. 1942

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Packaging Post for the War
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
8 3/16 x 7 13/16″ (20.8 x 19.9cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Mark Levine
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Liverpool Street Underground Station Shelter' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Liverpool Street Underground Station Shelter
1940
Gelatin silver print
11 11/16 x 9 11/16″ (29.7 x 24.6cm)
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Kensington Children's Party' c. 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Kensington Children’s Party
c. 1934
Gelatin silver print
8 5/8 x 7 3/16″ (21.9 x 18.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of David Dechman and Michel Mercure
© 2012 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Evening in Kenwood' c. 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Evening in Kenwood
c. 1934
Gelatin silver print
9 x 7 3/4″ (22.9 x 19.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of David Dechman and Michel Mercure and the Committee on Photography Fund.
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light, a major critical reevaluation of the heralded career of Bill Brandt (British b. Germany, 1904-83) from March 6 to August 12, 2013. A founding figure in photography’s modernist traditions, Brandt ranks among the visionaries who, in the diversity of their approach, established the creative potential of photography based on observation of the world around them. Brandt’s distinctive vision – his ability to present the mundane world as fresh and strange – emerged in London in the 1930s, and drew from his time in the Paris studio of Man Ray. His visual explorations of the society, landscape, and literature of England are indispensable to any understanding of photographic history and, arguably, to our understanding of life in Britain during the middle of the 20th century. Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light is organised by Sarah Meister, Curator, with Drew Sawyer, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography.

The impressive breadth of Brandt’s career, which suggests his restless experimental impulse, and the dramatic transformations of his printing style have often confounded those seeking to understand the link between the highly celebrated and seemingly unrelated chapters of his oeuvre. The exhibition brings together more than 150 works divided into six sections, each corresponding with a distinct aspect of Brandt’s achievement: London in the Thirties; Northern England; World War II; Portraits; Landscapes; and Nudes. Beginning with a highly selective display of albums and prints made around the European continent as Brandt was forming his artistic identity, the exhibition presents an opportunity to understand Brandt in a new light: one that establishes a chronological trajectory of his career, with an expanded consideration of his activity during World War II. In addition, a closer look at his printing methods with the finest known prints from across the range of Brandt’s career will clarify how the artist, whose early work is characterised by the muted, wistful portrait of a young housewife scrubbing the threshold to her home (East End Morning, 1937), would come to create a bold and unpredictable series of nudes on the rocky English coast (East Sussex Coast, 1957).

Brandt established his reputation before the Second World War with the publication of The English at Home (1936) and A Night in London (1938), books that distilled his early photographic studies of life in Britain. Noted works from this period on view include: Parlourmaid Preparing a Bath before Dinner (c. 1936); Soho Bedroom (1934); Street Scene, London (1936); and Losing at the Horse Races, Auteuil, Paris (c. 1932), which Brandt later re-titled Racegoers in Sandown Park in order to present it in the context of his English pictures, an expression of his disdain for slavish adherence to facts.

During this same period, Brandt ventured to several industrial towns in northern England to witness firsthand the impact of the Depression. Striking images from this group, including Snicket in Halifax (1937), Coal-Searcher Coming Home from Jarrow (1937), and Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal (1937), bear unequivocal witness to the devastating unemployment that plagued the region at the time, but there is a subtle ambiguity to many of these images that suggests Brandt found the artistic potential of these soot-blackened structures and faces competing for his attention.

Brandt’s activity during the Second World War – long distilled by Brandt and others to a handful of now-iconic pictures of moonlit London during the Blackout and improvised shelters during the Blitz – are presented for the first time in the context of his assignments for the leading illustrated magazines of his day, establishing a key link between his pre- and postwar work. In addition to photographs such as Liverpool Street Underground Station Shelter (1940) and Deserted Street in Bloomsbury (1942), this section includes lesser-known works from the period such as: Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair (c. 1942); Packaging Post for the War (c. 1942); and a suite of extraordinary wartime portraits.

Brandt’s assignments for Picture Post and Lilliput magazines, as well as Harper’s Bazaar (UK and US), led variously into extended investigations of portraiture and landscape photography, with a strong emphasis on contemporary literary figures in Britain and the country’s rich literary heritage. A solemn, vaguely distracted expression became a hallmark of Brandt’s portraiture, and notable examples on view include Dylan Thomas, Norman Douglas, Evelyn Waugh, Reg Butler, Harold Pinter, Martin Amis, Tom Stoppard, Vanessa Redgrave, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, and Francis Bacon.

Brandt’s crowning artistic achievement – published as Perspective of Nudes in 1961 – is a series that is both personal and universal, sensual and strange, collectively exemplifying the “sense of wonder”, to quote Brandt, that is paramount in his photographs. His extended investigation of the female nude remains his most original and memorable work, defying preconceived notions of the genre with his choice of settings (inhospitably barren seashores or prim Victorian interiors that conflated the domestic and the sexual in lieu of sterile, but safe, studios), as well as the extreme exaggeration of his distortions, cropping, and printing styles, rendering what might otherwise have been hopelessly clichéd aspects of the female form unfamiliar and surprising. On view are over 40 photographs from this period, including four prints of his iconic London (1952), which together suggest Brandt’s willingness to reinterpret even the most supremely resolved images in his oeuvre.

Through a rigorous analysis of each chapter of Brandt’s career across a half century of work, the exhibition clarifies the achievement of this towering figure in photography’s modernist tradition.

Press release from the MoMA website

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair' c. 1942

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
9 x 7 5/8″ (22.8 x 19.4cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of Clarissa A. Bronfman
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'A Snicket in Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
A Snicket in Halifax
1937
Gelatin silver print
9 x 7 11/16″ (22.9 x 19.6cm)
Carl Jacobs Fund
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Street Scene, London' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Street Scene, London
1936
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 x 7 11/16″ (23 x 19.6cm)
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

This picture, first published in Brandt’s book A Night in London in 1938, recalls the work of the Hungarian-born photographer Brassaï, who had a particular talent for capturing illicit, marginalised, or unconventional activity in the lamplit streets of Paris. Many of Brandt’s pictures, however, feature his family members playing roles. Here he placed his brother and sister-in-law, Rolf and Esther Brandt, in front of a large poster. Using a nearby streetlight or perhaps his own floodlight, Brandt cast Rolf’s profile in melodramatic shadow. The artifice necessary to make a work was irrelevant for Brandt so long as he felt the picture rang true.

Text from MoMA website

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Soho Bedroom' 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Soho Bedroom
1934
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 x 7 9/16″ (22.2 x 19.2cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Michèle Gerber Klein
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Haworth Churchyard' 1945

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Haworth Churchyard
1945
Gelatin silver print
8 15/16 x 7 11/16″ (22.7 x 19.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of Jon L. Stryker.
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Losing at the Horse Races, Auteuil, Paris' c. 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Losing at the Horse Races, Auteuil, Paris
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 x 6 15/16″ (21.3 x 17.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of Edwynn Houk
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Jean Dubuffet' 1960

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Jean Dubuffet
1960
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 x 7 1/4″ (21.3 x 18.4cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'London' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
London
1954
Gelatin silver print
9 1/8 x 7 3/4″ (23.1 x 19.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of Clarissa Alcock Bronfman and Richard E. Salomon
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Bill Brandt A Perspective of Nudes 1961

A book that looks back to Kertesz’s Distortions and forward to the psychedelia of the late 60s. As Vince Aletti writes in The Book of 101 Books, Brandt “conjure[d] a dream world of skewed perspectives in which his nude female subjects appeared to float unanchored or loom like giants.” Parr and Badger writing in The Photobook: A History, vol. 1, assert that these images “rewrote the language of nude photography in not one, but several quarters… [they are] as interesting for their psychological undertones as for the wealth of unexpected forms he conjured… Brandt pictured a world of faded grandeur, of Edwardian bourgeois homes metamorphosing into 1940s bedsit land – cavernous refuges for European émigrés or bohemian nonconformists.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Seaford, East Sussex Coast' 1957

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Seaford, East Sussex Coast
1957
Gelatin silver print
9 x 7 11/16″ (22.9 x 19.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of David Dechman and Michel Mercure
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
Phone: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
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MOMA website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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