Posts Tagged ‘creativity

28
Aug
16

Exhibition: ‘Roberto Donetta Photographer and Seed Salesman from Bleniotal’ at Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich

Exhibition dates: 28th May – 4th September 2016

 

I have found a hidden gem in Roberto Donetta. He has become one of my favourite photographers, this seed salesman from Bleniotal, who died in obscurity and poverty in 1932.

His photographs are like no other that I have seen. There is a directness to his photographs that is deceptively disarming, and humour as well. His theatre is the the theatre of life: the archaic life of his compatriots in the Blenio Valley. If you look at his work on the Roberto Donetta Archive website the landscapes and ambiguous object photographs are interesting, but it is in the genre of portrait photography that he really excels. This was his passion, photographing people.

Somehow, it seems as if the person being photographed has forgotten that the camera was there, as though it has disappeared from view. As the press release observes, “the people did not dissimulate [to disguise or conceal under a false appearance], indeed it’s almost as if they forgot that someone with a camera was watching, so self-engrossed do they look, serious, at one with themselves.” At one with themselves but also at one with being photographed, which is very unusual. There is little affectation here.

The details of the photographs are fascinating. The placement of the figures in Female Workers in Front of the Chocolate Factory Cima Norma for example, where the left two sitting figures have their legs crossed in the opposite direction while both rest their face in their hands, a central figure, and then two figures interlocked as in an infinity symbol looking at each other. The ‘line’ of the photograph changes from one height to another. We observe that Donetta stages his photographs with infinite care, even when there is a blank wall behind the sitter. In Family Portrait, Bleniotal there is a gorgeous touch, as the mother holds the arm of the boy on the left hand side and gently rests two fingers on his other hand. Donetta’s photographs are full of these familial and human observations.

In Group of musicians in front of a building all the men have cigarettes hanging from their mouths, even as they stare directly, unflinchingly into the camera lens. In Humoristic scene, Bleniotal the man holding the tongs can hardly suppress laughing as the theatrical photograph is being taken. Kittens or toys are held in hands while protective arms wrap around shoulders. Here are the precursors to the work of Diane Arbus, in their honesty and straight forwardness: in its modernity Children with Toys, Bleniotal even reminds me a little of Arbus’ Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967. And then there is the use of temporary backdrops, to imitate the upmarket studios of larger towns: “Donetta did imitate the decorative aesthetic of the late 19th century professional studios: he transformed interior or outdoor spaces into improvised studios by, for example, hanging up fabrics or carpets as backdrops and placing objects like chairs or tables with vases of flowers in the foreground. His portraits are carefully composed and arranged, look uncontrived, calm and archaic.”

Despite their deceptively simple nature, there is a mysterious quality to Donetta’s photographs which is enhanced through the use of these portable backdrops. The fabric backdrop and sheet to the left in A wedding couple staged in front of a cloth obscures a rock wall; the idyllic scene behind the boy in Portrait of a Boy, Bleniotal hides an earthy, rudimentary stone wall (and note the figure at the top of the image, holding the backdrop up); in Family Portrait, Bleniotal the hastily hung sheet has been decorated with leaves and branches; and in Untitled [Portrait of a women] a plain concrete wall acts as the backdrop even as a) the women looks out of the image not towards the camera; b) the eye can escape down the left hand side of the image and c) there is a ghost-like figure at the very right hand side of the image standing in what I presume is a doorway. The frontality of his photographs is also very powerful: in Untitled [Portrait of a man] the man looks like he is wearing his Sunday best jacket replete with bow tie. His legs are spread on the chair, the jacket looks to big for him, is stiff and unforgiving, his workers hands rest in his lap and he stares quizzically out of the image: calm, accepting, himself. In Portrait of Cesarina Andreazzi Lazzari, Bleniotal we (again) notice the textures in the image – the stipple, the concrete, the rocks – and then Cesarina’s stubby, dark hands clutching a bunch of flowers and a book, reminiscent of the dirt under the finger nails and dark features of the peasant boys that appear in the work of Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden.

Above all these are honest, direct and engaging photographs. You can think of Lewis Hine, Jacob Riis, Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and all the FSA photographers, Diane Arbus and others, and yet they don’t come close to the modern/archaic aesthetic of this man. These photographs are a pilgrimage into a past that has long disappeared. But these faces, these people and their lives, still resonate long after they have passed. I was so moved by these photographs I was in tears the other night when I was constructing this posting, studying the intimate details of these images. That means a lot to me.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

PS. I usually don’t publish photographs without title and date but in this instance, to gather together as many Donetta images as possible, I have published them when I have found good quality images on the internet. I believe that in this instance it is very worth while.

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

 

 

Roberto Donetta

 

Roberto Donetta
Untitled
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta

 

Roberto Donetta
Untitled
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta

 

Roberto Donetta
Untitled
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Female Workers in Front of the Chocolate Factory Cima Norma, Dangio-Torre' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Female Workers in Front of the Chocolate Factory Cima Norma, Dangio-Torre
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Family Portrait, Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Family Portrait, Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'In Sonntagsgewand: men in the Torre village come together for bowling' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
In Sonntagsgewand: men in the Torre village come together for bowling
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Untitled [Basket maker], Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Untitled [Basket maker], Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Family Portrait, Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Family Portrait, Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Untitled [Group Portrait], Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Untitled [Group Portrait], Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Group of musicians in front of a building, Bleniotal' 1900-1932

 

Roberto Donetta
Group of musicians in front of a building, Bleniotal
1900-1932
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Untitled [Group of men], Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Untitled [Group of men], Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Three girls in the break from work in the fields under a tree' 1900-1932

 

Roberto Donetta
Three girls in the break from work in the fields under a tree
1900-1932
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta

 

Roberto Donetta
Untitled
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta

 

Roberto Donetta
Untitled
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Humoristic scene, Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Humoristic scene, Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Humoristic scene, Bleniotal' (detail) Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Humoristic scene, Bleniotal (detail)
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Four Children in Leafs, Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Four Children in Leafs, Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Four Children in Leafs, Bleniotal' (detail) Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Four Children in Leafs, Bleniotal (detail)
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

 

Roberto Donetta (1865-1932) from Ticino is one of Swiss photography’s great outsiders. He managed to survive as a travelling photographer and seed salesman, and upon his death left almost 5,000 glass plates which were preserved merely by chance. These capture the archaic life of his compatriots in the Blenio Valley, which at the time was totally isolated, and the gradual advent of modern times in a precise and sensitive way. Over a period of 30 years and in an era of great change, Donetta became a unique chronicler. At the same time, he saw himself as an artist who – self-taught – experimented freely and knew how to master his medium. His pictures are penetrating and humorous, cheerful and deadly serious – be they of children, families, wedding couples, professional people, the harsh everyday-life of women and men, or of the photographer himself. The Blenio Valley as a microcosm: with Donetta the mountain valley becomes the stage for a great Theater of the World. The exhibition will display about 120 works from the Donetta Archive, many of them on show to the public for the first time ever.

Roberto Donetta was born in Biasca on 6 June 1865. It is not known where he spent his youth. Towards the late 1870s his family most probably moved to Castro in the Blenio Valley, as his father had got a job there as a military functionary. An official register entry on the occasion of his marriage to Teodolinda Tinetti indicates that Roberto Donetta certainly lived in the valley as of 1886. He is registered there as “contadino”, a farmer, which he most likely never was. In 1892 he opened a small grocery shop in Corzoneso, but he had it for only six months. In 1894 he went to London to work as a waiter, returning just 15 months later, sick and exhausted. He then became a hawker and travelled into the most remote corners of the whole valley selling vegetable and flower seeds. As of 1900 he lived in the “Casa Rotonda” in Casserio, part of the Corzoneso municipality. He and Teodolinda meantime had seven children, one of whom died at the age of one. It was around that time that Donetta began to be involved with photography. Apparently Dionigi Sorgesa, a sculptor from Corzoneso, introduced him to the profession and also rented him a camera. Now Donetta was not only a seed merchant but also the valley’s photographer.

A Constant traveller

After turbulent quarrels about the use of their sparse income, he and his family separated in 1912: his wife and children left him in the direction of Bellinzona in search of more lucrative work. Only the youngest son, Saul, remained with his father. On 6 June 1913, his 48th birthday, some of Donetta’s belongings were seized and, for a couple of months, he had no camera, which was a great worry to him: “Not to be able to work for a period of nine months – that severed my connection with my art and made me totally destitute.” Donetta spent the years after the First World War in great solitude, constantly on the road throughout the valley. From 1927 onwards, some of his photographs were published in one of Switzerland’s first illustrated journals, L’Illustré, issued by Ringier.

On the morning of 6 September 1932, Roberto Donetta was found dead in his home. All his photographic equipment was confiscated and auctioned so as to pay off his debts to the municipality. The glass plates, however, were all left untouched. In the mid-1980s Mariarosa Bozzini rediscovered them in Corzoneso.

Between tradition and modernity

Donetta’s personality was full of contradictions. On the one hand, he expressed considerable interest in all the phenomena associated with the advent of modern achievements, such as photography. On the other hand, he was decidedly conservative when it came to the cohesion of the family or his close links with nature. The latter prevented him from leaving the valley to look for more secure work in town. He lamented the constant changes associated with road building and new railway lines, which he did not see as a blessing for the valley. In his capacity as a photographer he succumbed to the fascination of the modern, yet at the same time he expressed a deep respect for long-standing traditions and rituals.

Roberto Donetta’s passion was undoubtedly for portrait photography. The self-taught photographer not only exhibited an astonishing technical mastery in portraying people, but was also able to give free rein to his creativity – despite the fact that this particular field of photography was strongly influenced by the conventions and expectations of his clients. His numerous portraits of children are remarkable. With children he was well able to live out his delight in composing, his talent in staging small scenes. He took the young people seriously, and they in turn were his accomplices, becoming involved in his idiosyncratic ideas.

The chronicler and his style

Throughout his life Donetta accompanied life in the valley, taking commissioned photographs of the inhabitants and the representatives of the different professions, as well as of various events: a visit by a bishop, the arrival of a carousel, a flood, a fire, the construction of a railway line or a bell tower. He was also present at life’s rituals, the transitions from one age group to another, from one social group to the next, or else the prominent fixed points in the year’s cycle, be they secular or ecclesiastical: festivals, weddings, funerals, processions, outdoor church services, these were inconceivable without “il fotografo”. Donetta made photography an important part of those rituals, and over the course of time the photographer was as much a part of the valley as the parson was of the church. This is surely the source of the quality of his photographs: the people did not dissimulate, indeed it’s almost as if they forgot that someone with a camera was watching, so self-engrossed do they look, serious, at one with themselves.

The improvised studio

As Donetta did not have a studio of his own, he travelled the whole valley to take his portraits and produced only small modest prints in postcard format (ie. 7 x 11 cm), which he occasionally stamped with his initials. Often the only ornamentation was an oval vignetting or rounded edges. He regularly delivered the commissioned photographs late because, in order to save chemicals, he only developed his films infrequently. After his rounds as a seed merchant, he then struggled with his business correspondence late into the evening. His works differ greatly from the elegant, classic, gold-edged cards that people could have done those days in the city studios without long waiting periods.

Yet in his own way Donetta did imitate the decorative aesthetic of the late 19th century professional studios: he transformed interior or outdoor spaces into improvised studios by, for example, hanging up fabrics or carpets as backdrops and placing objects like chairs or tables with vases of flowers in the foreground. His portraits are carefully composed and arranged, look uncontrived, calm and archaic. Because of the long exposure times, he was concerned to eliminate chance and spontaneity as far as possible.

In addition to this, he also experimented, or simply took photographs for himself: still life, stormy scenes, cloud formations, strangely shaped cliff or tree outlines. These photographs impress us by their modernity and originality and testify to an inquisitive man with an interest in aesthetic issues.

Press release from Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Roberto Donetta. 'For the photographer, he briefly interrupts his work: A chef in Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
For the photographer, he briefly interrupts his work: A chef in Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Untitled [Boy and girl]' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Untitled [Boy and girl]
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Children with Toys, Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Children with Toys, Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Roberto and Linda Donetta with Their Children Brigida and Saulle' 1905-1910

 

Roberto Donetta
Roberto and Linda Donetta with Their Children Brigida and Saulle
1905-1910
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Roberto and Linda Donetta with Their Children Brigida and Saulle' (detail) 1905-1910

 

Roberto Donetta
Roberto and Linda Donetta with Their Children Brigida and Saulle (detail)
1905-1910
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta

 

Roberto Donetta. 'A wedding couple staged in front of a cloth' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
A wedding couple staged in front of a cloth
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Portrait of a Boy, Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Portrait of a Boy, Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Killing of a pig, Bleniotal' 1900-1932

 

Roberto Donetta
Killing of a pig, Bleniotal
1900-1932
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Family Portrait, Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Family Portrait, Bleniotal
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Untitled [Portrait of a women]' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Untitled [Portrait of a women]
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Untitled [Portrait of a man]' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Untitled [Portrait of a man]
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Cortonese

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Portrait of Cesarina Andreazzi Lazzari, Bleniotal' Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Portrait of Cesarina Andreazzi Lazzari, Bleniotal
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Portrait of Cesarina Andreazzi Lazzari, Bleniotal' (detail) Nd

 

Roberto Donetta
Portrait of Cesarina Andreazzi Lazzari, Bleniotal (detail)
Nd
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

Roberto Donetta. 'Self-portrait of Roberto Donetta with hat and a photo album in hand, in front of a wall, Bleniotal' 1900-1932

 

Roberto Donetta
Self-portrait of Roberto Donetta with hat and a photo album in hand, in front of a wall, Bleniotal
1900-1932
© Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Daily 11 am to 6 pm
Wednesday 11 am to 8 pm
Closed on Mondays

Fotostiftung Schweiz website

Roberto Donetta Archive website

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23
Nov
14

Review: ‘Polixeni Papapetrou: Lost Psyche’ at Stills Gallery, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 29th October – 29th November 2014

 

 

“Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.”

.
Paul Klee. Creative Credo [Schöpferische Konfession] 1920

 

When “facing” adversity, it is a measure of a person’s character how they hold themselves, what face they show to the world, and how their art represents them in that world. So it is with Polixeni Papapetrou. The courage of this artist, her consistency of vision and insightful commentary on life even while life itself is in the balance, are inspiring to all those that know her.

Papapetrou has always created her own language, integrating the temporal dissemination of the historical “case” into a two-dimensional space of simultaneity and tabulation (the various archetypes and ancient characters), into an outline against a ground of Cartesian coordinates.1 In her construction, in her observation and under her act of surveillance, Papapetrou moves towards a well-made description of the states of the body in the tables and classification of the psychological landscape. Her tableaux (the French tableau signifies painting and scene (as in tableau vivant), but also table (as in a table used to organize data)) are a classification and tabulation that is an exact “portrait” of “the” illness, the lost psyche of the title. Her images lay out, in a very visible way, the double makeover: of the outer and inner landscape.

These narratives are above all self-portraits. The idea that image, archetype and artist might somehow be one and the same is a potent idea in Papapetrou’s work. What is “rendered” visible in her art is her own spirit, for these visionary works are nothing less than concise, intimate, focused self-portraits. They speak through the mask of the commedia dell’ arte of a face half turned to the world, half immersed in imaginary worlds. The double skin (as though human soul, the psyche, is erupting from within, forcing a face-off) and triple skin (evidenced in the lack of depth of field of the landscape tableaux) propose an opening up, a revealing of self in which the anatomy (anatemnein: to tear, to open a body, to dissect) of the living is revealed. The images become an autopsy on the living and the dead: “a series of images, that would crystallize and memorize for everyone the whole time of an inquiry and, beyond that, the time of a history.”2

Papapetrou’s images become the “true retina” of seeing, close to a scientific description of a character placed on a two dimensional background (notice how the stylised clouds in The Antiquarian, 2014 match the fur hat trim). In the sense of evidence, the artist’s archetypes proffer a Type that is balanced on the edge of longing, poetry, desire and death, one that the objectivity of photography seeks to fix and stabilise. These images serve the fantasy of a memory: of a masked archetype in a made over landscape captured “exact and sincere” by the apparatus of the camera. A faithful memory of a tableau in which Type is condensed into a unique image: the visage fixed to the regime of representation,3 the universal become singular. This Type is named through the incorporated Text, the Legend: I am Day Dreamer, Immigrant, Merchant, Poet, Storyteller.

But even as these photographs seek to fix the Type, “even as the object of knowledge is photographically detained for observation, fixed to objectivity,”4 the paradox is that this kind of knowledge slips away from itself, because photography is always an uncertain technique, unstable and chaotic, as ever the psyche. In the cutting-up of bodies, cutting-up on stage, a staging aimed at knowledge – the facticity of the masked, obscured, erupting face; the corporeal surface of the body, landscape, photograph – the image makes visible something of the movements of the soul. In these heterotopic images, sites that relate to more stable sites, “but in such a way as to suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror or reflect,”5 Papapetrou’s psyche, “creates the chain of tradition which passes a happening on from generation to generation.”6 In her commedia dell’ arte, an improvised comedy of craft, of artisans (a worker in a skilled trade), the artist fashions the raw material of experience in a unique way.7 We, the audience, intuitively recognise the type of person being represented in the story, through their half masks, their clothing and context and through the skilful dissemination of collective memory and experience.

Through her storytelling Papapetrou moves towards a social and spiritual transformation, one that unhinges the lost psyche. Her landscape narratives are a narrative of a recognisable, challenging, unstable non-linear art, an art practice that embraces “the speculative mystery of ancient roles…  They’re all souls with divided emotions, torn between dream and reality, who like us, converge on the collective stage that is the world.” They are archetype as self-portrait: portraits of a searching, erupting, questioning soul, brave and courageous in a time of peril. And the work is for the children (of the world), for without art and family, extinction.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Footnotes

1. Adapted from Didi-Huberman, Georges. Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere (trans. Alisa Hartz). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003, p. 24-25. I am indebted to the ideas of Georges Didi-Huberman for his analysis of the ‘facies’ and the experiments of Jean-Martin Charcot on hysteria at the Hôpital Salpêtrière in Paris in the 1880s.
2.
Ibid., p. 48
3. Ibid., p. 49
4. Ibid., p. 59
5. Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces,” in Diacritics Spring 1986, p. 24 quoted in Fisher, Jean. “Witness for the Prosecution: The Writings of Coco Fusco,” in Fusco, Coco. The Bodies That Were Not Ours. London: Routledge, 2001, pp. 226-227
6. Fisher, Ibid., p. 227-228
7. “One can go on and ask oneself whether the relationship of the storyteller to his material, human life, is not in itself a craftsman’s relationship, whether it is not his very task to fashion the raw material of experience, his own and that of others, in a solid, useful, and unique way.”
Benjamin
, Walter. Illuminations (trans. by Harry Zohn; edited by Hannah Arendt). New York: Schocken Books, 1968 (2007), p. 108

 

Many thankx to Polixeni Papapetrou and Stills Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images copyright of the artist.

 

 

“For her, history indicates a view of culture that is more congruent with mortality, with the biological swell of great things arising and perishing, brilliant and melancholy, august and yet brittle. Without judgement, she reorients history as phenomenology: it contains a bracing dimension of loss which is congruent with that fatal sentiment lodged in our unconscious, that our very being – our psyche – is ultimately lost…

Lost Psyche is always about lost cultural innocence, where culture gets too smart and ends by messing with an earlier equilibrium. Papapetrou identifies these moments not to promote gloom but to recognize all the parallels that make for redemption. Parts of the psyche are undoubtedly lost; but Papapetrou proposes and proves that they can still be poetically contacted.”

.
Robert Nelson 2014

 

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Day Dreamer' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Day Dreamer
2014
Pigment print
100 x 150 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Immigrant' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Immigrant
2014
Pigment print
100 x 150 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Merchant' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Merchant
2014
Pigment print
100 x 150 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Orientalist' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Orientalist
2014
Pigment print
100 x 150 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Poet' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Poet
2014
Pigment print
100 x 150 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Storyteller' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Storyteller
2014
Pigment print
100 x 150 cm

 

 

“In Lost Psyche, Polixeni Papapetrou portrays emblematic figures that have come to the end of their tradition, their rationale, their place in the world. These intriguing and charismatic characters – the poet, the tourist, the immigrant, among others – bring to life antique Victorian paper masks. Yet, despite being cast beyond our immediate reality, their costumes harking back to earlier times, their settings to fantastical places, these archetypal figures live on in the cultural imagination.

Internationally celebrated for an oeuvre that has consistently tested the boundaries of performance and photography, reality and fantasy, childhood and adulthood, Lost Psyche marks a significant return for Papapetrou. Having extensively explored the Australian landscape as a stage for her photographic fictions, and working in response to the natural and historical dramas of our country, this series takes us back into her studio and the expansive scope of imaginary worlds.

Expressive, luscious and knowingly naïve, the painted backdrops bring to mind the simple seduction of children’s storybooks. At the same time, they reference the painting heavyweights and photographic forerunners that are celebrated within art history. Papapetrou’s image The Duchess, for instance, echoes Goya’s commanding oil painting of the Duchess of Alba (1797). Yet, in this newly imagined version, the ‘role’ of Duchess is playfully acted not endured, and like the melodrama of theatre, the dark sky and downcast actor are softened to become illustrative and symbolic – a scene in a universal story. So too, The Orientalist evokes Felix Beato’s 19th Century photographic forays in Japan, recalling his hand-colouring techniques and depictions of social ‘types’.

Consciously foregrounding this ever-present potential for art to present stereotyped representations, Papapetrou reminds us how these social roles and ‘masks’ play out within our souls and psyche’s just as they do on the cultural stage. As a metaphor for the loss of childhood, a time in which we openly switch between characters, identities and roles, this work evokes the persistence of that imagination, as it lives on within the adult world.

In Lost Psyche, the speculative mystery of ancient roles enjoys a fantastical and touching afterlife. In the contemporary world we may also entertain the inner poet, the storyteller, the clown, the connoisseur, the courtesan, the day dreamer or the dispossessed. They’re all souls with divided emotions, torn between dream and reality, who like us, converge on the collective stage that is the world.

Polixeni Papapetrou is an internationally acclaimed artist. Her works feature in significant curated exhibitions, including recently the 13th Dong Gang International Photo Festival, Korea, the TarraWarra Biennale, VIC, Remain in Light, Museum of Contemporary Art, and Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria. She exhibits worldwide, including in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Seoul, Athens and Berlin. Recent solo exhibitions include Under My Skin, Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, 2014, Between Worlds in Fotogràfica Bogotá, 2013, and A Performative Paradox, Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2013. Her work is held in numerous institutional collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Monash Gallery of Art, Artbank, Fotomuseo, Colombia, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Florida, USA.”

Press release from Stills Gallery

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Antiquarian' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Antiquarian
2014
Pigment print
150 x 100 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Duchess' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Duchess
2014
Pigment print
150 x 100 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Summer Clown' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Summer Clown
2014
Pigment print
150 x 100 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Troubadour' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
The Troubadour
2014
Pigment print
150 x 100 cm

 

 

Stills Gallery
36 Gosbell Street
Paddington NSW 2021
Australia
T: 61 2 9331 7775

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 11.00 am – 6.00 pm

Stills Gallery website

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17
Jun
13

Review: ‘Johsel Namkung: A Retrospective’ published by Cosgrove Editions, 2013

Published by Cosgrove Editions, Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective is a collection of one hundred exquisite images selected from a remarkable career in photography spanning six decades.

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“I like to give my viewers questions, not answers. Let them find beauty in the most mundane things, like roadside wildflowers and tumbled weeds.”

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Johsel Namkung

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“When we can find the abstract in nature we find the deepest art.”

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Mark Tobey

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“Photographs give us information; it seems that they give us information that is very packaged and they give us the information that we are already prepared to recognize obviously. It’s as if the words don’t have the weight they should have, so that one of the statements being made by any photograph is: “This really exists.” The photograph is a kind of job for the imagination to do something that we should have been able to do if we were not so disturbed by so many different kinds of information that are not really absorbed. Photographs have this authority of being testimony, but almost as if you have some direct contact with the thing, or as if the photograph is a piece of the thing; even though it’s an image, it really is the thing.”

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Susan Sontag. Excerpt from a speech, Wellesley College photographic symposium, April 21, 1975

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This is a superlative book by Cosgrove Editions that celebrates the sixty-year life in photography of the now 94-year-old Johsel Namkung. Rather than a retrospective I see this book as testimony to Johsel Namkung’s vision as an artist and the photographs, as Susan Sontag observes above, as testaments that allow the viewer to have some direct contact with the things that Johsel photographed, to see and feel with him the places that he visited and the things that he saw.

Some of the photographs in this book take your breath away. Taken with a large format camera Johsel’s compositions are heavily influenced by music and are almost fugue-like in their structure. They vibrate and sing like few other landscape photographs that I have ever seen. There is the absence of a horizon, so that his photographs seem to agree with the picture-plane rather than with the world at large.1 Rather, Johsel lets his images flow and in that flow he creates patterning that distinctly creates layers of landscape. The juxtaposing of lines on the landscape is reinforced in the sequencing of the book, where binary opposites are paired on facing pages: feminine / masculine, yang / ying, macro / micro. For example Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989 is printed opposite Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979 (feminine / masculine); Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989 is printed opposite Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991 (yang / ying); and the vast Denali National Park, Alaska September, 1987 is printed opposite the almost Japanese-like delicacy of Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980 (macro / micro). Although there are links to Abstract Expressionist painters such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Toby and photographers Ansel Adams, Minor White and Eliot Porter this work is wholly Johsel’s in its compositional structure – the position that the photographer puts himself in, both physically and mentally, to obtain these most beautiful of images.

Johsel has a love of small triangular shapes within the pictorial frame. They act like small punctum or pizzicato in musical terms and these given details are intended as such by the photographer. The little punctum in Johsel’s individual works become an accumulation of small punctum that resonate throughout the whole testimony of his work – through the placement of rocks and twigs, the use of triangles and layers whose presence Johsel so loves within the photograph. In this sense (that the photograph is written by the photographer), these are photographs of the mind as much as they are of the landscape. Working in the manner of Minor White (photographing in meditation, creating a pathway from the self to the object, from the object through the camera and back to the self, forming a circle), harmonising all elements (visual, physical, elemental, spiritual), Johsel exposes himself as much as the landscape he is photographing. This is his spirit in relation to the land, to the cosmos, even. Like Monet’s paintings of water lilies these photographs are a “small dreaming” of his spirit with a section of the land not necessarily, as in Aboriginal art, a dreaming and connection to the whole land.

As Minor White observes of the “recognition” of such dreaming when working with the view camera,

“First, there is a store of images, experience, ego problems, ideals, fears, which the man brings to his seeing at the start. Second, during the activity of seeing they are matched against the images in the visual world, like matching colors. This is done with some conscious effort and a great deal of unconscious participation. At the moment of matching or “recognition” there is a feeling of important at least, and sometimes a merciless impact. This in turn is secured by exposure – like a sudden gust of wind drops a ripe apple. So we can say “recognition” is the trigger of exposure. In view camera work the lapse between recognition and exposure may be relatively long. There is time for analysis and criticism of image and idea, and exposure sums up the entire experience.”2

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Like the sudden gust of wind drops the ripe apple.

Oh the joy Johsel must have found when he recognised such invocations, by being aware of his surroundings and his relationship to the earth. I know from my own experience that when you find such a place and recognise it for what it is, it is then an entirely different matter to capture it on film for the camera imparts its own perspective. It is almost as if Johsel and the camera are one, and that the camera itself has disappeared into the landscape (I like the way that you can nearly see his camera but it is actually hidden in the photograph at the bottom of the posting). I get the feeling that Johsel is quite consciously working within an adopted aesthetic – sort of like a tea ceremony – and just making things purposefully and having faith that it is some sort “of way” of doing things. At no point is there any sense of difficulty here – it has all been removed. Yet there was so much physical effort: climbing, walking, waiting, patience, no trace of it. What a heroic act this is!

Johsel approaches a metaphysics of the Real, creating authentic visualisations of the world – an idealised, abstracted Real tending towards a (mental) s(t)imulation. In other words, he photographs the world not to reveal a specific place but a particular state of mind. Is the link to indexicality broken? No, but there is no ultimate truth or origin here, for his is an art of transformation (theatricality) through structure (modernism) which is the essence of aesthetic arts.

“This strategy rejects the search for an origin or ultimate Truth and instead interprets reality as composed, contingent and intersubjective; reality is, therefore, theatrical… Theatricality is made of this endless play and of these continuous displacements of the position of desire, in other words, of the position of the subject in process with an imaginary constructive space.”3

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In Johsel’s photographs desire is displaced, ego is removed and his photographs become images of the mind as much as they are of the landscape. This is Johsel at play recognising, becoming these imaginary, constructive spaces. He is in the zone, he becomes the zone, even. Finally we can say: his photographs and his life are transformational; his imagination is the representation of possibility; his work is testimony to that representation.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Johsel Namkung, Dick Busher and Cosgrove Editions for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Dick Busher allowed me to pick the photographs that I wanted to illustrate this posting and for that I am most grateful. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

The book has recently taken top honors in two different award competitions among independent publishers for photography books: The Independent Book Publishers Association’s Benny Awards, and the Independent Publishers IPPY Awards.

PS. I think that photographer is very aware of: “Let the subject generate its own composition” (MW) – coming from Weston’s “Composition is the strongest way of seeing.”

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 Johsel Namkung. 'Big Meadow, Washington Pass, Washington September, 2000' 2000

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Johsel Namkung
Big Meadow, Washington Pass, Washington September, 2000
2000

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 Johsel Namkung. 'Cougar Lake, Oregon June 1991' 1991

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Johsel Namkung
Cougar Lake, Oregon June 1991
1991

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Johsel Namkung. 'Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989' 1989

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Johsel Namkung
Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989
1989

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Johsel Namkung. 'Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979' 1979

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Johsel Namkung
Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979
1979

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“In his photography Johsel brings attention and importance to elements of nature that most people pass by on their way to the grand vistas. One of my favorite locations in Washington is the Palouse as seen from Steptoe Butte; Johsel’s interpretations of the undulating wheat fields just greening with new growth are sensuous and impressionistic. One feels the slope of the earth, the texture of the tilled fields rather than seeing it. The sophisticated simplicity of his vision is highlighted in a simple composition of a dark pond surface, afloat with delicate grasses; the fine lines flowing this way and that give a sense of constant movement, yet it is a still photograph. In a twig reaching out of the snow, the subtle reflection on a pond in late afternoon light, delicate frozen ripples of ice clinging to river rock, the geometric chaos of tree branches covered in snow, the rich patina of weather-beaten stone, Johsel celebrates the minute in a grand way; it becomes the symbol for the greater whole. Textures, rhythm of line and movement become the foremost elements in his work. Some of Johsel’s images are quiet and abstract, singing a single note, while others are full-out symphonies in a celebration of the rhythms. In particular I find his Korean landscapes extraordinary. In winter the alpine hillsides bare their architecture; ridge after ridge, speckled with leafless birch and pyramidal conifers, they overlap in a crescendo of natural beauty.”

Art Wolfe, Introduction to Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective

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Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989' 1989

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Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989
1989

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Johsel Namkung. 'Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991' 1991

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Johsel Namkung
Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991
1991

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Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1977' 1977

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Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1977
1977

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Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1983' 1983

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Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1983
1983

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Johsel Namkung. 'Denali National Park, Alaska  September, 1987' 1987

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Johsel Namkung
Denali National Park, Alaska September, 1987
1987

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Johsel Namkung. 'Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980' 1980

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Johsel Namkung
Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980
1980

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“Photography as a medium is still relatively young. Introduced publicly in 1839, its definition has remained complicated in discourse and practice, oscillating between practical application – whether scientific illustration, family record, or aid to commerce – and aesthetic or expressive concerns. Debates that arose shortly after its invention, contesting whether photography could be an artistic medium, remained heated a century later and beyond, resolving only after Photoshop and other types of photographic manipulation became commonplace. Questions about the role of the photographer, the relative merits of color versus black-and-white, truth to the original shot versus darkroom manipulation, investigations about canon, hierarchy, and genre have continued to multiply, as have the social organizations – art schools, technical assistance and supplies, professional and amateur societies, regular shows and publications – that foster photographic work. Becoming a photographer in the middle of the twentieth century, Johsel Namkung emerged at the intersection of all these social and conceptual shifts. Taking advantage of this opening, he made several unconventional choices: deciding to work in color although it was black and white that signified art photography until the 1970s or later; working abstractly, but hewing to the dictates of straight photography: available light, no darkroom manipulation, print the full negative.

From the acquisition of his first camera, Namkung developed high standards for his photographic practice, recalling to interviewer Alan Lau, “I always had a confidence in myself… I had a sort of a vision toward my photographic future. I knew I was going to be something.”1 Trained first as a musician, from the beginning Namkung defined photography in abstract terms, approaching his motifs in terms of rhythms, tonal relationships, pattern, and texture. Individual works reveal specific affinities. The calligraphic grasses in Lizzard Lake, Stampede Pass, WA, August 1976 suggests Harry Callahan’s images of reeds, which are associated with Abstract Expressionist photography. The lichen-covered stone in Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, WA, September 1976 resembles Jackson Pollock or the famed White Paintings of Namkung’s friend Mark Tobey. The screen of regular tree trunks in Sherman Pass, WA, August 1993, recalls the hatched lines representing driving rain in modern Japanese printmaking. Like limpid watercolor strokes, the rolling hills of the Palouse – distinct in each version of Steptoe Butte, of 1976, 1977, and 1983 – allude to Morris Louis’s color field paintings.

Namkung’s preface here recounts how successive unusual jobs supplied him with professional training as a photographer. Seattle in the postwar boom years also provided a rich and supportive context for his art. Skilled artists from the ranks of first- and second-generation immigrants, from Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines, gathered in the International District but worked and showed farther afield. Art photography had a popular following and many innovative practitioners; Pictorialism – promoted by annual exhibitions like those organized by the Seattle Camera Club – encouraged aesthetic and technical exploration with cameras. The so-called Northwest Mystics represented only one of several artistic communities exploring abstraction, some emphasizing its expressive potential, others seeking formal invention. Creativity was equally celebrated beyond fine art. Rarefied technical challenges were tackled and mastered at The Boeing Company as well as the scientific laboratories of the University of Washington. The richness of this cultural ecology fostered the unique development of Namkung’s career. In return, his thoughtful production has nourished local and international audiences for over four decades.”

Elizabeth Brown, Former Chief Curator, Henry Art Gallery, Introduction to Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective

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1 Alan Chong Lau interview of Johsel Namkung conducted in Seattle, Washington, on October 5, 1989, for the Archives of American Art Northwest Asian American Project.

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Johsel Namkung. 'Shi Shi Beach Buoy, Olympic National Park, Washington August, 1981' 1981

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Johsel Namkung
Shi Shi Beach Buoy, Olympic National Park, Washington August, 1981
1981

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Johsel Namkung. 'Bissell, Washington December, 1981' 1981

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Johsel Namkung
Bissell, Washington December, 1981
1981

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Johsel Namkung. 'Alaska Lichens, Date Unknown' Nd

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Johsel Namkung
Alaska Lichens, Date Unknown
Nd

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Johsel Namkung. 'Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, Washington September, 1976' 1976

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Johsel Namkung
Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, Washington September, 1976
1976

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Johsel Namkung. 'Weston Beach, Point Lobos, California May, 1988' 1988

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Johsel Namkung
Weston Beach, Point Lobos, California May, 1988
1988

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Johsel Namkung. 'Frenchman Coulee, Washington May, 2002' 2002

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Johsel Namkung
Frenchman Coulee, Washington May, 2002
2002

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Johsel Namkung. 'Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington October, 1984' 1984

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Johsel Namkung
Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington October, 1984
1984

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joshel-camera

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Joshel Namkung on Hurricane Ridge, photographed by his friend Ken Levine

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1. Adapted from Robert Nelson commenting on the painting of Monet. “Impressionist’s ode to beauty trips into light fantastic,” The Age newspaper, Wednesday May 22nd 2013, p.42.

2. White, Minor. “Exploratory Camera,” 1949 in Bunnell, Peter C. (ed.,). Aperture Magazine Anthology – The Minor White Years 1952-1976. Aperture, 2013, p.64.

3. Féral, Josette. “Performance and Theatricality: The Subject Demystified,” in Modern Drama 25 (March) 1982, p.177.

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Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective website

Cosgrove Editions website

Cosgrove Editions is an independent publisher of books on photography. We also provide production and printing assistance for artists who self publish their work. Many of our projects have won some of the highest international awards for printing quality.

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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: ‘Sleep/Wound’ 1995-96


Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: 'Sleep/Wound' 1995-96 *PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY - IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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