Posts Tagged ‘decisive moment


Exhibition: ‘Film Stills: Photography between Advertising, Art and the Cinema’ at Albertina, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 4th November 2016 – 26th February 2017


I seem to have a bit of a thing for film and photography at the moment!

More delicious film fascination, this time for the still camera. German Expressionism, film noir, science-fiction, horror, murder and mayhem – photographers using all manner of artistic techniques to get their message across. Now often found in fine art auction houses.

I love the heading “Intermediality and Self-Reflexivity” … “intermediate images” that unite aspects of both media (film and photography) and self-reflexive images that take on a life of their own, developing “a filmic work further in an independent manner, thereby allowing it to be regarded from new perspectives. Such stills often contain self-reflexive commentary on the work’s specifically “filmic” aspects.”

Sensitive, sensual, snapshot; stars and auteurism; murder and mayhem; avant-garde, beauty and sex – it has it all. Great stuff.


PS. Look at the amazing colours in Horst von Harbou’s stills for Metropolis (1927) which were produced as transparent foils and elaborately coloured by hand. Never heard of such a thing before, coloured transparent foils.

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



Anonymous. 'La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc' 1927


La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc
Karl Theodor Dreyer (director)



Carl Theodor Dreyer (3 February 1889 – 20 March 1968), commonly known as Carl Th. Dreyer, was a Danish film director. He is regarded by many critics and filmmakers as one of the greatest directors in cinema. His best known films include The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Vampyr (1932), Day of Wrath (1943), Ordet (1955), and Gertrud (1964) …

As a young man, Dreyer worked as a journalist, but he eventually joined the film industry as a writer of title cards for silent films and subsequently of screenplays. He was initially hired by Nordisk Film in 1913.

His first attempts at film direction had limited success, and he left Denmark to work in the French film industry. While living in France he met Jean Cocteau, Jean Hugo and other members of the French artistic scene and in 1928 he made his first classic film, The Passion of Joan of Arc. Working from the transcripts of Joan’s trial, he created a masterpiece of emotion that drew equally on realism and expressionism.

Text from the Wikipedia website





Who doesn’t know them: that picture from The Seven-Year Itch of a smiling Marilyn Monroe with her white dress blown upward by the air from a subway grate, or the photo of a conspiratorial James Stewart in Rear Window? Regardless of whether one has seen the actual movies, such images are familiar. It’s film stills like these that have burnt themselves into the collective memory and had a major impact on how their films are perceived.

Film stills embody visual traces of films as well as independent photographic images. Taken on set during production, they are based on an elaborate process in which film photographers re-stage film scenes for the still camera.

In the first-ever major exhibition devoted to this hybrid genre, the Albertina is showing 130 film stills taken between 1902 and 1975 in cooperation with the Austrian Film Museum. That was the period during which black-and-white film stills reached their highest level of technical and aesthetic quality, simultaneously covering a sweeping cross-section of various artistic movements from photographic and cinematic history such as Pictorialism and Expressionism. Employing pictures by Deborah Imogen Beer, Horst von Harbou, Pierluigi Praturlon, Karl Struss, and others, three aspects of this genre’s intermedial relationships are highlighted: the functions performed by film stills, the interfaces between photography and film with their breaks and couplings, and the additional artistic value of still photographs as such.


For the Media and the Press

The purpose of film stills is clearly defined: as material for the press and various types of advertising, they help to market films. And alongside their use in trailers, film journalism, and other marketing tools such as posters, film stills also represent a key ingredient of audience expectations pertaining to a film upon its release. Even so, it is the production of visually appealing images – rather than authentic reproduction of the film itself – that is important, here. In display windows and the media, still images visualise different aspects of a production ranging from key scenes to the actual filming work. This motivic variety corresponds to various film still categories: portrait photos of the actors and actresses taken by in-house studio photographers, as well as scene photos and making-of photos, are used in these contexts. And fed into numerous distribution processes, such photos also serve as models for posters, lobby cards, photo books, and press materials.


Intermediality and Self-Reflexivity

Film stills unite functional requirements with photographic and filmic intentions. And in fact, still photography is the only way in which to show visual traces of a production outside of the filmic event – the screening – itself. The challenges that photographers face in taking such shots lie in the difference between the media of moving (projected) film images and static (material) photography. In a complex and laborious process, they work on set to restage film scenes specifically for the still camera, thus transforming the film from a moving to a static medium.

The employment of various photographic strategies makes possible film stills’ “filmic” reception, with momentary photos that evoke a film’s dynamics being just as exemplary here as panoramic shots that require a longer look. Still photos thus repeat a film’s constituent elements, inscribing them onto a photographic medium in various ways and thus functioning as “intermediate images” that unite aspects of both media. They can be read not only as static views of a filmic reality, but also as independent types of photographic image. This quality is reinforced by the fact that stills frequently develop a filmic work further in an independent manner, thereby allowing it to be regarded from new perspectives. Such stills often contain self-reflexive commentary on the work’s specifically “filmic” aspects.


Film Stills at the Interface to Fine Art

Being situated between film and photography, many film stills also possess artistic qualities that are clearly photographic in nature. Here, composition plays a major role as it bears witness to a pictorial conception that differs from that of a filmic image. For while moving images are designed as horizontal arrangements, with the pictorial elements sequenced one after the other to effect their visual continuation, still photographers stage still photos according to the (static) central perspective governed by the camera’s vanishing point. This positions observers at that place which has been assigned them since the Renaissance – that is, looking straight down the picture’s central axis. Correspondingly, many stills exhibit reminiscences of the proscenium stage from traditional live theatre, favouring views that render scenes more immediate and thus more easily legible.

Photographers, in composing their images, often borrow iconographic and stylistic elements from various artistic movements: Expressionism, Art Nouveau, and Pictorialism are examples of these.

And in this way, still photographers depart from the original filmic work and realise their own pictorial ideas. Their photos thus refrain from “authentic” reproduction of a film’s various aspects, instead using these aspects to realise subjective artistic practices, thereby implying a reversal of the classic hierarchy between photography and film.

Press release from the Albertina


Paul Ronald. Edra Gale in 'Otto e mezzo' (Edra Gale in '8½') 1963


Paul Ronald
Edra Gale in Otto e mezzo (Edra Gale in)
Director: Federico Fellini, 1963
© Archivio Storico del Cinema / AFE



(Italian title: Otto e mezzo) is a 1963 comedy-drama film directed by Federico Fellini. Co-scripted by Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, and Brunello Rondi, it stars Marcello Mastroianni as Guido Anselmi, a famous Italian film director. Shot in black-and-white by cinematographer Gianni di Venanzo, the film features a soundtrack by Nino Rota with costume and set designs by Piero Gherardi.


Horst von Harbou. Georg John in 'M - A City searches for a Murderer' 1931


Horst von Harbou
Georg John in M – A City searches for a Murderer
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum
© Horst von Harbou – Deutsche Kinemathek



M (German: M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder – “M – A city looks for a murderer”) is a 1931 German drama-thriller film directed by Fritz Lang and starring Peter Lorre. It was written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou and was the director’s first sound film. It concerns the manhunt for a serial killer of children, conducted by both the police and the criminal underworld. Now considered a classic, the film was deemed by Fritz Lang as his finest work.

Little Elsie Beckmann leaves school, bouncing a ball on her way home. She is approached by Hans Beckert, who is whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg. He offers to buy her a balloon from a blind street-vendor [above] and walks and talks with her. Elsie’s place at the dinner table remains empty, her ball is shown rolling away across a patch of grass and her balloon is lost in the telephone lines overhead.


Unknown artist. 'Poster for "M"' 1931


Unknown artist
Poster for “M”
Director: Fritz Lang (Austria, 1890-1976)
Collection of La Cinémathèque française



Wall texts

Advertising pictures

Aimed at inviting the public to buy a ticket, film stills were used as advertising photographs in cinema lobbies and as press material for the media. Directors and production companies depended on them for promoting their movies, because the film as a projected moving image is immaterial and does not exist beyond the screen. Stills comprise various types of pictures that show different aspects of a movie’s production: scenes, portraits of its actresses and actors, as well as production photographs capturing its shooting.

The production of stills was based on a division of labor. In major production companies like those of Hollywood, still photographers were assigned to the companies’ advertising or publicity departments. Sometimes involving the director, these departments selected the photographs intended for publication. The promotion photographs for the movie palaces’ lobbies were published in sets of twenty to forty pictures each, which visualised characteristic aspects of the film. A wider selection of stills was used for the press. Picture editors adapted the photographs according to their purposes. We find instructions for the material’s reproduction and cropping marks indicating new image areas; retouches deleted undesired elements and changed the motif in line with the planned layout.


Anonymous. Still from 'Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror' 1922


Still from Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror
Director: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
Gelatin silver print
© Deutsche Kinemathek


Anonymous. Still from 'The Night of the Hunter' 1954


Still from The Night of the Hunter
Silver gelatin print


Anonymous. Robert Mitchum in 'The Night of the Hunter' 1955


Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter
Director: Charles Laughton
Gelatin silver print
© The John Kobal Collection



The Night of the Hunter is a 1955 American film noir directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish. The screenplay by James Agee was based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Davis Grubb. The plot focuses on a corrupt reverend-turned-serial killer who attempts to charm an unsuspecting widow and steal $10,000 hidden by her executed husband.

The novel and film draw on the true story of Harry Powers, hanged in 1932 for the murder of two widows and three children in Clarksburg, West Virginia. The film’s lyrical and expressionistic style with its leaning on the silent era sets it apart from other Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s, and it has influenced later directors such as David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, and the Coen brothers.

In 1992, The Night of the Hunter was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. The influential film magazine Cahiers du cinéma selected The Night of the Hunter in 2008 as the second-best film of all time, behind Citizen Kane.

Text from the Wikipedia website


The Night of the Hunter film poster 1955


The Night of the Hunter film poster 1955


Anonymous. Still from the film 'Vertigo, Judy behind Madeleine' 1957/58


Still from the film Vertigo, Judy behind Madeleine
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Silver gelatin print


Vertigo film poster 1957/58


Vertigo film poster 1957/58


Bud Fraker (attributed to) Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and John Gavin in 'Psycho' 1960


Bud Fraker (attributed to)
Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and John Gavin in Psycho
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Gelatin silver print
© Berlin, Deutsche Kinemathek – Paramount Pictures



Star portraits

Regarded as the supreme discipline of still photography, the portraiture of stars was an integral part of the film industry’s elaborate promotion campaigns. Productions could be effectively marketed by using actresses and actors to project their image. With the emergence of the studio system, Hollywood perfected this business strategy from the 1920s on by employing specialised portrait photographers. These photographers worked in company-owned studios and – unlike set photographers who mostly remained anonymous – were known by name. Relying on sophisticated lighting and drastic retouching, they created the aesthetic of the glamour portrait. Don English perfectly translated the lighting as it had been exactly planned by Josef von Sternberg, the director, for his film in his portrait of Marlene Dietrich for Shanghai Express (1932). Generally, domestic production companies could not afford to run their own portrait studios and were thus unable to exercise any influence on photographic products from outside. This offered both the stars and the studios a certain degree of freedom when it came to the representation and interpretation of a certain look. The photograph taken of Hedy Kiesler (later Lamarr) in her role in Gustav Machatý’s Ecstasy (1933) by the renowned studio Manassé in Vienna is one of the rare portrait stills taken on the set at that time.


Karl Struss. Gloria Swanson in 'Male and Female' 1919


Karl Struss
Gloria Swanson in Male and Female
Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Gelatin silver print
© The John Kobal Foundation



Don English. Marlene Dietrich in 'Shanghai Express' 1932


Don English
Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express
Director: Josef von Sternberg
Silver gelatin print


Raymond Cauchetier (French, born 1920) 'Jean Paul Belmondo & Jean Seberg, Paris, 1959' 1959


Raymond Cauchetier (French, born 1920)
Jean Paul Belmondo & Jean Seberg, Paris, 1959
Still from the film Breathless
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Gelatin silver print


Breathless film poster 1960


Breathless film poster 1960


Anonymous. Still from the film 'Breathless' 1959


Still from the film Breathless
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Gelatin silver print


Georges Pierre. Delphine Seyrig in 'Last Year in Marienbad' 1961


Georges Pierre
Delphine Seyrig in Last Year in Marienbad
Director: Alain Resnais
Astor Pictures Corporation / Photofest
© Astor Pictures Corporation



Delphine Claire Beltiane Seyrig (10 April 1932 – 15 October 1990) was a Lebanese-born French stage and film actress, a film director and a feminist.

As a young woman, Seyrig studied acting at the Comédie de Saint-Étienne, training under Jean Dasté, and at Centre Dramatique de l’Est. She appeared briefly in small roles in the 1954 TV series Sherlock Holmes. In 1956, she returned to New York and studied at the Actors Studio. In 1958 she appeared in her first film, Pull My Daisy. In New York she met director Alain Resnais, who asked her to star in his film Last Year at Marienbad. Her performance brought her international recognition and she moved to Paris. Among her roles of this period is the older married woman in François Truffaut’s Baisers volés (1968).

During the 1960s and 1970s, Seyrig worked with directors including Truffaut, Luis Buñuel, Marguerite Duras, and Fred Zinnemann, as well as Resnais. She achieved recognition for both her stage and film work, and was named best actress at the Venice Film Festival for her role in Resnais’ Muriel ou Le temps d’un retour (1963). She played many diverse roles, and because she was fluent in French, English and German, she appeared in films in all three languages, including a number of Hollywood productions.

Text from the Wikipedia website


L’Année dernière à Marienbad (released in the US as Last Year at Marienbad and in the UK as Last Year in Marienbad) is a 1961 French-Italian film directed by Alain Resnais from a screenplay by Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Last Year at Marienbad is famous for its enigmatic narrative structure, in which truth and fiction are difficult to distinguish, and the temporal and spatial relationship of the events is open to question, even if it never quite ventures into surrealism. The film’s dreamlike nature has both fascinated and baffled viewers; many have hailed the work as a masterpiece, while others consider it incomprehensible.

At a social gathering at a château or baroque hotel, a man approaches a woman. He claims they met the year before at Marienbad and is convinced that she is waiting there for him. The woman insists they have never met. A second man, who may be the woman’s husband, repeatedly asserts his dominance over the first man, including beating him several times at a mathematical game (a version of Nim). Through ambiguous flashbacks and disorienting shifts of time and location, the film explores the relationships among the characters. Conversations and events are repeated in several places in the château and grounds, and there are numerous tracking shots of the château’s corridors, with ambiguous voiceovers. The characters are unnamed in the film; in the published screenplay, the woman is referred to as “A”, the first man is “X”, and the man who may be her husband is “M”.

Text from the Wikipedia website


L'Année dernière à Marienbad Japanese film poster 1961


L’Année dernière à Marienbad Japanese film poster 1961



Artistic pictures

Until the 1950s still photographers used large-format plate cameras, which projected an inverted image onto the focusing screen at the back of the body. These cameras produced technically brilliant pictures, yet were complicated to handle because of their size and comparatively long exposure times. The staging of stills had to be meticulously planned and was fundamentally different from the shooting of a film. While the film camera is geared to the story in motion and its visual continuation in the pictures to follow, actresses and actors posed for the photographer in tableaux-vivants-like arrangements using additional light. The resultant static and apparently artificial compositions mirroring the performative staging process are typical of this kind of photographs. Still photographers drew inspiration from works of art for their mise-en-scène. The anonymous photographer in charge of the stills for Henrik Galeen’s The Student of Prague (1926) quotes the Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich’s works in his theatrical presentation of an atmospheric landscape. Horst von Harbou, who frequently worked with the director Fritz Lang, drew on Carl Otto Czeschka’s Jugendstil [Art Noveau] illustrations from 1908 for his stills accompanying the first part of Die Nibelungen (1924). Harbou translated ornamental motifs into two-dimensional pictures, as Czeschka had done before him. Presenting their pictures in exhibitions and providing fine-art prints, still photographers positioned their works as artistically independent achievements.


Anonymous. Werner Krauss in 'The Student of Prague' 1926


Werner Krauss in The Student of Prague
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum


Anonymous. Werner Krauss in 'The Student of Prague' 1926 (detail)


Werner Krauss in The Student of Prague (detail)
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum



Intermediate pictures

The difficulty in capturing the scene of a movie in a still lies in the difference between the two media of (moving) film and (static) photograph. Still photographers employ intermedia strategies which facilitate a reading of the still in analogy to the experience of the film. Snapshots evoking the dynamics of the movie are as exemplary of this approach as are series of pictures rendering a sequence in the form of the movement’s individual phases captured at short intervals. Panorama pictures are also related to the film’s spatial and temporal dimensions, since a series of motifs resembling the chronological order of films successively “unwinds” in reading them. Informed by the interwar avant-garde, the photo montages for Walter Ruttmann’s experimental film Berlin – Symphony of a Great City (1927) show an extraordinary solution. They congenially transform the subjective modern filmic point of view by relating the motifs of the film to each other through illogical perspectives and proportions. Some of Horst von Harbou’s stills for Metropolis (1927) were produced as transparent foils and elaborately coloured by hand. Presented in backlight illumination, they established a self-reflexive reference to the cinema as films also reveal their ephemeral quality in their projection.


Anonymous. 'Berlin - Symphony of a Great City' 1927


Berlin – Symphony of a Great City
Director: Walther Ruttmann
Gelatin silver print
© Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin



Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (German: Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt) is a 1927 German film directed by Walter Ruttmann, co-written by Carl Mayer and Karl Freund.

The film is an example of the city symphony film genre. A musical score for an orchestra to accompany the silent film was written by Edmund Meisel. As a “city symphony” film, it portrays the life of a city, mainly through visual impressions in a semi-documentary style, without the narrative content of more mainstream films, though the sequencing of events can imply a kind of loose theme or impression of the city’s daily life…

The film displays the filmmaker’s knowledge of Soviet montage theory. Some socialist political sympathies, or identification with the underclass can be inferred from a few of the edits in the film, though critics have suggested that either Ruttmann avoided a strong position, or else he pursued his aesthetic interests to the extent that they diminished the potential for political content. Ruttmann’s own description of the film suggests that his motives were predominantly aesthetic: “Since I began in the cinema, I had the idea of making something out of life, of creating a symphonic film out of the millions of energies that comprise the life of a big city.”

Text from the Wikipedia website


Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis poster


Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis poster


Horst von Harbou. Brigitte Helm in 'Metropolis' 1927


Horst von Harbou
Brigitte Helm in Metropolis
Director: Fritz Lang
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum
© Horst von Harbou – Deutsche Kinemathek


Horst von Harbou. 'Metropolis' 1927


Horst von Harbou
Director: Fritz Lang
Coloured transparent nitrocellulose film
Austrian Theatre Museum
© Horst von Harbou – Deutsche Kinemathek




Some directors supported the production of stills that put characteristic aspects of their films into a new perspective. In his masterpiece Persona (1966) Ingmar Bergman reflects the support material of film by showing the film strip crack and burn up during the projection. This self-referentiality of the medium was visualised by adding perforations to the photographs so that they resembled film frames. The perforations only served to quote the film as a medium; the motifs were actually mounted in black frames afterwards. Elaborate montages not to be seen in the film were also produced for Alfred Hitchcock’s movies. Rear Window (1954) confronts us with a photographer who watches a man whom he suspects of having committed a murder with binoculars and through a long-focus lens. By mounting pictures of the persons in the lens whom Stewart watches from his window in the film, the still photographer emphasised the issue of voyeurism as a central subject of the movie. The Austrian silent movie director Erich von Stroheim used film stills for visualising contents of his films that were regarded as problematic. Because of their length and supposedly questionable sexual passages Stroheim’s movies were regularly cut down by censorship authorities and production companies. This is why stills continuing the movie were planned in advance. The sexual allusions in a scene of Foolish Wives (1922) in which Stroheim embodies a Don Juan figure about to indecently assault a sleeping woman, for example, manifested themselves in a still in which we see him kissing the sleeping woman’s foot.


Anonymous. James Stewart in 'Rear Window' 1954


James Stewart in Rear Window
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Gelatin silver print
© BFI National Archive: London


Anonymous. James Stewart in 'Rear Window' 1954 (detail)


James Stewart in Rear Window (detail)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Gelatin silver print
© BFI National Archive: London


Anonymous. Liv Ullman in 'Persona' (detail) 1966


Liv Ullman in Persona (detail)
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Silver gelatin print



Persona is a 1966 Swedish psychological drama film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann. Persona’s story revolves around a young nurse named Alma (Andersson) and her patient, a well-known stage actress named Elisabet Vogler (Ullmann), who has suddenly ceased to speak. The two move to a cottage, where Alma cares for and talks to Elisabet about intimate secrets, and becomes troubled distinguishing herself from her.

Bergman wrote the film with Ullmann and Andersson in mind for the lead parts, and some idea of exploring their identities, and shot the film in Stockholm and Fårö. Often categorised as a psychological horror, Persona deals with themes of duality, insanity, and personal identity…

Persona has lent itself to a variety of interpretations, with Professor Thomas Elsaesser remarking it “has been for film critics and scholars what climbing Everest is for mountaineers: the ultimate professional challenge. Besides Citizen Kane, it is probably the most written-about film in the canon.” Much of the focus has been on the resemblance of the characters, demonstrated in shots of overlapping faces, and the possibility that the two characters are one. If they are one person, there is a question if Alma is fantasising about the actress she admires, or if Elisabet is examining her psyche, or if the boy is trying to understand who his mother is. In a question of duality, Alma represents soul while Elisabet represents a stern goddess. Susan Sontag suggests that Persona is constructed as a series of variations on a theme of “doubling”. The subject of the film, Sontag proposes, is “violence of the spirit”.

Text from the Wikipedia website


'Persona' 1966 Swedish B1 Poster


Persona 1966 Swedish B1 Poster


Anonymous. Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman in 'Persona' (detail) 1966


Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman in Persona (detail)
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Silver gelatin print



Key pictures

Stills precede the presentation of a film, decisively informing the expectations held by the public at the time of its release. What is important for a movie’s later success (or failure) is presenting visually enticing pictures rather than conveying an authentic picture of the movie. The most famous example in this regard is Sam Shaw’s still showing a scene of Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch (1955). Shaw highlighted the moment in which Marilyn Monroe stands on a subway grating far more pointedly than Wilder in the film, which neither shows the actress’s whole figure nor the dress billowing so clearly above her waist. The production company did its best for the promotion of the scene in the media: launching an elaborate publicity campaign, it fixed a special date for reporters and journalists to capture the sequence themselves. Such key images become characteristic signatures of a film with their dissemination by the media, sometimes inscribing themselves more deeply into the collective memory than the actual film scenes because of their iconic recognition value.


Anonymous. Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and Lil Dagover in 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' 1919


Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and Lil Dagover in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Director: Robert Wiene
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum


Anonymous. Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and Lil Dagover in 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' 1919 (detail)


Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and Lil Dagover in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (detail)
Director: Robert Wiene
Gelatin silver print
Austrian Theatre Museum



The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (German: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) is a 1920 German silent horror film, directed by Robert Wiene and written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. Considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema, it tells the story of an insane hypnotist (Werner Krauss) who uses a somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) to commit murders. The film features a dark and twisted visual style, with sharp-pointed forms, oblique and curving lines, structures and landscapes that lean and twist in unusual angles, and shadows and streaks of light painted directly onto the sets…

The film presents themes on brutal and irrational authority; Dr. Caligari represents the German war government, and Cesare is symbolic of the common man conditioned, like soldiers, to kill. In his influential book From Caligari to Hitler, Siegfried Kracauer says the film reflects a subconscious need in German society for a tyrant, and it is an example of Germany’s obedience to authority and unwillingness to rebel against deranged authority. He says the film is a premonition of the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, and says the addition of the frame story turns an otherwise “revolutionary” film into a “conformist” one. Other themes of the film include the destabilised contrast between insanity and sanity, the subjective perception of reality, and the duality of human nature.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari poster (1919)


Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari poster (1919)


Sam Shaw. Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in 'The Seven Year Itch' 1954


Sam Shaw
Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch
Director: Billy Wilder
Gelatin silver print
© Sam Shaw Inc.- licensed by Shaw Family Archives, Private collection


Sam Shaw. Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in 'The Seven Year Itch' 1954 (detail)


Sam Shaw
Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch (detail)
Director: Billy Wilder
Gelatin silver print
© Sam Shaw Inc.- licensed by Shaw Family Archives, Private collection



Auteur pictures

The European auteur cinema of the 1950s and 1960s produced films outside the rigid studio system that had been the rule until then. Formal means such as editing and montage were used in an experimental way, and handy cameras made the shooting process more spontaneous. The changes in the production of films went hand in hand with new conditions for still photographers. As the photographers did not belong to the staff of the companies’ promotion departments like their US colleagues, most of their names are known. Whereas Hollywood photographers relied on large-format plate cameras, small-format cameras were used in Europe during the shooting of the film or directly before or after it. This resulted in spontaneous snapshots alongside traditional tableau-like stills. In the wake of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment, the constitutive act lay in the choice of the right moment. Still photographers such as Raymond Cauchetier and Angelo Novi had already tested this approach as photojournalists in reportages and documentaries before they started working on the set.


Georges Pierre. Anna Karina in 'Pierrot le fou' 1965


Georges Pierre
Anna Karina in Pierrot le fou
Director: Jean Luc Godard
Gelatin silver print
Private collection
© Georges Pierre


Poster for La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) 1959


Poster for La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) 1959


Pierluigi Praturlon. Anita Ekberg as Sylvia in 'La Dolce Vita' (The Sweet Life) 1959


Pierluigi Praturlon
Anita Ekberg as Sylvia in La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life)
Director: Federico Fellini
Gelatin silver print
Private Collection



La Dolce Vita (Italian for “the sweet life” or “the good life”) is a 1960 Italian comedy-drama film directed and co-written by Federico Fellini. The film follows Marcello Rubini, a journalist writing for gossip magazines, over seven days and nights on his journey through the “sweet life” of Rome in a fruitless search for love and happiness. La Dolce Vita won the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival and the Oscar for Best Costumes, and remains one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time.

Based on the most common interpretation of the storyline, the film can be divided into a prologue, seven major episodes interrupted by an intermezzo, and an epilogue. If the evenings of each episode were joined with the morning of the respective preceding episode together as a day, they would form seven consecutive days, which may not necessarily be the case.

Text from the Wikipedia website



Hans Natge

Born in Berlin, Hans Natge began his career as a theatre photographer. In the 1920s, he turned to still photography. Taking pictures of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s Faust (1926), he came to test a new photographic approach which he called “snapshot photography,” which was to revolutionise the tradition of static and artificial film stills. Using small-format cameras and doing without additional light, Natge photographed during the shooting of the film right next to the cameraman, which permitted him to produce spontaneous and dynamic pictures. As this form of still photography still resulted in blurred pictures and sometimes captured the actors to their disadvantage at that time, Natge also took conventional stills in the case of Faust.


Hans Natge Still from the film 'Faust' 1926


Hans Natge
Still from the film Faust
Director: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
Gelatin silver print



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Exhibition: ‘Eyes on the Street: street photography in the 21st century’ at the Cincinnati Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 11th October 2014 – 4th January 2015


Olivo Barbieri (Italian; lives and works in Modena, Italy)
Philip-Lorca diCorcia (American; lives and works in New York)
Jason Evans (British; lives and works in London)
Paul Graham (British; lives and works in New York)
Mark Lewis (Canadian; lives and works in London)
Jill Magid (American; lives and works in New York)
James Nares (American; lives and works in New York)
Barbara Probst (German; lives and works in New York)
Jennifer West (American; lives and works in Los Angeles)
Michael Wolf (German; lives and works in Paris and Hong Kong)



Watching the watcher watching…


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


“Some of the artists in Eyes on the Street made their work at street level; others sought higher vantage points. Some sharpen our appreciation for individuals, while others underscore universal urban traits. Some work with still images, while others create films and videos. What links them, and binds them to the historical tradition of street photography, is the quality of attention they give these bustling environments. They are watchful. What distinguishes them from the twentieth-century street-photography tradition, however, is that these artists are also acutely conscious of the active roles cameras play in making urban public places today. They know they are part of a greater system of watching.”

Brian Sholis, Associate Curator of Photography, Cincinnati Art Museum



Installation view by Rob Deslongchamps

Installation view by Rob Deslongchamps


Installation views by Rob Deslongchamps


Barbara Probst. 'Exposure #106: N.Y.C., Broome & Crosby Streets, 04.17.13, 2:29 p.m.' 2013


Barbara Probst
Exposure #106: N.Y.C., Broome & Crosby Streets, 04.17.13, 2:29 p.m.
Ultrachrome ink on cotton paper in twelve parts, each 29 x 44 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Murray Guy, New York


On January 7, 2000, Barbara Probst first deployed a photographic technique that has become her signature and which she is still fruitfully exploring. On that night she used a remote-control device to synchronize the shutters of twelve cameras, creating as many perspectives on the same scene. In that work, and the more than one hundred that have followed, Probst dissects the photographic moment. Take, for example, the twelve-panel Exposure #106, exhibited here, which combines color and black-and-white film, multiple photographic genres, staged and unscripted elements, and a patchwork of vantage points. One can’t help but “read” these individual images sequentially, creating a false sense of narrative momentum from a collection of pictures taken in the same instant. One likewise builds, as Probst has called it, a “sculpture in the mind” by piecing together a three-dimensional scene from two-dimensional fragments. The process is never perfect, underscoring, as does all of Probst’s work, the incompleteness and partiality of any photograph.

“Probst forcefully deconstructs the notion of photographic truth, not by specifically questioning that photographic truth but merely by pointing out its necessary incompleteness.” Jens Erdman Rasmussen, Dutch curator.


Jason Evans. 'Untitled,' from the series "NYLPT," 2008


Jason Evans
Untitled from the series NYLPT
Gelatin silver print
24 x 24 inches
Courtesy of the photographer


Jason Evans is a street photographer who, in his words, simply likes to “walk around and look at things, follow people, and get lost.” The series exhibited here, NYLPT, was made between 2005 and 2012 in New York, London, Paris, and Tokyo. Evans would expose a roll of 35-mm black-and-white film in one of these cities, then rewind and set aside the roll until his travels brought him to another. There, he would reload the film and re-expose the frames, doing so up to five times without knowing what the results would look like. Sometimes a fragment of language or familiar landmark reveals where part of the picture was made. More often, however, the textures, shapes, and surreal combinations of built environments come together to connote urbanness as a category of experience. Aware that people consume images in myriad ways, Evans not only developed the photographs in a darkroom, but also worked closely with a book publisher and digital programmers to create versions of the series specific to different mediums.


Olivo Barbieri. 'site specific_ISTANBUL #4' 2011


Olivo Barbieri
site specific_Istanbul #4
Archival pigment print
45 x 61 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York


Between 2003 and 2013, the Italian artist Olivo Barbieri photographed more than forty of the world’s cities from low-flying helicopters. Fascinated by the expanding megalopolises, Barbieri sought a new visual language to present their shifting forms. He hit upon the idea of using a tilt-shift lens – normally used to correct the apparent convergence of parallel lines in pictures of buildings – to render sections of his images out of focus. By also slightly overexposing the photographs, Barbieri created a diorama-like effect; the people and places he captured seemed to inhabit miniature worlds. His pictures contained enormous amounts of information yet placed some of it tantalizingly out of focus.

This visual effect became so popular that Barbieri sought other ways to push photography’s language in response to the cities that inspired him. In recent years he has adopted a wide array of digital post-production techniques to modify his images, all in service of representing the dizzying state of cities today.

“Captivated by a vision of the twenty-first-century city as a kind of site-specific installation – temporary, malleable, and constantly in flux – [Barbieri] sought a photographic corollary for the radical mutations of urban form that he saw taking place.” Christopher S. Phillips, curator


Installation view by Rob Deslongchamps


Installation view by Rob Deslongchamps


“Cameras are an integral part of our lives, and the Cincinnati Art Museum’s new exhibition, Eyes on the Street, on view Oct. 11, 2014 – Jan. 4, 2015, examines how they can be used in public spaces. Through a collection of photographs, films and videos by 10 internationally renowned artists – most of whom have never previously exhibited in Cincinnati – the exhibition reimagines street photography and reveals how cameras shape perceptions of cities. Eyes on the Street is the Art Museum’s contribution to the region-wide FotoFocus festival and is a celebration of street photography in the twenty-first century.

“Street photography is a perennial subject of museum exhibitions, but by emphasizing the role cameras’ technical capabilities play in making these artworks, I hope to broaden our understanding of the genre,” said Brian Sholis, associate curator of photography. “At the same time, it’s important to recognize that we are not merely subject to faceless surveillance, but can use cameras to amplify the invigorating aspects of city life.”

Eyes on the Street reimagines the genre of street photography and demonstrates how cameras shape our perceptions of cities. It features ten internationally renowned artists who work in photography, film, and video, each of whom deliberatively uses the camera’s technical capabilities to reveal new aspects of the urban environment. Through high-speed and high-definition lenses, multiple or simultaneous exposures, “impossible” film shots, and appropriated surveillance-camera footage, these artists breathe new life into the genre and remind us that urban public places are sites of creative and imaginative encounters.

The exhibition title comes from influential urban theorist Jane Jacobs, who wrote, in her classic treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities, of “eyes on the street” being crucial to urban neighborhoods’ vitality – and their ability to accommodate different people and activities. Today, discussion of cameras in public spaces often revolves around surveillance tactics or battles over first-amendment rights. Eyes on the Street reflects the diversity of urban experience and shows us how cameras can help us comprehend the complex urban environment.

The show includes artworks made in New York, San Francisco, Paris, Beirut, Tokyo, Istanbul, and elsewhere by artists who have exhibited widely and have received numerous grants, fellowships, and prizes. Most have never before exhibited in the Cincinnati area.”

Press release from the Cincinnati Art Museum


Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Head #23' 2001


Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Head #23
Fujicolor Crystal Archive print
48 x 60 inches
Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London


To make the photographs exhibited in Eyes on the Street, Philip-Lorca diCorcia affixed a powerful strobe flash to construction scaffolding above a sidewalk in Times Square. He placed his camera some distance away, so as to remain unnoticed, and photographed unwitting strangers bathed in a halo of light. This outdoor “studio” married control and chance, isolating people from their busy surroundings. Their pensive faces reveal complex interior lives it would be easy to miss if we passed them on a busy street.

The resulting series, Heads, comprises a few dozen photographs chosen from the thousands that diCorcia made between 1999 and 2001. Erno Nussenzweig, the subject of Head #13, discovered the photograph of him in 2005. He sued the photographer for using his image without permission. The case went to the New York Court of Appeals, where judges ruled that diCorcia’s images qualify as art, not as advertising, thereby exempting him from privacy protections afforded by law. The case has become an important precedent for artists who wish to take pictures in public places.


 Jill Magid. 'Control Room' 2004


Jill Magid
Control Room
Still from a two-channel digital video, ten minutes
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris


For more than a decade artist Jill Magid has deliberately worked with institutions of authority to create videos, books, installations, and other artworks. For a series made in Liverpool in 2004, Magid spent thirty-one days in the English port city – the length of time footage from its Citywatch surveillance system is stored. Wearing a red trench coat, she aimed “to use the CCTV system as a film crew, to act as the protagonist, and to be saved in [its] evidence locker.”

During the project she developed relationships with the camera operators. In the video Trust, Magid closes her eyes and allows a CCTV operator to verbally guide her safely through the city’s busy streets. She has described the interaction as one of the most intimate she has experienced, and wrote the Subject Access Request Forms, used to obtain the footage, in the form of love letters. As she later said, “Only by being watched, and influencing how I was watched, could I touch the system and become vulnerable to it.”


Installation view of James Nares's film 'Street'. Photo by Rob Deslongchamps.


Installation view of James Nares’s film Street. Photo by Rob Deslongchamps.



James Nares moved to New York during the 1970s and joined the experimental music and art scenes as a filmmaker, painter, sculptor, musician, and performer. Today he is perhaps best known for his beautiful abstract paintings, but he has made still- and moving-image work throughout his career. His 2012 film STREET has drawn renewed attention to his work with cameras. STREET uses the remarkable clarity offered by a high-speed, high-definition camera to mesmerizing effect. Shot from the window of a car, “the camera is moving in one line at a constant speed,” he has said. “I take small fragments of time and extend them. […] I just wanted to see the drama in small things that happen all the time, everywhere, the little dramas that become big along the way.”

STREET is an unscripted 61-minute high definition video filmed by artist James Nares over one week in September 2011. The final video is a mesmerizing experiment in the nuance and beauty of everyday people and people-watching; providing a global view that extends beyond the streets of New York where it was filmed: from Battery Park to the furthest reaches of Upper Broadway, and West Side to East Side in Nares’ personal homage to actualité films. In Nares’ words, “I wanted the film to be about people. All it needed were magical moments, and there are enough of those happening every moment of any given day.”

The scenes are drawn from more than sixteen hours of material and accompanied by a guitar soundtrack performed by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth.



Eyes on the Street

Brian Sholis

Associate Curator of Photography
Cincinnati Art Museum

The title of this exhibition comes from the architecture writer and urban activist Jane Jacobs, who, in her classic 1961 treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities, wrote of eyes on the street being crucial to the vitality of urban neighborhoods, in particular their ability to accommodate different people and activities. She was celebrating her Greenwich Village neighbors, “allies whose eyes help us natives keep the peace of the street,” the “lucky possessors of a city order that makes it relatively simple to keep the peace.” She was quick to add, “there is nothing simple about that order itself, or the bewildering number of components that go into it.” Fifty years later the elements that make urban life vibrant and challenging are even greater in number, and the omnipresence of cameras is one of the greatest changes to the ways we manage a city’s order. Today, discussion of cameras in public places often concentrates on issues of surveillance, personal privacy, and first-amendment rights. As the writer Tom Vanderbilt asked in a 2002 essay that touches on Jacobs’s legacy, “Why is a police surveillance camera on a public street any more intrusive than a patrolman stationed on the corner? [ . . . ] The real question in all of this is motive, not means: who’s doing the watching, and for what purpose?” The artworks brought together in Eyes on the Street offer ways to think about the social, political, legal, and architectural implications of these questions.

The photographs, films, and videos exhibited here also offer ways to reimagine the genre of street photography, which art historians typically associate with Jacobs’s mid-twentieth-century era. At the time she was drafting the ideas quoted above, photographers like Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Garry Winogrand prowled Western cities, 35-mm cameras in hand, taking pictures of the daily sidewalk ballet. They worked tirelessly, often photographing rapidly and without introducing themselves to their subjects, whom they corralled into rectangular compositions that expressed some of the dynamism of the passing parade. By contrast, the artists in Eyes on the Street, all working in the twenty-first century, respond to the changed conditions of the city in part by using more deliberative strategies to capture their subjects. They recognize the pervasive influence of cameras on the urban environment by employing their own cameras’ special capabilities to show things our eyes may not see or our minds might not notice. For photographers working half a century ago, the lens was a natural extension of their hands and a relatively simple conduit of their artistic sensibilities. The artists in Eyes on the Street work more self-consciously to disclose the forces conditioning the urban environment and to acknowledge cameras’ active role in that process. In so doing, they create stunning still- and moving-image artworks that show us such places as New York, Shanghai, Beirut, Paris, Chicago, and Istanbul as we’ve never seen them before.


Faces in the Crowd

Writing more than a century ago, German sociologist Georg Simmel diagnosed the mental life of people living in rapidly modernizing cities, suggesting that our psychological survival depended upon separating ourselves from the many stimulations of the urban environment. The influence of Simmel’s thinking upon the social sciences has been profound, but scholars today increasingly identify an inversion of his theory as true: for the survival of the metropolis, we must overcome narrow individualism to empathize with others who share it with us. However, one’s capacity to relate to others is necessarily limited, and this cosmopolitan ethics can be difficult to maintain. James Nares’s 2012 film Street uses the remarkable clarity offered by a high-speed, high-definition camera to offset the potentially numbing effect of so many encounters. By slowing down his footage of New York sidewalks, taken from the window of a car moving thirty miles per hour, Nares isolates small vignettes unspooling on the sidewalk. Peoples’ movements are picked out in fine detail, their individual gestures and expressions heightened into a slow-motion monumentality. A similar effect characterizes the photographs in Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s series Heads (1999-2001). To make these works, diCorcia, affixed a flash strobe to construction scaffolding on a sidewalk in Times Square. Placing his camera far enough away to be unnoticed, he pre-focused his lens on the spot illuminated by the flash and captured unwitting strangers bathed in a halo of light. His improvised outdoor studio married control and chance, isolating people from their busy surroundings and catching them in moments of inwardness. Their pensive faces reveal complex interior lives it would be all too easy to ignore should we be strolling past them. The quality of attention afforded by Nares and diCorcia’s cameras results in the humanism of their work and grants the dignity we can read in these faces. As the critic Ken Johnson observed of Street, what results is an update of “Walt Whitman’s poetic embrace of humanity. The camera gazes at all with the same equanimity and finds each person, in his or her own way, dignified, lovable, and even beautiful.”

In his series NYLPT, photographer Jason Evans reverses this penchant for individuation. The acronym stands for “New York London Paris Tokyo.” Working over a period of eight years, Evans would expose a roll of 35-mm black-and-white film in one of these cities, then rewind and set aside the roll until his travels brought him to another. There, he would reload the film and re-expose the frames, sometimes doing so up to five times without knowing what the results would look like. As he has said, “The ‘decisive moment’ was no longer out there waiting to be hunted down,” as with traditional street photography. Instead, “it had moved behind the lens, onto the film plane.” Sometimes a fragment of language or familiar landmark reveals where part of the picture was made. More often, however, the textures, shapes, and surreal combinations of built environments come together to connote urbanness as a category of experience.

… Exploring the Medium; Senses of Scale; Permission and Authority. Continues…



Jennifer West. Still from 'One Mile Film' 2012


Jennifer West
One Mile Film (5,280 feet of 35mm film negative and print taped to the mile-long High Line walk way in New York City for 17 hours on Thursday, September 13th, 2012 with 11,500 visitors – the visitors walked, wrote, jogged, signed, drew, touched, danced, parkoured, sanded, keyed, melted popsicles, spit, scratched, stomped, left shoe prints of all kinds and put gum on the filmstrip – it was driven on by baby stroller and trash can wheels and was traced by art students – people wrote messages on the film and drew animations, etched signs, symbols and words into the film emulsion lines drawn down much of the filmstrip by visitors and Jwest with highlighters and markers – the walk way surfaces of concrete, train track steel, wood, metal gratings and fountain water impressed into the film; filmed images shot by Peter West – filmed Parkour performances by Thomas Dolan and Vertical Jimenez – running on rooftops by Deb Berman and Jwest – film taped, rolled and explained on the High Line by art students and volunteers)
Still from 35-mm film transferred to high-definition video
Commissioned and produced by Friends of the High Line and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
Courtesy of the artist and Marc Foxx, Los Angeles


Jennifer West is resolutely experimental in her approach to film, and is known in particular for the ways she treats her film stock: submerging it in seawater, bathing it in chemicals, or exposing it to different types of radiation, usually to psychedelic effect. Her One Mile Film . . . (2012), commissioned by and for the High Line, an elevated park in New York, documents free-running practitioners – athletes who explore environments without limitations of movement – climbing, jumping, and exploring the park and its environs. Here, though, her “treatment” is an alternative method of recording people in this public space. Once she had completed filming, West affixed her film stock to the High Line’s footpaths, inviting park visitors – some 11,500 of them – to walk on, roll over, draw on, and otherwise imprint their presence upon her work. The finished film appears semi-abstract but is in fact a trace of the people who passed through that particular place on that September 2012 day, like the rubbings people make of manholes and headstones.


Michael Wolf. 'Night #20' 2007


Michael Wolf
Night #20
Digital c-print
48 x 60 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York


The number of both people and buildings tucked into Hong Kong’s small landmass inspired Michael Wolf to express the verticality and compactness of that unique place. His series Architecture of Density emphasizes the repetition inherent to most large-scale construction by zeroing in on building facades and eliminating the ground, the sky, and all other elements that might reveal the picture’s scale. The residential towers seem to stretch on forever; the only variation comes from small human elements, such as laundry hung out to dry. The buildings depicted in the series Transparent City, made in 2007 and 2008 in Chicago, are not quite as close together, and Wolf subsequently created looser compositions. He likewise took advantage of a 300-mm lens and the buildings’ glass curtain-wall construction to peer through the windows at the life inside. “I became acutely aware of being a voyeur,” Wolf has said.


Mark Lewis, Still from 'Beirut' 2011


Mark Lewis
Still from a high-definition video, 8 minutes 11 seconds
Courtesy of the artist and Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto


In his short films, Mark Lewis repeatedly isolates the fundamental gestures of cinema, exaggerating a zoom or a tracking shot to reveal the constructedness of a seemingly natural scene. Without sacrificing beauty or mystery, Lewis’s meticulously planned works uncover the kinds of artifice that big-budget popular movies aim to conceal. In his eight-minute film Beirut (2011), Lewis crafts a Steadicam shot to explore the multiple cultures and tangled histories represented on a Lebanese street. In a remarkable single take, the camera rounds a corner, proceeds down the street, then lifts magically into the air, floating above roofline to situate these histories in the larger urban fabric. And the end of this short film reminds us of the life that continues around us even as we focus only at street level.




Cincinnati Art Museum
953 Eden Park Drive
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
Phone: (513) 721-ARTS (2787)

Opening hours:
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Exhibition: ‘Oscar Muñoz: Protographies’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 3rd June – 21st September 2014

Curated by José Roca and María Wills Londoño (adjunct curator)


Another artist investigating the medium of photography in totally fascinating ways… breaking the glass, deconstructing the support, fragmenting the image, questioning the imprint of photography – in memory, in the photographs physicality, in what leaves an impression, in what remains. The un/stable image, in flux, in sediment, investigated through “work [that] defies systematic classification because he works in so many different media: photography, printmaking, drawing, installations, video and sculpture.” Such inventiveness over such a long period of time “developing special techniques to produce images that reveal themselves as a kind of counterpoint to photography and the “decisive moment” it once claimed to capture.” Ephemeral photography that is truly remarkable.


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


This summer, the Jeu de Paume, which is celebrating 10 years devoted to the image, will be inviting the public to discover Oscar Muñoz (born in 1951), Colombia’s most emblematic artist, who has been producing a body of work for nearly forty years that centres on the capacity of images to preserve memory.



Oscar Muñoz. 'Ambulatorio [Ambulatory]' 1994


Oscar Muñoz
Ambulatorio [Ambulatory]
Aerial photograph enclosed in security glass, wood and aluminium, 36 units
100 x 100 cm each
Courtesy O.K. Centrum, Linz


Muñoz emerged on the Colombian art scene with his series of large-format hyperrealist drawings in charcoal on paper that revealed his interest in the social implications of empty or deteriorating spaces. This group includes drawings from the series entitled Inquilinatos [Tenement Houses] (1979) and Interiores [Interiors] (1980-1981). Also on display are works referring to Cali’s urban life, such as Ambulatorio [Ambulatory] (1994), El Puente [The Bridge] (2004), Archivo Porcontacto [Bycontact Archive] (2004-2008), which are images of a specific period and specific places in the city, and A través del cristal [Through the Glass] (2008-2009), the latter a way of introducing an absent cultural reference through sound.

Cali recurs in Muñoz’s work as a contextual reference or a support. This is literally the case with Ambulatorio, an aerial photograph of the city blown up to a monumental scale and laid out in a regular grid. Each segment of the photograph is fixed to a piece of security glass, which breaks into pieces when the viewer walks on the work. Each break creates another random mesh of lines over the urban image of a chaotic city in which rational planning and the unstructured coexist in a way typical of all modern South American cities.



Oscar Muñoz. 'Cortinas de Baño [Shower curtains]' 1985-1986


Oscar Muñoz
Cortinas de Baño [Shower curtains]
Acrylic on plastic, 5 elements
190 x 140 cm and 190 x 70 cm each, dimensions variable
Banco de la República collection, Bogotá


Having achieved international renown as an exceptional draughtsman, in the 1980s Muñoz gradually abandoned paper as a support and experimented with new techniques of drawing and printmaking, using unconventional materials and supports such as acrylic applied to damp plastic and charcoal dust on water. This group includes the series Cortinas de Baño [Shower Curtains] (1985-1986), Tiznados [Tainted] (1990), Narcisos secos [Dry Narcissi] (1994-1995) and Simulacros [Simulacra] (1999).

In Cortinas de baño Muñoz experimented for the first time with an unconventional support, in this case an everyday plastic shower curtain, in order to construct an image from a photograph transferred onto a silkscreen mesh. In the printing process, executed with an airbrush through previously prepared silkscreen, the image was transferred onto an unstable surface, with the artist preventing the pigment from being totally fixed by sprinkling water on it.


Oscar Muñoz. 'Narcisos (en proceso)' [Narcissi (in process)] 1995-2011


Oscar Muñoz
Narcisos (en proceso) [Narcissi (in process)]
Charcoal dust and paper on water, Plexiglas, 6 elements
10 x 50 x 50 cm each, overall dimensions: 10 x 70 x 400 cm
Courtesy of the artist


Narcisos was a key series in the artist’s quest to dematerialise the support of the photographic image. Muñoz developed a new technique unprecedented in the history of art and probably never to be encountered again – that of printing on water. The earliest photographic images emerged from water, from the chemical baths that fixed the silver salts in different gradations of intensity produced by the action of light. The support was an incidental necessity. Muñoz has referred to the three phases in the process of Narcissi as allegories of an individual’s progress through life: creation, at the moment when the charcoal dust touches the surface of the water; the changes that come about during evaporation; and death, at the moment when the dried out dust finally settles at the bottom of the container. The result, which the artist has called Narcisos secos, is both the final image and the death of the process: the remains of a photograph that possessed a life after it was fixed for posterity. In this sense, Dry Narcissi are the record of a double death of the image.


Oscar Muñoz. 'Narciso [Narcissus]' 2001


Oscar Muñoz
Narciso [Narcissus]
Single-channel video 4:3, colour, sound, 3 min
Courtesy of the artist


Muñoz’s first work in video was Narciso, in which he dramatically presented the processes developed in his Narcissi of the 1990s (in which the evaporation was invisible to the naked eye) by making the water disappear in a few minutes. As in those earlier works, a self-portrait floats on the surface of the water but the drain in the sink and the sound of running water foretell for the viewer what the image’s final fate will be. In reality, there are two images here: that of the subject and that of its shadow on the white bottom of the basin. The images gradually come closer together, as if to suggest that life is a constant quest for self-understanding. However, at the moment when the two images are about to coincide, it is already too late: they fuse into a single distorted stain that disappears down the drain.


Oscar Muñoz. 'Re/trato [Portrait/I Try Again]' 2004


Oscar Muñoz
rato [Portrait/I Try Again]
Single-channel video projection 4:3, colour, no sound, 28 min
Courtesy of the artist



About the exhibition

“Through a multifaceted body of work that moves freely between photography, printmaking, drawing, installation, video and sculpture, eliminating the borderlines between these disciplines through innovative practices, Oscar Muñoz (Popayán, Colombia, 1951) explores the capacity of images to retain memory.

In 1826, for the first time in history the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce succeeded in fixing the elusive image produced by the camera obscura, a device known since antiquity. In contrast to painting or drawing, the camera obscura was able to obtain an image from life without the assistance of the human hand and in real time: what it could not do was freeze it or fix it onto a support in order to extract it from the passing of time. It could thus be said that the essence of the photographic act does not lie in taking the image but in permanently fixing it. What, then, is the status of the image in the instant prior to the moment when it is fixed for posterity?

If the ontology of photography lies in fixing a moving image for all time, extracting it from life, we might say that Oscar Muñoz’s work is located in the temporal space prior (or subsequent) to the true decisive moment when the image is fixed: that proto-moment when the image is finally about to become photography. In that sense, it could be said that Muñoz’s work is protographic.


The exhibition

Born in 1951 in Popayán (Colombia), Oscar Muñoz is regarded as one of the country’s most important contemporary artists, whilst also garnering attention on the international art scene. A graduate of the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Cali, he has built up over a period of four decades a body of work whose images deal with the realm of memory, loss and the precarious nature of human life. Muñoz’s work defies systematic classification because he works in so many different media: photography, printmaking, drawing, installations, video and sculpture.

“Protographs” (a term coined to evoke the instant just before or just after that split-second when the photographic image is captured and frozen for ever) presents his major series grouped by theme. These themes poetically and metaphorically juxtapose Muñoz’s own past and the different material states of the image. For example, he combines the dissolution, deterioration or disintegration of the image with the inherent fragility of memory and the impossibility of making time stand still; or the image’s evaporation and transformation with the tension between rationality and chaos in our urban societies. Finally, in the main part of his work, he creates ephemeral images that, as they disappear, invite the spectator to share in an experience that is simultaneously rational and sensual.

Oscar Muñoz began his career in the 1970s in Cali in a period when a whirlwind of cultural and cross-disciplinary activity saw the emergence of a generation of writers, photographers and filmmakers who today play a leading role in the contemporary art scene (with Carlos Mayolo, Luis Ospina, Fernell Franco and Andrés Caicedo to name but a few). At that time, Muñoz was drawing with charcoal on large-format supports presenting a cast of sad and sometimes sordid characters with a deep emotional charge. The main characteristics of his work emerged at an early stage. These include a profound and tireless interest in social questions, an original approach to materials, the use of photography as an aid to memory and the exploiting of the dramatic possibilities afforded by the play of shadow and light in defining the image. Moreover, the artist developed a phenomenological approach to minimalism by insisting on the relationship between the artwork, the spectator and the surrounding exhibition space.

In the mid-1980s, Oscar Muñoz moved away from traditional artistic methods and began to experiment with innovative processes that created a real interactive exchange with the spectator. This was the time of a radical reassessment of his artistic practices, whether drawing, printmaking, or photography, and a questioning of the relationship between the artwork and its surroundings. He abandoned traditional formats and techniques, whilst preserving something of their roots and wellsprings, to investigate ephemerality, highlighting the very essence of the materials themselves and their poetic associations. His use of the fundamental elements – water, air and fire – refers to the processes, the cycles and the transcendental manifestations of life, our very existence and death itself. “My work attempts to understand why the past and the present are so full of violent acts,” says the artist. By choosing to use a diverse selection of media and to apply innovative and unique processes, Oscar Muñoz blurs the boundaries between artistic disciplines.

The “Protographs” exhibition showcases a career that has lasted nearly forty years. It presents series of works grouped around the artist’s major themes, starting with his works on paper and his series of large format hyperrealist drawings in charcoal (1976-1981) – bearing witness to his deep interest in social context – and the drawings and engravings that he started making in the 1980s, which marked the relinquishing of paper for an exploration of unconventional materials and processes (printing on damp plastic, the use of sugar and coffee, etc.); continuing with his experiments in the 1990s and 2000s on the stability of the image and its relationship to the processes of memory; and including his latest works (2009-2014), characterised by a continual process of appearance and disappearance, including a new work produced specifically for the exhibition.”

Text by José Roca and María Wills Londoño



Over the last decade, Muñoz has created a series of works on the indicative relationship between the object and its image, making use of contact printing, a characteristic printmaking process. This was the case with La mirada del Cíclope [The Cyclops’ Gaze] (2001-2002), Intervalos (mientras respiro) [Intervals (While I Breathe)] (2004) and Paístiempo [Countrytime] (2007), as well as series from a number of other periods.


Oscar Muñoz. 'Aliento [Breath]' 1995


Oscar Muñoz
Aliento [Breath]

Metal mirrors, screen-printed with grease, 7 mirrors
Diameter: 20 cm each
Courtesy of the artist


The series Aliento comprises portraits printed in photo-silkscreen with grease on small round metal mirrors located at eye level. The mirrors initially seem blank and the printed image only reveals itself when the viewer, having recognised himself/herself, breathes onto the circular mirror. During this brief moment the reflected image is replaced by the printed image (photographs taken from obituaries) of a deceased person who fleetingly returns through the viewer’s breath.


Oscar Muñoz. 'La mirada del cíclope [The Cyclops' Gaze]' 2002


Oscar Muñoz
La mirada del cíclope [The Cyclops’ Gaze]
Digital print on paper, 6 photographs
50 x 50 cm each one
Courtesy of the artist


La mirada del cíclope, in which the subject is considered in relation to death, uses one of the oldest techniques of portraiture and printmaking: a mould made by direct contact, in this case of the artist’s own face. This sculptural object (inspired by the ancient Roman tradition of funerary masks) becomes two-dimensional when it is captured by the camera’s single eye (hence the title). Lacking references to volume, the viewer’s eye cannot decide if the object represented is concave or convex, in a play of perceptual opposites: negative/positive, presence/absence, reality or illusions. Quoting Pierre Bourdieu, Muñoz has noted that “the imagines of ancient Rome are exactly equivalent to the social nature of some modern photographs; they play an important role in the tortuous act of mourning: we accept a reality by ‘becoming accustomed to the unreality of its images’.”


Oscar Muñoz. 'Horizonte [Horizon]' 2011


Oscar Muñoz
Horizonte [Horizon]
From the series Impresiones débiles [Weak Impressions]
Charcoal dust print on methacrylate
4 elements, 85 x 73.5 cm each
Galerie mor. charpentier, Paris


The earliest successful images taken by Niépce were proto-photographs that did not survive intact as images because the light that had created them continued to affect them until they eventually succumbed to darkness in an inexorable fade to black. This is what happens in film photography when a photograph is not properly rinsed and the developing agent continues to act, or when the photographic paper is directly exposed to the action of light. However, the image can also move towards clarity. In Impresiones débiles, Muñoz employs photographs of great historical and political significance for Colombia and subjects them to a process that makes them seem like “washed out” photos in which over-exposure to light has made the image deteriorate to the point of near invisibility. The works that make up this series are in fact prints rather than photographs, given that they are silkscreens made with charcoal dust on acrylic. The variable distance between the silkscreen mesh and the support allows the artist to single out a different element from the original photograph in each print, making it more highly defined than the rest. The “variable focus” in this series questions another of the supposedly essential characteristics of photography, namely the camera’s systematic, technical objectivity in relation to its subjects.



In his most recent works, Muñoz depicts images in a process of continual appearance and disappearance. These are subtle impressions with varying emphases on the different parts of the image that are literally in flux and cannot be fixed, such as those produced by a camera obscura. This section includes the video Cíclope [Cyclops] (2011), the installation Editor solitario [Solitary Editor] and the work Sedimentaciones [Sedimentations] (2011), the latter comprising three tables with projections of documents that are constantly created and destroyed. The exhibition ends with the highly personal Fundido al blanco [Fade to White] (2010).


Oscar Muñoz. 'Fundido a blanco (dos retratos)' [Fade to White (Two Portraits)] 2010


Oscar Muñoz
Fundido a blanco (dos retratos) [Fade to White (Two Portraits)]
HD Video, colour, sound, 7 min 40 s
Courtesy of the artist


Fundido a blanco (dos retratos) is an autobiographical work: a family portrait with Muñoz behind the camera, constituting the third side of a temporal triangle that includes his mother and father. It is, in other words, a memorial. Rather than making their features more clear, the strong light that bathes the scene makes them imprecise and ethereal. Muñoz has referred to the intense light in Cali at a certain time of day, when people seem to “disintegrate”, and also to the blinding brilliance of the sun when the artist came out after seeing a film at the city’s film club. The central figure in Fundido a blanco momentarily falls asleep now and then, entering into the light. Rather than fixing that figure at a precise moment of its existence, in the manner of a photographic portrait or snapshot, Muñoz creates a portrait that develops in time. Fundido a blanco is one of the artist’s most moving works, an image that touches the viewer. Its power may perhaps lie in the fact that for the first time in his extensive output, we are here seeing a specific subject rather than the generic representation of one.


Oscar Muñoz. 'Sedimentaciones' [Sedimentations] 2011


Oscar Muñoz
Sedimentaciones [Sedimentations]
2 HD video projections, colour, sound, 42 min 27 s, 41 min 42 s, on wooden tables
Courtesy of the artist


The strategy of dissolving the image reappears in Sedimentaciones, a photographic development table on which there are numerous photographs arranged in lines, with various blank sheets between them. The photos are extremely varied in nature, ranging from universally known images to others that are very specific to a Colombian context, personal portraits by the artist and anonymous, generic images. There are two developing trays at opposite corners. A hand takes a photograph from the table and puts it in a plastic tray filled with liquid in which the image dissolves. The paper emerges white and is then randomly placed in one of the lines. On the other side of the table another hand takes up one of the empty sheets and slides it into another tray. On taking out the sheet, the image has magically re-formed on it and the hand places it in the line of photographs. The process starts again in the other corner. Through this alternation we thus witness the ceaseless life and death of the image (see video below).



Oscar Muñoz. 'El juego de las probabilidades' [The Game of Probabilities] 2007


Oscar Muñoz
El juego de las probabilidades [The Game of Probabilities]
12 colour photographs
47 x 40 cm each with frame
Courtesy of the artist and Sicardi Gallery, Houston


Oscar Muñoz. 'Línea del destino' [Line of Destiny] 2006

Oscar Muñoz. 'Línea del destino' [Line of Destiny] 2006

Oscar Muñoz. 'Línea del destino' [Line of Destiny] 2006


Oscar Muñoz
Línea del destino [Line of Destiny]
Single-channel video 4:3, black and white, no sound,
1 min 54 s
Courtesy of the artist


Oscar Muñoz. 'Pixeles' [Pixels] 1999-2000


Oscar Muñoz
Pixeles [Pixels]
Coffee stains on sugar cubes, Plexiglas
9 panels 35 x 35 x 3 cm each
Courtesy of the artist and Sicardi Gallery, Houston


OSCAR MUÑOZ: “Protographs” in progress from Jeu de Paume / magazine on Vimeo.


The magazine’s camera has gone behind the scenes of Oscar Muñoz’ exhibition Protographs at the Jeu de Paume. It attempts to show how the artist and his assistant, Juliana Guevara, produce unstable images, using unconventional materials and supports such as water, charcoal dust, grease on metal, the spectator’s breath, and shower curtains. Since the early 80s, Muñoz has been developing special techniques to produce images that reveal themselves as a kind of counterpoint to photography and the “decisive moment” it once claimed to capture.

Narcissi (1995), Breath (1995), Simulacra (1999), The Collector (2014): all these works question the fragile status of images and the way they live - and die – in our memory.




Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
T: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 12.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Friday: 12.00 – 19.00
Saturday and Sunday: 10.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website


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Text / exhibition: ‘Australian vernacular photography’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 8th February – 18th May 2014


Australian vernacular photography. Such a large subject. Such a small exhibition.

With only 27 photographs from various artists (18 of which are shown in this posting), this exhibition can only ever be seen as the runt of the litter. I would have thought such a large area of photographic investigation needed a more expansive exposition than is offered here. There are no photobook, photo booth, Aboriginal, anonymous, authorless, family, gay or marginalised cultural photographs / snapshots. There are no light leaks, blur, fingers obstructing lenses, double exposures – all examples of serendipity and happenstance which could enter into an aesthetic arena.

Vernacular photography1 can be defined as the “creation of photographs, usually by amateur or unknown photographers both professional and amateur, who take everyday life and common things as subjects… Examples of vernacular photographs include travel and vacation photos, family snapshots, photos of friends, class portraits, identification photographs, and photo-booth images. Vernacular photographs are types of accidental art, in that they often are unintentionally artistic.”2 ‘Found photography’ is the recovery of a lost, unclaimed, or discarded vernacular photograph or snapshot.

While all of the photographs in the exhibition are unique images, some are definitely not vernacular in their construction – they are planned and staged photographs, what I would call planned happenstance (after John Krumboltz’s theory of career development). A perfect example of this are the photographs by Sue Ford (Sue Pike, 1963, printed 1988, below), Anne Zahalka (The girls #2, Cronulla beach, 2007, below) and Fiona Hall (Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975, below) which have an air of ceremonial seriousness that belies their classification as part of this exhibition. My favourites are the fantastic images by Glen Sloggett – witty, colourful, humorous with the photographer “acutely aware of the photographer and photograph’s role in pointedly constructing a narrative around Australian identity and history” – they are nevertheless self-deprecating enough that this does not impact on their innate “found” quality, as though the artist had just wandered along and captured the shot.

The route that the AGNSW has taken is similar to that of MoMA. Residing in the collection and shot by artists, these “vernacular” photographs are placed in a high art context. Their status as amateur or “authorless” photographs is undermined. This exhibit does not present vernacular photographs as just that. As the article on the One Street blog notes, what is being exhibited is as much about what has been collected by the AGNSW, its methodical and historicising classification, as it is about vernacular photographic form: chance, mistake and miscalculation. It is about creating a cliché from which to describe an ideal Australian identity, be it the beach, larrikinism, or the ANZAC / sporting “warrior”, and not about a true emotional resonance in the image that is created by, or come upon by, chance.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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


1. “Vernacular photography,” on One Way Street blog 20th October 2007 [Online] Cited 11/05/2014

“What is vernacular photography? Too broad to be understood as a genre per se, it can encompass anonymous snapshots, industrial photography, scientific photography, “authorless” photography, advertising, smut, as well as work that might be perceived as “other” than any of this random list. It could be understood as an oppositional photography – outside technical or artistic histories, yet, especially with the snapshot, it could also be entirely conventionalized, a manifestation of visual banalities, or an image so enigmatic that its meaning or genesis is entirely obscured. It is mistakes & failures as much as it may not be. & how we understand the images may or may not be separate from their initial intents. Is this a category we are making up?
The idea of the vernacular in photography is also an indication of photography as a medium informing the everyday, prevalent, “naturalized.””

2. Szarkowski, John. “INTERVIEW: “Eyes Wide Open: Interview with John Szarkowski” (2006)” by Mark Durden, Art in America, May, 2006, cited in “Vernacular photography,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 11/05/2014


Words and Photos: Geoffrey Batchen’s Writing About Vernacular Photography

“At first, I was simply interested in bringing attention to a diverse range of photographic objects and practices that had not been much written about. But I soon recognized that these objects represented a significant challenge to the predominant history of photography. This history, dominated by the values ​​and tropes of art history, was not well-equipped to talk about photographs that were openly commercial, hybrid and mundane. Ie: the history of photography ignores most types of photography. My interest, therefore, has become more methodological and theoretical, in an effort to establish new ways to think of photography that could address the medium as a whole. I suggest that any substantial inclusion of vernacular photographs into a general history of photography will require a total transformation of the character of that history…

I suggest that any inclusion of vernacular photography in the larger story, will require a complete transformation of the character of that story; it will require a new kind of history altogether. My writings may have encouraged this idea, but I am just one of many scholars who have been pursuing this goal. Indeed, I would say that this idea is now the norm. The next step is to look beyond this and engage other parts of the history of photography that have been similarly neglected. For example, there are many researchers at the moment that are examining the photographs produced outside Europe and the United States, such as China, Indonesia, and Africa…

Snapshots are complicated objects. They are unique to each maker and almost always completely generic. They happily adopt the visual economy that mediates most photographic practices: same but different. You might say that every snapshot is an authentic copy of a prescribed set of middle-class values and familiar pictorial clichés. That does not make them any less fascinating, especially for people who treasure them. But it does make them difficult to write about…

It is certainly possible to recognize the existence of regional practices of photography. I wrote, for example, about the making of fotoescultura in Mexico, and about a specific form of ambrotype in Japan. No doubt one could claim to see some regional aspects of snapshots made in the United States that distinguish them from ones made in Australia or, say, Indonesia. But the more challenging task is to talk about those things that can’t be seen. For example, snapshots made in Australia and China may look exactly the same to my eye, but it stands to reason that they don’t mean the same thing (after all, access to the camera for personal photos is a fairly recent phenomenon in China). We must learn how to write these kind of differences.”

Interview by LG. “Words and Photos: Geoffrey Batchen’s Writing About Vernacular Photography,” on the website Nd (translated from the French) [Online] Cited 04/05/2014


Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 - ) 'City-spaces #28, (John Williams), Sydney' 1976 printed 2012


Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 – )
City-spaces #28, (John Williams), Sydney
1976 printed 2012
From the series City-spaces 1975-78
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2012
© Ed Douglas


After relocating from USA to Australia in 1973, Ed Douglas spent a few years living in the country prior to taking on a teaching position at Sydney College for the Arts in 1976. The series City-spaces was commenced in Sydney and then developed further when Douglas moved to Adelaide in 1977. Having been schooled in the formal traditions of American documentary photography, Douglas’s images appear like notations of an urban explorer attempting to locate himself in a new country. Seemingly fragmentary, they look at the specificities of the mundane and the ordinary. Close acquaintances such as photographers Ingeborg Tyssen and John F. Williams appear in City spaces #29 and City spaces #28, indicating the personal nature of the series.

Intimately scaled and tonally rich, the black and white images exalt the formal beauty which can be found in the random textures of daily existence. They are also permeated with gentle humour and a sense of quiet drama that unfolds in the strangely misplaced confluences of objects, figures and spaces. Douglas’s interest in the formal and emotional qualities of topography was emblematic of new approaches in documentary photography of the time. His 1983 series of colour photographs depicting the gypsum mine on Kangaroo Island (collection of AGNSW) developed this trajectory further by fusing the aesthetics of abstraction and objective documentation.


Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 - ) 'City-spaces #40, Sydney' 1976 printed 2012


Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 – )
City-spaces #40, Sydney
1976 printed 2012
From the series City-spaces 1975-78
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 x 30.7 cm image
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2012
© Ed Douglas


Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 - ) 'Woman hosing, Canberra' 1979


Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 – )
Woman hosing, Canberra
Gelatin silver photograph
34.9 x 46.5 cm image
© Gerrit Fokkema


Gerrit Fokkema’s photographs of everyday Sydney and Canberra in the early 1980s are examples of Australian photography becoming more self-aware. These decisive snapshots of suburban life reveal an irony and conjure Fokkema’s own history growing up in Queanbeyan. Though captured in seemingly banal settings, the images intrigue, pointing to issues beyond what is represented in the frame. The housewife watering the road and a young tattooed man in front of a car are both depicted alone within a sprawling suburban landscape, suggesting the isolation and boredom in the Australian dream of home ownership. The sense of strangeness in these images is consciously sought by Fokkema, aided by his embrace of the glaring and unforgiving ‘natural’ Australian light.

Gerrit Fokkema’s Woman hosing, Canberra is an affectionate and gently ironic portrait of suburban life in Canberra. Fokkema was familiar with his subject matter, raised as he was in the nearby township of Queanbeyan. After studying photography at Canberra Technical College 1974-77 he became the staff photographer for the Canberra Times in 1975. He held his first exhibition in the same year at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. His career as a photo-journalist lead him to work with the Sydney Morning Herald in 1980 and participation with several international Day in the life of…. projects between 1986 and 1989.

Fokkema uses the ‘decisive moment’ of photo-journalism to reveal the incidental quirks of ordinary life in this image. The bland uniformity of the streetscape, with its identical archways and mundanely shuttered doors, is punctuated by the absurd proposition of a woman watering the street rather than the adjacent grass. Her presence is the only sign of life in an otherwise inanimate scene, and her actions suggest a kind of strangeness that lies within the normality of suburbia. Many of Fokkema’s images play with such chance incidences and odd juxtapositions, revealing his interest in surrealism and the notion of automatism. Indeed, the repeated archways and the lone figure inhabiting otherwise empty urban space of Woman hosing, Canberra recall the proto-typical surrealist painting, Mystery and melancholy of a street 1914, by Giorgio de Chirico. Fokkema’s image is, however, very much a product of Australia – of its bright ‘available’ light and of the dream of home-ownership. Fokkema has continued to document the Australian way of life. In 1986 he left newspapers to freelance as a commercial photographer and published Wilcannia, portrait of an Australian town. He has since exhibited works based on tender observations of his family members and of family life.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007


Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 - ) 'Blacktown man' 1983


Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 – )
Blacktown man
Gelatin silver photograph
30.6 x 40.6 cm image
© Gerrit Fokkema


The work of Gerrit Fokkema exhibits a particular sensitivity to the uneasiness of people in Australian landscapes, both urban and rural. Fokkema was born in New Guinea in 1954, but raised in Canberra and worked as a press photographer before freelancing from 1986. Although his photographs demonstrate an interest in the formal qualities of landscape, the sense of rhythm his compositions generate also evoke the monotony of Australian space – sweeping terracotta roofs and long straight paths. This monotony is only interrupted by the presence of the human figure, usually isolated, alone and awkwardly out of place. In Blacktown Man 1983, the flat image of the man appears dramatically superimposed on the land and sky of the suburban street. By reminding us of our sometimes uncomfortable relationship with the spaces we inhabit, Fokkema’s work rejects any attempt to romanticise Australian life.


John F Williams. 'The Rocks, Sydney' 1973


John F Williams
The Rocks, Sydney
Gelatin silver photograph
22.6 x 34.1cm
Purchased 1989
© John F Williams


Trent Parke. 'Backyard swing set, QLD' 2003


Trent Parke
Backyard swing set, QLD
From the series Minutes to midnight
Type C photograph
109.9 x 164cm
Gift of Albie Thoms in memory of Linda Slutzkin, former Head of Public Programmes, Art Gallery of New South Wales 2006
© Trent Parke



Australian vernacular photography traces developments in photographic practice from the postwar period through to the present day, with images ranging from documentary or ‘straight’ photography (where the subjects are usually unaware of the camera), through to those that look self-reflexively at the constructed nature of the medium.

The increasing role of photography in the latter part of the 20th century attests to the rising need Australians felt to apprehend the nation, personal identity and society through images. Many of these photographs offer frank perspectives on Australian culture without the romanticising tendencies of earlier photographers. Photographing the everyday became a way of understanding how Australia saw (and sees) itself, with recurrent themes such as beach culture, suburbia, race relations, protest and the role of women among the central concerns of image-makers then and now.

By the 1960s Australian photographers were comparing their work with international peers, thanks to photographic publications and the watershed 1959 tour of The family of man exhibition organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Institutional support for photography didn’t come until the 1970s; however those committed to the medium forged on, intent on capturing their visions of Australia photographically. The family of man exhibition toured Australia in 1959 and was enormously influential, with its themes of birth, love and death common to all humanity. However, possibilities for Australian photographers to be noticed were rare until the 1970s due to the lack of institutional support. Nonetheless, photographers from David Moore and Robert McFarlane to the young Sue Ford forged on, trying to find their own vision of Australian life and how it could be represented photographically. This exhibition looks at some of the photographers from then as well as those working more recently – such as Anne Zahalka, Trent Parke and Glenn Sloggett – to consider their various approaches to the depiction of modern Australian life.

In the Australian Photography Annual of 1947, photographer and director of the Art Gallery of NSW Hal Missingham wrote: “In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport… where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – what do they do – what do they wear, and think?”

Text from the AGNSW website


Jeff Carter (Australia 05 Aug 1928 - Oct 2010) 'The Sunbather' 1966


Jeff Carter (Australia 05 Aug 1928 – Oct 2010)
The Sunbather
Gelatin silver photograph
39.1 x 27.6 cm image
© Jeff Carter


“I don’t regard photography as an art form, although I know it can be for others… To me the camera is simply an unrivalled reporter’s tool. It is an aid to getting the story “properly true,”” Jeff Carter said in 2006. Working mainly as a photojournalist, Carter wanted to make images that depicted social reality. He aimed to show the ‘unknown’, those people who are rarely seen. His approach resulted in frank, arguably even unflattering, images of Australian life, such as this of a beach-goer in the 1960s, heralding the changing social mores of the time.


John F. Williams (Australia 1933 - ) 'Sydney' 1964, printed later


John F Williams (Australia 1933 – )
1964, printed later
Gelatin silver photograph
24.3 x 24.3 cm image
© John F Williams


Sydney photographer, lecturer and historian John F. Williams has a long and personal interest in the ramifications of the Allies’ commitment to and sacrifice in the First World War which he later explored in his 1985 series From the flatlands. Williams became an amateur street photographer, inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson and the photojournalist W. Eugene Smith. He read The family of man catalogue and saw the exhibition in 1959 but he rejected its “saccharine humanism and deliberate ahistoricism” choosing instead to socially document the raw character of Australia.1

When interviewed in 1994 Williams said: “After the [First World War] you had a range of societies which were pretty much exhausted, and they tended to turn inwards. In a society like Australia which had a poorly formed image of itself, where there was no intellectual underpinning, the image of the soldier replaced everything else as a national identity.”2

Sydney expresses the ‘Anzac spirit’ born in the battlefields of Gallipoli, the Somme and Flanders, a character study of an independent, introspective soldier. With an air of grit, determinedly smoking and wearing his badge, ribbons and rosemary as remembrance, Sydney stands apart from the crowd, not marching with his regiment. Williams embraced the ‘element of chance’ or the ‘decisive moment’ as he documented the soldier in a public place observing the procession. Taken from a low angle and very close up the man is unaware of the photographer at the moment the shot was taken, apparently lost in his own memories. The old soldier represents a generation now lost to history but portraits such as these continue to reinforce the myth of national identity.

1. Jolly, M. “Faith sustained,” in Art Monthly, September 1989, pp. 18-19
2. “John Williams – photographer and historian: profile,” in Sirius, winter, Macquarie University, Sydney, 1994, p. 5

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007


Robert McFarlane (Australia 1942 – ) 'Happening Centennial Park, Sydney' c. 1968


Robert McFarlane (Australia 1942 – )
Happening Centennial Park, Sydney
c. 1968
Gelatin silver photograph
25.9 x 17.6 cm image
© Robert McFarlane


Hal Missingham (Australia 08 Dec 1906 – 07 Apr 1994) 'Surf carnival, Cronulla' 1968, printed 1978


Hal Missingham (Australia 08 Dec 1906 – 07 Apr 1994)
Surf carnival, Cronulla
1968, printed 1978
Media category
Gelatin silver photograph
38.1 x 26.3 cm image
© Hal Missingham Estate


Photographer and former Art Gallery of NSW director, Hal Missingham wrote in the 1947 Australian Photography annual: “In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport…? Where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – What do they do – What do they wear, and think?” This image points to Missingham’s own attempts to answer that question. An interesting counterpoint to the images taken at Cronulla around 40 years later, here Missingham shows a group of young women standing behind a fence watching as young men train to be lifesavers.

Hal Missingham often holidayed at his beach house at Garie in the Royal National Park south of Sydney, not far from Cronulla. In 1970 he published Close focus a book of photographic details of rocks, pools, sand and driftwood. As a beachcomber and observer of beach culture Missingham delighted in his immediate environment. Surf carnival, Cronulla is a quintessential Australian scene, one that frames an important aspect of national identity and culture. As passive observers, the 1960s was a time when many girls were still ‘minding the towels’ for the boys who surfed or competed in carnivals. Barricaded from the beach and its male activity the young women in bikinis are oblivious to the photographer who has foregrounded their relaxed tanned bodies behind the wire as they in turn observe and discuss the surf lifesavers in formation at the water’s edge. Although a beach is accessible for the majority of Australians and is now an accepted egalitarian space where women bodysurf, ride surfboards and compete along with beachgoers from diverse ethnic backgrounds, Surf carnival, Cronulla suggests a specific demography.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007


Fiona Hall (Australia 1953 - ) 'Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975' 1975


Fiona Hall (Australia 1953 – )
Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
28.2 x 27.9 cm image
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1987
© Fiona Hall



Australian vernacular photography considers how photographers have used their cameras to depict Australian life, and how ideas of the nation have been constructed through photographic images.

Sixteen Australian photographers are represented by some 27 photographs taken from the 1960s to the 2000s. The photographs range from the more conventionally photo-documentary through to later works by photographers positioned more consciously in an art context. A selection of photography books of the period are also on display.

Artists include: Jeff Carter, Ed Douglas, Peter Elliston, Gerrit Fokkema, Sue Ford, Fiona Hall, Robert McFarlane, Hal Missingham, David Moore, Trent Parke, Roger Scott, Glenn Sloggett, Ingeborg Tyssen, John F Williams, William Yang and Anne Zahalka. Each of these artists in their own way interweave personal, documentary and fictional aspects through their images.

The works in Australian vernacular photography expose the sense of humour or larrikinism often seen as typical to Australia through showing aspects of beach and urban culture that hadn’t been imaged so bluntly before the 1960s. The characters that emerge range from leathery sunbathers, beer-drinking blokes and hippies, to beach babes, student protesters and suburban housewives, shedding light on the sense of liberation and self-recognition that arose during this period.

As photography struggled to gain recognition as an art form in the mid 20th century, the influence of exhibitions such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York’s Family of Man, which toured Australia in 1959, was vital in allowing Australian photographers to compare their work to that of their international peers.

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, photographers such as Jeff Carter, Sue Ford, David Moore, Roger Scott and John F Williams worked in a photo-documentary mode that was less about staging a shot or creating formal harmony within the frame than about capturing a moment of lived reality. To this end, such photographs involved minimal intervention from the photographer, both before and after the shutter release. Subjects were often unaware of being photographed and extensive darkroom manipulation was frowned upon, the rawness of prints was supposed to signal authenticity.

This approach resulted in images that seemed to offer a frank perspective on Australian culture, without the romanticising tendencies of earlier photography, which had sought to construct ideals rather than document what was actually there. As artists began to realise what they could do with the camera, so too did the images evolve. By the 1980s and ’90s photographers were making images that showed the subject’s awareness of being photographed, as with Gerrit Fokkema, or presented a harsh, even aggressive perspective on the depicted situations by removing people altogether, as with Peter Elliston. This signalled the increasingly self-conscious role of photographers themselves in the equation, suggesting the influence of post-modern theories of subjectivity and their effect on the images produced.

By the time we reach the 2000s, artists such as William Yang, Anne Zahalka and Trent Parke are acutely aware of the photographer and photograph’s role in pointedly constructing a narrative around Australian identity and history. The exhibition maps out this history and offers unexpected insight into the construction of a particularly Australian vernacular within photographic practice.”

Press release from the AGNSW



Sue Ford (Australia 1943 - 06 Nov 2009) 'Sue Pike' 1963, printed 1988


Sue Ford (Australia 1943 – 06 Nov 2009)
Sue Pike
1963, printed 1988
Media category
Gelatin silver photograph
34.2 x 34.2 cm image
Gift of Tim Storrier 1989
© Estate of Sue Ford


Sue Ford’s photograph of her friend Sue Pike blow-drying her hair in the kitchen captures the young woman preparing for a night out. Ford often photographed those close to her as well as continually making self-portraits throughout her career. The photograph is domestic and intimate, showing a common aspect of life for young women in the 1960s. It suggests the procedure of preening necessary to go out and find ‘marriage and children’, while the alcohol and cigarette indicates the emerging movement for women’s liberation.

“My earliest “studio portraits” … were of my friends from school … These photo sessions were approached with a ceremonial seriousness, My friends usually brought different clothes with them and during the sessions we would change clothes and hairstyles.” Sue Ford 1987 1

Sue Ford took the majority of her photographs at this time with the camera set on a 1/60th of a second at f/11, a ‘recipe’ she wrote which had more chance of success. Poetic, fragmentary text relating to Ford’s 1961 photo-essay in “A sixtieth of a second: portraits of women 1961–1981” identify the young women’s recipe for flirtatious endeavour – ‘gossamer hairspray’, ‘peroxide’, ‘plucked eyebrows’, ‘big hair rollers to achieve “La Bouffant”‘, ‘Saturday nite’ and ‘Jive’. Sue Pike exemplifies the era of girls preparing for a night out with the boys in their ‘FJ Holdens and Hot Rods’. Staged in the kitchen, probably on a Saturday afternoon, Sue Pike, in a padded brunch coat with hair in rollers plugged into a portable hair dryer, will be a part of the action, the gossip and camaraderie. A further portrait taken in the same year shows Sue Pike metamorphosed as a beautiful bride, carefully coifed ash blonde hair under a white net veil, eyes momentarily shut, traditionally decorated with pearls and posy. Ford suggests in her prose and portraits that there are choices to be made – ‘marriage and children’ or mini-skirts and the Pill, as her old school friends go in different directions.

1. Ford. S. “A sixtieth of a second: portraits of women 1961-1981,” Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, 1987, p. 4

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007


Anne Zahalka (Australia 14 May 1957 – ) 'The girls #2, Cronulla beach' 2007


Anne Zahalka (Australia 14 May 1957 – )
The girls #2, Cronulla beach
Type C photograph
72.5 x 89.5 cm image
Gift of the artist 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Anne Zahalka. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney


As part of a generation of Australian women artists who came to the fore in the early 1980s, Anne Zahalka’s practice has always been concerned with questioning dominant myths and cultural constructs. The broad sweep of Zahalka’s oeuvre has often been underpinned by a common strategy: the world in her images appears as theatre where place, gender and national identity are questioned.

Many of Zahalka’s more recent works are located outside the studio though the natural environment can be seen to be equally constructed. In The girls #2, Cronulla beach, the photographer has returned to the seaside, which was the setting for one of her most iconic series, Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989. The girls was made as a response to the Cronulla riots and after an introduction to Aheda Zanetti, the designer of the burqini. Zahalka “also knew of a documentary film being made following the recruiting of Lebanese men and women into the lifesaving club. It seemed like there was change adrift on the beachfront.”1 The permutations and post-modern anxiety about what constitutes Australian identity seen in the Bondi… series, have spilled out into the real world. But the image of these young Muslim women lifeguards seems to celebrate the potential to transgress accepted value systems.

Anne Zahalka said in 1995: “I am primarily concerned with… representations to do with place, identity and culture. Through the appropriation and reworking of familiar icons and styles I seek to question (and understand) their influence, meaning and value.” Twelve years later, Zahalka continues this line of inquiry with the series Scenes from the Shire. In this image, three Muslim girls wearing Burqinis (swimwear made for Muslim women conceived by Lebanese-Australian designer Aheda Zanetti) are standing cross-armed on Cronulla beach, a lifesaving raft is in the background. Zahalka made this work in response to the Cronulla riots of 2005. The image juxtaposes Muslim tradition with the Australian icon of the lifesaver, suggesting cultural overlap and changing national identity.

1. A. Zahalka et al, “Hall of mirrors: Anne Zahalka portraits 1987-2007,” Australian centre of photography, Sydney 2007, p. 43


William Yang (Australia 1943 – ) 'Ruby's kitchen Enngonia' 2000, printed 2002


William Yang (Australia 1943 – )
Ruby’s kitchen Enngonia
2000, printed 2002
From the series miscellaneous obsessions
Type C photograph
35.5 x 53.5 cm image
© William Yang


William Yang was born in North Queensland, a third generation Chinese-Australian. He is known both as a photographer and for his monologues with slides which he has presented around the world to great acclaim. One of these, Sadness 1992, was adapted for the screen by Tony Ayres and won AWGIEs amongst other awards. A major retrospective of Yang’s work, Diaries, was held at the State Library of NSW in 1998. Through April 24 – June 1, 2003 Yang presented all his monologues at Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney.

Yang has documented various subcultures over the last 30 years and this is reflected in his photographs as well as his monologues. A remarkable storyteller with a unique style, his current work is a synthesis of his ongoing concerns. While these concerns spring very much from his experiences growing up with a Chinese background in far north Queensland, through to his exploration of the gay community in Sydney, the work transcends the personal and becomes a meditation on the subtleties of the ordinary and everyday.

This series of images reflects Yang’s current life of travel and contact with his far flung friends and extended family. Though the subject, at its most superficial, is food, where, when and who is there at the time is of equal importance. Consequently each photograph in the series presents a web of connections and is underpinned with similar intentions to Yang’s other work, regardless of the subject.

“I don’t think I have a great technical attitude but I am interested in people,” William Yang said in 1998. Yang is known for his candid photographs of friends and situations he encounters. The images are usually accompanied by a story about his life, sometimes handwritten on the print itself, sometimes spoken aloud in performative contexts. He uses narrative as a way of locating his images in a particular moment in his personal history as well as social history at large. Yang explores themes around Australian and gay identity in a way that is frank and sometimes confronting. In this work, from a series about food, a chunk of kangaroo meat sits casually atop a laminate bench; other Australian icons such as Wonder White and Weet-Bix are also visible. The work allows for a multiplicity of signs to coexist: the slaughtered Australian mascot, the drab generic kitchen, the processed ‘white’ bread, with the Chinese-Australian photographer observing it all.


Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Cheaper & deeper' 1996


Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Cheaper & deeper
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.0 x 79.9 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett


Based in Melbourne, Glen Sloggett has exhibited extensively across Australia, including a touring exhibition with the Australian Centre for Photography, New Australiana 2001. Internationally, his work was included in the 11th Asian Art Biennale in Bangladesh, 2004 and the 9th Mois de la Photo ‘Image and Imagination’ in Montreal 2005.

Sloggett’s work depicts scenes from Australian suburbia with a startling mix of warmth and melancholy. Devoid of people, his photographs reflect the isolation and abandonment that afflicts the fringes of Australian urban centres. His images don’t flinch from the ugly, kitsch, and bleak. Sloggett says, “No matter where I go, I always find places and environments that are in the process of falling down. These are the images of Australia that resonate most strongly for me as an artist. I want to capture the last signs of optimism before inevitable disrepair.” (Glen Sloggett, quoted in A. Foster. Cheaper and deeper, ex. Bro. ACP 2005) His images of disrepair are infused with black humour and at the same time, affection for Australian suburbia.

From dumpy derelict flats to pavements graffitied with the words ‘mum killers’, Sloggett’s photographs capture an atmosphere of neglect. One classic image depicts a pink hearse, with the slogan Budget burials cheaper & deeper!! stencilled in vinyl on the side window. Another image shows an industrial barrel, on which is scrawled the evocative word ‘Empty’. In a third image, a dog rests on the pavement outside ‘Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning’ – the bold red and yellow lettering on its window in stark contrast to the cracked paint of the exterior wall, and half-clean sheet that forms a makeshift curtain. These images have a profundity that is at once touching and surprising; as Alasdair Foster has commented, “In a world of rabid materialism and shallow sentiment, Sloggett’s photographs show us that life really is much cheaper and deeper.”

These five works by Glenn Sloggett serve as forms of photographic black humour. Devoid of people and always in colour, his photographs often take mundane elements from the world and make us notice their tragicomedy. This group is rooted in a play with text, where the tension between what is written and what we see is paramount. Sloggett makes comment on Australian life and culture, showing how the fringes of towns and the paraphernalia of the everyday give insight into the Australian psyche.


Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Hope Street' 2000


Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Hope Street
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.4 x 80.6 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett


Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Empty' 2000


Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.4 x 80.6 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett


Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Kong's 1 hour dry cleaning' 1998


Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.2 x 80.0 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett



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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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