Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth McCausland

09
Jul
21

Exhibition: ‘Underexposed: Women Photographers from the Collection’ at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Exhibition dates: 17th April – 1st August 2021

Curator: Sarah Kennel with Maria Kelly, curatorial assistant for photography

 

 

Paula Chamlee (American, born 1944) 'Nude Collage #1' 1998

 

Paula Chamlee (American, born 1944)
Nude Collage #1
1998
Gelatin silver print
7 ¾ x 9 ½
Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection
© Paula Chamlee

 

 

Paula Chamlee’s work stretches beyond the realm of straight photography and into assemblage, painting, and drawing. This collage was inspired by photocopies of prints that her husband, the late photographer Michael A. Smith, intended to share with a prospective collector. Because the photographs’ dimensions did not match with that of the copy machine, the images required cropping and taping. Intrigued by the nature of these cast-off bits piled together and the relationship of the parts to the whole, Chamlee created this collage by piecing together images of her body that Smith had taken.

 

 

Out of energy this weekend with all that is going on with being made redundant at the University. Physically and emotionally drained. Apologies.

So just two words… more please!

Marcus

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

 

 

For nearly all of photography’s one hundred eighty-year history, women have shaped the development of the art form and experimented with every aspect of the medium.

Conceived in conjunction with the centennial of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted suffrage for some women, this exhibition showcases more than one hundred photographs from the High’s collection, many of them never before on view, and charts the medium’s history from the dawn of the modern period to the present through the work of women photographers.

Organised roughly chronologically, each section emphasises a distinct arena in which women contributed and often led the way. Among the artists featured are pioneers of the medium such as Anna Atkins as well as more recent innovators and avid experimenters, including Betty Hahn, Barbara Kasten, and Meghann Riepenhoff. The exhibition also celebrates the achievements of numerous professional photographers, including Berenice Abbott, Margaret Bourke-White, and Marion Post Wolcott, who worked in photojournalism, advertising, and documentary modes and promoted photography as a discipline.

The exhibition also highlights photographers who photograph other women, children, and families, among them Sally Mann, Nan Goldin, and Diane Arbus, and those who interrogate ideals of femininity through self-portraiture. Also on view will be works by contemporary photographers who challenge social constructions of gender, sexuality, and identity, including Zanele Muholi, Sheila Pree Bright, Cindy Sherman, Mickalene Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems.

 

 

 

Underexposed B roll

 

Mickalene Thomas (American, born 1971) 'Les Trois Femmes Deux' 2018

 

Mickalene Thomas (American, born 1971)
Les Trois Femmes Deux
2018
Dye coupler print
High Museum of Art, Atlanta. purchase with funds from the Friends of Photography

 

 

Mickalene Thomas creates vibrantly layered artworks that reclaim iconic images to centre Black female subjectivity in the history of art. A direct response to Edouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass, this photograph transposes the scene of three White figures having a picnic in a park to an interior view of three exquisitely coiffed and adorned Black women (including Thomas’s partner at right) gazing directly and confidently at the viewer. The colourful, wood-panelled living room, complete with fake plants and mismatched African textiles, evokes Thomas’s 1970s childhood and the aesthetics of Blaxploitation cinema, known for its audacious, dangerous, and sexually confident gun-toting heroines.

 

 

This spring, the High Museum of Art will present “Underexposed: Women Photographers from the Collection” (April 17 – August 1), an exhibition featuring more
than 100 photographs from the Museum’s collection, including many that have never before been exhibited. The artworks demonstrate the notable contributions of women throughout the history of photography, spanning from innovators of the medium to contemporary practitioners who investigate the intersections of photography, representation and identity.

Originally conceived in conjunction with the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment, “Underexposed” pays homage to the work of women who have pioneered and championed the art of photography, from its earliest days through today. The exhibition is arranged roughly chronologically and showcases distinct arenas in which women photographers flourished and often led the way: as professionals working across multiple genres; as avid experimenters pushing photography into new directions; as teachers and patrons who supported the growth of the medium; and as creative, critically engaged artists exploring such issues as gender, identity and politics.

“With this exhibition’s focus on women photographers, ‘Underexposed’ highlights a trajectory of participation and influence extending from the earliest days of photography to a leading role in defining the medium today,” said Rand Suffolk, the High’s Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director.

Sarah Kennel, the High’s Donald and Marilyn Keough Family curator of photography, added, “Focusing on the last 100 years, this exhibition highlights how women have embraced photography as a powerful form of professional and creative expression. In bringing together pioneers of the medium with artists who reflect critically on photography’s capacity to shape and challenge concepts of gender and identity, we have an extraordinary opportunity to expand the history of photography and bring greater recognition to the many women who have contributed to and led the field.”

The exhibition opens with a selection of work by artists who transformed the practice of photography from the 1920s through the 1950s. Coinciding with the global rise of the feminist ideal of the “New Woman” in the late 1900s, practitioners including Ilse Bing, Margaret Bourke White, Dorothea Lange and Imogen Cunningham emerged as savvy leaders in the fields of  documentary, fashion and fine art photography. The exhibition continues with a section focused on artists who have experimented with photographic technologies and alternative processes to redefine the expressive and material limits of the medium. Works made in the 1970s and 1980s by artists including Barbara Kasten, Olivia Parker and Sheila Pinkel join pieces by contemporary makers, such as Meghann Riepenhoff and Elizabeth Turk, who continue to expand the language of photography.

The second half of the exhibition explores how women photographers have used photography to reflect on and interrogate the personal, social and cultural dimensions of gender and identity. Works by Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Susan Meiselas, Anne Noggle and Clarissa Sligh reveal different ways women have looked at and photographed other women. Similarly, works by Sheila Pree Bright, Sandy Skoglund and Susan Worsham deconstruct ideas around domesticity and feminine ideals. The exhibition closes with a selection of portraits and self-portraits by Judy Dater, Zaneli Muholi, Cindy Sherman, Mickalene Thomas and Carrie Mae Weems, among others, that explore the intersections of photography, representation and identity.

“Underexposed: Women Photographers from the Collection” will be presented on the lower level of the High’s Wieland Pavilion. This exhibition is curated by Sarah Kennel with Maria Kelly, curatorial assistant for photography.

Press release from the High Museum of Art

 

Anna Atkins (British, 1799-1871) 'Mauritius, from Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Fern' 1851-1854

 

Anna Atkins (British, 1799-1871)
Mauritius, from Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Fern
1851-1854
Cyanotype
10 1/8 x 7 15/15 inches
Gift in honour of Edward Anthony Hill

 

Doris Ulmann (American, 1884-1934) 'Studious Girl, Fleischman Relative' before 1931

 

Doris Ulmann (American, 1884-1934)
Studious Girl, Fleischman Relative
before 1931
Platinum print
Purchase

 

 

Doris Ulmann began her photographic career while attending the Clarence H. White School of Photography in New York – the first art photography school in the United States. There she worked in the Pictorialist tradition, embraced the “painterly” qualities of soft focus, and manipulated surfaces. After undergoing a major surgery, Ulmann decided to pursue her interest in people “for whom life had not been a dance.” She began traveling throughout the southeastern United States documenting the folk traditions and people of the Appalachian Mountains. She made several sun-dappled portraits of this young girl (identified on other prints as “Kreiger girl”) in and around Berea, Kentucky.

 

Ilse Bing (American, born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Self-Portrait in Mirrors' Paris, 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American, born Germany, 1899-1998)
Self-Portrait in Mirrors
Paris, 1931, printed c. 1941
Gelatin silver print
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
Purchase with funds from Georgia-Pacific Corporation

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) '"El" Station Interior, Sixth and Ninth Avenue Lines, Downtown Side' 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
“El” Station Interior, Sixth and Ninth Avenue Lines, Downtown Side
1936
Gelatin silver print
10 3/8 x 13 3/8
Purchase with funds from a Friend of the Museum

 

 

A towering figure of photography, Berenice Abbott learned the craft while assisting artist Man Ray in Paris. By 1926, she had established her own portrait studio, capturing the leading cultural icons of the day. She also befriended French photographer Eugène Atget and became his tireless champion, even rescuing many of his negatives after his death. After returning to New York in 1929, Abbott spent the next decade working on a major project documenting the rapidly transforming cityscape, which she published in the 1939 book Changing New York, produced with her partner, art critic Elizabeth McCausland. Although known for her urban views, in the 1950s, Abbott started working with Massachusetts Institute of Technology to explore the potential for photography to illustrate scientific principles and phenomena, as shown in this picture.

 

Lola Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1903-1993) 'Frida looking into mirror' 1944

 

Lola Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1903-1993)
Frida looking into mirror
1944
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 x 7 1/4 inches
Purchase with funds from Margaretta J. Taylor
© Lola Alvarez Bravo/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Doris Derby (American, b. 1939) 'Grass Roots Organizer, Mississippi' 1968

 

Doris Derby (American, b. 1939)
Grass Roots Organizer, Mississippi
1968
Gelatin silver print
Purchase with funds from Jeff and Valerie Levy

 

 

Dr. Doris Derby is an educator, anthropologist, and photojournalist based in Atlanta. In the 1960s and 1970s, she was an active member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and the Adult Literacy Project. Derby’s photographs reflect her interest in and concern for the role of poor, disenfranchised women during the movement. Many women had been fired from their jobs for registering to vote; in response, they built skill-based cooperatives and community groups that kept their families and communities together in very difficult times.

 

Diane Arbus. 'A family on their lawn one Sunday in Westchester, N.Y.,' 1968

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
A Family on the Lawn One Sunday in Westchester in June, 1968
1968, printed 1970
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 x 15 inches
Purchase with funds from a friend of the Museum

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Magnolia Blossom' 1975

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Magnolia Blossom
1975
Gelatin silver print
10 ¼ x 13 inches
Purchase with funds from a Friend of the Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Joyce Neimanas (American, b. 1944) 'Daytime Fantasies' 1976

 

Joyce Neimanas (American, b. 1944)
Daytime Fantasies
1976
Gelatin silver print with applied colour
Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection

 

 

For most of her career, Joyce Neimanas has created photographic images without directly using a camera, choosing instead to make complex collages and photograms of found imagery derived primarily from mass culture. In this work, Neimanas enlarged and printed a still from a 16 mm pornographic film to which she applied colour and annotated with text drawn from the controversial Kinsey Report on Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). Made at a time of expanded conversation around gender, feminism, and sexual liberation, this work explores and challenges conventional representations of women’s sexuality.

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) 'Untitled' 1979

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled
1979, printed 1989
From the Untitled Film Stills series
Chromogenic print
Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection

 

 

Cindy Sherman has used self-portraiture as a strategy to interrogate representations of identity, gender, and mass culture. In her breakout Untitled Film Stills series, she photographed herself in varied guises inspired by generic Hollywood depictions of female characters: the bereft housewife, the sultry vamp, the wide-eyed ingénue. She challenges traditional understandings of photography and self-portraiture and exposes mass media’s constructed norms and ideas about femininity. Although she shot the original series in black and white as a nod to mid-twentieth-century B-grade black and white films, she also reprised the themes in colour works like this one.

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942) 'Magnolia, Juchitán, México' 1986

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942)
Magnolia, Juchitán, México
1986
Gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

Nan Goldin (American, b. 1953) 'Cookie and Sharon on the Bed, Provincetown, MA, Sept. 1989' 1989

 

Nan Goldin (American, b. 1953)
Cookie and Sharon on the Bed, Provincetown, MA, Sept. 1989
1989
Dye destruction print
Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection

 

 

One of the most important photographers of her generation, Nan Goldin is an artist whose personal life is at the centre of her art. Her Cookie Portfolio documents her intimate friendship with Cookie Mueller. This photograph strikes a somber note as we see Cookie’s friend and lover Sharon sitting at the front of her bed, disconnected from a frail-appearing Cookie, who lies underneath her wedding picture. Cookie’s husband, Vittorio, died from AIDS the month this picture was made, and Cookie would die two months later. Despite the palpable loss sensed in the distance between the earlier and later works in the portfolio, Goldin conveys the steadfastness and tenderness of female friendship and support, which also infused her process: “I’m looking with a warm eye, not a cold eye. I’m not analysing what’s going on – I just get inspired to take a picture by the beauty and vulnerability of my friends.”

 

Sandy Skoglund (American, born 1946) 'Gathering Paradise' 1991

 

Sandy Skoglund (American, born 1946)
Gathering Paradise
1991
Dye coupler print
47 x 60 ½ inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James L. Henderson, III

 

 

Like many of installation artist and photographer Sandy Skoglund’s surrealist views of domestic spaces, this macabre, pink-tinged scene of squirrels running riot across a patio suggests the frenetic anxiety that bubbles beneath the placid appearance of suburban life. Eschewing digital manipulation, Skoglund meticulously constructs room-size theatrical sets – in this case, complete with sculpted squirrels – which she then photographs. At once funny and unsettling, her photographs of everyday spaces invaded by a menagerie of fantastical animals reveal the nightmarish aspects of the American dream.

 

Judy Dater (American, born 1941) 'Self-Portrait on Deserted Road' 1982

 

Judy Dater (American, born 1941)
Self-Portrait on Deserted Road
1982
Gelatin silver print
14 ¼ x 18 ¼
Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection

 

 

Over the course of her career, Judy Dater has primarily photographed women, including herself. This work is from a series she made during ten trips to national parks in the West between 1980 and 1983, where she photographed herself nude amidst the grandeur of nature. Seemingly stranded on an empty, endless road, she appears vulnerable and lost, but across the larger series, her photographs veer from savage self-examination to carefully constructed performances that explore identity, subjectivity, and femininity. One of the key influences on Dater’s photography is the work of Imogen Cunningham, who was also a close friend.

 

Barbara Kasten (American, b. 1936) 'Architectural Site 17' 1988

 

Barbara Kasten (American, b. 1936)
Architectural Site 17
1988
Dye destruction print
Support/Overall: 50 x 60 inches
Purchase

 

Sheila Pree Bright (American, born 1967) 'Untitled 13' 2006

 

Sheila Pree Bright (American, b. 1967)
Untitled 13
2006
From the Suburbia series
Dye coupler print, 49 1/2 inches
Gift of Sandra Anderson Baccus in loving memory of Lloyd Tevis Baccus, M.D.
© Sheila Pree Bright

 

Sheila Pree Bright (American, b. 1967) '#1960Now Ferguson protest: National March in Ferguson, "We Can't Stop" Mike Brown, Ferguson, MO, March 2015' 2015

 

Sheila Pree Bright (American, b. 1967)
#1960Now Ferguson protest: National March in Ferguson, “We Can’t Stop” Mike Brown, Ferguson, MO, March 2015
2015
From the series #1960Now
Gelatin silver print
Purchase with funds from the Friends of Photography

 

 

Sheila Pree Bright is one of Atlanta’s most prominent photographers working today. For the ongoing series #1960Now, she travels with and photographs the civic actions and protests of the Black Lives Matter movement. The title refers to the similarities between these contemporary protests and the civil rights movement and photography of the 1960s. The hashtag in the title refers to social media’s growing role in circulating images and defining current events. Here, two young girls and a little boy are at the forefront of a march in Ferguson, emphasising how the youth of today can be change makers for tomorrow.

 

Xaviera Simmons (American, born 1974) '10A Untitled' 2010

 

Xaviera Simmons (American, born 1974)
10A Untitled
2010
From the Utah series
Dye coupler print, 30 x 40 inches, 2010.21. Purchase with David C. Driskell African American Art Acquisition Fund. © Xaviera Simmons

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, born 1972) 'Zibuyile I (Syracuse)' 2015

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, born 1972)
Zibuyile I (Syracuse)
2015
Gelatin silver print
25 5/8 x 17 inches
Purchase with funds from the Donald and Marilyn Keough Family and the H. B. and Doris Massey Charitable Trust

 

 

Visual activist Zanele Muholi, whose personal gender pronoun is they, uses self-portraiture to address the politics of gender and race in the ongoing body of work Somnyama Ngonyama (which translates to “Hail, The Dark Lioness” from their mother tongue, Zulu). Muholi poses in locations around the world and incorporates everyday found objects such as props, costumes, and set dressing to build images that draw on their personal family history, consumer culture, and art history. In this photograph, Muholi addresses the viewer with a forceful, piercing gaze, challenging the conventional exoticised, othered, and sexualised depictions of Black female bodies.

 

Jill Frank (American, born 1978) 'everyone who woke up at the yellow house' 2016

 

Jill Frank (American, born 1978)
everyone who woke up at the yellow house
2016
Double sided inkjet print
High Museum of Art, gift of Louis Corrigan

 

V. Elizabeth Turk (American, born 1945) 'Calaeno' 2018

 

V. Elizabeth Turk (American, born 1945)
Calaeno
2018
Van Dyke print
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection
© Elizabeth Turk

 

 

The High Museum of Art
1280 Peachtree St NE
Atlanta, GA
30309

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm
Sunday 12 – 5pm
Monday closed

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24
Apr
12

Exhibition: ‘Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), Photographs’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 21st February – 29th April 2012

 

Berenice Abbott. 'New York Stock Exchange, New York City' 1933

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
New York Stock Exchange, New York City
1933
Gelatin silver print
24 x 19cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

 

It is not her portraits or the road trip photographs, nor her scientific work for which Berenice Abbott will be remembered. Firstly, she will always be remembered as the person who photographed Eugene Atget in 1927 just before he died and who bought the remainder of his negatives (after the French government had bought over 2,000 in 1920 and another 2,000 had been sold after his death). She then tirelessly promoted Atget’s work helping him gain international recognition until her sale of the archive to the Museum of Modern Art in 1968. Secondly, she is remembered for her magnificent photographs of New York City and its urban environs, photographs that show the influence of Atget in their attention to detail and understanding of the placement of the camera, and imaging of old and new parts of the city (much as Atget had photographed old Paris before it was destroyed). However, these photographs are uniquely her own, with their modernist New Vision aesthetic, bold perspectives and use of deep chiaroscuro to enhance form within the photograph. Abbott’s best known project, Changing New York (1935-39) eventually consisted of 305 photographs that document the buildings of Manhattan, some of which are now destroyed. As the text on Wikipedia insightfully notes:

“Abbott’s project was primarily a sociological study imbedded within modernist aesthetic practices. She sought to create a broadly inclusive collection of photographs that together suggest a vital interaction between three aspects of urban life: the diverse people of the city; the places they live, work and play; and their daily activities. It was intended to empower people by making them realise that their environment was a consequence of their collective behaviour (and vice versa). Moreover, she avoided the merely pretty in favour of what she described as “fantastic” contrasts between the old and the new, and chose her camera angles and lenses to create compositions that either stabilised a subject (if she approved of it), or destabilised it (if she scorned it).”

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In the text below Gaëlle Morel observes, “Rather than the kind of nostalgic approach often brought to bear on a city’s landmarks and typical sites, this ensemble offers an exploration of the nature of modernity and focuses on the ways in which the past and future are temporarily linked together. Seeking to reinvent the forms and functions of photography in relation to the practice of documentary, Abbott sets out to capture the “disappearance of the moment” by juxtaposing motifs from a city subject to an unprecedented process of demolition and reconstruction.”

While Abbott’s photographs are definitely modernist in nature I believe that today they can also be seen as deeply nostalgic, emerging as they do in the period after the Great Depression when the economy was on the move again, a peaceful time before the oncoming armageddon of the Second World War, closely followed by the fear of nuclear annihilation and the threat of communist indoctrination. They are timeless portraits of a de/reconstructed city. The images seem to float in the air, breathe in the shadows. This is the disappearance of the moment into the enigma of past, present, future – where the photograph becomes eternal, where the best work of both Atget and Abbott resides.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to 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.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Treasury Building, New York City' 1933

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Treasury Building, New York City
1933
Gelatin silver print
51 x 40.5cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

 

Architecture

“The tempo of the city is not that of eternity, nor that of time, but that of the ephemeral. That is why recording it is so important, in both documentary and artistic terms.”

“All the photographs of New York took a long time to make, because the camera had to be carefully positioned. There is nothing fortuitous about these photographs.”

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The exhibition features a substantial collection from Abbott’s best known project, Changing New York (1935-39). Commissioned by the Roosevelt administration as part of its response to the nationwide economic crisis, Abbott saw this piece of work as both a way of documenting the City and as a personal work of art. Eighty of the 305 photographs taken by Abbott are on show here, along with various documents providing insight into the background of this major photographic undertaking, including posters and views of the exhibition organised by the Museum of the City of New York in 1937, sketches and historical notes made by the team of journalists working with Abbott on the project, and proofs and dummies of the layout made by the photographer before she started work.

Abbott homes in on the contrasts between old and new elements in the City’s structure. Her images alternate between a New Vision aesthetic, characterised by an emphasis on details and bold perspectives, and a more documentary style that is frontal and neutral. Rather than the kind of nostalgic approach often brought to bear on a city’s landmarks and typical sites, this ensemble offers an exploration of the nature of modernity and focuses on the ways in which the past and future are temporarily linked together. Seeking to reinvent the forms and functions of photography in relation to the practice of documentary, Abbott sets out to capture the “disappearance of the moment” by juxtaposing motifs from a city subject to an unprecedented process of demolition and reconstruction.

In 1938, hoping to take advantage of the fifty million visitors expected at the New York World’s Fair of 1939, the publisher, E.P. Dutton, offered to bring out a selection of one hundred images from the project accompanied by a text by the renowned art critic Elizabeth McCausland, who also happened to be Abbott’s companion and staunch supporter. Going against the women’s original ideas for an art book, Dutton produced a more standard tourist guide, breaking the City down into a series of tours, from south to north and from the centre outwards. The text, too, was shorn of its poetic and pedagogical dimensions, leaving only informative entries about the buildings in the pictures.

In the exhibition, this set of architectural photographs is rounded out by a selection of pictures of vernacular architecture taken by Abbott during a journey in the southern states of the US in the 1930s and when she was travelling along Route 1 in the 1950s. Here, portraits of farmers and wooden houses alternate with pictures of streets and local events.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Triborough Bridge, East 125th Street Approach, New York City, June 29, 1937'

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Triborough Bridge, East 125th Street Approach, New York City, June 29, 1937
1937
Gelatin silver print
24.5 x 19cm
Museum of the City of New York. Gift of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Broadway to the Battery, New York City, May 4, 1938' 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Broadway to the Battery, New York City, May 4, 1938
1938 
Gelatin silver print
17.5 x 24cm
Museum of the City of New York
Museum Purchase with funds from the Mrs. Elon Hooker Acquisition Fund
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Flat Iron Building, Broadway and Fifth Avenue, New York City' 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Flat Iron Building, Broadway and Fifth Avenue, New York City
1938
Gelatin silver print
101.5 x 76 cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

 

Berenice Abbott Petit Journal

With over 120 photographs, plus a selection of books and documents never shown before, this is the first exhibition in France to cover the many different facets of the American photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), who is also famous for her international advocacy of Eugène Atget. She came to Paris in 1921 where she learnt her craft from Man Ray before opening her own studio and embarking on a successful career as a portraitist. Returning to New York City in 1929, she conceived what remains her best‑known project, Changing New York (1935-39). This was financed by the Works Progress Administration as part of its response to the economic crisis sweeping the country. The photographs she took in 1954 when travelling along the US East Coast on Route 1 (the exhibition presents a previously unseen selection of these images) reflect her ambition to represent the whole of what she called the “American scene.” Furthermore, in the 1950s, she also worked on a set of images for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) designed to illustrate the principles of mechanics and light for educational purposes.

A committed member of the avant‑garde from the early 1920s, and a staunch opponent of Pictorialism and the school of Alfred Stieglitz, Abbott spent the whole of her career exploring the limits and nature of documentary photography and photographic realism. This exhibition shows the rich array of her interests and conveys both the unity and diversity of her work.

 

Portraits

Berenice Abbott moved to New York City in the early 1920s and went about becoming a sculptor. Mixing in the bohemian circles of Greenwich Village, she met writers and artists such as Djuna Barnes, Sadakichi Hartmann and Marcel Duchamp. She also posed for Man Ray. Economic hardship at home and the allure of what then seemed the cultural Eldorado of Europe impelled several of these artists to try their luck in Paris, and Abbott herself joined this group of American expatriates in 1921.

In 1923 she became the assistant of Man Ray, who had opened a portrait studio shortly after his arrival in France in 1921. While a fair portion of the studio’s clients were American tourists, Abbott found herself at the heart of the avant-garde scene – especially that of the Surrealists. Between 1923 and 1926 she thus learnt about darkroom techniques and portrait photography while at the same time picking up a broader intellectual and artistic education. She produced her portraits in Man Ray’s studio before opening her own in 1926. Success soon followed. Her clientele was a mixture of French cultural figures and American expatriates, of bourgeois, bohemians and literary types. Her portraits were on occasion manifestly influenced by Surrealism, and more generally show an interest in masquerade, play and disguise, but sometimes even in their use of overprinting and distortion.

The female models express a kind of sexual ambiguity, notably by their masculine haircut or clothes, deliberately exuding a sense of uncertainty with regard to their identity. In composing her portraits, Abbott developed a distinctive aesthetic, far removed from the usual commercial conventions. The absence of a set, with the background usually no more than a plain wall, helped to focus on the sitter and their posture, the position of their body and their facial expression. The use of a tripod and long-focus lenses placed at eye-height allowed her to avoid distortions and thus heighten the physical presence of the models. In early 1929 Abbott left Paris for New York City. Back in America she continued with the same activities, opening a new portrait studio and taking part in exhibitions of modernist photography, while also promoting the work of Eugène Atget, having bought part of his estate in 1928.

 

New York City

In the early 1930s, Abbott set about her project for a great documentary portrait of the City of New York, but had no luck when she approached institutions such as the Museum of the City of New York and the New York Historical Society for funding. She assembled her first efforts in an album (eight pages of which are exhibited here) in order to convey the scale of her ambitious undertaking, and in 1934 exhibited her photographs of the City at the Museum of the City of New York in the hope of attracting sponsors. In 1935, support was at last forthcoming from the Federal Art Project, a programme set up to aid artists by the Works Progress Administration as part of the New Deal; she now had the support of a team of researchers who produced an information pack with text and drawings to accompany each image. Entitled Changing New York, she conceived this commission as both a vast documentary record of the City and a personal work of art. Eighty of the 305 photographs constituting this project have been selected for the exhibition. These are accompanied by documents – a poster, exhibition views, sketches and historical notes, proofs, pages from the preparatory album and original editions – that help to convey the concerns and ambitions behind this major photographic undertaking.

Abbott focused on the contrasts and links between old and new in the City’s structure. Her images alternate between a New Vision aesthetic, characterised by an emphasis on details and bold perspectives, and a more documentary style that is frontal and neutral. Rather than the kind of nostalgic approach often brought to bear on a city’s landmarks and typical sites, this ensemble offers an exploration of the nature of modernity and focuses on the ways in which the past and future are temporarily linked together. Seeking to reinvent the forms and functions of photography in relation to the practice of documentary, Abbott sets out to capture the “vanishing instant” by juxtaposing motifs from a city subject to an unprecedented process of demolition and reconstruction.

The upshot of all this work was the publication of a book, Changing New York, in 1939. But there was considerable tension between the publisher, whose concerns were commercial, and the photographer, with her artistic ambitions. In 1938, hoping to take advantage of the fifty million visitors expected at the New York World’s Fair of 1939, the publishing house E.P. Dutton proposed to bring out a selection of one hundred images from the project accompanied by a text from the renowned art critic Elizabeth McCausland, who also happened to be Abbott’s companion and unfailing supporter. Straying far from the project originally envisaged by the two women, Dutton changed the presentation of the photographs and produced what was a standard tourist guide, breaking the City down into a series of tours, from south to north and from the centre outwards. The text, too, was shorn of its poetic and pedagogical dimensions, leaving only information about the buildings in the pictures.

 

The “American scene”

This set of architectural images is completed by a selection of vernacular photographs. In the summer of 1935, Berenice Abbott went on a road trip down to the Southern US in order to create a portrait of a rural world in crisis. Choosing the kind of documentary style that would be the hallmark of the photographic survey launched by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) that same year, she focused on the modest wooden houses and the farmers. Driving around these states with Elizabeth McCausland, Abbott took some two hundred photographs which the two women saw as part of an ambitious photographic portrait of America in book form, although in the end this was never published. A similar fate befell Abbott’s piece on the small towns and villages along Route 1, which she travelled in 1954. Covering approximately 6,500  kilometres as she followed this road along the East Coast of the US, she took some 2,400 photographs, taking in stalls, shops, portraits of farmers, diners and bars and dance halls. Her photography alternated between the documentary aesthetic and Street Photography. With Route 1, Abbott continued to pursue her ambition of representing the whole of the “American scene.”

 

Science

Abbott started photographing scientific phenomena in 1939. In 1944 she was recruited by the journal Science Illustrated, where she published some of her own pictures, as head of its photography department. Abbott took a committed, pedagogical approach, seeing her images as a vital bridge between modern science and the general public. In 1957, as a result of the anxiety about national science stirred by the Soviet launch of the Sputnik into outer space, at the height of the Cold War, the National Science Foundation set up a Physical Science Study Committee at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its role was to develop new textbooks for the teaching of science in schools and to use innovative photographs to illustrate the principles of quantum mechanics. Abbott was hired by MIT to produce photographs for the popularisation and teaching of the sciences. Using abstract forms to visually express complex mechanical concepts and invisible mechanical laws, she used black grounds to reveal principles such as gravity and light waves. The exhibition features a score of Abbott’s scientific and experimental images, as well as some of the books for which they were used. Harking back to the experiments of the avant-gardes, and in particular the Rayogram technique, she was able to produce visually attractive and surprising images that were also rich in discovery, thus combining documentary information with a sense of wonder.”

Text by Gaëlle Morel, curator of the exhibition, on the Jeu de Paume website

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Blossom Restaurant, 103 Bowery, New York City, October 24, 1935' 1935

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Blossom Restaurant, 103 Bowery, New York City, October 24, 1935
1935
Gelatin silver print
19 x 24.5cm
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Sunoco Station, Trenton, New Jersey' 1954

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Sunoco Station, Trenton, New Jersey
1954
Gelatin silver print
19 x 24.5cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Gunsmith and Police Department Headquarters, 6 Centre Market Place and 240 Centre Street, New York City, February 4, 1937' 1937

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Gunsmith and Police Department Headquarters, 6 Centre Market Place and 240 Centre Street, New York City, February 4, 1937
1937 
Gelatin silver print
19 x 24.5cm
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Happy's Refreshment Stand, Daytona Beach, Florida' 1954

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Happy’s Refreshment Stand, Daytona Beach, Florida
1954
Gelatin silver print
29.5 x 28cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Miner, Greenview, West Virginia' 1935

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Miner, Greenview, West Virginia
1935
Gelatin silver print
25 x 19 cm
Ronald Kurtz / Commerce Graphics
© Berenice Abbott / Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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

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