Posts Tagged ‘Emmet Gowin

02
Nov
18

Text: Marcus Bunyan. ‘Death and the image’ 2018

November 2018

 

This text was written in 2017 for a special issue of the international magazine Text on the subject ‘Writing Trauma’. While the text was accepted, the peer-reviewers wanted heavy revisions, including reordering the piece and editing out my personal stories. At the time, I was going into hospital for an operation on my hand and such revisions were impossible to undertake.

Now, over a year later, I have reread the text… and I have amended and extended it, but otherwise I am going to leave it as I wrote it in the first place. I like the way I write and I like my personal stories. While it is a long read the writing addresses an important subject with, I hope, some interesting insights along the way.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 8,137

Download Death and the image (4.3Mb pdf)

 

 

Abstract

This text investigates how the act of photography visually writes trauma. Through an analysis of the context of images of death by artists such as Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, and Walker Evans the paper ponders how the camera captures human beings ante-mortem, at the death point, post-mortem and vita ad mortem.

It seeks to understand that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present. How does the act and performance of photography depict the trauma of death, this double death (for the photograph is a memento mori and/or the person in the photograph may already know that they are going to die).

“The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal” the pronouncement of the perfect paradox (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.”

Keywords

Trauma, photography, death, art, memento mori, war, execution, memory, victim, representation, Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, Walker Evans, ante-mortem, point of death, death point, post-mortem, punctum, empathy, vita ad mortem, life after death.

 

 

Death and the image

 

 

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“Photography, because it stops the flow of life, is always flirting with death…”

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John Berger1

 

“On the most fundamental level there are transitions from continuous to discontinuous or from discontinuous to continuous. We are discontinuous beings, individuals who perish in isolation in the midst of an incomprehensible adventure, but we yearn for our lost continuity. We find the state of affairs that binds us to our random and ephemeral individuality hard to bear. Along with our tormenting desire that this evanescent thing should last, there stands our obsession with a primal continuity linking us with everything that is.”

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Georges Bataille2

 

 

German Gen. Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution

 

“German General Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade. The General was convicted and sentenced to death by an American military tribunal. Aversa, Italy.” Blomgren, December 1, 1945. 111-SC-225295. National Archives Identifier: 531326

 

 

Trial and Execution of General Anton Dostler

The still photograph (above) can be seen being taken by the flash from a still camera that occurs at 5.16 secs in the YouTube film. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

 

 

1

One of life’s recurrent themes is mortality. As Bataille notes, we are discontinuous beings: we live, we breathe, and we die. Photography’s recurrent theme is also mortality. In a ghostly evocation, the medium possesses an odour of death that sticks in the throat. So how then does photography visually write the trauma of death – over time, through space, in different contexts, with multiple narratives and different points of view?

As a first point of reference, we need to define trauma. Trauma can be an injury to living tissue; a disordered psychic or behavioural state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury; an emotional upset and an agent, force or mechanism that causes all or any of these conditions.3 Atkinson and Richardson note that the work of theorists such as Nicolas Abraham, Maria Torok, Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, Dominick LaCapra, and Cathy Caruth in broad terms view trauma,

“… as the delayed manifestation of a psychic wound sustained during an experience that has happened too quickly to allow registration and processing of the event at the time of its occurrence. To study trauma in literary or cultural terms, then, is to be concerned with the tension between what is known and what is not known, and with the impact and dynamics of the woundedness and machinations of trauma – not only its purely physical instantiation, but in all its reverberations. This is what brings the study of trauma to the uncertainty of truth, the impossibility of bearing absolute witness to catastrophe, the multiplicity of historical narratives.”4

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Constitutive of trauma and its affects is the “piercing of the psychic shield” which protects a fragile subjectivity leaving in its wake shattered individuals, communities and even whole nations.5 Further, Michalinos Zembylas citing Kaplan (2005) notes that “an important distinction that needs to be made here is one’s positioning and context of encountering trauma,”6 between being a primary or secondary witness. Personally, I believe that a testimony (a formal written or spoken statement that something is true) in the first instance… becomes a testament (something that serves as a sign or evidence of a specified fact) in the second.

When looking death in the face, we can state that death is a trauma not only for the physical body and the psyche of the person involved (the direct trauma victim), but also for the witness of the event, be they a primary witness – one who actually witnesses the traumatic event – or a secondary witness, a person “who has no personal connection to the victim but may encounter trauma through other sources such as the media and oral or written accounts of a catastrophe.”7

These secondary encounters can never be the actual experience of trauma but, acting through language (be it oral, written or visual), they may embody sensations that stimulate feelings and thoughts in the secondary observer. A social construction of a testament may produce an empathetic engagement in viewers as “secondary witnesses.”8 Through an understanding of spectatorship, experience, aesthetic effects, narrative strategies and temporal shifts in the polyvocal nature of language we can begin to understand how the affect of secondary traumatisation – on memory, history and the body – can break down the subject-object dichotomy, can break down the realist norms of representation to produce “a mode of cognition involving sensuous, somatic and tactile forms of perception.”9 Here language (the photograph in this case, reinforced by the title of the photograph) stands in for that which is absent, but it is not in opposition to an intensity of feeling. The language of the photograph can intensify the affect of the image, especially if the photograph becomes transcendent, embodied, in the vitality and “aliveness” of the viewer.10

This mimetic experience “promotes a critical and self-reflexive empathy” and knowledge in the secondary witness that LaCapra observes is a “virtual, not vicarious, experience … in which emotional response comes with respect for the other and the realization that the experience of the other is not one’s own.”11 Essentially, this is a social concept, a social construction of reality, a matrix-like view of the world that draws on relational and contextual dimensions for understanding trauma. This concept requires careful consideration of issues related to history, culture, race, gender, ideology, beliefs, agency and power.

“From a social constructionist and narrative perspective, people reconstruct their selves through the stories they tell about their past and the meaning they ascribe to the present in anticipation of the future. They shape their stories through active and creative interpretation of their lives and are in turn shaped by these stories. However, the self is not only a product of narratives. People are purposeful and moral beings, having the power and agency to change scripts, discourses and ideologies…”12

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Here we can ask, what are the machinations of the image in the affective dynamics of photographs of trauma and how are they situated in a certain relation to trauma? What do photographs actually do that give rise to a way of thinking and feeling about trauma?

Although no representation can fully describe the first hand experience of trauma because of the partial nature of language – its gaps, elisions and impossibilities of speech13 – it is because of these very gaps that new spaces of interpretation can open up. Rather than just representing the perceived reality of trauma (this happened, at this time, in this location – an ordering of reality), images have the unique ability to transcend their indexical relationship to the real, pointing and touching (as if with the index finger) to the relationality of trauma as it touches human emotion. With its ability to police and regulate it subject, the implicit violence of photography is a predatory means of taking possession of both its victim (the subject) and its viewer.

Anna Gibbs has stated that we live, “in a more or less continuous state of mediatized emergency and traumatic aftermath, desensitized by the onslaught of images … to the affect we ought to feel.”14 I strongly disagree. I would argue that the traumatic numbing15 and supposed “death of experience”16 allegedly present in the world of image circulation, translation, and accumulation only occurs if the witness lets it be so.

Personally, I believe that something in the image is transferred to the witness pre-cognition – intuitively, imaginatively – which can then be interpreted cognitively and relationally with regard to history and memory, art and culture, politics and experience through an orthogonal movement through time and space. As viewers and interpreters, we are not fixed at a particular point in time and space, nor do we observe from one particular point of view. Our existential engagement provides a space to close the gap between affect and enunciation.

“Facts can vibrate; they can give of colors, sounds, smells, images. To talk of these facts with no recognition of this is to lack any awareness of the act of enunciation, of the gaps between language and experience and the unpredictable ways that sparks can break out of language, leap across the gap and ignite the tinderbox of traumatic memory.”17

 

2

Surfing Pinterest (a photo sharing website) recently, I absentmindedly clicked on an abstract image of three hanging black shapes from the pantheon of image tiles that presented itself to me. Up popped this horrific image of three Afro-Americans who had been lynched in the Southern United States in the 1920s. I was shocked and dismayed. I had such a strong emotional reaction to the image. But more than that, my feelings and memories of the bigotry that I had faced as a young gay man growing up in the 1970s swelled in my consciousness. This story is a example of how exposure to an image can bring to the surface unresolved aspects of being ‘Other’, of being different, and being persecuted for that difference. I thought about the lives of these people that had led them to that point, their families, their histories and the terror that they must have experienced on that day. You cannot begin to understand that, but you can have empathy and anger against the systems of racism and bigotry that exist in the world.

Then the cognitive part of my brain linked the image to a report I had only just seen a few days before on lynching, which told of the thousands of Afro-Americans who had been killed between 1882 and 1968.18 Mentally, I then linked this to a Facebook posting which put forward the analogy that the current killing of Afro-Americans by police in the United States was akin to a contemporary and publicly endorsed and enforced form of lynching. Finally, in my head I heard Billie Holiday singing that famous song Strange Fruit, “a dark and profound song about the lynching of African Americans in the Southern United States during the Jim Crow Era, “strange fruit,” as they hang from trees, rotting in the sun, blowing in the wind, and becoming food for crows upon being burned.”19 I watched the video of Billie Holiday singing this song on YouTube.20 Every time I think of this image I have these associations of animate thought intrinsic to the original experience,21 where the micro and macro conditions of production work to “embody and register trauma,”22 a communicable language of sensation and affect, time and time again.

 

 

Billie Holiday – Strange fruit

 

 

These chains of affect, the nexus between affect / feeling / emotion / cognition, are a form of synaesthesia where facts, emotions, feelings, memories, sounds and images vibrate against each other as an active and continuous engagement of the self with the world in which one lives. In a human being who is un/consciously aware, these real and mediated experiences may encourage a sensory intensification that elicits thought and empathic vision in the materiality of embodied experience, something (the punctum?) that takes us out of our selves into a higher register of being.

As part of this system of impressions, of an instantaneous, affective response triggered by an image,23 photographs force us to engage visually and involuntarily. “Impressions that force us to look, encounters which force us to interpret, expressions which force us to think.”24 Encounters which force us to comprehend. The conjunction of affect and critical awareness “constitute the basis of an empathy grounded … on a feeling for another that entails an encounter with something irreducible and different, often inaccessible.”25 This combination of affective and intellectual operations – about forcing oneself to look (and that process of looking/surrendering) but never forgetting your ‘point of view’, your memory, history and identity, is when empathy becomes that process of surrender, “but also the catch that transforms your perception.”26 How is this “catch” enunciated in photographs? I now want to look at a few images that explicate these phenomena.

 

Ante-mortem: present but absent

3

With the invention of photography in the late 1830s, the photograph as memento mori allows the spectator to observe death not at first hand, but through the representation of the image “taken from life.” Photographs provide a verification of reality through their apparent verisimilitude, while being woven into narratives – oral, textual, intertextual, spatial and temporal – that frame the event in multiple ways.

“Photographs … have come to stand in for reality … despite the fact that it is relatively easy to manipulate their meaning. As a result of their ability to project reality, images, and particularly those that depict death and destruction, are seen as potentially powerful pieces of documentary evidence…”27

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Photographs are embedded in “a context of the cultural circumstances at the time, and therefore exist rarely in isolation or without meaning”28 and can be seen as having a denotative level (what they physically represent) and a connotative level (the meanings attached to that representation).29 Photography quickly changed how death was displayed because it introduced a “reality” and immediacy of representation that was democratic, personal and everyday.30

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Lewis Paine
26th April 1865
Albumen silver print from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

An example of the personal, everyday and documentary nature of photography can be seen in the photograph taken by Alexander Gardner in April 1865. This portrait is of Lewis Thornton Powell (aka Lewis Payne or Paine) who was one of the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln which occurred the same month. The photograph has a background of dark metal, and was taken on one of the ironclads U.S.S. Montauk or Saugus, where the conspirators were for a time confined. The reality is Paine was executed in July 1865 just eight short weeks after this photograph was taken, so in effect (and in the affect on us of this knowledge), he is (already) a dead man walking. This is a double death – that death buried in the very act of taking any photograph, La petite mort or “the little death,” an idiom and euphemism for the orgasm of the photographic time freeze; and the fact that we know that he was going to die, those short weeks later.

The photograph forms the central panel of a three-panel Renaissance-like altarpiece, the form in which the three photographs are usually displayed. The left and right hand photographs were taken within minutes of each other, with the camera in the same position, whereas in the centre photograph the camera has been lowered to show more of the body, and the image has been cropped at the top. In the central plate the figure of Paine has been raised up in the frame – almost prematurely brought back to life by his placement. The centre image is the only one where Paine stares directly at the camera. He surveys the viewer with a gaze I find enigmatic.

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Three photographs of Lewis Paine
26th April, 1865
Albumen silver prints from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

This is a very modern face, a very contemporary face. His hair is similar to Justin Beiber’s. Who brushed his hair across for this picture, and would it normally be this long, or has it just been ignored because of his fate? He still has good muscle tone – has he been exercising in his ironclad cell? And finally, his clothing – are they navy issue, as his top appears to have been given to him, perhaps the coarse, navy blue wool of the Northern states. If we were to place this image within the metaphysical school of photography which peaked with Paul Caponigro and Minor White we could say: Hovering above his head, has his spirit already begun to leave his body?

One reading of his gaze is that he is interested in what the photographer is doing – almost the gaze of an apprentice wanting to apply these skills in the future. Given his fate is he insane because of his interest? Another reading could be that he is looking out to the future in the hope of finding that he will be judged in another way. And another is the immediacy of his gaze – it is a gaze that is happening now!

The other thing that I find mysterious is the distance of the photographer from the subject. Was it fear or the presence of the guards that stopped Gardner getting any closer, or are there deck fittings we cannot see that prevented his approach. Imagine being Paine, having a photographer point a damn great view camera at you, documenting your countenance for prosperity. What was going on in Paine’s mind – what is his perspective on this performance by the photographer? And what brought Paine to this place?

Michel Foucault calls the methods and techniques by which human beings constitute themselves, “technologies of the self.” Foucault argued that we as subjects are perpetually engaged in processes whereby we define and produce our own ethical self-understanding. According to Foucault, technologies of the self are the forms of knowledge and strategies that “permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of immortality.”31 As we look into his eyes he knows that we know he is going to die, has already died but the intensity of that knowledge is brought into present time. In this instant, what Paine emanates is a form of i-mortality.

Roland Barthes in his seminal work Camera Lucida observes in Section 39:

“He is dead and he is going to die… The photograph is handsome, as is the boy: that is the studium. But the punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: this will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose, the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence.”32

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This is Barthes anterior future, a moment where truth is interpreted in the mind of the photographer, not out there but in here (your head and your heart), where past, present and future coalesce into a single point in time: his death and our death connected through his gaze, and the knowledge of our joint discontinuity. In this moment in time, what we are doing is making a list about the human condition when we talk about something that is remarkable. Language can never fully describe the human condition, much as it may try… and this is why this photograph is remarkable, because it is ineffable, unknowable. The photograph inhabits you; it haunts you like few others, because it is a memoriam to a young man and his present death. Here he is present but absent at one and the same time.

As such, this is an image as triple death – the death of the photograph (past time / memento mori / remembrance of death), the death of the person in the photograph and also a third death, the knowledge that Paine is going to die. Death, like life, can be cyclical. This is the catch that transforms your perception, in Barthes terms the punctum of the image, in which the wounding, personally touching detail (past pose, future death) establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.

“The punctum (a Latin word derived from the Greek word for trauma [my emphasis]) … inspires an intensely private meaning, one that is suddenly, unexpectedly recognized and consequently remembered (it “shoots out of [the photograph] like an arrow and pierces me”); it ‘escapes’ language (like Lacan’s real); it is not easily communicable through/with language. The punctum is ‘historical’ as an experience of the irrefutable indexicality of the photograph (its contingency upon a referent). The punctum is a detail or “partial object” that attracts and holds the viewer’s (the Spectator’s) gaze; it pricks or wounds the observer.”33

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This trauma, prick or wound that lifts the viewer out of themselves, out of their everyday existence, “points to those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognizable symbolic system. This kind of meaning is unique to the response of the individual viewer of the image.”34 This punctum also accounts for the importance of emotion and subjectivity in interacting with photographs; memory of that photograph displaces it from its moment of origin.35 Photography enacts the trauma of death even while being enacted upon.

Now we can read Eduardo Cadava’s comments on Walter Benjamin’s analysis of the photograph:

“As Benjamin suggests … the photograph, like the souvenir, is the corpse of an experience. A photograph therefore speaks as death, as the trace of what passes into history. I, the photograph, the spaced out limit between life and death, I, the photograph, am death. Yet, speaking as death, the photograph can be neither death nor itself. At once dead and alive, it opens the possibility of our being in time.”36

 

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Photography then, can be seen as death taken away from itself.

Through the oscillation between studium (historical, social or cultural meanings extracted via semiotic analysis) and punctum (those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognisable symbolic system) the traumatic photograph of death, death’s afterimage, transcends the initial shock inducing signifier leading to a more extended form of engagement that addresses the duration of trauma in memory – through the images elisions, slippages, and conceptual, political and historical complexities. Our negotiation with imaging and imagining, therefore, takes place within ever-expanding contexts of meaning – some relating to the past and some to the present – which impact future interpretations.

I believe that these negotiations are, firstly, linked to what Deleuze calls the encountered sign, a “sign that is felt, rather than recognized, or perceived through cognition.”37 A feeling that is a catalyst for critical enquiry or deep thought. “For Deleuze, affect or emotion is a more effective trigger for profound thought because of the way in which it grasps us, forcing us to engage involuntarily…”38 Secondly, I believe that these negotiations are linked to what Barthes calls the images “third meaning.”

“In Barthes’ view, the image’s third meaning compels viewers after they encounter and deplete both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions. Barthes argued that the third meaning is difficult to locate, because it is not situated structurally or in a certain place of the image. It is similarly difficult to describe, because it involves what he called the image’s obtuseness, its accent or anaphoric side.”39

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Again, we have this idea of the catch, accent, or punctum that grasps us and takes us out of ourselves, that modulates the images “voice” (which is how the image takes on an already provided meaning upon its initial appearance), a voice which then also “helps us to understand both the image’s third meaning and the role of contingency in visual memory.”40

 

Death point

5

 

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“Ah, wretched as I am … to dwell not among the living, not among the dead.”

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Sophocles, ‘Antigone’41

 

 

Commentators such as Barbie Zelizer observe that images, especially about-to-die images, easily “reduce complex issues and circumstances to memorable but simplistic visual frames.”42 The image,

“… depicts for its onlookers a moment in an event’s unfolding to which they attend while knowing where that unfolding leads. This means that visual work often involves catching the sequencing of events or issues midstream, strategically freezing it at its potentially strongest moment of meaningful representation.”43

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Other writers such as Susan Sontag note that these images have the potential to stir public emotions, simply because they freeze a moment in time and can be looked at again and again… but at the same time the repeated viewing of images of atrocity can have a numbing effect.44 The pain and fear evidenced in the photograph as seen in the victim’s eyes (for example in the photograph of the shooting of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy), expands the literal / informational side and its symbolic dimensions (chivalry, love, devotion, hope – Camelot!) into a Barthes’ third space. While Kennedy is a victim twice over (the victim of the assassin and the camera) in a guttural interpretation of the image he is to remain a victim for eternity in the contingency of the future, as long as we continue to look at this photograph.

For me, this is sad and painful photograph. I remember the day it happened. I was ten years old at the time. It’s one of those events that you will remember for the rest of your life – where you were, who you were with – like the moon landings or 9/11. I was in a car outside a small newsagent when the news came on the radio. Robert F. Kennedy had been shot: first aural, then visual on the black and white TV that night, then textual in the newspapers and then visual again with this photograph, then associative. The pain of the loss of those heady days of hope lessens not.

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938) 'LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING' June 5, 1968

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938)
LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy Lies Gravely Wounded on the floor at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after midnight today, moments after he was shot during a celebration of his victory in yesterday’s California primary election
June 5, 1968
Gelatin silver print
17.2 x 21.1 cm (6 3/4 x 8 5/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2010

 

While photographs of the actual moment of death are rare I have been able to find around ten images that capture this vital moment, a freezing of reality at the point of death, the death point: that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present.

However, I would argue that in the contextual language of the photograph, there is no singular death point. I would propose the idea of an extended period of time and space embedded in the spatio-temporal matrix of the image, so that there is no single point, no singular resolution to the traumatic moment of death – either for the person involved, nor the witness or viewer.

Setting aside the concept that the image could have been staged, in Robert Capa’s famous photograph Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936 (below), there is something about this image where space or some basic element is being democratised at the moment of death – or maybe in the choice to struggle with death. In an ontological sense of becoming, perhaps it is this that becomes the pure representation of time. In contrapunto, there is an anonymous image of a German soldier at the point of death on the steppes of Russia that is totally unknown. Why has one become famous and the other not?

Has it to do with the fame of the photographer, the pose of the person, or the agency of photography itself, where one photograph regarding the pain of others is too damning a legacy and of too plain a purpose to bare contemplating, while the other – with its masked face, outflung arm and falling, quasi-religious nature – has become possibly the most famous of war photographs through its proliferation in newspapers and magazines.

Whatever the merits of each image, these death point photographs are noteworthy for what is not said: the violence that is being perpetrated on the victim every time a person looks, and looks again, at the photograph. The writing of trauma by photography never ends, is always and forever infinite.

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954) 'Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936' 1936

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954)
Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936
1936
Gelatin silver print
Photograph by Robert Capa © Cornell Capa / Magnum

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front' c. 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front
c. 1942
akg-images / Interfoto AKG138118

Caption: A German soldier pays the ultimate price of war. German casualties were less than those of the Red Army, but the steady attrition suffered by the Wehrmacht began to undermine its effectiveness.46

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942
1942
Rare Historical Photos website 2013

Caption: A Soviet spy laughs at his executioner in a picture taken in Rukajärvi, in East Karelia, in November 1942. It has been thought within the Finnish Defence Forces that the decision to withhold pictures of the fate of Russian POWs and spies may also have been prompted by concerns that pro-Soviet elements in Finnish society could have used the images for propaganda purposes. This picture was declassified by the Ministry of Defense of Finland in 2006, with the description: Unknown Soviet intelligence officer before being shot, Finland, 1942.

It’s a pretty amazing picture. To capture the last few moments of life. He knows he will die in a few seconds, in a forest in the snow. And there he will bleed out and be forgotten. His life, his experience, has come to an end. What else could he do but smile? That smile was his final defiance. Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.47

 

 

6

Here we might ask, is it possible, through the use of encountered signs, “voice”, punctum, catch or accent, to extend the unreal time of death?

Personally, I believe it is and I would argue for a sense of a Buddhist “no-time”. A transcendent time embedded into the fabric of the image. In Walker Evans’ terms an “unconscious phenomenon” that culminates in amazing accidents of composition, where things constantly rub up against each other “in the desire to create a type of friction that tests the boundaries of representation.”48 An example of this spatio-temporal dimensionality, third meaning or Thirdspace, can be seen in the interplay between the still image and film footage of the execution of German General Anton Dostler by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade December 1, 1945. By examining the film we see a flash of light at 5.16 secs, which is the still photograph at the top of this text being taken by the flash of a camera. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

The fluidity of Barthes’ third meaning, where the image’s obtuseness compels viewers, has obvious links to Edward Soja’s conceptualisation of “Thirdspace”, which emerged from the spatial trialectics established by Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space and Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia. Soja defines Thirdspace as, “an-Other way of understanding and acting to change the spatiality of human life, a distinct mode of critical spatial awareness that is appropriate to the new scope and significance being brought about in the rebalanced trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality.”49 In this amorphous space, “everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history.”50

A further example of the presence of a third meaning in a still photograph can be seen in the image by an unknown photographer Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans (1944, below). Caught like a rabbit in headlights, the flash illuminates the collaborator kneeling, bound, and masked but it is not quick enough to freeze the explosion of wood, the dynamic breaking of the rope or the slight movement of the hands. The body seems to float on a bed of leaves. The cheap, dirty shoes and striped trousers leading up to the material that covers the victim’s face. Is that his hair, or a hat or another hood over his head? Although we know the what, why, and where of the photograph – an encounter with both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions – the placing of the image, its accent and obtuseness is much more difficult to understand. The photograph and its protagonist seem to exist beyond time and space, the anonymous man surrounded by a death bed of leaves, bursting the bonds that wrapped him and held him tight. Like the mystery of Man Ray’s L’Enigme d’Isidore Ducasse (1920), the photograph has disturbed the trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality, destroying the imploring label, “Do not disturb.”

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944'

 

Unknown photographer
Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944
1944
Silver gelatin photograph
U.S. Army Signal Corps
National Archives Identifier (NAID)

 

 

Post-mortem: absent but present

7

 

Letherolfsvile Oct 29 AD 1859

This is the likeness of Catherine Christ

When I am dead and in my grave

And when my bones are rotten

Remember me

When this you see

Or I shall be forgotten

The grass is green The rose is red

here is my name when I am dead 51

 

 

This short poem written on a piece of paper hidden underneath an image in a daguerreotype case implores us to remember the person – a plea to the future to remember them – through a composite narrative of portrait and text. Through the creative addition of text, the language of photographs can be supplemented which adds to the functionality of the photograph as an effective memory object.52 But what if the scene of the text (the photograph) contains an absence, no depiction of the person who has died? What happens to the writing of trauma in images of the dead then?

If we acknowledge that a photograph of a person always prefigures its subjects passing then what we are doing “in reality” is deferring the death of an/other onto the foreseen death of ourselves. In this process, we must remember that every photograph is a construct, a performative act by the photographer. What the photographer chooses to record is an act of will, whether ethical or not. Photographers have the presence of mind to attend to a certain manufacture of history. When viewing this instant narrative the viewer must acknowledge a loss of a sense of time:

“This lost sense could manifest as reliving a traumatic episode as if it is taking place in the present … In the context of trauma… a loss of sense of time deprives one of the ability of remembering and telling one’s narrative in a chronological order.”53

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941) 'Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia' 1972

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941)
Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia
1972
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Emmet and Edith Gowin
© Edith and Emmet Gowin and courtesy of Pace MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

One way that artist’s upset this chronological order is by playing with the fragmentary nature of time, space and memory – of present absence/absent presence. In Emmet Gowin’s accidentally double-exposed negative, Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia, 1972 (above), the photograph combines “a funerary image of his wife’s grandmother, Rennie Booher, with the surface of a Neolithic monumental stone he had photographed in England a few days earlier.” Floating through eternity, encased in ancient rock that nourishes her spirit, Gowin’s photograph acts as a kind of testament of absent but present, neither here not there. This loss of sense of space and time can be deeply disturbing (like trauma) as it questions one’s physical presence in the world, but it can also have a transcendental dimension as both time and space are inextricably bound to the very specific conditions of the material world. Photographs like the one of Booher have the potential to draw together what would otherwise seem to be incompatible. To form what Jacob Bronowsi calls a “hidden likeness”, one that transcends time and space, one that is reactivated with every looking.

“The poem or the discovery exists in two moments of vision: the moment of appreciation as much as that of creation; for the appreciator must see the movement, wake to the echo which was started in the creation of the work. In the moment of appreciation we live again the moment when the creator saw and held the hidden likeness. When a simile takes us aback and persuades us together, when we find a juxtaposition in a picture both odd and intriguing, when a theory is at once fresh and convincing, we do not merely nod over someone else’s work. We re-enact the creative act, and we ourselves make the discovery again…”54

.
An important fact about the nature of trauma is the compulsion of the human psyche to repeat traumatic events over and over again. The reproducibility of photographs and the ability to look at them again and again – their machine-like repeatability, their citationality or iterability to use Derrida’s signature term – feeds into this repetitive “death instinct” (Thanatos). However, Bronowsi’s “hidden likeness” (also the name of one of Emmet Gowin’s exhibitions and a form of punctum) is perhaps a liminal moment, one that may upset the death instinct. These liminal moments may occupy a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. By disrupting the threshold – between life and death, between past, present and future time – they are requisite of the ghost (the soul) in the machine (the camera).

As Derrida observes, building on the work of Barthes,

“It belongs to it without belonging to it and is unlocatable in it; it never inscribes itself in the homogenous objectivity of the framed space but instead inhabits, or rather haunts it: “it is the addition [supplement]: it is what I add to the photograph and what is none the less already there.” … Neither life nor death, it is the haunting of the one by the other … Ghosts: the concept of the other in the same, the punctum in the studium, the dead other alive in me.”57

 

8

In this scenario, perhaps the act of writing trauma through death in the image becomes the true act of learning, and the interpretation of that act becomes an act of creation rather than one of rote memorialisation. These are images that require contemplation, time, analysis, and sensation, where the subject of the photograph is transformed “from somebody merely seen to someone really felt,” which is, as Batchen says, “an emotional exchange transacted in the heart.”58

This emotional exchange can take many forms. It can be triggered when the dead body is only metaphorically represented in the image, when the physicality of death has been transmuted. For example, photographs such as Walker Evan’s Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama (1936, below), or the documentary image Place where the corpse was found (1901-8, below) by the French photographer Alphonse Bertillon, propose a re-imaging and re-imagining of the life of the person. They do so through an un/ambiguous photographic context, that is, through the marking of place in the photograph. In the latter case, this marking of a life is represented by two pieces of wood lying on the ground and two pieces of wood propped at 45 degrees against the wall. As though this is all that is left of the existence of Mademoiselle Mercier in a street (Rue de l’Yvette) that still exists in Paris to this day. A photograph of pieces of wood and an empty space.

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Child's grave, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Silver gelatin print
7 3/8 x 9 7/16″ (18.7 x 23.9 cm)
© 2016 Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914) 'Place where the corpse was found' 1st November 1902

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Place where the corpse was found
1st November 1902
From Album of Paris Crime Scenes
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 24.3 x 31 cm (9 9/16 x 12 3/16 in.)
Page: 23 x 29 cm (9 1/16 x 11 7/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2001

 

 

Other photographs picture the place of death nearly a century later in order to commemorate the traumatic death of “deserters” at the hands of a firing squad during the First World War. These are some of the most traumatic photographs of death I have seen, for they require me to imagine the mise en scène that was enacted at dawn almost 100 years ago, in the very place where these photographs were later “shot” at dawn.

The artist, Chloe Dewe Mathews, realised that “I was placing my tripod around the same spot where the firing squad had stood and looking directly at the place where the victim was placed.” It was, she says, “a solitary and sombre undertaking,” an undertaking (with that name’s etymological link to the word undertaker) which the viewer is invited to partake of, a re-imaging of those traumatic events that requires an active imagining, and thinking, in the neo-spectator. It is this duration of trauma in cultural memory which calls for an active negotiation in ways of seeing, a re-negotiation which can produce an empathic vision that “changes the terms of our engagement” with the image.

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews. 'Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais' 2013

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews (b. 1982)
Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais
2013
Eleven British soldiers were executed here between 1915-18
From the series Shot at Dawn
© Chloe Dewe Mathews

 

 

Vita ad mortem: life after death

9

 

.
“… the life of spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself.”

.
George Wilhelm Frederich Hegel61

 

 

The absence/presence contained within all photographs speaks to the ultimate affect: that of la petite mort – the “little death” – the sensation of orgasm as likened to death, a short period of melancholy or transcendence as a result of the expenditure of the “life force.” While Barthes metaphorically used the concept to describe the feeling one should get when experiencing any great literature, it can also be used when some undesired thing has happened to a person and has affected them so much that “a part of them dies inside.”

A photograph can also contain this melancholy transcendence, a catastrophe that has already occurred.

“Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe… This punctum, more or less blurred beneath the abundance and the disparity of contemporary photographs, is vividly legible in historical photographs: there is always a defeat of Time in them: that is dead and that is going to die… At the limit, there is no need to represent a body [in photographs] in order for me to experience this vertigo of time defeated.”63

.
Barthes’ concept of an extended punctum may be useful here, when he states, “I now know that there exists another punctum (another ‘stigmatum’) than the ‘detail’. This new punctum, which is no longer of form but of intensity, is Time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme (‘that-has-been’), its pure representation.”64

Here Barthes is proposing a punctum of intensity; a punctum as lacerating “detail”; and/or “the vertigo of time defeated.” This “temporal hallucination” embedded and embodied in the photograph – the temporality of the “will-have-been”, they are dead (today), they are already dead (yesterday), Barthes’ anterior future – represents a symbolically mediated subject bound up in three extases of time (past, present, and future).65

The subject becomes lost in the language of the photograph, the intersection of Lacan’s the Imaginary (in which the human subject creates fantasy images of both himself and his ideal object of desire), the Symbolic (the social world of linguistic communication and inter-subjective relations), and the Real (defined as what escapes the Symbolic, the Real can be neither spoken nor written, it is impossible, but is ceaselessly writing itself). These concepts serve to situate subjectivity within a system of perception and a dialogue with the external world.

According to Lori Wike, the experience of punctum and the structure of iterability can be aligned to Lacan’s concept of the death drive (or death instinct) present in the Symbolic order, in which the signifier “materializes the agency of death.”66 This may account for the role of the photographic punctum as trauma, in which the punctum opens up “a kind of subtle beyond” where “a blind field is created (is divined)…”67 As Barthes notes, “Photography is a kind of primitive theater, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead.”68 Further, we can say that, “unlike the symbolic, which is constituted in terms of oppositions such as “presence” and “absence”, there is no absence in the real,” for the real is undifferentiated, “it is without fissure.”

“The symbolic introduces “a cut in the real,” in the process of signification: “it is the world of words that creates the world of things.” Thus the real emerges as that which is outside language: “it is that which resists symbolization absolutely.” The real is impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality.”69

.
The “mark” of photography is eviscerated in the intensity of the real, a traumatic loss of time that confronts us with our own mortality and the knowledge that we will not be remembered. This is where images of death can take us once the initial affective connection is established – to a noumenal space where in the play of representation, the point of origin becomes ungraspable (Lacan’s différance).70

“In French, différance simultaneously contains within its neo-graphism the activities of differing and deferring, a distancing acted out temporally as well as spatially.”71 Where the moment (the time freeze of the shutter) turns in, on and around its own fulcrum, where there is always difference at the point of origin. For all of its instantaneous nature, in photography there is always a perverse moment of displacement and deferral. In its history, “a perverse complicity of continuity and resemblance with its supposed opposite, discontinuity and difference”72 … the latter only existing in a reciprocal relationship to the former.

The circle is closing and we return to where we started.

 

10

Human beings in their longing for lost continuity are mirrored by their photographs which transition from continuous to discontinuous and back again. While we yearn for our lost continuity, we must acknowledge that death is an unedited event, one that we cannot look back on. There is no following event to blank out that moment… and the dead are always dying. But what images of death in photography do is this: they allow us to approach the noumenal, that state of being of which we can have knowledge of, but can never know. We can approach, touch, feel, analyse, and have empathy for traumatic events in the representation of an unknowable reality. The photograph has the ability to go beyond the symbolic, to approach the impossible, the real.

The photograph may proffer a ‘releasement toward things’,73 a coexistence between a conscious and unconscious way of perceiving which sustains the mystery of the object confusing the distinction between real time and sensual time, between inside and outside, input and output becoming neither here nor there. As Martin Jolly notes, citing John Thompson, “… images of death can be seen a form of “mediated, non-reciprocal intimacy, stretched across time and space” in which we are increasingly unconstrained by our location or our time.”74 Further, John Thompson observes, “While lived experience remains fundamental, it is increasingly supplemented by, and in some respects displaced by, mediated experience, which assumes a greater and greater role in the project of self-formation.”75

In the sense that the photograph becomes la petite mort, the little death, it embodies our desire for the soul to become eternal in the form of this mediated experience… the displacement of the soul via the ghost in the machine, the soul remembered throughout time in the traumatic trace of the photograph. Death in the language of photography is always postponed and deferred: into the physicality of the photograph; into cultural memory; into the gaze (of the photographer, the camera and the viewer); and into the body of the observer. Here, a relationship exists between an impossible reality (an encounter with an “outside” which is unknowable) and a floating referent in an image that is both formative and transformative. And in that relationship, as Donna Haraway observes, “Relationship is multiform, at stake, unfinished, consequential.”76

The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal”77 the pronouncement of the perfect paradox78 (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.

© Dr Marcus Bunyan 2018

Word count: 8,137

 

 

Addendum

“Empirically acknowledged as tragic, the photographic print was really just that when, at the turn of the century, it became the instrument of the three great authorities over life and death (the law, the army, medicine). This is when it demonstrated its power to reveal the unfolding of a destiny from the word go. As deus ex machina [god from the machine or, providential intervention], it was to become just as ruthless for the criminal, the soldier or the invalid, the conjunction between the immediate and the fatal only becoming more solid, inevitably, with the progress of representation.”

Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, p. 43.

 

“Written with her trademark flair and force, Sontag’s book [On Photography] inaugurated a wave of criticism, much of it influenced by Foucaultian theory, that underscored the instrumentality and implicit violence of photography, its ability to police and regulate it subjects, especially those lacking social and political power: the poor, presumed “deviants” or “criminals,” and workers. As Sontag herself acknowledged, however, photography is not only a predatory means of taking possession, but also a mode of conferring value; it can potentially be put to counter-hegemonic uses, used to see and frame in ways that affirm and legitimate, rather than strictly contain and control, the presence of culturally disenfranchised persons.”

Entin, Joseph. “Milton Rogovin’s Approach: Photography, Class, and the Aesthetics of Making Space (2008),” on the ASX website July 12, 2010 [Online] Cited 27/10/2018

 

Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne) '[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]' c. 1863

 

Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne)
[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]
c. 1863
Albumen print from collodion glass negative
17.9 x 24.2 cm (7 1/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)' 1934

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)
1934
Silver gelatin print

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)' 1939, printed c. 1970s

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)
1939, printed c. 1970s
Silver gelatin print

 

 

One of my early heroes in photography was Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Many Mexican photographs tell such stories based on the mythology of the country: there are elements of the absurd, surrealism, macabre, revolution, political and socio-economic issues, also of death, violence, beauty, youth, sexuality and religion to name but a few – a search for national identity that is balanced in the photographs of Bravo by a sense of inner peace and redemption. This potent mix of issues and emotions is what makes Mexican photography so powerful and substantive. In the “presence” (or present, the awareness of the here and now) of Mexican photography there is a definite calligraphy of the body in space in most of the work. This handwriting is idiosyncratic and emotive; it draws the viewer into an intimate narrative embrace. Two famous photographs by Bravo illustrate some of these themes (Apollonian/Dionysian; utopian/dystopian). When placed together they seem to have a strange attraction one to the other.

 

Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942

 

Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942

 

 

References

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’, in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 1-21

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson (eds) 2013 Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Barthes, Roland 1981 Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography New York: Hill and Wang

Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press

Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography paperback 1999 Massachusetts: MIT Press

Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press

Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International

Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography

Bronowski, Jacob 1958 Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row

Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd.

Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 84-114

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, 110-111

Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller, 1972 in English

Edwards, Janis L. 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Communication Quarterly vol. 60 issue 5, 681-197

Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’ in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 16-49

Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 129-147

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 125-142

Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan

Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederich 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row

Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter

Jolly, Martyn 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’, in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 71-87

Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ in GENDERS no. 7 Spring, 22-31

Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter” in Yale French Studies no. 48 French Freud: Structural Studies in Psychoanalysis Yale University Press, 39-72

Martin, Luther H and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) 1988 Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press

Maxwell, Anne and Josephine Croci (eds) 2015 Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing

O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website

Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change Annandale NSW: Pluto Press Australia, 78-97

Randell, Karen and Sean Redmond (eds) 2008 The war body on screen, New York: Continuum

Rastas, David and Maria Schlachter 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art

Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town

Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 80-103

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Staines, Deborah (ed) 2007 Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website

Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press

Virilio, Paul 1994 The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster

Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, 1-28

Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

Zembylas, Michalinos 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education New York: Palgrave Macmillan

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International, 122

[2] Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company, 15

[3] Anonymous 2016 Definition of Trauma by Mirriam-Webster, at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trauma (accessed 8 November 2016)

[4] Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 5

[5] Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 82

[6] Michalinos Zembylas 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 4

[7] Ibid., 4

[8] Rutherford Op. cit., 87

[9] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 49, 93

[10] Rutherford Op. cit., 94

[11] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 9

[12] Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town, at https://open.uct.ac.za/handle/11427/10884 (accessed 8 November 2016)

[13] Rutherford Op. cit., 85

[14] Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

[15] “Perhaps rather than numbness, what we actually feel is our own helplessness or impotence, and the shame of helplessness, which robs us of agency. Helplessness is what Tomkins calls an affect complex, and within it distress is the dominant affect, although there may be admixtures in it of fear, anger and shame… Helplessness immobilises, and this is what induces the shame which, as a reduction of interest, makes us lower our gaze and look away.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 139-140

[16] “To suffer is one thing; another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more – and more. Images transfix. Images anaesthetize…”

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 20

“Are we making too much of images? Are we lured by our own voyeurism and iconophilia, numbed as we are by the democracy of the spectacle? Or, on the contrary, do images open the eyes of our conscience? In other words do images merely entertain and anaesthetize us or do they shame us and awake our conscience?”

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) in L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/265181/pdf (accessed 8 November 2016)

[17] Rutherford Op. cit., 89

[18] Anonymous 2016 ‘Lynching in the United States’, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching_in_the_United_States (accessed 11 November 2016)

[19] Anonymous 2016 ‘Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday’, at http://genius.com/Billie-holiday-strange-fruit-lyrics (accessed 11 November 2016)

[20] ‘Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit’, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnlTHvJBeP0 (accessed 11 November 2016)

[21] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 55, 95

[22] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 4 quoted in Rutherford, 95

[23] Ibid., 11

[24] Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller (1972 in English) 7, in Bennett 161

[25] Bennett Op. cit., 10

[26] Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change 94-95, in Bennett, 10

[27] Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 55

[28] Ibid., 56

[29] Ibid., 56

[30] Randell, Karen and Redmond, Sean (eds) 2008 The war body on screen New York: Continuum, cited in Hanusch, 30

[31] Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’, in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 18

[32] Barthes, Roland 1980 La Chambre Claire (Camera Lucida) (1981 in English) New York: Hill and Wang Section 39, 94

[33] Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter at http://csmt.uchicago.edu/annotations/barthescamera.htm (accessed 12 November 2016)

[34] Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website 12 March, at https://educationmuseum.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/roland-barthes-studium-and-punctum/ (accessed 11 November 2016)

[35] “For memory is always in a state of ruin; to remember something is already to have ruined it, to have displaced it from its moment of origin. Memory is caught in a conundrum – the passing of time that makes memory possible and necessary is also what makes memory fade and die.”

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 78

[36] Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 110 in Batchen 172

[37] Bennett Op. cit., 7

[38] Ibid., 7

[39] Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory, at http://www.sas.upenn.edu/folklore/center/ConferenceArchive/voiceover/voice_of_the_visual.html (accessed 13 November 2016)

[40] Ibid.,

[41] Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone, lines 850-52 Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd., 91

[42] Edwards, Janis L 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Taylor Francis Online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01463373.2012.725000 (accessed 13 November 2016)

[43] Zelizer Op. cit.,

[44] Sontag Op. cit., 18 cited in F Hanusch 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 105

[45] See ‘Robert Capa: The Falling Soldier’, The Met website, at http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/283315 (accessed 13 November 2016)

[46] Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster, 23

[47] Anonymous photographer 2013 ‘Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942’, Rare Historical Photos website 29 December, at http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/russian-spy-laughing-execution-finland-1942/ (accessed 13 November 2016)

[48] Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography October 7, 5 at https://www.academia.edu/29201498/Damaged_Ruin_and_Decay_in_Walker_Evans_Photographs (accessed 13 November 2016)

[49] Soja, Edward W. 1996 Thirdspace Malden (Mass.): Blackwell, 57

[50] Ibid., 57

[51] Batchen Op. cit., 47

[52] Ibid., 48

[53] Rastas, David 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art, at http://www.davidrastas.com/kunstglaube/madness&mysticism/essays.html (accessed 19 November 2016)

[54] Bronowski, Jacob 1958, Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row, 31

[55] Anonymous 2015. ‘Hidden Likeness: Photographer Emmet Gowin at the Morgan’, The Morgan Library & Museum website May 22 through September 20, 2015 https://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/emmet-gowin (accessed 08 May 2018)

[56] See Turner, Victor 1966 The Ritual Process: Structure and Antistructure Chicago: Aldine. For a definition of liminality see Anonymous ‘Liminality’, Wikipedia website https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liminality (accessed 08 May 2018)

[57] Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (paperback 1999) Massachusetts: MIT Press, 194

[58] Batchen Forget Me Not, 94

[59] O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website 29 June, at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jun/29/chloe-dewe-mathews-shot-at-dawn-moving-photographic-memorial-first-world-war (accessed 25 November 2016)

[60] Bennett 2005 Empathic Vision 69

[61] Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederich 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 10

[62] Anonymous 2016 ‘La petite mort’ Wikipedia website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_petite_mort (accessed 25 November 2016)

[63] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[64] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[65] See Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ in In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, at http://www.rochester.edu/in_visible_culture/issue3/wike.htm#BackFromNote10 (accessed 25 November 2016)

[66] Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter’’ in Yale French Studies, no. 48, 53 quoted in Wike 2000

[67] Barthes Camera Lucida, 57-58 quoted in Wike 2000

[68] Barthes Camera Lucida, 31-32 quoted in Wike 2000

[69] Anonymous 2016, ‘The Real’, Wikipedia website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Real (accessed 25 November 2016)

[70] “Derrida sees differences as elemental oppositions working in all languages, systems of distinct signs, and codes, where terms don’t have absolute meanings but instead draw meaning from reciprocal determination with other terms… Différance is the systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences, of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other… the a of différance also recalls that spacing is temporization, the detour and postponement by means of which intuition, perception, consummation – in a word, the relationship to the present, the reference to a present reality, to a being – are always deferred.”

Anonymous 2016 ‘Différance’ at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Différance (accessed 25 November 2016

[71] Batchen Burning with Desire 179. Information on photography and differance 178-179.

[72] Batchen Burning with Desire 186

[73] “We stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery… Releasement towards things and openness to the mystery belong together. They grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way…”

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row, 55-56

[74] Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press, 208 quoted in M Jolly 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’ in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 84

[75] Thompson 233 quoted in Jolly 2015

[76] Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 122, at https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed 26 November 2016)

[77] Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ GENDERS no 7 Spring, 26

[78] You are dead but also alive, the dissolution of the distinction between objective and subjective realities, “the image is an interface connecting inner and outer, past and future, affect and cognition.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect And The Images From Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

 

 

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20
Jul
14

Exhibition: ‘Emmet Gowin’ at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

Exhibition dates: 14th May – 27th July 2014

 

Emmet Gowin is a superlative photographic artist. His images possess a unique sensuality that no other artist, save Frederick Sommer, dare approach.

His own family was an early significant subject matter, one to which only he had ready access. “I was wondering about in the world looking for an interesting place to be, when I realized that where I was was already interesting.”1 I feel that the photographs of his family are his strongest work for they image an intimate story, and Gowin is nothing if not a magnificent storyteller. Look at the beauty of images such as Nancy, Danville (Virginia) (1969, below) or Ruth, Danville (Virginia) (1968, below) and understand what awareness it takes – first to visualise, then capture on the negative, then print these almost mystical moments of time.

As Gowin observed in his senior thesis, which was predicated upon the necessary co-ingredients of art and spirituality, “Art is the presence of something mysterious that transports you to a place where life takes on a clearness that it ordinarily lacks, a transparency, a vividness, a completeness.”2 He complemented this understanding of art and spirituality with an interest in science. He was in harmony with the physicists and the scientists, finding them to be the most poetic people of the age.3 Inspired by Sommer, Gowin perfected his printing technique through a respect for the medium, respect for the materials and conviction as to what the materials were capable of doing.4

“Sommer freely shared with Gowin his knowledge of photographic equipment, materials, chemicals and printing techniques and Gowin often repeats Sommer’s admonition to him: “Don’t let anyone talk you out of physical splendour.” Over the years Gowin developed methods of printing born from patient experimentation and a love of craft. His background in painting and drawing taught him that there are many solution to making a finished work of art… which he often builds to achieve the most satisfying integration of elements: “The mystery of a beautiful photograph really is revealed when nothing is obscured. We recognize that nothing has been withheld from us, so that we must complete its meaning. We are returned, it seems directly, to the sense and smell of its origin… A complete print is simply a fixed set of relationships, which accommodates its parts as well as our feelings. Clusters of stars in the sky are formed by us into constellations. Perhaps I feel that this constellation has enough stars, and doesn’t need any more. This grouping is complete. It feels right. Feeling, alone, tells us when a print is complete.””5

His later more universal work, such as the landscapes and aerial photographs, are no less emphatic than the earlier personal work but they are a second string to the main bow. The initial impetus of this work can be seen in the book Emmet Gowin Photographs as a development from still life photographs such as Geography Pages, 1974 (p. 62). This second theme took Gowin longer to develop but his photographs are no less powerful for it. His photographs of Petra possess the most amazing serenity of any taken at this famous site; his photographs of Mount St Helens after the volcanic eruption and the aerial photographs of nuclear sites and aeration ponds are among the strongest aerial photographs that I have ever seen. Gowin’s experimentation with the development of the negative, using different times and developers; his experimentation with the development of the print, sometimes using multiple developers and monotones or strong/subtle split toning (as can be seen in the photographs below) is outstanding. His poetic ability rouses the senses and is munificent but for me these photographs do not possess the “personality” or significance of his earlier family photographs. But only just, and we are talking fractions here!

“These photographs of the tracings of human beings reveal mankind not as a nurturer but as a blind and godlike power. Even his latest aerial agricultural landscapes made on route to nuclear sites have a magnificent indifference to human scale. For Gowin, confrontation of man’s part in the creation of ecological problems would seem to require the most transcendental point of view, and as his subjects have become more difficult and frightening, he has created his lushest and most seductive prints.”6

Gowin is an artist centered in a space of sensibility. An understanding of the interrelationships between people and the earth is evidenced through aware and clearly seen images. Gowin digs down into the essence of the earth in order to understand our habituation of it. How we fail to change the course we are on even as we recognise what it is that we are doing to the world. When the stimulus is constantly repeated there is a reduction of psychological or behavioral response and this is what Gowin pokes a big stick at. As he observes,

“We are products of nature. We are nature’s consciousness and awareness, the custodians of this planet… We begin as the intimate person that clings to our mother’s breast, and our conception of the world is that interrelationship. Out safety depends on that mother. And now I’m beginning to see that there’s a mother larger than the human mother and it’s the earth; if we don’t take care of that we will have lost everything.”7

I was luck enough to meet Emmet Gowin when he visited Australia in 1995. He had an exhibition in the small gallery in Building 2 in Bowens Lane at RMIT University, presented a public lecture and held a workshop with about 20 students. I remember I was bowled over by his intensity and star power and I admit, I asked a stupid question and fawned over him like a little lost puppy dog. The impetuousness of youth with stars in their eyes certainly got the better of me. Now when I look at the work again I am still in awe of the works sincerity, spirituality, sensuality and respect for subject matter. No matter what he is photographing.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Only two of the images are from the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson – the rest I sourced from the internet. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“For me, pictures provide a means of holding, intensely, a moment of communication between one human and another.”

 

“There is a profound silence that whines in the ear, a breathless quiet, as if the light or something unheard was breathing. I hold my breath to make certain it’s not me. It must be the earth itself breathing.

.
Emmet Gowin

 

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Nancy, Danville (Virginia)' 1969

 

Emmet Gowin
Nancy, Danville (Virginia)
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, cortesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith and Ruth, Danville (Virginia)' 1966

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith and Ruth, Danville (Virginia)
1966
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, cortesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Barry, Dwayne and Turkeys, Danville, Virginia' 1970

 

Emmet Gowin
Barry, Dwayne and Turkeys, Danville, Virginia 
1970
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, cortesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

Emmet Gowin, the catalog accompanying a retrospective now touring in Spain, is a great introduction to the artist’s works and a great keepsake for a fan. The writings by Keith Davis, Carlos Gollonet and Gowin himself identify the photographer’s humanist and spiritual roots and detail his journey from 1960’s-era people pictures focused on his wife, Edith and family in Danville, VA, to aerial photographs of ravaged landscapes, like the nuclear test grounds in Nevada, and his most recent project  archiving tropical, nocturnal-moths.

While his disparate bodies of work may look like geologic shifts in subject matter, Gowin talks in the book about the spiritual quest he’s on, and his realization that humankind inhabits the land, and that the land is a vital part of who we are. To my eye, what holds all the works together is Gowin’s never-ceasing focus on non-conventional beauty. His way of photographing both people and the wasted landscapes plays up the dark sublime. These are not traditional pretty pictures, but they are exquisitely beautiful. All Gowin photos smolder with emotion and feel like they were snapped with a breath held, bated with desire.

Roberta Fallon. “Emmett Gowin – From family of man to mariposas nocturnas at Swarthmore’s List Gallery,” on The Artblog website, March 22, 2012 [Online] Cited 05/07/2014

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Noël, Danville (Virginia)' 1971

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith, Noël, Danville (Virginia)
1971
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Danville (Virginia)' 1971

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith, Danville (Virginia)
1971
Gelatin silver print
7 3/4 x 9 7/8″ (19.7 x 25.1 cm)
Gift of Judith Joy Ross
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Danville (Virginia)' 1970

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith, Danville (Virginia)
1970
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Newtown (Pennsylvania)' 1974

 

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith, Newtown (Pennsylvania)
1974
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, cortesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Ruth, Danville (Virginia)' 1968

 

Emmet Gowin
Ruth, Danville (Virginia)
1968
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, cortesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Chincoteague Island (Virginia)' 1967

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith, Chincoteague Island (Virginia)
1967
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

From May 14th to July 27th 2014, Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson will hold an exhibition of the American photographer Emmet Gowin. This important retrospective is showing 130 prints of one of the most original and influential photographer of these last forty years. This exhibition shows on two floors his entire career: his most famous series from the end of the sixties, the moths’ flights and the aerial photographs. The exhibition organized by Fundación MAPFRE in collaboration with Fondation HCB is accompanied by a catalogue published by Xavier Barral edition.

Born in Danville (Virginia) in 1941, Emmet Gowin grows up in Chincoteague Island, in a religious family. His father, a Methodist minister gives him a righteous discipline and a strict education, while his mother, musician, was a gentle, nurturing presence. During his spare time, Emmet encounters the surrounding landscape and begins drawing.

He completes his high school education and enrolls in a local business school in 1951 and works at the same time at the design department of Sears, the multinational department store chain. In 1961, Gowin enters in the Commercial Art Department at Richmond Professional Institute, where he studies drawing, painting, graphic design, and history of Art. After a few months, he realizes that photography is the best mean of expression and gives him the possibility to seize the Fate and the Unexpected.

Gowin’s early photographic influences came in the form of books and catalogues such as Images à la Sauvette by Henri Cartier-Bresson, History of Photography by Beaumont Newhall or Walker Evans’s American Photographs. Emmet Gowin acquires his first Leica 35mm in 1962 and after two years spent observing the Masters of photography, he finally feels ready to affirm his own photographic style. In 1963, he goes for the first time in New York and meets Robert Franck who encouraged him.

The first Gowin’s portfolios realized in 1965, is technically simple in approach. While the subjects vary considerably, all are drawn from everyday life: kids playing outdoors, Edith’s family, adults in the streets or squares, cars and early pictures of Edith. They get married in 1964. Edith Morris and Emmet Gowin are born in the same city but they grew up in totally different families. Edith’s one, was more exuberant and emotionally close than Emmet’s. As we can discover in the first floor of the exhibition, Edith and her family are the heart of the photograph’s creative universe. As mentioned by Carlos Gollonet, curator of the exhibition, Gowin’s work, seen cumulatively, is a portrait of the artist.

In 1965, they move to Providence, and Emmet begins his studies with Harry Callahan at Rhode Island School of Design. He begins to consistently use a 4 x 5 inch view camera from this time on. This bigger negative produced prints with beautiful transparent details and correspondingly finer and smoother tonal scale.

Just before his first son’s birth, Elijah, in 1967, Emmet and Edith moved to Ohio, where he begins teaching at the Dayton Art Institute. This marks the start of a teaching career that spans more than four decades. He concentrates his work on Edith and let us going through his private life and proposes a very personal artistic vision of this work: I do not feel that I can make picture impersonally, but that I am affected by and involved with the situations which lead to, or beyond, the making of the pictures. In these years, he met Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Frederik Sommer, who would become his close friend and mentor.

At the end of the 1960’s, Gowin begins making circular images of Edith, her family, and their own household, both indoors and out. The Gowin’s second son, Isaac, born in 1974, was the subject – both before and after birth – of many of these circular 8×10 inch photographs, which give the impression of looking through a keyhole. At the beginning of the 1970’s, the exhibitions at the Light Gallery and MoMA mark a significant step toward his American success. In 1973, he’s appointed Lecturer at Princeton University. He is later appointed Full Professor, a position he will hold until his retirement in 2009. He inspired a new generation of photographers such as Fazal Sheikh, David Maisel or Andrew Moore.

From 1973, Gowin goes back to sources, nature and landscape and introduces the idea of Working Landscapes in which the contributions of many generations, overtime, shape the use and care of the land. He travels in Europe, Ireland and Italy, where he discovered the ancient Etruscan city of Matera. His first monograph, Emmet Gowin: photographs, is published in 1976. In 1982, the Queen Noor of Jordan, one of Gowin’s students at Princeton, invites him to photograph the archeological site of Petra. Some of these photos are exhibited on the second floor of the foundation. Later, he continues making views of nature and traveled overseas, reverting to a traditional rectangular format. His interest in gardens and the historical balance between nature and human culture stimulates a dedication to a larger landscape, recorded first from the ground and then from the air. He photographs the incredible destruction of the Mount St. Helens volcano, Washington, and spent years recording the inhabited – and often scarred – face of the American West. Gowin is not an environmental activist. Nonetheless, once he comes to know and experience these landscapes his acute moral and intellectual sense is also conveyed in his images. He wants to show the conflict that exists in our relationship with nature. “It is not a call for an action … It’s a call for reflection, meditation and consideration to be on a more intimate basis with the world.”

Over the past few years, Gowin has constantly photographed nocturnal moths. His scientific interest has led him to catalog thousands of species working alongside with biologists in tropical jungles. By chance, he traveled with a cutout silhouette of Edith in his wallet or luggage and produced a series of photographs in which Edith is once again the principal subject, in this case through her silhouette. They recall the instrument known as the physionotrace, a forerunner of the earliest photographs which was used to male silhouette reproducing the images of loved ones. Those images, printed on handmade paper with the silver image gold toned confirm that Emmet Gowin is one of the finest photographers of any period.”

Press release from the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson website

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Old Handford City Site and the Columbia River, Handford Nuclear Reservation, near Richland (Washington)' 1986

 

Emmet Gowin
Old Handford City Site and the Columbia River, Handford Nuclear Reservation, near Richland (Washington)
1986
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

The aerial photos, taken while flying over bomb test sites and waste water cachement basins and other scenes of industrial/military destruction are almost abstract to the eye. They are also very beautiful. Getting nose to nose with these works and reading the title card, however, allows the slowly-dawning realization that you are looking at a full blown horror. This suite of works dates from 1980 when Gowin took to the air to view the aftermath of the Mt. St. Helens volcanic eruption in Washington state and was taken with the way things not visible from “human” space below revealed themselves from above. In 1986 he started exploring man-made industrial inroads into the land from the air, flying over Hanford Reservation, for one, where nuclear reactors and chemical separation plants made scars on the land like nothing nature had done. These are truly devastating pictures, and what makes them more so is the thought that this is the tip of the iceberg and that many other sites on earth bear the scars of man-made intrusion.

Roberta Fallon. “Emmett Gowin – From family of man to mariposas nocturnas at Swarthmore’s List Gallery,” on The Artblog website, March 22, 2012 [Online] Cited 05/07/2014

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Aeration Pond, Toxic Water Treatment Facility, Pine Bluff, AK (Arkansas)' 1989

 

Emmet Gowin
Aeration Pond, Toxic Water Treatment Facility, Pine Bluff, AK (Arkansas)
1989
Toned gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Golf Course under Construction (Arizona)' 1993

 

Emmet Gowin
Golf Course under Construction (Arizona)
1993
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Aerial view: Mt. St. Helens rim, crater and lava dome' 1982

 

Emmet Gowin
Aerial view: Mt. St. Helens rim, crater and lava dome
1982
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

Every Time less than the pulsation of the artery

Is equal in its period & value to Six Thousand Years.

.
For in this Period the Poet’s Work is Done, and all the

                 Great

Events of Time start forth & are conceiv’d in such a

                Period

Within an Moment, a Pulsation of the Artery . . . . 

.
For every Space larger than a red Globule of Man’s

              blood

Is visionary, and is created by the Hammer of Los :

And every Space smaller than a red Globule of Man’s blood

            opens

Into Eternity of which this vegetable Earth is but a

           shadow.

.
William Blake. From “Milton”

 

Emmet Gowin. 'The Khazneh from the Sîq, Petra (Jordan)' 1985

 

Emmet Gowin
The Khazneh from the Sîq, Petra (Jordan)
1985
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Newtown (Pennsylvania)' 1994

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith, Newtown (Pennsylvania)
1994
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Danville (Virginia)' 1963

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith, Danville (Virginia)
1963
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith and Moth Flight' 2002

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith and Moth Flight
2002
Digital ink jet print 19 x 19 cm (7 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Charina Endowment Fund
© Emmet and Edith Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

1. Gowin, Emmet quoted in Chahroudi, Martha. “Introduction,” in Emmet Gowin Photographs. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1990, p. 10.
2. Ibid., p. 9.
3. Ibid., p. 11.
4. Ibid., p. 11.
5. Gowin quoted in Kelly, Jain (ed.,). Darkroom 2. New York, 1978, p. 43 quoted in Chahroudi, Martha. “Introduction,” in Emmet Gowin Photographs. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1990, p. 11.
6. Chahroudi, Op. cit., p. 15.
7. Ibid., p. 15.

 

 

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
2, impasse Lebouis, 75014 Paris

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 1pm – 6.30 pm
Saturday 11am – 6.45 pm
Late night Wednesdays until 8.30 pm
Closed on Mondays and between the exhibitions

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson website

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06
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now’ at the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

Exhibition dates: 21st September 2012 – 13th January 2013

.

I hope you enjoy this HUGE posting. There are some rare photographs and little known artists. I have kept the photographs in the sections of the exhibition as explained by the accompanying wall text. Three essays from the catalogue investigating history, landscape and photography can be found as pdfs below, essential reading for anyone interested in the subject (especially the first two essays):

.
Many thankx to  the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design for allowing me to publish the text and most of the photographs in the posting (the others I researched myself). Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Marcus

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“An understanding of landscape theory therefore suggests that not every photograph of land is a landscape, and not every landscape necessarily features the land. The standard definition points to places – places in the world, or places seen in pictures – which take on the quality of a thing. But “landscape” is probably better understood as that set of expectations and beliefs – about both the environment and the conventions of its representation – that we project upon the world. These conventions and expectations are subject to historical change and are culturally specific…”
.
Douglas Nickel. Photography, Perception, and the Landscape 2012 in America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now catalogue, p.26

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“Once continental expansion had reached its limits, however, and no existential threats to white settlement remained, American landscape images began to reflect a new criticality – at turns romantic and realistic – that persists to this day. Indeed, for the last century, landscape photography has consistently mirrored Americans’ anxieties about nature, or rather its imminent loss, whether due to industrialization, pollution, population growth, real estate profiteering, or bioengineering. Alternately portraying nature as a balm for the alienated modern soul or a dystopian fait accompli, modern and postmodern photographic landscapes mark a progressively disquieting understanding of humanity’s relationship to the natural universe.”
.
Deborah Bright. Photographing Nature, Seeing Ourselves 2012 in America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now catalogue, p.32

.

.
Surveying the Field

At the end of the American Civil War photographers turned their lenses toward both the wild territories of the West and scenic tourist destinations in the newly established national parks. Although these images are now commonly exhibited in art museums, they were not originally considered art objects, nor were the photographers who made them considered artists. Instead, many of the photographers represented here were hired to document the projects of governmental agencies and the progress of federal survey expeditions to the western territories. Others produced images for the growing tourist market or recorded the construction of tracks through the country’s interior for railroad companies. The majority of these images were published in governmental reports and presentation albums.

The albumen prints produced in America through the 1880s were made from glass-plate negatives created by the laborious process of coating glass plates the size of the prints with a thick photosensitive solution called collodion. These plates had to be prepared on-site, exposed, and developed before the collodion dried, so photographers traveled with portable darkrooms. The prints were made later in a studio by placing paper coated with albumen (solution suspended in egg whites) under a glass-plate negative and exposing the paper to sunlight. By contact printing on this glossy surface, the image was recorded in minute detail.

.

Unknown artist (American), 'Providence Panorama from Grosvenor or Bannigan Building' ca. 1900

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Unknown artist (American)
Providence Panorama from Grosvenor or Bannigan Building
ca. 1900
Six cyanotype prints
RISD Museum: Mary B. Jackson Fund

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William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942) 'Gardiners River Hot Springs, Diana's Baths' 1871

.

William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942)
Gardiners River Hot Springs, Diana’s Baths
1871
From U.S. Geological Survey of the Territories
Albumen print
RISD Museum: Jesse Metcalf Fund

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In this photograph William Henry Jackson captures the painter Thomas Moran, who was also part of the 1871 survey team. Shot from slightly below and at a distance, the photograph emphasizes the textures of the mineral deposits in the foreground, while Moran’s figure seems dwarfed by the rock formations around him. Jackson often included figures in his photographs to impart a sense of scale. This inclusion of a single figure also heightens the impression that the photograph has captured a moment of discovery, the first contact between intrepid explorers and an uncharted land.

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Carleton E. Watkins. 'Cape Horn, Columbia River' 1867

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Carleton E. Watkins
Cape Horn, Columbia River
1867
Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund.
Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Cape Horn, Columbia River exemplifies not only the fine detail characteristic of Carleton Watkins’s images, but also his close attention to pictorial structure. Unlike many of the photographers represented in this gallery, Watkins worked independently of industrial concerns or government sponsorship. To make images that would appeal to an audience more familiar with traditional art forms, Watkins borrowed long-established conventions of landscape paintings, in particular carefully modulated lighting effects and harmonious compositions. Like the painters he emulated, Watkins depicts the West as a romantic wilderness and place of spiritual refuge.

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William H. Bell. 'Perched Rock, Rocker Creek, Arizona' 1872

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William H. Bell (American, 1830–1910)
Perched Rock, Rocker Creek, Arizona
1872
From the album Explorations and Surveys West of the 100th Meridian
Albumen print
Jesse Metcalf Fund. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Timothy O’Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882) 'Water Rhyolites, Near Logan Springs, Nevada' 1871

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Timothy O’Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882)
Water Rhyolites, Near Logan Springs, Nevada
1871
From the album Explorations and Surveys West of the 100th Meridian
Albumen print
RISD Museum: Jesse Metcalf Fund

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Timothy O’Sullivan and William H. Bell, official photographers on survey expeditions through Nevada and Arizona from 1871 to 1873, disavowed the traditional conventions of landscape painting in favor of unadorned observation. Spare and anti-picturesque, O’Sullivan’s radical views – depicting the western territories as foreign-looking, even hostile – accorded perfectly with the interests of those invested in seeing these empty territories studied, secured, and settled. One scholar has postulated that O’Sullivan’s photographs were intentionally crafted to look like products of technology – optically precise, printed on glossy albumen papers – a look that stood for industrial progress within a milieu that valued the machine-made over the handmade. In Perched Rock, Rocker Creek, Arizona and Rock Carved by Drifting Sand, Below Fortification Rock, Arizona, the two photographers treat unusual rock formations like specimens, isolating them from the surrounding landscape to be examined and measured.

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Luminous Realms

Kodak’s introduction of the handheld camera in 1888 made photography an affordable and popular leisure-time amusement, creating a generation of amateur photographers seemingly overnight. At the same time, photographers with artistic ambitions feared that the mechanical, point-and-shoot approach of the new “button pressers” would jeopardize the medium’s elevation to the status of high art. In response, this group of artists – who called themselves Pictorialists – emphasized the photographer’s expertise and embraced labor-intensive processes to create expressive and impressionistic images. Many favored platinum prints because of their wide range of tones, soft contrast, and matte surface – qualities of more traditional artistic media such as drawings and etchings. The Pictorialists’ landscape photographs are especially evocative. Rather than capturing a particular place and time, they transformed the landscape into a backdrop for human emotions and actions through visual effects and the inclusion of figures.

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Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Morning' 1905

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Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Morning
1905
From Camera Work, No. 23, July 1908
Photogravure RISD Museum: Walter H. Kimball Fund

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Laura Gilpin (American, 1891-1979) 'Footprints in the Sand' 1931

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Laura Gilpin (American, 1891-1979)
Footprints in the Sand
1931
Platinum print
RISD Museum: Museum purchase with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts

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Laura Gilpin portrays the Colorado sand dunes in the soft-focus style of the Pictorialists, but the reductive forms of her composition are strikingly modern. The sinuous lines of the wind-sculpted dunes are echoed in the subtle patterning of the figure’s footprints. His presence not only provides a sense of scale, but suggests that the human impact on the landscape can be small, fleeting, and beautiful.

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Abstracting Nature

In the 1920s, photographers began to question whether Pictorialism was the style best suited to win acceptance for photography as a fine art. On the east coast, Alfred Stieglitz, who had formerly championed Pictorialism, became its most vocal critic. In northern California, a group of photographers who would come to call themselves Group f/64 developed a new style. Opposing the soft focus, painterly approach, the f/64 photographers embraced a hard-edged, sharp-focus machine aesthetic. Optical reality was transformed into surface pattern, rhythm, tone, and line in prints precisely detailed on glossy, gelatin silver papers. Indeed, f/64 refers to the smallest aperture on their large-format cameras, which resulted in sharp focus from foreground to background.

This period revitalized landscape photography, with many photographers looking to views of nature as a place to escape from the problems of urban life. These photographers captured instants of intensified vision that only the camera offered, creating the photograph mentally before it was realized physically. Whether majestic views of dramatic natural features or abstracted details of quiet settings, these images expressed metaphysical, ethical, or personal reflections on humankind’s relationship to nature.

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Ansel Adams. 'Half Dome, Blowing Snow, Yosemite National Park, California' ca. 1955

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Ansel Adams
Half Dome, Blowing Snow, Yosemite National Park, California
ca. 1955 (printed 1970s)
Museum purchase with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts
© 2012 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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This photograph depicts the iconic tourist destination of Yosemite as sublime and untouched. By removing any evidence of human impact, Ansel Adams allows us to escape (at least temporarily) from the intrusions of culture. High contrast adds visual drama to an already majestic view, capturing the textures of the rock wall and the light filtering through the blowing snow. Throughout his life, Adams embraced the notion that nature could provide the harried, urbanized citizen of the modern age with a place of spiritual refuge. A long-time member of the Sierra Club, he was a devoted and vocal advocate for wilderness conservation and his photographs were crucial to the conservation effort.

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Arthur Rothstein (American, 1915-1985) 'Father and Sons Walking in the Face of a Dust Storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma' 1936

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Arthur Rothstein (American, 1915-1985)
Father and Sons Walking in the Face of a Dust Storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma
1936
Gelatin silver print
RISD Museum: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gilman Angier

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In 1936 Arthur Rothstein traveled to the Oklahoma panhandle, the area of the country most affected by drought, wind, and erosion. In his image (above) he captured one of the few families in the area that had not yet abandoned their farm. His portrayal of the farmer and his sons fighting to make their way home through the elements can be read as a larger statement about the struggle between man and nature. Rothstein’s dark, low contrast print further conveys the oppressive atmosphere of the dust storm.

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Harry Callahan. 'Eleanor, Chicago' ca. 1952

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Harry Callahan
Eleanor, Chicago
ca. 1952
Gift from Harry Callahan ca. 1953 Wayne Miller
© The Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Aaron Siskind. 'Martha’s Vineyard, 114B' 1954

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Aaron Siskind
Martha’s Vineyard, 114B
1954
Gift of Mr. Robert B. Menschel. Courtesy Aaron Siskind Foundation
Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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In Martha’s Vineyard 114B, Aaron Siskind focuses on two small rocks nestled in a stone wall. As Siskind explained, he “began to feel the importance of how these rocks hovered over each other, touched each other, pushed against each other.” He likened this contiguity to family relationships, especially that between mother and child. He believed that the pair of rocks pictured in the photograph would – consciously or not – evoke emotions in the viewer, and that these emotions were both deep-seated and universal. In his depiction of the landscape, he found metaphors for what he called “human drama.”

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Frederick Sommer (American, 1905–1999) 'Arizona Landscape' 1943

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Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Arizona Landscape
1943
Gelatin silver print
Promised gift from the collection of Marc Harrison

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Frederick Sommer’s photographs of the Arizona desert, made between about 1939 and 1945, omit the horizon line to create an overall field of pattern where scale and orientation are confounded. The vast space of the desert is pulled to the surface of the image, making the work less a landscape and more an independent construction. Sommer intently considered much of his work before executing it. He might study an area of the desert for days before deciding how to take the picture and then spend weeks in the darkroom perfecting the print.

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'View of Easton, Pennsylvania' 1936

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
View of Easton, Pennsylvania
1936
From the portfolio American Photographs II
Gelatin silver print
RISD Museum: Gift of James Dow

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By compressing distance and flattening perspective, Walker Evans collapses the two cityscapes of Easton, Pennsylvania, and Phillipsburg, New Jersey, into one plane. Evans’s aesthetically neutral style seems to depict the world without the intervention of the photographer’s point of view. At the same time, he forces the details of every building and smokestack to the surface of the image, making the plight of the cities and their inhabitants – the Depression had crippled the shipping and manufacturing industries that were the lifeblood of both towns – impossible to ignore.

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Jack Warren Welpott (American, b. 1923) 'White Sands' 1977

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Jack Warren Welpott (American, b. 1923)
White Sands
1977
Gelatin silver print
RISD Museum: Gift of Aaron Siskind

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Joe Deal. 'Colton, California' 1978

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Joe Deal (American, 1947-2010) (RISD Provost 1999-2005, Faculty 2005-2009)
Colton, California
1978
From the portfolio The Fault Zone 1981
Portfolio of 19 gold-toned gelatin silver prints
Museum Purchase: Georgianna Sayles Aldrich Fund and Gift of James D. and Diane D. Burke
© The Estate of Joe Deal, courtesy Robert Mann Gallery. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Joe Deal. 'Chatsworth, California' 1980

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Joe Deal (American, 1947-2010) (RISD Provost 1999-2005, Faculty 2005-2009)
Chatsworth, California
1980
From the portfolio The Fault Zone 1981
Portfolio of 19 gold-toned gelatin silver prints
Museum Purchase: Georgianna Sayles Aldrich Fund and Gift of James D. and Diane D. Burke
© The Estate of Joe Deal, courtesy Robert Mann Gallery. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Joe Deal. 'Indio, California' 1978 from The Fault Zone

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Joe Deal (American, 1947–2010) (RISD Provost 1999–2005, Faculty 2005–2009)
Indio, California
1978
From The Fault Zone 1981
Portfolio of 19 gold-toned gelatin silver prints
RISD Museum: Museum Purchase: Georgianna Sayles Aldrich Fund and Gift of James D. and Diane D. Burke

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Joe Deal. 'Santa Barbara, California' 1978, from The Fault Zone

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Joe Deal
Santa Barbara, California
1978
From The Fault Zone 1981
Portfolio of 19 gold-toned gelatin silver prints
RISD Museum: Museum Purchase: Georgianna Sayles Aldrich Fund and Gift of James D. and Diane D. Burke

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Inspired by conceptual art, Joe Deal generally developed his work in series, choosing a particular location and adhering to a strict visual formula. As in The Fault Zone, his landscapes were typically square in format, viewed from above, lacking a horizon, and empty of people. Edges and divisions in nature and the landscape fascinated him, and the fault lines in California, though invisible on the surface, in many ways define that landscape. Using maps from the Los Angeles County engineering office that indicated where the fault lines were apt to be, Deal looked for sites that would metaphorically suggest volatility. The first image in the series is the only one that was actually taken on the San Andreas Fault; all others symbolically represent the fault lines with torn or disrupted terrain.

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Topographic Developments

By the time the landmark exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape opened in 1975, the accelerating degradation of the environment had become an inescapable reality. Inverting the Ansel Adams principle of exclusion, the exhibit voiced the belief that the landscape could no longer be portrayed as a refuge from the ills of industrial life: any consideration of the modern environment had to include both wilderness areas and the vacant lot next door.

The New Topographics photographers captured recently constructed tract homes, industrial parks, and highway culture with medium and large format cameras. As aesthetically neutral as real estate snapshots, the photographs showed the facts without offering their opinions about the rapid development they recorded. Seemingly stripped of expressivity, their photographs have the appearance of objective or “topographic” renderings rather than subjective impressions. In emphasizing the landscape of the American West and experimenting with anti-Romantic landscape imagery, these photographers looked back to the works of 19th-century survey photographers and to Walker Evans’s documentary style.

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Lewis Baltz. 'Model Home, Shadow Mountain' 1977

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Lewis Baltz
Model Home, Shadow Mountain
1977
From the portfolio Nevada
Gift from the
Collection of Joe Deal and Betsy Ruppa
© Lewis Baltz. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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In Nevada, Lewis Baltz alternates unbuilt views with home construction, trailer parks, and roads in a documentation of a rapidly changing landscape in the desert valleys surrounding Reno, an area he once described as “landscape-as-real-estate.” Baltz, like Joe Deal and Harold Jones, whose works are on view in this gallery, developed projects as portfolios, believing that a single photograph cannot capture a complete portrait of a place. In Baltz’s series, a multifaceted, occasionally contradictory image of Nevada emerges through the accumulation of photographs.

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Thomas Barrow. 'f/t/s Cancellations (Brown) - Field Star' 1975

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Thomas Barrow
f/t/s Cancellations (Brown) – Field Star
1975
Gift from the Collection of Joel Deal and Betsy Ruppa
© Thomas Barrow. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Barrow scratched through his landscape negatives, calling attention to the materiality of the medium itself and the fact that regardless of how much information is given, reality remains an accumulation of belief, knowledge, and one’s own experience.

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Harold Henry Jones. 'With Emmet' 1978

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Harold Henry Jones
With Emmet
1978
From the portfolio Tucson
Gift of the artist in honor of Joe Deal
© 1986 Harold Jones. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Harold Jones moved to Tucson sight unseen in 1974. The Tucson Portfolio documents his first years living in, exploring, and adapting to this unfamiliar landscape. In an accompanying text he relates his initial impressions of the Southwest, a landscape he had only seen in Westerns and “in the background of Roadrunner cartoons.” It was, he writes, “white bright and oven hot. Driving through the spiney leafless plants of the desert gave me the impression of being on an ocean floor – except someone had removed the water. A primordial landscape in a sea of light. Shocking and enchanting, at the same time.”

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Frank Gohlke (American, b. 1942) 'Near Crowley, Texas' 1978

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Frank Gohlke (American, b. 1942)
Near Crowley, Texas
1978
Gelatin silver print
RISD Museum: Gift from the Collection of Joe Deal and Betsy Ruppa

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Lee Friedlander. 'Atlantic City, New Jersey' 1971

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Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
Atlantic City, New Jersey
1971
Gelatin silver print
RISD Museum: Museum purchase with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts

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Garry Winogrand (American, 1928-1984) 'Utah' 1964

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Garry Winogrand (American, 1928-1984)
Utah
1964
From the portfolio Garry Winogrand, 1978
Gelatin silver prints RISD Museum: Gift of Frederick J. Myerson

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In the 1960s nature was apt to be viewed from a car window or in a rear-view mirror rather than from a hilltop. The large-format magisterial views of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston were replaced by a 35mm “grab-shot” style that captured the flux and contradictions of modern life with a fresh immediacy. Photographers were among the restless peripatetics crisscrossing the continent on new interstates and side roads, retrieving evidence of the “Americas” they found. The grainy, gritty aesthetic matched the sensations and energy of this environment.

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“America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now accompanies a major exhibition of that title tracing a history of photographs of the American landscape primarily through the collection of the RISD Museum. The show takes a broad look at the ever-evolving definition of American landscape photography – from seemingly pristine views of nature captured with 19th-century view cameras to images of the decaying contemporary urban streets composed from Google Street View. The RISD Museum’s collection of American landscape photography begins at the end of the Civil War in 1865, when photographers traveled west with government survey teams and railroad companies to record the country’s extraordinary natural features and resources. Ever since, the landscape has remained a compelling subject for photographers who have revealed through their images our nation’s ambition and failings, beauty and degradation, politics and personal stories.

The Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design announces its major fall exhibition, America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now, a broad panorama of our country’s topographies and correlating narratives that reveals a nation’s ambitions and failings, beauty and loss, politics and personal stories through about 150 photographs spanning nearly 150 years. “The landscape has inspired and challenged artists since the earliest days of our nation,” says Museum Director John W. Smith. “The remarkable works in this exhibition not only capture photography’s evolving relationship with the landscape but also trace the larger narrative of America itself.”

From the earliest images in the show, it is clear how purpose guided style. Carlton Watkins’ 1860s painterly and atmospheric views of the sublime landscape portray the wilderness as a place of spiritual renewal and a refuge from urban problems. In contrast, Timothy O’Sullivan, employed for the government’s geological surveys in the 1870s, made purposefully spare and anti-picturesque images that seemingly provide proof of empty territories needing to be studied, secured, and settled.

In her essay for America in View’s accompanying catalogue, photographer Deborah Bright, chair of the Fine Art Department at Pratt Institute, suggests that some of the historical shifts in environmental consciousness seen in the photographs “illuminate how the works also reflect changing conceptions of landscapes as bearers of cultural meaning.” Ansel Adams, whose mid-20th-century views of nature’s majesty and vastness represent many people’s ideals of American landscape photography, omitted human impact on the land. Widely used by the Sierra Club, his stunning images of untouched wilderness encouraged conservation in the face of an increasingly industrial society.

By the 1970s, artists including the late RISD provost and photography professor Joe Deal saw that the environment entailed both wilderness and the vacant lot next door. Their “New Topographics” imagery depicts recently constructed tract homes, industrial parks, and highway culture – inverting Adams’ exclusion. “‘Landscape’ is probably better understood as that set of expectations and beliefs… we project upon the world,” explains Brown University art historian Douglas Nickel, in the catalogue. “Not every photograph of land is a landscape, and not every landscape necessarily features the land.”

The past 20 years reveal a return to romantic views of the landscape, even in its degraded state, often including figures to create narratives. Justine Kurland’s landscape under an overpass shows a stunning place of fantasy and escape. RISD alumnus Justin Kimball explores fantasies of finding wilderness in public parks – where instead we find others seeking the same.

Press release from the RISD website

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Barbara Bosworth (American, b. 1953) 'Niagara Falls' 1986

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Barbara Bosworth (American, b. 1953)
Niagara Falls
1986
Gelatin silver print
Private collection

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Emmet Gowin (American, b. 1941) (RISD MFA 1967) 'Old Hanford City Sites and the Columbia River, Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Washington' 1986

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Emmet Gowin (American, b. 1941) (RISD MFA 1967)
Old Hanford City Sites and the Columbia River, Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Washington
1986
Toned gelatin silver prints
Promised gift of Dr. and Mrs. William G. Tsiaras

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Emmet Gowin (American, b. 1941) (RISD MFA 1967) 'Alluvial Fan, Natural Drainage near Yuma Proving Ground and the California Arizona Border' 1988

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Emmet Gowin (American, b. 1941) (RISD MFA 1967)
Alluvial Fan, Natural Drainage near Yuma Proving Ground and the California Arizona Border
1988
Toned gelatin silver prints
Promised gift of Dr. and Mrs. William G. Tsiaras

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Emmet Gowin (American, b. 1941) (RISD MFA 1967) 'Aeration Pond, Toxic Water Treatment Facility, Pine Bluff, Arkansas' 1989

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Emmet Gowin (American, b. 1941) (RISD MFA 1967)
Aeration Pond, Toxic Water Treatment Facility, Pine Bluff, Arkansas
1989
Toned gelatin silver print
RISD Museum: Mary B. Jackson Fund

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Emmet Gowin’s carefully constructed prints of strip mining sites, nuclear testing fields, large-scale agriculture, and other scars in the natural landscape seductively draw us in to examine what these lushly patterned and toned images represent. Predating Google Earth, these photographs are shot from the air and provide information about the environment that questions our role as stewards of the planet. A master darkroom printer, Gowin makes images come alive through hand-toning. Each print is transformed from grayscale into hues ranging from warm highlights to cool shadows, emphasizing the illusion of three-dimensionality.

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David T. Hanson. 'Coal Strip Mine, Power Plant and Waste Ponds' 1984

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David T. Hanson
Coal Strip Mine, Power Plant and Waste Ponds
1984
Museum Purchase: Gift of the Artist’s Development Fund of the Rhode Island Foundation
© 1984 David T. Hanson, from the book Colstrip, Montana by David T. Hanson (Taverner Press, 2010). Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Terry Evans (American, b. 1944) 'Terraced Plowing with a Grass Waterway' 1991

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Terry Evans (American, b. 1944)
Terraced Plowing with a Grass Waterway
1991
From the series Inhabited Prairie
Gelatin silver print
RISD Museum: Gift of Jan Howard and Dennis Teepe in honor of Joe Deal

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Neither the striking abstract design of the terraced field nor the effectiveness of this type of farming are what interests Terry Evans. She is drawn to the specific place and how the marks on the land, as she has said, “contain contradictions and mysteries that raise questions about how we live on the prairie. All of these places are beautiful to me, perhaps because all land, like the human body, is beautiful.”

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Justine Kurland (American, b. 1969) 'Smoke Bombs' 2000

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Justine Kurland (American, b. 1969)
Smoke Bombs
2000
From the series Runaway Girls
Color chromogenic print
RISD Museum: Mary B. Jackson Fund

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The neglected space under a New Jersey highway overpass was an ideal spot for three girls to act out Justine Kurland’s fictive story about fugitive teenagers. The figurative grouping recalls pastoral scenes in historical paintings so that the danger of the girls’ pursuit in this dicey no-man’s land is temporarily suspended in the hazy romantic fantasy of escape. The strong light streaming across the scene and the overall beauty of the composition suggests a desire to pursue the sublime even in the most degraded landscapes.

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Justin Kimball. 'Deep Hole, New Hampshire' 2002

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Justin Kimball
Deep Hole, New Hampshire
2002
From the series Where We Find Ourselves
Gift of the artist in honor of Joe Deal
Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Deep Hole, New Hampshire captures light filtering through the trees as a dozen young men and women distribute themselves among rocky outcroppings, poised for adventure in the water below. The composition recalls the quiet drama of Thomas Eakins’s 19th-century painting of nude swimmers. This reference drew Kimball to the picture as it played out in front of him, along with the palpable sense of elation in the youths’ encounter with the landscape, no matter the deteriorating state of the site due to its heavy use. Kimball’s series Where We Find Ourselves explores the fantasy of finding wilderness in state and national parks, where we only find other people looking for it, too.

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Alec Soth. '2008_08zl0031' 2008

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Alec Soth
2008_08zl0031
2008
Mary Ann Lippitt Acquisition Fund
© Alec Soth
Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Where We Find Ourselves

Current representations of the American landscape reveal a continually fraught relationship with the environment. Recent landscape photography reflects its history while constructing new notions of what such an image can be. Some artists continue to see the landscape as a place of refuge or spirituality. Others focus on its more disturbing psychological impact, even haunted with battle scars. Some pick up from the 1970s New Topographics approach with a more pointed investigation of environmentalism, documenting and questioning the impact of industry and development on the natural world. Still others have found that with the introduction of the figure the landscape can act as a stage, albeit one charged with political and social resonance.

Notable shifts have also been driven by new processes and techniques. The photographs of the last several decades are predominantly in color and are much larger than their precedents. While many artists working today use digital technology, their motive is rarely to alter or fabricate imagery but instead to have easier and better control over how these larger images are presented. Surprisingly, many of today’s photographers are using largeformat cameras very similar to those of the 19th century to create negatives or digital files capable of being enlarged to the scale of contemporary work.

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Steven B. Smith (American, b. 1963) (RISD Faculty 1996-present) 'Coolers, Ivins, Utah' 2007

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Steven B. Smith (American, b. 1963) (RISD Faculty 1996-present)
Coolers, Ivins, Utah
2007
From the series Irrational Exuberance
Color inkjet print
RISD Museum: Gift of Heather Smith in honor of Joe Deal

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Steven Smith’s subject matter follows in the tradition of the 1970s New Topographic artists. What differentiates Smith’s view of a recently suburbanized desert from his predecessors is the humor with which he captures the extravagant building in this arid place. In this image, from the aptly titled series Irrational Exuberance, fluorescent-colored coolers, like the red rocks, become part of the landscape, even creating their own waterfall.

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Joe Deal. 'Kite, Chino Hills, California' 1984

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Joe Deal (American, 1947-2010) (RISD Provost 1999-2005, Faculty 2005-2009)
Kite, Chino Hills, California
1984
From the portfolio Subdividing the Inland Basin
Gift of the artist
© The Estate of Joe Deal, courtesy Robert Mann Gallery. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Joe Deal often found his picture at the border between the built and unbuilt landscape. The driveway makes for a convenient spot to fly a kite, surrounded as it is here with a bit of open space remaining in a new development. In the distance to the right the residential growth that will soon cover this piece of land is visible through the atmospheric smog. In the distance to the left are still untouched hills. The inclusion of people – evidence of a rapidly exploding community near the intersection of the Pomona and Orange freeways – marks a shift in Deal’s photography to embracing the landscape as a site for narrative.

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Uta Barth (German, b. 1958) 'Field #14' 1996

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Uta Barth (German, b. 1958)
Field #14
1996
Color chromogenic print
RISD Museum: Gift of the Buddy Taub Foundation, Jill and Dennis Roach, Directors

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Uta Barth radically softens the camera’s focus to remove all signs of historical specificity and to saturate a flat industrial-looking non-place with a dream-like atmosphere. As such she creates a generic landscape as viewed through a heavily fogged window, with an uncanny sense that is deeply familiar.

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Henry Wessel (American, b. 1942) 'Night Walk, Los Angeles, No. 28' 1995

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Henry Wessel (American, b. 1942)
Night Walk, Los Angeles, No. 28
1995
From the series Night Walk: LA
Gelatin silver print
RISD Museum: Gift of Mark Pollack

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Millee Tibbs (American, b. 1976) (RISD MFA 2007) 'Self-Portrait in the Fog' 2009

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Millee Tibbs (American, b. 1976) (RISD MFA 2007)
Self-Portrait in the Fog
2009
From the portfolio Self Portraits
Color inkjet print
RISD Museum: Gift of the artist in honor of Joe Deal

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Robert Frank
U.S. 285, New Mexico
1955
Silver gelatin photograph

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Installation views of America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now at the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)
224 Benefit Street, Providence, RI 02903
T: 401 454-6500

Opening hours:
Tuesdays – Sundays, 10 am – 5 pm; Thursdays, 10 am – 9 pm
Closed Mondays

Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) website

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17
Dec
12

Exhibition: ‘The Serial Portrait: Photography and Identity in the Last One Hundred Years’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 30th September 2012 – 31st December 2012

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Alfred Stieglitz / Georgia O’Keeffe

Paul Strand / Rebecca Strand

Emmet Gowin / Edith Gowin

Harry Callahan / Eleanor and Barbara Callahan

Robert Mapplethorpe / Patti Smith

Nicholas Nixon / The Brown Sisters

Andy Warhol / Serial Photography / Photo Booth Portraits

Mario Testino / Kate Moss

Baron Adolf de Meyer / Baroness Olga de Meyer

Edward Weston / Charis Weston

Lee Friedlander / Maria Friedlander

Paul Caponigro / The woods of Connecticut

Bernd and Hilla Becher / grids

Gerhard Richter / Overpainted Photographs

Masahisa Fukase / wife and family

Seiichi Furuya / Christine Furuya-Gößler

Sally Mann / children and husband

William Wegman / dogs

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Australia?
Nobody that I can think of…

Notice how all the artists are men except two: Sally Mann and Hilla Becher.

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

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Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Danville, Virginia' 1971

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Emmet Gowin
Edith, Danville, Virginia
1971
Gelatin silver print
20.2 x 25.2 cm (7 15/16 x 9 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Emmet and Edith Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

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Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Danville, Virginia' 1963

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Emmet Gowin
Edith, Danville, Virginia
1963
Gelatin silver print, printed 1980s
19.7 x 12.7 cm (7 3/4 x 5 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Charina Endowment Fund
© Emmet and Edith Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

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Emmet Gowin. 'Edith and Moth Flight' 2002

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Emmet Gowin
Edith and Moth Flight
2002
Digital ink jet print
19 x 19 cm (7 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Charina Endowment Fund
© Emmet and Edith Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

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Francesca Woodman. 'House #3, Providence, Rhode Island' 1976

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Francesca Woodman
House #3, Providence, Rhode Island
1976
Gelatin silver print
16.1 x 16.3 cm (6 5/16 x 6 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection

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Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island' 1975-1978

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Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island
1975-1978
Gelatin silver print
10.5 x 10.5 cm (4 1/8 x 4 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collectors
Committee and R. K. Mellon Family Foundation

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Ann Hamilton. 'body object series #13, toothpick suit/chair' 1984

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Ann Hamilton
body object series #13, toothpick suit/chair
1984
Gelatin silver print, printed 1993
11 x 11 cm (4 5/16 x 4 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington,Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection

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Ann Hamilton. 'body object series #14, megaphone' 1986

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Ann Hamilton
body object series #14, megaphone
1986
Gelatin silver print, printed 1993
11 x 11 cm (4 5/16 x 4 5/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington,Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection

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“The National Gallery of Art explores how the practice of making multiple portraits of the same subjects produced some of the most revealing and provocative photographs of our time in The Serial Portrait: Photography and Identity in the Last One Hundred Years, on view in the West Building’s Ground Floor photography galleries from September 30 through December 31, 2012. Arranged both chronologically and thematically, the exhibition features 153 works by 20 artists who photographed the same subjects – friends, family, and themselves – numerous times over days, months, or years to create compelling portrait studies that investigate the many facets of personal and social identity.

“The Gallery’s photography collection essentially began with the donation of Alfred Stieglitz’s ‘key set,’ so it is fitting that this exhibition opens with portraits by Stieglitz, who understood that a person’s character was best captured through a series of photographs taken over time,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “Although the exhibition is drawn largely from the Gallery’s significant collection of photographs, we are grateful to the lenders who have allowed us to present more fully the serial form of portraiture that Stieglitz championed.”

Since the introduction of photography in 1839, portraiture has been one of the most widely practiced forms of the medium. Starting in the early 20th century, however, some photographers began to question whether one image alone could adequately capture the complexity of an individual. As Alfred Stieglitz, the era’s leading champion of American fine art photography, argued: “to demand the [single] portrait that will be a complete portrait of any person is as futile as to demand that a motion picture will be condensed into a single still.”

Along with Stieglitz, some of the 20th century’s most prominent photographers – Paul Strand, Harry Callahan, and Emmet Gowin – used the camera serially to transcend the limits of a single image. Each of these photographers made numerous studies of their lovers that sought to redefine the expressive possibilities of portraiture while probing the affective bonds of love and desire. By employing the camera’s capacity to record fluctuating states of being and mark the passage of time, other photographers such as Nicholas Nixon and Milton Rogovin have documented individuals – in families or communities – over four decades. Capturing subtle and dramatic shifts in appearance, demeanor, and situation, these series are poignant and elegiac memorials that remind us of our own mortality.

Other photographers have made serial self-portraits that explore the malleability of personal identity and the possibility of reinvention afforded by the camera. By photographing themselves as shadows, blurs, or partial reflections, Ilse Bing, Lee Friedlander, and Francesca Woodman have created inventive but elusive images that hint at the instability of self-representation. Conceptual artists of the 1970s and 1980s such as Vito Acconci, Blythe Bohnen, and Ann Hamilton have explicitly combined performance and self-portraiture to stage continual self-transformations. The exhibition concludes with work from the last 15 years by artists such as Nikki S. Lee and Gillian Wearing, who take the performance of self to its limits by adopting masquerades to delve into the ways identity is inferred from external appearance.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Art website

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Lee Friedlander. 'Haverstraw, New York' 1966

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Lee Friedlander
Haverstraw, New York
1966
Gelatin silver print
21.7 x 32.7 cm (8 9/16 x 12 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Trellis Fund
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery

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Lee Friedlander. 'Westport, Connecticut' 1968

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Lee Friedlander
Westport, Connecticut
1968
Gelatin silver print
19.8 x 12.3 cm (7 13/16 x 4 13/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Trellis Fund
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery

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Ilse Bing. 'Self-Portrait with Leica' 1931 gelatin silver print, printed c. 1988

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Ilse Bing
Self-Portrait with Leica
1931
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1988
26.7 x 29.7 cm (10 1/2 x 11 11/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Ilse Bing Wolff

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Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Mapplethorpe' 2009

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Gillian Wearing
Me as Mapplethorpe
2009
Gelatin silver print (based upon Robert Mapplethorpe work: Self Portrait, 1988. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation)
149.86 x 121.92 cm (59 x 48 in.)
Private Collection
Courtesy the artist; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles

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Paul Strand. 'Rebecca' 1922

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Paul Strand
Rebecca
1922
Platinum print
24.4 x 19.4 cm (9 5/8 x 7 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Southwestern Bell Corporation Paul Strand Collection
© Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive

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Paul Strand. 'Rebecca, New Mexico' 1932

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Paul Strand
Rebecca, New Mexico
1932
Platinum print
14.9 x 11.8 cm (5 7/8 x 4 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Southwestern Bell Corporation Paul Strand Collection
© Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive

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Alfred Stieglitz. 'Georgia O'Keeffe' probably 1918

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Alfred Stieglitz
Georgia O’Keeffe
probably 1918
Platinum print
18.4 x 23.1 cm (7 1/4 x 9 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection

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Alfred Stieglitz. 'Georgia O'Keeffe - Hands and Thimble' 1919

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Alfred Stieglitz
Georgia O’Keeffe – Hands and Thimble
1919
Palladium print
24 x 19.4 cm (9 7/16 x 7 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection

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Alfred Stieglitz. 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1930

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Alfred Stieglitz
Georgia O’Keeffe
1930
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 19.1 cm (9 7/16 x 7 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred Stieglitz Collection

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Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters' 1975

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Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters
1975
Gelatin silver print
20.2 x 25.2 cm (7 15/16 x 9 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Nicholas Nixon, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco and Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

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Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters' 1978

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Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947)
The Brown Sisters
1978
Photograph, gelatin silver print
Promised gift of James and Margie Krebs
© Nicholas Nixon, courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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For more images from this series please see my posting ‘Nicholas Nixon: Family Album’

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National Gallery of Art
National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets
Constitution Avenue NW, Washington

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Sunday 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m

National Gallery of Art website

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09
Sep
12

Review: ‘Light Works’ at NGV International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 23rd March – 16th September 2012

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“Light is a scientific fact, a metaphorical construct and even a spiritual force. It is considered an agent of truth, authenticity and revelation just as the absence of light signals mystery, danger and disorder. Light is also fundamental in the creation of photographs.”

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Dr Isobel Crombie, Senior Curator, Photography NGV, 2012

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“Light is a metaphor: where you have a dark place, and where that place becomes illuminated; where darkness becomes visible and one can see. The darkness is me, is my being. Why am I here? What am I here for? What is this experience I’m having? This is darkness. Light produces understanding.”

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Adam Fuss 1990

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This is an intimate and stimulating photographic exhibition at the NGV International featuring the work of artists Mike and Doug Starn, David Stephenson, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Bill Henson, Adam Fuss, Simone Douglas, Park Hong-Chun, Eugenia Raskopoulos, Sam Shmith, Christoph Dahlhausen and Patrick Bailly-Maitre-Grand. It is fantastic to see an exhibition of solely contemporary photographs at the National Gallery of Victoria taken from their collection (with nary a vintage silver gelatin photograph in sight!), one which examines the orchestration of light from which all photography emanates – used by different photographers in the creation, and there is the key word, of their work. Collectively, the works seem to ooze a mysterious inner light, a facing towards the transcendent divine – both comforting, astonishing and terrifying in part measure.

Works included range from photograms (camera-less images), large scale installations and photographs produced using digital light-based technologies. Every one of the fifteen works on display is worthy of inclusion, worthy of study at significant length so that the viewer may obtain insight into this element and its capture (by the camera, or not) on photographic paper, orthographic film and by the retina of the eye. What afterimage does this light leave, in the mind’s eye, in our subconscious thought?

The two Bill Henson photographs are evocative of the Romantic ideals of the nineteenth century where twilight possesses a luminescence that reveals shifting forms and meaning only through contemplation. As with all Henson the “mood” of the photographs is constructed as much by the artist as the thing being photographed. It is his understanding of the reflection of light from that object and the meaning of that reflection that creates the narrative “reality,” that allows the viewer the space for contemplation. In Sam Shmith’s photograph Untitled (In spates 2) (2011, below), Shimth turns day into night, creating his own reality by digitally compositing “30-40 photographs per pictorial narrative” taken during the day and then digitally darkened to form one single photographic instance. As a spectral ‘body’ the photograph works to create a new form of hallucination, one that haunts and perturbs the mind, like a disturbing psychological thriller. The viewer is (not really) flying, (not really) floating above the clouds contemplating the narrative, creating a visual memory of things. Spectral luminescences, not-quite-right perspectives, the photograph as temporal/temporary hallucination. The image takes me to other spaces and memories, opening up new vistas in my imagination (see more of my thoughts on Shmith’s work and the digital punctum).

Beginning in 1988, Adam Fuss began to explore studies of abstracted light and color which “involved placing the paper in a tray of water and recording the concentric circles caused by disturbing the water or dripping droplets of water into the trays. These pieces, done between 1988-1990, have an eerie, spatial quality. Infused with bright, vibrant colors and blinding white light, they resemble some hitherto unknown solar system. [Here] Fuss is concerned with the metaphorical qualities of light.

In an interview with Ross Bleckner conducted in 1992, Fuss explained the role of light in his imagery: “Light is a physical sensation. If you look at it with purely scientific eyes, its a particle that behaves like a wave or a wave that behaves like a particle. No one knows exactly what it is. It travels very fast. It has something to do with our perception of time… When one works with the idea of light, one’s working with a metaphor that’s endless and huge and unspecific. because you’re talking about something that’s almost just an idea, we can think about it but we can never grasp it. The light of the sun represents life on Earth. Light represents the fuel that is behind our existence… It’s a mystery.”1

Another beautiful photograph is Eugenia Raskopoulos’ elegiac requiem to the dis/appearance of language and the body, Diglossia #8 (2009, below). Diglossic is defined as a situation in which two languages (or two varieties of the same language) are used under different conditions within a community, often by the same speakers, with one variety of speech being more prestigious or formal and the other more suited to informal conversation or taken as a mark of lower social status or less education. As Victoria Lynn states of the series, “Each of these images carries within it a letter from the Greek alphabet. There is a word in there somewhere, but the order has been disrupted. This word, or name, has been cut, and its pieces are now before us as fragments that refuse to re-collect themselves into meaning. As such, the relationship between the letters also becomes temporal, fluid, and heterogeneous opening up the question of translation between one language to another, and one culture to another.

The images have been created using the gesture of a hand writing on a steamed up mirror. The photograph is taken very quickly, before the image, the letter and the mark of the artist disappears. We have to ask, what is disappearing here? Is it the language, the name, the aura of the photograph (in the Benjaminian sense) or indeed the body? For behind each letter we can detect a human presence – the artists’ naked body as she makes the photograph. The apparatus of photography is revealed, undressed and made naked.”2

Sol Invictus (1992, below) by the Starn Twins overwhelms in the brute force of the installation, something that cannot really be captured in the two-dimensional representation posted here (go and see the real thing!). The layering and curving of orthographic film relates to the curvature of the sun, the film held in place by screw clamps as though the artist’s were trying to contain, to fix, to regulate the radiation of the sun. Sol Invictus (here is the paradox, it means “unconquered sun” even as the Starn Twins seek to tie it down) explores the metaphorical, scientific and religious properties that gives life to this Earth. A very powerful installation that had me transfixed. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s famous series Theaters is represented in the exhibition by the work Winnetka Drive-In, Paramount (1993, below) where  Sugimoto “photographs auditoriums of American movie theaters, and drive-in movies, during showings. The exposure time used for the photograph corresponds with the projection time of the film. This allows him to save the duration of the entire film in a single shot. What remains visible of the film’s time-compressed, individual images is the bright screen of the movie theater, which illuminates the architecture of the space. That its content retreats into the background makes the actual film a piece of information, manifesting itself in the (movie theater) space. As a result, instead of a content-related event, film presents itself here as the relationship between time and spatial perception.”3

If we think of the camera lens as being fully open, like an eye without blinking, for the duration of the length of the film then the shutter of the lens has to be set on “B” for Bulb which allows for long exposure times under the direct control of the photographer. “The term bulb is a reference to old-style pneumatically actuated shutters; squeezing an air bulb would open the shutter and releasing the bulb would close it… It appears that when instantaneous shutters were introduced, they included a B setting so that the familiar bulb behavior could be duplicated with a cable release.”4 In other words light waves, reflecting from the surface of objects, are controlled by the photographer over an indefinite period (not the short “snap” of the freeze frame / the decisive moment), accumulating light from thousands of years in the past through the lens of the camera onto the focal plane, coalescing into a single image, controlled and constructed by the photographer.

My favourite works in the exhibition are David Stephenson’s two Star Drawings (1996, below) which use the same Bulb technique to capture star trails travelling across the night sky. Stephenson says that drawing the stars at night by long time exposures, “are a contemporary expression of the sublime – a transcendental experience of awe with the vast space and time of existence” (DS, 1998). The photographs map our position and help us understand our space in the world, that we are all made of stars, every last one of us. As far as being expressions of the sublime, these almost Abstract Expressionist, geometric light drawings are only achieved through the tilting of the camera at certain points doing the exposure and the opening and closing of the shutter, to make the intricate patterns. Man and stars combine to create a spiritual force that emanates from everything and everyone. Stephenson tilts the axis of meaning. When we look at these photographs the light that has emanated from these stars may no longer exist. It had travelled thousands of light years from the past to the present to be embedded in the film at the time of exposure and is then projected into the future so that the viewer may acknowledge it a hundred years from now.

Emanation > recognition > existence . . . . . . . . . . ∞
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . .. .  . . . . .  . .. . . . . . . . . . death

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How Light Works

In a truly inspired piece of writing, artist and author Pablo Helguera muses on the nature of light falling on a landscape in his piece How to Understand the light on a Landscape (2005). In the text he examines qualities of light such as experiential light, home light, ghost light, the light of the deathbed (think Emmet Gowin’s photograph of Rennie Booher in her casket, “dead now and committed to mystery,” as Gowin puts it), rain light, protective light, artificial light, the light of the truly blind, the light of adolescence, sunday light, hotel light, used light, narrated light, transparent light, the light of the last day and after light.

“The conjunction of a random site, the accumulated data in the body’s memory that is linked to emotion, and the general behavior of light form experience. Experience is triggered by light, but not exclusively by the visible light of the electromagnetic spectrum. What the human eye is incapable to perceive is absorbed by other sensory parts of the body, which contribute to the perception that light causes an effect that goes beyond the merely visual.”5

This is the crux of the “matter.” As much as photography is a dialogue between the natural and the unnatural, it is also an invocation to the gods (inside each of us and all around us). It is the breaking down of subjective and objective truths so that the myth of origin becomes fluid in this light. It is the light of creation that goes beyond the merely visual, that is an expression of an individualism that rises above the threshold of visibility – to stimulate sensory experience; to prick the imagination and memory; to make us aware and recognise the WAVELENGTH of creation. It is the LIGHT OF EXPERIENCE.

Helguera concludes, “The intersection of our body with the light and the landscape and the coded form of language that we have to construct by ourselves and explain to ourselves is our daily ordeal, and we are free to choose to ignore and live without it, because there is nothing we can do with this language other than talking to ourselves. There is no point in trying to explain it to others because it is not designed to be this way, other than remaining a remote, if equivalent, language.

Some for that reason prefer to construct empty spaces with nondescript imagery, and thus be free of the seductive and nostalgic undecipherability of the landscape and the light. Or we may choose to openly embrace the darkness of light, and thus let ourselves through the great gates of placehood, where we can finally accept the unexplainable concreteness of our moments for what they are.”6

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I believe this is the role of artists, to embrace the darkness of light and the trace of experience and to show it to people that may not recognise it or have turned away from the light of experience. So many people walk through life as if in a dream, neither recognising their energy nor the good or bad that emanates from that light. As Helguera notes it causes us to create our own coded form of language to explain the LIGHT OF LIFE to ourselves. We can choose to ignore it (at out peril!) but we can also embrace light in an act of recognition, awareness, forgiveness. We can banish the empty spaces and nondescript imagery in our own lives and make connection to others so that they make gain insight into their own existence and being.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

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David Stephenson
Star Drawing 1996/402
1996
40 x 40″
Cibachrome Print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1997
© Courtesy of the artist

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Hiroshi Sugimoto
Japanese 1948-, worked in United States 1972-
Winnetka Drive-In, Paramount
1993
Gelatin silver photograph
42.3 x 54.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by the Bowness Family Fund for Contemporary Photography, 2009
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy The Pace Gallery, New York

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Simone Douglas
Surrender (Collision) III (detail)
1998
Type C photograph
45.9 x 64.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
© Simone Douglas

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Sam Shmith
Australian 1980-
Untitled (In spates 2)
2011
from the In spates series 2011
Inkjet print
75.0 x 124.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2011
© Sam Shmith, courtesy Arc One Gallery, Melbourne

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“On March 23, the National Gallery of Victoria will open Light Works, a contemporary photography exhibition that explores various artists’ approaches to light – a fundamental element in the creation of photography. Drawn from the NGV’s Collection, the fifteen works on display show how photographers have exploited the creative potentials of natural and artificial light in their artworks.

Dr Isobel Crombie, Senior Curator, Photography NGV said: “Light is a scientific fact, a metaphorical construct and even a spiritual force. It is considered an agent of truth, authenticity and revelation just as the absence of light signals mystery, danger and disorder. Through a careful selection of works by international and Australian artists the emotive potential and scientific capacities of light are explored.”

Dr Gerard Vaughan, Director, NGV said: “‘Light Works’ is an exhibition that has broad appeal as it will intrigue those who are artistically, spiritually, technologically or scientifically minded. The works on display demonstrate the diverse and limitless depiction of this vital element. This exhibition also provides visitors with an opportunity to see works by some of the most important contemporary global and local photography artists – a must-see exhibition for 2012.”

Works included range from photograms (camera-less images), large scale installations and photographs produced using digital light-based technologies highlighting the depth of the NGV’s remarkable photography collection. On display are works by Mike and Doug Starn, David Stephenson, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Bill Henson, Adam Fuss, Simone Douglas, Park Hong-Chun, Eugenia Raskopoulos, Sam Shmith, Christoph Dahlhausen and Patrick Bailly-Maitre-Grand.”

Text from the NGV website

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Eugenia Raskopoulos
Diglossia #8
2009
from the Diglossia series 2009
Inkjet print
139.5 x 93.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2009
© Eugenia Raskopoulos

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This photograph shows a letter from the Greek alphabet which has been marked by hand onto a foggy mirror.

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Mike Starn
American 1961-
Doug Starn
American 1961-
Sol Invictus
1992
Orthographic film, silicon, pipe clamps, steel and adhesive tape
175.0 x 200.0 x 35.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by the National Gallery Women’s Association, 1994
© Doug Starn, Mike Starn/ARS, New York. Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney

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Adam Fuss
English 1961-, worked in Australia 1962-82, United States 1982-
Untitled
1991
Cibachrome photograph
164.3 x 125.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the Rudy Komon Fund, Governor, 1992
© Adam Fuss. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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1. Halpert, Peter. “Adam Fuss: Light and Darkness,” in Art Press International, July/August 1993 on the Peter Hay Halpert Fine Art website. Nd. [Online] Cited 08/09/2012.

2. Lynn, Victoria. “Writing Towards Disappearance,” on the Eugenia Raskopoulos website. Nd. [Online] Cited 08/09/2012.

3. Kellein, Thomas Sugimoto, Hiroshi. Time Exposed. Thames & Hudson, First edition, 1995, p. 91, quoted on the Media Art Net website. [Online] Cited 08/09/2012.

4. Anon. “Bulb (photography),” on the Wikipedia website. Nd. [Online] Cited 08/09/2012.

5. Helguera, Pablo. How to Understand the Light on a Landscape (video, 15 min., 2005) is a work that simulates a scientific documentary about light to discuss the experiential aspects of light as triggered by memory. The images and text, taken from the video, are part of the book by Patt,Lise (ed.). Searching for Sebald: Photography After W.G. Sebald. Institute of Cultural Inquiry, 2007, pp.110-119.

6. Ibid.,

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NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours
10am – 5pm. Closed Tuesdays.

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04
Aug
09

Review: ‘Intersections’ by Sarah Amos at Gallery 101, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 22nd July – 15th August, 2009

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Sarah Amos. 'Red Walk' 2009

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Sarah Amos
‘Red Walk’
Collagraph and Monoprint
2009

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Sarah Amos. 'Storm Loading' 2009

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Sarah Amos
‘Storm Loading’
Etching and hand drawing on Shiramine Japanese paper
2009

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Installation view of 'Intersections' by Sarah Amos at Gallery 101, Melbourne

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Installation view of 'Intersections' by Sarah Amos at Gallery 101, Melbourne

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Installation views of ‘Intersections’ by Sarah Amos at Gallery 101, Melbourne

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An interesting exhibition of Collagraphs (a type of collage printmaking)1 and etchings is presented by Sarah Amos at Gallery 101, Melbourne, work that is full of delicate coloured layering, topographical mapping and nodal, rhizomic and Spirogyra-type structures.

The ‘flux’ of the work, it’s musical cadence if you like, is the fusion of palimpsestic markings as viewed from the air – the dotted contours, the ploughed fields, the beautiful spatial layering that has an almost Kandinsky-like effect – with the aesthetics of Japanese paper, matt black colour (that subtly glistens on close inspection) and the tactility of the surface of the work. These intersections produce images that have some outstanding resonances: vibrations of energy that ebb and flow around the gallery space. These works are captivating!

For me the simpler images were the more successful especially the series named ‘Intersections’ with their muted tonalities, shifting colours and topographical structure. They also reminded me of the black and white aerial landscape photography of Emmet Gowin (see below).

While I am unsure of the validity of the landscape/’urban lens’ ‘urban temperature’ references (which I found unnecessary and slightly irrelevant) these works and their synaptic interfaces must be experienced. For the viewer they hold a strange attraction as you stand before them drawn, inexporably, into their penumbral spaces. Recommended.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Emmet Gowin. 'Harvest traffic over agricultural pivot near Hermiston, Orgeon, 1991' 1991

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Emmet Gowin
‘Harvest traffic over agricultural pivot near Hermiston, Orgeon, 1991’
1991

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Sarah Amos. 'Intersections 8' 2009

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Sarah Amos
‘Intersections 8’
Collagraph with gouache
2009

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“(Flux) – where a total electric or magnetic field passes through a surface.

My work is a fusion of both land and cityscape. I am interested in interpreting spatially dynamic, real and half forgotten landscapes through an urban lens. New to this body of work is my interest in the visual graphics of scientific diagrams in which dynamic and informative landscapes are drafted into linear minimal lines. I have absorbed this distilled language, translating it into an architectural and organic landscape where the intersections of line, volume and space are constantly in flux. This obscure knowledge is pared down, simplified and ordered into a clean analysis ready for instant translation.

The Australian landscape is central to my work and influences my use of color, idiosyncratic marks and open space. These works are personalized maps of accumulated information, like printed histories, that record the dueling intersections where the weathers of the landscape and the urban temperature have begun to take on new and vital immediacy.”

Sarah Amos, 2009

Text from the Gallery 101 website

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Sarah Amos. 'Lute' 2009

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Sarah Amos
‘Lute’
Collagraph
2009

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1. “A Collagraph print is a collage printmaking technique and is a form of Intaglio printing. The collagraph plate is printed in the same way as etchings, but also include the basic principle of relief printing and can be printed either as intaglio or relief.

The term collagraph refer to a collage board where the materials are assembled on a flat base or plate (matrix) to form a relief block with different surface levels and textures.

Collagraph plates are created by sticking and gluing materials like textured paper or fabric onto the plate and then coat it with varnish or acrylic medium afterwards to protect the materials.”

Anonymous. Printmaking: Collagraphs/Collage Blocks,” on the ArtistTerms.com website [Online].
Cited 03/08/2009. www.artistterms.com/collagraph.htm

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GALLERY 101
Ground level, 101 Collins Street, Melbourne VICTORIA 3000
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm, Saturday 12 – 4pm
T 61 3 96546886 F 61 3 9663 0562

Gallery 101 website

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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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