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22
Jan
22

Text: ‘Finding Integrity: “New Woman” artists and female emancipation in the first half of the twentieth century’ on the exhibition ‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington Part 3

Exhibition dates: 31st October, 2021 – 30th January, 2022

Curator: The exhibition is curated by Andrea Nelson, associate curator in the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

 

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) 'Ginza 4 Chome P.X.' 1946, printed 1993

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
Ginza 4 Chome P.X.
1946, printed 1993
Gelatin silver print
Image: 29.6 x 29.6cm (11 5/8 x 11 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 41 x 51.2 x 2.5cm (16 1/8 x 20 3/16 x 1 in.)
Collection of Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

 

 

Abstract

Using the media images from the exhibition The New Woman Behind the Camera at the National Gallery of Art, Washington (31st October, 2021 – 30th January, 2022) as a starting point, this text examines the (in)visibility of the “New Woman” behind the camera. The text briefly investigates the disenfranchisement of women in 19th century through the work of George Sand and Camille Claudel; the role of the female flâneuse and the rise of the suffragettes; the relationship between two women and two men; a story; the work of two women photographers (Germaine Krull and Claude Cahun) who through photography challenged the representation of gender identity; a Zen proposition, and the particular becomes universal – in order to understand how artists, both female and male, find integrity on their chosen path.

 

Keywords

New Woman, photography, art, integrity, George Sand, Camille Claudel, female flâneuse, suffragette, camera, Germaine Krull, Claude Cahun, Leni Reifenstahl, Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, female emancipation, gender identity, representation, Sabine Weiss, Susan Sontag, self recognition, patriarchal society.

 

Download the complete text of Finding Integrity: “New Woman” artists and female emancipation in the first half of the twentieth-century (5.6Mb Word docx)

 

 

Finding Integrity: “New Woman” artists and female emancipation in the first half of the twentieth-century

After thousands of years of human existence, woman still do not have equality. They have to fight for equal pay for the same job, they fight for equal opportunity in many jobs and top level positions, they fight for control of their body, and they fight against misogyny, discrimination and the aggression of hypermasculinity. They, and their children, fight not to be killed by jealous and enraged (x)lovers or (x)husbands – where x in mathematics is a variable number which is not yet known (in 2021 in Australia 43 women died at the hands of men) – whose ego and possessiveness cannot bear the thought of a vibrant, free thinking woman living beyond their control. I know of these things having grown in the womb, having grown up for the first 18 years of my life feeling my mother being abused, and then being abused myself trying to protect my mother.

My mother wanted to study music at Cambridge after graduating from the Royal College of Music but because she got married and had children she never had the opportunity. Her struggle, as with many women still, was to find her place in a man’s world – as a wife and mother in her case – to live within the parameters of the social construct that is a patriarchal society. At the time (in the 1960s) she said she felt less than human… for there was no help and little opportunity for women to escape their situation. Her one salvation was music and the one way she found to subvert the dominant structures was to teach piano. Now ninety years old, she has taught piano for the rest of her life. She found her voice and her independence. She found her integrity.

 

Earlier generations

In earlier generations, before the “New Woman”, women had to conform (to society’s expectations) and submit (to men) … unless they were notorious, celebrities or geniuses. Otherwise they were mainly disenfranchised and disempowered.

Women had to write under men’s names to be accepted, to sell and make a living. The novelist Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin initially collaborated with the male writer Jules Sandeau and they published under the name Jules Sand before Dupin took up the pen name that was to make her famous and a celebrity across Europe: George Sand (French, 1804-1876). “Sand’s writing was immensely popular during her lifetime and she was highly respected by the literary and cultural elite in France.”1 She chose to wear male attire in public without a permit (which “enabled her to circulate more freely in Paris than most of her female contemporaries, and gave her increased access to venues from which women were often barred, even women of her social standing”1), and she smoked “tobacco in public; neither peerage nor gentry had yet sanctioned the free indulgence of women in such a habit, especially in public… While there were many contemporary critics of her comportment, many people accepted her behaviour until they became shocked with the subversive tone of her novels.”1 Sand was also politically active and “sided with the poor and working class as well as women’s rights. When the 1848 Revolution began, she was an ardent republican. Sand started her own newspaper, published in a workers’ co-operative.”1

 

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) 'George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin), Writer' c. 1865

 

Nadar (Gaspard Félix Tournachon) (French, 1820-1910)
George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin), Writer
c. 1865
Albumen silver print from a glass negative
24.1 x 18.3 cm (9 1/2 x 7 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

In other words because of her visibility, celebrity, social standing, writing, intellect and revolutionary fervour she was acknowledged as a great woman. Men consulted with her and took her advice. Upon her death under the heading “Emancipated Woman,” in The Saturday Review, Victor Hugo commented: “George Sand was an idea. She has a unique place in our age. Others are great men … she was a great woman.” All well and good, but then he continues, “In this country, whose law is to complete the French Revolution, and begin that of the equality of the sexes, being a part of the equality of men, a great woman was needed. It was necessary to prove that a woman could have all the manly gifts without losing any of her angelic qualities; be strong without ceasing to be tender. George Sand proved it.”2 In other words to be the equal of a man, a woman must act like a man but also keep her womanly qualities (tenderness, femininity). She couldn’t really be herself because she had to measure up to the ideals of men. What a slap in the face, a kind of pseudo-equality – if you played your cards right and obeyed the rules of the game.

An incredibly sad example of female disenfranchisement in the arts is that of August Rodin’s assistant Camille Claudel (French, 1864-1943) who became his model, his confidante, and his lover. Claudel started working in Rodin’s workshop in 1883 and became a source of inspiration for him.

 

César (French) 'Portrait de Camille Claudel' before 1883

 

César (French)
Portrait de Camille Claudel
before 1883
Musée Camille Claudel
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

“The exact nature of the tasks with which she was entrusted remains uncertain, but she apparently spent most of her time on difficult pieces, such as the hands and feet of figures for monumental sculptures (notably The Gates of Hell). For Claudel, this was an intensive period of training under Rodin’s supervision: she learned about his profiles method and the importance of expression. In tandem, she pursued her own investigations, accepted her first commissions and sought recognition as an independent artist at the Salon. Between 1882 and 1889, Claudel regularly exhibited busts and portraits of people close to her at the Salon des Artistes Français. Largely thanks to Léon Gauchez, Rodin’s friend the Belgian art dealer and critic, several of her works were purchased by French museums in the 1890s.”3

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But women working under the “master” were not often acknowledged.

“Le Cornec and Pollock state that after the sculptors’ physical relationship ended [with Rodin in 1892 after an abortion], she was not able to get the funding to realise many of her daring ideas – because of sex-based censorship and the sexual element of her work. Claudel thus had to either depend on Rodin, or to collaborate with him and see him get the credit as the lionised figure of French sculpture. She also depended on him financially, especially after her loving and wealthy father’s death, which allowed her mother and brother, who disapproved of her lifestyle, to maintain control of the family fortune and leave her to wander the streets dressed in beggars’ clothing.

Claudel’s reputation survived not because of her once notorious association with Rodin, but because of her work. The novelist and art critic Octave Mirbeau described her as “A revolt against nature: a woman genius.”” …

Ayral-Clause says that even though Rodin clearly signed some of her works, he was not treating her as different because of her gender; artists at this time generally signed their apprentices’ work. Others also criticise Rodin for not giving her the acknowledgment or support she deserved. …

Other authors write that it is still unclear how much Rodin influenced Claudel – and vice versa, how much credit has been taken away from her, or how much he was responsible for her woes. Most modern authors agree that she was an outstanding genius who, starting with wealth, beauty, iron will and a brilliant future even before meeting Rodin, was never rewarded and died in loneliness, poverty, and obscurity. Others like Elsen, Matthews and Flemming suggest it was not Rodin, but her brother Paul who was jealous of her genius, and that he conspired with her mother, who never forgave her for her supposed immorality, to later ruin her and keep her confined to a mental hospital.”4

.
This “sculptor of genius” was eventually “voluntarily” committed by her family to a psychiatric hospital in 1913 where she lived the remaining 30 years of her life, unable to practice her art. Her remains were buried in a communal grave at the asylum, her bones mixed with the bones of the most destitute. Her brother Paul Claudel could not be bothered with a grave for her, while he specified the exact place of his internment… the ultimate irony being that, Rodin had decided to include an exhibition space reserved exclusively for Camille Claudel’s works in the future museum that would house the collections he bequeathed to the French state on his death (at the Rodin Museum) – a request that could not be honoured until 1952, when Paul Claudel donated four major works by his sister to the museum.5 Bitter irony.

 

Ruth Orkin. 'American Girl in Italy' 1951

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985)
American Girl in Italy
1951
Gelatin silver print
© Ruth Orkin
Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Collection
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

The female flâneuse and a period of transition

During the 19th century women could not stroll alone in the city.

“In Baudelaire’s essays and poems, women appear very often. Modernity breeds, or makes visible, a number of categories of female city-dwellers. Among the most prominent in these texts are: the prostitute, the widow, the old lady, the lesbian, the murder victim, and the passing unknown woman… But none of these women meet the poet as his equal. They are subjects of his gaze, objects of his ‘botanising’. The nearest he comes to a direct encounter, with a woman who is not either marginal or debased, is in the poem, À Une Passante (Even here, it is worth noting that the woman in question is in mourning – en grand deuil). The tall, majestic woman passes him in the busy street; their eyes meet for a moment before she continues her journey, and the poet remains to ask whether they will only meet again in eternity… (But if this is the rare exception of a woman sharing the urban experience, we may also ask whether a ‘respectable’ woman, in the 1850s would have met the gaze of a strange man).”6

But as Janet Wolff observes, women clearly were active and visible in other ways in the public arena, especially when it came to the construction of women’s dress as a sign of their husbands’ position: in effect, the less they worked and the more they evidenced the performance of conspicuous leisure and consumption, the more this was to the credit of their master rather than to their own credit. Wolff further notes, “The establishment of the department store in the 1850s and the 1860s provided an important new arena for the legitimate public appearance of middle-class women…” but denies this has anything to do with women being a female flâneur – a flâneuse – because the fleeting, anonymous encounters and purposeless strolling she has been considering “do not apply to shopping, or to women’s activities either as public signs of their husband’s wealth or as consumers.”7 Wolff rejects the notion of a female flâneuse as “such a character was rendered impossible by the sexual divisions of the nineteenth century.”8

Others disagree with this interpretation. In a paper titled “Gender Differences in the Urban Environment: The flâneur and flâneuse of the 21st Century”, Akkelies van Nes and Tra My Nguyen offer the following history of the flâneur9 and the flâneuse concepts (apologies for the long quotation but it necessary):

 

“The term flâneur originated from the 18th century. It was described by Charles Baudelaire as ‘gentleman stroller of city streets’ (van Godsendthoven, 2005). …

‘The flâneur was an idle stroller with an inquisitive mind and an aesthetic eye, a mixture of the watchful detective, the aesthetic dandy and the gaping consumer, the badaud. A solitary character, he avoided serious political, familial or sexual relationships, and was only keen on the aesthetics of city life. He read the city as a book, finding beauty in the obsolete objects of other people, but in a distanced, superior way’ (van Godsendthoven, 2005).

The flâneur is a product of modern life and the industrial revolution, parallel to the references of the tourist in contemporary times. The arrival of department stores and the ‘Haussmannization’ of Paris’ streets in the second half of the nineteenth century swept away large parts of the historical city and also the domain of the flâneur. The archetype of the flâneur disappeared with its surroundings, in favour of the women- oriented department stores. ‘The department store may have been, as Benjamin put it, the flâneur’s last coup, but it was the flâneuse’s first’ (Friedberg, 1993).

The flâneuse is not a female flâneur, but she is a version of the flâneur. She does not experience the city in the same way as he does. It is hard to define the archetype of the flâneuse, because the flâneur himself consists of paradoxes and many subcategories. Key concepts for flâneur and flâneuse are the amount of spare time, the aesthetic detachment towards objects, crowd and sceneries they see and their ambiguity about it.

The department stores were a starting point for the existence of the flâneuse, but this also marked her as a consumer, a ‘badaud’. The difference between badauds and flâneuses are the distance they create between themselves and the activities in the city. A characteristic of flânerie is an aesthetic distance between the subject and the object of attention. The badaud-flâneuse lacks this distance. The city is not being experienced, but is reduced to a place to consume.

As implied, the badaud-flâneuse did not have the full ability to flânerie. However, she has many qualities, which are at least some first initiatives to stroll around. Her domain moved from the interior of her home to the interior of the department store and sometimes even to the streets (Parsons, 2000). Shopping, art and day trips contribute to develop a certain view in that period of society, which was at the end of 19th century. Friedberg was very well aware that this new freedom was not the same as the freedom of the flâneur (Friedberg, 1993).

The flâneuse concept developed throughout the years expanded somehow further than being a badaud. She was discovering domains like art forms, like for example the cinema and the theatre at the beginning of the 20th century. But she was still objectified by men and patriarchic institutes. However, women became independent, without taking over the absent look and gaze of the flâneur. They changed their lives into art forms and had an opinion about the society they lived in. To gain respect as artists, the image of women as muses had to disappear. She had to claim an active role and to develop her own personality.

Through the literature, the life of the flâneuse and the female characters in the city, like passersby, artists, dandies and badauds [gawkers, bystanders] are often interlaced with each other, and difficulties they experienced are alike. The flâneuse often shifted between these roles, but distinguished herself by her independency and distanced. She became a symbol for post-modern urban life: a wanderer in many shapes.”10

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Nes and Nguyen further argue that the emancipation of women over the last two decades “has brought the flâneuse to a more equal position with the flâneur in the invisible right to be in public urban space. However, aspects like safety and when and where women are spending time in urban space still have effect on how women use public spaces and affect the public spheres.”11 Indeed, with the despicable murder of too many women in Melbourne in recent years by predatory men (Aiia Maasarwe, Mersina Halvagis, Masa Vukotic, Eurydice Dixon, Tracey Connelly, Sarah Cafferkey, Renea Lau and Jill Meagher to name just a few…), women still fear walking the streets alone. “Even when grief enveloped his family, Bill Halvagis can recall the wider sense of public outrage that followed the murder of his older sister Mersina. The shock that someone could do such a thing in a public place was as brutal as the crime itself.”12

 

Unknown photographer (Australian) 'People march through Brunswick in Melbourne after the murder of Jill Meagher in 2012' 2012

 

Unknown photographer (Australian)
People march through Brunswick in Melbourne after the murder of Jill Meagher in 2012
2012
Australian Associated Press (AAP)
Republished under Creative Commons from The Conversation website
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

Looking back a century later, one of the key points of female emancipation in the early twentieth century is that women gained their independence “and had an opinion about the society they lived in… She had to claim an active role and to develop her own personality” while present and visible in the community, present in a public place. The world-wide suffragette movement was at the forefront of this early twentieth-century revolution.

“A suffragette was a member of an activist women’s organisation in the early 20th century who, under the banner “Votes for Women”, fought for the right to vote in public elections. The term refers in particular to members of the British Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a women-only movement founded in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst, which engaged in direct action and civil disobedience.” During the First World War “the suffragette movement in Britain moved away from suffrage activities and focused on the war effort… Women eagerly volunteered to take on many traditional male roles – leading to a new view of what women were capable of.”13 However, this new found capability and visibility in society “cast women as passive, erotic objects, subjecting them to a kind of voyeuristic control” by men, embodying the gaze of modernity which is both covetous and erotic – public sites (of interaction) producing “meanings and positions from which those meanings are consumed.”14 Women were “playing” in a man’s world subject to their approval, their gaze and their desire to possess and control the female both physically and sexually.

But, as Griselda Pollock observes, “modernity was not represented as taking place in exclusively masculine, because public, domains: rather, the spaces of modernity were in fact marginal spaces, those in which the city’s “new subjective experiences of exhilaration and alienation, pleasure and fear, mobility and confinement, expansiveness and fragmentation,” were most intense. These spaces of intersection happened to be sites in which bourgeois men came into contact with women…”15

Here comes the “New Woman” taking on traditional male roles, socialising in marginalised spaces, boldly going where few women had gone before, sampling new subjective experiences, becoming who they wanted to be… all under the munificent gaze of the (bourgeois) male.

 

Two women and two men

The “New Woman”, mainly middle class females, took their courage in their hands to become professional photographers and artists: photojournalists, fashion photographers, war photographers, magazine and picture photographers, working with successful men and women in fashion, interior design, news, graphics and art. At the Bauhaus female students pushed the boundaries in fields such as textiles, lighting, ceramics and costume, the “New Woman” putting her femininity under the spotlight.

By pushing boundaries, female artists and photographers broke ground becoming female in a male world… within the framework of modernity and aesthetics, to form the modern divine. In a youthful culture of commercial and technological changes they gained their independence through hard work and talent via the stereotype of the “New Woman” – a constructed image portrayed in the magazines (bobbed hair beauty, flapper, speed, fast cars, cigarette smoking) which played into the male system of the recognition of the feminine subject. By playing the system they became successful and visible, self conscious of their undeniable abilities. But at what cost? Many women, excited by the world of men, where chewed up and spat out, dumped, and sometimes met a terrible end.

 

Unknown photographer (German) 'Leni Riefenstahl with Heinrich Himmler (left) during the 1934 Nuremberg Nazi Party Rally in the Luitpold Arena while recording her film "Triumph of the Will"' September 9, 1934

 

Unknown photographer (German)
Leni Riefenstahl with Heinrich Himmler (left) during the 1934 Nuremberg Nazi Party Rally in the Luitpold Arena while recording her film “Triumph of the Will”
September 9, 1934
German Federal Archives / Wikipedia (public domain)

 

 

The epito/me of this new self consciousness and will to power was the Nazi film director Leni Reifenstahl (German, 1902-2003). Reifenstahl began as an interpretive dancer who often made almost 700 Reichsmarks for each performance. “Her dancing revealed her childlike quality, her surrender to the moment, and this natural, naïve quality made her the perfect heroine for his [Arnold Fanck’s] Alpine love stories. Riefenstahl was involved in a love triangle involving Fanck and her leading man [in director Fanck’s 1920s “mountain films”], Luis Trenker, demonstrating, in Mr. Bach’s words, “Leni’s skill at dominating the exclusive male society in which she found herself now and for almost all the rest of her professional life.””16 Reifenstahl used her beauty, voracious sexual prowess (with both women and men) and talent to infiltrate the world of film and learn acting and film editing techniques. Hitler saw her films and thought Riefenstahl epitomised the perfect German female.

“Riefenstahl heard Nazi Party (NSDAP) leader Adolf Hitler speak at a rally in 1932 and was mesmerised by his talent as a public speaker… Hitler was immediately captivated by Riefenstahl’s work. She is described as fitting in with Hitler’s ideal of Aryan womanhood, a feature he had noted when he saw her starring performance in Das Blaue Licht. After meeting Hitler, Riefenstahl was offered the opportunity to direct Der Sieg des Glaubens (“The Victory of Faith”), an hour-long propaganda film about the fifth Nuremberg Rally in 1933… Still impressed with Riefenstahl’s work, Hitler asked her to film Triumph des Willens (“Triumph of the Will”), a new propaganda film about the 1934 party rally in Nuremberg. More than one million Germans participated in the rally. The film is sometimes considered the greatest propaganda film ever made… In February 1937, Riefenstahl enthusiastically told a reporter for the Detroit News, “To me, Hitler is the greatest man who ever lived. He truly is without fault, so simple and at the same time possessed of masculine strength”.”17

After the Second World War Riefenstahl was tried four times by postwar authorities for denazification and eventually found to be a “fellow traveller” (Mitläufer) who sympathised with the Nazis but she won more than fifty libel cases against people accusing her of having previous knowledge regarding the Nazi party.18 Research in the first decade of the twenty-first century (Jürgen Trimborn Leni Riefenstahl: A Life Faber & Faber, 2007 and Steven Bach Leni – The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl Knopf, 2007) dismantle Riefenstahl’s myth that she was an artist innocent of political motivations. She hitched her wagon to National Socialism, taking money to make her film Tiefland (Lowlands) and then bringing in extras from a concentration camp, keeping them in rags and starving them. After filming some were executed in the gas chambers. “Bach shows that the contract she entered into with the camp commandant makes clear the terms on which she had access to these ‘extras’ and that she knew they were going back to (at the very least) an uncertain future ‘in the east’.”19 Riefenstahl would later claim that all of the Romani extras – 53 Roma and Sinti from Maxglan, and a further 78 from a camp in eastern Berlin – had survived the war. In fact, almost 100 of them are known or believed to have been gassed in Auschwitz.20

Riefenstahl’s image of wholesome “New Woman” – a “version of an ideal presence, a kind of imperishable beauty” – never faded and she never wavered in her belief in herself and her innocence. The hubris of her egotistical narcissism denied any other version of history was possible, jealousy protecting her self-believed legacy like a protective tigress guarding her cubs, all the while denying her servitude and slavery to Nazi propaganda. Of course, all of it is a lie. There is Riefenstahl after the invasion of Poland filming away dressed as a uniformed army war correspondent replete with revolver around her waist.

 

Oswald Burmeister (German) 'Visit of Leni Riefenstahl with a pistol at the XIV Army Corps, conversation with soldiers, on the left a film camera' Poland, September, 1939

 

Oswald Burmeister (German)
Visit of Leni Riefenstahl with a pistol at the XIV Army Corps, conversation with soldiers, on the left a film camera
Poland, September, 1939
German Federal Archives / Wikipedia (public domain)

 

 

“Four of the six feature films she directed are documentaries, made for and financed by the Nazi government… [they] celebrate the rebirth of the body and of community, mediated through the worship of an irresistible leader.”21 Susan Sontag saw Riefenstahl’s aesthetics as entirely inseparable from Nazi ideology, “consistent with some of the larger themes of Nazi ideology: the contrast between the clean and the impure, the incorruptible and the defiled, the physical and the mental, the joyful and the critical.”22

Naturally, and I use the word advisedly, the leader was male. While Riefenstahl could wish all she liked that she had power as a “New Woman”, “dominating the exclusive male society” of Nazi Germany, she was in reality just a pawn of their largesse. Women in Nazi Germany were seen mainly as baby producing machines, representing the fundamental ideologies of the role of the mother (the role of women under National Socialism). To that end the Cross of Honour of the German Mother (Mutterkreuz – Mother’s Cross) conferred by the government of the German Reich to honour a Reichsdeutsche German mother for exceptional merit to the German nation – 1st class, Gold Cross: eligible mothers with eight or more children; 2nd class, Silver Cross: eligible mothers with six or seven children; 3rd class, Bronze Cross: eligible mothers with four or five children – reinforced traditional feminine and family values, and “traditional” lifestyle patterns.23 The New Woman in Germany thus became a pure woman of German blood-heredity and genetically fit, the mother worthy of the decoration. In Nazi Germany the New Woman became “decoration” herself, the ideal protected as Sontag puts it as, “the family of man (under the parenthood of leaders).”24

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1920

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Georgia O’Keeffe
1920
Platinum print
Wikiart (Public domain)

 

 

One of the greatest artists of the twentieth-century was the painter Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986). O’Keeffe, born in a small town named Sun Prairie in Dane County, Wisconsin grew up on the family farm south of the city. “As a child she received art lessons and her abilities were recognised and encouraged by local teaches and family throughout her school years. After O’Keeffe left Sun Prairie she pursued studies at the Art Institute of Chicago (1905-1906) and at the Arts Students League, New York (1907-9108).”25 She took a job as a commercial artist and then began teaching art, taking summer at classes at the University of Virginia for several years before becoming chair of an art department beginning the fall of 1916. A friend sent some of O’Keeffe’s charcoal drawings to the photographer, gallerist and impresario Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) who exhibited them at his 291 gallery in April 1916. Stieglitz found them to be the “purest, finest, sincerest things that had entered 291 in a long while,” and in the spring of 1917 he sponsored her first one-artist exhibition at 291 – the last show held at the galleries before they closed in July of that year.

At this time, “O’Keeffe painted to express her most private sensations and feelings. Rather than sketching out a design before painting, she freely created designs. O’Keeffe continued to experiment until she believed she truly captured her feelings [in watercolour] … After her relationship with Alfred Stieglitz started, her watercolour paintings ended quickly. Stieglitz heavily encouraged her to quit because the use of watercolour was associated with amateur women artists. … Stieglitz, twenty-four years older than O’Keeffe, provided financial support and arranged for a residence and place for her to paint in New York in 1918. They developed a close personal relationship while he promoted her work. She came to know the many early American modernists who were part of Stieglitz’s circle of artists, including painters Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and photographers Paul Strand and Edward Steichen. Strand’s photography, as well as that of Stieglitz and his many photographer friends, inspired O’Keeffe’s work.”26 Stieglitz and O’Keeffe were married in 1924. Between 1918 and 1928 O’Keeffe worked primarily in New York City and at the Stieglitz family’s summer home at Lake George.

Working creatively side by side with that egotistical beomoth of American art that was Stieglitz could not have been easy. While Stieglitz promoted his wife’s art, provided financial support, directed the medium of her continued development, he also controlled her “purest” form (a symbol of the ideal) – that of her image. O’Keeffe became Stieglitz’s muse (a goddess, a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist), between 1918-1920 the photographer “making more than 140 photographs of O’Keeffe that, unlike his earlier analytic work, resonated with emotion and personal meaning… conjoining her art and her body, suggesting they were one.”27

 

“Stieglitz conceived of his portraits of O’Keeffe as a single work – a composite portrait. Each photograph stands on its own, revealing a certain innate quality at a given moment. But because change is a constant, only a series of photographs can evoke a subject’s entire being over time. To underscore the composite nature of his project, in 1921 Stieglitz exhibited more than forty photographs of O’Keeffe – many clustered by body part – under the title “Demonstration of Portraiture.”

Stieglitz and O’Keeffe married in 1924, and he continued to photograph her through the 1930s – his composite portrait eventually numbering 331 works. But his pictures of her changed markedly over the years. In 1923 when he became entranced with photographing clouds, he made smaller, more casual pictures of her at work or holding the subjects of her paintings. Many of his portraits of her from the 1930s lack the feverish intensity of those he made from 1918 to 1920 and reveal instead the distance in their relationship.”28

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Stieglitz’s early photographs of O’Keeffe capture her in intimate encounters with the camera, portraying her through the gaze of male passion. “Extreme close-ups evoke an intimate sense of touch,” “different body parts were expressive of O’Keeffe’s individuality,” while in other photographs “she looks directly and longingly at the camera…”.29 O’Keeffe’s supposed independent New Woman was tied to the coat tails of an older man, her place in the cult of beauty (the ideal of life as art) an ideal eroticism. Her image was presented not as a temptation, not as a repression of the sexual impulse … but as its ultimate revelation in the seduction of the physicality of the photograph. Stieglitz’s composite “portrait in time,” “reflects his ideals of modern womanhood and is evocative of their close relationship.”30 Under the control of the man.

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1918

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Georgia O’Keeffe
1918
Wikipedia (Public domain)

 

 

O’Keeffe of course realised the power that Stieglitz had over her and she started to remove herself from his field of vision, from his power of influence. To truly gain her independence. As Akkelies van Nes and Tra My Nguyen observed earlier, “To gain respect as artists, the image of women as muses had to disappear” as so this is what O’Keeffe did: she stopped becoming Stieglitz’s muse. After first visiting New Mexico in 1917 O’Keeffe returned to what was her spiritual home in 1929 when she travelled to Mexico with her friend Rebecca Strand and stayed in Taos with Mabel Dodge Luhan, who provided the women with studios,31 from then on spending part of nearly every year working in New Mexico. “Upon returning to the place that touched her heart so deeply, O’Keeffe’s mental health did indeed improve. Her life and her artwork would never be the same again. “I felt as if something was ending and another was beginning,” O’Keeffe once said. She began to feel more like her true self, integrated with parts of her personality that had been submerged in New York City.”32

The distance in the relationship between O’Keeffe and Stieglitz (both physical, he in New York and she in New Mexico, and spiritual with her attenuation to the Cerro Pedernal landscape) was exacerbated by his long-term relationship with Dorothy Norman which started in 1928, leading to O’Keeffe’s mental breakdown and hospitalisation in 1933. She returned to New Mexico and in August 1934 moved to Ghost Ranch, north of Abiquiú. Literally, her place in Mexico was faraway, an isolated landscape which she called the Faraway: “She often talked about her fondness for Ghost Ranch and Northern New Mexico, as in 1943, when she explained, “Such a beautiful, untouched lonely feeling place, such a fine part of what I call the ‘Faraway’. It is a place I have painted before … even now I must do it again.””33 Metaphorically, it was faraway from the life she led with Stieglitz, far away from her wifely concerns. “Shortly after O’Keeffe arrived for the summer in New Mexico in 1946, Stieglitz suffered a cerebral thrombosis. She immediately flew to New York to be with him. He died on July 13, 1946. She buried his ashes at Lake George. She spent the next three years mostly in New York settling his estate, and moved permanently to New Mexico in 1949, spending time at both Ghost Ranch and the Abiquiú house that she made into her studio.”34

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Rams Head, White Hollyhock - Hills' (Rams Head and White Hollyhock, New Mexico) 1935

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Rams Head and White Hollyhock, New Mexico
1935
Oil on canvas
Brooklyn Museum
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

Stieglitz never came to New Mexico. It was her space. Here she found her integrity, her own voice, far from the madding crowd, far from the gallery openings – a voice full of songs of the world. “She painted Taos Pueblo, San Francisco de Asís Catholic Church, a tree on the D.H. Lawrence ranch (that still stands), Mexican paper flowers, wood carvings, wild flowers, hills and sky around Taos.”35 She painted her “flowers of the desert”, bleached animal bones that were alive to her; and “she hoped people could see the music that she painted.” In New Mexico she truly became a “New Woman”: independent, intelligent, talented and famous … and her own woman – untamed by men, full of fierce self-protection and formidable work ethic, a woman adept at embracing the unknown and appreciative of the art of solitude.

 

Pushing the boundaries, finding themselves

While the physical presence of women photographers and their work in the “Roaring Twenties” or “golden 1920s” – “which saw young women breaking with traditional “mores” or likewise step aside from “traditional” lifestyle patterns”36 – was apsirational for young and independent women in order to achieve social prestige and material success, for most women photographers it was all about having a job and making a living.

Paradoxically, while the “New Woman” behind the camera “embraced photography as a mode of professional and personal expression”, promoting female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art they also bought into a capitalist system of male dominance in a patriarchal society where the “feminine” – that is a feminine perspective – underwent a process of sublimation through the sequestering (hiding away) of gender. As women photographers “sought to redefine their positions in society and expand their rights”, their independence, so women were still outsiders in the male system of the recognition of the feminine subject – both of the female body as subject and that of the female photographers’ body (although the latter less so, with the numerous self-portraits of the “New Woman” and their cameras captured in mirrors). Indeed, most “New Woman” photographers never seem to have had the desire, or the eroticism, to virtually put gender in the image. They were still in servitude to the dominant status quo.

The story of the two mites is apposite here. In the story (see below) many rich people put money into the treasury, while a poor widow puts in two mites (two small coins worth a few cents) which is all she has. “The same religious leaders who would reduce widows to poverty also encourage them to make pious donations beyond their means. In [Adison] Wright’s opinion, rather than commending the widow’s generosity, Jesus is condemning both the social system that renders her poor, and “… the value system that motivates her action, and he condemns the people who conditioned her to do it.””37 In other words, the widow (in our case the New Woman) contributes her whole livelihood to maintaining the social system (patriarchal society) that oppresses her by supporting the value system that motivates her action… a system, controlled by men, that keeps her in servitude.

Many “New Woman” photographers behind the camera had to operate in such a value system in order have a job and make a living. Variously, they had to build a career as a fashion photographer, advertising and graphic photographer, magazine photographer, studio photographer, photojournalist, war photographer, social documentary photographer, street photographer and ethnographic photographic … and usually had be proficient at most styles of photography in order to obtain sufficient work for survive. For example, Sabine Weiss bridled at being labelled a humanist, “because she considered her street photography to be just one part of her oeuvre. Most of her career was spent as a fashion photographer and a photojournalist, shooting celebrities like Brigitte Bardot and musicians like Benjamin Britten. “From the start I had to make a living from photography; it wasn’t something artistic,” Weiss told Agence France-Presse in 2014. “It was a craft, I was a craftswoman of photography.”38

I suspect for most women photographers of the era this was the truth: taking photographs wasn’t something artistic it was a craft from which they earned a living. While part of the profound shaping of the medium during a time of tremendous social and political change they did not initiate the “modernisation” of photography but were undoubtedly an important part of that movement. But, and here is the key point, they were still producing “mainstream” images and, as Annette Kuhn notes, “‘Mainstream’ images in our culture bear the traces of the capitalist and patriarchal social relations in which they are produced, exchanged and consumed.”39 They bought into the value system.

 

Among others (such as Dora Maar, Tina Modotti, Lucia Moholy, Aenne Biermann, Eva Besnyö and Florence Henri to name just a few of my favourites) … two women photographers who did push the boundaries of the art of photography and, in their case, what was acceptable in terms of the representation of gender identity were the temporarily bisexual, pan-world Germaine Krull (1897-1985) and the “neuter” (neither) photographer Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954).

Krull published her seminal book Métal in 1928 in Paris, and began to receive attention alongside other practitioners of new, assertively modern photographic styles such as Man Ray and André Kertész.

 

“With Métal, Krull turned her lens on the soaring structures of industrial Europe: Rotterdam’s railroad bridge De Hef, Marseille’s Pont Transbordeur, a number of nameless industrial cranes, factory machinery, and, most recognizably, the Eiffel Tower. The portfolio bore the subtitle “métaux nus” (bare metals), and critics have often likened these metallic bodies to the nude photographs she made around the same time. In both cases, Krull got close to her subjects, dislocating them from their environments. In Métal, Krull rendered the familiar form of the Eiffel Tower nearly unrecognizable…

In an untitled nude photograph from 1928 or ’29, she deployed a similar approach, keeping the camera fixed on an unclothed torso twisting off toward the edge of the frame with upturned face cut off at mid-cheek. The dramatic play of shadow and light renders the figure’s gender indistinct. Whether focused on a living subject or an architectural one, Krull’s camera resists the viewer’s urge to name and categorize.”40

 

 

Germaine Krull (photographer) Cover design by M. Tchimoukow. 'MÉTAL' cover 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985, photographer)
Cover design by M. Tchimoukow (Louis Bonin)
MÉTAL cover
1928
Librairie des Arts décoratifs A. Calavas, Editeur.

Portfolio comprising a title page, a preface by Florent Fels and sixty four (64) loose photogravures, each mentioning the photographer’s name, titled ‘MÉTAL’, plate number and publisher’s name. Original dust jacket. Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

Folio 30 x 23.5cm; 11 ¾ x 9 ¼ in.
Plate 29.2 x 22.5cm; 11 ½ x 8 ¾ in.
Image 23.6 x 17.1cm; 9 ¼ x 6 ½ in.

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985, photographer) From the portfolio 'Les amies' c. 1924

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985, photographer)
From the portfolio Les amies
c. 1924
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

In 1924, in an earlier portfolio of eleven photographs titled Les amies (French for “the friends,” specifically denoting female friends), Krull depicts “a pair of women in stages of gradual undress, eventually left only in their stockings, the rest of their flesh laid bare.” In a tangle of insouciant bodies that hid breasts and eyes, in which none of the models stares at the camera, Krull presents an eroticism that “is contained between the two women, with no imaginary space for a third, presumably male, viewer to enter…,” Krull dismissing “”the male gaze of Weimar culture in favor of a female gaze” and her emphasis on the gazes within the images as the female models view each other. In Les Amies, there is no space for a third party: the only possibility is to become one of the women.”41

“By photographing erotic scenes, Krull not only constructed the desiring gaze but also placed herself in the position of that gaze, taking on privileges previously permitted only to male photographers…”42 whilst at the same time transgressing the definition of middle-class respectability – all the while emphasising the fluidity of female sexual identity in the 1920s, especially for the adventurous “New Woman”.

While these images received little attention during her lifetime (much like the gender bending images of Claude Cahun) they are representations of queer desire which picture the dissolution of the controlling male gaze. Using the mirror of her / Self and her camera, Krull’s staged (erotic) encounters in Les Amies and Métal undermine the male space of control through spatial disorientation – her “reforming mirror” performing a tangle of limbs, the fragmentation of the female body in which gender becomes neutral coupled with the dismantling of the phallocentrism of the (Eiffel) tower until its form becomes an unrecognisable and different “other”. “Armed with her camera, she had the power not only to depict reality but to transform it.”43

The French surrealist photographer, sculptor, and writer Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob adopted the pseudonym Claude Cahun in 1914.

“In Disavowals, she writes: “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” … [She] is most remembered for her highly staged self-portraits and tableaux that incorporated the visual aesthetics of Surrealism. During the 1920s, Cahun produced an astonishing number of self-portraits in various guises such as aviator, dandy, doll, body builder, vamp and vampire, angel, and Japanese puppet.

Some of Cahun’s portraits feature the artist looking directly at the viewer, head shaved, often revealing only head and shoulders (eliminating body from the view), and a blurring of gender indicators and behaviours which serve to undermine the patriarchal gaze. Scholar Miranda Welby-Everard has written about the importance of theatre, performance, and costume that underlies Cahun’s work, suggesting how this may have informed the artist’s varying gender presentations.”44

.
Cahun’s self-portraiture over a period of 27 years (in collaboration with her lover Marcel Moore) was a unique investigation into the multiplicity of sexuality and gender identity. “By 1930, Cahun had amassed a considerable image bank of photographic self-portraits; that year, she publicly disseminated a handful of those images for the first and only time.”45 In her photographs she explored the mutable definitions of gender through multiple ‘masked’ personas – using photomontage, the doubling of the image (asserting another conception of gender identity that of a “third sex” or an “Androgyne”), the various ways photographs can be produced and viewed (meant to unsettle the audience’s understanding of photography as a documentation of reality), and the dissolution of the self in the space between the body and the mirror to aid her investigation. Self-reflection was not her objective in the use of the mirror but Cahun did use the mirror as a source of reflection in a contemplative, interrogatory mode in her photographs; and these were private photographs never intended for public display. “It has been proposed that these personal photographs allowed for Cahun to experiment with gender presentation and the role of the viewer to a greater degree.”46

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'Autoportrait' (Self-Portrait) c. 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait (Self-Portrait)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-Portrait' 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-Portrait
1927
Gelatin silver print
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

In Cahun’s gender non-conforming self-portraits “identity and gender is played out through performance and masquerade in a constructive way, a deep, probing interrogation of the self in front of the camera. While Cahun engages with Surrealist ideas – wearing masks and costumes and changing her appearance, often challenging traditional notions of gender representation – she does so in a direct and powerful way. As Laura Cumming observes, “She is not trying to become someone else, not trying to escape. Cahun is always and emphatically herself. Dressed as a man, she never appears masculine, nor like a woman in drag. Dressed as a woman, she never looks feminine. She is what we refer to as non-binary47 these days, though Cahun called it something else: “Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.””

Cahun had a gift for the indelible image but more than that, she possesses the propensity for humility and openness in these portraits, as though she is opening her soul for interrogation, even as she explores what it is to be Cahun, what it is to be human. This is a human being in full control of the balance between the ego and the self, of dream-state and reality. The photographs, little shown in Cahun’s lifetime, are her process of coming to terms with the external world, on the one hand, and with one’s own unique psychological characteristics on the other. They are her adaption48 to the world.”49

These were private manifestations of her inner self for the benevolence of her own spirit. She made art for herself, willing enough to face uncertainty and take the untrodden path of inner discovery. She was a “New Woman” where the term “woman” is fluid and fragmentary, open to adaptation and interpretation.

 

Claude Cahun. 'Que me veux tu?' 1929

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Que me veux tu? (What do you want from me?)
1929
Gelatin silver print
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

A proposition and, the particular becomes universal

So the question becomes – when is a photographer a photographer a photographer. Does it matter who is behind the lens?

On the evidence of almost 200 photographs in the postings on this exhibition, if the photographs were labelled “unknown photographer”, many of these images could as easily have been made by men as by women. So in one sense it does not matter. What matters is the quality of the work.

But from other perspectives of course it matters, it matters a great deal. These women photographers have been whitewashed from the history of photography as though they never existed. Their challenge to the dominant narrative of male supremacy in society and the continuation of the struggle for female visibility and emancipation, requires a recognition of their courage and sacrifices. These were talented, strong and creative human beings and their work demands the recognition it deserves.

And then we ask, why has it taken a hundred years to shift the institutionally constructed history of photography, which has been perpetuated from generation to generation, where only male photographers were to be looked at, collected, admired and displayed? And the simple answer is that one word: “men”. Although things are changing slowly, too slowly, it was and still is a patriarchal society, a system of society controlled by men, and in the time period we are talking about (1920s-1950s), it was a world where institutions and their collecting practices were controlled by men; where photography was not being collected by many museums; and where the photographs of the “New Woman” behind the camera was not seen as collectible because it was what they did to make a living… it wasn’t art.

Further, we might postulate a proposition with regard to the practice of “New Woman” photographers, a form of Zen kōan if you like:

It doesn’t matter that I am a woman / I am a woman

.
In relation to this in/sight, I muse on a quotation about the work of Imogen Cunningham: “I keep coming back to this duality: Don’t pigeonhole her for being a woman. But don’t forget she’s a woman!” says Dunn Marsh. “She photographed flowers, which people sort of treated as a feminine subject matter. But Edward Weston was photographing peppers, and nobody considered that to be an exclusively masculine subject matter.”50

If we unpack this quotation, it reads as ‘it doesn’t matter that Cunningham was a woman… but don’t forget she’s a woman!’. Weston made images of peppers and nobody commented on his masculinity or the masculine “nature” of his subject matter and the same should go for Cunningham. Just because she is a women why comment on the femininity of flowers – but don’t forget Imogen is a women! It’s about the quality of the work, not the gender of the artist and then maybe it’s about being female but only if the artist chooses it to be … (Georgia O’Keeffe got very annoyed by the reading of her close-up flower paintings which many interpreted as representing female genitalia, insisting that the paintings has nothing to do with female sexuality).

Finally we can say, it’s doesn’t matter what gender you are when you look through the camera lens (as a machine it’s impartial), it is about the reality of yourself as a human being and your relationship to the camera. The actions of the photographer are a personal engagement with the camera (in other words, in relation to the women behind the camera, the camera in relation to her/Self) but through direct action – an engagement with time and light – their can be a shift in consciousness from the personal (the particular) to the universal.

It shouldn’t (that is the key word) matter whether you are male or female … it’s about the quality of the work and it’s about following the light. The light of self recognition of the path that you are on. As Maria Popova insightfully observes,

“And so the best we can do is walk step by next intuitively right step until one day, pausing to catch our breath, we turn around and gasp at a path. If we have been lucky enough, if we have been willing enough to face the uncertainty, it is our own singular path, unplotted by our anxious younger selves, untrodden by anyone else.”51

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The “New Woman” broke new ground by challenging the (in)visibility of women in a male dominated world. She placed herself in a man’s world but she still had to fit into that man’s world and conform to his image of her. But she followed her path of uncertainty with conviction and motivation, a path until then untrodden by anyone else, until she turned around and found that she had forged her own singular path, had looked within and had found her own voice. Looking back from a contemporary perspective we can finally recognise the struggle of the “New Woman” behind the camera, we can see their singular paths and recognise their achievements. What we can learn from the “New Woman” today, is that we all have a choice… to accept the status quo or offer determined defiance to prejudiced social conventions.

All human beings have to live within the parameters of social constructs but as human beings what we can do is push against the limits society imposes on us, push against the barriers of economic, political and sexual freedom. We can transgress the taboo. We can struggle that great and mighty struggle on the path of life, to push at the boundaries of being. What we all need to do, both women and men, is to find our integrity in relation to the reality of the world and to our own spirit. Through the efforts of those that came before us, we all now have a choice as to the path we follow and how we fit into this multifarious society.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

January 2021

Word count: 8,590

 

Footnotes

  1. Anonymous text. “George Sand,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 14/12/2021
  2. Victor Hugo. Les funérailles de George Sand quoted “Emancipated Woman,” in the Saturday Review: Politics, Literature, Science and Art, Volume 41, June 17, 1876, pp. 771 [Online] Cited 14/12/2021
  3. Anonymous text. “Camille Claudel,” on the Musée Rodin website [Online] Cited 14/12/2021
  4. Anonymous text. “Camille Claudel,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 14/12/2021
  5. Musée Rodin op cit.,
  6. Janet Wolff. “The Invisible Flaneuse. Women and the Literature of Modernity” in Theory, Culture and Society Volume 2, Number 3, Sage, 1985, p. 42
  7. Ibid., p. 44
  8. Ibid.,
    “When flanerie moves into the private realm of the department store, feminization alters this urban practice almost beyond recognition … By abolishing the distance between the individual and the commodity, the feminization of flanerie redefines it out of existence. The flaneur‘s dispassionate gaze dissipates under pressure from the shoppers’ passionate engagement in the world of things to be purchase and possessed. The flaneur ends up going shopping after all. … The department store cannot be the scene of urban strolling, not only because it is an enclosed and circumscribed space, but, more importantly, because shopping is a pre-defined and purposeful activity.”
    Janet Wolff. “Gender and the haunting of cities (or, the retirement of the flâneur),” in Aruna D’Souza and Tom McDonough (eds.,) The Invisible Flâneuse? Gender, Public Space, and Visual Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris. London, UK: Manchester UP, 2006, p. 21
  9. Flaneur – “The flaneur symbolises the privilege or freedom to move about the public arenas of the city observing but never interacting, consuming the sights through a controlling but rarely-acknowledged gaze… The flaneur embodies the gaze of modernity which is both covetous and erotic. … The site of pleasurable looking, this look actively cast women as passive, erotic objects, subjecting them to a kind of voyeuristic control; it was in this sense that the visual purview of the bourgeois stroller – now the representative of middle-class masculinity in its entirety – became thoroughly implicated in issues of gender.”
    Griselda Pollock. Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and the Histories of Art. London, UK: Routledge, 1988.
  10. Akkelies van Nes and Tra My Nguyen. “Gender Differences in the Urban Environment: The flâneur and flâneuse of the 21st Century,” in Daniel Koch, Lars Marcus and Jesper Steen (eds.,). Proceedings of the 7th International Space Syntax Symposium. Stockholm: KTH, 2009
  11. Ibid.,
    “Prostitution was indeed the female version of flânerie, which serves only to emphasise the inequality of gender differences in this era. The male flâneur was simply a man who loitered on the streets; but women who loitered risked being seen as prostitutes, streetwalkers, or les grandes horizontales as they were known in nineteenth-century Paris.”
    Bobby Seal. “From Streetwalker to Street Walker: The Rise of the Flâneuse,” on the Psychogeographic Review website 24/12/20212 [Online] Cited 20/01/2022
  12. Bianca Hall and Adam Cooper. “From Jill Meagher to Aiia Maasarwe: The murders that changed Melbourne over the past decade,” on The Age website December 30, 2019 [Online] Cited 15/12/2021.
  13. “Suffragette,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 14/12/2021
  14. Aruna D’Souza and Tom McDonough (eds.,) The Invisible Flâneuse? Gender, Public Space, and Visual Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris. London, UK: Manchester UP, 2006, p. 8
  15. Ibid., p. 6
  16. Steven Bach quoted in Carl Rollyson. “Leni Riefenstahl on Trial,” on The New York Sun website March 7, 2007 [Online] Cited 04/01/2022
  17. Anonymous. “Leni Riefenstahl,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2021
  18. Ibid.,
  19. Taylor Downing. “Leni: fully exposed,” on The Observer website Sun 29 April 2007 [Online] Cited 12/01/2022
  20. Kate Connolly. “Burying Leni Riefenstahl: one woman’s lifelong crusade against Hitler’s favourite film-maker,” on The Guardian website Thursday 9 December 2021 [Online] Cited 12/01/2022
  21. Susan Sontag. “Fascinating Fascism,” in The New York Review February 6, 1975 issue [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  22. Ibid.,
  23. See “Cross of Honour of the German Mother” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 12/01/2022
  24. Sontag, op. cit.,
  25. Text from a sign commemorating birth of Georgia O’Keeffe, located next to Sun Prairie City Hall, 300 E, Main Street
  26. Anonymous. “Georgia O’Keeffe,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2022
  27. Mark Levitch. “Stieglitz Career Overview: Georgia O’Keeffe, 1918-1920,” on the National Gallery of Art website Nd [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  28. Ibid.,
  29. Ibid.,
  30. John Black. “Alfred Stieglitz and Modern America,” on the Boston Event Guide website Wednesday, 23 August 2017 [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  31. Anonymous. “Georgia O’Keeffe,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  32. Roberta Courtney Meyers. “O’Keeffe in Taos,” on the Taos News website May 21, 2019 [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  33. Anonymous. “Georgia O’Keeffe,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  34. Ibid.,
  35. Meyers, op. cit.,
  36. Anonymous. “Cross of Honour of the German Mother” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 12/01/2022
  37. Anonymous. “Lesson of the widow’s mite,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2022
  38. Clay Risen. “Sabine Weiss, Last of the ‘Humanist’ Street Photographers, Dies at 97,” on The New York Times website Jan 4, 2022 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022
  39. Annette Kuhn. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, p. 10.
  40. Marina Molarsky-Beck. “Germaine Krull’s Queer Vision,” on The Met website August 17 2021 [Online] Cited 15/12/2021
  41. Anonymous. “Germaine Krull, From Séries les Amies, 1924,” on the La Petite Mélancolie website 19/06/2012 [Online] Cited 15/01/2022
  42. Ibid.,
  43. Ibid.,
  44. Anonymous. “Claude Cahun,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 16/01/2022
  45. Jennifer Josten. “Reconsidering Self-Portraits by Women Surrealists: A Case Study of Claude Cahun and Frida Kahlo,” in the Atlantis Journal Vol. 30, No. 2, 30/02/2006 p. 24
  46. Anonymous. “Claude Cahun,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 16/01/2022
  47. Those with non-binary genders can feel that they: Have an androgynous (both masculine and feminine) gender identity, such as androgyne. Have an identity between male and female, such as intergender. Have a neutral or unrecognised gender identity, such as agender, neutrois, or most xenogenders.
  48. “The constant flow of life again and again demands fresh adaptation. Adaptation is never achieved once and for all.” Carl Jung. “The Transcendent Function,” CW 8, par. 143.
  49. Marcus Bunyan. “Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask” on the Art Blart website 24th May 2017 [Online] Cited 16/01/2022
  50. Dunn Marsh quoted in Margo Vansynghel. “How Seattle’s Imogen Cunningham changed photography forever,” on the Crosscut website November 16, 2021 [Online] Cited 08/01/2022
  51. Maria Popova. “Carl Jung on How to Live and the Origin of “Do the Next Right Thing”,” on The Marginalian website 12th July 2021 [Online] Cited 13/12/2021

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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.

 

 

Uncertainty is the price of beauty, and integrity the only compass for the territory of uncertainty that constitutes the landmass of any given life.

And so the best we can do is walk step by next intuitively right step until one day, pausing to catch our breath, we turn around and gasp at a path. If we have been lucky enough, if we have been willing enough to face the uncertainty, it is our own singular path, unplotted by our anxious younger selves, untrodden by anyone else.

.
Maria Popova. “Carl Jung on How to Live and the Origin of “Do the Next Right Thing”,” on The Marginalian website 12th July 2021 [Online] Cited 13/12/2021

 

The beautiful woman will continue to serve as a symbol of feminine mystery to the man who desires her and of potency and success to the man who can claim her. And to the women around her, she will remain a symbol of the ideal against which they will be judged. This can only change when beauty loses its distorted power in the evaluation of a “woman’s worth”; that is, when the dependent relationship between women and men has been dismantled. Thus are the politics of appearance inextricably bound up with the structures of social, political and economic inequality … Fighting pressure to conform, attempting to hold one’s own against the commercial and cultural images of the acceptable is a crucial first act of resistance. The attempt to pass and blend in actually hides us from those we most resemble. We end up robbing each other of authentic reflections of ourselves. Instead, imperfectibly visible behind a fashion of conformity, we fear to meet each others’ eyes …

Real diversity can only become a source of strength if we learn to acknowledge it rather than disguise it. Only then can we recognize each other as different and therefore exciting, imperfect and as such enough.

.
Wendy Chapkis. Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance. Boston: South End Press, 1986, p. 175.

 

… in practice, images are always seen in context: they always have a specific use value in the particular time and place of their consumption. This, together with their formal characteristics, conditions and limits the meanings available from them at any on moment. But if representations always have use value, then more often than not they also have exchange value: they circulate as commodities in a social / economic system. This further conditions, or overdetermines, the meanings available from representations. Meanings do not reside in images, then: they are circulated between representation, spectator and social function.

.
Kuhn, Annette. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, p. 6.

 

Meanings readable from photographs … are at all points connected with the status they occupy as products, with the contexts of reception and the discourses of authorship, aesthetics, criticism and marketing which surround them. ‘Mainstream’ images in our culture bear the traces of the capitalist and patriarchal social relations in which they are produced, exchanged and consumed.

.
Kuhn, Annette. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, p. 10.

 

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) 'Woman Selling Her and Her Husband's Poetry Books (Street Snapshot in Tokyo)' c. 1950-1953, printed 1993

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
Woman Selling Her and Her Husband’s Poetry Books (Street Snapshot in Tokyo)
c. 1950-1953, printed 1993
Gelatin silver print
Image: 29.6 x 29.6cm (11 5/8 x 11 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 41 x 51.2 x 2.5cm (16 1/8 x 20 3/16 x 1 in.)
Collection of Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

 

 

Lesson of the widow’s mite

The lesson of the widow’s mite or the widow’s offering is presented in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4), in which Jesus is teaching at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Gospel of Mark specifies that two mites (Greek lepta) are together worth a quadrans, the smallest Roman coin. A lepton was the smallest and least valuable coin in circulation in Judea, worth about six minutes of an average daily wage.

 

Biblical narrative

“He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.'”

 

Commentary

… In the passage immediately prior to Jesus taking a seat opposite the Temple treasury, he is portrayed as condemning religious leaders who feign piety, accept honour from people, and steal from widows. “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honour in synagogues, and places of honour at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

The same religious leaders who would reduce widows to poverty also encourage them to make pious donations beyond their means. In [Adison] Wright’s opinion, rather than commending the widow’s generosity, Jesus is condemning both the social system that renders her poor, and “… the value system that motivates her action, and he condemns the people who conditioned her to do it.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) 'The Labor Offensive Heats Up' 1946, printed 1993

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
The Labor Offensive Heats Up
1946, printed 1993
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.9 x 37.2cm (9 13/16 x 14 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 41 x 51.2 x 2.5cm (16 1/8 x 20 3/16 x 1 in.)
Collection of Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) '"Living New Look" Photography Exhibition' 1950, printed 1993

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
“Living New Look” Photography Exhibitionkru
1950, printed 1993
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.6 x 29.5cm (14 13/16 x 11 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8 cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 41 x 51.2 x 2.5 cm (16 1/8 x 20 3/16 x 1 in.)
Collection of Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

 

Photographer unknown. 'Tsuneko Sasamoto, Tokyo' 1940, printed 2020

 

Photographer unknown
Tsuneko Sasamoto, Tokyo
1940, printed 2020
Inkjet print
Image: 18.2 x 18.2cm (7 3/16 x 7 3/16 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 35.56cm (18 x 14 in.)
Frame (outer): 46.99 x 36.83cm (18 1/2 x 14 1/2 in.)
Tsuneko Sasamoto / Japan Professional Photographers Society

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) 'Hiroshima Peace Memorial' 1953, printed 2020

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
Hiroshima Peace Memorial
1953, printed 2020
Inkjet print
Image: 37.4 x 37.3cm (14 3/4 x 14 11/16 in.)
Frame: 55.88 x 50.8cm (22 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 57.15 x 52.07cm (22 1/2 x 20 1/2 in.)
Tsuneko Sasamoto / Japan Professional Photographers Society

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) 'Untitled' 1940, printed 2020

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
Untitled
1940, printed 2020
Inkjet print image: 47.5 x 33.8cm (18 11/16 x 13 5/16 in.)
Frame: 60.96 x 45.72cm (24 x 18 in.)
Tsuneko Sasamoto / Japan Professional Photographers Society

 

Toshiko Okanoue (Japanese, b. 1928) 'Full of Life' 1954

 

Toshiko Okanoue (Japanese, b. 1928)
Full of Life
1954
Collage on paper
Image/sheet: 23.8 x 24.9cm (9 3/8 x 9 13/16 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 43.18cm (21 x 17 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Okanoue Toshiko

 

 

Toshiko Okanoue (岡上 淑子, Okanoue Toshiko, born 3 January 1928) is a Japanese artist associated with the Japanese avant-garde art world of the 1950s and best known for her Surrealist photo collages. …

 

Early career

Born in Kochi and raised in Tokyo, Okanoue began to make photo collages while studying fashion and drawing at the Bunka Gakuin in Tokyo in the early 1950s. The young Okanoue, initially knew little of art history or the Surrealist movement.

In 1952, a classmate from Keisen Girls’ High School introduced Okanoue to poet and art critic Shuzo Takiguichi, a leading figure in the Japanese Surrealist movement, who would help introduce her to the wider art world, including the work of European Surrealists, such as German artist Max Ernst, who was an influence on her subsequent work.

Over the next six years she would produce over 100 works. She exhibited in two exhibits including, solo shows at the Takemiya Gallery in Tokyo, In the second show at Takemiya, over fifty pieces of Okanoue’s monochrome photographs were hung on display. Also exhibited at the “Abstract and Illusion” exhibition at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo between 1 December 1953 and 20 January 1954, which attracted total of 16,657 audiences appreciating 91 artworks by 91 artists.

 

Artistic style

In post-war Japan, shortages of goods meant that foreign goods filled the market and fashion and lifestyle magazines such as Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and Life magazine provided the raw materials for Okanoue’s collages. Her black and white photo collages mix images of places, objects and people, often fashionable European women, in dynamic and often unsettling compositions whose subjects explored themes of war, femininity and the relations between the sexes.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Photographer unknown. 'Page spread featuring Eiko Yamazawa and her assistant, from the "Photo Times"' October 1940

 

Photographer unknown
Page spread featuring Eiko Yamazawa and her assistant, from the “Photo Times”
October 1940
Magazine
Open: 25.4 x 30.48cm (10 x 12 in.)
Cradle: 8.89 x 33.02 x 26.35 cm (3 1/2 x 13 x 10 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art Library, Gift of the Department of Photographs

 

American, 20th Century. '"Photo-Fighter," in "True Comics"' July 1944

 

American, 20th Century
“Photo-Fighter,” in “True Comics”
July 1944
Comic book
Open: 25.4 x 35.56cm (10 x 14 in.)
National Gallery of Art Library, Gift of the Department of Photographs

 

Elisabeth Hase (German, 1905-1991) 'Ohne Titel (Weinende Frau)' (Untitled (Crying woman)) c. 1934

 

Elisabeth Hase (German, 1905-1991)
Ohne Titel (Weinende Frau) (Untitled (Crying woman))
c. 1934
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 22.8 x 17.1cm (9 x 6 3/4 in.)
Frame (outer): 44.5 x 36.8cm (17 1/2 x 14 1/2 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2016
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art Resource, NY

 

 

Elisabeth Hase (December 16, 1905 – October 9, 1991) was a German commercial and documentary photographer active in Frankfurt from 1932 until her death in 1991, at the age of 85.

Hase was born in Döhlen bei Leipzig, Germany. She studied typography and commercial art from 1924 to 1929 at the School of Applied Arts, and later at the Städelschule, under, among other teachers, Paul Renner and Willi Baumeister. Hase was active as a photographer during the time of the transition from the Weimar Republic to the Third Reich and through post-WWII Germany. She was able to avoid government oversight of her work by establishing her own photographic studio in 1933.

Hase’s work included surreal photography, such as close-up photographs of dolls.

She received several awards, several for paper designs and collages. During a two-year collaboration in the studio of Paul Wolff and Alfred Tritschler, Hase took architectural photographs in New Objectivity style for the magazine Das Neue Frankfurt (The New Frankfurt) and documentary photographs of modern housing projects, including those of Ferdinand Kramer.

In 1932, Hase started her own business. It focused on timeless designs like still life, structures, plants, dolls, people, especially self-portraits. Often she used herself as a model in her photographic “picture stories.” Cooperation with agencies like Holland Press Service and the Agency Schostal enabled her to publish her photographs internationally.

Despite the bombing of Frankfurt in 1944 by the Allies, Hare’s photographic archive survived the war without major damage. Many of those works are now part of the collections held by the Folkwang Museum in Essen, Germany, in the Albertina (Vienna) in Vienna, and in the Walter Gropius estate in the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin, as well as in private collections in Germany and abroad.

Despite loss of her cameras and other technical equipment in the chaos of war, Hase was able to resume taking photographs in 1946 by the help of emigre friends who provided her with film and cameras to use. Among other subjects Hase documented was the reconstruction of St. Paul’s Church in Frankfurt.

From 1949, her work focused on advertising, consisting mostly of plant portraits.

Hase died at the age of 85 in 1991 in Frankfurt am Main.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Erna Lendvai-Dircksen (German, 1883-1962) 'Mädchen aus dem Guttachtal, Schwarzwald' (Young Woman from the Guttach Valley, Black Forest) Before 1934

 

Erna Lendvai-Dircksen (German, 1883-1962)
Mädchen aus dem Guttachtal, Schwarzwald (Young Woman from the Guttach Valley, Black Forest)
Before 1934
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.1 x 13.2cm (6 3/4 x 5 3/16 in.)
Mount: 26 x 18.4cm (10 1/4 x 7 1/4 in.)
Frame (outer): 52.07 x 39.37cm (20 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Erna Lendvai-Dircksen (born Erna Katherina Wilhelmine Dircksen, 31 May 1883 – 8 May 1962) was a German photographer known for a series of volumes of portraits of rural individuals from throughout Germany. During the Third Reich, she also photographed for eugenicist publications and was commissioned to document the new autobahn and the workers constructing it. …

 

Critical reception

Lendvai-Dircksen’s portraits of farmers suited the Nazi ethos except that in her initial publication, almost all her subjects were old, and indeed she clearly portrayed the damage to their bodies as a sign of authenticity. She later widened her focus to include children. She never, however, photographed sport, whether for technical reasons or because of her personal philosophy.

Although Lendvai-Dircksen has been referred to as “brown Erna” for the promotion of Nazi ideals in her work under the Third Reich, her portrait photography can be compared to the work of Dorothea Lange or Walker Evans as documentation of impoverished people, and Margaret Bourke-White also photographed labourers in a heroic light. As pointed out by Berlin photographic curator Janos Frecot in the catalogue of an exhibition at the Albertina which included her work, her portraits and those of others at the time can be seen as applications of the same ethnographic principle as portraits of people in faraway cultures; similarly, Leesa Rittelmann has shown that the same principle of characterising a country by the physiognomies of its people, although a throwback to 19th-century theories, was shared by Weimar-era photographers such as the progressive August Sander, in his Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Annemarie Heinrich (Argentinian born Germany, 1912-2005) 'Serge Lifar, "El espectro de la rosa"' (Serge Lifar, "The Spirit of the Rose") 1935

 

Annemarie Heinrich (Argentinian born Germany, 1912-2005)
Serge Lifar, “El espectro de la rosa” (Serge Lifar, “The Spirit of the Rose”)
1935
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.4 x 20.7cm (11 3/16 x 8 1/8 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 35.56cm (18 x 14 in.)
Frame (outer): 49.53 x 39.37cm (19 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund

 

 

Annemarie Heinrich (9 January 1912 – 22 September 2005) was a German-born naturalised Argentine photographer, who specialised in portraits and nude photographs. Heinrich is considered one of Argentina’s most important photographers.

She is known for having photographed various celebrities of Argentine cinema, such as Tita Merello, Carmen Miranda, Zully Moreno and Mirtha Legrand; as well as other cultural personalities like Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda and Eva Perón. She also photographed landscapes, city scenes, animals, and abstracts. Her photographs of South America hold significant ethnographic value, showing changes to the area through the 20th century.

 

Career

In 1930, she opened her first studio in Villa Ballester, Buenos Aires. She also married Ricardo Sanguinetti, a writer under the name Alvaro Sol, in the same year. Two years later she moved to a larger studio and began photographing actors from the Teatro Colón.

Heinrich co-founded Foto Club Argentino and was a founding member of Consejo Argentino de Fotografía (Argentine Council on Photography) and the Consejo Latinoamericano de Fotografía (Latin American Council on Photography). Her photos were also the cover of magazines such as El Hogar, Sintonía, Alta Sociedad, Radiolandia and Antena for forty years.

In Argentina during the Second World War, Heinrich was part of the anti-war movement, Consejo Argentino por la Paz (Argentinian Council for Peace). She was also in the Junta de la Victoria (Victory Board), a women’s group advocating against fascism and for the Allies. After the war, Heinrich travelled across Europe, exhibiting her work in Rome, Milan, Paris, and Zürich. In the 1950s Heinrich was part of a modernist group calling themselves Carpeta de los diez (Group of Ten).

Heinrich was brought to court in 1991 for displaying one of her nude photographs in the Avenida Callao studio window. National and international outcry in support of Heinrich and the aesthetic value of the photograph led to the case being dropped.

In 2015, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires held a retrospective of her work. Heinrich’s work was shown in New York for the first time in 2016 at Nailya Alexander Gallery in the show “Annemarie Heinrich: Glamour and Modernity in Buenos Aires.”

Heinrich’s archive has been digitised in a project between the British Library Endangered Archives Programme and the Institute for Research in Art and Culture, Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero, in 2016. The collection is available online at the Endangered Archives Programme website.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985) 'Ohne Titel (Studie für "Der Akt")' (Untitled (Study for "The Nude")) 1924

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985)
Ohne Titel (Studie für “Der Akt”) (Untitled (Study for “The Nude”))
1924
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.23 x 16.51cm (8 3/4 x 6 1/2 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 43.18cm (21 x 17 in.)
Trish and Jan de Bont

 

 

The photographer Germaine Krull is little known outside of specialist circles today, but in 1928 she was the toast of Paris. Her avant-garde photographs of the city filled the pages of VU, a magazine known for its dynamic spreads and modern, bold aesthetic. Krull was one of its signature photographers. She shot sailors on the docks, piles of curios at the flea market, dancers at the Moulin Rouge. As both photojournalist and art photographer, Krull was one of the leading lights of the Parisian photography scene. Her pictures hung in the Salon de l’Escalier, a major exhibition of modernist photography, and over the next few years, her work featured in exhibitions across Europe. By 1931, the cultural critic Walter Benjamin used Krull as an example of photography’s potential in his celebrated essay “Little History of Photography.”1

Krull, born in Posen (then Germany, now Poznán, Poland), wound up in Paris after an itinerant childhood, a few years’ study of photography in Munich, and a series of political embroilments that sound like the stuff of fiction. Banned from Bavaria for aiding a Bolshevik emissary’s attempted escape through the Alps, she was later deported from the Soviet Union as a supposed counterrevolutionary.

After a stint in Berlin, where she ran her own photography studio, she made her way to Paris. There, she published her photo book Métal in 1928 and began to receive attention alongside other practitioners of new, assertively modern photographic styles such as Man Ray and André Kertész.

With Métal, Krull turned her lens on the soaring structures of industrial Europe: Rotterdam’s railroad bridge De Hef, Marseille’s Pont Transbordeur, a number of nameless industrial cranes, factory machinery, and, most recognizably, the Eiffel Tower.2 The portfolio bore the subtitle “métaux nus” (bare metals), and critics have often likened these metallic bodies to the nude photographs she made around the same time. In both cases, Krull got close to her subjects, dislocating them from their environments. In Métal, Krull rendered the familiar form of the Eiffel Tower nearly unrecognizable. She tended to shoot the tower from beneath, its iron lattices stretching vertiginously upward, such that the monument’s iconic shape is lost.

In an untitled nude photograph from 1928 or ’29, she deployed a similar approach, keeping the camera fixed on an unclothed torso twisting off toward the edge of the frame with upturned face cut off at mid-cheek. The dramatic play of shadow and light renders the figure’s gender indistinct. Whether focused on a living subject or an architectural one, Krull’s camera resists the viewer’s urge to name and categorize.

Before Krull became a famous Parisian photojournalist, she made a series of enigmatic pictures of female couples. In 1924, while living in Berlin, Krull shot a portfolio of eleven photographs entitled Les amies (French for “the friends,” specifically denoting female friends). The photographs depict a pair of women in stages of gradual undress, eventually left only in their stockings, the rest of their flesh laid bare. In the narrative that unfolds from image to image, the two women move between sofa and floor: the shape of their union shifts but their bodies remain interlocked. The images were risqué enough that they received little attention during Krull’s lifetime – perhaps a bit too lewd for fine art display, and yet not quite pornographic either. Certainly though, these photographs are representations of queer desire; they were made by an artist who desired women herself.

In her memoirs, Krull describes the relationship she had with a woman (perhaps pseudonymously) referred to as “Elsa,” noting, “We would have laughed if someone had labeled us lesbians.” At the time, Krull and Elsa were both married to men, and Krull frames the affair as an exception. She calls Elsa “the only woman I have loved and who has loved me.” In another passage, she seems to contradict herself, stating, “I never loved a woman.” But she does not altogether dismiss this relationship: “With Elsa, the joy of feeling united was so great. … She was so much mine that the physical question did not count.”3

One of the Les amies photographs in The Met collection shows two women wrapped in an amorous knot, so engaged in their pursuit of pleasure that their faces remain almost entirely obscured. This elision of the models’ faces is, perhaps, an effect of modesty or concealing their identity, but it also produces a sense of intense absorption in the sexual act – despite performing for a camera, the two women seem concerned only with each other. The photographs offer a vision of queer feminine sexuality in its most visible form.

Krull’s straightforward depiction of these female lovers is all the more striking given that she took these photographs at a time when lesbians were often imagined to be invisible – or at the very least, imperceptible. In the interwar years of the 1920s and ’30s, and especially in France, anxieties ran high about precisely this problem. If lesbians could not be identified on sight, how could they be apprehended? How could the dangers of rampant female sexuality be curtailed with lesbians walking around Paris in plain sight, undetected? These worries occupied novelists, social scientists, and sexologists alike, as Carolyn J. Dean describes in her book, The Frail Social Body.4

Krull, unlike her (largely male) contemporaries, seems to have had no trouble locating queer female sexuality, or representing it. On the contrary, the Les amies photographs adopt a direct, frontal view of the two lovers. Krull’s models become almost indistinguishable over the course of the series. This compositional strategy suggests a particularly queer eroticization of sameness, very different from the conception of a butch-femme dyad imaged by Krull’s contemporary Brassaï in his photographs of the Parisian lesbian bar Le Monocle. But the representation of queerness as a kind of doubling accords with popular French conceptions of the so-called sapphist as a “female Narcissus,” as Nicole Albert puts it in her 2005 study of the lesbian phantasm at the fin-de-siècle, Lesbian Decadence.5

Just as Narcissus gazed upon his own likeness, the lesbian often appeared in popular representations gazing upon another woman as a kind of mirror image of herself. Mirrors, long linked with feminine vanity, became a convenient shorthand for the idea that lesbian desire is the ultimate narcissism. This allowed for artists and writers to simultaneously denounce sexual immorality and the eroticization of that sin. Contemporary illustrations in magazines and advertisements, for instance, offered up sensuous sights of women embracing through, near, or against mirrors. The mirror’s reflection plays up the autoeroticism of self-regard, and supposedly of sapphism itself. Meanwhile, literary accounts of lesbianism in the interwar period frequently staged scenes of erotic encounters in mirrored rooms.6 Such spaces – be they brothels, nightclubs, or private bedrooms – facilitated both voyeurism and spatial disorientation.

Nor was sapphism the mirror’s only resonance in the 1920s. Contemporary critics frequently compared photography to a mirror. The poet and polymath Jean Cocteau, for instance, told Krull of her art: “You are a reforming mirror. You and the darkroom [chambre noire] obtain a new world, a world that has passed through [the camera’s] workings and a soul.”7 Here, he plays upon the double meaning present in the French “chambre noire,” which refers at once to the literal darkroom where photographs are developed and to the camera obscura, which we might think of as a stand-in for the enterprise of photography itself. As Cocteau would have it, Krull herself was the mirror, not photography. Armed with her camera, she had the power not only to depict reality but to transform it.”

Marina Molarsky-Beck. “Germaine Krull’s Queer Vision,” on The Met website August 17 2021 [Online] Cited 15/12/2021

 

Footnotes

  1. Walter W. Benjamin, “Little History of Photography,” in Selected Writings: 1927-1934, ed. Howard Eiland, Michael W. Jennings, and Gary Smith, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press, 1996), 507-28
  2. Kim Sichel, Making Strange: The Modernist Photobook in France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020), 19
  3. Germaine Krull, La vie mène la danse, ed. Françoise Denoyelle (Textuel, 2015), 179-180
  4. Carolyn J. Dean, The Frail Social Body: Pornography, Homosexuality, and Other Fantasies in Interwar France (Berkeley, C.A.: University of California Press, 2000)
  5. Nicole G. Albert, Lesbian Decadence: Representations in Art and Literature of Fin-de-Siècle France, trans. Nancy Erber and William A. Peniston (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 241-242. Originally published as Albert, Saphisme et décadence dans Paris fin-de-siècle (Paris: Martinière, 2005)
  6. Dean, The Frail Social Body, 193
  7. “Vous êtes un miroir reformant. Vous et la chambre noire obtenez un monde neuf, un monde qui a traversé des mécanismes et une âme.” Jean Cocteau, Jean Cocteau to Germaine Krull, April 1930. Quoted in Pierre MacOrlan, Germaine Krull (Paris: Librairie Gallimard, 1931), 16

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985) 'André Malraux' 1930

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985)
André Malraux
1930
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 16cm (8 7/8 x 6 5/16 in.)
Mount: 29.1 x 22.8cm (11 7/16 x 9 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 35.56cm (18 x 14 in.)
Frame (outer): 49.53 x 39.37cm (19 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, R. K. Mellon Family Foundation
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985) 'Selbstporträt mit Icarette' (Self-Portrait with Icarette) c. 1925, printed 1978

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985)
Selbstporträt mit Icarette (Self-Portrait with Icarette)
c. 1925, printed 1978
Gelatin silver print sheet: 30.8 x 24.3cm (12 1/8 x 9 9/16 in.)
Image: 23.3 x 17.3cm (9 3/16 x 6 13/16 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 43.18cm (21 x 17 in.)
Department of Image Collections, National Gallery of Art Library © Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

During the 1920s, the iconic New Woman was splashed across the pages of magazines and projected on the silver screen. As a global phenomenon, she embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Featuring more than 120 photographers from over 20 countries, the groundbreaking exhibition, The New Woman Behind the Camera, explores the diverse “new” women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and personal expression from the 1920s to the 1950s. The first exhibition to take an international approach to the subject, it examines how women brought their own perspectives to artistic experimentation, studio portraiture, fashion and advertising work, scenes of urban life, ethnography, and photojournalism, profoundly shaping the medium during a time of tremendous social and political change. Accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, this landmark exhibition will be on view from October 31, 2021 through January 30, 2022, in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington. It was previously on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from July 2 through October 3, 2021.

In an era when traditional definitions of womanhood were being questioned, women’s lives were a mix of emancipating and confining experiences that varied by country. Many women around the world found the camera to be a means of independence as they sought to redefine their positions in society and expand their rights. This exhibition presents a geographically, culturally, and artistically diverse range of practitioners to advance new conversations about the history of modern photography and the continual struggle of women to gain creative agency and self-representation.

“This innovative exhibition reevaluates the history of modern photography through the lens of the New Woman, a feminist ideal that emerged at the end of the 19th century and spread globally during the first half of the 20th century,” said Kaywin Feldman, director, National Gallery of Art. “The transnational realities of modernism visualised in photography by women such as Lola Álvarez Bravo, Berenice Abbott, Claude Cahun, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Niu Weiyu, Tsuneko Sasamoto, and Homai Vyarawalla offer us an opportunity to better understand the present by becoming more fully informed of the past.”

 

About the exhibition

This landmark exhibition critically examines the extraordinary impact women had on the practice of photography worldwide from the 1920s to the 1950s. It presents the work of over 120 international photographers who took part in a dramatic expansion of the medium propelled by artistic creativity, technological innovation, and the rise of the printed press. Photographers such as Berenice Abbott, Ilse Bing, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Madame d’Ora, Florence Henri, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Dora Maar, Niu Weiyu, Eslanda Goode Robeson, Tsuneko Sasamoto, Gerda Taro, and Homai Vyarawalla, among many others, emerged at a tumultuous moment in history that was profoundly shaped by two world wars, a global economic depression, struggles for decolonisation, and the rise of fascism and communism. Against the odds, these women were at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

Organised thematically in eight galleries, The New Woman Behind the Camera illustrates women’s groundbreaking work in modern photography, exploring their innovations in the fields of social documentary, avant-garde experimentation, commercial studio practice, photojournalism, ethnography, and the recording of sports, dance, and fashion. By evoking the global phenomenon of the New Woman, the exhibition seeks to reevaluate the history of photography and advance new and more inclusive conversations on the contributions of female photographers.

Known by different names, from nouvelle femme and neue Frau to modan gāru and xin nüxing, the New Woman was easy to recognise but hard to define. Fashionably dressed with her hair bobbed, the self-assured cosmopolitan New Woman was arguably more than a marketable image. She was a contested symbol of liberation from traditional gender roles. Revealing how women photographers from around the world gave rise to and embodied the quintessential New Woman even as they critiqued the popular construction of the role, the exhibition opens with a group of compelling portraits and self-portraits. In these works, women defined their positions as professionals and artists during a time when they were seeking greater personal rights and freedoms.

For many women, the camera became an effective tool for self-determination as well as a source of income. With better access to education and a newfound independence, female photographers emerged as a major force in studio photography. From running successful businesses in Berlin, Buenos Aires, London, and Vienna, to earning recognition as one of the first professional female photographers in their home country, women around the world, including Karimeh Abbud, Steffi Brandl, Trude Fleischmann, Annemarie Heinrich, Eiko Yamazawa, and Madame Yevonde, reinvigorated studio practice. A collaborative space where both sitters and photographers negotiated gender, race, and cultural difference, the portrait studio was also vitally important to African American communities which sought to represent and define themselves within a society that continued to be plagued by racism. Photography studios run by Black women, such as Florestine Perrault Collins and Winifred Hall Allen, thrived throughout the United States, and not only preserved likenesses and memories, but also constructed a counter narrative to the stereotyping images that circulated in the mass media.

With the invention of smaller lightweight cameras, a growing number of women photographers found that the camera’s portability created new avenues of discovery outside the studio. In stunning photographs of the city, photographers such as Alice Brill, Rebecca Lepkoff, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model, Genevieve Naylor, and Tazue Satō Matsunaga used their artistic vision to capture the exhilarating modern world around them. They depicted everyday life, spontaneous encounters on the street, and soaring architectural views in places like Bombay (now Mumbai), New York, Paris, São Paulo, and Tokyo, revealing the multiplicity of urban experience. Many incorporated the newest photographic techniques to convey the energy of the city, and the exhibition continues with a gallery focused on those radical formal approaches that came to define modern photography. Through techniques like photomontage, photograms, sharp contrasts of light and shadow, extreme cropping, and dizzying camera angles, women including Aenne Biermann, Imogen Cunningham, Dora Maar, Tina Modotti, Lucia Moholy, and Cami Stone pushed the boundaries of the medium.

Women also produced dynamic pictures of the modern body, including innovative nude studies as well as sport and dance photography. Around the world, participation in spectator and team sports increased along with membership in fitness and hygiene reform movements. New concepts concerning health and sexuality along with new attitudes in movement and dress emphasised the body as a central site of experiencing modernity. On view are luminous works by photographers Laure Albin Guillot, Yvonne Chevalier, Florence Henri, and Jeanne Mandello who reimagined the traditional genre of the nude. Photographs by Irene Bayer-Hecht and Liselotte Grschebina highlight joyous play and gymnastic exercise, while Charlotte Rudolph, Ilse Bing, Trude Fleischmann, and Lotte Jacobi made breathtaking images of dancers in motion, revealing the body as artistic medium.

During the modern period, a growing number of women pursued professional photographic careers and traveled widely for the first time. Many took photographs that documented their experiences abroad and interactions with other cultures as they engaged in formal and informal ethnographic projects. The exhibition continues with a selection of photographs and photobooks by women, mainly from Europe and the United States, that reveal a diversity of perspectives and approaches. Gender provided some of these photographers with unusual access and the drive to challenge discriminatory practices, while others were not exempt from portraying stereotypical views. Publications by Jette Bang, Hélène Hoppenot, Ella Maillart, Anna Riwkin, Eslanda Goode Robeson, and Ellen Thorbecke exemplify how photographically illustrated books and magazines were an influential form of communication about travel and ethnography during the modern period. Other works on display include those by Denise Bellon and Ré Soupault, who traveled to foreign countries on assignment for magazines and photo agencies seeking ethnographic and newsworthy photographs, and those by Marjorie Content and Laura Gilpin, who worked on their own in the southwestern United States.

The New Woman – both as a mass-circulating image and as a social phenomenon – was confirmed by the explosion of photographs found in popular fashion and lifestyle magazines. Fashion and advertising photography allowed many women to gain unprecedented access to the public sphere, establish relative economic independence, and attain autonomous professional success. Producing a rich visual language where events and ideas were expressed directly in pictures, illustrated fashion magazines such as Die DameHarper’s Bazaar, and Vogue became an important venue for photographic experimentation by women for a female readership. Photographers producing original views of women’s modernity include Lillian Bassman, Ilse Bing, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Toni Frissell, Toni von Horn, Frances McLaughlin-Gill, ringl + pit, Margaret Watkins, Caroline Whiting Fellows, and Yva.

The rise of the picture press also established photojournalism and social documentary as dominant forms of visual expression during the modern period. Ignited by the effects of a global economic crisis and growing political and social unrest, numerous women photographers including Lucy Ashjian, Margaret Bourke-White, Kati Horna, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Kata Kálmán, Dorothea Lange, and Hansel Mieth engaged a wide public with gripping images. So-called soft topics such as “women and children,” “the family,” and “the home front” were more often assigned to female photojournalists than to their male counterparts. The exhibition asks viewers to question the effect of having women behind the camera in these settings. Pictures produced during the war, from combat photography by Galina Sanko and Gerda Taro to images of the Blitz in London by Thérèse Bonney and the Tuskegee airmen by Toni Frissell, are also featured. At the war’s end, haunting images by Lee Miller of the opening of Nazi concentration camps and celebratory images of the victory parade of Allied Forces in New Delhi by Homai Vyarawalla made way for the transition to the complexities of the postwar era, including images of daily life in US-occupied Japan by Tsuneko Sasamoto and the newly formed People’s Republic of China by Hou Bo and Niu Weiyu.

The New Woman Behind the Camera acknowledges that women are a diverse group whose identities are defined not exclusively by gender but rather by a host of variable factors. It contends that gender is an important aspect in understanding their lives and work and provides a useful framework for analysis to reveal how photography by women has powerfully shaped our understanding of modern life.

 

Exhibition catalog

Published by the National Gallery of Art, Washington and distributed by DelMonico Books | D.A.P., this groundbreaking, richly illustrated 288-page catalog examines the diverse women whose work profoundly marked the medium of photography from the 1920s to the 1950s. The book – featuring over 120 international photographers, including Lola Álvarez Bravo, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Tsuneko Sasamoto, and Homai Vyarawalla – reevaluates the history of modern photography through the lens of the iconic New Woman. Inclusive scholarly essays introduce readers to these important photographers and question the past assumptions about gender in the history of photography. Contributors include Andrea Nelson, associate curator in the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art; Elizabeth Cronin, assistant curator of photography in the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs, New York Public Library; Mia Fineman, curator in the department of photographs, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Mila Ganeva, professor of German in the department of German, Russian, Asian, and Middle Eastern languages and cultures, Miami University, Ohio; Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Elizabeth Otto, professor of modern and  contemporary art history, University at Buffalo (The State University of New York); and Kim Sichel, associate professor in the department of the history of art and architecture at Boston University; biographies of the photographers by Kara Felt, Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art.

Press release from the National Gallery of Art

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Père Ubu' (Portrait of Ubu) 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Père Ubu (Portrait of Ubu)
1936
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.13 x 17.78cm (9 1/2 x 7 in.)
Framed (outer): 40.01 x 33.66 x 2.86cm (15 3/4 x 13 1/4 x 1 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of J. Patrick and Patricia A. Kennedy
© 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

Portrait of Ubu (1936; also called Père Ubu), a monstrous close-up image by Maar of what may be an armadillo fetus (she would never confirm), became an icon of the movement.

 

Henriette Theodora Markovitch (22 November 1907 – 16 July 1997), known as Dora Maar, was a French photographer, painter, and poet. A love partner of Pablo Picasso, Maar was depicted in a number of Picasso’s paintings, including his Portrait of Dora Maar and Dora Maar au Chat.

 

Dora Maar the photographer

Maar’s earliest surviving photographs were taken in the early 1920s with a Rolleiflex camera while on a cargo ship going to the Cape Verde Islands.

At the beginning of 1930, she set up a photography studio on rue Campagne-Première (14th arrondissement of Paris) with Pierre Kéfer, photographer, and decorator for Jean Epstein’s 1928 film, The Fall of the House of Usher. In the studio, Maar and Kefer worked together mostly on commercial photography for advertisements and fashion magazines. Her father assisted with her finances in this period of her life as she was establishing herself while trying to earn a living. The studio displayed fashion, advertising and nudes, and it became very successful.

She met the photographer Brassaï with whom she shared the darkroom in the studio. Brassai once said that she had “bright eyes and an attentive gaze, a disturbing stare at times”.

During this time working in advertising and fashion photography, the influence of Surrealism could be seen in her work through her heavy use of mirrors and contrasting shadows. She felt that art should represent the content of reality through links with intuitions or ideas, rather than visually reproduce the natural. Maar also met Louis-Victor Emmanuel Sougez, a photographer working for advertising, archeology and artistic director of the newspaper L’Illustration, whom she considered a mentor.

In 1932, she had an affair with the filmmaker Louis Chavance. Maar frequented the “October group”, formed around Jacques Prévert and Max Morise after their break from surrealism. She had her first publication in the magazine Art et Métiers Graphiques in 1932. Her first solo exhibition was held at the Galerie Vanderberg in Paris.

It is the gelatin silver works of the surrealist period that remain the most sought after by admirers: Portrait of Ubu (1936), 29 rue d’Astorg, black and white, collages, photomontages or superimpositions. The photograph represents the central character in a popular series of plays by Alfred Jarry called Ubu Roi. The work was first shown at the Exposition Surréaliste d’objets at the Galerie Charles Ratton in Paris and at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936. She also participated in Participates in Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, at the MoMA in New York the same year.

Surrealist concepts and interests often aligned with the ideas of the political left of the time and so Maar became very politically active at this point in her life. After the fascist demonstrations of 6 February 1934, in Paris along with René Lefeuvre, Jacques Soustelle, supported by Simone Weil and Georges Bataille, she signed the tract “Appeal to the Struggle” written at the initiative of André Breton. Much of her work is highly influenced by leftist politics of the time, often depicting those who had been thrown into poverty by the Depression. She was part of an ultra-leftist association called “Masses”, where she first met Georges Bataille, an anti-fascist organisation called the Union of Intellectuals Against Fascism, and a radical collective of left-wing actors and writers called October.

She also was involved in many Surrealist groups and often participated in demonstrations, convocations, and cafe conversations. She signed many manifestos, including one titled “When Surrealists were Right” in August 1935 which concerned the Congress of Paris, which had been held in March of that year.

In 1935, she took a photo of fashion illustrator and designer Christian Berard that was described by writer and critic Michael Kimmelman as “wry and mischievous with only his head perceived above the fountain as if he were John the Baptist on a silver platter”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Arthur Rothstein (American, 1915-1985) 'Untitled (Marion Post Wolcott on assignment, Montgomery County, Maryland)' 1940

 

Arthur Rothstein (American, 1915-1985)
Untitled (Marion Post Wolcott on assignment, Montgomery County, Maryland)
1940
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.86 x 17.4cm (9 x 6 7/8 in.)
Sheet: 25.2 x 20.2cm (9 15/16 x 7 15/16 in.)
Frame (outer): 50.48 x 37.78cm (19 7/8 x 14 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Marion Post Wolcott with Rolleiflex and Speed Graphic in hand in Montgomery County, Maryland

 

 

Marion Post (June 7, 1910 – November 24, 1990), later Marion Post Wolcott, was a noted American photographer who worked for the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression documenting poverty and deprivation. …

 

Life

Marion Post was born in New Jersey on June 7, 1910. Her parents split up and she was sent to boarding school, spending time at home with her mother in Greenwich Village when not at school. Here she met many artists and musicians and became interested in dance. She studied at The New School.

Post trained as a teacher, and went to work in a small town in Massachusetts. Here she saw the reality of the Depression and the problems of the poor. When the school closed she went to Europe to study with her sister Helen. Helen was studying with Trude Fleischmann, a Viennese photographer. Marion Post showed Fleischmann some of her photographs and was told to stick to photography.

While in Vienna she saw some of the Nazi attacks on the Jewish population and was horrified. Soon she and her sister had to return to America for safety. She went back to teaching but also continued her photography and became involved in the anti-fascist movement. At the New York Photo League she met Ralph Steiner and Paul Strand who encouraged her. When she found that the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin kept sending her to do “ladies’ stories”, Ralph Steiner took her portfolio to show Roy Stryker, head of the Farm Security Administration, and Paul Strand wrote a letter of recommendation. Stryker was impressed by her work and hired her immediately.

Post’s photographs for the FSA often explore the political aspects of poverty and deprivation. They also often find humour in the situations she encountered.

In 1941 she met Leon Oliver Wolcott, deputy director of war relations for the U. S. Department of Agriculture under Franklin Roosevelt. They married, and Marion Post Wolcott continued her assignments for the FSA, but resigned shortly thereafter in February 1942. Wolcott found it difficult to fit in her photography around raising a family and a great deal of traveling and living overseas.

In the 1970s, a renewed interest in Wolcott’s images among scholars rekindled her own interest in photography. In 1978, Wolcott mounted her first solo exhibition in California, and by the 1980s the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art began to collect her photographs. The first monograph on Marion Post Wolcott’s work was published in 1983. Wolcott was an advocate for women’s rights; in 1986, Wolcott said: “Women have come a long way, but not far enough. … Speak with your images from your heart and soul” (Women in Photography Conference, Syracuse, N.Y.).

Marion Post Wolcott’s work is archived at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Arthur Rothstein (July 17, 1915 – November 11, 1985) was an American photographer. Rothstein is recognised as one of America’s premier photojournalists. During a career that spanned five decades, he provoked, entertained and informed the American people. His photographs ranged from a hometown baseball game to the drama of war, from struggling rural farmers to US Presidents.

 

Genevieve Naylor (American, 1915-1989) 'A Café, Brazil' Early 1940s

 

Genevieve Naylor (American, 1915-1989)
A Café, Brazil
Early 1940s
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 16.51 x 17.78cm (6 1/2 x 7 in.)
Frame: 35.56 x 45.72cm (14 x 18 in.)
Frame (outer): 38.1 x 48.26 cm (15 x 19 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

 

Genevieve Naylor (February 2, 1915 – July 21, 1989) was an American photographer and photojournalist, best known for her photographs of Brazil and as Eleanor Roosevelt’s personal photographer. …

 

Career

At the age of 22, in 1937, Naylor was chosen by Holger Cahill of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as a photographer for the Harlem Arts Center. She also worked for the WPA in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and New York. She then worked for the Associated Press and was one of the first women photojournalists to be hired by any American news wire services.

In 1940, Genevieve Naylor was assigned by the U.S. State department as part of a team to travel to Brazil. In an effort to further and strengthen the anti-Nazi relationship between the United States and Brazil and to promote mutual cultural awareness, the U.S. Office of Inter-American Affairs, under the leadership of Nelson Rockefeller, created a team of notable Americans that included Orson Welles, Errol Flynn, and Walt Disney. Genevieve Naylor and her partner (and later husband) Misha Reznikoff arrived in Brazil in October, 1940, where he showed his paintings while Miss Naylor took photographs. Naylor’s assignment was to document Brazil’s progress toward becoming a modern nation, capture images that would boost war-time morale, foster cultural interchange, and promote the Allied cause. But Naylor, with her energetic and outgoing personality, soon ventured into other milieus, taking photographs of Brazilian workers jammed into trams, school children, religious and street festivals, and various aspects of everyday lives. Because it was war time, film was rationed, and Naylor’s equipment was modest. She had neither flash nor studio lights and had to carefully choose her shots, balancing spontaneity with careful composition. Of her work, nearly 1,350 photos survived and were preserved. After her return to the states in 1943, Naylor become only the second woman photographer to be given a one-woman show when her work was exhibited by New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Naylor later spent 15 years as a photographer with Harper’s Bazaar and from 1944 to 1980 was a freelance photographer for Vogue, McCall’s, Town and Country, Life, Look, Saturday Evening Post, Women’s Home Companion, Cosmopolitan, Fortune, Collier’s, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Vanity Fair, Elle, Ladies’ Home Journal, Redbook, House Beautiful, Holiday, Mademoiselle, American Home, Seventeen, Better Homes and Gardens, Charm, Bride’s, amongst others. She was a war time photographer, covering parts of the Korean War for Look magazine.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Genevieve Naylor (American, 1915-1989) 'São Januário Trolley' Early 1940s

 

Genevieve Naylor (American, 1915-1989)
São Januário Trolley
Early 1940s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.05 x 19.05cm (7 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
Sheet: 20.32 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Frame: 35.56 x 45.72cm (14 x 18 in.)
Frame (outer): 38.1 x 48.26cm (15 x 19 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

Elfriede Stegemeyer (German, 1908-1988) 'Selbstporträt' (Self-Portrait) 1933

 

Elfriede Stegemeyer (German, 1908-1988)
Selbstporträt (Self-Portrait)
1933
Gelatin silver print
Image: 23.81 x 17.94cm (9 3/8 x 7 1/16 in.)
Support: 23.81 x 17.94cm (9 3/8 x 7 1/16 in.)
Mat: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 51.44 x 41.28 x 3.33cm (20 1/4 x 16 1/4 x 1 5/16 in.)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection

 

 

Elfriede Stegemeyer (1908-1988); German photographer, painter and film artist. In a bombing raid on Berlin in 1943, much of her work was destroyed. After the war, she dedicated herself under the pseudonym Elde Steeg increasingly to painting and drawing, and experimented with Surrealist and Constructivist expression. From 1945 she lived and worked under the name Elde Steeg. In 1974 she moved to Innsbruck and worked there until her death.

 

Lillian Bassman. 'Translucent Hat' c. 1950

 

Lillian Bassman (American, 1917-2012)
Translucent Hat
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 26.99 x 34.29cm (10 5/8 x 13 1/2 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 60.96cm (20 x 24 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 63.5cm (21 x 25 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Renee Harbers Liddell Fund and Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Estate of Lilian Bassman

 

 

Lillian Bassman (June 15, 1917 – February 13, 2012) was an American photographer and painter.

 

Career

From the 1940s until the 1960s Bassman worked as a fashion photographer for Junior Bazaar and later at Harper’s Bazaar where she promoted the careers of photographers such as Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, Louis Faurer and Arnold Newman. Under the guidance of the Russian emigrant, Alexey Brodovitch, she began to photograph her model subjects primarily in black and white. Her work was published for the most part in Harper’s Bazaar from 1950 to 1965.

By the 1970s Bassman’s interest in pure form in her fashion photography was out of vogue. She turned to her own photo projects and abandoned fashion photography. In doing so she tossed out 40 years of negatives and prints – her life’s work. A forgotten bag filled with hundreds of images was discovered over 20 years later. Bassman’s fashion photographic work began to be re-appreciated in the 1990s.

She worked with digital technology and abstract colour photography into her nineties to create a new series of work. She used Photoshop for her image manipulation.

The most notable qualities about her photographic work are the high contrasts between light and dark, the graininess of the finished photos, and the geometric placement and camera angles of the subjects. Bassman became one of the last great woman photographers in the world of fashion. A generation later, Bassman’s pioneering photography and her mentor Alexey Brodovitch’s bold cropping and layout innovations were a seminal influence on Sam Haskins and his black and white work of the sixties.

Bassman died on February 13, 2012, at age 94.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (British born Austria, 1908-1973) 'Untitled (Street, London)' 1940s, printed later

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (British born Austria, 1908-1973)
Untitled (Street, London)
1940s, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21 x 28cm (8 1/4 x 11 in.)
Frame: 35.56 x 45.72cm (14 x 18 in.)
Frame (outer): 38.1 x 48.26cm (15 x 19 in.)
Peter Suschitzky, Julia Donat, and Misha Donat

 

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (née Suschitzky; 28 August 1908 – 12 May 1973) was an Austrian-British photographer and spy for the Soviet Union. Brought up in a family of socialists, she trained in photography at Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus in Dessau, and carried her political ideals through her art. Through her connections with Arnold Deutsch, Tudor-Hart was instrumental in the recruiting of the Cambridge Spy ring which damaged British intelligence from World War II until the security services discovered all their identities by the mid-1960s. She recommended Litzi Friedmann and Kim Philby for recruitment by the KGB and acted as an intermediary for Anthony Blunt and Bob Stewart when the rezidentura at the Soviet Embassy in London suspended its operations in February 1940.

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Lola Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1903-1993) 'En su propia cárcel' (In Her Own Prison) c. 1950

 

Lola Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1903-1993)
En su propia cárcel (In Her Own Prison)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.42 x 21.27cm (7 1/4 x 8 3/8 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 45.72cm (20 x 18 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 48.26cm (21 x 19 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona Foundation

 

 

Lola Álvarez Bravo (3 April 1903 – 31 July 1993) was the first Mexican female photographer and a key figure in the post-revolution Mexican renaissance. Known for her high level of skill in composition, her works were seen by her peers as fine art. She was recognised in 1964 with the Premio José Clemente Orozco (José Clemente Orozco Prize), by the State of Jalisco, for her contributions to photography and her efforts to preserve the culture of Mexico. Her works are included in the permanent collections of international museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Álvarez was born in a small town in Jalisco, but moved to Mexico City with her father when her parents separated around 1906. For a decade, she lived with her father in a large mansion, but upon his death was taken in by her older half-brother, who sent her to boarding school. After completing a traditional education, in 1922 she enrolled in the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, where she met her lifelong friend, Frida Kahlo. A friendship with another of her childhood friends, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, blossomed into romance around the same time and the two married in 1925. Her husband taught her photography, as well as development techniques, and for nearly a decade, she acted as his assistant. As she sought to explore her own creativity and was unhappy in the marriage, the couple separated in 1934.

Beginning her career as a teacher, Álvarez took photographic assignments for magazines and newspapers, developing a reputation as one of the only women photojournalists working in Mexico City. She chose to portray subjects candidly, revealing the deeper meaning of culture and social significance, rather than seeking newsworthy work. In 1935, she began cataloging photographs in the Department of Education and two years later was hired to run the photography workshops of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where she remained until her retirement in 1971.

In addition to her contributions to advertising and photojournalism, Álvarez took many photographs of her artistic friends, and in 1951 opened the Galeria de Arte Contemporáneo (Gallery of Contemporary Art) to promote their work. In 1953 at the Galeria, she hosted the only exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s works held in Mexico during the artist’s life. From the late 1970s until her death in 1993, she gained international recognition for her body of work. Her photo archive is located at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona, United States.

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Jette Bang (Danish, 1914-1964) 'Grønland' 1940

 

Jette Bang (Danish, 1914-1964)
Grønland
1940
Bound volume
Open: 26.04 x 44.45cm (10 1/4 x 17 1/2 in.)
Closed: 26.04 x 22.86cm (10 1/4 x 9 in.)
Cradle: 6 1/8 (maximum height at left) x 15 1/2 (width) x 10 1/2 (depth) x 3 3/8 in. (maximum height at right)
National Gallery of Art Library, Gift of the Department of Photographs

 

 

Jette Bang (February 4, 1914 – February 16, 1964) was a Danish photographer and film maker who is remembered for the large collection of photographs and films she took in Greenland, depicting the country and the way of life of its inhabitants before their old culture disappeared. …

 

Career

In 1936, Bang arrived in Greenland for the first time and spent eight months taking photographs of the traditional lifestyle of the Greenlandic Inuit, which was beginning to die out as a result of European influence. She travelled around on dog sleds and lived with the natives, sharing their way of life. The result was 400 photographs which were exhibited at the Danish Museum of Art & Design in 1937. Some were published in her book Grønland (1940) with a foreword by Minister of State Thorvald Stauning. The book was an eyeopener for the Danes.

Her next expedition in the winter of 1938-1939 was supported by Denmark’s Greenland Administration, who provided a motorboat, lighting and helpers. Under harsh and primitive conditions, she lived closely together with the Greenlanders, spending most of the winter in a hole in the ground with floor space of just four square metres. Joining the Thule postal sleds, she travelled across Melville Bay up to Cape York in the district of Thule. Her trip resulted in a revealing colour film, Inuit, seen as a work of art when it was shown in Denmark in 1938. The film was in two parts, depicting the old and the new Greenland. The reels on Melville Bay were lost in a fire while she was in Thule but there was still enough material for a four-hour production.

For a time, Jette Bang hoped to go back and take some additional shots but her plans were brought to a standstill by the outbreak of the Second World War. Only after the liberation in 1945 was she able to continue her project.

Many stills taken from the film were published in her book 30.000 Kilometer med Sneglefart (30,000 kilometers at a snail’s pace) (1941). Bang, a good storyteller, was able to provide an excellent account of her experiences. With the photo book Grønlænderbørn (Greenlandic Children) (1944) she continued to report on her travels, now addressing Danish schoolchildren.

She travelled to Greenland five more times. Disappointed with modern developments there, she republished her book Grønland in 1961. In 1962, she travelled to Greenland for the last time, trying to rework her 1938 colour film; but illness prevented any more trips.

In 1959, she took part in Peter Glob’s archaeological expedition to Bahrain, which led to her film Beduiner (1962).

 

Assessment

Jette Bang was the first photographer to take close-up portraits of the Greenlanders. While earlier photographers had been more interested in their clothing and surroundings, she was more concerned with their behaviour, creating more lasting and universal impressions.

Jette Bang’s photographs from Greenland are the only remaining material documenting the old Greelandic way of life which has now almost disappeared. Her dedication to the country and its people was legendary. She was also a talented author: “The full moon’s twisted face tripped up over the tops of the pointed peaks in the north west like a fakir trying to walk on a bed of nails,” she wrote in 30.000 Kilometer med Sneglefart.

Many of her photographs are in the National Museum of Greenland in Nuuk. The main collection of 12,000 photographs is with the Arktisk Institut in Copenhagen, which has made them available on the Internet.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Gerda Leo (German, 1909-1993) 'Korbgeflecht' (Wicker Basket) c. 1928

 

Gerda Leo (German, 1909-1993)
Korbgeflecht (Wicker Basket)
c. 1928
Gelatin silver print
Image: 36.3 x 29.2cm (14 5/16 x 11 1/2 in.)
Frame (outer): 51.3 x 41.3 x 2.7cm (20 3/16 x 16 1/4 x 1 1/16 in.)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

 

Gerda Leo (born February 1, 1909 in Hagen, Westphalia , died September 28, 1993 in Amsterdam, Netherlands) was a German photographer in the field of New Vision and New Objectivity. She studied at the Burg Giebichenstein State School of Applied Arts in Halle (Saale) with Hans Finsler and worked as an assistant to Albert Renger-Patzsch. Her photographic estate is in the Moritzburg Art Museum Halle (Saale).

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

 

Behind the Camera

Women actively participated in the development of photography soon after its inception in the 19th century. Yet it was in the 1920s, after the seismic disruptions of World War I, that women entered the field of photography in force. Aided by advances in technology and mass communications, along with growing access to training and acceptance of their presence in the workplace, women around the world made an indelible mark on the growth and diversification of the medium. They brought innovation to a range of photographic disciplines, from avant-garde experimentation and commercial studio practice to social documentary, photojournalism, ethnography, and the recording of sports, dance, and fashion.

 

The New Woman

A global phenomenon, the New Woman of the 1920s embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Her image – a woman with bobbed hair, stylish dress, and a confident stride – was a staple of newspapers and magazines first in Europe and the United States and soon in China, Japan, India, Australia, and elsewhere. A symbol of the pursuit of liberation from traditional gender roles, the New Woman in her many guises represented women who faced a mix of opportunities and obstacles that varied from country to country. The camera became a powerful means for female photographers to assert their self-determination and redefine their position in society. Producing compelling portraits, including self-portraits featuring the artist with her camera, they established their roles as professionals and artists.

 

The Studio

Commercial studio photography was an important pathway for many women to forge a professional career and to earn their own income. Running successful businesses in small towns and major cities from Buenos Aires to Berlin and Istanbul, women reinvigorated the genre of portraiture. In the studio, both sitters and photographers navigated gender, race, and cultural difference; those run by women presented a different dynamic. For example, Black women operated studios in Chicago, New Orleans, and elsewhere in the United States, where they not only preserved likenesses and memories, but also constructed a counter narrative to racist images then circulating in the mass media.

 

The City

The availability of smaller, lightweight cameras and the increasing freedom to move about cities on their own spurred a number of women photographers to explore the diversity of the urban experience beyond the studio walls. Using their creative vision to capture the vibrant modern world around them, women living and working in Bombay (now Mumbai), London, New York, Paris, São Paulo, Tokyo, and beyond photographed soaring architecture and spontaneous encounters on the street.

 

Avant-Garde Experiments

Creative formal approaches – photomontage, photograms, sharp contrasts of light and shadow, unconventional cropping, extreme close-ups, and dizzying camera angles – came to define photography during this period. Women incorporated these cutting-edge techniques to produce works that conveyed the movement and energy of modern life. Although often overshadowed by their male partners and colleagues, women photographers were integral in shaping an avant-garde visual language that promoted new ways of seeing and experiencing the world.

 

Modern Bodies

Beginning in the 1920s, new concepts concerning health and sexuality, along with changing attitudes about movement and dress, emphasised the human body as a central site of experiencing modernity. Women photographers produced incisive visions of liberated modern bodies, from pioneering photographs of the nude to exuberant pictures of sport and dance. Photographs of joyous play and gymnastic exercise, as well as images of dancers in motion, celebrate the body as artistic medium.

 

Ethnographic Approaches

During this modern period, numerous women pursued professional photographic careers and traveled extensively for the first time. Many took photographs that documented their experiences abroad in Africa, China, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, while others engaged in more formal ethnographic projects. Some women with access to domains that were off limits to their male counterparts produced intimate portraits of female subjects. While gender may have afforded these photographers special connections to certain communities, it did not exempt some, especially those from Europe and the United States, from producing stereotypical views that reinforced hierarchical concepts of race and ethnocentrism.

 

Fashion and Advertising

Images splashed across the pages of popular fashion and lifestyle magazines vividly defined the New Woman. The unprecedented demand for fashion and advertising photographs between the world wars provided exceptional employment opportunities for fashion reporters, models, and photographers alike, allowing women to emerge as active agents in the profession. Cultivating the tastes of newly empowered female consumers, fashion and advertising photography provided a space where women could experiment with pictures intended for a predominantly female readership.

 

Social Documentary

Galvanised by the effects of a global economic crisis and the growing political and social unrest that began in the 1930s, numerous women photographers produced arresting images of the human condition. Whether working for government agencies or independently, women contributed to the visual record of the Depression and the events leading up to World War II. From images of breadlines and worker demonstrations to forced migration and internment, women photographers helped to expose dire conditions and shaped what would become known as social documentary photography.

 

Reportage

The rise of the picture press established photojournalism as a dominant form of visual expression during a period shaped by two world wars. Women photographers conveyed an inclusive view of worldwide economic depression, struggles for decolonisation in Africa, and the rise of fascism and communism in Europe and the Soviet Union. They often received the “soft assignments” of photographing women and children, families, and the home front, but some women risked their lives close to the front lines. Images of concentration camps and victory parades made way for the complexities of the postwar era, as seen in pictures of daily life in US-occupied Japan and the newly formed People’s Republic of China.
The photographers whose works are in The New Woman Behind the Camera represent just some of the many women around the world who were at the forefront of experimenting with the camera. They produced invaluable visual testimony that reflected both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the early 20th century. Together, they changed the history of modern photography.

Text from the National Gallery of Art website

 

Dulce Carneiro (Brazilian, 1929-2018) 'Mulher' (Woman) c. 1957

 

Dulce Carneiro (Brazilian, 1929-2018)
Mulher (Woman)
c. 1957
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.94 x 28.58cm (14 15/16 x 11 1/4 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert B. Menschel and the Vital Projects Fund

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981) 'During an Attack' 1943, printed c. 1960s

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981)
During an Attack
1943, printed c. 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.72 x 24.29cm (6 3/16 x 9 9/16 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Robert Koch Gallery

 

 

Galina Sanko (Russian: Галина Захаровна Санько and also Galina Sankova or Galina Sankowa) (1904-1981) was a Russian photographer who worked as a photojournalist and was one of only five women who served as a war photographer during World War II. She was one of the most noted Soviet photographers and known in the West, winning awards both at home and abroad. …

After the persecution of her husband in 1938, Sanko dedicated her life to photography. When the war broke out, she asked to go to the front as a war correspondent. Initially, Sanko trained as a nurse and then studied driving and auto mechanics. She bandaged the wounded and once she had proved her fitness for battle was allowed as one of only five women who served as war photographers. She worked for the magazine Frontline Illustration (Russian: Фронтовая иллюстрация) and took photographs of battles in Kursk, Moscow and Stalingrad, taking pictures at Bryansk and the Don Campaign near Stallingrad. In 1944, during the northern offensive, she took photographs of the siege of Leningrad. Near the end of the war, she took photographs of the fighting against Japan. She was seriously injured twice during the war. In the movie Wild Honey (Russian: Дикий мед) (1967) based on the novel by Leonid Pervomaisky, there is a scene based upon a real-life event in which Sanko escaped in the nick of time from being fired upon by a German tank.

At the end of the war, Sanko worked for the magazine Spark (Russian: Огонек) but until the 1960s, her work was banned and hidden in an archive. Accused of distorting the truth, with her photographs of the liberation of the Petrozavodsk camp, Sanko was exonerated when 20 years after the war, she returned to the Republic of Karelia and found one of the children she had photographed in the camp. After publishing “Claudia 20 years later”, her archive was opened in 1966 and Sanko participated in many photographic exhibitions at home and abroad. She was awarded the Order of the Red Star. Sanko died in Moscow in 1981.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981) 'Prisoners, Stalingrad' 1943, printed c. 1960s

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981)
Prisoners, Stalingrad
1943, printed c. 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.32 x 29.53cm (8 x 11 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Robert Koch Gallery

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981) 'Behind the front lines, workers at a factory evacuated from Ukraine to a town on the Volga' 1942, printed c. 1960s

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981)
Behind the front lines, workers at a factory evacuated from Ukraine to a town on the Volga
1942, printed c. 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 24.13 x 16.67cm (9 1/2 x 6 9/16 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Robert Koch Gallery

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981) 'Observation Post, the Fight for Hill N' 1942

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981)
Observation Post, the Fight for Hill N
1942
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 29.21 x 20.96cm (11 1/2 x 8 1/4 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Robert Koch Gallery

 

G. Herbert Taylor. 'My Best Photograph and Why' 1937

 

G. Herbert Taylor
My Best Photograph and Why
1937
Photography book
Closed: 29.53 x 23.18cm (11 5/8 x 9 1/8 in.)
Open: 29.53 x 44.77cm (11 5/8 x 17 5/8 in.)
Mount: 1.43 x 44.93 x 29.69cm (9/16 x 17 11/16 x 11 11/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art Library, David K.E. Bruce Fund

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'Autoportrait' (Self-Portrait) c. 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait (Self-Portrait)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.5 x 20.1cm (10 1/16 x 7 15/16 in.)
Frame: 53 x 42 cm (20 7/8 x 16 9/16 in.)
Wilson Centre for Photography

 

 

Claude Cahun (born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob, 25 October 1894 – 8 December 1954) was a French surrealist photographer, sculptor, and writer. Schwob adopted the pseudonym Claude Cahun in 1914. Cahun is best known as a writer and self-portraitist, who assumed a variety of performative personae. Cahun’s work is both political and personal. In Disavowals, she writes: “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” During World War II, Cahun was also active as a resistance worker and propagandist. …

Cahun’s works encompassed writing, photography, and theatre. She is most remembered for her highly staged self-portraits and tableaux that incorporated the visual aesthetics of Surrealism. During the 1920s, Cahun produced an astonishing number of self-portraits in various guises such as aviator, dandy, doll, body builder, vamp and vampire, angel, and Japanese puppet.

Some of Cahun’s portraits feature the artist looking directly at the viewer, head shaved, often revealing only head and shoulders (eliminating body from the view), and a blurring of gender indicators and behaviours which serve to undermine the patriarchal gaze. Scholar Miranda Welby-Everard has written about the importance of theatre, performance, and costume that underlies Cahun’s work, suggesting how this may have informed the artist’s varying gender presentations. …

Cahun’s work was often a collaboration with Marcel Moore. Cahun and Moore collaborated frequently, though this often goes unrecognised. It is believed that Moore was often the person standing behind the camera during Cahun’s portrait shoots and was an equal partner in Cahun’s collages.

With the majority of the photographs attributed to Cahun coming from a personal collection, not one meant for public display, it has been proposed that these personal photographs allowed for Cahun to experiment with gender presentation and the role of the viewer to a greater degree.

One of my favourite artists – a hero of mine!

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Toni von Horn (American born Germany, 1899-1970) 'Untitled' 1932

 

Toni von Horn (American born Germany, 1899-1970)
Untitled
1932
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 23 x 19cm (9 1/16 x 7 1/2 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 45.09 x 55.25cm (17 3/4 x 21 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Charles van Horne on behalf of the family of Toni von Horn

 

 

Baroness Antonie “Toni” von Horn was born to a prominent family in Germany in 1899. Around 1920, she opened a photography studio in Heidelberg. While in New York on an assignment, she met the editor of Vanity Fair who recommended she pursue a career in New York.

She did, and soon became a leading fashion and advertising photographer in the 1920s and 30s, working for Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar and at her own studio. She was one of the first woman photographers to gain a national and international reputation, Her many celebrity portraits included Greta Garbo, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ginger Rogers, Cole Porter, Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, and Jean Harlow. Her photograph of Albert Einstein has been called the best ever made of him.

Toni von Horn was among the first woman professional photographers and was the first to join the stable of Conde Nast’s Vogue and Vanity Fair, and Harper’s Bazaar during those magazines’ glorious years of the early 1930s. Active as Tony von Horn, her images were regular features, along with such luminaries as Edward Steichen, Adolf de Meyer and George Hoyningen-Heune among others, in the magazines from the end of 1930 to 1935.

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985) 'Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris at the Opening Night Party for "The Member of the Wedding," New York City' 1950

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985)
Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris at the Opening Night Party for “The Member of the Wedding,” New York City
1950
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 39.7 x 49.5cm (15 5/8 x 19 1/2 in.)
Frame (outer): 57.6 x 67.8cm (22 11/16 x 26 11/16 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Dorothy Levitt Beskind Gift, 1980
© Ruth Orkin
Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY

 

 

Ruth Orkin (September 3, 1921 – January 16, 1985) was an American photographer, photojournalist, and filmmaker, with ties to New York City and Hollywood. Best known for her photograph An American Girl in Italy (1951), she photographed many celebrities and personalities including Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, Ava Gardner, Tennessee Williams, Marlon Brando, and Alfred Hitchcock.

 

Life

Ruth Orkin was born on September 3, 1921 in Boston, Massachusetts to Mary Ruby and Samuel Orkin. Ruth grew up in Hollywood, due to her mother’s career as a silent film actress. In 1931, she received her first camera, a 39-cent Univex, and soon began experimenting by taking photographs of her friends and teachers at school. At the age of 17, she decided to bike across America, beginning in Los Angeles, and ending in New York City for the 1939 World’s Fair. She completed the trip in three weeks’ time, taking photographs along the way.

She briefly attended Los Angeles City College for photojournalism in 1940, prior to becoming the first messenger girl at MGM Studios in 1941, citing a desire to become a cinematographer. She left the position after discovering the union’s discriminatory practices that did not allow female members. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps during World War II, in 1941 in an attempt to gain filmmaking skills, as advertisements promoting the group promised. The attempt was not fruitful, however, and she was discharged in 1943 without any filmmaking training.

In 1943, Orkin moved to New York City in pursuit of a career as a freelance photojournalist. She began working as a nightclub photographer, and received her first assignment in 1945 from The New York Times to shoot Leonard Bernstein. Shortly after, her freelance career grew as she traveled internationally on assignments and contributed photographs to Life, Look, Ladies’ Home Journal, and others. Orkin is credited with breaking into a heavily male field.

Orkin’s most celebrated image is An American Girl in Italy (1951). The subject of the now-iconic photograph was the 23-year-old Ninalee Craig (known at that time as Jinx Allen). The photograph was part of a series originally titled “Don’t Be Afraid to Travel Alone.” The image depicted Craig as a young woman confidently walking past a group of ogling Italian men in Florence. In recent articles written about the pair, Craig claims that the image was not staged, and was one of many taken throughout the day, aiming to show the fun of traveling alone.

In 1952 Orkin married photographer, filmmaker and fellow Photo League member Morris Engel. Orkin and Engel collaborated on two major independent feature films, “Little Fugitive” (1953) and “Lovers and Lollipops” (1955). After the success of the two films, Orkin returned to photography, taking colour shots of Central Park as seen through her apartment window. The resulting photographs were collected in two books, “A World Through My Window” (1978) and “More Pictures from My Window” (1983).

Orkin taught photography at the School of Visual Arts in the late 1970s, and at the International Center of Photography in 1980. After a long, private battle with cancer, Orkin died of the disease at her New York City apartment on January 16, 1985.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

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14
Feb
21

Exhibition: Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime” at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409
From ‘New art from wall to wall’ ongoing

 

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Shooting Victim in Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Shooting Victim in Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

As you can imagine, with the tragic situation of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic around the world at the moment, there are few photography exhibitions on view.

This selection of images comes from the collection 1940s-1970s at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in an ongoing display. Please note that not all Gordon Parks photographs shown here are on display, but I include them to give the viewer an overview, a greater understanding of the breadth of photographs included in Parks’ cinematic photo-essay.

Can you imagine the fortitude of this man: “born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912. An itinerant labourer, he worked as a brothel pianist and railcar porter, among other jobs, before buying a camera at a pawnshop, training himself and becoming a photographer. He evolved into a modern-day Renaissance man, finding success as a film director, writer and composer.” “The first Black member of the Farm Security Administration’s storied photo corps; the first Black photographer for the U.S. Office of War Information; the first Black photographer for Vogue; the first Black staff photographer at the weekly magazine Life; and, years later, the first Black filmmaker to direct a motion picture (Shaft) for a major Hollywood studio.” As a photographer he learnt his craft shooting dresses for department stores, taking portraits of society women in Chicago, and studying “the Depression-era images of photographers like Dorothea Lange”. Before joining them as a member of the FSA.

This body of work is remarkable for its non-judgemental gaze, a felt response to a subject which was an assignment for LIFE magazine: an objective reporter with a subjective heart as Parks proclaimed, one who had a certain kind of empathy, “expressing things for people who can’t speak for themselves… the underdogs… in that way I speak for myself.” Park’s photographic strategy was to use colour (rare and expensive in those days), and to close in on detail. Rarely if at all are there any mid to long shots in the photo-essay, placing the photograph in a particular location, the exception being the Untitled street scene under the Chicago “L” (short for “elevated”) rapid transit system and the night-time shot of an illuminated Alcatraz Island – remote, forbidding, isolated.

Photographed with candour – using low depth of field, silhouette, chiaroscuro, natural light, low light, night photography, no blur, little flash and challenging perspective, aesthetically a mixture of Dorothea Lange, Weegee and the colour images of Saul Leiter – other intimate images in the series create an “atmosphere” of everyday life on the streets and in the prisons, capturing how the disenfranchised, the desperate and the destitute are controlled and processed by force. “Parks coaxed his camera to record reality so vividly and compellingly that it would allow Life’s readers to see the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations.” In Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois (1957) we see two detectives of Italian descent raiding a dingy run-down tenement, busting the door open unannounced, guns drawn. In the photograph underneath in the posting, taken inside the oh so red room with floral curtains, one of the detectives questions a black suspect smoking a cigarette, while on the table covered with newspapers sits a burning candle probably providing the only illumination. Cowering in the shadows is a black women, almost unnoticed until you really look at the photograph. This is what abject poverty looks like. In another photograph, Untitled, New York, New York (1957), black and white men emerge from a police van – about the only time black and white men would have sat together in the segregated society of the time (other than being in prison). Can you imagine the atmosphere inside the paddy wagon, the looks, the conversation or lack of it?

Parks’ beautiful photographs, for they are that, include challenging depictions of death, drug use and nonchalantly displayed items such as guns and knuckledusters. Violence and the outcomes of it are an ever present theme in Parks’ documentation of the policing and criminalisation of marginalised people and communities. The photographs are frequently heartbreaking, such as the scars on the legs of a Black American; or devastating, such as the photograph Knifing Victim I (1957). Park’s compresses the space of the action, attacking the nitty gritty of the mise en scène but with no rush to judgement, just telling it how it is. As Sebastian Smee so eloquently observes, “If all of this were mere history – a series of episodes confined to the past – it would be one thing. But Parks’s photographs are alive to the many ways in which crime in the 1950s was a continuation of this legacy [of slavery, of lynching]. Sixty years after he took these photographs, it’s difficult to deny the conclusion that today’s crime-related inequities, from mass incarceration to police brutality, are likewise an extension of this racist legacy.”

And so it goes, both for the marginalised in America and for Indigenous Australians. “According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in 2018 Black males accounted for 34% of the total male prison population, white males 29%, and Hispanic males 24%” (Wikipedia) while the percentage of US population that is black is 14%. “As of September 2019, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners represented 28% of the total adult prisoner population, while accounting for 3.3% of the general population.” (Wikipedia)

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to MoMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs are used for the purposes of education and research under fair use conditions.

 

 

In 1957, Life staff photographer Gordon Parks traversed New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco capturing crime scenes, police precincts, and prisons for “The Atmosphere of Crime,” as his photo essay was titled when it appeared in the magazine. Rather than identify or label “the criminal,” Parks – a fierce advocate for civil rights and a firm believer in photography as a catalyst for change – documented the policing and criminalisation of marginalised people and communities.

Here, Parks’s series is presented in relation to a long history of picturing criminality. In the nineteenth century, mug shots relied on photography’s supposed objectivity as the basis of their value for identification and surveillance. In the twentieth, more sensational images of victims, raids, and arrests circulated in newspapers and tabloids. In contrast, Parks urges us to look beyond individual people and events, to consider the forces of state and police power that are inextricable from any history of crime – a lesson as essential now as ever.

Text from the MoMA website

 

 

“I’m an objective reporter with a subjective heart,” proclaimed Gordon Parks. “I can’t help but have a certain kind of empathy… It’s more or less expressing things for people who can’t speak for themselves… the underdogs… in that way I speak for myself.” For over half a century, from the 1940s to the 2000s, Gordon Parks captured American life with his powerful photographs. After getting his first camera at the age of 25, he used this “weapon of choice” to attack issues including racism, poverty, urban life, and injustice. He became the first African American staff photographer at Life magazine – an immensely influential platform in the golden age of photo-illustrated magazines that not only allowed his art to be seen by many but also brought a critical, nuanced and, importantly, a Black perspective to the stories and depictions that he shared. For a 1957 assignment, he crisscrossed the streets of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, producing vivid colour images addressing the perceived rise in crime in the US. This series, “The Atmosphere of Crime,” challenged stereotypical images of delinquency, drug use, and corruption.

.
Text from the Gordon Parks Foundation website

 

“I don’t know that there is any one thing called “the Black experience,” but the way ‘Life magazine’ used Gordon Parks’ photographs for me actually reinscribed some of those notions of Black pathology, such as a story about a gang member (who was actually a pretty normal young man) or extreme poverty and social disenfranchisement. Parks was a much more complex photographer than that, as we came to fully know after his death, but that’s how we came to know him through ‘Life magazine’.”

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Dawoud Bey quoted in Gail O’Neill. “Q&A: How Dawoud Bey uses photography to amplify his voice in the world,” on the ‘ARTS ATL’ website November 6, 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

 

 

Sarah Meister, curator in the Department of Photography, looks at images from Gordon Parks’s 1957 photo essay “The Atmosphere of Crime” (1957) and is moved by the power (and, sadly, continued relevance) of his ability to confront “the great social evils of his time” with an “incredible artistic sensibility.”

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Closing in on a known criminal on Chicago’s South Side, police in a scout car check tensely by radio with headquarters. City lights rainbow the storm-splattered windshield as the car approaches the hideout.

Text from LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, p. 46.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 3/4 × 21″ (35 × 53.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957 (detail)

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois (detail)
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 3/4 × 21″ (35 × 53.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Narcotics Addict, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Narcotics Addict, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 3/4 × 21″ (35 × 53.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'San Quentin, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
San Quentin, California
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled (Alcatraz Island), San Francisco, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled (Alcatraz Island), San Francisco, California
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime 1957

Gordon Parks’ ethically complex depictions of crime in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, with previously unseen photographs.

When Life magazine asked Gordon Parks to illustrate a recurring series of articles on crime in the United States in 1957, he had already been a staff photographer for nearly a decade, the first African American to hold this position. Parks embarked on a six-week journey that took him and a reporter to the streets of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Unlike much of his prior work, the images made were in colour. The resulting eight-page photo-essay The Atmosphere of Crime was noteworthy not only for its bold aesthetic sophistication but also for how it challenged stereotypes about criminality then pervasive in the mainstream media. They provided a richly hued, cinematic portrayal of a largely hidden world: that of violence, police work and incarceration, seen with empathy and candour.

Parks rejected clichés of delinquency, drug use, and corruption, opting for a more nuanced view that reflected the social and economic factors tied to criminal behaviour and afforded a rare window into the working lives of those charged with preventing and prosecuting it. Transcending the romanticism of the gangster film, the suspense of the crime caper and the racially biased depictions of criminality then prevalent in American popular culture, Parks coaxed his camera to record reality so vividly and compellingly that it would allow Life‘s readers to see the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations. The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957 includes an expansive selection of never-before-published photographs from Parks’ original reportage.

Anonymous. “Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime 1957,” on the Exibart Street website [Online] Cited 07/02/2021

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Crime Suspect with Gun, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Crime Suspect with Gun, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Police Raid, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Police Raid, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Checking In Suspect, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Checking In Suspect, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Detectives Grilling a Suspect, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Detectives Grilling a Suspect, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Fingerprinting Addicts for Forging Prescription, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Fingerprinting Addicts for Forging Prescription, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Cops Bring In Knifing Victim, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Cops Bring In Knifing Victim, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
21 × 13 3/4″ (53.3 × 35cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

A sidewalk puddle reflects a common tragedy. A police van drives up to a Chicago hospital’s emergency door with a knifing victim. Tired attendants, once compassionate, sit idly by.

Text from LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Police Bring in Victim, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Police Bring in Victim, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
21 × 13 3/4″ (53.3 × 35cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

A prowl car halts in a New York street, a youth comes nervously to its side. “You clean?” the cop asks. “We’re watching you.”

Text from “The Atmosphere of Crime” photographed for LIFE by Gordon Parks. LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, p. 50.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Knifing Victim I, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Knifing Victim I, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Morgue Photos of Dope Peddler Killed by Cops, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Morgue Photos of Dope Peddler Killed by Cops, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, San Quentin, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, San Quentin, California [Pre-execution report]
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print
16 × 20″ (40.6 × 50.8 cm)
Gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The left hand of a man who knows the ropes nonchalantly dangles a cigaret through the bars of a Chicago prison. But the man’s right hand, grasping the bars below, betrays him: he is frustrated and locked in.

Text from LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

 

MoMA acquires historic Gordon Parks series The Atmosphere of Crime

The photographs will go on view in the New York museum’s permanent collection galleries in May, along with a selection of works by other artists and a clip from the classic 1971 film Shaft

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York has acquired a full set of photographs by Gordon Parks from The Atmosphere of Crime series, a photographic essay examining crime in America he created on assignment with Life magazine in 1957. Along with 55 modern colour inkjet prints created from Parks’s transparencies, selected and bought in consultation with the Gordon Parks Foundation, the foundation has gifted a vintage gelatin silver print that matches a work already in MoMA’s collection, given by the photographer in 1993. Around 15 pieces from the series will go on view in a dedicated gallery on the fourth floor in May, along with an excerpt from his classic 1971 film Shaft and works by other artists from the collection, as part of the next reinstallation of the permanent galleries.

The acquisition comes through years of conversations with the Gordon Parks Foundation, which has been organising in-depth exhibitions of the photographer’s work at major museums since his death in 2006. “When Sarah Meister [MoMA’s curator of photography] and I began speaking a few years ago about how the museum could make a major acquisition, it was about what body of work would really have the most impact to what’s going on in the current world,” says Peter Kunhardt, Jr, the foundation’s executive director. “And we both felt that The Atmosphere of Crime was so relevant, not only because so much hasn’t changed today in our criminal justice system and with police brutality and violence, but also because the work is in colour.”

Colour photography was prohibitively expensive to produce outside of commercial projects at the time Parks first shot the series, Meister explains, and only a selection of images from the series were printed in colour in Life. “The transparencies that Gordon Parks made have been held back for a number of years for the right institution to thoughtfully put together an exhibition and book,” Kunhardt adds. The catalogue, published by Steidl with essays by Meister, Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and the art historian Nicole Fleetwood, who also wrote Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration, includes all the images from the acquisition.

Extract from Helen Stoilas. “MoMA acquires historic Gordon Parks series The Atmosphere of Crime,” on The Art Newspaper website 11 February 2020 [Online] Cited 07/02/2021

 

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime” at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

 

None of these images is crude or cliched. A few, it’s true, are brutally direct, in the spirit of Robert Lowell (“Yet why not say what happened?”) or Walker Evans (“If the thing is there, why there it is.”). But others are oddly – and arrestingly – tentative. They’re optically blurred, obscured by visual impediments, as if filtered through the artist’s melancholy, his pity, his black-of-night bewilderment. Looking at them, you feel that something others might rush to – judgment, sentencing, finality – has been deliberately withheld. …

The presence of the word “atmosphere” in the title is apt. It captures both the cumulative impact of the imagery and the complexity of crime’s causes and effects. Park’s use of blur, his unexpected vantage points and his embrace of pooling darkness all elevate his feeling for complication and suffering over the usual simplistic story lines that crowd to the subject of crime. …

Between 1880 and 1950, lynchings were committed in open defiance of the law, terrorising a Black population that proceeded to escape to the ghettos of the North in massive numbers.

If all of this were mere history – a series of episodes confined to the past – it would be one thing. But Parks’s photographs are alive to the many ways in which crime in the 1950s was a continuation of this legacy. Sixty years after he took these photographs, it’s difficult to deny the conclusion that today’s crime-related inequities, from mass incarceration to police brutality, are likewise an extension of this racist legacy.

Big-city street crime has been in steady decline for three decades now. And yet the complexities and inequities of American crime still hinge on race and are still crudely narrated in the media.

Extract from Sebastian Smee. “With his camera, Gordon Parks humanized the Black people others saw as simply criminals,” on The Washington Post website August 5, 2020 [Online] Cited 07/02/2021

 

LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957 front cover

 

Robert Wallace. "Crime in the U.S." LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 46-47.

 

Robert Wallace. “Crime in the U.S.” LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 46-47. Photograph by Gordon Parks.

 

LIFE magazine 'Crime in the U.S.'

Robert Wallace. "Crime in the U.S." LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

Robert Wallace. “Crime in the U.S.” LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957. Photographs by Gordon Parks.

 

 

Robert Wallace. “Crime in the U.S.” LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 68-69.

 

 

“BANDIT’S ROOST” in New York’s Mulberry Street in 1890s housed Italians who, like most economically exploited immigrant groups, had a high incidence of crime. As Sellin explains, this dropped as they prospered.

Unattributed photograph by Jacob Riis (see below).

 

Jacob Riis (Danish-American, 1849-1914) 'Bandit's Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street' 1888

 

Jacob Riis (American, born Denmark 1849-1914)
Bandit’s Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street
1888
From How the Other Half Lives

 

This image is Bandit’s Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street, considered the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of New York City.

 

 

Jacob August Riis (1849-1914) was a Danish-American social reformer, “muckraking” journalist and social documentary photographer. He contributed significantly to the cause of urban reform in America at the turn of the twentieth century. He is known for using his photographic and journalistic talents to help the impoverished in New York City; those impoverished New Yorkers were the subject of most of his prolific writings and photography. He endorsed the implementation of “model tenements” in New York with the help of humanitarian Lawrence Veiller. Additionally, as one of the most famous proponents of the newly practicable casual photography, he is considered one of the fathers of photography due to his very early adoption of flash in photography.

While living in New York, Riis experienced poverty and became a police reporter writing about the quality of life in the slums. He attempted to alleviate the bad living conditions of poor people by exposing their living conditions to the middle and upper classes. …

 

Photography

Bandit’s Roost (1888) by Jacob Riis, from How the Other Half Lives. This image is Bandit’s Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street, considered the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of New York City. Riis had for some time been wondering how to show the squalor of which he wrote more vividly than his words could express. He tried sketching, but was incompetent at this. Camera lenses of the 1880s were slow as was the emulsion of photographic plates; photography thus did not seem to be of any use for reporting about conditions of life in dark interiors. In early 1887, however, Riis was startled to read that “a way had been discovered to take pictures by flashlight. The darkest corner might be photographed that way.” The German innovation, by Adolf Miethe and Johannes Gaedicke, flash powder was a mixture of magnesium with potassium chlorate and some antimony sulfide for added stability; the powder was used in a pistol-like device that fired cartridges. This was the introduction of flash photography.

Recognising the potential of the flash, Riis informed a friend, Dr. John Nagle, chief of the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the City Health Department who was also a keen amateur photographer. Nagle found two more photographer friends, Henry Piffard and Richard Hoe Lawrence, and the four of them began to photograph the slums. Their first report was published in the New York newspaper The Sun on February 12, 1888; it was an unsigned article by Riis which described its author as “an energetic gentleman, who combines in his person, though not in practice, the two dignities of deacon in a Long Island church and a police reporter in New York”. The “pictures of Gotham’s crime and misery by night and day” are described as “a foundation for a lecture called ‘The Other Half: How It Lives and Dies in New York.’ to give at church and Sunday school exhibitions, and the like.” The article was illustrated by twelve line drawings based on the photographs.

Riis and his photographers were among the first Americans to use flash photography. Pistol lamps were dangerous and looked threatening, and would soon be replaced by another method for which Riis lit magnesium powder on a frying pan. The process involved removing the lens cap, igniting the flash powder and replacing the lens cap; the time taken to ignite the flash powder sometimes allowed a visible image blurring created by the flash.

Riis’s first team soon tired of the late hours, and Riis had to find other help. Both his assistants were lazy and one was dishonest, selling plates for which Riis had paid. Riis sued him in court successfully. Nagle suggested that Riis should become self-sufficient, so in January 1888 Riis paid $25 for a 4×5 box camera, plate holders, a tripod and equipment for developing and printing. He took the equipment to the potter’s field cemetery on Hart Island to practice, making two exposures. The result was seriously overexposed but successful.

For three years, Riis combined his own photographs with others commissioned of professionals, donations by amateurs and purchased lantern slides, all of which formed the basis for his photographic archive.

Because of the nighttime work, he was able to photograph the worst elements of the New York slums, the dark streets, tenement apartments, and “stale-beer” dives, and documented the hardships faced by the poor and criminal, especially in the vicinity of notorious Mulberry Street. …

 

Social attitudes

Riis’s concern for the poor and destitute often caused people to assume he disliked the rich. However, Riis showed no sign of discomfort among the affluent, often asking them for their support. Although seldom involved with party politics, Riis was sufficiently disgusted by the corruption of Tammany Hall to change from being an endorser of the Democratic Party to endorse the Republican Party. The period just before the Spanish-American War was difficult for Riis. He was approached by liberals who suspected that protests of alleged Spanish mistreatment of the Cubans was merely a ruse intended to provide a pretext for US expansionism; perhaps to avoid offending his friend Roosevelt, Riis refused the offer of good payment to investigate this and made nationalist statements.

Riis emphatically supported the spread of wealth to lower classes through improved social programs and philanthropy, but his personal opinion of the natural causes for poor immigrants’ situations tended to display the trappings of a racist ideology. Several chapters of How the Other Half Lives, for example, open with Riis’ observations of the economic and social situations of different ethnic and racial groups via indictments of their perceived natural flaws; often prejudices that may well have been informed by scientific racism.

 

Criticism

Riis’s sincerity for social reform has seldom been questioned, but critics have questioned his right to interfere with the lives and choices of others. His audience comprised middle-class reformers, and critics say that he had no love for the traditional lifestyles of the people he portrayed. Stange (1989) argues that Riis “recoiled from workers and working-class culture” and appealed primarily to the anxieties and fears of his middle-class audience. Swienty (2008) says, “Riis was quite impatient with most of his fellow immigrants; he was quick to judge and condemn those who failed to assimilate, and he did not refrain from expressing his contempt.” Gurock (1981) says Riis was insensitive to the needs and fears of East European Jewish immigrants who flooded into New York at this time.

Libertarian economist Thomas Sowell (2001) argues that immigrants during Riis’s time were typically willing to live in cramped, unpleasant circumstances as a deliberate short-term strategy that allowed them to save more than half their earnings to help family members come to America, with every intention of relocating to more comfortable lodgings eventually. Many tenement renters physically resisted the well-intentioned relocation efforts of reformers like Riis, states Sowell, because other lodgings were too costly to allow for the high rate of savings possible in the tenements. Moreover, according to Sowell, Riis’s own personal experiences were the rule rather than the exception during his era: like most immigrants and low-income persons, he lived in the tenements only temporarily before gradually earning more income and relocating to different lodgings.

Riis’s depictions of various ethnic groups can be harsh. In Riis’s books, according to some historians, “The Jews are nervous and inquisitive, the Orientals are sinister, the Italians are unsanitary.”

Riis was also criticised for his depiction of African Americans. He was said to portray them as falsely happy with their lives in the “slums” of New York City. This criticism didn’t come until much later after Riis had died. His writing was overlooked because his photography was so revolutionary in his early books.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

“The Atmosphere of Crime” photographed for LIFE by Gordon Parks. LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, p. 50.

 

Gordon Parks' photo essay 'The Atmosphere of Crime' in 'Life Magazine', September 9, 1957

 

Gordon Parks’ photo essay “The Atmosphere of Crime” in Life Magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 58-59.

 

 

Because this year marks the 50th anniversary of his groundbreaking 1971 film, “Shaft”; because two fine shows of his pioneering photojournalism are on view at the Jack Shainman galleries in Chelsea; because a suite from his influential 1957 series, “The Atmosphere of Crime,” is a highlight of “In and Around Harlem,” on view at the Museum of Modern Art; and because, somehow, despite the long shadow cast by a man widely considered the preeminent Black American photographer of the 20th century, he is too little known, the time seems right to revisit some elements of the remarkable life, style and undimmed relevance of Gordon Parks.

 

Last born of 15 children, he made a career of firsts

Born Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks in Fort Scott, Kansas, on Nov. 30, 1912, he attended segregated schools where he was prohibited from playing sports and was advised not to aim for college because higher education was pointless for people destined to be porters and maids.

Once, he was beaten up for walking with a light-skinned cousin. Once, he was tossed into the Marmaton River by three white boys fully aware that he could not swim. Once, he was thrown out of a brother-in-law’s house where he was sent to live after his mother’s death. This was in St. Paul, at Christmas. He rode a trolley all night to keep warm.

 

The road to fame had plenty of detours

At various points in his early years, Parks played the piano in a brothel, was a janitor in a flophouse and was a dining car waiter on the cross-country railroad. He survived these travails to become, following a route that was anything but direct, the first Black member of the Farm Security Administration’s storied photo corps; the first Black photographer for the U.S. Office of War Information; the first Black photographer for Vogue; the first Black staff photographer at the weekly magazine Life; and, years later, the first Black filmmaker to direct a motion picture for a major Hollywood studio. By the standards of a Jim Crow era, Parks’ perseverance rose to the level of the biblical.

 

He got his break shooting dresses

As passengers have done everywhere and always, those on the North Coast Limited between Chicago and Seattle tossed their onboard reading when they were done. Parks scavenged the well-thumbed magazines and, taking them home, discovered both the Depression-era images of photographers like Dorothea Lange and the exotic spheres depicted in Vogue.

He bought his first camera at a pawnshop in Seattle in 1937 and taught himself how to use it. Returning to the Minneapolis area where he had lived for a time, he scouted work shooting for local department stores. All except one rebuffed him.

This, as it happened, was Frank Murphy, the most fashionable boutique in the city, a shop with a running fountain, a resident parrot and a clientele that ran to women from the Pillsbury, Ordway and Dayton dynasties and who relied on the buyers there to supply them with things like “telephone dresses,” for those who considered it unseemly to take calls in dishabille.

By legend, it was the owner’s wife, Madeleine, who insisted that her husband hire the fledgling photographer despite his inexperience, for reasons never made clear. The bet paid off, though, since the images Parks produced promptly resulted in more work, a local exhibition and a telephone call from Marva Louis, then the wife of the world heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, who encouraged him to relocate to Chicago, where he began taking portraits of society women. It was a career transit compressed in a sequence of events so implausible as to seem cinematic. Yet, for Parks, it was just a beginning.

“From the start, Parks knew how to make a beautiful picture,” photography critic Vince Aletti said. And it is true that, long after Parks established his reputation with unflinching photographic series on the civil rights movement, Harlem gangs, the Black Panthers, Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, he continued to move easily between photojournalism and the fashion work for which he maintained a lifelong regard – and which, along with his access to elements of Black life largely invisible to white readers, was among the reasons he was hired in the first place by Life.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled (Pages from an album of mugshots)' 1870s-80s

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled (Pages from an album of mugshots)
1870s-80s
Albumen silver prints
Each 9 1/8 × 4 7/16″ (23.2 × 11.2cm)

 

Times Wide World Photos. "Ms. Ruth Snyder as She Looks Today" April 1927

 

Times Wide World Photos
“Ms. Ruth Snyder as She Looks Today”
April 1927
Gelatin silver print
9 7/8 × 7 1/2″ (25.1 × 19.1cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 Times Wide World Photos

 

 

Ruth Brown Snyder (March 27, 1895 – January 12, 1928) was an American murderer. Her execution in the electric chair at New York’s Sing Sing Prison in 1928 for the murder of her husband, Albert Snyder, was recorded in a well-publicised photograph.

 

Associated Press. "Mob Foiled in Attempted Lynching" 1934

 

Associated Press
“Mob Foiled in Attempted Lynching”
1934
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 8 3/8″ (16.5 × 21.3cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 Associated Press

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968) 'Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces' 1942

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces
1942
Gelatin silver print
10 5/16 × 13 3/16″ (26.2 × 33.5cm)
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Weegee/ICP/Getty Images

 

Associated Press, Roger Higgins. 'Ethel and Julius Rosenberg on Their Way to Jail in New York' March 29, 1951

 

Associated Press, Roger Higgins
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg on Their Way to Jail in New York
March 29, 1951
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 8 7/16″ (16.5 × 21.4cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 Associated Press

 

 

Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg were American citizens who were convicted of spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. The couple was accused of providing top-secret information about radar, sonar, jet propulsion engines, and valuable nuclear weapon designs; at that time the United States was the only country in the world with nuclear weapons. Convicted of espionage in 1951, they were executed by the federal government of the United States in 1953 in the Sing Sing correctional facility in Ossining, New York, becoming the first American civilians to be executed for such charges and the first to suffer that penalty during peacetime.

Other convicted co-conspirators were sentenced to prison, including Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass (who had made a plea agreement), Harry Gold, and Morton Sobell. Klaus Fuchs, a German scientist working in Los Alamos, was convicted in the United Kingdom.

For decades, the Rosenbergs’ sons (Michael and Robert Meeropol) and many other defenders maintained that Julius and Ethel were innocent of spying on their country and were victims of Cold War paranoia. After the fall of the Soviet Union, much information concerning them was declassified, including a trove of decoded Soviet cables (code-name: Venona), which detailed Julius’s role as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets. Ethel’s role was as an accessory who helped recruit her brother David into the spy ring and she worked in a secretarial manner typing up documents for her husband that were given to the Soviets. In 2008, the National Archives of the United States published most of the grand jury testimony related to the prosecution of the Rosenbergs.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Black Maria, Oakland' 1957

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Black Maria, Oakland
1957
Gelatin silver print
10 15/16 × 9 13/16″ (27.9 × 24.9cm)
Gift of the artist

 

Meyer Liebowitz (American, 1906-1976) / The New York Times. 'Umberto (Albert) Anastasia Shot to Death in Barber's Chair' October 25, 1957

 

Meyer Liebowitz (American, 1906-1976) / The New York Times
Umberto (Albert) Anastasia Shot to Death in Barber’s Chair
October 25, 1957
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 × 8 7/16″ (19.4 × 21.4cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 The New York Times

 

 

Umberto “Albert” Anastasia (1902-1957) was an Italian-American mobster, hitman, and crime boss. One of the founders of the modern American Mafia and a co-founder and later boss of the Murder, Inc. criminal collective, Anastasia eventually rose to the position of boss in what became the modern Gambino crime family. He was also in control of the New York waterfront for most of his criminal career, including the dockworker unions. He was murdered on October 25, 1957, on the orders of Vito Genovese and Carlo Gambino; Gambino subsequently became boss of the family.

Anastasia was one of the most ruthless and feared organised crime figures in American history; his reputation earned him the nicknames “The One-Man Army”, “Mad Hatter” and “Lord High Executioner”. …

 

Assassination

On the morning of October 25, 1957, Anastasia entered the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel, at 56th Street and 7th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Anastasia’s driver parked the car in an underground garage and then took a walk outside, leaving him unprotected. As Anastasia relaxed in the barber’s chair, two men – scarves covering their faces – rushed in, shoved the barber out of the way, and fired at Anastasia. After the first volley of bullets, Anastasia reportedly lunged at his killers. However, the stunned Anastasia had actually attacked the gunmen’s reflections in the wall mirror of the barber shop. The gunmen continued firing until Anastasia finally fell dead on the floor.

The Anastasia homicide generated a tremendous amount of public interest and sparked a high-profile police investigation. Per The New York Times journalist and Five Families author Selwyn Raab, “The vivid image of a helpless victim swathed in white towels was stamped in the public memory”. However, no one was charged in the case. Speculation on who killed Anastasia has centred on Profaci crime family mobster Joe Gallo, the Patriarca crime family of Providence, Rhode Island, and certain drug dealers within the Gambino family. Initially, the NYPD concluded that Anastasia’s homicide had been arranged by Genovese and Gambino and that it was carried out by a crew led by Gallo. At one point, Gallo boasted to an associate of his part in the hit, “You can just call the five of us the barbershop quintet”. Elsewhere, Genovese had traditionally strong ties to Patriarca boss Raymond L. S. Patriarca.

Anastasia’s funeral service was conducted at a Brooklyn funeral home; the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn had refused to sanction a church burial. Anastasia was interred in Green-Wood Cemetery in Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn, attended by a handful of friends and relatives. It is marked “Anastasio”. In 1958, his family emigrated to Canada, and changed the name to “Anisio”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942) 'Dominoes, Walls Unit, Texas' 1967-69

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Dominoes, Walls Unit, Texas
1967-69
Gelatin silver print
11 × 14″ (28 × 35.6cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James Hunter
© 2021 Danny Lyon

 

John Hubbard / Black Star Publishing Company. "Kennedy Car off Bridge to Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts" July 19, 1969

 

John Hubbard / Black Star Publishing Company
“Kennedy Car off Bridge to Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts”
July 19, 1969
Gelatin silver print
6 13/16 × 9 15/16″ (17.3 × 25.2cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 John Hubbard/Black Star Publishing Co.

 

 

The Chappaquiddick incident (popularly known as Chappaquiddick) was a single-vehicle car crash that occurred on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts some time around midnight between Friday, July 18, and Saturday, July 19, 1969. The crash was caused by Senator Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy’s negligence and resulted in the death of his 28-year-old passenger Mary Jo Kopechne, who was trapped inside the vehicle.

Kennedy left a party on Chappaquiddick at 11:15 p.m. Friday, with Kopechne. He maintained his intent was to immediately take Kopechne to a ferry landing and return to Edgartown, but that he accidentally made a wrong turn onto a dirt road leading to a one-lane bridge. After his car skidded off the bridge into Poucha Pond, Kennedy swam free, and maintained he tried to rescue Kopechne from the submerged car, but he could not. Kopechne’s death could have happened any time between about 11:30 p.m. Friday and 1 a.m. Saturday, as an off-duty deputy sheriff maintained he saw a car matching Kennedy’s at 12:40 a.m. Kennedy left the scene and did not report the crash to police until after 10 a.m. Saturday. Meanwhile, a diver recovered Kopechne’s body from Kennedy’s car shortly before 9 a.m. Saturday.

At a July 25, 1969, court hearing, Kennedy pled guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month suspended jail sentence. In a televised statement that same evening, he said his conduct immediately after the crash “made no sense to me at all”, and that he regarded his failure to report the crash immediately as “indefensible”. A January 5, 1970, judicial inquest concluded Kennedy and Kopechne did not intend to take the ferry, and that Kennedy intentionally turned toward the bridge, operating his vehicle negligently, if not recklessly, at too high a rate of speed for the hazard which the bridge posed in the dark. The judge stopped short of recommending charges, and a grand jury convened on April 6, 1970, returning no indictments. On May 27, 1970, a Registry of Motor Vehicles hearing resulted in Kennedy’s driver’s license being suspended for a total of sixteen months after the crash.

The Chappaquiddick incident became national news that influenced Kennedy’s decision not to run for President in 1972 and 1976, and it was said to have undermined his chances of ever becoming President. Kennedy ultimately decided to enter the 1980 Democratic Party presidential primaries, but earned only 37.6% of the vote and lost the nomination to incumbent President Jimmy Carter.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006) 'New York: Woman killed by her boyfriend at her place of employment' 1972

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006)
New York: Woman killed by her boyfriend at her place of employment
1972
Gelatin silver print
15 5/8 × 23 9/16″ (39.7 × 59.8cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Thomas L. Kempner, Jr.
© 2021 Leonard Freed/Magnum Photos

 

 

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25
Mar
20

Exhibition: ‘Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures’ at the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 9th February – 9th May 2020

MoMA has closed temporarily due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

#MuseumFromHome

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Six Tenant Farmers without Farms, Hardeman County, Texas' 1937, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Six Tenant Farmers without Farms, Hardeman County, Texas
1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
12 15/16 × 16 5/8″ (32.9 × 42.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

This image appeared in Land of the Free and later in Lange and Paul Taylor’s documentary photobook An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion (1941), where Lange cropped out the sixth, smaller man, perhaps to simplify the idea of strength and virility conveyed there.

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'A Half-Hour Later, Hardeman County, Texas' 1937, printed 1965

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
A Half-Hour Later, Hardeman County, Texas
1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
12 1/8 × 15 3/16″ (30.8 × 38.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

“All photographs – not only those that are so-called ‘documentary,’ … can be fortified by words.”

“And the assignment was… see what was really there. What does it look like, what does it feel like, what actually is the human condition.”

.
Dorothea Lange

 

“Lange took so many memorable photographs that it is challenging to shortlist them. One of the greatest is at the entrance to the MoMA show: “Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona” (1940). The farmworker’s hands are close to the lens of the camera. One hand is holding a wooden beam; it could be the implement of his impending crucifixion. The other hand, with its open palm and splayed fingers, covers his mouth. Unforgettably powerful, the photograph resembles self-portraits by Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele, who shared Lange’s interest in extremities – hands and feet, and also, wretched misery.”

.
Arthur Lubow

 

 

Closer and closer

While MoMA has closed temporarily due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, I believe it is important to document and write about those exhibitions that would have been running during this distressing time, as a form of social inclusion, social connection if you like, in the virtual world. I know that I am feeling particularly isolated at the moment, fighting off depression, with a lack of my usual routine and coffee with friends.

Great art always inspires, engages me, makes me feel and care about the world around me. In these photographs by that most excellent of photographers Dorothea Lange, of another desperate time, The Great Depression, we can feel her sincerity and intensity, that resolute gift of seeing the world clearly, despite the abject misery that surrounds her. Fast forward future, and we see the lines of the newly unemployed, desperate, penniless, snaking around the block of the social security buildings here in Australia, this very day.

Lange’s photographs don’t need words. Words are never enough.

The faces weary, furrowed, parched under baking sun, rutted like the land, Tractored Out, Childress County, Texas (1938). Dark eyes pierce the marrow, astringent lines, heavy eyebrows, mirror, set above, tight, tight mouth, Young Sharecropper, Macon County, Georgia (July 1937). I feel what, his pain? his sadness? his despair? Hands, arms, feet, form an important part of Lange’s visual armoury, arm/ory, amour. The hand to chin of Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (March 1936); the bony arms of Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle (June 1938); hand obscuring face, steely gaze, Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California (1938); weathered, beaten hands, beaten, Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona (November 1940). These extremities are expressions not just of her subjects, but of herself. A virtual self-portrait.

“One of the greatest is at the entrance to the MoMA show: “Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona” (1940). The farmworker’s hands are close to the lens of the camera. One hand is holding a wooden beam; it could be the implement of his impending crucifixion. The other hand, with its open palm and splayed fingers, covers his mouth. Unforgettably powerful, the photograph resembles self-portraits by Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele, who shared Lange’s interest in extremities – hands and feet, and also, wretched misery.” (Press release)

Lange “is a key link in a chain of photographic history. From Evans, she learned how to frame precise images of clapboard churches. But unlike Evans, who usually preferred to keep a distance and capture a building’s architectural integrity, Lange always wanted, as she said when describing how she made “Migrant Mother,” to move “closer and closer”.” Moving closer, her photographs possess an un/bridled intimacy with troubled creatures. Moving closer, seeing clearly. Closer and closer, till death, parts.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

 

Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures MoMA exhibition

 

Dorothea Lange introduction

 

Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures introduction text

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at right, Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona November 1940
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Lange San Francisco Streets

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

San Francisco Streets

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 showing at left, White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco 1933
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco' 1933

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco
1933
Gelatin silver print
10 3/4 x 8 7/8″ (27.3 x 22.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Albert M. Bender

 

 

About this photograph, one of the first made outside her studio, Lange recalled, “I was just gathering my forces and that took a little bit because I wasn’t accustomed to jostling about in groups of tormented, depressed and angry men, with a camera.”

 

Lange Government Work

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Government Work

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 showing at fifth from left bottom, Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California 1938; at fourth from left top, Grayson, San Joaquin Valley, California 1938; and at fifth from left top, Ex-Slave with Long Memory, Alabama c. 1937
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California' 1938, printed c. 1958

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California
1938, printed c. 1958
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 8″ (24 × 20.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Grayson, San Joaquin Valley, California' 1938, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Grayson, San Joaquin Valley, California
1938, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
10 3/8 x 16 15/16″ (26.3 x 43 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Regarding this picture, Dorothea Lange’s field notes report: “Grayson was a migratory agricultural labourers’ shack town. It was during the season of the pea harvest. Late afternoon about 6 o’clock. Boys were playing baseball in the road that passes this building, which was used as a church. Otherwise, this corpse, lying at the church, was alone, unattended, and unexplained.” The full negative she made there represents not just this doorway but the entire whitewashed gabled façade. The concrete steps in front of the entrance and foundation blocks are visible. Apparently the form in the doorway was what drew Lange to the scene, however; it has been suggested that she later realised this central feature was important enough to carry the composition and proceeded to concentrate on the portion of the negative with the shallow portal holding the body. She published an even more severely cut-down version in the 1940 US Camera Annual. Bearing the title Doorstep Document, it eliminates the three plain boards that frame the doorway, making the depth of the threshold less evident and the wrapped figure and worn double doors more prominent and funereal.

It is not known why Lange identified the form as a corpse rather than a homeless person. Today we are more inclined to think the latter, since such scenes are common. The relaxed, uncovered pose of the feet indicates a voluntary reclining position. Lange was also some distance away when she made the exposure. One of the playing children may have suggested the corpse idea to test its shock value, and perhaps Lange adopted it for future propaganda purposes. Grayson was just a small town southwest of Modesto, and this church was probably one of the few places of refuge it offered.

It would seem peculiar for the feet of a dead person to be exposed. Here they represent the life, the personality, of this anonymous citizen. Always sensitive to the appearance and performance of others’ feet, due to her own deformity, Lange made hundreds of photographs on the theme. This one is among the most melancholy.

Judith Keller, Dorothea Lange, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002), 40. © 2002 J. Paul Getty Trust

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Ex-Slave with Long Memory, Alabama' c. 1937, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Ex-Slave with Long Memory, Alabama
c. 1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
15 3/16 × 11 15/16″ (38.5 × 30.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Lange 'Land of the Free'

Lange 'Land of the Free'

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Archibald Macleish (American, 1892-1982)
Land of the Free
1938
Letterpress open: 9 7/16 x 13 1/8″ (24 x 33.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York

Open at Lange’s Ditched, Stalled and Stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California February 1936

 

Lange Land of the Free

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Land of the Free

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left, Ditched, Stalled and Stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California February 1936; and at centre, Six Tenant Farmers without Farms, Hardeman County, Texas 1937
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Land of the Free and An American Exodus

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

FOR THE ENTIRE second half of Dorothea Lange’s life, a quotation from the English philosopher Francis Bacon floated in her peripheral vision: “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention.” She pinned a printout of these words up on her darkroom door in 1933. It remained there until she died, at 70, in 1965 – three months before her first retrospective opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and three decades after she took the most iconic photograph in the medium’s history.

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' March 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
March 1936
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 x 8 9/16″ (28.3 x 21.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

The captions used to describe Migrant Mother are as varied as the publications in which they appeared: “A destitute mother, the type aided by the WPA.” “A worker in the ‘peach bowl.'” “Draggin’-around people.” “In a camp of migratory pea-pickers, San Luis Obispo County, California.” Even in ostensibly factual settings such as newspapers, government reports, or a museum cataloguing sheet, no fixed phrase or set of words was associated with the image until 1952, when it was published as Migrant Mother.

 

Lange Migrant Mother / Popular Photography

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Migrant Mother / Popular Photography

Installation views of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left in the bottom photograph, Sunlit Oak c. 1957 (below)
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Sunlit Oak' c. 1957, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Sunlit Oak
c. 1957, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
30 7/8 × 41 1/8″ (78.4 × 104.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Kern County, California' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Kern County, California
1938
Gelatin silver print
12 7/16 x 12 1/2″ (31.6 x 31.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Pictures of Words

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left, Western Addition, San Francisco, California 1951 (below); at fifth from left, Kern County, California 1938 (above); at third from right, Crossroads Store, North Carolina July 1939 (below)
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Western Addition, San Francisco, California' 1951, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Western Addition, San Francisco, California
1951, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 6″ (23.8 × 17.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Crossroads Store, North Carolina' July 1939, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Crossroads Store, North Carolina
July 1939, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
9 11/16 × 13 9/16″ (24.6 × 34.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Tractored Out, Childress County, Texas' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Tractored Out, Childress County, Texas
1938
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 x 12 13/16″ (23.6 x 32.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Lange and Taylor’s captions in An American Exodus consider the human impact of environmental crises. The one for this image reads, “Tractors replace not only mules but people. They cultivate to the very door of the houses of those whom they replace.”

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'The Road West, New Mexico' 1938, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
The Road West, New Mexico
1938, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 13 1/16″ (24.5 × 33.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

The image was memorialised later by Robert Frank

 

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. 'An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion' New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. 'An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion' New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939

 

 

A seminal work in documentary studies, with powerful photographs of the Depression era made by the wife and husband team of Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor. They were hired by the Farm Security Administration to document the 300,000 strong, Depression era exodus from rural America, and the struggles these migrant workers overcame in search of basic necessities. The documentary photographer and social scientist’s goal was to “use the camera as a tool of research. Upon a tripod of photographs, captions, and text we rest themes evolved out of long observations in the field. We adhere to the standards of documentary photography as we have conceived them. Quotations which accompany photographs report what the persons photographed said, not what we think might be their unspoken thoughts.” p. 6.

Text from the Abe Books website [Online] Cited 24/02/2020

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle' June 1938, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle
June 1938, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
29 3/4 × 24″ (75.6 × 61 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

“IF YOU DIE, YOU’RE DEAD – THAT’S ALL”

When it was published in An American Exodus, this portrait was captioned “If you die, you’re dead—that’s all.” This line was taken from Lange’s field notes, which quote the woman at greater length: “‘We made good money a pullin’ bolls, when we could pull. But we’ve had no work since March. . . . You can’t get no relief here until you’ve lived here a year. This county’s a hard country. They won’t help bury you here. If you die, you’re dead, that’s all.’”

 

Lange 'An American Exodus'

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

An American Exodus

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left, Young Sharecropper, Macon County, Georgia July 1937; at second left top, The Road West, New Mexico 1938; at centre Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle June 1938; and second right, Jobless on the Edge of a Peafield, Imperial Valley, California February 1937
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Young Sharecropper, Macon County, Georgia' July 1937, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Young Sharecropper, Macon County, Georgia
July 1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
11 3/4 × 11 3/4″ (29.8 × 29.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Jobless on the Edge of a Peafield, Imperial Valley, California' February 1937, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Jobless on the Edge of a Peafield, Imperial Valley, California
February 1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
16 15/16 × 15 3/4″ (43 × 40.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. 'An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion' New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. 'An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion' New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939

 

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor
An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion
New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939
First edition. Hardcover
Letterpress open: 10 1/4 x 15 3/8″ (26 x 39.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York

 

 

Empathy and Artistry: Rediscovering Dorothea Lange

John Szarkowski was about 13 when he saw an image by Dorothea Lange that “enormously impressed” him. After he had become the powerful director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, he would recall that he took it to be a “picture of the hard-faced old woman, looking out of the handsome oval window of the expensive automobile with her hand to her face as if the smell of the street was offending her, and I thought, ‘Isn’t that marvellous?’ That a photographer can pin that specimen to the board as some kind of exotic moth and show her there in her true colours.”

A quarter of a century after his initial encounter with the photo, working in 1965 with Lange on his first one-artist retrospective at MoMA, he read her full caption for “Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California,” and realised that the fancy car belonged to an undertaker and that the expression he took for haughtiness was grief.

The wry confession of his mistake, which Szarkowski made in 1982 to an interviewer, is not mentioned in “Dorothea Lange: Words and Pictures,” which opened Sunday at MoMA. But it illustrates the curatorial theme: Lange’s pictures require verbal commentary to be read legibly.

Curiously, though, the strength of Lange’s photographs at MoMA undercuts the exhibition’s concept. With or without the support of words, Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), created some of the greatest images of the unsung struggles and overlooked realities of American life. Her most iconic photograph, which came to be called “Migrant Mother,” portrays a grave-faced woman in ragged clothing in Nipomo, Calif., in 1936, with two small children burying their faces against her shoulders, and a baby nestled in her lap. It is one of the most famous pictures of all time.

Yet Lange was not simply a Depression photographer. As this revelatory, heartening exhibition shows, she was an artist who made remarkable pictures throughout a career that spanned more than four decades. The photos she took in 1942 of interned Japanese-Americans (which the government suppressed until 1964) display state-administered cruelty with stone-cold clarity: One dignified man in a three-piece suit and overcoat is wearing a tag, like a steer, while disembodied white hands on either side examine and prod him. Her prescient photographs of environmental degradation portray the human cost of building a dam that flooded the Berryessa Valley near Napa. Her empathetic portraits of African-American field hands shine a light on a system of peonage that predated and outlasted the 1930s.

Nevertheless, her fame rests largely on the indelible images she made, starting in 1935, as an employee of the Resettlement Administration and its successor, the Farm Security Administration, both under the leadership of Roy Stryker. Lange endured a fractious relationship with Stryker, who seemed deeply discomfited by a strong-minded woman. He fired her in 1940, saying she was “uncooperative.” To his credit, however, he always acknowledged that “Migrant Mother” was the key image of the Depression.

Seeking a deeper understanding of the economic crisis, Lange and her collaborators in the field interviewed her subjects, and she incorporated their words into her captions. She was the first photographer to do that systematically. The show’s curator, Sarah Hermanson Meister, who drew from the museum’s collection of more than 500 Lange prints, includes many of the captions in the wall labels, in an installation that is patterned after Szarkowski’s 1966 Lange show. (The artist died of esophageal cancer before it opened.)

Lange took so many memorable photographs that it is challenging to shortlist them. One of the greatest is at the entrance to the MoMA show: “Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona” (1940). The farmworker’s hands are close to the lens of the camera. One hand is holding a wooden beam; it could be the implement of his impending crucifixion. The other hand, with its open palm and splayed fingers, covers his mouth. Unforgettably powerful, the photograph resembles self-portraits by Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele, who shared Lange’s interest in extremities – hands and feet, and also, wretched misery. …

Many wonderful Lange photographs are not overtly political. “Bad Trouble Over the Weekend” (1964) is a close-up of a woman’s hands folded over her face; one hand bears a wedding band and holds an unlit cigarette. (The subject was her daughter-in-law.) And Lange photographed multitrunked oaks with the same acuity as fingered hands.

The fame of “Migrant Mother” has cropped Lange’s reputation unfairly. She is a key link in a chain of photographic history. From Evans, she learned how to frame precise images of clapboard churches. But unlike Evans, who usually preferred to keep a distance and capture a building’s architectural integrity, Lange always wanted, as she said when describing how she made “Migrant Mother,” to move “closer and closer.” Her 1938 photograph, “Death in the Doorway, ” of a church entrance in the San Joaquin Valley reveals a blanketed corpse that someone, probably unable to afford a burial, has deposited. Evans would never have gone there.

In turn, Lange was revered by the documentary photographers who followed her. The greatest of them, Robert Frank, paid her direct homage in “The Americans,” shooting from the same vantage point the New Mexico highway that Lange had memorialized in “An American Exodus.”

But photography was heading off in a different direction. A year after his Lange exhibition, Mr. Szarkowski mounted “New Documents,” which introduced a younger generation of American photographers: Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand. Speaking to me in 2003, he explained that these photographers were “rejecting Dorothea’s attitude” that “documentary photography was supposed to do some good” and instead using the camera “to explore their own experience and their own life and not to persuade somebody else what to do or what to work for.” That notion was hardly foreign to Lange. In a picture of a lame person, “Walking Wounded, Oakland” (1954), she found, as did the New Documents artists, a real-life subject that mirrored her own life.

One happy consequence of our dismal political moment is a rediscovery of Lange. In 2018, a major exhibition from her archive was staged at the Barbican Center in London and the Jeu de Paume in Paris.

Perhaps now younger photographers will be inspired to pick up her banner. The need is all too apparent. Where is the photographer of cleareyed empathy and consummate artistry to depict the disquiet, hopelessness and desperate fortitude that riddle the American body politic of today? Who will bring us our “Migrant Mother”?

Arthur Lubow. “Empathy and Artistry: Rediscovering Dorothea Lange,” on The New York Times website Feb. 13, 2020 [Online] Cited 24/03/2020.

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona' November 1940

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona
November 1940
Gelatin silver print
19 15/16 × 23 13/16″ (50.7 × 60.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Lange '12 Million Black Voices'

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Edwin Rosskam (American, 1903-1985)
Richard Wright (American, 1908-1960)
12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States
1941
Offset lithography open: 10 1/4 x 14 1/2″ (26 x 36.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art Library

 

Lange 12 Million Black Voices

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

12 Million Black Voices

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Richmond, California' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Richmond, California
1942
Gelatin silver print
9 ¾ x 7 11/16″ (24.7 x 19.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Richmond, California' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Richmond, California
1942, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
10 7/16 × 13 3/16″ (26.5 × 33.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

During World War II, at the height of antiJapanese sentiment, Lange documented an explicitly racist billboard advertising the Southern Pacific railroad company. Rather than portraying the billboard in isolation, she disrupted the frame with a handmade sign that seems to undermine the commodification of such political sentiments.

 

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at second left top, One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco 1942 (below); and at second left bottom, Just About to Step into the Bus for the Assembly Center, San Francisco April 6, 1942 (below)
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco
1942
Gelatin silver print
13 1/8 × 9 13/16″ (33.4 × 25 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Just About to Step into the Bus for the Assembly Center, San Francisco' April 6, 1942, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Just About to Step into the Bus for the Assembly Center, San Francisco
April 6, 1942, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
10 3/8 × 9 13/16″ (26.3 × 25 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, the first major solo exhibition at the Museum of the photographer’s incisive work in over 50 years. On view from February 9 through May 9, 2020, Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures includes approximately 100 photographs drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection. The exhibition also uses archival materials such as correspondence, historical publications, and oral histories, as well as contemporary voices, to examine the ways in which words inflect our understanding of Lange’s pictures. These new perspectives and responses from artists, scholars, critics, and writers, including Julie Ault, Wendy Red Star, and Rebecca Solnit, provide fresh insight into Lange’s practice. Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures is organised by Sarah Meister, Curator, with River Bullock, Beaumont & Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, assisted by Madeline Weisburg, Modern Women’s Fund Twelve-Month Intern, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art.

Toward the end of her life, Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) remarked, “All photographs – not only those that are so-called ‘documentary,’ and every photograph really is documentary and belongs in some place, has a place in history – can be fortified by words.” Organised loosely chronologically and spanning her career, the exhibition groups iconic works together with lesser known photographs and traces their varied relationships to words: from early criticism on Lange’s photographs to her photo-essays published in LIFE magazine, and from the landmark photobook An American Exodus to her examination of the US criminal justice system. The exhibition also includes groundbreaking photographs of the 1930s – including Migrant Mother (1936) – that inspired pivotal public awareness of the lives of sharecroppers, displaced families, and migrant workers during the Great Depression. Through her photography and her words, Lange urged photographers to reconnect with the world – a call reflective of her own ethos and working method, which coupled an attention to aesthetics with a central concern for humanity.

“It seems both timely and urgent that we renew our attention to Lange’s extraordinary achievements,” said Sarah Meister. “Her concern for less fortunate and often overlooked individuals, and her success in using photography (and words) to address these inequities, encourages each of us to reflect on our own civic responsibilities. It reminds me of the unique role that art – and in particular photography – can play in imagining a more just society.”

The exhibition begins in 1933, when Lange, then a portrait photographer, first brought her camera outside into the streets of San Francisco. Lange’s increasing interest in the everyday experience of people she encountered eventually led her to work for government agencies, supporting their objective to raise public awareness and to provide aid to struggling farmers and those devastated by the Great Depression. During this time, Lange photographed her subjects and kept notes that formed the backbone of government reports; these and other archival materials will be represented alongside corresponding photographs throughout the exhibition. Lange’s commitment to social justice and her faith in the power of photography remained constant throughout her life, even when her politics did not align with those who were paying for her work. A central focus of the exhibition is An American Exodus, a 1939 collaboration between Lange and Paul Schuster Taylor, her husband and an agricultural economist. As an object and as an idea, An American Exodus highlights the voices of her subjects by pairing first-person quotations alongside their pictures. Later, Lange’s photographs continued to be useful in addressing marginalised histories and ongoing social concerns. Throughout her career as a photographer for the US Government and various popular magazines, Lange’s pictures were frequently syndicated and circulated outside of their original context. Lange’s photographs of the 1930s helped illustrate Richard Wright’s 12 Million Black Voices (1941), and her 1950s photographs of a public defender were used to illustrate Minimizing Racism in Jury Trials (1969), a law handbook published after Black Panther Huey P. Newton’s first trial during a time of great racial strife.

This collection-based exhibition would not be possible had it not been for Lange’s deep creative ties to the Museum during her lifetime. MoMA’s collection of Lange photographs was built over many decades and remains one of the definitive collections of her work. Her relationship to MoMA’s Department of Photography dates to her inclusion in its inaugural exhibition, in 1940 which was curated by the department’s director, Edward Steichen. Lange is a rare artist in that both Steichen and his successor, John Szarkowski, held her in equally high esteem. More than a generation after her first retrospective, organised by Szarkowski at MoMA in 1966, Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures uses both historical and contemporary words to encourage a more nuanced understanding of words and pictures in circulation.

Press release from MoMA website

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Richmond, California' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Richmond, California
1942
Gelatin silver print
7 3/8 x 6 5/8″ (18.8 x 16.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

The Family of Man and World War II

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left, Richmond, California 1942 (above)
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Café near Pinole, California' 1956, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Café near Pinole, California
1956, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
11 15/16 × 16 7/8″ (30.3 × 42.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
“Guilty, Your Honor,” Alameda County Courthouse, California
1955-57, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
17 1/16 × 14 15/16″ (43.3 × 37.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Lange Public Defender

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Public Defender and Late Work

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'The Defendant, Alameda County Courthouse, California' 1957

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
The Defendant, Alameda County Courthouse, California
1957
Gelatin silver print
12 3/8 x 10 1/8″ (31.4 x 25.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'The Witness, Alameda County Courthouse, California' 1955-57, printed c. 1958

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
The Witness, Alameda County Courthouse, California
1955-57, printed c. 1958
Gelatin silver print
10 5/16 × 8 1/2″ (26.2 × 21.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist

 

Lange Late Work

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Late work

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left Man Stepping from Cable Car, San Francisco 1956, and at third left Walking Wounded, Oakland, 1954
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Walking Wounded, Oakland' 1954, printed c. 1958

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Walking Wounded, Oakland
1954, printed c. 1958
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 × 9 1/2″ (19 × 24.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist

 

 

Lange’s choice of title for this image was almost certainly influenced by her own experience with disability. As a child she had contracted polio, which left her with a permanent limp. Toward the end of her life she reflected, “No one who hasn’t lived the life of a semi-cripple knows how much that means. I think it perhaps was the most important thing that happened to me, and formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me, and humiliated me. All those things at once. I’ve never gotten over it and I am aware of the force and the power of it.”

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Man Stepping from Cable Car, San Francisco' 1956

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Man Stepping from Cable Car, San Francisco
1956
Gelatin silver print
9 3/4 x 6 7/16″ (24.8 x 16.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Woman in Purdah, Upper Egypt' 1963, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Woman in Purdah, Upper Egypt
1963, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
12 7/16 × 15 15/16″ (31.6 × 40.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Bad Trouble Over the Weekend' 1964, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Bad Trouble Over the Weekend
1964, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 5 3/4″ (18.2 × 14.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Lange grappled extensively with the titles of the photographs included in her 1966 MoMA retrospective. In a letter to the curator, John Szarkowski, she wrote, “I propose also to caption each print separately, beyond time and place, sometimes with two or three words, sometimes with a quotation, sometimes with a brief commentary. This textual material I shall be working on for some time, on and of.” Rather than identify the subject of this photo as her daughter-in-law, Lange’s title extends the image’s affective reach.

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) '“Guilty, Your Honor,” Alameda County Courthouse, California' 1955-57, printed 1965

 

 

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19
Feb
20

Photographs: Gordon Parks “The Atmosphere of Crime” 1957

February 2020

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 ¾ x 21″ (35 × 53.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The photo essay as haunting and elegiac poem: “a richly-hued, cinematic portrayal of a largely hidden world: that of violence, police work and incarceration, seen with empathy and candour.”

Parks is one of my favourite photographers. He continues to astound me with his experimentation and percipience, his sensitive insight, into his subjects becoming: “a more nuanced view that reflected the social and economic factors tied to criminal behaviour and a rare window into the working lives of those charged with preventing and prosecuting it.” All captured by his probing camera – using natural light, flash, low depth of field, blur, high angles, low angles, perspective,  transience, informality and chiaroscuro.

Two photographs in the posting suffice to speak of the photographers art: pointing figure, veins, clenched first and revelation, the blue fairy of light, in the beautiful Narcotics Addict, Chicago, Illinois; and body carriage interior, overweight man, braced, shadow, fag hanging out of mouth, pulling – all dreams laid bare. The photographer crouching at the same level. Shooting Victim in Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois.

Wonderful to see the layout of the Life Magazine photo essay as well. Notice how Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois is cropped claustrophobically tight, giving little sense of the passage of the tenement. Similarly, the hand and cigarette in Untitled, Chicago, Illinois (cover for the new book about the series), is bound by the cropping and shadows. Other images from the shoots Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois and Untitled, San Quentin, California are also used, expanding the context of the scene.

His photographs “give shape to the ground against which poverty, addiction, and race become criminalised,” allowing “Life’s readers to see the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations.” They also enable us to enter a liminal space, where we feel both the mundane horror and specular beauty of life in medias res.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 x 17 15/16″ (30.1 x 45.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 ¾ x 21″ (35 x 53.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 x 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

MoMA Acquires 56 Photographs from Gordon Parks’s Groundbreaking 1957 Series “The Atmosphere of Crime”

The Museum of Modern Art has acquired 56 prints from American artist Gordon Parks’s series of colour photographs made in 1957 for a Life magazine photo essay titled “The Atmosphere of Crime.” The Museum and The Gordon Parks Foundation collaborated closely on the selection of 55 modern colour prints that MoMA purchased from the Foundation, and the Foundation has also given the Museum a rare vintage gelatin silver print (a companion to a print Parks himself gave the Museum in 1993). A generous selection of these prints will go on view in May 2020 as part of the first seasonal rotation of the Museum’s newly expanded and re-envisioned collection galleries. The collection installation Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime” will be located on the fourth floor, with Parks’s work as an anchor for exploring representations of criminality in photography, with a particular focus on work made in the United States.

One of the preeminent photographers of the mid-20th century, Gordon Parks (1912-2006) left behind a body of work that documents American life and culture from the early 1940s to the 2000s. Born in Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks worked as a youth in St. Paul, Minnesota, before discovering photography in 1937. He would come to view it as his “weapon of choice” for attacking issues including race relations, poverty, urban life, and injustice. After working for the US government’s Farm Security Administration in the early 1940s, Parks found success as a fashion photographer and a regular contributor to Ebony, Fortune, Glamour, and Vogue before he was hired as the first African American staff photographer at Life magazine in 1948.

In 1957, Life assigned Parks to photograph for the first in a series of articles addressing the perceived rise of crime in the US. With reporter Henry Suydam, Parks traversed the streets of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, producing a range of evocative colour images, 12 of which were featured in the debut article, “The Atmosphere of Crime,” on September 9, 1957. Parks’s empathetic, probing views of crime scenes, police precincts, hospitals, morgues, and prisons do not name or identify “the criminal,” but instead give shape to the ground against which poverty, addiction, and race become criminalised. Shot using available light, Parks’s atmospheric photographs capture mysterious nocturnal activity unfolding on street corners and silhouetted figures with raised hands in the murky haze of a tenement hallway.

A robust selection from this acquisition will anchor a display within a fourth-floor collection gallery, titled Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime.” Using Parks’s work as a point of departure, the installation will draw from a range of other works in the Museum’s collection, offering varied representations of crime and criminality. Since the 1940s, the Museum has collected and exhibited photographs of crime as represented in newspapers and tabloids, exemplified by the dramatic, flash-lit work of Weegee, complemented by 19th-century precedents such as mug shots, whose purported objectivity was expected to facilitate the identification of criminals, as well as acquisitions across media that point to subsequent investigations and more contemporary concerns.

While Parks’s work was first displayed at MoMA in 1948, and was included in the landmark exhibition The Family of Man in 1955, it wasn’t until 1993 that five of his photographs were approved for the Museum’s collection (including a large-scale gelatin silver print from the 1957 series on crime mentioned above). The Museum has since supported the acquisition of additional vintage prints in 2011 and 2014 (including Harlem Newsboy, currently on view on the Museum’s fifth floor).

“As an artist of the highest order and a passionate advocate for civil rights, Parks made iconic photographs that continue to speak poignantly to the complexity of cultural politics and racial bias in the United States,” said Sarah Meister, curator in MoMA’s Department of Photography. “This acquisition substantially improves the Museum’s holdings of Gordon Parks’s achievement, reflecting our commitment to the artist and fostering the possibility of situating his work within a broad range of contemporary concerns. His enduring impact on the history of photography and representation cannot be overstated.”

“MoMA’s acquisition reinforces the significance of Gordon Parks as an artist whose practice continues to inspire future generations,” said Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., executive director of The Gordon Parks Foundation. “Parks knew that his camera could be a powerful weapon, more potent than violence, and that pictures and words could further social change. The Atmosphere of Crime series remains as timeless and relevant today as when the photographs were made more than 50 years ago.”

Sarah Meister has also collaborated on The Gordon Parks Foundation’s forthcoming publication Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957, to be published by Steidl in spring 2020. The book’s expansive selection of never-before-published photographs from Parks’s original reportage was selected and sequenced by Meister, and her illustrated text situates this critically important photo essay within both Parks’s career and historic representations of crime and criminality. Other contributors include Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy (Spiegel & Grau, 2014), and Nicole Fleetwood, Professor of American studies and art history at Rutgers University and author of Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration (Harvard University Press, 2020). The book also features a foreword by MoMA’s director Glenn D. Lowry and The Gordon Parks Foundation’s executive director, Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr.

Press release from MoMA

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 x 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) '"Wrong Place at the Wrong Time," Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
“Wrong Place at the Wrong Time” Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, San Quentin, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, San Quentin, California
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 x 17 15/16″ (30.1 x 45.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Detectives Grilling a Suspect, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Detectives Grilling a Suspect, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Knifing Victim I, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Knifing Victim I, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

When Life magazine asked Gordon Parks to illustrate a recurring series of articles on crime in the United States in 1957, he had already been a staff photographer for nearly a decade, the first African American to hold this position. Parks embarked on a six-week journey that took him and a reporter to the streets of New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Unlike much of his prior work, the images made were in colour. The resulting eight-page photo-essay “The Atmosphere of Crime” was noteworthy not only for its bold aesthetic sophistication, but also for how it challenged stereotypes about criminality then pervasive in the mainstream media. They provided a richly-hued, cinematic portrayal of a largely hidden world: that of violence, police work and incarceration, seen with empathy and candour.

Parks rejected clichés of delinquency, drug use and corruption, opting for a more nuanced view that reflected the social and economic factors tied to criminal behaviour and a rare window into the working lives of those charged with preventing and prosecuting it. Transcending the romanticism of the gangster film, the suspense of the crime caper and the racially biased depictions of criminality then prevalent in American popular culture, Parks coaxed his camera to do what it does best: record reality so vividly and compellingly that it would allow Life‘s readers to see the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations. The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957 includes an expansive selection of never-before-published photographs from Parks’ original reportage.

Co-published with The Gordon Parks Foundation and The Museum of Modern Art. Text by Nicole Fleetwood and Bryan Stevenson.

Text from the Steidl website [Online] Cited 16/02/2020

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Narcotics Addict, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Narcotics Addict, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Police Bring in Victim, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Police Bring in Victim, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Shooting Victim in Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Shooting Victim in Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks' photo essay 'The Atmosphere of Crime' in 'Life Magazine', September 9, 1957

Gordon Parks' photo essay 'The Atmosphere of Crime' in 'Life Magazine', September 9, 1957

Gordon Parks' photo essay 'The Atmosphere of Crime' in 'Life Magazine', September 9, 1957

Gordon Parks' photo essay 'The Atmosphere of Crime' in 'Life Magazine', September 9, 1957

Gordon Parks' photo essay 'The Atmosphere of Crime' in 'Life Magazine', September 9, 1957

 

Gordon Parks’ photo essay The Atmosphere of Crime in Life Magazine September 9, 1957

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Gelatin silver print
19 ¼ x 13″ (48.9 × 33 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Gordon Parks Foundation
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

'The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957' (cover)

 

The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957 (cover)
Text by Nicole Fleetwood and Bryan Stevenson
Series edited by Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr.
Edited by Sarah Hermanson Meister
168 pages, 70 images
Hardback / Half-linen
25 x 29 cm
English
ISBN 978-3-95829-696-1
Published Spring 2020

 

 

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16
Dec
18

Exhibition: ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at Jeu de Paume, Concorde, Paris

Exhibition dates: 16th October 2018 – 27th January 2019

Curators: Drew Heath Johnson, Oakland Museum of California, Alona Pardo and Jilke Golbach, Barbican Art Gallery, Pia Viewing, Jeu de Paume.

 

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

 

A further posting on this exhibition, now showing at Jeu de Paume in Paris.

Eleven new media images, two videos, a selection of quotes from Dorothea Lange, and text from the exhibition curator Pia Viewing.

The most interesting of the images is the wide shot Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936, above), part of a series of six that Lange took of Florence Owens Thompson and her children, the last image of which was to become the iconic image (see text below). The story of that image is fascinating and is told in detail in text from Wikipedia and other sources below.

It would seem that Lange was mistaken or made up the story to fill in the blanks; and that the image was at first a curse (ashamed that the world could see how poor they were) and now a source of pride, to the Thompson family. As the text pertinently notes, “The photograph’s fame caused distress for Thompson and her children and raised ethical concerns about turning individuals into symbols.”

Marcus

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

 

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California [with thumb at bottom right removed]
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Destitute pea pickers in California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California [original title, thumb removed; digital file, post-conservation]
1936
Library of Congress

 

Digital file was made from the original nitrate negative for “Migrant Mother” (LC-USF34-009058-C). The negative was retouched in the 1930s to erase the thumb holding a tent pole in lower right hand corner.

The file print made before the thumb was retouched can be seen at http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.12883

Title from caption card for negative. Title on print: “Destitute pea pickers in California. A 32 year old mother of seven children.”

 

 

Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California. In the 1930s, the FSA employed several photographers to document the effects of the Great Depression on Americans. Many of the photographs can also be seen as propaganda images to support the U.S. government’s policy distributing support to the worst affected, poorer areas of the country. Dorothea Lange’s image of a migrant pea picker, Florence Owens Thompson, and her family has become an icon of resilience in the face of adversity. Lange actually took six images that day, the last being the famous “Migrant Mother”. This is a montage of the other five pictures. Persons in picture (left to right) are: Viola (Pete) in rocker, age 14, standing inside tent; Ruby, age 5; Katherine, age 4, seated on box; Florence, age 32, and infant Norma, age 1 year, being held by Florence. Pete has moved inside the tent, and away from Lange, in hopes her photo can not be taken. Katherine stands next to her mother. Florence is talking to Ruby, who is hiding behind her mother, as Lange took the picture. Florence is nursing Norma. Katherine has moved back from her mother as Lange approached to take this shot. Ruby is still hiding behind her mother. Left to right are Florence, Ruby and baby Norma. Florence stopped nursing Norma and Ruby has come out from behind her. This photograph was the one used by the newspapers the following day to report the story of the migrants. Portrait shows Florence Owens Thompson with several of her children in a photograph known as “Migrant Mother”.

  1. Persons in picture (left to right) are: Viola (Pete) in rocker, age 14; standing inside tent, Ruby, age 5; Katherine, age 4; seated on box, Florence, age 32, and infant Norma, age 1 year, being held by Florence
  2. Viola has moved inside the tent. Katherine stands next to her mother. Florence is talking to Ruby, who is behind her mother
  3. Florence is nursing Norma. Katherine has moved back from her mother. Ruby is still behind her mother
  4. Left to right are Florence, Ruby and baby Norma
  5. Florence stopped nursing Norma. Ruby is still next to her mother. This photograph was the one used by the newspapers the following day to report the story of the starving migrants

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California' 1936

 

“We do not know the order in which these photographs were taken, since they are 4″ x 5” individual negatives rather than 35mm film strips, which provide a record of the sequence of continuous exposures. However, Lange indicates in the above statement she moved closer as she continued to photograph. If that is true, then we have a good idea of the general order. We do know that one was selected, likely as a joint decision between Lange and representatives of the Resettlement Administration.

While “Migrant Mother” is well known, what is far less known is that Lange took six or seven pictures, five of which still exist. Lange posed Ms. Florence Thompson in different positions and used some of her seven children to create a series of compelling images. She asked Thompson to shift the position of the child in her arms to get the greatest emotional effect. Linda Gordon’s biography of Lange describes this as follows:

Lange asked the mother and children to move into several different positions. She began with a mid-distance shot. Then she backed up for one shot, then came closer for others. She moved aside a pile of dirty clothes (she would never embarrass her subjects). She then moved closer yet, focusing on three younger children and sidelining the teenage daughter out of the later pictures altogether… she offered the photographs to the press. The San Francisco News published two of them on March 10, 1936. In response, contributions of $200,000 poured in for the destitute farmworkers stuck in Nipomo. (Gordon, 2009, p. 237)

One was eventually selected to represent this scene to the nation.”

Anonymous. “The Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the New Deal,” on the Annenberg Learner website [Online] Cited 16/12/2018

 

 

Iconic photo

In March 1936, after picking beets in the Imperial Valley, Florence and her family were traveling on U.S. Highway 101 towards Watsonville “where they had hoped to find work in the lettuce fields of the Pajaro Valley.” On the road, the car’s timing chain snapped and they coasted to a stop just inside a pea-pickers‘ camp on Nipomo Mesa. They were shocked to find so many people camping there – as many as 2,500 to 3,500. A notice had been sent out for pickers, but the crops had been destroyed by freezing rain, leaving them without work or pay. Years later Florence told an interviewer that when she cooked food for her children that day little children appeared from the pea pickers’ camp asking, “Can I have a bite?”

While Jim Hill, her husband, and two of Florence’s sons went into town to get the car’s damaged radiator repaired, Florence and some of the children set up a temporary camp. As Florence waited, photographer Dorothea Lange, working for the Resettlement Administration, drove up and started taking photos of Florence and her family. She took six images in the course of ten minutes.

Lange’s field notes of the images read:

Seven hungry children. Father is native Californian. Destitute in pea pickers’ camp … because of failure of the early pea crop. These people had just sold their tires to buy food.

Lange later wrote of the encounter with Thompson:

I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was 32. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food.

Thompson claimed that Lange never asked her any questions and got many of the details incorrect. Troy Owens recounted:

There’s no way we sold our tires, because we didn’t have any to sell. The only ones we had were on the Hudson and we drove off in them. I don’t believe Dorothea Lange was lying, I just think she had one story mixed up with another. Or she was borrowing to fill in what she didn’t have.

In many ways, Migrant Mother is not typical of Lange’s careful method of interacting with her subject. Exhausted after a long road-trip, she did not talk much to the migrant woman, Florence Thompson, and didn’t record her information accurately. Although Thompson became a famous symbol of White motherhood, her heritage is Native American. The photograph’s fame caused distress for Thompson and her children and raised ethical concerns about turning individuals into symbols.

According to Thompson, Lange promised the photos would never be published, but Lange sent them to the San Francisco News as well as to the Resettlement Administration in Washington, D.C. The News ran the pictures almost immediately and reported that 2,500 to 3,500 migrant workers were starving in Nipomo, California. Within days, the pea-picker camp received 20,000 pounds (9,100 kg) of food from the federal government. Thompson and her family had moved on by the time the food arrived and were working near Watsonville, California.

While Thompson’s identity was not known for over 40 years after the photos were taken, the images became famous. The sixth image, especially, which later became known as Migrant Mother, “has achieved near mythical status, symbolising, if not defining, an entire era in United States history.” Roy Stryker called Migrant Mother the “ultimate” photo of the Depression Era: “[Lange] never surpassed it. To me, it was the picture … . The others were marvellous, but that was special … . She is immortal.” As a whole, the photographs taken for the Resettlement Administration “have been widely heralded as the epitome of documentary photography.” Edward Steichen described them as “the most remarkable human documents ever rendered in pictures.”

Thompson’s identity was discovered in the late 1970s. In 1978, acting on a tip, Modesto Bee reporter Emmett Corrigan located Thompson at her mobile home in Space 24 of the Modesto Mobile Village and recognised her from the 40-year-old photograph. A letter Thompson wrote was published in The Modesto Bee and the Associated Press distributed a story headlined “Woman Fighting Mad Over Famous Depression Photo.” Florence was quoted as saying “I wish she [Lange] hadn’t taken my picture. I can’t get a penny out of it. She didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures. She said she’d send me a copy. She never did.”

Lange was funded by the federal government when she took the picture, so the image was in the public domain and Lange never directly received any royalties. However, the picture did help make Lange a celebrity and earned her “respect from her colleagues.”

In a 2008 interview with CNN, Thompson’s daughter Katherine McIntosh recalled how her mother was a “very strong lady”, and “the backbone of our family”. She said: “We never had a lot, but she always made sure we had something. She didn’t eat sometimes, but she made sure us children ate. That’s one thing she did do.”

 

Later life, death, and aftermath

Though Thompson’s 10 children bought her a house in Modesto, California, in the 1970s, Thompson found she preferred living in a mobile home and moved back into one.

Thompson was hospitalised and her family appealed for financial help in late August 1983. By September, the family had collected $35,000 in donations to pay for her medical care. Florence died of “stroke, cancer and heart problems” at Scotts Valley, California, on September 16, 1983. She was buried in Lakewood Memorial Park, in Hughson, California, and her gravestone reads: “FLORENCE LEONA THOMPSON Migrant Mother – A Legend of the Strength of American Motherhood.”

Daughter Katherine McIntosh told CNN that the photo’s fame had made the family feel both ashamed and determined never to be as poor again. Son Troy Owens said that more than 2,000 letters received along with donations for his mother’s medical fund led to a re-appraisal of the photo: “For Mama and us, the photo had always been a bit of [a] curse. After all those letters came in, I think it gave us a sense of pride.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Cars on the Road' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Cars on the Road
1936
Library of Congress
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Near Eutah, Alabama' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Near Eutah, Alabama
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Ditched, stalled and stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California' 1935, printed c. 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Ditched, Stalled, and Stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

Quotes from Dorothea Lange

“One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind. To live a visual life is an enormous undertaking, practically unattainable, but when the great photographs are produced, it will be down that road. I have only touched it, just touched it.”

“On the Bowery I knew how to step over drunken men … I knew how to keep an expression of face that would draw no attention, so no one would look at me. I have used that my whole life in photographing.”

Interview with Lange, in Dorothea Lange, Part II : The Closer For Me, film produced by KQED for National Educational Television (NET), USA, 1965

 

“I never steal a photograph. Never. All photographs are made in collaboration, as part of their thinking as well as mine.”

“Often it’s just sticking around and being there, remaining there, not swopping in and swopping out in a cloud of dust; sitting down on the ground with people, letting the children look at your camera with their dirty, grimy little hands, and putting their fingers on the lens, and you let them, because you know that if you will behave in a generous manner, you’re very apt to receive it.”

Anne Whiston, Spirn, Daring to Look, p. 23-24

 

“My own approach is based upon three considerations. First – hands off! Whatever I photograph I do not molest or tamper with or arrange. Second – a sense of place. Whatever I photograph, I try to picture as part of its surroundings, as having roots. Third – a sense of time. Whatever I photograph, I try to show as having its position in the past or in the present.”

Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Masters Of Photography, New York Castle Books, 1958, p. 140

 

“The good photograph is not the object, the consequences of the photograph are the objects.”

“I believe that the camera is a powerful medium for communication and I believe that the camera is a valuable tool for social research which has not been developed to its capacity.”

Dorothea Lange, quoted in Karen Tsujimoto, Dorothea Lange : Archive of an Artist, Oakland, Oakland Museum, 1995, p. 23

 

“Everything is propaganda for what you believe in, actually, isn’t it? … I don’t see that it could be otherwise. The harder and the more deeply you believe in anything, the more in a sense you’re a propagandist. Conviction, propaganda, faith. I don’t know, I never have been able to come to the conclusion that that’s a bad word […] But at any rate, that’s what the Office of War Information work was.”

“There is a sharp difference, a gulf. The woman’s position is immeasurably more complicated. There are not very many first class woman producers, not many. That is, producers of outside things. They produce in other ways. Where they can do both, it’s a conflict. I would like to try. I would like to have one year. I’d like to take one year, almost ask it of myself, ‘Could I have one year?’ Just one, when I would not have to take into account anything but my own inner demands. Maybe everybody would like that … but I can’t.”

Suzanne Riess, “Dorothea Lange: The Making of a documentary Photographer,” October 1960-August 1961, p. 181; 219-220

 

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Drought-abandoned house on the edge of the Great Plains near Hollis, Oklahoma' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Drought-abandoned house on the edge of the Great Plains near Hollis, Oklahoma
1938
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Towards Los Angeles, California' 1936, printed c. 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Toward Los Angeles, California
1937
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Family on the road, Oklahoma' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Family on the road, Oklahoma
1938
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Ancienne esclave à la longue mémoire, Alabama' 'Former slave with a long memory, Alabama' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Ancienne esclave à la longue mémoire, Alabama
Former slave with a long memory, Alabama
1938
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

The Politics of Seeing features major works by the world famous American photographer Dorothea Lange (1895, Hoboken, New Jersey-1966, San Francisco, California), some of which have never before been exhibited in France. The exhibition focuses on the extraordinary emotional power of Dorothea Lange’s work and on the context of her documentary practice. It features five specific series: the Depression period (1933-1934), a selection of works from the Farm Security Administration (1935-1939), the Japanese American internment (1942), the Richmond shipyards (1942-1944) and a series on a Public defender (1955-1957). Over one hundred splendid vintage prints taken between 1933 and 1957 are enhanced by the presence of documents and screenings broadening the scope of an oeuvre often familiar to the public through images such as White Angel Breadline (1933) and Migrant Mother (1936), which are icons of photographic history. The majority of prints in this exhibition belong to the Oakland Museum of California, where Lange’s considerable archive, donated to the museum after her death by her husband Paul Shuster Taylor, is conserved.

Like John Steinbeck’s famous novel The Grapes of Wrath, Dorothea Lange’s oeuvre has helped shape our conception of the interwar years in America and contributed to our knowledge of this period. However, this exhibition also introduces other aspects of Dorothea Lange’s practice, which she herself considered archival. By placing the photographic work in the context of her anthropological approach, it enables viewers to appreciate how its power also lies in her capacity to interact with her subjects, evident in her captions to the images. She thereby considerably enriched the informative quality of the visual archive and produced a form of oral history for future generations.

In 1932, during the Great Depression that began in 1929, Lange observed the unemployed homeless people in the streets of San Francisco and decided to drop her studio portrait work because she felt that it was no longer adequate. During a two-year period that marked a turning point in her life, she took photographs of urban situations that portrayed the social impact of the recession. This new work became known in artistic circles and attracted the attention of Paul Schuster Taylor, professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. Taylor was a specialist in agricultural conflicts of the 1930s, and in particular Mexican migrant workers. He began using Lange’s photographs to illustrate his articles and in 1935 they started working together for the government agencies of the New Deal. Their collaboration lasted for over thirty years.

During the Second World War, Lange continued to practise photography and to document the major issues of the day, including the internment of Japanese-American families during the war; the economic and social development due to industries engaged in the war effort; and the criminal justice system through the work of a county public defence lawyer.

Dorothea Lange’s iconic images of the Great Depression are well known, but her photographs of Japanese-Americans interned during the Second World War were only published in 2006. Shown here for the first time in France, they illustrate perfectly how Dorothea Lange created intimate and poignant images throughout her career in order to denounce injustices and change public opinion. In addition to the prints, a selection of personal items, including contact sheets, field notes and publications allow the public to situate her work within the context of this troubled period.

The exhibition at the Jeu de Paume offers a new perspective on the work of this renowned American artist, whose legacy continues to be felt today. Highlighting the artistic qualities and the strength of the artist’s political convictions, this exhibition encourages the public to rediscover the importance of Dorothea Lange’s work as a landmark in the history of documentary photography.

Press release from Jeu de Paume

 

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Unemployed lumber worker goes with his wife to the bean harvest. Note social security number tattooed on his arm, Oregon' 1939

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Unemployed lumber worker goes with his wife to the bean harvest. Note social security number tattooed on his arm, Oregon
1939
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Manzanar Relocation Center' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California
1942
© Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Japanese Children with Tags, Hayward, California, May 8 1942'

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Japanese Children with Tags, Hayward, California, May 8 1942
1942
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Jour de lessive, quarante-huit heures avant l’évacuation des personnes d’ascendance japonaise de ce village agricole du comté de Santa Clara, San Lorenzo, Californie' 'Laundry day, forty-eight hours before the evacuation of people of Japanese descent from this farming village of Santa Clara County, San Lorenzo, California' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Jour de lessive, quarante-huit heures avant l’évacuation des personnes d’ascendance japonaise de ce village agricole du comté de Santa Clara, San Lorenzo, Californie
Laundry day, forty-eight hours before the evacuation of people of Japanese descent from this farming village of Santa Clara County, San Lorenzo, California
1942
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Oakland, California, March 1942' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Oakland, California, March 1942
1942
Library of Congress
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

A large sign reading “I am an American” placed in the window of a store, at 401-403 Eight and Franklin streets, on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store was closed following orders to persons of Japanese descent to evacuate from certain West Coast areas. The owner, a University of California graduate, will be housed with hundreds of evacuees in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration of the war.

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966) 'Shipyard Worker, Richmond California' c. 1943

 

Dorothea Lange (1895-1966)
Shipyard Worker, Richmond California
c. 1943
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

 

Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing

Dorothea Nutzhorn (1895–1965), who took up photography at the age of eighteen, was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. The daughter of second-generation German immigrants, she adopted her mother’s maiden name, Lange, when she opened a portrait studio in San Francisco in 1918. In 1932, during the Great Depression, Lange shifted her focus from studio portraits to scenes showing the impact of the recession and the social unrest in the streets of San Francisco. This two-year period marked a turning point in her life. Paul Schuster Taylor, professor of economics at the University of California, and a specialist in agricultural conflicts, who later became her second husband, began using her photographs to illustrate his articles in 1934. They worked together for over thirty years. Co-authors of the famous book An American Exodus (1939), they were active in circulating images about social conditions in rural states.

Lange created some of the iconic images of the Great Depression, but this exhibition presents other aspects of her practice, which she herself considered archival. By placing her photographic work in the context of her anthropological approach, it reveals how her images were also rooted in her ability to connect with her subjects, evident in her captions to the images. She thus considerably enriched the informative quality of the visual archive and produced a form of oral history for future generations. Her work for government institutions and the publication of her images in the illustrated press enabled her to denounce injustice and change public opinion.

Her efforts to connect with her subjects can be seen in the five specific series featured in this exhibition: the Depression period (1932–1934), a selection of works from the Farm Security Administration (1935-1941), the Richmond shipyards (1942-1944), the Japanese American internment (1942) and a series on a public defender (1955-1957). By introducing contextual information and important archive material, the Jeu de Paume’s exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing endeavours to situate her majestic works within the social documentary context specific to the 1930s and 1940s, highlighting the artistic qualities of her work and the strength of her political convictions.

 

1. “The people that my life touched”, 1932-1934

In 1929 America’s urban and rural populations were hard hit by the Great Depression. Leading up to the stock market crash there had been a boom in agricultural production. However, by the late 1920s production was exceeding consumption, causing a drop in prices that had severe consequences for farmers. The textile and coal industries suffered sharp declines in wages and employment. In the 1930s, the oil, transportation and construction sectors declined at an even faster rate than agriculture, causing urban unemployment to rise above that of the rural states. In March 1933, in the midst of this crisis, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president.

This context of considerable social unrest prompted a change in direction in Lange’s engagement with photography. From 1932 to 1934, she captured demonstrations and homeless people in the streets of San Francisco. Urban portraits like White Angel Breadline (1933) later became iconic images of the period. Her work from this period was recognised in artistic circles and Paul Shuster Taylor used one of her photographs of the May Day demonstrations to illustrate his article about the longest, largest maritime strike in the history of the USA, which was published in the progressive social welfare journal Survey Graphic in September 1934.

 

2. The documentary survey – the narration of migration, 1935-1941

In 1935, Lange accompanied Taylor on several field trips to study people migrating to rural California from the Midwest. Taylor used Lange’s images to illustrate the articles as well as his federal reports. Such was the impact of Lange’s powerful images that the authorities built the first migrant camps for agricultural workers as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal policy. The latter consisted of numerous programmes intended to combat the devastating effects of the Depression in all areas of life across the country. One such programme was the Farm Security Administration (FSA), which led to the creation of the largest American photographic archive ever, containing over 130,000 negatives documenting how the New Deal helped to relieve poverty in rural areas.

Lange, who worked in twenty-two different states, was given two contracts, one running from 1935 to 1937 and the other from 1938 to the closure of the programme in January 1941. Her photographs highlighted the plight of people who were caught up in the complex economic web of industrial farming, victims of the failure of the American dream. The images and the transcriptions of oral testimonies that Lange made were personal and intimate recollections of a history that became a cause of significant public concern in the late 1930s.
3. “A two-ocean war” – Kaiser Shipyards, Richmond, 1942-1944

During the early 1940s, Lange was interested in a new form of internal migration caused by the rapid expansion of industries, naval training programmes and military defence organisations in the Bay Area, California. Here part of the once scorned and rejected “Okie” population (migrant farm workers) moved to urban districts, where they proudly contributed to the war effort. In 1944, Lange was commissioned by Fortune magazine to photograph the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond. This young corporation, established to help with the war effort, employed nearly 100,000 unskilled workers thanks to new techniques of manufacture and assembly. Lange captured the changing of shifts and the intensity of the shipyard’s activity, the diversity of the workforce, intimate details of their living conditions, and the isolation and loneliness of the newcomers, and in particular African Americans, who were excluded from the local community. She was also interested in the unions’ unsuccessful efforts to cope with this large, diverse workforce and in women’s new status in the industrial sector.

 

4. The internment of American citizens of Japanese descent, 1942

Lange’s various series reflect many aspects of America’s cultural geography. Her desire to portray the dignity of people enduring hardship and the complexity of their situations, coupled with the need to produce a historical document, enabled Lange to produce work of universal scope.

In March 1942, in the wake of the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941, the US government ordered the internment of over 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent from the Pacific Coast military zones, crowning a century of racism against Asian immigrants. Executive Order 9066 targeted three generations of Japanese Americans, who were “relocated” to ten remote and intemperate camps in California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Arkansas and Wyoming.

Lange was commissioned by the War Relocation Authority to cover the procedure from March to July 1942. Her sensitivity to the identity of cultural minorities was already evident in her photographs for the FSA commission. A decade later she captured the evacuation and incarceration of Japanese Americans, which lasted for over 18 months. These images belonged to a “military record” and were only released for publication in 2006.

 

5. The public defender, 1955-1957

A system of public defence for persons in need of legal support in court cases began in California in 1914 and by the 1950s had been introduced in many states throughout the country. Lange supported the idea of justice for all and was given an assignment by Life magazine to cover the subject at the Alameda County Court house, Oakland, to be published in May 1956 to mark Law Day. Lange was given permission to photograph in prison cells, as well as in and around the law court, taking over 450 images. She worked in conjunction with Martin Pulich, an American lawyer of Yugoslav descent, who recognised in Lange’s approach a social and political stance that mirrored his own commitment as a public defender. In this photographic essay she was able to pinpoint issues concerning racial prejudice that were omnipresent in the Bay Area at the time. The assignment did not appear in Life, but it was published in many newspapers, even internationally, and was also used by the national Legal Aid Society of New York to develop public services in the legal system.

Pia Viewing
Curator of the exhibition

 

Paul S. Taylor. 'Dorothea Lange in Texas on the Plains' c. 1935

 

Paul S. Taylor
Dorothea Lange on the Plains of Texas
c. 1935
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

 

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20
Aug
18

Exhibition: ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 22nd June – 2nd September 2018

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona' 1940

 

Dorothea Lange
Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona
1940
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

Damaged, desperate and displaced

I am writing this short text on a laptop in Thailand which keeps jumping lines and mispelling words. The experience is almost as disorienting as the photographs of Dorothea Lange, with their anguished angles and portraits of despair. Her humanist, modernist pictures capture the harsh era of The Great Depression and the 1930s in America, allowing a contemporary audience to imagine what it must have been like to walk along blistering roads with five children, not knowing where your next meal or drink of water is coming from.

Like Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis from an earlier era, Lange’s photographs are about the politics of seeing. They are about human beings in distress and how photography can raise awareness of social injustice and disenfranchisement in the name of cultural change.

#dorothealange @barbicancentre

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

 

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
1936
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

Dorothea Lange took this photograph in 1936, while employed by the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) program, formed during the Great Depression to raise awareness of and provide aid to impoverished farmers. In Nipomo, California, Lange came across Florence Owens Thompson and her children in a camp filled with field workers whose livelihoods were devastated by the failure of the pea crops. Recalling her encounter with Thompson years later, she said, “I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction.”1 One photograph from that shoot, now known as Migrant Mother, was widely circulated to magazines and newspapers and became a symbol of the plight of migrant farm workers during the Great Depression.

As Lange described Thompson’s situation, “She and her children had been living on frozen vegetables from the field and wild birds the children caught. The pea crop had frozen; there was no work. Yet they could not move on, for she had just sold the tires from the car to buy food.”2 However, Thompson later contested Lange’s account. When a reporter interviewed her in the 1970s, she insisted that she and Lange did not speak to each other, nor did she sell the tires of her car. Thompson said that Lange had either confused her for another farmer or embellished what she had understood of her situation in order to make a better story.

Text from the MoMA Learning website

 

  1. Dorothea Lange, “The Assignment I’ll Never Forget,” Popular Photography 46 (February, 1960). Reprinted in Photography, Essays and Images, ed. Beaumont Newhall (New York: The Museum of Modern Art), 262-65
  2. Dorothea Lange, paraphrased in Karin Becker Ohm, Dorothea Lange and the Documentary Tradition (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1980), 79

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing at the Barbican Art Gallery, London showing Dorothea Lange’s photograph Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California 1936
Photos: Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.” (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).

The images were made using a Graflex camera. The original negatives are 4×5″ film. It is not possible to determine on the basis of the negative numbers (which were assigned later at the Resettlement Administration) the order in which the photographs were taken.

Text from The Library of Congress website

 

Florence Owens Thompson: The Story of the “Migrant Mother” 2014

Thompson’s identity was discovered in the late 1970s; in 1978, acting on a tip, Modesto Bee reporter Emmett Corrigan located Thompson at her mobile home in Space 24 of the Modesto Mobile Village and recognized her from the 40-year-old photograph.[10] A letter Thompson wrote was published in The Modesto Bee and the Associated Press distributed a story headlined “Woman Fighting Mad Over Famous Depression Photo.” Florence was quoted as saying “I wish she [Lange] hadn’t taken my picture. I can’t get a penny out of it, she didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures, she said she’d send me a copy. She never did.”[2]

Lange was funded by the federal government when she took the picture, so the image was in the public domain and Lange never directly received any royalties. However, the picture did help make Lange a celebrity and earned her “respect from her colleagues.”[11]

In a 2008 interview with CNN, Thompson’s daughter Katherine McIntosh recalled how her mother was a “very strong lady”, and “the backbone of our family”, she said: “We never had a lot, but she always made sure we had something. She didn’t eat sometimes, but she made sure us children ate. That’s one thing she did do.”

Florence Owens Thompson on the WikiVisually website

 

Dorothea Lange. 'White Angel Breadline, San Francisco' 1933

 

Dorothea Lange
White Angel Breadline, San Francisco
1933
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

“There are moments such as these when time stands still and all you do is hold your breath and hope it will wait for you. And you just hope you will have enough time to get it organised in a fraction of a second on that tiny piece of sensitive film. Sometimes you have an inner sense that you have encompassed the thing generally. You know then that you are not taking anything away from anyone: their privacy, their dignity, their wholeness.” ~ Dorothea Lange 1963

Davis K F 1995, The photographs of Dorothea Lange, Hallmark Cards Inc, Missouri p. 20.

 

White angel breadline, San Francisco is Lange’s first major image that encapsulates both her sense of compassion and ability to structure a photograph according to modernist principles. The diagonals of the fence posts and the massing of hats do not reduce this work to the purely formal – the figure in the front middle of the image acts as a lightening rod for our emotional engagement.

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

 

There was a real “White Angel” behind the breadline that served the needy men photographed by Dorothea Lange. She was a widow named Lois Jordan. Mrs. Jordan, who gave herself the name White Angel, established a soup kitchen during the Great Depression to feed those who were unemployed and destitute. Relying solely on donations, she managed to supply meals to more than one million men over a three-year period.

Jordan’s soup kitchen occupied a junk-filled lot in San Francisco located on the Embarcadero near Filbert Street. This area was known as the White Angel Jungle. The Jungle was not far from Lange’s studio. As she began to change direction from portrait to documentary photography, Lange focused her lens on the poignant scenes just beyond her window. White Angel Breadline is the result of her first day’s work to document Depression-era San Francisco. Decades later, Lange recalled: “[White Angel Breadline] is my most famed photograph. I made that on the first day I ever went out in an area where people said, ‘Oh, don’t go there.’ It was the first day that I ever made a photograph on the street.”

Text from the Arts Edge website

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Drought Refugees' c. 1935

 

Dorothea Lange
Drought Refugees
c. 1935
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Family walking on highway - five children. Started from Idabel, Oklahoma, bound for Krebs, Oklahoma' June 1938

 

Dorothea Lange
Family walking on highway – five children. Started from Idabel, Oklahoma, bound for Krebs, Oklahoma
June 1938
Silver gelatin print
Library of Congress

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Cars on the Road' August 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
Cars on the Road
August 1936
Silver gelatin print
Library of Congress

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Dust Bowl, Grain Elevator, Everett, Texas' June 1938

 

Dorothea Lange
Dust Bowl, Grain Elevator, Everett, Texas
June 1938
Silver gelatin print
Library of Congress

 

 

This summer, Barbican Art Gallery stages the first ever UK retrospective of one of the most influential female photographers of the 20th century, the American documentary photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965). A formidable woman of unparalleled vigour and resilience, the exhibition charts Lange’s outstanding photographic vision from her early studio portraits of San Francisco’s bourgeoisie to her celebrated Farm Security Administration work (1935-1939) that captured the devastating impact of the Great Depression on the American population. Rarely seen photographs of the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War are also presented as well as the later collaborations with fellow photographers Ansel Adams and Pirkle Jones documenting the changing face of the social and physical landscape of 1950s America. Opening 22 June at Barbican Art Gallery, Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing is part of the Barbican’s 2018 season, The Art of Change, which explores how the arts respond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape.

Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing encompasses over 300 objects from vintage prints and original book publications to ephemera, field notes, letters, and documentary film. Largely chronological, the exhibition presents eight series in Lange’s oeuvre spanning from 1919 to 1957.

Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican, said: “This is an incredible opportunity for our visitors to see the first UK survey of the work of such a significant photographer. Dorothea Lange is undoubtedly one of the great photographers of the twentieth century and the issues raised through her work have powerful resonance with issues we’re facing in society today. Staged alongside contemporary photographer Vanessa Winship as part of The Art of Change, these two shows are unmissable.”

Opening the exhibition are Lange’s little known early portrait photographs taken during her time running a successful portrait studio in San Francisco between 1919 and 1935. Lange was at the heart of San Francisco’s creative community and her studio became a centre in which bohemian and artistic friends gathered after hours, including Edward Weston, Anne Brigman, Alma Lavenson, Imogen Cunningham, and Willard van Dyke. Works from this period include intimate portraits of wealthy West Coast families as well as of Lange’s inner circle, counting amongst others photographer Roi Partridge and painter Maynard Dixon, Lange’s first husband and father of her two sons.

The Great Depression in the early 1930s heralded a shift in her photographic language as she felt increasingly compelled to document the changes visible on the streets of San Francisco. Taking her camera out of the studio, she captured street demonstrations, unemployed workers, and breadline queues. These early explorations of her social documentary work are also on display.

The exhibition charts Lange’s work with the newly established historical division of the Farm Security Administration (FSA), the government agency tasked with the promotion of Roosevelt’s New Deal programme. Alongside Lange, the FSA employed a number of photographers, including Walker Evans, Ben Shahn and Arthur Rothstein, to document living conditions across America during the Great Depression: from urban poverty in San Francisco to tenant farmers driven off the land by dust storms and mechanisation in the states of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas; the plight of homeless families on the road in search of better livelihoods in the West; and the tragic conditions of migrant workers and camps across California. Lange used her camera as a political tool to critique themes of injustice, inequality, migration and displacement, and to effect government relief.

Highlights in this section are, among others, a series on sharecroppers in the Deep South that exposes relations of race and power, and the iconic Migrant Mother, a photograph which has become a symbol of the Great Depression, alongside images of vernacular architecture and landscapes, motifs often overlooked within Lange’s oeuvre. Vintage prints in the exhibition are complemented by the display of original publications from the 1930s to foreground the widespread use of Lange’s FSA photographs and her influence on authors including John Steinbeck, whose ground-breaking novel The Grapes of Wrath was informed by Lange’s photographs. Travelling for many months at a time and working in the field, she collaborated extensively with her second husband Paul Schuster Taylor, a prominent social economist and expert in farm labour with whom she published the seminal photo book An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion in 1939, also on display in the exhibition.

The exhibition continues with rarely seen photographs of the internment of more than 100,000 American citizens of Japanese descent that Lange produced on commission for the War Relocation Authority following the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Lange’s critical perspective of this little discussed chapter in US history however meant that her photographs remained unpublished during the war and stored at the National Archives in Washington. It is the first time that this series will be shown comprehensively outside of the US and Canada.

Following her documentation of the Japanese American internment, Lange produced a photographic series of the wartime shipyards of Richmond, California with friend and fellow photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984). Lange and Adams documented the war effort in the shipyards for Fortune magazine in 1944, recording the explosive increase in population numbers and the endlessly changing shifts of shipyard workers. Capturing the mass recruitment of workers, Lange turned her camera on both female and black workers, for the first time part of the workforce, and their defiance of sexist and racist attitudes.

The exhibition features several of Lange’s post-war series, when she photographed extensively in California. Her series Public Defender (1955-1957) explores the US legal defence system for the poor and disadvantaged through the work of a public defender at the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland. Death of a Valley (1956-57), made in collaboration with photographer Pirkle Jones, documents the disappearance of the small rural town of Monticello in California’s Berryessa Valley as a consequence of the damming of the Putah Creek. Capturing the destruction of a landscape and traditional way of life, the photographs testify to Lange’s environmentalist politics and have not been displayed or published since the 1960s.

The exhibition concludes with Lange’s series of Ireland (1954), the first made outside the US. Spending six weeks in County Clare in western Ireland, Lange captured the experience of life in and around the farming town of Ennis in stark and evocative photographs that symbolise Lange’s attraction to the traditional life of rural communities.

An activist, feminist and environmentalist, Lange used her camera as a political tool to critique themes of injustice, inequality, migration and displacement that bear great resonance with today’s world, a prime example of which is her most iconic image the Migrant Mother (1936). Working in urban and rural contexts across America and beyond, she focused her lens on human suffering and hardship to create compassionate and piercing portraits of people as well as place in the hope to forge social and political reform – from the plight of sharecroppers in the Deep South to Dust Bowl refugees trekking along the highways of California in search of better livelihoods.

Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing is organised by the Oakland Museum of California. The European presentation has been produced in collaboration with Barbican Art Gallery, London and Jeu de Paume, Paris.

Press release from the Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Left: Dorothea Lange. Displaced Tennant Farmers, Goodlet, Hardeman Co., Texas 1937. ‘All displaced tenant farmers, the oldest 33. None able to vote because of Texas poll tax. They support an average of four persons each on $22.80 a month’. Second left: Dorothea Lange. Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle June 1938

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle' June 1938

 

Dorothea Lange
Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle
June 1938
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California
Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Second left top: Dorothea Lange. Mexican field labourer at station in Sacramento after 5 day trip from Mexico City. Imported by arrangements between Mexican and US governments to work in sugar beets. 6 October 1942. Second left bottom: Dorothea Lange. Filipino Field Worker, Spring Plowing, Cauliflower Fields, Guadalupe, California. March 1937. Right: Dorothea Lange. Damaged Child, Shacktown, Elm Grove, Oklahoma. 1936

Installation views of the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing at the Barbican Art Gallery, London
Photos: Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Filipino Field Worker, Spring Plowing, Cauliflower Fields, Guadalupe, California' March 1937

 

Dorothea Lange
Filipino Field Worker, Spring Plowing, Cauliflower Fields, Guadalupe, California
March 1937
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California
Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Damaged Child, Shacktown, Elm Grove, Oklahoma' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
Damaged Child, Shacktown, Elm Grove, Oklahoma
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland
Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange. 'San Francisco, California. Flag of allegiance pledge at Raphael Weill Public School, Geary and Buchanan Streets' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange
San Francisco, California. Flag of allegiance pledge at Raphael Weill Public School, Geary and Buchanan Streets. Children in families of Japanese ancestry were evacuated with their parents and will be housed for the duration in War Relocation Authority centers where facilities will be provided for them to continue their education
1942
Silver gelatin print
Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 210-G-C122

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Centerville, California. This evacuee stands by her baggage as she waits for evacuation bus' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange
Centerville, California. This evacuee stands by her baggage as she waits for evacuation bus. Evacuees of Japanese ancestry will be housed in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration
1942
Silver gelatin print
Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 210-G-C241

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. An evacuee is shown in the lath house sorting seedlings for transplanting' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange
Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. An evacuee is shown in the lath house sorting seedlings for transplanting. These plants are year-old seedlings from the Salinas Experiment Station
1942
Silver gelatin print
Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 210-GC737

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Manzanar Relocation Center' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange
Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California
July 3, 1942
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Paul S. Taylor. 'Dorothea Lange in Texas on the Plains' c. 1935

 

Paul S. Taylor
Dorothea Lange in Texas on the Plains
c. 1935
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Sacramento, California. College students of Japanese ancestry' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange
Sacramento, California. College students of Japanese ancestry who have been evacuated from Sacramento to the Assembly Center
1942
Silver gelatin print
Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 210-GC471

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing at the Barbican Art Gallery, London
Photos: Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing at the Barbican Art Gallery, London
Photos: Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

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02
Feb
18

Exhibition: ‘Walker Evans’ at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Exhibition dates: 30th September 2017 – 4th February 2018

Curator: Clément Chéroux

 

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Self-Portrait' 1927

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Self-Portrait
1927
Gelatin silver print
Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

I have posted on this exhibition before, when it was at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, but this iteration at SFMOMA is the exclusive United States venue for the Walker Evans retrospective exhibition – and the new posting contains fresh media images not available previously.

I can never get enough of Walker Evans. This perspicacious artist had a ready understanding of the contexts and conditions of the subject matter he was photographing. His photographs seem easy, unpretentious, and allow his sometimes “generally unaware” subjects (subway riders, labor workers) to speak for themselves. Does it matter that he was an outsider, rearranging furniture in workers homes while they were out in the fields: not at all. Photography has always falsified truth since the beginning of the medium and, in any case, there is never a singular truth but many truths told from many perspectives, many different points of view. For example, who is to say that the story of America proposed by Robert Frank in The Americans, from the point of view of an outsider, is any less valuable than that of Helen Levitt’s view of the streets of New York? For different reasons, both are as valuable as each other.

Evans’ photographs for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) documenting the effects of the Great Depression on American life are iconic because they are cracking good photographs, not because he was an insider or outsider. He was paid to document, to enquire, and that is what he did, by getting the best shot he could. It is fascinating to compare Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama (1936, below) with Alabama Tenant Farmer Floyd Bourroughs (1936, below). In the first photograph the strong diagonal element of the composition is reinforced by the parallel placement of the three feet, the ‘Z’ shape of Lucille Burroughs leg then leading into her upright body, which is complemented by the two vertical door jams, Floyd’s head silhouetted by the darkness beyond. There is something pensive about the clasping of his hands, and something wistful and sad, an energy emanating from the eyes. If you look at the close up of his face, you can see that it is “soft” and out of focus, either because he moved and/or the low depth of field. Notice that the left door jam is also out of focus, that it is just the hands of both Floyd and Lucille and her face that are in focus. Does this low depth of field and lack of focus bother Evans? Not one bit, for he knows when he has captured something magical.

A few second later, he moves closer to Floyd Burroughs. You can almost hear him saying to Floyd, “Stop, don’t move a thing, I’m just going to move the camera closer.” And in the second photograph you notice the same wood grain to the right of Floyd as in the first photograph, but this time the head is tilted slightly more, the pensive look replaced by a steely gaze directed straight into the camera, the reflection of the photographer and the world beyond captured on the surface of the eye. Walker Evans is the master of recognising the extra/ordinary. “The street was an inexhaustible source of poetic finds,” describes Chéroux. In his creation of visual portfolios of everyday life, his “notions of realism, of the spectator’s role, and of the poetic resonance of ordinary subjects,” help Evans created a mythology of American life: a clear vision of the present as the past, walking into the future.

With the contemporary decline of small towns and blue collar communities across the globe Evans’ concerns, for the place of ordinary people and objects in the world, are all the more relevant today. As the text from the Metropolitan Museum observes, it is the individuals and social institutions that are the sites and relics that constitute the tangible expressions of American desires, despairs, and traditions. And not just of American people, of all people… for it is community that binds us together.

Marcus

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

 

 

Walker Evans is one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. His elegant, crystal-clear photographs and articulate publications have inspired several generations of artists, from Helen Levitt and Robert Frank to Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Bernd and Hilla Becher. The progenitor of the documentary tradition in American photography, Evans had the extraordinary ability to see the present as if it were already the past, and to translate that knowledge and historically inflected vision into an enduring art. His principal subject was the vernacular – the indigenous expressions of a people found in roadside stands, cheap cafés, advertisements, simple bedrooms, and small-town main streets. For fifty years, from the late 1920s to the early 1970s, Evans recorded the American scene with the nuance of a poet and the precision of a surgeon, creating an encyclopaedic visual catalogue of modern America in the making. …

Most of Evans’ early photographs reveal the influence of European modernism, specifically its formalism and emphasis on dynamic graphic structures. But he gradually moved away from this highly aestheticized style to develop his own evocative but more reticent notions of realism, of the spectator’s role, and of the poetic resonance of ordinary subjects. …

In September 1938, the Museum of Modern Art opened American Photographs, a retrospective of Evans’ first decade of photography. The museum simultaneously published American Photographs – still for many artists the benchmark against which all photographic monographs are judged. The book begins with a portrait of American society through its individuals – cotton farmers, Appalachian miners, war veterans – and social institutions – fast food, barber shops, car culture. It closes with a survey of factory towns, hand-painted signs, country churches, and simple houses – the sites and relics that constitute the tangible expressions of American desires, despairs, and traditions.

Between 1938 and 1941, Evans produced a remarkable series of portraits in the New York City subway. They remained unpublished for twenty-five years, until 1966, when Houghton Mifflin released Many Are Called, a book of eighty-nine photographs, with an introduction by James Agee written in 1940. With a 35mm Contax camera strapped to his chest, its lens peeking out between two buttons of his winter coat, Evans was able to photograph his fellow passengers surreptitiously, and at close range. Although the setting was public, he found that his subjects, unposed and lost in their own thoughts, displayed a constantly shifting medley of moods and expressions – by turns curious, bored, amused, despondent, dreamy, and dyspeptic. “The guard is down and the mask is off,” he remarked. “Even more than in lone bedrooms (where there are mirrors), people’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway.”

Extract from Department of Photographs. “Walker Evans (1903-1975),” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000- (October 2004)

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Truck and Sign' 1928-1930

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Truck and Sign
1928-30
Gelatin silver print
Private collection, San Francisco
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York