Posts Tagged ‘female body

22
Jan
14

Exhibition: ‘Erwin Blumenfeld (1897-1969) Photographs, drawings and photomontages’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 15th October 2013 – 26th January 2014

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Considering the nature of Blumenfeld’s collages such as Grauenfresse / Hitler, Holland, 1933 and Minotaur / Dictator I would say that the artist was very, very lucky to escape to America in 1941. Let us remember all those that were not so fortunate…

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“In 1940 he was interned as a German Jew in France, first in Montbard, then in Loriol, Le Vernet, and Catus. He made a daring escape with his family in 1941, returning via Casablanca to New York, where he subsequently lived and worked until his death.” (press release)

“After Blumenfeld returned to France, during World War II, Blumenfeld and his family spent time in Vézelay with Le Corbusier and Romain Rolland. He was incarcerated at Camp Vernet and other concentration camps. His daughter Lisette (who had just turned 18) was incarcerated at the Gurs internment camp. Luckily Blumenfeld was bunked next to the husband of the woman Lisette was bunked next to. Through postcards and letters the Blumenfeld family of five managed to reunite. In 1941 they obtained a visa and escaped to North Africa and then New York.” (Wikipedia)

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The Vichy Policy on Jewish Deportation

Paul Webster
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Jewish Statute

Despite autonomy from German policies, Pétain brought in legislation setting up a Jewish Statute in October 1940. By then about 150,000 Jews had crossed what was known as the Demarcation Line to seek protection from Vichy in the south – only to find they were subjected to fierce discrimination along lines practised by the Germans in the north.

Jews were eventually banned from the professions, show business, teaching, the civil service and journalism. After an intense propaganda campaign, Jewish businesses were ‘aryanised’ by Vichy’s Commission for Jewish Affairs and their property was confiscated. More than 40,000 refugee Jews were held in concentration camps under French control, and 3,000 died of poor treatment during the winters of 1940 and 1941. The writer Arthur Koestler, who was held at Le Vernet near the Spanish frontier, said conditions were worse than in the notorious German camp, Dachau.

During 1941 anti-Semitic legislation, applicable in both zones, was tightened. French police carried out the first mass arrests in Paris in May 1941when 3,747 men were interned. Two more sweeps took place before the first deportation train provided by French state railways left for Germany under French guard on 12 March 1942. On 16 July 1942, French police arrested 12,884 Jews, including 4,501 children and 5,802 women, in Paris during what became known as La Grande Rafle (‘the big round-up’). Most were temporarily interned in a sports stadium, in conditions witnessed by a Paris lawyer, Georges Wellers.

‘All those wretched people lived five horrifying days in the enormous interior filled with deafening noise … among the screams and cries of people who had gone mad, or the injured who tried to kill themselves’, he recalled. Within days, detainees were being sent to Germany in cattle-wagons, and some became the first Jews to die in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

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Vichy crimes

Many historians consider that an even worse crime was committed in Vichy-controlled southern France, where the Germans had no say. In August 1942, gendarmes were sent to hunt down foreign refugees. Families were seized in their houses or captured after manhunts across the countryside. About 11,000 Jews were transported to Drancy in the Paris suburbs, the main transit centre for Auschwitz. Children as young as three were separated from their mothers – gendarmes used batons and hoses – before being sent to Germany under French guard, after weeks of maltreatment.

During 1942, officials sent 41,951 Jews to Germany, although the deportations came to a temporary halt when some religious leaders warned Vichy against possible public reaction. Afterwards, arrests were carried out more discreetly. In 1943 and 1944, the regime deported 31,899 people – the last train left in August 1944, as Allied troops entered Paris. Out of the total of 75,721 deportees, contained in a register drawn up by a Jewish organisation, fewer than 2,000 survived.

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Revolt and aftermath

The number of dead would have been far higher if the Italian fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, had not ordered troops in France to defy German-French plans for mass round ups in Italian-occupied south-eastern France. Thousands were smuggled into Italy after Italian generals said that ‘no country can ask Italy, cradle of Christianity and law, to be associated with these (Nazi) acts’. After the Italian surrender in September 1943, arrests in the area restarted, but by then French public opinion had changed. Escape lines to Switzerland and Spain had been set up, and thousands of families risked death to shelter Jews. Since the war, Israel has given medals to 2,000 French people, including several priests, in recognition of this, and of the fact that about 250,000 Jews survived in France.

Post-war indifference to anti-Semitic persecution pushed the issue into the background until Serge Klarsfield, a Jewish lawyer whose Romanian father died in Germany, reawakened the national conscience. He tracked down the German chief of the Secret Service in Lyon, Klaus Barbie, who was hiding in Bolivia but was subsequently jailed for life in 1987. His case threw light on Vichy’s complicity in the Holocaust. Klarsfeld’s efforts were frustrated by the Socialist president of France at this time, Francois Mitterrand, who had been an official at Vichy and was decorated by Pétain. It was not until 1992 that one of Barbie’s French aides, Paul Touvier, who had been a minor figure in wartime France, was jailed for life for his crimes.

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Facing facts

French courts, responding to Mitterrand’s warnings that trials would cause civil unrest, blocked other prosecutions, including that of the Vichy police chief, René Bousquet, who organised the Paris and Vichy zone mass arrests. He was assassinated by a lone gunman in June 1993. It was not until Mitterrand retired in 1995 that France began to face up to its responsibility in the persecution of Jews. When the new right-wing president, Jacques Chirac, came to power, he immediately condemned Vichy as a criminal regime and two years later the Catholic Church publicly asked for forgiveness for its failure to protect the Jews.

But the most significant step forward was the trial in 1997 of Maurice Papon, 89, for crimes concerning the deportation of Jews from Bordeaux. He had served as a cabinet minister after the war, before losing a 16-year legal battle to avoid trial. He was released from jail because of poor health, but his ten-year prison sentence has been interpreted as official recognition of French complicity in the Holocaust, although there are still those who continue to defend his actions.

Since the trial, France has opened up hidden archives and offered compensation to survivors – and ensured that schools, where history manuals used not to mention France’s part in the deportations, now have compulsory lessons on Vichy persecution. While anti-Semitism is still a social problem in France, there is no official discrimination, and today’s 600,000-strong Jewish community is represented at every level of the establishment, including in the Catholic Church, where the Archbishop of Paris is Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger.”

Extract from Paul Webster. “The Vichy Policy on Jewish Deportation,” on the BBC History website, 17/02/2011

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

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Mode-Montage' c. 1950

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Mode-Montage
c. 1950
Vintage gelatin silver print
Collection Helaine et Yorick Blumenfeld
Courtesy of Modernism Inc., San Francisco
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Marguerite von Sivers sur le toit du studio 9, rue Delambre' [Marguerite von Sivers on the roof of Blumenfeld’s studio at 9, rue Delambre] Paris, 1937

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Marguerite von Sivers sur le toit du studio 9, rue Delambre [Marguerite von Sivers on the roof of Blumenfeld’s studio at 9, rue Delambre]
Paris, 1937
Vintage gelatin silver print
Collection Yvette Blumenfeld Georges Deeton / Art+Commerce, New York, Gallery Kicken Berlin, Berlin
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Untitled [Natalia Pasco]' 1942

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Untitled [Natalia Pasco]
1942
Vintage gelatin silver print
Collection Henry Blumenfeld
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Minotaur / Dictator' [Minotaure / Dictateur] The Minotaur or The Dictator Paris, c. 1937

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Minotaur / Dictator [Minotaure / Dictateur]
The Minotaur or The Dictator
Paris, c. 1937
Vintage gelatin silver print
Collection Yvette Blumenfeld Georges Deeton / Art+Commerce, New York, Gallery Kicken Berlin, Berlin

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Voile mouillé' [Wet veil] Paris, 1937

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Voile mouillé [Wet Veil]
Paris, 1937
Vintage gelatin silver print
Collection particulière, Suisse
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Cecil Beaton' 1946

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Cecil Beaton
1946
Vintage silver gelatin print
Collection particulière, Suisse
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Self-Portrait' Paris, c. 1937

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Self-Portrait
Paris, c. 1937
Gelatin silver print. Printed later
Collection Helaine and Yorick Blumenfeld
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Untitled (Self-Portrait)' 1945

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Untitled (Self-Portrait)
1945

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“Erwin Blumenfeld’s life and work impressively document the socio-political context of artistic development between the two World Wars, while highlighting the individual consequences of emigration. The exhibition devoted to Erwin Blumenfeld’s multi-layered œuvre brings together over 300 works and documents from the late 1910s to the 1960s, and encompasses the various media explored by the artist throughout his career: drawings, photographs, montages and collages.

This exhibition traces his visual creativity and encompasses the early drawings, the collages and montages, which mostly stem from the early 1920s, the beginnings of his portrait art in Holland, the first black and white fashion photographs of the Paris period, the masterful colour photography created in New York and the urban photos taken toward the end of his life.

The retrospective also showcases his drawings, many of which have never been shown before, as well as his early collages and photomontages, shedding fascinating light on the evolution of his photographic oeuvre and revealing the full extent of his creative genius. The now classic motifs of his experimental black-and-white photographs can be seen alongside his numerous selfportraits and portraits of famous and little-known people, as well as his fashion and advertising work.

In the first years of his career, he worked only in black and white, but as soon as it became technically possible he enthusiastically used color. He transferred his experiences with black-and-white photography to color; applying them to the field of fashion, he developed a particularly original repertoire of forms. The female body became Erwin Blumenfeld’s principal subject. In his initial portrait work, then the nudes he produced while living in Paris and, later on, his fashion photography, he sought to bring out the unknown, hidden nature of his subjects; the object of his quest was not realism, but the mystery of reality

Blumenfeld’s work was showcased most recently in France in a 1981 show at the Centre Pompidou, which focused on his fashion photography, in 1998 at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, as well as more recently in the exhibition Blumenfeld Studio, Colour, New York, 1941-1960 (Chalon-sur-Saône, Essen, London).”

Press release from the Jeu de Paume website

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“Bringing together over three hundred works and documents dating from the late 1910s to the 1960s, this exhibition, the first in France to showcase the multilayered aspects of Erwin Blumenfeld’s oeuvre, encompasses the various media explored by the artist throughout his career: drawing, photography, montage, and collage.

The life and work of Erwin Blumenfeld (Berlin, 1897 – Rome, 1969) provides an impressive record of the socio-political context of artistic development between the two World Wars, while highlighting the individual consequences of emigration. Erwin Blumenfeld, a German Jew, only spent a few years in his country of birth. It was only in 1919, when he was in self-imposed exile in the Netherlands, that Blumenfeld began to take a deeper interest in photography, particularly the photographic process and above all the artistic possibilities offered by darkroom experiments. For a short while, he ran an Amsterdam-based portrait studio that doubled as an exhibition space, before moving to Paris in 1936, where the art dealer Walter Feilchenfeldt helped him rent a studio in the rue Delambre. That same year, his photographs were exhibited at the Galerie Billiet, while the following year saw his first beauty cover, for Votre Beauté magazine. In 1938 he received a visit from leading fashion photographer Cecil Beaton, who helped him to obtain a contract with the French Vogue. Blumenfeld travelled to New York, returning in 1939, shortly before the outbreak of war, to become Harper’s Bazaar’s fashion correspondent in Paris.

In 1940 he was interned as a German Jew in France, first in Montbard, then in Loriol, Le Vernet, and Catus. He made a daring escape with his family in 1941, returning via Casablanca to New York, where he subsequently lived and worked until his death. It was in New York that Blumenfeld’s astonishing career as a much sought after, highly paid fashion photographer really took off, first of all in the studio he shared with Martin Munkácsi, then from 1943 in his own premises. The contract he signed with the publishers Condé Nast in 1944 marked the beginning of ten years of remarkable photography and cover shots for various magazines in the company’s stable. Following on from his experimental black-and-white shots of the 1930s, he began playing with colour. The present exhibition includes, besides photographs, both magazine work and early experimental films made for the Dayton department store in Minneapolis, his leading advertising customer.

Not until 1960 did Blumenfeld return to Berlin for a visit. He devoted the following years to finishing his autobiography, begun in the 1950s. The work was completed in 1969 with the help of his assistant Marina Schinz, but was only published in 1975, initially in French translation, then in the original German in 1976. His book My One Hundred Best Photos was also released posthumously, in 1979.

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Drawings, Montages, and Collages

Between 1916 and 1933 Erwin Blumenfeld produced a fairly limited number of drawings and montages. As a young man he was very interested in literature, writing poems and short stories. And as early as 1915 he mentioned that he was interested in writing an autobiography. Almost all of his montages and collages include drawings and snippets of language. He plays with written and printed words and typography, juxtaposing names, concepts, and places to create ironic commentaries and provocative titles. His collages typically combine drawing, language, and cut-outs of original or printed photographs. He also often used letter stationery to form a background, leaving bare spaces. In 1918 Blumenfeld made the acquaintance of the Dadaist George Grosz; two years later he and Paul Citroen wrote to Francis Picabia in the name of the Hollandse Dadacentrale, but neither was present at the First International Dada Fair in Berlin in 1920. That same year, Blumenfeld began using the pseudonyms Erwin Bloomfeld and Jan Bloomfield, as documented in his Dadaist publications and in some of his collages. The drawings in the present exhibition, most of which have never been shown in public, were produced in Berlin and the Netherlands. Only a handful of them are dated. They are quick sketches from life or from imagination, rough cartoons and acid caricatures, in pencil, ink, watercolour, or coloured pencil – whatever was to hand. Blumenfeld was clearly fascinated by the quality and immediacy of drawing as a medium, and, as these works reveal, it certainly stimulated his playful side.

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Self-Portraits

Blumenfeld took his first photographs as a schoolboy, using himself as one of his first subjects. The earliest date from the 1910s, but he continued taking self-portraits to the end of his life. The young man with the dreamy gaze turned into the louche bohemian with a cigarette, then the carefully staged photographer experimenting with his camera. His self-portraits are not the product of excessive vanity, but rather playful experiments, with and without masks, models, and other grotesque objects such as a calf’s head, all used to create witty images.

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Portraits

Blumenfeld’s first steps in professional photography were in portraiture. He started “learning by doing” in the early 1920s in Amsterdam, where he had opened the ladies handbag store Fox Leather Company. This is where he took portraits of customers, using a darkroom in the back of the store. Comparison of the contact sheets from the time with the blow-ups taken from them clearly shows, right from the outset, the importance in Blumenfeld’s work of the finishing in the lab. The final images display extremely tight framing, high levels of contrast, and lighting that creates dramatic, even devilish, effects. When he arrived in Paris in 1936 his first photographs were portraits, featuring among others Henri Matisse and Georges Rouault. Although he quickly entered the Paris fashion scene, he retained a strong interest in portraiture throughout the remainder of his life.

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Nudes

Blumenfeld’s earliest, highly narrative nudes date from his time in the Netherlands, but the subject only became a passion during his Paris years from 1936 on, when he discovered the work of French avantgarde photographers. His admiration for them is particularly evident in his nude photographs, as is the influence of Man Ray’s work. The bodies of the women in these images were surfaces onto which he projected his artistic imagination. He cut them up, solarised them, and transformed them into abstract imagery through the play of light and shadow. The faces of his nudes from the 1930s are only rarely visible, the women remaining somewhat mysterious entities. The nudes Blumenfeld produced in the 1950s after he had settled in New York tended to be more concrete, illustrative works.

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Architecture

The black-and-white architectural photographs that Erwin Blumenfeld took in the 1930s feature buildings and urban spaces from various experimental and abstract perspectives. The Eiffel Tower, for instance, is captured in sharp reliefs of light and shade, while the photographs of Rouen Cathedral are intended to draw the viewer’s visual attention to the building’s specific forms. Blumenfeld expresses his artistic vision and his knowledge of Gothic architecture by focusing on the abstraction of details. During the 1950s and 1960s Blumenfeld used a 35mm camera for cityscapes. The exhibition showcases three of these colour slide projects for the first time. They feature New York, Paris, and Berlin – three places that made a mark on his art and also shaped his career.

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The Dictator

In 1933, according to his autobiography, Blumenfeld reacted to Hitler’s rise to power in Germany with a photomontage. This outstanding piece of work, probably his most famous photograph, symbolizes and anticipates the dictator’s dehumanization. Following on from the political themes in some of his early collages, he here combined different negatives – a skull and a portrait of Hitler – to make a single print. In one of these montages he included a swastika, while in a different portrait “bleeding eyes” were added later on the surface. Later on, in Paris, he photographed a calf’s head, using this subject to compose different images. One in which he placed the animal’s head on a woman’s torso was titled The Minotaure or The Dictator. This image, which does not refer to a specific figure, is obviously intended to be allegorical. In 1941 Blumenfeld was able to escape from the Nazis with his family to New York.

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Fashion

Blumenfeld’s move to Paris in 1936 marked the beginning of his career as a fashion photographer, although he had already had contacts with magazines in Paris while living in Amsterdam. The work that appeared in French publications in the late 1930s raised Blumenfeld’s profile as a modernist photographer and brought him to the attention of the famous British photographer Cecil Beaton, who visited him in his studio in 1938 and helped him sign his first contract with the French edition of Vogue. When Blumenfeld made his first trip to New York following his sensational set of fashion photographs on the Eiffel Tower, he came home with a new contract as Paris fashion correspondent for Harper’s Bazaar. He was only able to file his reports for a year before he was interned in various prison camps across France. In 1941 he was able to escape from German-occupied France to New York with his family. In the first half of the 1950s, he drew on his experiments in black-and-white photography to develop an exceptionally original artistic repertoire, reflected in his use of colour and his fashion work.”

Ute Eskildsen
Curator of the exhibition
Translated from German by Susan Pickford

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Three Graces (1947), New York' 1947

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Three Graces (1947), New York
1947

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Leslie Petersen appears here in a triple variation inspired by Botticelli’s Primavera. The photograph, was intended to show off a gown by Cadwallader. The final image is made of two shots. The two on the right are similar but with different degrees of sharpness. The pose on the left is different. (Text from Phaidon)

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Nude (Lisette)' Paris, 1937

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Nude (Lisette)
Paris, 1937
Gelatin silver print, negative print, solarization. Vintage print
Collection Yvette Blumenfeld Georges Deeton / Art + Commerce, New York, Gallery Kicken Berlin, Berlin
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Charlie' 1920

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Charlie
1920
Collage, Indian ink, watercolor and pencil on paper
Collection Helaine and Yorick Blumenfeld
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Untitled, New York, 1944' 1944

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Untitled, New York, 1944
1944
Gelatin silver print. Vintage print
Collection Henry Blumenfeld
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Grauenfresse / Hitler, Holland, 1933' 1933

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Grauenfresse / Hitler, Holland, 1933
1933
Collage and ink on photomontage (gelatin silver print, double-exposition). Printed later
Collection Helaine and Yorick Blumenfeld, Courtesy of Modernism Inc., San Francisco
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'In hoc signo vinces [in this sign you will conquer]' 1967

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Erwin Blumenfeld
In hoc signo vinces [in this sign you will conquer]
1967
Gelatin silver print. Vintage print
Private collection, Switzerland
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Audrey Hepburn' New York, 1950

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Audrey Hepburn
New York, 1950
Vintage silver gelatin print
Collection particulière, Suisse.
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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Audrey Hepburn is wearing a hat designed by Blumenfeld and made by Mister Fred, one of New York’s most talented milliners. Blumenfeld here uses a system of mirrors showing the front and back of the hat and allowing infinite repetition of the motif. (Text from Phaidon)

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Untitled [Homme agenouillé avec tour]' [Kneeling man with tower] 1920

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Untitled [Homme agenouillé avec tour] [Kneeling man with tower]
1920
Indian ink, ink, watercolor and collage on paper
Collection Henry Blumenfeld.
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Group with Chaplin' Early 1920's

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Group with Chaplin
Early 1920’s
Gouache and pencil on paper
Collection Henry Blumenfeld
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Untitled (Green dress)' 1946

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Untitled (Green dress)
1946

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Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Do your part for the Red Cross' [Soutenez la Croix-Rouge] 1945

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Do your part for the Red Cross [Soutenez la Croix-Rouge]
1945
Variante de la photographie de couverture de Vogue US, 15 mars 1945
Variant of a cover photograph of Vogue, “Do your part for the Red Cross”, New York, March 15th, 1945
Impression jet d’encre sur papier Canson baryta, tirage posthume (2012).
Collection Henry Blumenfeld.
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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A model, a red cross: fashion and current affairs superimposed. The background to this humanitarian appeal is the liberation of the concentration camps and the aid brought to prisoners of war. Blumenfeld reinterprets these humanitarian signs just as he blurs those of fashion. (Text from Phaidon)

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Erwin Blumenfeld. Variant of the photograph published in Life Magazine entitled "The Picasso Girl" [The young woman of Picasso] (model: Lisette) c. 1941-1942

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Variante de la photographie parue dans Life Magazine et intitulée “The Picasso Girl” [La jeune femme Picasso]
Variant of the photograph published in Life Magazine entitled “The Picasso Girl” [The young woman of Picasso]
(model: Lisette)
c. 1941-1942
Inkjet printing on Canson baryta paper, posthumous print (2012)
Collection Henry Blumenfeld
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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Erwin Blumenfeld. Three profiles. Variant of the photograph published in the article "Color and lighting" Photograph Annual of 1952

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Trois profils. Variante de la photographie parue dans l’article “Color and lighting” [Couleur et éclairage], de Photograph Annual 1952
Three profiles. Variant of the photograph published in the article “Color and lighting” Photograph Annual of 1952
1952
Inkjet printing on Canson baryta paper, posthumous print (2012)
Collection Henry Blumenfeld
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

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21
Jan
14

Exhibition: ‘Guy Bourdin’ at the House of Photography at Deichtorhallen Hamburg

Exhibition dates: 1st November 2013 – 26th January 2014

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*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART WORK OF FEMALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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Many thankx to House of Photography at Deichtorhallen Hamburg for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Guy Bourdin. 'Untitled' (Child) 1950

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Guy Bourdin
Untitled (Child)
1950
© The Estate of Guy Bourdin, 2013

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Guy Bourdin. 'Untitled' (Child with doll and pram) 1954

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Guy Bourdin
Untitled (Child with doll and pram)
1954
© The Estate of Guy Bourdin, 2013

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Guy Bourdin. 'Untitled' (Child lying on stones) 1953-57

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Guy Bourdin
Untitled (Child lying on stones)
1953-57
© The Estate of Guy Bourdin, 2013

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Guy Bourdin. 'La Baigneuse' c. 1950-53

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Guy Bourdin
La Baigneuse (The Bather)
c. 1950-53
© The Estate of Guy Bourdin, 2013

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Guy Bourdin. 'Vogue Paris - January 1966' 1966

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Guy Bourdin
Vogue Paris – January 1966
1966
© The Estate of Guy Bourdin, 2013

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Guy Bourdin. 'Untitled' Nd

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Guy Bourdin
Untitled
Nd
© Estate of Guy Bourdin

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“House of Photography at Deichtorhallen Hamburg announces an exhibition of the legendary photographer Guy Bourdin (1928-1991), on view from November 1, 2013 – January 26, 2014. This most comprehensive exhibition to date is both an overview of the essential components of Guy Bourdin’s oeuvre and an introduction to unveiling works from his personal archives which have never been seen before. This is the first time that both his works as a painter and his notes on films are being shown at an exhibition. B&W shots dating from the 1950s are also included, showing portraits of artists and views of the city of Paris as well as Polaroids, sketches and texts. The exhibition examines Guy Bourdin’s oeuvre, but moreover, it provides insight into the complex working processes of the photographer’s mind and aims to establish his status as a visionaire image maker.

Guy Bourdin’s career spanned more than forty years during which time he worked for the world’s leading fashion houses and magazines. With the eye of a painter, Guy Bourdin created images that contained fascinating stories, compositions, both in B&W and in colours. He was among the 1st to create images with narratives, telling stories and shows that the image is more important than the product which is displayed. Using fashion photography as his medium, he sent out his message, one that was difficult to decode, exploring the realms between the absurd and the sublime. Famed for his suggestive narratives and surreal aesthetics, he radically broke conventions of commercial photography with a relentless perfectionism and sharp humor.

During the 1950s, Guy Bourdin launched his career with fashion assignments for Vogue Paris working in B&W. It’s nearly unknown, that half of the oeuvre of Guy Bourdin is black-and-white and as amazingly powerful as his colour works. He developed colour photography to its maximum effect, creating dramatic accents with intense colour saturation and textures in his compositions. Guy Bourdin used the format of the double spread magazine page in the most inventive way. He tailored his compositions to the constraints of the printed page both conceptually and graphically, and the mirror motif so central in his work finds its formal counterpart in the doubleness of the magazine spread. Layout and design become powerful metaphors for the photographic medium, engaging the eye and with it, the mind. While on the one hand employing formal elements of composition, Guy Bourdin, on the other hand, sought to transcend the reality of the photographic medium with surreal twists to the apparent subject of his images and his unconventional manipulation of the picture plane. Given total creative freedom and with uncompromising artistic ethic, Guy Bourdin captured the imagination of a whole generation at the late 1970s, recognised as the highest note in his career.

Guy Bourdin was an image maker, a perfectionist. He knew how to grab the attention of the viewer and left nothing to chance. He created impeccable sets, or when not shooting in his studio rue des Ecouffes in le Marais, in undistinguished bedrooms, on the beach, in nature, or in urban landscapes. The unusual dramas that unfold in these seemingly everyday scenes and ordinary encounters pique our subconscious and invite our imagination. Moreover, he developed a technic using hyper real colours, meticulous compositions of cropped elements such as low skies with high grounds and the interplay of light and shadows as well as the unique make-up of the models.

“Guy Bourdin irreverently swept away all the standards of beauty, conventional morals and product portrayals in one fell swoop. Around the female body he constructed visual disruptions, the outrageous, the hair-raising, the indiscreet, the ugly, the doomed, the fragmentary and the absent, torsos and death – all the tension and the entire gamut of what lies beyond the aesthetic and the moral,” explains the exhibition’s curator Ingo Taubhorn. Bourdin investigates in minute detail the variables of fashion photography, from brash posing to subtle performances and from complex settings to novel and disturbing notions of images.

Guy Bourdin’s imagery not only changed the course of fashion photography but influenced a host of contemporary artists, photographers and filmmakers. It is without question, that Guy Bourdin’s work for Vogue and his highly acclaimed print advertising for Charles Jourdan in the 1970s are now being seen in the appropriate context of contemporary art.”

Press release from House of Photography at Deichtorhallen Hamburg

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Guy Bourdin. 'Self portrait' c. 1950

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Guy Bourdin
Self portrait
c. 1950
© The Estate of Guy Bourdin, 2013

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Guy Bourdin. 'Untitled' 1960

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Guy Bourdin
Untitled
1960
© Estate of Guy Bourdin

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Guy Bourdin. 'Untitled' Nd

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Guy Bourdin
Untitled
Nd
© Estate of Guy Bourdin

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Guy Bourdin. 'Charles Jourdan - Spring 1979' 1979

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Guy Bourdin
Charles Jourdan – Spring 1979
1979
© Estate of Guy Bourdin

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Guy Bourdin. 'Pentax Calendar' 1981

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Guy Bourdin
Pentax Calendar
1981
Asahi Optical Company Limited. Tokyo, Japan
© Estate of Guy Bourdin

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Guy Bourdin. 'Vogue Paris - May 1970' 1970

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Guy Bourdin
Vogue Paris – May 1970
1970
© Estate of Guy Bourdin

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Guy Bourdin. 'Charles Jourdan - Spring 1978' 1978

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Guy Bourdin
Charles Jourdan – Spring 1978
1978
© Estate of Guy Bourdin

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Guy Bourdin. 'Vogue Paris - December 1969' 1969

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Guy Bourdin
Vogue Paris – December 1969
1969
Jewellery: Van Cleef & Arpels
Make-up: Serge Lutens
© Estate of Guy Bourdin, 2013

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Deichtorhallen Hamburg
Deichtorstrasse 1-2
20095
Hamburg
T: +49 (0)40 32103-0

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Closed Mondays

Deichtorhallen Hamburg website

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16
Sep
12

Review: ‘Pat Brassington: À Rebours’ at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 11th August – 23rd September 2012

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Installation photographs of Pat Brassington: À Rebours at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne

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This is a disappointing exhibition of Pat Brassington’s photographic work at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. Despite two outstanding catalogue essays by Juliana Engberg and Edward Colless (whose textual and conceptual pyrotechnics morphs À Rebours – against the grain/ against nature – into a “rebus,” an iconographic puzzle, a cryptic device usually of a name made by putting together letters and words; who notes that the work has strong links to the idea of perversion (of nature) and that the artist corrupts the normal taxonomic ordering of the photogenic so that the work becomes alien ‘other’, “an army of invaders from ‘the other side’ of the print, who give away their identities with the flick of reptilian tongue or a vulval opening on the back of the neck”) – despite all of this, the smallish images fail to live in the large gallery spaces of ACCA and fall rather flat, their effect as pail and wane as the limited colour palette of the work itself (which is why, I perceive, some of the gallery walls have been painted a sky blue colour, to add some life to the work).

Unlike most, I have never been convinced of the efficacy and importance of Brassington’s mature style. The work might have seemed fresh when it was originally produced but it now seems rather stale and dated, the pieces too contrived for the viewer to attain any emotional sustenance from the work. The vulvic openings, the blind steps on a path to nowhere, the libidinal tongues, fallen bodies, slits, effusions, effluxions and fleshy openings (where internal becomes external, where memories, dreams and alienness toward Self become self-evident) are too basic in their use of surrealist, psycho-sexual tropes, too singular in their mono-narrative statements to allow the viewer answers to the questions which the artist poses. In other words the viewer is left hanging; the work does not take you anywhere that is useful or particularly interesting. While it is instructive to see the work collectively because it builds the narrative through a collection of themes of disembodiment the claim (in the video) that sight lines are important in this regard does not stand scrutiny because the work is too small for the viewer to discern at a distance the correlation between different works. Look at the slideshow at the top of the posting and notice how the gallery hang makes the work and the space feel dead: too few pieces hung at too large a distance apart only adds to the isolation, both physically and conceptually, of the work.

For me, the revelation of the exhibition was the earlier work. As can be seen from the photographs posted here, the groupings of analogue silver gelatin prints within the gallery spaces have real presence and narrative power because the viewer can construct their own meanings which are not didactic but open ended. These pieces really are amazing. They remind me of the best work of one of my favourite artists David Wojnarowicz and that is a compliment indeed. In the video Brassington rails against the serendipity of working with analogue photography whilst acknowledging that this was one of its strengths because you sometimes never knew what you would get – while working in Photoshop the artist has ultimate control. Perhaps some of that serendipity needs to be injected into the mature work! I get the feeling from the analogue work that something really matters, but you are unsure what whereas the digital work has me fixed like a rabbit in the headlights and leaves no lasting impression or imprint on my memory.

It amazes me in these days of post-photography, post postmodernism where there is no one meta-narrative how curators and collectors alike try to pigeon hole artists into one particular style, mainly so that they can compartmentalise and order the work that they produce: such and such produces this kind of work. Of course the other reason is that when a person walks into a room and there is a Henson, Arkeley or Brassington on the wall, the kudos and social standing of the person becomes obvious. Oh, you have a Bill Henson, how wonderful! It’s like a signature dish at a restaurant and everybody expects it to be the same, every time you go there. In art this is because the curators have liked the work and the collectors have bought the work so the artist thinks, right, I’ll have some of that and they make more of the same. Does this make this artist’s “style” the best thing that they have done. Sadly no, and many artists get trapped in the honey pot and the work never progresses and changes. Such is the case in this exhibition. Of course some artists have been more successful at evading this trap than others such as the master Picasso (who constantly reinvented himself in his style but not his themes) and in photography, Robert Mapplethorpe, who went from personal narrative to S & M photographs, to black men, to flowers and portraits as subject matter. What all of these transmogrifying artists do in all their bodies of work, however disparate they may be, is address the same thematic development of the work, ask the same questions of the audience in different forms. It is about time curators and collectors became more aware of this trend in contemporary art making.

In conclusion I would say to the artist – thank you for the work, especially the powerful analogue photographs, but it’s time to move on. Let’s see whether the journey has stalled or there is life and imagination yet on the path to alienation.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art for allowing me to publish the photographs and text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

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Pat Brassington
Installation and individual photographs from
Cumulus Analysis
1986-87
18 silver gelatin photographs

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“As part of its Influential Australian Artist series, ACCA will present a survey of works by leading Australian photo-based artist Pat Brassington from August 11. Pat Brassington was one of the first artists to recognize the potential of the digital format, and has used it to create an enormous body of work – images that are hauntingly beautiful, deeply psychological, and sometimes disturbing.

Her works reference the tradition of surrealist photography. Recurring motifs usually include interior and domestic spaces and strange bodily mutations that take place within the human, predominantly female, form. The manipulation of the image is restrained, but the effect often uncanny and dramatic. À Rebours brings together works from Brassington’s exceptional 30 year career, presented over a series of small rooms aimed to emphasise the unsettling domesticity and claustrophobic atmosphere in her images. The exhibition title is inspired by the banned 1884 French novel of the same name, which in English translates as ‘against nature’ or ‘against the grain’.

Brassington was born in 1942 in Tasmania, and studied printmaking and photography at the Tasmanian School of Art in the early eighties She has exhibited in a number of group exhibitions including Feminism never happened, IMA, Brisbane (2010), On Reason and Emotion, Biennale of Sydney (2004) and in solo exhibitions at Art One Gallery, Melbourne, Monash University Museum of Art and Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne. ACCA’s Influential Australian Artist series celebrates the works of artists who have made a significant contribution to the history of Australian art practice, and the exhibition will be accompanied by a substantial catalogue documenting the artists’ career.”

Press release from ACCA

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Installation view of Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

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Pat Brassington
Installation and individual photographs from
Untitled (triptych)
1989
3 silver gelatin photographs

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The Secret: The Photo Worlds of Pat Brassington

Juliana Engberg

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The photo-based works of Pat Brassington gained significant attention in the mid to late 1980s.  Black and white images, sourced from reproductions, were arranged in grid and cluster formations to establish their status as a visual language which signified meaning beyond the apparent information they delivered. Adopting a modus operandi inherited from the montage, frisson-based tactics of surrealism, Brassington’s works seduced the viewer into a psycho-linguistic game of puns, Freudian jokes and visual metaphors by careful juxtaposition of images. Exploiting the license permitted by appropriation, and registering a knowledge of the use of signs and signifiers as part of an engagement with psychoanalysis and visual theory, Brassington’s works can be seen in the historical context of surrealist artists such as Max Ernst, Andre Breton, Brassai, Luis Buñuel and Raoul Ubac, as well as contemporary, post-modern artists, such as Barbara Kruger, Martha Rosler, John Baldessari and Silvia Kolbowski, who used image/linguistic associations and provocations to create meta-narratives.

Brassington’s early works, like The Gift, 1986, with its set of images showing details of the paintings of Christ as the ‘Man of Sorrows’ exposing the slit of wounded flesh, crops of cacti, hyper details of vampire movie stills in which blood gushes from a girl’s eyes, and the face of a man with eyes wide open and mouth agape, develop a disquieting set of associations – wounds, pricks, mouths, blood. These are the stuff of B-Grade horror movies, as well as evangelical ecstasy, and perhaps hint at more sinister rites. Similarly, Cumulus Analysis, 1987/8 with its play of clouds, shattered glass, fish, female body in the throws of a spasm, tensed hands, brail, hat crowns upturned to the sky, praying bodies, and angel statuettes, are a lexicon of signs that signify the female genitalia combined with violations and evangelical obsessions. Right of the grid, a solitary female face is seen, and with this simple exclusion from the ‘system’, Brassington turns the tables on the male gaze and replaces the ‘peephole image’ with a feminine look. Nevertheless in this ensemble, gathering analysis, the use of the female voyeur is an uncomfortable reversal. Instead of being witnesses to an oedipal drama, we are perhaps collusive on-lookers on an unspeakable trauma, along with a maternal watcher.

These earlier works of Brassington play out like story-boards for an inconclusive matrix of events. Like the early surrealists who looked outside ‘art’ towards forensic and medical images for their content, Brassington also borrows images from photographs depicting the research into hysteria conducted by Jean-Martin Charcot at the Salpetriere hospital, Paris: an infamous 19th century asylum for (so-called) insane and incurable women; and from medical photographs of biological abnormalities. As well as their links to surrealism, Brassington’s borrowings from medical archives also acknowledge the feminist revisioning that took place during the 1980s, which saw in these images of women patients used as ‘hysterical’ evidence for the photographic and medical gaze, a female oppression by the patriarchal system. With this evident historical distancing and their clear links to popular culture through the borrowing of images from films, media and art, these mid-1980s works adopt an almost academic detachment from the personal: the open ended narratives become more general and part of a semiotic universality to some extent. For this reason many commentators, then and since, have been comfortable in describing these mid ’80s works as being within the theoretical, psychological-based feminisms of the 1980s.

Before these elegant, crisp and delineated works of the mid 1980s, however, Brassington made a series of small black and white images that carried a heavier, subjective and domestic load. Untitled VI, 1980, shows a young girl bound in rope and in Untitled IV, 1980, a little girl carries a decapitated doll. These small black and white photographs, altered in the development and printing process through over-exposure and intentional fuzziness, seem to burn like afterimages from some other time. Through visual manipulation, innocuous play obtains a macabre, torturous character. These photographs court unsettling ambiguity and suggestiveness. Unlike the more academic photo grids, these works also seem closer to home.

In the series 1+1=3, 1984 a male figure haunts the domestic space, his blurry outline, highlighted from behind to accentuate hirsuteness, seems ominous and domineering, his body is oversized to the frame of the image. In accompanying images from the same series, child like legs protruding from under a table, the skirt and dressed legs of a woman viewed from above, and a dog lying under a cover, all photographed with a kind of forensic clarity, suggest some ‘incident’ and portray hiding, and partial truths. These small, early works establish a precedent in Brassington’s future images in which very often legs are oddly organized, hoisted and disjointed from bodies, peculiar points of view are shown and bodies in partial concealment are all activated to produce mystery and unease.

In the early 1990s, the development of digital-format photography, with its capacity for image building, akin to, but even more potentially malleable then analogue forms of montage and collage, saw Brassington return to the mood of these earlier and enigmatic works with their focus on interiors and curious figures. The digital format provided Brassington with the opportunity to blend, blur, almost shake, and stain the photographic paper to unleash a new subjectivism. Works from the ’90s also see Brassington moving from black and white formats to experimenting with colour, which becomes vivid, livid and adds a kind of visceral saturation and abstraction to images with mute tonality.

In the works of the 1990s and 2000s Brassington enters into an extra-surreal phase, producing images that are cast adrift from reality or popular culture references and built from the imagination. Brassington’s own visual language is developed in these works that manipulate figures, surfaces, textures and odd attachments and visual interventions. As her expertise in image building increases Brassington’s works take on dense, viscous, and sometimes translucent qualities that tamper with natural tactility. Figures become phantasmic and morph-like, at times transparent or artificially bulky. Nostalgic colours are played off against sharper, off-registered hues. Bio-morphs appear liked strange growths attaching themselves to, or coming forth from bodies, especially mouths.

Brassington’s reoccurring symbolism is confirmed in these works in which fish are clutched, wounds appear like stigmata in necks and on dresses, tongues protrude and become uncanny matter, mouths are gagged, hold things or bring forth pearls of blood-red caviar seeds. The use of fabric, stockings and lace add a weird feminine monstrosity to the muted subject – mostly a child. This digital phase of newest works produce beautiful visual qualities in pearlescent colours and shiny surfaces, which make their clandestine, convulsive subjects all the more disconcerting to consider. Brassington lures the viewer into a game of guessing and provokes us to know – to dig deep into our collective unconscious, which innately understands these unnatural things. In these later works there is little, if any academic distancing. The images are compellingly honest and close.

During this time Brassington’s affiliation with surrealism and its deployment of artistic intuition drawn from the unconscious is strongly evident. Equally evident is the deliberation in these images, which is clear and unavoidable given the digital process which cannot provide an ‘accident’ like over-exposure, shaking, mis-framing or those usual happy ‘chance’ things that gave analogue photography its exciting edge for finding the surreal moment in a snap of reality. Brassington consciously works the unconscious. The domestic setting also reasserts itself in these later works in which odd things play out. In the series Cambridge Road, 2007 the atmosphere of reality is used in an almost bland, de-saturated way to give greater emphasis to figures which become smudges, dogs that seem electrified with alertness to some danger outside the frame, strangely framed corners of furniture, beds, and dressing tables that appear as dramatic items in some bizarre theatre of domesticity.

In Cambridge Road coated humans wear animal and portrait masks and adopt roles that are unclear: a wire clothes hanger, leaning on the wall, hung on a hook or discarded in the background takes on a nasty aspect. In these works an over exposed flash adds a spectral, apparitional aspect to the scene, causing it to seem inhabited by a haunting, or ghostly return. In another series Below Stairs, 2009, an x-ray rat and small child emerge from a trap door in the floor of a barren room. In a further work the trap door is vanished and a grown woman stands, with her back to the viewer indicating a closure against these hallucinations.  These works, which have affinities with Max Ernst’s drawing, The Master’s Bedroom, confirm Brassington’s knowing attachment to the idea of the room-box as theatre explored in surrealism by Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, Joseph Cornell and female surrealists such as Dorothea Tanning, Lenora Carrington and Louise Bourgeois.

Around the same time as these picture theatres Brassington has created single figures. A scarlet dressed woman walks, retreating through an imaginary landscape in By the Way, 2010: a bag or pillow slip over her head – still hiding, or not seeing – but escaping – surviving perhaps.  A doll, dressed in a blue frock, Radar 2010, replaces the head with a light bulb stretched from the ceiling – rope like – unsettlingly similar to a noose, which demolishes cuteness. The bulb, standing in for the head, becomes a Cyclops, one-eyed thing, reminding us of the surrealist trope of the single eye ever used by Bataille, Ernst, Dali, Magritte, Man Ray, Buñuel and others, which in the surrealist visual language can so quickly become the mouth, the vagina dentate and object of possible castration. This bright spark of a doll is not all she seems.

These strange personages are like escapees from Brassington’s domestic dramas, new protagonists ready for their own story in the photo and digital world that Brassington has conjured from places we will never know, that are lived and returned in her own mind.  Among these personae Brassington creates an image of a person wrapped head to feet in a shiny eiderdown, a lone hand exposed clutches the cover closed.  The figure stands against the wall where shadow stripes stretch behind. This strangely real image reminds us of the small girl, in Untitled IV, 1980 once bound, who is now unleashed and protected, but still in hiding. In this most recent group Brassington has also delivered the compelling close-up face of a young child whose one eye turns inward towards the other. A torn blue piece of fabric covers the mouth. This image is called The Secret.”

Juliana Engberg

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Installation view of Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

cactus-c-WEB

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

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Pat Brassington
Installation and individual photographs from
The Gift
1986
11 silver gelatin photographs

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An interview with Pat Brassington

What sorts of things have inspired your work?

Ideas. Ideas that come from life’s experiences, from family and friends, the ideas embodied in the vast array of exhibited and published visual artworks. Literature, cinema and music, the natural world and human nature.
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Are there any particular artists who have influenced you?

There is a moving feast of artist’s works that passes through one’s consciousness. Here are a few from the past that popped into my head as I write: Goya, Giacometti, Fuseli, Magritte, Ernst, Hoch, Hesse, Bourgeois….
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Can you explain the processes and techniques in your work?

They vary but I often recycle a lot of material from my own photographic archive, something I continue to accumulate. As a work develops a specific requirement may arise so I will hunt around, or create the elements to produce a result I’m after. Clarification about the shape of new work emerges during the making process. It’s important to entertain possibilities and not shut them off unexplored: it can be like being inan extended state of uncertainty. But decisions are made.
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When you began working digitally and using Photoshop and digital colour printing techniques how did this develop or change the themes in your work?

I didn’t have the opportunity to explore analogue colour photography, but I probably didn’t want to really. I liked working in black and white. My early digital work was monochromatic – the outcome of scanning black and white negatives – but I quickly realised that the potential was there to enhance the expressive qualities of an image by introducing colour.
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How did you realise its potential?

It is part of the form of the visual world. Generally I don’t try to feel or deal separately with the components of an image.
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People comment on the personal nature of your work – what do you think about that?

I’m assuming that you are asking whether my work is autobiographical!  I would certainly attribute or acknowledge that my life experience has influenced how I respond to, or interpret, ‘being in the world’. Some things stick, they become a part of you whether you like it or not. Art endeavours bring strange impressions back to life and create a different past, a new past with new phantoms miming actions and walking through walls.
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Was the emergence of feminist theory and film theory guided by semiotics important to you?

Yes. And exposure to key texts was a liberating experience.
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What kinds of literature do you enjoy reading?

Fiction mostly, including poetry on occasion. Just wish I could engage more often. The last book I read was Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and that was at least 12 months. I have bookshelves containing books I have read.  A few missing links mind you but those I have managed to keep are a reminder to me of where I have been.
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How would your work have developed if the digital process had not become available?

Well there can be an unstable relationship between content and process. Maybe the subject matter may not have been much different in much of the work, but you can find yourself projecting ideas in the mind through process or more specifically in the forms typical of a process. Possibly the demonstrated capacity of computers to store, manipulate and converge images lead the way. Without drama it happened and the chemical playground moved over and the pixel playground dominated my thinking, not about what to do but how to do it.
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Does the digital permit a freedom from reality?

Look if you did a count digital manipulation may provide a few more options more easily, but the real struggle for freedom is in the mind.

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Pat Brassington. 'Sensors' 2010

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Pat Brassington
Sensors
2010

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Pat Brassington. ‘Radar’ 2009

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Pat Brassington
Radar
2009

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Pat Brassington. 'By the Way' 2010

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Pat Brassington
By the Way
2010

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Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
111 Sturt Street
Southbank
Victoria 3006
Australia

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10am – 5pm
Weekends & Public Holidays 11am – 6pm
Monday by appointment
Open all public holidays except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art website

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19
Sep
09

Review: ‘Climbing the Walls and Other Actions’ by Clare Rae at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 7th August – 27th September 2009

 

Clare Rae. 'Untitled' from the series 'Climbing the Walls and Other Actions' 2009

 

Clare Rae (Australian, b. 1981)
Untitled
2009
from the series Climbing the Walls and Other Actions
Pigment print on Museo Crane Silver Rag
50 x 50 cm

 

 

“To withdraw into one’s corner is undoubtedly a meager expression. But despite its meagerness, it has numerous images, some, perhaps, of great antiquity, images that are psychologically primitive. At times, the simpler the image, the vaster the dreams.”

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Gaston Bachelard.1

 

 

Usually I am not a great fan of ‘faceless’ photography as I call it but this series of work, Climbing the Walls and Other Actions (2009) by the artist Clare Rae is even better than the series by Tracey Moffatt in the previous review.

Exploring activities of the female body in closed domestic spaces these psychologically intense photographs push the physical boundaries of play through the navigation of space. As a child has little awareness about the inherent dangers of a seemingly benign environment so Rae’s self-portraits turn the lens on her conceptualisation of the inner child at play and the activating of the body in and through space. As the artist herself says, “the way children negotiate their surroundings and respond with an unharnessed spatial awareness, which I find really interesting when applied to the adult body.”2

Continuing the themes from the last review, that of spaces of intimacy and reverberation, these photographs offer us fragmentary dialectics that subvert the unity of the archetype, the unity of the body in space. Here the (in)action of the photographic freeze balances the tenuous positions of the body: a re-balancing of both interior and exterior space.

As Noel Arnaud writes, “Je suis l’espace ou je suis” (I am the space where I am). Further, Bachelard notes “… by changing space, by leaving the space of one’s usual sensibilities, one enters into communication with a space that is psychically innovating.”3

In these photographs action is opposed with stillness, danger opposed with suspension; the boundaries of space, both of the body and the environment, the interior and the exterior, memory and dream, are changed.

Space seems to open up and grow with these actions to become poetic space – and the simplicity of the images aids and abets the vastness of our dreams. This change of concrete space does not change our place, but our nature. Here the mapping of self in space, our existence, our exist-stance (to have being in a specified place whether material or spiritual), is challenged in the most beautiful way by these walls and actions, by these creatures, ambiguities, photographs.

Henri Lefebvre insightfully observes, “… each living body is space and has space: it produces itself in space and it also produces that space.”4

I am the (sublime) space where I am, that surrounds me with countless presences.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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All images by Clare Rae from the series Climbing the Walls and Other Actions 2009. Many thankx to Clare for allowing me to publish them.

 

  1. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969, p. 137
  2. Email from the artist 7th September, 2009
  3. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969, p. 206
  4. Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974, p. 170

 

Clare Rae. 'Untitled' from the series 'Climbing the Walls and Other Actions' 2009

 

Clare Rae (Australian, b. 1981)
Untitled
2009
from the series Climbing the Walls and Other Actions
Pigment print on Museo Crane Silver Rag
50 x 50 cm

 

Clare Rae. 'Untitled' from the series 'Climbing the Walls and Other Actions' 2009

 

Clare Rae (Australian, b. 1981)
Untitled
2009
from the series Climbing the Walls and Other Actions
Pigment print on Museo Crane Silver Rag
50 x 50 cm

 

Clare Rae. 'Untitled' from the series 'Climbing the Walls and Other Actions' 2009

 

Clare Rae (Australian, b. 1981)
Untitled
2009
from the series Climbing the Walls and Other Actions
Pigment print on Museo Crane Silver Rag
50 x 50 cm

 

 

Climbing the Walls and Other Actions is primarily concerned with visually representing my experience of femininity, whilst also exploring aspects of representation that relate to feminism. The project considers the relationship between the body and space by including formal elements within each frame such as windows and corners. Through a sequence of precarious poses I explore my relationship with femininity, an approach born of frustration. I use the body to promote ideas of discomfort and awkwardness, resisting the passivity inherent in traditional representations of femininity. The images attempt to de-stabilise the figure, drawing tension from the potential dangers the body faces in these positions. Whilst the actions taking place are not in themselves particularly dangerous, the work demonstrates a gentle testing of physical boundaries and limitations via a child-like exploration of the physical environment.”

Text from the Centre for Contemporary Photography website [Online] Cited 15/09/2009 no longer available online

 

Clare Rae. 'Untitled' from the series 'Climbing the Walls and Other Actions' 2009

 

Clare Rae (Australian, b. 1981)
Untitled
2009
from the series Climbing the Walls and Other Actions
Pigment print on Museo Crane Silver Rag
50 x 50 cm

 

Clare Rae. 'Untitled' from the series 'Climbing the Walls and Other Actions' 2009

 

Clare Rae (Australian, b. 1981)
Untitled
2009
from the series Climbing the Walls and Other Actions
Pigment print on Museo Crane Silver Rag
50 x 50 cm

 

 

Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
Phone: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Friday, 11am – 5pm
Saturday – Sunday, 12pm – 5pm

Clare Rae website

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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