Posts Tagged ‘film photography

24
Oct
21

Photographs: Marcus Bunyan. ‘Resonance’ 2021

October 2021

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

Resonance noun: the power to bring images, feelings, etc. into the mind of the person reading or listening; the images, etc. produced in this way…

 

 

A body of work for 2021. Very proud of this sequence…

Taken in heavy overcast conditions with slight rain after a thunderstorm had passed through on my Mamiya RZ67 medium format film camera, at Eagle’s Nest, Bunurong Marine and Coastal Park, Victoria, Australia.

A period of intense seeing and previsualisation.

No cropping, all full frame photographs. The colours are as the camera saw them.

See the layout of the series on my website.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

48 images
© Marcus Bunyan

 

Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Photographs are available from this series for purchase. As a guide, a digital colour 16″ x 20″ print costs $1,000 plus tracked and insured shipping. For more information please see the Store web page.

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'Resonance' 2021

 

 

Marcus Bunyan website

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13
Sep
14

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

Exhibition dates: 3rd June – 21st September 2014

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

 

 

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

 

Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
El juego de las probabilidades [The Game of Probabilities]
2007
12 colour photographs
47 x 40cm each with frame
Courtesy of the artist and Sicardi Gallery, Houston

 

 

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

Marcus

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

 

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

 

CALI-DOSCOPE: CITY FRAGMENTS

Oscar Muñoz. 'Ambulatorio' [Ambulatory] 1994

 

Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Ambulatorio [Ambulatory]
1994
Aerial photograph enclosed in security glass, wood and aluminium, 36 units
100 x 100cm each
Courtesy O.K. Centrum, Linz

 

 

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

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

 

THE SUPPORT RECONSIDERED

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

 

Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Cortinas de Baño [Shower curtains]
1985-1986
Acrylic on plastic, 5 elements
190 x 140 cm and 190 x 70cm each, dimensions variable
Banco de la República collection, Bogotá

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Narcisos (en proceso) [Narcissi (in process)]
1995-2011
Charcoal dust and paper on water, Plexiglas, 6 elements
10 x 50 x 50cm each, overall dimensions: 10 x 70 x 400cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

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

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Narciso' [Narcissus] 2001

 

Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Narciso [Narcissus]
2001
Single-channel video 4:3, colour, sound, 3 min
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

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

 

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

 

Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Re/t
rato [Portrait/I Try Again]
2004
Single-channel video projection 4:3, colour, no sound, 28 min
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

About the exhibition

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

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

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

 

The exhibition

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

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

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

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

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

Text by José Roca and María Wills Londoño

 

IMPRINTS

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

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Aliento' [Breath] 1995

 

Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Aliento [Breath]

1995
Metal mirrors, screen-printed with grease, 7 mirrors
Diameter: 20 cm each
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

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

 

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

 

Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
La mirada del cíclope [The Cyclops’ Gaze]
2002
Digital print on paper, 6 photographs
50 x 50 cm each one
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

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

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Horizonte [Horizon]' 2011

 

Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Horizonte [Horizon]
2011
From the series Impresiones débiles [Weak Impressions]
Charcoal dust print on methacrylate
4 elements, 85 x 73.5cm each
Galerie mor. charpentier, Paris

 

 

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

 

THE IMAGE IN FLUX

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

 

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

 

Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Fundido a blanco (dos retratos) [Fade to White (Two Portraits)]
2010
HD Video, colour, sound, 7 min 40 s
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

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

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Sedimentaciones' [Sedimentations] 2011

 

Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Sedimentaciones [Sedimentations]
2011
2 HD video projections, colour, sound, 42 min 27 s, 41 min 42 s, on wooden tables
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

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

 

MORE WORK

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

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

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

 

Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Línea del destino [Line of Destiny]
2006
Single-channel video 4:3, black and white, no sound,
1 min 54 s
Courtesy of the artist

 

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

 

Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Pixeles [Pixels]
1999-2000
Coffee stains on sugar cubes, Plexiglas
9 panels 35 x 35 x 3cm each
Courtesy of the artist and Sicardi Gallery, Houston

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

Jeu de Paume website

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16
Feb
14

Review / Text: ‘Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th October 2013 – 2nd March 2014

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973) 'Model Dinarzade in a Dress by Poiret' 1924

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Model Dinarzade in a Dress by Poiret
1924
Gelatin silver photograph

Image used under fair use for the purpose of art criticism

 

 

This is a sublime exhibition, teaming with fabulous frocks and beautiful, classical, evanescent photographs. The exhibition was in my top nine magnificent Melbourne exhibitions that featured on Art Blart last year. Elegant, sophisticated and oozing quality, this exhibition has been a sure fire winner for the NGV. This review will concentrate on the photographs by Edward Steichen. See my previous posting on the exhibition including installation photographs.

 

High Society

Edward Steichen (1879-1973) was a painter and champion of art photography who initially worked in the soft focus, Pictorialist style prevalent at the beginning of the 20th century. He was an artist who worked closely with Alfred Stieglitz on the influential quarterly art journal Camera Work, designing the cover and the Art Nouveau-style typeface especially for the internationally focused publication. Stieglitz, and by extension Camera Work, lived to promote photography as an art form and to challenge the norms of how art may be defined.1 In the early years Camera Work only published photography, but in later years the journal increasingly featured reproductions of and articles on modern painting, drawing and aesthetics.

“This change was brought about by a similar transformation at Stieglitz’s New York gallery, which had been known as the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession until 1908. That year he changed the name of the gallery to “291”, and he began showing avant-garde modern artists such as Auguste Rodin and Henri Matisse along with photographers. The positive responses he received at the gallery encouraged Stieglitz to broaden the scope of Camera Work as well, although he decided against any name change for the journal.”2

Steichen was heavily associated with Gallery 291 (291 Fifth Avenue, New York City) which ran from 1905 to 1917. The gallery exhibited European artists such as Braque, Picasso, Matisse, Brancussi, Cézanne and Rodin and soon to be famous American artists such as John MarinMax WeberArthur DoveMarsden Hartley and Georgia O’Keeffe. Virtually no other gallery in the United States was showing modern art works with such abstract and dynamic content at this time.3 Both the gallery and the journal ran hand in hand; both closed in 1917. The journal closed due to a downturn in interest in Pictorial photography, a lack of subscribers, cultural changes and the economic effects of the First World War, which saw both the costs and even the availability of the paper on which it was printed become challenging.4 In the penultimate issue 48 (October 1916) Stieglitz,

” …introduced the work of a young photographer, Paul Strand, whose photographic vision was indicative of the aesthetic changes now at the heart of Camera Work’s demise. Strand shunned the soft focus and symbolic content of the Pictorialists and instead strived to create a new vision that found beauty in the clear lines and forms of ordinary objects. By publishing Strand’s work Stieglitz was hastening the end of the aesthetic vision he had championed for so long. Nine months later, in June 1917, what was to be the final issue of Camera Work appeared. It was devoted almost entirely to Strand’s photographs.”5

.
Edward Steichen felt the change in the air. When he accepted the job as chief photographer for Condé Nast publications in 1923 his early fashion photographs for Vogue and Vanity Fair were seen as innovative and ground breaking, even as his former art colleagues saw shooting fashion and celebrities was a way of selling-out. Steichen bought to fashion and portrait photography an aesthetic of clear lines and forms that simply had not been present before, coupled with a Pictorialist sensibility for light and the use of low depth of field. John McDonald in his excellent review of the exhibition observes, “Steichen has claims to having invented fashion photography with a series of pictures he took in Paris in 1911, for couturier, Paul Poiret; but the genre had found its first true professional in Baron Adolphe de Meyer, who left Vogue for Harper’s Bazaar, opening the door for Steichen’s appointment. De Meyer was an incurable mannerist who remained true to the Pictorialist aesthetic, but his successor would prove himself an innovator.”6

Steichen’s photographs from 1923-1924 are pared back, Modernist photographs that evidence the beginning of his later photographic style. Madame Nadine Vera wearing a crêpe evening gown by Chanel (1924) has a plain background of some wooden studio panels; Model Dinarzade in a Dress by Poiret (1924, above) has fabric hanging behind while Crêpe de chine dress by Lanvin (1924) has three doors casually put together to form the backdrop to the model. All three photographs show beautiful tonality and lighting in the full length capture of the models with hints of browns and yellows in the prints. The figure is isolated in the studio space simply and elegantly. The model is being studied. Steichen’s models are immersed in suffused light but the form of the photograph is different from that of Pictorialism, for the models themselves are pin sharp, as though stepping out into the world. These early photographs are fascinating to study, for they lay the ground work for what is to follow. These three images inform the viewer as to the experimentation that Steichen was undertaking to get to a starting point for the complex and atmospheric studio lighting that he would later employ.

Gradually, Steichen’s images become more confident and assured and take on a patina of beauty, style and grace. In his close-up portraits there is an isolation of the face against out of focus backgrounds with the use of profiles, arms and elbows as framing devices, for example Actress Sylvia Sidney (1929) and Actress Clara Bow (1928, above). In his longer-length portraits there is an isolation of figures against a white or black ground, as in Marion Morehouse in a dress by Louise Boulanger (1929) and Actresses Norma and Constance Talmadge (1927). Males usually have a heavy darkness to them while the females are more luminously lit. In the male portraits the hands dominate. The hands in the male photographs belong to the male as part of the portrait whereas in the early photographs of women they are only models, there at his command, and the hands are almost invisible. Only in the later photographs of high society women are the hands of females fully represented. What can be observed is that the figure is usually isolated against an out of focus background, with deep, dark shadows and soft luxurious light, low depth of field and feminine profiles.

In commercial terms (and we must remember that this is how the artist made his living for these photographs were seen as his commercial work at the time), Steichen’s photographs fulfilled his brief: the portrayal of shimmer and sparkle, geometric Art Deco style, the drama and theatrical lighting of the talkies, and the spectacle of the liberated modern women. She in turn was influenced by the prevalent cultural conditions: smoking, jazz, prohibition, automobiles, trains, dancing, fast living, gold (King Tuts tomb was discovered in 1922) and African and Japanese art. Appealing to the new leisure classes, publications such as Vogue and Vanity Fair offered a glimpse of a longed for paradise to the burgeoning middle-classes with their photographs of the rich and famous, the glamour and the costumes – the social groups that hold the most power actually exposing their own status on paper through these magazines.

As John McDonald notes, “Steichen uses every trick at his disposal to convey a particular kind of image,”7 an image that uses increasingly elaborate studio lighting and disparate indoor and outdoor locations. But by the early 1930s the work becomes quite formulaic with its use of low depth of field, profiles, angles of arms or chairs and geometric shapes. The figure is tightly controlled – either cropped close in or set amongst ambiguously filled sets and shaped backgrounds. There is a sameness and repetitiveness about the work as one image bleeds into another. In fact, after that early period of experimentation, there is basically no change to his mature style from the years 1925-1937 and this makes for a long twelve years for an artist of his talent. He found his mother load and he stuck to it.

Steichen’s photographs of the rich and famous are “pictures” taken by one who mingled with the elite, one who enjoyed the trappings of fame and high society. As Robert Nelson notes in his review of the exhibition, “Steichen’s talents were never incompatible with the conspicuous snobbery of his age, for which it would never have occurred to him to proffer an apology. Having arrived himself, he naturally admires gentry-by-ambition and crowns it with the smugness that it enjoys.”8 Ouch! Nelson goes on to observe, “Much of the work is statuesque and formidable in its composition, lighting and symbolic rigour,” while at the same time portraying a world that is completely artificial in which nothing is real and everything is a pose.9 And we, the viewer and reader, are voyeurs of this hedonistic world.

On close reading, the photographs flatten out into a studied set of stylistic manoeuvres, a form where style stands in for a quality of visual perception.10 As Steichen seeks to “clinch the image” the syntax of his photographs (the system of organisation used in putting lines together to form pictures) becomes imitative. This leads to evanescent photographs, images that soon pass out of sight, memory, or existence; images that slip for the mind as quickly as one sees them. There is little sense of dislocation in the images, only “in his ability to distance himself from a subject, analysing his or her foibles with a cool, practiced eye,”11 and in the distance of the scene from the reality of everyday life. Each photograph becomes a microcosm of vanity, celebrity and fashion. Steichen ticks all the boxes (and he made all the boxes that he ticked) but the photographs usually don’t fulfil any new demands that the situation generates. He restricts his field of view to one that he creates and controls within certain narrowly defined boundaries, usually using passive people who are at his command. In his orientation to the world the photographs are not ‘things as they are’ but things as they are constructed to be (seen) – a form of social capital, social fascism, even.12

Only when Steichen is challenged by an active “personality” does he raise his game. This is when the modernist, emotive, visually rhapsodic AND MEMORABLE photographs take hold in this exhibition. The great breakthrough with Greta Garbo (1929, below), mass of black with face surmounting, hair pulled back by hands “the woman came out full beauty on her magnificent face” Steichen said; Actress Gloria Swanson (1924, below) like some prowling, wide-eyed animal hidden behind a black lace veil, “a predatory femme fatale concealing her ambitions behind a mask of beauty”13; Marlene Dietrich (1934, below) nestled into the glorious curve of an armchair, lace-covered hand open, inviting; and Actress Loretta Young (1931) active, not passive, in which Steichen humanises his sitter. For me, these are the glorious images – not the men, not the fashion photographs, but these strong, independent women.

“An interested image-maker takes available resources for meaning (visual grammars, fabrication techniques and focal points of attention), undertakes an act of designing (the process of image-making), and in so doing re-images the world in a way that it has never quite been seen before.”14 Initially, in the early experimentation, this is what Steichen did; he achieves it again in the photographs of Garbo, Swanson, Dietrich and Young. As for the other photographs we feel an overall suffused glow of beauty and glamour – we admire their scale and intensity, the deep blacks and velvety whites, and wonder at the light and assemblage of elements – but they do not have the power and engagement of the best, most challenging work. In these photographs of vibrant women the viewer finally starts to feel the spirit of the face, the spirit of the person captured in an instant. And that is a rare and beautiful thing.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,883

 

Endnotes

  1. Whelan, Richard. Alfred Stieglitz: A Biography. NY: Little, Brown, 1995, pp. 189-223
  2. Anon. “Camera Work,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
  3. Anon. “291,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
  4. “Camera Work,” op. cit.,
  5. Hoffman, Katherine. Stieglitz : A Beginning Light. New Haven: Yale University Press Studio, 2004,  pp. 213–222 cited in “Camera Work,” op. cit.,
  6. McDonald, John. “Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion” on John McDonald website February 1, 2014 [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
  7. Ibid.,
  8. Nelson, Robert. “An age of elegance captured forever,” in The Age newspaper Wednesday November 6th, 2013, p. 54
  9. Ibid.,
  10. Rewording of a sentence by Sleigh, Tom. “Too Much of the Air: Tomas Tranströmer,” 2005, on the Poets.org website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014. No longer available online
  11. McDonald, op. cit.,
  12. “In sociology, social capital is the expected collective or economic benefits derived from the preferential treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups. Although different social sciences emphasise different aspects of social capital, they tend to share the core idea “that social networks have value”.”
    Anon. “Social capital,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
    “Social fascism was a theory supported by the Communist International (Comintern) during the early 1930s, which held that social democracy was a variant of fascism because, in addition to a shared corporatist economic model, it stood in the way of a complete and final transition to communism.”
    Anon. “Social fascism,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
  13. McDonald, op. cit.,
  14. Anon. “The Image of Transformation: Properties of Consequence,” on The Image website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014. No longer available online

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

 

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973) 'Actress Clara Bow for Vanity Fair' 1928

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Actress Clara Bow for Vanity Fair
1928
Vintage silver gelatin print
Block Museum, Gift of the Hollander Family in Honor of Morton and Mimi Schapiro
Steichen / Condé Nast Archive; © Condé Nast

Image used under fair use for the purpose of art criticism

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) Actress 'Gloria Swanson' 1924

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Actress Gloria Swanson
1924
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

 

Steichen’s portrait of Gloria Swanson has taken on iconic masterpiece status overtime. Created in 1924, just as the first feature-length sound movies were emerging – effectively truncating the actress’s brilliant silent-film career – this image caught the essential Gloria Swanson: haunting and inscrutable, forever veiled in the whisper of a distant era. Steichen’s photograph has elements of turn-of-the-century pictorialism (moody and delicate, the subject seeming to peer from the darkness, as if from jungle foliage), yet it also projects modernist boldness, with its pin-sharp precision and graphic severity.

Text from Iconic Photos website [Online] Cited 11/02/2021

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'Dancers Leonore Hughes and Maurice Mouvet' 1924

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Dancers Leonore Hughes and Maurice Mouvet
1924
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

 

Maurice Mouvet was one of the most famous and successful dance teams around the early 1910’s and lead the way for many performers that would follow… Maurice was born in New York but as a young lad moved to Paris with his father and knew he wanted to be a dancer as a young boy. He had his first professional dance at the Noveau Cirque in Paris, France at age 15. Mouvet’s best partners were Florence Walton and Leonora (Leona) Hughes.

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'Actress Paula Negri' 1925

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Actress Paula Negri
1925
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

 

Pola Negri (née Apolonia Chałupiec, January 3, 1897 – 1 August 1987) was a Polish stage and film actress who achieved worldwide fame during the silent and golden eras of Hollywood and European film for her tragedienne and femme fatale roles. She was the first European film star to be invited to Hollywood, and become one of the most popular actresses in American silent film. She also started several important women’s fashion trends that are still staples of the women’s fashion industry. Her varied career included work as an actress in theatre and vaudeville; as a singer and recording artist; as an author; and as a ballerina.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'Tamaris with a large Art Deco scarf' 1925

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Tamaris with a large Art Deco scarf
1925
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'Model wearing a black tulle headdress by Suzanne Talbot and a brocade coat with black fox collar' 1925

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Model wearing a black tulle headdress by Suzanne Talbot and a brocade coat with black fox collar
1925
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'Actor Gary Cooper' 1930

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Actor Gary Cooper
1930
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'Marion Morehouse and unidentified model wearing dresses by Vionnet' 1930

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Marion Morehouse and unidentified model wearing dresses by Vionnet
1930
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

 

Marion Morehouse (1906-1969), was a fashion model who rose to prominence in the late 20s and early 30s, sitting for Vanity Fair and Vogue photographer Edward Steichen. The pair created some strikingly modernist photographs. According to Steichen Morehouse was:

“The greatest fashion model I ever photographed … When she put on the clothes that were to be photographed, she transformed herself into a woman who really would wear that gown … whatever the outfit was.”

She was also a favourite of Cecil Beaton and French Vogue’s Baron George Hoyningen-Huene. Morehouse was of Choctaw Indian ancestry, with brown eyes and an angular frame. After her modeling career ended, she took up photography herself. Later she became the third wife of author and painter E.E Cummings. When Cummings met Marion Morehouse in 1932, he was in the middle of a painful split from his second wife, Anne Barton. Although it is not clear whether the two were ever formally married, Morehouse lived with Cummings in a common-law marriage until his death in 1962. Morehouse died on May 18, 1969.

Text from the Photographs, film, literature & quotes from the bygone era website [Online] Cited 10/02/2014 no longer available online

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'Olympic diver Katherine Rawls' 1931

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Olympic diver Katherine Rawls
1931
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

 

Katherine Louise Rawls (June 14, 1917 – April 8, 1982) was a multiple United States national champion in swimming and diving in the 1930s.

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) Model 'Dorothy Smart wearing a black velvet hat by Madame Agnès' 1926

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Model Dorothy Smart wearing a black velvet hat by Madame Agnès
1926
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

 

France’s most popular milliner Madame Agnes was born in France in the late 1800’s, she retired in 1949, and died a short while later. She was famous for cutting the brims of her hats while they were worn by her customers. Madame Agnes styled hats which were both abstract and unique. An illustration from 1927 depicts Madame Agnes’ Congo inspired hats with a model wearing a slave collar. As the 20’s moved into the 30’s, the hats became smaller and away from the face. In December 1935 she introduced hats with large straw brims which were mounted on flowered madras handkerchiefs. Madame Agnes was inspired by a matador’s hat when she created a small dinner hat for Spring 1936. It was sewn of black maline with heavy white silk fringe. The fringe was mounted on each side of the hat’s top. In mid-1946 she created a soft beige beret of felt which featured a line that was broken just above the right eyebrow, where a soft quill was inserted.

Text from the Photographs, film, literature & quotes from the bygone era website [Online] Cited 10/02/2014 no longer available online

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'On George Baher's yacht' 1928

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
On George Baher’s yacht. June Cox wearing unidentified fashion; E. Vogt wearing fashion by Chanel and a hat by Reboux; Lee Miller wearing a dress by Mae and Hattie Green and a scarf by Chanel; Hanna-Lee Sherman wearing unidentified fashion
1928
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

 

Elizabeth “Lee” Miller, Lady Penrose (April 23, 1907 – July 21, 1977) was an American photographer. Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1907, she was a successful fashion model in New York City in the 1920s before going to Paris, where she became an established fashion and fine art photographer. During the Second World War, she became an acclaimed war correspondent for Vogue, covering events such as the London Blitz, the liberation of Paris, and the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau.

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'Marlene Dietrich' 1934

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Marlene Dietrich
1934
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'Greta Garbo' 1929

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Greta Garbo
1929
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) Actress 'Joan Crawford in a dress by Schiaparelli' 1932

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Actress Joan Crawford in a dress by Schiaparelli
1932
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

 

Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was an Italian fashion designer. Along with Coco Chanel, her greatest rival, she is regarded as one of the most prominent figures in fashion between the two World Wars. Starting with knitwear, Schiaparelli’s designs were heavily influenced by Surrealists like her collaborators Salvador Dalí and Alberto Giacometti. Her clients included the heiress Daisy Fellowes and actress Mae West.

Perhaps Schiaparelli’s most important legacy was in bringing to fashion the playfulness and sense of “anything goes” of the Dada and Surrealist movements. She loved to play with juxtapositions of colours, shapes and textures, and embraced the new technologies and materials of the time. With Charles Colcombet she experimented with acrylic, cellophane, a rayon jersey called “Jersela” and a rayon with metal threads called “Fildifer” – the first time synthetic materials were used in couture. Some of these innovations were not pursued further, like her 1934 “glass” cape made from Rhodophane, a transparent plastic related to cellophane. But there were more lasting innovations; Schiaparelli created wraparound dresses decades before Diane von Furstenberg and crumpled up rayon 50 years before Issey Miyake’s pleats and crinkles. In 1930 alone she created the first evening-dress with a jacket, and the first clothes with visible zippers. In fact fastenings were something of a speciality, from a jacket buttoned with silver tambourines to one with silk-covered carrots and cauliflowers. Schiaparelli did not adapt to the changes in fashion following World War II and her business closed in 1954.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'White (center Gwili André)' 1935

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
White (center Gwili André)
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

 

Gwili Andre (4 February 1908 – 5 February 1959) was a Danish actress who had a brief career in Hollywood films. Andre came to Hollywood in the early 1930s with the intention of establishing herself as a film star. She appeared in the 1932 RKO Studio films Roar of the Dragon and Secrets of the French Police and began to attract attention for her striking good looks. These films provided her with starring roles playing against such established actors as Richard Dix, ZaSu Pitts and Frank Morgan, and RKO began using her glamorous looks to promote her.

A widespread publicity campaign ensured that her name and face became well known to the American public, but her next role in No Other Woman (1933), opposite Irene Dunne, was not the success the studio expected. Over the next few years she was relegated to supporting roles which included the Joan Crawford picture A Woman’s Face (1941). Her final role was a minor part in one of the popular Falcon series, The Falcon’s Brother in 1942.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'Actress Mary Heberden' 1935

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Actress Mary Heberden
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

 

American actress Mary Heberden made her first New York stage appearance in 1925 and performed regularly on Broadway in the 1930s.

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'Charlie Chaplin' 1934

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Charlie Chaplin
1934
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

 

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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, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor 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.

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

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