Posts Tagged ‘fine art photography

14
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Exhibition dates: 16th October 2022 – 16th January 2023

 

'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' book cover

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

 

Visible Man / Invisible photographer

Only five of Black American Gordon Parks’ photographs of controversial young activist Stokely Carmichael were published in Life magazine in May 1967 in a photo essay with text by Parks titled “Whip of Black Power” out of the 700 photographs that he had actually taken for the assignment. This exhibition dives into these unseen photographs.

“”Whip of Black Power” recounts Parks’s travels with Carmichael from fall 1966 to spring 1967. While the Life essay contained only five photographs, this exhibition presents 53 of Parks’s images from those critical months, a time that coincided with larger social shifts within the civil rights movement and a rising resistance to the Vietnam War. Parks challenged the disparaging view of Carmichael in the mass media, presenting him as a multifaceted and honourable character.”1

“…Parks’s text and photo essay for Life conveyed the nuanced range of Carmichael as a person – not only his anger at America’s deeply rooted racism, but his self-effacing humour, his private moments with family, and his own feelings of dismay that the justice he and the movement sought would not be attained in his lifetime – all part of a “truth,” as Parks described, “the kind that comes through looking and listening.”2

As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the charismatic Carmichael had “issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash.” “For once, black people are going to use the word they want to use – not just the words whites want to hear. And they will do this no matter how often the press tries to stop the use of the slogan by equating it with racism or separatism.” (Stokely Carmichael) The call for Black Power was consistently misunderstood and misrepresented in the press. “What Carmichael was advocating in his call for Black Power was not revolution but the goal of self-determination: “The goal of black self-determination and black self-identity – Black Power,” Carmichael and Hamilton wrote, “is full participation in the decision-making processes affecting the lives of black people, and recognition of the virtues in themselves as black people.”3

What Parks’ photographs accomplish is to put a human face to Stokely Carmichael the revolutionary firebrand and the culture of black protest, process and progress in which he is embedded, “presenting the complexities and tensions in the ongoing struggle for civil rights and highlighting photography’s capacity to present a powerful statement against hate and fear.”4 Parks’ photographs confront “the inequalities and brutalities of our society” whilst “thrusting forth its images of hope, human fraternity, and individual self-realization.”5 Here, living, a valuable and fruitful life whilst discovering an authentic personal identity, and fighting for personal and collective freedom was the objective.

Black people have their own history, traditions and rituals that form a cohesive and complex culture which is the source of a full sense of identity. “As a photographer – through his studies of crime and gang violence to his profiles of black nationalism – Parks illuminated the diversity and richness of black life while also exposing the absurd, systemic injustice that defined the United States. Alongside his photographs, Parks’s writing encourages us to see the complexity of black life, which though demeaned by white racist institutions and behaviors is not reducible to some uniform Black experience. Rather, his own political perspective, which is decidedly more liberal than the black political figures he chose as subjects, is a testament to the diverse strivings, political positions, and discrete prerogatives that have defined black political life during and after Jim Crow.”6

The quest for a viable identity is a universal human challenge which is not dependent on colour, race or religion. As the Black American writer Ralph Ellison observes when quoted in an article by Anne Seidlitz, “black and white culture were inextricably linked, with almost every facet of American life influenced and impacted by the African-American presence – including music, language, dance, folk mythology, clothing styles and sports. Moreover, he [Ellision] felt that the task of the writer is to “tell us about the unity of American experience beyond all considerations of class, of race, of religion.”7

This is what I am hammering on about here: whilst the civil rights movement and the call for Black Power promoted a new politics of black autonomy and militancy which embodied a new politics of black self-assertion and meaningful self-determination, everything is linked together… nothing can be seen other than within a nexus of networked links which inform and affect each other. In this sense Parks’ text and images, together, present a multi-dimensional profile of this charismatic leader, this complex character – as a portrait of his perseverance, gentleness, frustration, despair, joy, anger, laughter, enthusiasm, energy, and passion – sketching the musical and rhythmic character of Stokely Carmichael embedded within the history of interconnected moments, in the contexts of the times, seen through multiple openings in the space / time continuum as the camera lens opens and closes. Parks photographs “put the viewer exactly at the moment of capture letting us be there at the scene.” And they make Stokely Carmichael visible, then and now. At the time the photographer was nearly invisible.

“Now, it’s interesting to note that when I [Lisa Volpe] would share the photos with those men and women captured in them [Parks’ photographs], they all had a very similar reaction. Each one of them remembered the scene. They remembered that meeting, or that lecture, they remembered what was being discussed and how they felt. They really had perfect recall for pretty much everything within the frame … but what was interesting was that they were all shocked to see the photographs. Not a single person I talked to remembered Gordon Parks ever being in the room. Now… when he was on assignment he truly became a fly on the wall in order to get the most truthful images possible. And yes, even speaking to these ladies [in the photograph Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles (1966,below)], they did not even notice Gordon Parks probably three feet in front of them taking their photo.”8

As the recognition of Parks as a photographer has risen over the last 10 years (see the many exhibition postings on Art Blart below), with specialist exhibitions like this that analyse and promote previously hidden aspects and bodies of his work, now at last the invisible photographer stands before us, his portrait of Stokely Carmichael finally revealed in all its subtlety and complexity, intuition and com/passion. In this exhibition for example, all Parks’ negatives on the Life contact sheets were in the wrong order, and / or where from different roll of negatives on the same contact sheet (see video below).9 Through research and the reordering of the negatives we can finally see and feel what images Parks thought were important to the story that he wanted to tell about this man and his crusade (A crusader is a person who works hard or campaigns forcefully for a cause). And through this enunciation of his vision, we the viewer may come to better know what an insightful and compassionate photographer Gordon Parks was… as he now stands before us in the evident presence and generosity of his photographs.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

1/ Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston website

2/ Text from the press release from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

3/ Cedric Johnson. “Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics,” in Lisa Volpe. Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power. Steidl / The Gordon Parks Foundation / The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2022, p. 28-34

4/ Gordon Parks Introduction wall text

5/ Anne Seidlitz. “Ralph Ellison: An American Journey,” on the PBS American Masters website 19/02/2002 [Online] Cited 30/12/2022

6/ Cedric Johnson, Op cit.,

7/ Anne Seidlitz, Op cit.,

8/ Text from the video of Lisa Volpe, curator of photography, discussing acclaimed photographer Gordon Parks and offering an overview of the exhibition. Lecture | Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power on the YouTube website 8th January 2023 [Online] Cited 14/01/2022

9/ Ibid.,

 

Postings about Gordon Parks on Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

In 1967, Life magazine published photographer Gordon Parks’ groundbreaking images and profile of Stokely Carmichael, the young and controversial civil-rights leader who, as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash. On the road with Carmichael and the SNCC that fall and into the spring of 1967, Parks took more than 700 photographs as Carmichael addressed Vietnam War protesters outside the U.N. building in New York, with Martin Luther King, Jr.; spoke with supporters in a Los Angeles living room; went door to door in Alabama registering Black citizens to vote; and officiated at his sister’s wedding in the Bronx. In his finely drawn sketch of a charismatic leader and his movement, Parks, then the first Black staff member at Life, reveals his own advocacy of Black Power and its message of self-determination.

 

 

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston exhibition walk through

 

 

Lecture | Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power

Lisa Volpe, curator of photography, discusses acclaimed photographer Gordon Parks and offers an overview of the exhibition, which captures the civil-rights movement and activist Stokely Carmichael in the 1960s.

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Installation views of the exhibition Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

"'What Their Cry Means to Me' – A Negro's Own Evaluation" 'Life', May 31, 1963

 

“‘What Their Cry Means to Me’ – A Negro’s Own Evaluation”
Life, May 31, 1963
Text and photographs by Gordon Parks

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1963

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1963
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

"'I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized'" 'Life', March 5, 1965

 

“‘I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized'”
Life, March 5, 1965
Text by Gordon Parks
Photographs by Ted Russell, Bob Gomel, Henri Dauman, and Greg Harris

 

Gordon Parks 'Born Black' 1971

 

Gordon Parks, Born Black, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1971.

 

Gordon Parks. 'Muhammad Ali' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Muhammad Ali
1966
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The MFAH exhibition centres on Gordon Parks’s five iconic images of controversial young activist Stokely Carmichael, published in Life magazine in May 1967. Organised with the Gordon Parks Foundation, the show presents dozens more photographs from Parks’s series that have never before been published or exhibited

Fifty-five years ago today, Life magazine published photographer Gordon Parks’s groundbreaking images and profile of Stokely Carmichael, the young and controversial civil-rights leader who, as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash. On the road with Carmichael and the SNCC that fall and into the spring of 1967, Parks took more than 700 photographs as Carmichael addressed Vietnam War protesters outside the U.N. building in New York, with Martin Luther King, Jr.; spoke with supporters in a Los Angeles living room; went door to door in Alabama registering Black citizens to vote; and officiated at his sister’s wedding in the Bronx. In Parks’s finely drawn sketch of a charismatic leader and his movement, Parks, the first Black staff member at Life, reveals his own advocacy of Black Power and its message of self-determination.

On view only at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (October 16, 2022, to January 16, 2023), the exhibition Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power will present the five images from Parks’s 1967 Life article, in the context of nearly 50 additional photographs and contact sheets that have never before been published or exhibited, as well as footage of Carmichael’s speeches and interviews.

“Extending the Museum’s commitment to photography from the civil-rights era, and following our presentation of the exhibition Soul of a Nation in 2020, which included Gordon Parks’s famous 1942 American Gothic, I am very pleased that we are able to present Parks’s landmark project for Life magazine, in collaboration with the Gordon Parks Foundation,” commented Gary Tinterow, Director and Margaret Alkek Williams Chair of the MFAH. “Parks is well known as one of America’s most important 20th-century photographers; this exhibition will further illuminate his accomplishments as a writer and journalist, as well.”

Commented Lisa Volpe, exhibition curator and MFAH curator of photography, “Gordon Parks’s portrayal of Stokely Carmichael illustrates Parks’s unmatched talent in producing illuminating and sensitive profiles. Through dynamic photographs and a personal text, he sketches both his subject and the complexities and tensions inherent in the ongoing struggle for civil rights. It is as relevant to our current moment as it was to Life‘s readers in 1967. I am grateful to the Gordon Parks Foundation for the opportunity to present these never-before-seen works and to celebrate Parks’s legacy.”

 

Exhibition Background

Parks met Stokely Carmichael (later, Kwame Ture) in September 1966, as Carmichael’s rallying cry for “Black Power” was grabbing national attention. Parks was a prominent contributor to Life magazine, photographing and writing essays that chronicled, with his characteristic humanity, Benedictine monks and Black Muslims; a Harlem family and a teenage gang member. Carmichael, then 25 and a recent graduate with a philosophy degree from Howard University, was consistently in the news, whether publishing his own writing in the New York Review of Books or being profiled in Esquire and Look magazines.

As chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Carmichael was the figure most identified with the call for Black Power, and was routinely depicted as a representative of anger and separatism. But Parks’s text and photo essay for Life, “Whip of Black Power,” conveyed the nuanced range of Carmichael as a person – not only his anger at America’s deeply rooted racism, but his self-effacing humour, his private moments with family, and his own feelings of dismay that the justice he and the movement sought would not be attained in his lifetime – all part of a “truth,” as Parks described, “the kind that comes through looking and listening.”

 

Exhibition Organisation and Catalogue

This exhibition is organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in collaboration with the Gordon Parks Foundation.

The accompanying catalogue, Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power, published by Steidl, explores Parks’s groundbreaking presentation of Carmichael, and provides detailed analysis of Parks’s images and accompanying text. The book is the latest instalment in a series that highlights Parks’s bodies of work throughout his career, published by the Gordon Parks Foundation and Steidl. Essays by Lisa Volpe, MFAH associate curator of photography, and Cedric Johnson, professor of African American studies and political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, shed critical new light on the subject: Volpe explores Parks’s nuanced understanding of the movement and its image, and Johnson frames Black Power within the heightened social and political moment of the late 1960s. Carmichael’s September 1966 essay in the New York Review of Books, “What We Want,” is reproduced in the book.

 

Gordon Parks

Parks (1912-2006) was one of the 20th century’s preeminent American photographers. Beginning in the 1940s and through the early 2000s, he created work that focused on social justice, race relations, the civil-rights movement, and the African American experience. Born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks won a Julius Rosenwald Fund fellowship in 1942, and went on to create groundbreaking work for the Farm Security Administration and magazines such as Ebony, Vogue, and Life, where he was staff photographer for more than two decades. Beyond his work in photography, Parks was a respected film director, composer, memoirist, novelist, and poet.

 

Stokely Carmichael

Carmichael (1941-1998) was born in Trinidad; he moved to New York City’s Harlem neighbourhood when he was 11 and became a naturalised U.S. citizen two years later. An effortless orator, a brilliant student, and a captivating leader, Carmichael found his calling as an activist. While an undergraduate at Howard University, he joined the Freedom Riders on several trips. After graduation, he was a field organiser for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and became national chairman in 1966. Carmichael heralded a new chapter in the civil-rights movement when he called for Black Power. In 1969 he moved to Conakry, Guinea, where, having adopted the name Kwame Ture, he dedicated his work to Pan-Africanism and liberation movements worldwide.

 

The Gordon Parks Foundation

The Foundation permanently preserves the work of Gordon Parks; makes it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and digital media; and supports artistic and educational activities that advance what Parks described as “the common search for a better life and a better world.”

Press release from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

 

Gordon Parks Interprets Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” | UNIQLO ARTSPEAKS

A prelude to the Civil Rights movement. Naeem Douglas, a content producer on the Creative Team (at MoMA), finds contemporary resonance in a selection of photographs – including 1952’s “Emerging Man, Harlem, New York” – that Gordon Parks created to celebrate Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.”

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Stokely Carmichael, Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Stokely Carmichael, Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael on the road in Lowndes County, Alabama, 1966

In defiance of the governing party’s symbol – a white rooster with the phrase “White supremacy for the right” above it – Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) chose a black panther as its symbol, an animal that becomes ferocious when cornered.

Carmichael proudly wore his Black Panther sweatshirt when he was working in Lowndes County. Taken from a low angle, Parks’s portrait presents Carmichael as a heroic figure, fighting for the rights emblazoned on his shirt: freedom and justice.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Watts Community Alert Patrol flyer at SNCC's Atlanta headquarters' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Watts Community Alert Patrol flyer at SNCC’s Atlanta headquarters
1966
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee pamphlet' 1966

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee pamphlet
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Atlanta, Georgia' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Atlanta, Georgia
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael at his desk at SNCC’s Atlanta headquarters, 1966

In his profile of Carmichael, Parks aimed to combat the mass media’s one-sided depictions of the civil rights leader by capturing his complex character and emotions. At SNCC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, Parks documented Carmichael in a moment of weary frustration. A portrait of Malcolm X, photographs of Lowndes County residents, and SNCC pamphlets hang above the modest desk. Carefully composed, Parks’s photo guides viewers to a more holistic understanding of Carmichael. The view of the slumped leader with images above him also recalls scenes of religious pilgrims at an altar, deep in thought and prayer.

Label text from the exhibition

 

 

Gordon Parks Introduction wall text

In fall 1966 the American photographer and writer Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was contracted by Life magazine to profile 25-year-old Stokely Carmichael, one of the most maligned and misunderstood men in America.

Carmichael, the newly elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”), issued the first public call for Black Power on June 16, 1966, in Greenwood, Mississippi. This robust vision for a Black, self-determined future combined Black unity for social and political advancement, the breaking of psychological barriers to self-love, and self-defence when necessary. Yet, media organisations dissected and defined Black Power for white audiences with various levels of prejudice and fear, and Carmichael was cast as a figure of racial violence – a distortion of his character and his message.

“Whip of Black Power,” recounts Parks’s travels with Carmichael from fall 1966 to spring 1967. While the Life essay contained only five photographs, this exhibition presents 53 of Parks’s images from those critical months, a time that coincided with larger social shifts within the civil rights movement and a rising resistance to the Vietnam War. Parks challenged the disparaging view of Carmichael in the mass media, presenting him as a multifaceted and honourable character.

Produced more than 40 years ago, Gordon Parks’s revealing profile on Stokely Carmichael is as relevant to our current moment as it was in 1967, presenting the complexities and tensions in the ongoing struggle for civil rights and highlighting photography’s capacity to present a powerful statement against hate and fear.

Unless otherwise noted, all works are by Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) and are courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael (bottom) speaking to SNCC members and staff of The Movement, including Terry Cannon (top right, wearing glasses) and Bobbi Ricca (top right), San Francisco' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael (bottom) speaking to SNCC members and staff of ‘The Movement’, including Terry Cannon (top right, wearing glasses) and Bobbi Ricca (top right), San Francisco
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking to SNCC members and staff of The Movement, San Francisco' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking to SNCC members and staff of ‘The Movement’, San Francisco
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee poster, 1966

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee poster
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael with Charles V. Hamilton reading a profile of Stokely in the January 1, 1967, issue of Esquire, Oxford, Pennsylvania' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael with Charles V. Hamilton reading a profile of Stokely in the January 1, 1967, issue of Esquire, Oxford, Pennsylvania
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

“We were in the home of [Carmichael’s] friend and adviser Charles V. Hamilton, chairman of the political science department, located near Oxford, PA,” Parks noted in his Life essay. Parks captured Carmichael and Hamilton writing and editing portions of the book, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, published in October 1967. The text was one of many attempts to clarify the meaning of Black Power for a larger audience. Parks’s images from one writing session show the authors alternating between moments of intense concentration and overwhelming joy.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Watts Community Alert Patrol providing transportation for the Watts rally, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Watts Community Alert Patrol providing transportation for the Watts rally, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The Community Alert Patrol (CAP) was formed in the aftermath of the 1965 Watts Uprising. Ron Wilkins, whose car is pictured in the background, noted, “CAP volunteers constituted the first community organisation in the U.S. whose members put their lives on the line to police the police in an effort to end law enforcement’s campaign of terror against Black people.” Fearing police interference, CAP members drove Stokely Carmichael and Gordon Parks to the Watts rally in 1966.

Label text from the exhibition

 

 

Gordon Parks Section Panels

Lowndes County, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia

Although 80 percent of Lowndes County was Black, by 1965, not one Black resident was registered to vote. That year, Carmichael created the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), a political party formed of Black residents with candidates and an agenda drawn from the community. Carmichael was certain, “If we can break Lowndes County, the rest of Alabama will fall into line.” The young leader set a dizzying schedule throughout the end of 1966 and start of 1967, travelling between Lowndes and SNCC events across the nation. Gordon Parks documented his efforts along the way, revealing Carmichael’s adaptability and charisma.

 

Watts, California

The Watts Uprising took place in August 1965 in a Black neighbourhood of South Central Los Angeles. It began with the arrest of a local man, Marquette Frye, by a highway patrol officer and ended with 4,000 arrests, 1,000 injuries, and 34 deaths. Carmichael spoke to thousands of residents one year later at the Watts rally. In a speech that resonates today, Carmichael declared, “We have to have community alert patrols, not to patrol our neighbourhoods, but to patrol the policeman.” Gordon Parks recorded the jubilant reactions of the community in words and pictures and opened his Life photo-essay by describing the energetic scene.

 

Across the Country

At a press conference following his election as chairman in May 1966, Carmichael found the white press members vehemently opposed to SNCC’s call for Black Power. He recalled, “[It was] as though they were stuck in 1960 with the student sit-ins and we were speaking in unknown tongues… [They] missed that the new direction was simply a necessary response to current political realities.” To clarify the position, Carmichael wrote persuasive articles, oversaw hundreds of press releases, agreed to dozens of interviews, and spoke across the country. Despite these efforts, Black Power was consistently misunderstood and misrepresented in the press. Carmichael noted the only fair assessment was Gordon Parks’s Life photo-essay.

 

New York, New York

On April 15, 1967, outside the United Nations headquarters, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harry Belafonte, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Stokely Carmichael, and others addressed a massive crowd at the Spring Mobilization against the War in Vietnam. Carmichael’s rousing speech at the anti–Vietnam War demonstration inspired Parks to write, “[Carmichael] was on fire, spitting his heat into the crowd.” Parks’s photographs from the event similarly depict Carmichael as a fiery figure, leaning toward his audience, his gaze direct and burning, his open coat thrashing the air like licking flames.

 

Houston, Texas

Just days after Gordon Parks’s photo-essay “Whip of Black Power” was printed in Life magazine, Stokely Carmichael visited Houston. He delivered speeches at the University of Houston (UH) and at Texas Southern University (TSU). “We will define ourselves as we see fit. We will use the term that will gather momentum for our movement,” Carmichael said, addressing public critiques of Black Power. The speeches were part of a SNCC nationwide campus tour. Yet, Carmichael’s appearance in Houston was auspiciously timed. Spring 1967 was a time of heightened social unrest in the city, and local universities were hubs of civil rights activism.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Black Panther Party pamphlet 1966

 

Black Panther Party pamphlet
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Watts, California' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Watts, California
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Members of the US Organization, including James Doss-Tayari (left), Tommy Jaquette-Mfikiri (behind Carmichael), and Ken Seaton-Msemaji (right), walking with Carmichael to the Watts rally, Los Angeles, 1966.

Parks had little control over the final pictures and captions chosen by Life‘s editors. However, his role as both a writer and photographer allowed him more influence than most. With knowledge gained through experience, Parks carefully crafted a statement in words and pictures that was less vulnerable to the editing process. The largest of only five images published in Life, this photo was like many others in the press at the time, presenting Carmichael as cocky and determined. Yet, the vast majority of Parks’s other images captured him in tender and humanising moments, bringing out the full character of this public figure.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Crowd at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Crowd at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Los Angeles, California' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Los Angeles, California
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael addresses the Watts crowd from a truck bed, Los Angeles 1966

In the essay, Parks quotes Carmichael, “Black Power means black people coming together to form a political force either electing representatives or forcing their representatives to speak their needs. It’s an economic and physical bloc that can exercise its strength in the black community instead of letting the job go to the Democratic or Republican parties or a white-controlled black man set up as a puppet to represent black people. Black Power doesn’t mean anti-white, violence, separatism, or any other racist things the press says it means. It’s saying. ‘Look, buddy, we’re not laying a vote on you unless you lay so many schools, hospitals, playground and jobs on us.'”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Members of civil rights organisations across Southern California came together to present a panel of speakers at the Watts rally in November 1966, culminating in a keynote speech from Stokely Carmichael. Parks was struck by the intensity of those gathered and chose to focus on the energy of the crowd both in his Life essay and in his numerous photographs from the day. In this photograph, members of the cultural nationalist organisation “Us” react to Carmichael’s fiery speech. Their yellow sweatshirts bearing the image of Malcolm X were a reminder to unite in brotherhood.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael leaving the Watts rally in a Community Alert Patrol car, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael leaving the Watts rally in a Community Alert Patrol car, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Parks wrote in his essay, “On the way out [of the Watts rally], groups of boys and girls rushed the car. Stokely waved at them. … ‘People think I’m militant. Wait until those kids grow up! There are young cats around here that make me look like a dove of peace.'”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael continuing the campaign for voter registration in Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael continuing the campaign for voter registration in Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Parks shadowed Carmichael as he went door to door to register voters in Lowndes County, marveling at the young activist’s ability to “adjust to any environment,” and noting how Carmichael changed his manner of dress and speech to put his audience at ease. While Carmichael’s tireless efforts recommended him for the role of chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he always felt more suited for community organising. He revealed to Parks that he was “anxious to return” to field work and resigned from leadership in May 1967, just days before Parks’s photo-essay was published in Life.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Contact sheet of Carmichael in Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Contact sheet of Carmichael in Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

This contact sheet shows nine of Gordon Parks’s photographs of Stokely Carmichael walking at daybreak through Lowndes County. Each image bears a striking resemblance to the opening photograph of the 1948 Life photo-essay “Country Doctor,” by W. Eugene Smith. In that famous image, Dr. Ernest Ceriani walks through a field at dawn to reach a sick patient. Here, Parks harnessed the temperamental skies, rural setting, and lone figure to intentionally echo Smith’s image. By doing so, Parks cast Carmichael, like the Country Doctor, as a selfless local hero, working for the benefit of others.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Bronx, New York' 1967

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Bronx, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Mary Charles Carmichael serving her children Lynette and Stokely at Lynette’s wedding dinner in the Bronx, 1966

Weddings were a frequent subject in Life‘s photographs. Parks knowingly exposed several rolls of film at Carmichael’s sister’s wedding in December 1966. The variety, amount, and quality of the images would have encouraged the editors to add one of the photos to the final printed essay. Parks knew that showing Carmichael as part of this conservative tradition would contradict the popular impression of him as an anarchist and outsider.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking at a private home, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking at a private home, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

In “Whip of Black Power,” Parks wrote, “In the four months that I traveled with him I marvelled at his ability to adjust to any environment. Dressed in overalls, he tramped the backlands of Lowndes County, Alabama, urging Negroes, in a Southern-honey drawl, to register and vote. The next week, wearing a tight dark suit and Italian boots, he was in Harlem lining up ‘cats’ for the cause… A fortnight later, jumping from campuses to intellectual salons, where he was equally damned and lionised, he spoke with eloquence and ease about his cause, quoting Sartre, Camus and Thoreau.”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael at a SNCC gathering, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael at a SNCC gathering, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics

Cedric Johnson

Gordon Parks’s 1967 Life magazine article on Stokely Carmichael, “Whip of Black Power,” still radiates more than a half century since its publication. It is an invaluable artifact of black political life during the sixties, but so much more. In images and words, Parks depicted the warmth and generous spirit of Carmichael, the youthful civil rights activist morphing into celebrity. In hindsight, the essay also effectively captures Carmichael in political twilight, at the height of his political relevance. Parks’s essay portends the triumphs and new social contradictions set in motion by Black Power militancy. Within a few years of Parks’s Life article, Carmichael would go into exile, taking up residence in the Guinean capital of Conakry, and rather than stoking revolution on American soil, the Black Power slogan he popularized would produce broad, unprecedented black political and economic integration into American society.

Stokely Standiford Churchill Carmichael was born on June 29, 1941, in Port of Spain, Trinidad. His early years were spent among a large extended family on the island, and at age eleven he joined his parents in New York City. Carmichael’s father, Adolphus, was a master carpenter who also worked as a taxi driver and at various odd jobs. Carmichael often said his father died of hard work, suffering a heart attack in his forties. Carmichael’s mother, Mabel, a native of Montserrat, supported the family through domestic work and as a passenger ship stewardess. She remained a dominant influence for Carmichael. “This little dynamo of a woman,” he wrote, “was the stable moral presence, the fixed center around which the domestic life of this migrant African family revolved. … We children quickly learned to see her as tireless, omnipresent, and all-seeing, the ever vigilant enforcer of order and family standards, whose displeasure was to be avoided at all costs.”1 Carmichael was, for a time, the sole black member of the Morris Park Dukes, a youth gang in the mostly Jewish and Italian Tremont section of the Bronx, and he was also among the most promising students admitted to the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Acclaimed science fiction writer and fellow Bronx Science alumnus Samuel R. Delany, who met Carmichael in freshman gym class, recalled him as someone who “had always been quick with banter and repartee with the gym teacher, who’d alternated between enjoying it and being frustrated by it.”2 When the two students once spent detention together, Carmichael held court with the teacher assigned to supervise them and managed to soften him up to the point of laughter. Carmichael’s capacity to win people over with humor and charisma would serve him well when he dove deeper into political life in his twenties.

As a boy in Trinidad, Carmichael had expressed a precocious interest in politics, and his friendship with Gene Dennis, Jr., a classmate at Bronx Science and a red-diaper baby [a child of parents who were members of the United States Communist Party (CPUSA) or were close to the party or sympathetic to its aims], further politicized the young Carmichael, introducing him to the world of the New York left and acquaintances such as socialist and civil rights strategist Bayard Rustin [American, 1912-1987, an African American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights]. Although he was initially skeptical and at times dismissive of desegregation protests, Carmichael was eventually drawn to the gathering southern movement, and after he witnessed the heroism of lunch counter protesters in 1960, as he described it, “something happened to me. Suddenly I was burning.”3 The next year, while a freshman at Howard University, he traveled as a Freedom Rider to Mississippi, where he was arrested and detained at the notorious Parchman Farm prison for forty-nine days [Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP), also known as Parchman Farm, is a maximum-security prison farm located in unincorporated Sunflower County, Mississippi, in the Mississippi Delta region]. During his time at Howard, Carmichael spent three summers working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”), organizing voter registration drives, and in 1966, after graduating, he became chairman of the organization. Concurrent with his new leadership position, Carmichael’s political development tracked the transition from the southern campaigns against Jim Crow to the increasingly militant protests of late-sixties urban rebellions and anti-Vietnam mobilizations.

In “Whip of Black Power,” Parks summed up Carmichael’s charismatic manner and the new politics of black autonomy and militancy: “Cool, outwardly imperturbable, Stokely gives the impression he would stroll through Dixie in broad daylight using the Confederate flag for a handkerchief.”4 Parks’s images present Carmichael in all his glory. Youthful, confident, hip, and exuberant, Carmichael embodied a new politics of black self-assertion. His words were sharp, witty, and playful, yet deadly serious in their indictment of American racism and imperialism. But Parks also sensed naivete and disingenuous motives in the new black militancy, later writing that many younger activists seemed “obsessed with a hunger for danger.”5

 

The Origins of Black Power

By the time Parks’s photo essay was published in Life, Carmichael was widely seen as the progenitor of Black Power. The slogan had emerged from the ranks of SNCC activists, propelled in part by longer-standing, simmering tensions over strategy and tactics, interracialism, and the promise of liberal democracy, which sharpened as the movement produced historic victories in the form of national civil rights legislation. Even in the aftermath of historic reform, white vigilante retaliation against the southern movement tested the resolve of SNCC cadre, with some increasingly embracing black political autonomy and armed self-defense, in stark contrast to the interracialist and nonviolent commitments of the organization’s founding.

After the March 1965 murder of Viola Liuzzo, a white NAACP member who had traveled from Michigan to join the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, SNCC activists began organizing in Lowndes County, Alabama. At the time, the county was 86 percent black but had no black registered voters, reflecting the pervasive disfranchisement through the cotton counties of the Black Belt on the eve of the Voting Rights Act. Carmichael and other SNCC activists formed the Lowndes County Freedom Organization to register voters and elect the area’s first black political candidates. Members adopted the image of a pouncing black panther as the organization’s logo.6 One of the more striking pictures in Parks’s 1967 article is of Carmichael staring plaintively on a gravel road in Lowndes, smartly dressed, his hands in his back pockets, his sweatshirt emblazoned with the panther symbol.

Carmichael came to head SNCC through a contentious process. In early 1966, John Lewis, a soft-spoken Alabama native, was reelected as chairman, but at the end of a late-night meeting and after many staff members had gone home, Lewis’s election was overturned by the remaining attendees, and Carmichael was installed. As historian Clayborne Carson and others have noted, Carmichael made a choice in the ensuing months between, on one hand, continuing the grounded political work SNCC had conducted in places like Lowndes, and on the other, “becoming preoccupied with rhetorical appeals for the unification of black people on the basis of separatist ideals.”7 This development would be tragic for SNCC, which, along with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), proceeded to expel white members. Carmichael and some SNCC members embraced more militant posturing and drifted further away from the local organizing campaigns that had won real victories for black southerners, and what resulted was the precipitous decline and political irrelevance of the organization.

Some SNCC members used the slogan “Black Power for Black People” during the Alabama voting rights campaigns of 1965. In Harlem, leaders including Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and tenant organizer Jesse Gray had also used the phrase “Black Power,” as had Richard Wright, who published a travelogue of his time in newly independent Ghana with that title.8 It was SNCC activist Willie Ricks, however, who began using the phrase in speeches throughout the South, often asking from the podium, “What do you want?” to audiences, who shouted back, “Black Power!”

The slogan reached national consciousness amid the 1966 Meredith March Against Fear. In June 1966, James Meredith, who had integrated the University of Mississippi, set out on a lone march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, through the staunchly segregationist Delta counties. He was shot in ambush on the second day of his journey and had to be hospitalized. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as the younger, more militant CORE and SNCC, decided to continue the march on Meredith’s behalf. During an overnight stop in Greenwood, Mississippi, Carmichael used the chant Ricks had developed, sparking excitement from the crowd, consternation from the civil rights establishment, and hysteria from the white press. In the wake of the Meredith March, Black Power militancy reoriented black political life, igniting public debate, new mobilizations and local campaigns, and heightened scrutiny of the established leadership, strategies, and goals that had defined the postwar civil rights movement.

The demand for Black Power, intended to build real power for the most dispossessed working-class denizens of black southern towns and northern ghettos, had many unintended consequences. Black poverty would be cut in half in the years after major civil rights reforms, and the ranks of the black middle class would expand greatly through antipoverty measures, access to higher education, and public employment, but real, meaningful self-determination for those trapped at the bottom of the nation’s socioeconomic ladder would remain elusive.

 

Seeing Black Political Life with Gordon Parks

Representation of the growing Black Power movement in the popular press was key to both its successes and its failures. Although Parks was among several photographers whose images of the movement throughout its evolution influenced its perception, his position as a black photographer working for a publication targeted at a predominantly white audience placed him in a unique position. He was among America’s greatest twentieth-century intellectuals, a designation denied to him by the yoke of Jim Crow that dominated that century. As a photographer – through his studies of crime and gang violence to his profiles of black nationalism – Parks illuminated the diversity and richness of black life while also exposing the absurd, systemic injustice that defined the United States. Alongside his photographs, Parks’s writing encourages us to see the complexity of black life, which though demeaned by white racist institutions and behaviors is not reducible to some uniform Black experience. Rather, his own political perspective, which is decidedly more liberal than the black political figures he chose as subjects, is a testament to the diverse strivings, political positions, and discrete prerogatives that have defined black political life during and after Jim Crow. His voice, especially in the context of his work on black nationalism, adds a critical-sympathetic view of this political alternative to the postwar civil rights movement.

In his writings on black nationalism – ranging from his 1963 Life article on the Nation of Islam, “‘What Their Cry Means to Me,'” to his 1967 essay on Carmichael – we find Parks, like many black people at the time, cautious, curious, and not always in full agreement, but certainly inspired by the example of these black nationalist figures and movements. As Parks said of Malcolm X in the wake of his murder, “He was brilliant, ambitious and honest. And he was fearless. He said what most of us black folk were afraid to say publicly.”9 In many ways, Parks’s politics were undoubtedly closer to those of the vast majority of black people living through the end of Jim Crow. His commitment to work for a mainstream magazine was criticized by his black peers, at a time when many were touting black cultural autonomy and the formation of separate institutions. His choice to use the Life magazine platform reflected the liberal democratic spirit of the civil rights movement and prefigured the unprecedented integration of black actors, writers, musicians, and producers into the culture industry in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

Parks’s work remains sympathetic to black nationalism, however, in as much as he provides an antidote to the slander, fear mongering, and “black domination” narratives that defined mainstream press coverage, such as The Hate That Hate Produced, the 1959 CBS documentary co-produced by Mike Wallace and black journalist Louis Lomax. Parks’s photographs and essays during the sixties reflect the optimism and surging sense of political efficacy coursing through black life at the time, as well as lurking social and political contradictions.

In his exchanges with Carmichael, we find Parks reflective and at times skeptical. In an especially poignant, self-effacing conclusion to his 1967 “Whip of Black Power” article, Parks momentarily compares Carmichael’s position on the Vietnam War to that of his own son, David, who was serving as an Army tank gunner. Carmichael had expressed the increasingly popular view in black communities that Vietnam was not their war. “Our stake will come from the struggle against white supremacy here at home,” Carmichael said. “I’d rather die fighting here tomorrow than live 20 years fighting over there. Why should I go help the white man kill other dark people while he’s still killing us here at home?”10 Parks’s son David had been awarded the Purple Heart medal for bravery in combat, but in the face of Carmichael’s sharp criticism, Parks now “wondered which boy was giving himself to a better cause.”11 “There was no immediate answer,” he concluded. “But in the face of death, which was so possible for both of them, I think Stokely would surely be more certain of why he was about to die.”12

 

The Meaning of Black Power

The same year “Whip of Black Power” was published, Carmichael and political scientist Charles V. Hamilton published Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, an attempt to operationalize the political slogan. They rejected reactionary claims that Black Power meant “racism in reverse” and “black supremacy.” Although Carmichael’s public rhetoric constantly evoked a coming revolution, the actual definition of Black Power he and Hamilton provided was something tamer, the pursuit of black empowerment in the mold of urban ethnic politics. “The goal of black self-determination and black self-identity – Black Power,” Carmichael and Hamilton wrote, “is full participation in the decision-making processes affecting the lives of black people, and recognition of the virtues in themselves as black people.” Black Power, they continue, meant that “in Lowndes County, Alabama, a black sheriff can end police brutality. A black tax assessor and tax collector and county board of revenue can lay, collect, and channel tax monies for the building of better roads and schools serving black people.”13

National legislation and demographic changes made the pursuit of this black ethnic politics touted by Carmichael and Hamilton possible in various locales from northern urban centers to the majority-black rural counties of the southern Black Belt. The Black Power slogan emerged from the internal debates over strategy and organizing approaches within SNCC as members sought to empower black southerners who had endured a long winter of disfranchisement and dispossession. The national popularity of Black Power, however, was propelled by the political possibilities created by the victories of the Second Reconstruction, the restoration of black suffrage rights and passage of anti-discrimination and antipoverty legislation under the Johnson administration. In terms of urban investments, the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act and, later, the Model Cities program channeled federal grants to local jurisdictions, and these policy initiatives had the longer-term effect of cultivating and empowering a post-segregation generation of black urban political leadership.14 In addition, the demography of many American cities was changing rapidly due to suburbanization, and as whites vacated old-ethnic enclaves in the urban core, many cities became majority or near-majority black.

Black Power as employed by Carmichael and Hamilton advanced two political myths that remain prevalent and dangerous into our own times – that interracial coalitions are ineffective and doomed to failure, and that black unity is a necessary part of black political life. Both notions are predicated on the false assumption that political interests are synonymous with racial affinity. Surely, practical black solidarity was central to the local boycotts, lunch counter sit-ins, and other demonstrations that would defeat Jim Crow, but the political triumphs of the postwar civil rights movement were always interracial in composition, with Americans of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and classes contributing to the movement as donors, volunteers, legal counsel, activists, trainers, participants, lobbyists, legislators, and supporters. And both of those anti-interracialist notions run counter to the basic majoritarian premise of liberal democratic society, where broad coalitions and mass pressure have been fundamental to whatever real social justice has ever been accomplished in the United States.

While Carmichael would leave the United States for West Africa and become the leading spokesperson for the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party after the death of its founder, deposed Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah, many of his SNCC comrades would enter institutional politics in the United States. John Lewis would go on to become a long-serving congressman from Georgia, Eleanor Holmes Norton was the District of Columbia’s nonvoting delegate in Congress, and Marion Barry would win multiple terms as a city councilman and as Washington, D.C.’s first elected black mayor. Other SNCC veterans would play important roles as campaign organizers and politicos, with many former SNCC members migrating to the nation’s capital in the seventies. In contrast, Carmichael for the rest of his life would remain a political outsider and an evangelist for anticapitalist revolution and Pan-African unity, even after many of the Third World left regimes that inspired such politics had long collapsed into dictatorship, civil war, and underdevelopment.

 

Waiting for Revolution

Parks’s 1967 photographs and text convey the impressive stamina of Carmichael and his movement comrades, and equally, the tremendous physical and psychological toll of their work. “In the four months that I traveled with him,” Parks recalled of Carmichael, “I marveled at his ability to adjust to any environment.”15 Carmichael was chameleon-like, shifting in ways to effectively connect and communicate with his audience: “Dressed in bib overalls, he tramped the backlands of Lowndes County, Alabama, urging Negroes, in a Southern-honey drawl, to register and vote. The next week, wearing a tight dark suit and Italian boots, he was in Harlem lining up ‘cats’ for the cause, using the language they dig most – hip and very cool. A fortnight later, jumping from campuses to intellectual salons, where he was equally damned and lionized, he spoke with eloquence and ease about his cause, quoting Sartre, Camus and Thoreau.”16

The Life magazine article depicts Carmichael in a moment when he is moving quickly from grounded political organizing within a powerful social movement to becoming an enduring symbol of black radicalism, though sadly lacking any real constituency. Mass media played a powerful role in amplifying, influencing, and, in part, undoing the black movements of the fifties and sixties. In the wake of Emmett Till’s murder in Money, Mississippi, in 1955, black journalists were crucial in building opposition to Jim Crow after the teen’s mother, Mamie Till, decided to hold an open-casket funeral so everyone could see what racist vigilantes had done to her son. Throughout the southern campaigns, television broadcasts and the images of well-dressed black marchers being bludgeoned by white police and attacked with dogs and firehoses helped shift public sentiment against the perpetuation of Jim Crow. And yet the same media coverage bore negative consequences, contributing to processes of leadership certification that proved divisive, antidemocratic, and careerist, by too often elevating more telegenic personalities, breeding internal tensions, and shifting priorities away from the grounded politics that had been so central to the movement’s successes.17 Parks clearly sought to cast a different light on Carmichael against the popular white anxieties conjured by the Black Power slogan.

The broader machinery of publicity, however, took its toll on Carmichael and the internal lives of movement organizations, heightening rivalries and fueling overinflated rhetoric and posturing that ran counter to building effective political power – the goal of any movement worthy of the name. Parks’s article captures some of these sharpening tensions within the nascent Black Power movement, when he discusses the friction between the US Organization and other black political formations in Los Angeles over providing security for Carmichael during his visit. The FBI and local police would aggravate existing cleavages within and between black groups like US and the Black Panther Party, instigating and inflaming conflicts that would ultimately destroy lives, optimism, and political momentum.

Carmichael spent the decades after the sixties touring the world and lecturing at universities and in community centers, unwavering in his commitment to revolutionary Pan-Africanism [a worldwide movement that aims to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all Indigenous and diaspora peoples of African ancestry]. I had a chance to meet him briefly during one of those stateside tours, in the fall of 1989, when I was a first-year student at Southern University-Baton Rouge, at the time the largest historically black college in the United States. Carmichael delivered an afternoon talk in Stewart Hall, which then housed the Junior Division, essentially a community college within the university that repaired the damage wrought by poorly funded public schools whence many of our students hailed. His Afro and goatee were graying, but his wide grin, quick wit, and gregarious manner recalled the youthful activist, his slim mod suit now replaced with a brocade dashiki. Since his exile, he had taken the name Kwame Ture, an homage to the anti-colonial revolutionaries Kwame Nkrumah and Sékou Touré. The room was only about half full, but that didn’t dissipate Carmichael’s energy. We matched his enthusiasm, laughing and shouting at various turns. Carmichael was in vogue again for our cohort, the sons and daughters of the civil rights generation now suffering the waning years of the Reagan-Bush administration. We were living through a prolonged period of urban implosion, the social chaos of the crack cocaine crisis, rising gun violence, and the ramped-up policing and imprisonment of black men – what we would later come to know as mass incarceration. We were drawn to the rhetorical style of Carmichael, Malcolm X, and the Panthers and the criticisms they leveled against white supremacy and the goal of racial integration still promoted by the old civil rights vanguard. Carmichael’s criticisms of capitalism resonated with us in a town where the smokestacks of petrochemical refineries dominated the skyline, their stench filling the North Baton Rouge air day and night. After the talk, I stood around with a handful of other students engaging Carmichael. He seemed to take all our questions, however errant they might have been, with seriousness. He didn’t appear bored or impatient, and he tarried with us for some time.

In his memoir Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama characterized Carmichael in disparaging terms after a similar collegiate encounter with him – “his eyes glowed inward as he spoke, the eyes of a madman or a saint.”18 As he ascended to national leadership, Obama often disassociated from black radicalism and socialist politics. Recall how he publicly rejected his one time pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the man who officiated at his wedding, once that association became a political liability on the campaign trail. It is not surprising that Carmichael’s damning criticism of American hypocrisy and empire rattled the young Obama. For those of us confined to underfunded and failing urban school districts and equally maligned black colleges, and angered by the bipartisan decimation of the welfare state, Carmichael’s words were like manna, affirming our sense that we were not failures, but that the society itself had failed to live up to its most basic promises.

Carmichael was neither madman nor saint. Since 1969 he was something more tragic – a revolutionary without a revolution. His decades-long exile estranged him from the very political constituencies responsible for his fame, and the world itself had changed dramatically in the same period. The defeat and collapse of socialist and progressive- left postcolonial regimes across Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia, the end of the Cold War, and limited but very real cultural and political changes hewn by the Second Reconstruction in the United States rendered his calls for revolutionary Pan-Africanism simultaneously alluring, overly nostalgic, and tragically out of step with the world we lived in. His criticisms still echoed loudly in the lecture hall but did not offer black laboring classes grappling with day-to-day existence under austerity and resurgent capitalist class power any legitimate, workable political alternative. What was needed then and now wasn’t so much the correct ideological line, a favorite diversion of the American left for decades, but rather a politics that returned to the beginning, to places like Lowndes County, where Carmichael once went house to house, patiently conversing with black sharecroppers about their needs and hopes, gaining their trust, and, in careful and protracted collaboration, building effective popular power.

Carmichael’s longtime friend Michael Thelwell, a SNCC veteran and novelist, provides a touching elegy, reminding us how even as his body was ravaged by cancer, Carmichael’s spirit burned ever brighter. In the waning days of his illness, after he had returned to Guinea for the last time, Carmichael was met with a steady stream of visitors, “humble folk and dignitaries alike,” Thelwell recalled.19 One such group included Mozambican amputees who had traveled to Conakry, prompting Thelwell to ask: What motive “could have brought simple farmers and old soldiers so great a distance?” They were, he came to understand, propelled by a deep sense of gratitude. When Carmichael learned of the horrible consequences of war and land mines wrought on these men and their communities, he appealed to the Cuban embassy, which responded with a supply of prosthetics.

Carmichael stands alongside King, Rustin, Liuzzo, Ella Baker, James Forman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, E. D. Nixon, and a broad pantheon of activists, martyrs, and forgotten figures who defeated Jim Crow and ushered unprecedented black political progress. Parks’s images and impressions of Carmichael should remind us of his historical significance, his limitations, virtues, and sacrifices, and the decisive role that mass political pressure has played in making concrete progressive advances in American society. And what role popular social movements must play again if we want to build on this progress and effectively abolish the myriad injustices in our midst.

Cedric Johnson. “Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics,” in Volpe, Lisa. Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power. Steidl / The Gordon Parks Foundation / The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2022, p. 28-34

 

Footnotes

  1. Stokely Carmichael with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) (New York: Scribner, 2005), 49.
  2. Samuel R. Delany, The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 85.
  3. Gordon Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” Life, May 19, 1967, 80.
  4. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  5. Gordon Parks, Voices in the Mirror: An Autobiography (New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1990), 238.
  6. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt (New York: New York University, 2009).
  7. Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1981), 206.
  8. Richard Wright, Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954).
  9. Gordon Parks, “‘I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized,'” Life, March 5, 1965, 30.
  10. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  11. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  12. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  13. Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Black Liberation in America (New York: Vintage Books, 1992 [1967]), 47.
  14. Kent B. Germany, New Orleans After the Promises: Poverty, Citizenship and the Search for the Great Society (Atlanta: University of Georgia, 2007); Adolph Reed, Jr., Stirrings in the Jug: Black Politics in the Post-segregation Era (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).
  15. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  16. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  17. Todd Gitlin, The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).
  18. Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (New York: Crown, 2004), 140.
  19. Carmichael with Thelwell, Ready for Revolution, 783.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael before an appearance on KTTV, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael before an appearance on KTTV, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam poster with photograph by Maury Englander 1967

 

National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam poster with photograph by Maury Englander
1967

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Martin Luther King, Jr., at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Martin Luther King, Jr., at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

"Whip of Black Power," Life Magazine Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks

"Whip of Black Power," Life Magazine Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks

 

“Whip of Black Power,” Life Magazine
Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks
Introduction by Life Editors, May 19, 1967

 

 

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09
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Life Magazine and the Power of Photography’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA)

Exhibition dates: 9th October 2022 – 16th January 2023

Curators: Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs at the MFA; Katherine A. Bussard, Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography at Princeton University Art Museum; and Alissa Schapiro, an independent curator and doctoral candidate in art history at Northwestern University

 

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Flame Burner Ann Zarik' 1943, printed about 2000

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Flame Burner Ann Zarik
1943, printed about 2000
Gelatin silver print
Princeton University Art Museum
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Continuing the illustrated magazine theme from the last Bill Brandt post, here presented are images, cover and photo essay by major photographers such as Robert Capa, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke‑White, Henri Cartier‑Bresson and Gordon Parks which appeared in the influential American magazine Life (1926-1972).

“This exhibition takes a closer look at the creation and impact of the carefully selected images found in the pages of Life – and the precisely crafted narratives told through these pictures – in order to reveal how the magazine shaped conversations about war, race, technology, national identity, and more in the 20th-century United States. The photographs on view capture some of the defining moments – celebratory and traumatic alike – of the last century, from the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations to the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Far from simply nostalgic and laudatory, the exhibition critically reconsiders Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives who captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, from the Holocaust to white supremacist terror of the 1960s.” (Exhibition text)

Of particular interest in the posting is the contact sheet to Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (1945, below) … in order to note how the artist chose that particular negative out of the four (good exposure, less confusing background to the central characters); how he marked the contact sheet with the usual red pencil that black and white photographers use to indicate his negative preference and the cropping of the image that was required (notice the arrow at bottom left, a crop which was not heeded in the final print); and how the final print is much darker than the contact sheet (notice the dark pavement and lack of detail in the sailors outfits).

In the final print the negative has been cropped up from the bottom to tension the lifting of the nurse’s raised leg as it floats above the ground (here, the distance from the bottom of the shoe to the bottom of the image is critical in order to make the shoe “float”), the man at right now makes half an appearance, and the man at far left has been included and “burnt in” under the enlarger so that he recedes from and does not detract from the importance of the figures in the foreground. The background figures form a triangle behind the sailor and the nurse, forming a stage for them, and a supporting and encircling cast of characters. The vanishing point of the image and the buildings does the rest.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Mrs. Nelson and her two children outside her laundry which she operates without running water' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Mrs. Nelson and her two children outside her laundry which she operates without running water
1936
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'At the Time of the Louisville Flood' 1937

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
At the Time of the Louisville Flood
1937
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Fort Peck Dam, Montana' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Fort Peck Dam, Montana
1936
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

'Life', November 23, 1936 (Cover photograph by Margaret Bourke-White) 1936

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972)
Life, November 23, 1936 (Cover photograph by Margaret Bourke-White)
1936
Illustrated periodical
Life Picture Collection
Photo by Life Magazine
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

In the period from the Great Depression to the Vietnam War, the majority of photographs printed and consumed in the U.S. appeared on the pages of illustrated magazines. Among them, Life – published weekly from 1936 to 1972 – was both extraordinarily popular and visually revolutionary. Estimates for pass-along readership – the number of people who shared each copy of Life in spaces like waiting rooms and offices – suggest that the magazine may have regularly reached about one in four people in the country. The photographers who worked for Life bore witness to some of the most defining moments of the 20th century – and the magazine’s use of photography shaped the way many Americans experienced, perceived and remembered these events. Co-organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), and the Princeton University Art Museum, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography offers a revealing look at the collaborative processes behind many of the publication’s most recognisable, beloved and controversial images and photo essays. The exhibition brings together more than 180 objects, including original press prints, contact sheets, shooting scripts, internal memos and layout experiments – drawing on unprecedented access to Life‘s picture and paper archives. Added to the exhibition for its presentation at the MFA, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography also incorporates works by contemporary artists Alexandra Bell, Alfredo Jaar and Julia Wachtel, whose critical reflections on photojournalism and the politics of images frame urgent conversations about implicit biases and systemic racism in contemporary media.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography is on view at the MFA from October 9, 2022 through January 16, 2023 in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery. Member Preview takes place October 5-8. Timed-entry exhibition tickets, which include general admission, are required for all visitors and can be reserved on mfa.org starting September 14 for MFA members and September 20 for the general public.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography is sponsored by Bank of America. Generously supported by Patti and Jonathan Kraft, with additional support from Kate Moran Collins and Emi M. and William G. Winterer. With gratitude to the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust for its generous support of Photography at the MFA. The exhibition is co-organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Princeton University Art Museum.

“This major exhibition is an invitation for our visitors to experience a time when photographs first began to influence world events and narratives – and how they continue to do so today,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “Life‘s groundbreaking use of photography shaped important 20th-century dialogues in the U.S. around war, race, technology, art and national identity. Through a generous collaboration with the Princeton University Art Museum, we are exploring this process in a more critical and complex way than ever done before, and at a moment when technologies of distribution have evolved and disrupted the recording of history.”

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography was curated by Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs at the MFA; Katherine A. Bussard, Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography at Princeton University Art Museum; and Alissa Schapiro, an independent curator and doctoral candidate in art history at Northwestern University. In 2016 the curators were among the first to delve deeply into the Time Inc. Records Archive, which was newly available at the New-York Historical Society. In 2019, the MFA and Princeton University Art Museum became the first museums to be granted full access to the LIFE Picture Collection, the magazine’s photographic archive. (The exhibition debuted at Princeton in February 2020, but closed after three weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.). The exhibition and the accompanying book grew out of these unparalleled research opportunities, which helped to advance new scholarly perspectives on Life’s pictorial journalism. The book was named the 2021 recipient of the Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award for museum scholarship.

“I am thrilled to be adding three contemporary moments to the exhibition in Boston. Through powerful and provocative works by Alexandra Bell, Alfredo Jaar and Julia Wachtel, who each interrogate news media through their practice, viewers are invited to reflect on contemporary media consumption and our inherited historical narratives,” said Gresh.

 

Exhibition Overview

Among the over 30 photographers featured in Life Magazine and the Power of Photography are Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Frank Dandridge, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Charles Moore, Gordon Parks and W. Eugene Smith. The exhibition also emphasises the contributions of women to the magazine’s success – not only photographers such as Bourke-White, whose monumental image of the Fort Peck Dam graced the first issue, but also negative and picture editors such as Peggy Sargent and Natalie Kosek. Additionally, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography considers the ways in which the magazine – through the vision of its founder, Henry R. Luce, its editorial teams’ points of view and the demographics of its readers – promoted a predominantly white, middle-class perspective on politics, daily life and culture, even when documenting the country’s reckoning with racism and xenophobia. The exhibition makes a point to trace Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through the inclusion of works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives that captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, ranging from the Holocaust to white supremacist violence of the 1960s.

The exhibition is divided into three historical sections, interspersed with immersive contemporary moments. The first section, “Getting the Picture,” focuses on the creation of Life photographs, exploring multiple factors such as the details of the assignment, the idea for the story developed by the editorial staff, the selection of a particular photographer for the job, and the photographer’s own decisions about how to best capture the images needed to construct a story. Once a photographer completed an assignment, his or her undeveloped rolls of film and notes were sent to Life‘s offices, where editorial teams selected images and determined how to adapt them for the printed page. The second section, “Crafting Photo Stories,” examines the making of a photo-essay, a format with stunning visuals and minimal text that Life claimed to have invented. The complex process involved negative editors, picture editors, art directors, layout artists, writers, researchers and fact-checkers in the construction of each page. The third section, “Life‘s Photographic Impact,” considers the power and reach of the magazine, whose circulation peaked at 8.5 million in 1969. Here, the exhibition explores not only responses from readers – who wrote letters to the editor and even offered assistance to individuals profiled in the magazine – but also how Life perpetuated its own influence by repackaging its photographs and using technical sophistication and business savvy to outpace its competitors.

Contemporary works by Alfredo Jaar (born Santiago, Chile, 1956), Alexandra Bell (born 1983) and Julia Wachtel (1956) appear in immersive moments installed between the three historical sections. Jaar questions the ethics of representation and the politics of images in his photography, installations, films and new media works. The exhibition features Real Pictures (1995) from his Rwanda Project and the U.S. debut of his multimedia installation The Silence of Nduwayezu (1997) from the same series. It also includes the triptych Life Magazine, April 19, 1968 (1995), in which he manipulates the magazine’s iconic photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral procession to point to the disproportionate number of Black mourners relative to white ones. Similarly, works from Bell’s Counternarratives series (2017-2018) highlight racial biases in annotated pages from The New York Times. Finally, in a newly commissioned work by the MFA, Wachtel directly responds to photographs from Life and engages in deep critical discourse about popular culture and politics, as well as media consumption.

 

Publication

The accompanying 336-page book, published by the Princeton University Art Museum and distributed by Yale University Press, examines Life‘s groundbreaking role in mid-20th-century American culture and the history of photography by considering the complexity of the magazine’s image-making and publishing enterprise. The book includes essays and contributions by the three co-curators and 22 additional scholars of art history, American studies, history and communication studies. It was the winner of the College Art Association’s 2021 Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award, praised for “bring[ing] a new complexity to Life‘s legendary picture-making enterprise and suggest[ing] why Life‘s signal role in fostering consensus and collective memory is ripe for further unpacking.”

Press release from the Museum of Fine Arts , Boston

 

Gjon Mili (American born in Albania, 1904-1984) 'Stroboscopic image of intercollegiate champion gymnast Newt Loken doing floor leaps' 1942

 

Gjon Mili (American born in Albania, 1904-1984)
Stroboscopic image of intercollegiate champion gymnast Newt Loken doing floor leaps
1942
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Blast furnace cleaner Bernice Daunora, part of the top gang at Carnegie‑Illinois Steel Corp., wearing protective breathing apparatus fr. escaping gas fumes' 1943

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Blast furnace cleaner Bernice Daunora, part of the top gang at Carnegie‑Illinois Steel Corp., wearing protective breathing apparatus fr. escaping gas fumes
1943
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Robert Capa (American born in Hungary, 1913-1954) 'Normandy Invasion on D‑Day, Soldier Advancing through Surf' 1944

 

Robert Capa (American born in Hungary, 1913-1954)
Normandy Invasion on D‑Day, Soldier Advancing through Surf
1944
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© International Center of Photography / Magnum Photos
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Carl Mydans (American, 1907-2004) '(Young man playing guitar in the stockade, Tule Lake Internment Camp, Newell, California)' 1944

 

Carl Mydans (American, 1907-2004)
(Young man playing guitar in the stockade, Tule Lake Internment Camp, Newell, California)
1944
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography, the LIFE Magazine Collection, 2005
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945 (detail)

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (detail)
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945 (detail)

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (detail)
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'VJ Day in Times Square' 1945

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
VJ Day in Times Square
1945
Gelatin silver print
Alan and Susan Solomont
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Reconsidering the pictures we remember. Revealing the stories we don’t know.

From the Great Depression to the Vietnam War, almost all of the photographs printed for consumption by the American public appeared in illustrated magazines. Among them, Life magazine – published weekly from 1936 to 1972 – was both wildly popular and visually revolutionary, with photographs arranged in groundbreaking dramatic layouts known as photo-essays. This exhibition takes a closer look at the creation and impact of the carefully selected images found in the pages of Life – and the precisely crafted narratives told through these pictures – in order to reveal how the magazine shaped conversations about war, race, technology, national identity, and more in the 20th-century United States. The photographs on view capture some of the defining moments – celebratory and traumatic alike – of the last century, from the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations to the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Far from simply nostalgic and laudatory, the exhibition critically reconsiders Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives who captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, from the Holocaust to white supremacist terror of the 1960s.

Drawing on unprecedented access to Life magazine’s picture and paper archives as well as photographers’ archives, the exhibition brings together more than 180 objects, including vintage photographs, contact sheets, assignment outlines, internal memos, and layout experiments. Visitors can trace the construction of a Life photo-essay from assignment through to the creative and editorial process of shaping images into a compelling story. This focus departs from the historic fascination with the singular photographic genius and instead celebrates the collaborative efforts behind many now-iconic images and stories. Particular attention is given to the women staff members of Life, whose roles remained forgotten or overshadowed by the traditional emphasis on men at the magazine. Most photographs on view are original working press prints – made to be used in the magazine’s production – and represent the wide range of photographers who worked for Life, such as Margaret Bourke-White, Larry Burrows, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Frank Dandridge, Gordon Parks, and W. Eugene Smith.

Interspersed throughout the exhibition, three immersive contemporary “moments” feature works by artists active today who interrogate news media through their practice. A multimedia installation by Alfredo Jaar, screen prints by Alexandra Bell, and a new commission by Julia Wachtel frame larger conversations for visitors about implicit biases and systemic racism in contemporary media.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography offers a revealing look at the collaborative processes behind many of Life‘s most recognisable, beloved, and controversial images and photo-essays, while incorporating the voices of contemporary artists and their critical reflections on photojournalism.

The exhibition is accompanied by a multi-authored catalogue, winner of the College Art Association’s 2021 Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Red Jackson, Harlem, New York' 1948

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Red Jackson, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print
Princeton University Art Museum
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972) '[Harlem Gang Leader opening spread]' 1948

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972)
[Harlem Gang Leader opening spread]
1948
From LIFE Magazine, November 1, 1948, pages 96-97
Illustrated periodical
Princeton University Art Museum
Photograph by Gordon Parks. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
Text © 1948 LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Henri Cartier‑Bresson (French, 1908-2004) 'Untitled (Peiping)' 1948

 

Henri Cartier‑Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Untitled (Peiping)
1948
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985) '3-D Movie Contact Sheet' 1952

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985)
3-D Movie Contact Sheet
1952
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985) 'Audience watches movie wearing 3‑D spectacles' 1952

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985)
Audience watches movie wearing 3‑D spectacles
1952
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Fritz Goro (American born in Germany, 1901-1986) 'Red laser light focused through a lens blasts a pin‑point hole through a razor blade in a thousandth of a second' 1962

 

Fritz Goro (American born in Germany, 1901-1986)
Red laser light focused through a lens blasts a pin‑point hole through a razor blade in a thousandth of a second
1962
Photograph, colour transparency
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) 'Vintage NASA Photograph of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing' 1969

 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Vintage NASA Photograph of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing
1969
Photograph, chromogenic print
Abbott Lawrence Fund
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'Life Magazine, April 19, 1968' 1995

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956)
Life Magazine, April 19, 1968
1995
Suite of three pigment prints on Innova paper
© Alfredo Jaar
Courtesy Alfredo Jaar and Galerie Lelong & Co., New York
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'The Silence of Nduwayezu' 1997

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'The Silence of Nduwayezu' 1997

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956)
The Silence of Nduwayezu
1997
One million slides, light table, magnifiers, illuminated wall text
78 7/10 × 118 1/10 in. (200 × 300cm)

 

 

One million slides featuring eyes in close-up of boy who witnessed murder of his parents.

“In 1994, in the face of what he described as “the criminal, barbaric indifference of the so-called world community”, Jaar travelled to Rwanda to witness the horrific aftermath of one of history’s most violent conflicts. Three months prior, an estimated one million Rwandans had been systematically killed during one hundred days of civil unrest. The artist dedicated six years to this project in which he seeks to bring attention to personal stories to pay tribute to the victims of the genocide.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is an installation titled The Silence of Nduwayezu, which comprises one million slides featuring a pair of eyes in close-up. The eyes belong to Nduwayezu, a five year old Tutsi boy who Jaar met at a refugee camp in Rubavu. Like many Rwandan children, Nduwayezu had witnessed the killing of his own parents, a trauma so deep it affected his ability to speak.

“The installation tangibly represents the steadily escalating number of Tutsis killed in the massacre by showing one million identical slides of Nduwayezu’s eyes piled high on a giant light table. […] By borrowing Nduwayezu’s eyes and making them stare at us as if we were gazing in a mirror, Jaar reminds us of the silence of the international community – the absence of images – that exacerbated the calamity and consequences experienced by the people of Rwanda. […] The Silence of Nduwayezu fills the information void left by the silence of the international community, yet at the same time, it is also a meditative gesture, casting doubt on the ability of photographs to ever relay the enormity of raw human experience, or to make it part of the viewer’s world.”

Anonymous text. “Alfredo Jaar: 25 Years Later,” on the Goodman Gallery website January 2022 [Online] Cited 06/12/2022

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983) 'Gang Leader' 2019

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983)
Gang Leader
2019
Screenprint, chine colle on paper and archival pigment print on paper
25 x 44 inches each
Courtesy of the Artist
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

“It’s imperative to show how a turn of phrase or a misplaced photo has real consequences for people at the margins who are still suffering under the weight of unfair and biased representation.” ~ Alexandra Bell

.
Presented as a series of boldly reworked New York Times articles, each of the six works exhibited in Counternarratives perform visual examinations that reveal news media’s complicity in perpetuating racial prejudice in America. Through redactions of original text, revised headlines, and margins replete with red sharpie annotations, Bell reveals the implicit biases that control how narratives involving communities of colour are depicted and in turn disseminated under the aegis of journalistic ‘objectivity.’ Bell identifies misleading frameworks and false equivalencies in journalism’s coverage of events like the murder of the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson, MO police officer, Darren Wilson in 2014, which is explored in her work “A Teenager With Promise.” The series demonstrates the extent to which white-centered, sympathetic news coverage remains pervasive within even liberal news organisations. By arguing back and calling out these inequities, Bell gives voice to the ways in which power operates through language to articulate our lived, bodily experiences in the world.

Anonymous text. “Alexandra Bell: Counternarratives,” on the Charlie James Gallery website 2019 [Online] Cited 07/12/2022

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983) 'A Teenager with Promise (Annotated)' 2018

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983)
A Teenager with Promise (Annotated)
2018
Screenprint, chine colle on paper and archival pigment print on paper
44 x 35 inches/each
Courtesy of the Artist
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

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06
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 17th October 2022 – 15th January 2023

Curators: Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror is curated by Carol Jacobi, Curator of British Art 1850-1915 and James Finch, Assistant Curator of 19th Century British Art at Tate Britain, supported by Yasufumi Nakamori, Senior Curator of International Art (Photography), Tate Modern.

 

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Woman Swimming' Nd

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Woman Swimming
Nd
Tate
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax from the Estate of Barbara Lloyd and allocated to Tate 2009
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

I have written about the German-British photographer Bill Brandt in other postings on Art Blart: Bill Brandt at the Fundación Mapfre, Madrid in 2021; and Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2013. After viewing installation photographs of this exhibition at Tate Britain it seems a particularly sparse and limited representation of the great artists work.

Of interest are cabinets where we can see Brandt’s many photobooks and magazine spreads and observe the pairing of the images and their compositional rhymes, but some of these are facsimiles. We also notice the different cropping of the image Toppers (below) from the same image with a different title seen earlier, Hatter’s window, Bond Street (c. 1931-1935, below).

For me, the most exciting experience is seeing the double page magazine spread ‘The Perfect Parlourmaid’ from Picture Post magazine 29 July 1939 featuring photographs from Brandt’s book The English at Home (1936). I have never seen this before, nor many of the images the spread contains. It shows how the editors and photographer constructed the story they wanted to tell.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Tate Britain for the four press images. Installation images are courtesy of my friend and artist Drager Meurtant who took them at my request. Many thankx to him for his effort.

 

British photographer Bill Brandt (1904-1983) was a leading photographer in the mid-20th century. This period of experimentation and rapid growth saw photography displayed in art galleries and seen by millions in illustrated magazines.

Brandt’s images of daily life merged documentary with art. He was inspired by many sources, from books such as Alice in Wonderland to the sculpture of Henry Moore and the film Citizen Kane.

This exhibition of works in Tate’s collection reveals how Brandt changed his practice throughout his career and crafted each photograph to capture the surreal beauty he saw in the everyday.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at centre, Brandt’s Woman Swimming (modern mural enlargement, above)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

‘The photographer has to wait until something between dreaming and action occurs in the expression of the face.’

.
Bill Brandt

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing from left to right, Brandt’s photographs Louise Nevelson’s Eye (1963, below); Pablo Picasso at “La Californie” (1955, below); Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy (1955, below); and Glenda Jackson (1971, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Louise Nevelson’s Eye (1963, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Louise Nevelson's Eye' 1963

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Louise Nevelson’s Eye
1963
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Brandt’s first job as a photographer was in the studio of Grete Kolliner, in Vienna. Greta taught Brandt to compose and light the scene and modify the image in the darkroom to create the desired effect. in the studio of Man Ray in Paris, he learned the surreal potential of manipulating and distorting these techniques.

In the 1950s and 60s Brandt represented artists by their eyes, including the sculptor Louise Nevelson. Her gaze avoids us, suggesting inner thought. The extreme close-up makes her features unfamiliar and strange; their textures and reflections take on the vastness of a landscape.

Wall text

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Pablo Picasso at "La Californie"' 1955

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Pablo Picasso at “La Californie”
1955
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy (1955, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy' 1955

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy
1955
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

After the Second World War, Brandt could travel again and he spent time on the north and south French coast. He photographed artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

Picasso was 74 when Brandt photographed him in his villa on the Cote d’Azur, for the American magazine Harper’s Bazaar. Brandt wrote a self-deprecating account of Picasso avoiding the sitting. The portrait turned out relatively conventionally, the close-up head and preoccupied gaze sharp against the soft-focus complexities of the cluttered room.

Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019

Wall text

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Glenda Jackson' 1971

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Glenda Jackson
1971
Tate
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing from left to right, Brandt’s photograph Louise Nevelson’s Eye (1963, above); Pablo Picasso at “La Californie” (1955, above); Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy (1955, above)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at left in the bottom image, Brandt’s photograph Glenda Jackson (1971, above) next to a modern mural enlargement
Photos: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at right, Brandt’s photograph Portrait of a Young Girl, Eaton Place (1955, below) next to a modern mural enlargement
Photos: Drager Meurtant

 

 

Citizen Kane

Brandt saw Orson Welles revolutionary film Citizen Kane many times after its release in 1941. Its style was openly artificial. Theatrical lighting, deep focus and wide angles distorted figures, making familiar settings appear strange and surreal.

‘I’d never seen a film in which real rooms were used and you could see everything, the ceiling, the terrific perspective. I was very much inspired by it and I thought I must make photographs like that.’

In 1944, Brandt bought a simpler camera, the Kodak Wide Angle. This type of camera was used by auctioneers or the police for recording merchandise and evidence, because it could capture a whole room. He began a series of experimental interiors that changed his photographic style.

Wall text

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Portrait of a Young Girl, Eaton Place' 1955

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Portrait of a Young Girl, Eaton Place
1955
Tate
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Brandt photographed people in rooms with a Kodak Wide Angle camera. The lens was fixed and kept everything beyond four feet away in focus. Her profile is enlarged in contrast to the small, distant windows that appear sharp in the background.

Judith looms like Alice in Wonderland. Her pose creates a dreamlike effect and her eyes are in shadow. The formal interior recalls the beginning of Alice’s adventure. The empty chair adds to the uncanny atmosphere. A similar button-backed, seat featured in Alice Through the Looking Glass. It was a prop in many of Brandt’s photographs.

Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013

Wall text

 

Kodak wide angle view camera / Bill Brandt. The camera is equipped with a Carl Zeiss Protar 1:18 8.5cm lens. This very rare Kodak wide angle view camera is very slim, and does not have bellows. The front accepts interchangeable panels should the user wish to fit other suitable lenses. There is a spring-back with a ground glass, two plate holders and a transport case. Bill Brandt used one of these cameras for photographs in his book “Wide Angle Nudes”. Format 6.5 x 8.5 inches (16.5 x 21.5cm) The wide angle lens has a very large depth of field, and the aperture of f45 eliminates the need to focus. The field of view is 110° or the equivalent to a rectilinear lens of 14 or 15 mm on a 35 mm camera.

Anonymous text. “Wide angle KODAK View Camera / Bill Brandt,” on the Antiq Photo website [Online] Cited 05/11/2022

 

What Brandt had bought was a rare Kodak Wide Angle Camera with Zeiss Protar Lens, used by police for recording crime scenes. The wide angle lens captured the whole scene while the small f45 aperture gave full depth-of-field. Essentially it was a fixed focus box camera allowing untrained coppers to get the shot on the generous full plate film. The lens was a Carl Zeiss Jena f18 Protar of 85mm focal length, giving a very wide 110 degree angle of view, equivalent to 15mm lens on 35mm format.

These cameras are extremely rare, perhaps only made for the police force, but John Rushton’s website has one and you can see all the details. It is an original design, as the pictures show, with curious features such as the small “feet” on the back which allows you to lay it on the ground to shoot vertically up.

Greg Neville. “Bill Brandt’s camera,” on the Greg Neville photography blog October 26, 2015 [Online] Cited 05/11/2022

 

Wide-angle Kodak View camera

 

Wide-angle Kodak View camera

 

 

Today Tate Britain opens a free exhibition dedicated to celebrated British photographer Bill Brandt (1904-1983). 44 original photographs from across his career are displayed alongside the magazines and photobooks in which these images were most often seen. Entitled Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror, this is Tate’s first Brandt exhibition. It reveals the secrets of his artistry and the fascinating ways he staged and refined his photographs. Drawn from Tate’s collection, the show includes many recent acquisitions which reflect Tate’s ongoing commitment to strengthening its holdings of photography.

Bill Brandt was first known as a photojournalist, renowned in the 1930s for his observations of British life and later for his landscapes, portraits and nudes. But his images were always carefully crafted to ‘enter the mirror’, as he put it, employing formal experimentation and artistic interventions to evoke the surreal beauty he saw in everyday life. This exhibition celebrates his theatrical direction of people and setting, his mastery of composition and abstraction, and his dialogues with the work of other artists.

Although Brandt’s images can appear candid and spontaneous, he did not capture people unaware. He worked closely with those he photographed, directing and lighting them to cast ‘the spell that charges the commonplace with beauty’. He sometimes waited for hours to capture effects at specific times of day – as in Woman Swimming – and some of his most mysterious scenes were taken at night. Brandt developed his own film and printed his own photographs, giving him further opportunities to rebalance light and dark, and change the composition through cropping and enlarging. He even used ink and pencil to alter prints, for example introducing plumes of smoke onto Hail, Hell & Halifax. The series of Brandt’s nudes shown in the exhibition include some of his best-known and most evocative works, which further explore his interest in altered perspectives, surreal effects and abstract compositions.

As well as being an artist in his own right, Brandt took inspiration from many other artists and art forms. The exhibition explores some of these conversations between his photographs and other imagery, from Gustave Doré’s engravings of London to Henry Moore’s air raid shelter drawings to Orson Welles’ 1941 movie Citizen Kane. Brandt’s handmade photobook ‘A Dream’ – which is being exhibited for the first time – reveals further influences, such as John Tenniel’s surreal illustrations to Alice in Wonderland and the dramatic shadows of Expressionist cinema. Brandt also became famous for his portraits of artists, such as the actor Glenda Jackson at home in the early 1970s, and an arresting close-up of sculptor Louise Nevelson’s eye.

The exhibition at Tate Britain coincides with a group of newly opened photography displays at Tate Modern. These include a room of recently acquired photographs by Martha Rosler, two photographic series by Laura Aguilar and Lyle Ashton Harris, and a selection of photobooks documenting the war in Bosnia. There is also a display of images from Liz Johnson Artur’s series Time don’t run here, depicting the Black Lives Matter protests in London over the summer of 2020, which is accompanied by a new book about Artur from Tate Publishing.

Press release from the Tate Museum

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition : Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Race Goers, Auteuil Races, Paris (1931, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Race Goers, Auteuil Races, Paris' 1931

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Race Goers, Auteuil Races, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Brandt often photographed the spectacle of horse races. These racegoers are dressed in fashionable clothing of the time – Brandt mischievously mischievously twins their ties, collars and bowler hats. The sophisticated air is further subverted by their anxious matching gestures as they watch the race.

The softly focused natural setting contrasts with the sharply suited figures. Brandt enhanced this by brightening details such as the pocket handkerchief, scratched away to expose white paper. This print has been rephotographed from an earlier print.

Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at left, Brandt’s photograph Butcher in Notting Hill Gate (1930); and at right, Regency Houses, Park Lane, Mayfair (c. 1930-1939, below)
Photos: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Regency Houses, Park Lane, Mayfair' c. 1930-1939

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Regency Houses, Park Lane, Mayfair
c. 1930-1939
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

A lorry, bus and carriage pass prosperous old houses whose blank windows give nothing away. This later exhibition print is larger then the version in The English At Home, with greater contrast to stress shape and pattern. The traffic is cropped to divert less attention from the rhythm of the railings. Shadows have been added to the curved facades so they stand out adjacent the flat ones.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at centre, Brandt’s photograph Hatter’s window, Bond Street (c. 1931-1935, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Hatter's window, Bond Street' c. 1931-1935

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Hatter’s window, Bond Street
c. 1931-1935
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Staging

Like many photographers in Britain in the 1930s, Brandt made his name documenting contemporary society for illustrated magazines. Inspired by the success of the book Paris by Night (1933) by Hungarian-French photographer Brassaï, who was an early influence, Brandt published groundbreaking photobooks The English At Home (1936) and A Night in London (1937).

Brandt did not seek to capture people unaware or catch a decisive moment, as Henri Cartier-Bresson called it. He felt he could attempt a more meaningful kind of realism by engaging and gaining cooperation with those he photographed. The people in this room posed for him or were played by friends and family like a drawing he planned and sketched, staged and directed…

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at rear right, Brandt’s photograph A Billingsgate Porter (c. 1934)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Flowerseller in Hampstead, All a blowin’ and a growin’ (1936, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Flowerseller in Hampstead, All a blowin' and a growin'' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Flowerseller in Hampstead, All a blowin’ and a growin’
1936
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Flower sellers were well-known figures from London life and literature during the Victorian and Edwardian eras (1837-1910), most famously Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion (1913). The bright noon day sun casts strong shadows on the flower seller’s face and feet. The black dress and had, perhaps strengthened in the printing, give her a solid silhouette. Her feathered hat stands out against the white sign.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Housewife, Bethnal Green (1937, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Housewife, Bethnal Green' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Housewife, Bethnal Green
1937
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

This young woman posed from Brandt at her work, but like many people he photographed, her name was not recorded. Brandt retouched the print to enhance stains on the apron and the pavement, playing into some stereotypes about the hardship of working-class life in Bethnal Green, a lower income area. The title and location tell us that she is cleaning her own step and is not a domestic worker. Brandt has enhanced the gleam of her wedding ring, suggesting this is her married home.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing the cover and pages from Brandt’s photobook The English At Home (1936)
Photos: Drager Meurtant

 

 

The pictures of Brandt’s photobooks were carefully paired. He wrote that although he found the social contrast of the thirties ‘visually exciting… I never intended them for political propaganda.’ The 63 photographs in The English At Home were arranged to prompt visual and human comparisons, rather than political ones.

Cabinet text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

All Dressed up for the Show
All a blowin’ and a growin’
From The English At Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

Brandt’s titles often draw attention to conservations between the images; the men are ‘dressed up’ in buttonholes like those the flower seller trades. There are also compositional rhymes; the street sign in All a blowing’ and a growin’ mirrors he sign in All Dressed up for the Show.

Cabinet text

 

Bill Brandt. 'All Dressed up for the Show' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

All Dressed up for the Show
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

A Whitechapel Blind Beggar
A Billingsgate Porter
From The English At Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

As an immigrant to Britain, Brandt was interested in other incomers to the city. In this pair, the Italian porter, Ernie Delmonte faces a street vendor whose name is not recorded. Many sailors and dockworkers from countries that Britain had colonised lived in Whitechapel. This man may have been a veteran of the First World War.

The vendor is selling lottery tickets. Brandt’s title refers to the name of a Whitechapel pub, commemorating Henry de Montfort, a medieval aristocrat who lost his sight in battle and lived as a poor man in the area. It chimes with the vendor’s imperious presence, despite the shabby suit.

Cabinet text

 

Bill Brandt. 'A Whitechapel Blind Beggar' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

A Whitechapel Blind Beggar
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Bill Brandt. 'A Billingsgate Porter' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

A Billingsgate Porter
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Middle-class Tailors
Toppers
From The English At Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

This pairing explores Brandt’s fascination with the language of clothes. Both photographs set high status garments in the working world of the trade. The untidy backgrounds of shop and workshop make visual and thematic connections. The ripple of silk in the jacket rhymes with the reflection in the vitrine. The dark and light heads of the tailors provide a surreally humorous echo of the dark and light top hats.

Cabinet text

NB. Notice the different cropping of the image Toppers from the same image with a different title seen earlier, Hatter’s window, Bond Street (c. 1931-1935, above) ~ Marcus

 

Bill Brandt. 'Toppers' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

Toppers
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Brighton Beach
Brighton Belle
From The English At Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt. 'Brighton Beach' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

Brighton Beach
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Bill Brandt. 'Brighton Belle' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

Brighton Belle
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

‘The Perfect Parlourmaid’
Picture Post magazine 29 July 1939
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Double page magazine spread ‘The Perfect Parlourmaid’ from Picture Post magazine 29 July 1939 featuring photographs from The English at Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

In Brandt’s first book, The English at Home (1936), he juxtaposed the privileged and working classes, frequently using his friends and family as subjects. Pratt, the stern parlourmaid in the country house of one of the photographer’s wealthy uncles, was a particular favourite of Brandt’s, perhaps because she so thoroughly inhabited her role.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the cover of Bill Brandt’s photobook A Night in London (1937)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Homeless Girl
Footsteps Coming Closer

From A Night in London (1937)

Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Ride In A Handsom Cab
Admiralty Arch Almost Empty Of Traffic
From A Night in London (1937)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

(at right)

Unchanging London

which is

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Tooting Broadway Tube Station
1938
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt nudes from the 1950s
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s nudes from the 1950s
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing a 1950s Brandt nude
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Nude' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, London
1954
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Nude, Camden Hill, London' 1956

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, Camden Hill, London
1956
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Interactive film of section 6 of Perspective of Nudes

Brandt’s book, Perspective of Nudes, published in 1961 (in the display case nearby) was divided into six sections. Throughout the book, images were paired so their compositions complemented each other. The last section can be viewed on this screen.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Nude, Taxo d'Aval, France' 1957, later print

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, Taxo d’Aval, France
1957, later print
Tate
Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, St. John’s Wood, London (installation view)
1955
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

In the 1950s, Brandt photographed in a more modern studio. The geometry of the paintings of his brother [in the background], Rolf, compliments the abstraction of the nudes. He experimented with distorting effects that were not dependent on the camera.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, London (installation view)
1952
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

One of Brandt’s best-known nudes is unusual in its intimacy and focus on the sitter’s face. This later variation removes grey and the figure is flattened into black and white shapes. These contrast with touches of texture around the nipple and eyebrow, and three dimensionality at the curves of the eyes, lips and breast.

Wall text

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, London' 1952

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, London
1952
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

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04
Dec
22

Exhibition: ‘In the Library: Photography and Travel in Sargent’s Spain’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 3rd October – 30th December 2022

Curator: Thomas O’Callaghan, Image Specialist for Spanish Art, National Gallery of Art, Department of Image Collections

 

 

Juan Laurent (1816-1886, photographer) 'Panorama of Ávila' c. 1870

 

Juan Laurent (1816-1886, photographer)
Panorama of Ávila
c. 1870
Albumen silver photograph
Madrid: J. Laurent (firm)
National Gallery of Art Library, Department of Image Collections

 

 

Another eclectic posting… this time, wonderful early photographs of the people and places of Spain.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Rafael Garzón Rodríguez (1863-1923, photographer) 'Retablo (Altar) by F. de Borgoña, Capilla Real, Granada' c. 1890

 

Rafael Garzón Rodríguez (1863-1923, photographer)
Retablo (Altar) by F. de Borgoña, Capilla Real, Granada
c. 1890
Gelatin silver DOP photograph
Granada: Rafael Garzón (firm)
National Gallery of Art Library, Department of Image Collections

 

 

A distant land celebrated for its fusion of cultures, Spain in the time of John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) fascinated many. As railroads began crisscrossing the sun-drenched countryside, more visitors could reach more places. Artists like Sargent went to explore: he studied works by Spanish masters, viewed architecture and gardens – with their rich blend of influences, and encountered a land and people that fuelled his creative imagination. A craze for all things Spanish ensued, especially in the United States, where many Spanish artworks entered private collections.

A vibrant visual culture emerged in Spain as commercial photographers such as Juan Laurent established studios that catered to the influx of visitors. As this imagery was collected and dispersed, it entered the popular imagination and defined the region in ways that still influence us today. These materials – the period postcards, fine photographs, and albums – allow us to see Spain as Sargent did, from its landscapes, architecture, and art to its music, dance, and costumes.

Photography and Travel in Sargent’s Spain draws upon photographs and printed matter in the Department of Image Collections of the National Gallery of Art Library. This exhibition is held in conjunction with Sargent and Spain.

Organised by the National Gallery of Art, Washington

This exhibition is curated by Thomas O’Callaghan, Image Specialist for Spanish Art, National Gallery of Art, Department of Image Collections.

Text from the National Gallery of Art website

 

Juan Laurent (1816-1886, photographer) 'Tudela to Bilbao: Logroño Railway Station' 1865

 

Juan Laurent (1816-1886, photographer)
Tudela to Bilbao: Logroño Railway Station
1865
Albumen silver photograph
Madrid: J. Laurent (firm)
National Gallery of Art Library, Department of Image Collections

 

 

The Compañia de Ferrocarril de Tudela a Bilbao began construction of this railway line in northern Spain in 1857 and finished it in 1863. Two years later, the company commissioned Juan Laurent to document the newly completed line. Laurent photographed the iron tracks, viaducts and rural stations, including this view of the Logroño station, during the two-month-long project that culminated in a final presentation album for the company. With the arrival of the first railroads in Spain in 1848, the Spanish writer Modesto Lafuente (1806-1866) observed: “There is poetry in the little stations where a slow train stops for a long time, on a scorching summer morning; the sun fills everything and blinds the distances; everything is still; some birds sing in the acacias in front of the station; down the lonely, dusty road, a solitary carriage makes for the town, which stands out for its pointed bell tower with a black slate roof. Those other stations near the old cities have poetry, to which on Sunday afternoons, during the twilight, the girls go out for a walk and wander slowly along the platform, arm in arm, peering curiously at the passengers from other places inside the cars. Finally, the arrival of the train, at dawn, at a station in the provincial capital has poetry; after the first moment of arrival, the travellers who were waiting comfortably amid a profound silence, the snort of the locomotive is once again heard; a long voice sounds; the train starts moving again; and there, in the distance, in the darkness of the night, in these dense and deep hours of the morning, the dim, mysterious flicker of the little lights that shine in the sleeping city can be glimpsed: an old city, with narrow alleys, with a vast cathedral, with a dilapidated inn, into which now, rousing the waiter from his drowsiness, a newly arrived traveler is about to enter, while we ride the train away through the black countryside, contemplating the flickering of those little lights that lose themselves and arise anew, and end up completely disappearing.” (quoted in José Martínez Ruiz (Azorín), Castilla, Editorial Biblioteca Nueva, 1912, pp. 37-38)

Juan Laurent, noted French photographer, established a studio in Madrid in 1856. He is recognised for his architectural and landscape scenes of Spain and Portugal as well as his extensive documentation of the collections of the Prado Museum and the Royal Armory in Madrid. By the 1860s he was the proprietor of Laurent y Cia, the largest photographic publishing house in Spain. Laurent’s prints and albums were marketed to a wealthy clientele through his gallery in Paris and distributed in England by Marion & Co. of London. (Hannavy, Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, vol. 2, pp. 829-830).

This mounted photograph may have been sold from one of Laurent’s sales outlets for inclusion in an album. Laurent later commercialised this image in stereoscopic view and large format.

Text from the National Gallery of Art Library

 

Joseph Lacoste (1872 - c. 1930, photographer) 'Albumen silver photograph of Diego Velázquez's Prince Baltasar Carlos on Horseback (1635-1636)' 1900/1915

 

Joseph Lacoste (1872 – c. 1930, photographer)
Albumen silver photograph of Diego Velázquez’s Prince Baltasar Carlos on Horseback (1635-1636)
1900/1915
Madrid: J. Lacoste (firm)
National Gallery of Art Library, Department of Image Collections

 

 

Baltasar Carlos gallops through the rolling Guadarrama mountain landscape near Madrid with an aristocratic bearing befitting a crown prince of the Spanish empire. Starting with the shocks of the empire’s dissolution, however, Spanish intellectuals of the 1860s and 1890s embraced Velázquez and Goya for being the first artists to paint the natural landscape of Castille. For these scholars, the arid landscape revealed the very heart of Spanish identity. Moreover, it was the key to Spain’s revitalisation, especially after the heartbreaking losses of the Spanish-American War of 1898. As a result of the newfound reclamation, the Spanish reformed Free Institution of Education (ILE) began emphasising the study of landscape painting and scientific disciplines like geography and geology. In addition, it encouraged the students to make excursions into nature. Likewise, it offered new art history courses that celebrated Velázquez and Goya for significantly including the Guadarrama mountains of central Spain in their paintings.

Joseph Jean Marie Lacoste y Borde was a French-born photographer who moved to Spain in 1894. He took over Laurent y Cía. from Juan Laurent’s stepdaughter Catalina Dosch de Roswag in 1900, and ran it up to the First World War, when he was drafted by the French armed forces. During the time he ran the company, he was, like Juan Laurent before him, an important photographer at the Museo del Prado. Many early Prado catalogues are printed with Lacoste images. Though he now controlled all the old Laurent negatives of the museum’s collections, Lacoste photographed the collections again, using the new gelatin dry plate process for his negatives. The dry plate process more faithfully rendered the true colours of the paintings in the scale of grey values than the old collodion wet plate process. The collodion process reproduced reds in nature, for example, as dark grey, even black. The smaller scale of this photograph as well as the more faithful reproduction of grey values suggest that it was printed from a gelatin negative made by Lacoste sometime after 1900.

Juan Laurent, noted French photographer who resided in Spain for 43 years, established a studio in Madrid in 1856. He is recognised for his architectural and landscape scenes of Spain and Portugal as well as his extensive documentation of the collections of the Prado Museum and the Royal Armory in Madrid. By the 1860s he was the proprietor of Laurent y Cia, the largest photographic publishing house in Spain. Laurent’s prints and albums were marketed to a wealthy clientele through his gallery in Paris and distributed in England by Marion & Co. of London. (Hannavy, Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, vol. 2, pp. 829-830).

This rare photograph is from A222, vol. 6. (loose photographs only). The six volumes comprising A222 have photographs of paintings, sculpture, architecture, archeological sites, streetscapes and landscapes of Italy and elsewhere on the “Grand Tour.” 514 are mounted in albums, and 59 are individually matted. Of these 59, many, like this albumen silver print of the Velázquez painting in the Prado, are dry-stamped “J. Lacoste – Madrid”, and two (of Murillo paintings) are dry-stamped with an interlaced J L & C monogram, which was an earlier iteration used by the Lacoste company.

Text from the National Gallery of Art Library

 

Charles Mauzaisse (1823-1885, photographer) 'The Court of the Lions, Alhambra, Granada' 1862

 

Charles Mauzaisse (1823-1885, photographer)
The Court of the Lions, Alhambra, Granada
1862
Albumen silver photograph
National Gallery of Art Library, Department of Image Collections

 

 

The Nasrid sultan Muhammad V (died 1391) conceived the Court of the Lions in his Garden Palace in the Alhambra as a paradisal garden, with sunken flowerbeds and waterways symbolising the rivers of Paradise, and pillars representing palm trees growing in an oasis. The court with its alabaster fountain supported by twelve stone lions taken from a Caliphal palace in Córdoba has become synonymous with the Alhambra.

Charles Mauzaisse was a French painter and the son of a painter. He emigrated to Spain in 1857 and signed the visitors’ log at the Alhambra on the 29th of January. After a peripatetic period traveling through southern Spain, he settled in Granada permanently, becoming one of the city’s few foreigners to become a local professional photographer. As a portrait photographer, he offered his clientele their likenesses on oilcloth, paper, glass, and ivory. He soon expanded his repertoire to views of the city and its architectural monuments, especially the Alhambra, catering to foreign visitors’ whims and custom requests and the booming tourist trade. In 1862, he returned from a visit to France with the latest advances in the photographic field.

From this date to the beginning of the 1880s, he made many photographs. However, their dispersal has left scant remnants in public collections. The Royal Palace in Madrid owns an album with 40 of Mauzaisse’s photos. He dedicated it to María de las Mercedes de Orleans y Bórbon on her marriage in 1878 to King Alfonso XII of Spain. Mauzaisse’s photography conjoined with his activity as a painter. Art deeply entered him as the son of Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse (1784-1844), a prolific if minor French artist. By 1870, Charles established himself as a painter as well as a photographer in the Alhambra. He reportedly maintained close contact with French artists like Henry Regnault (1843-1871), whom he entertained on his way to Morocco. Recent research has shown that Gustave Doré used photos by Mauzaisse as the basis for his engraved illustrations in several publications.

In July 1871, Mauzaisse photographed the Fortuny-Madrazo family in the Alhambra when they gathered in Granada to celebrate the birth of Fortuny’s son, Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo. Unfortunately, Charles Mauzaisse may have died in the cholera epidemic that swept through Andalucía in 1885.

Text from the National Gallery of Art Library

 

Juan Laurent (1816-1886, photographer) 'The Palace of Monserrate, Sintra, Portugal' 1869

 

Juan Laurent (1816-1886, photographer)
The Palace of Monserrate, Sintra, Portugal
1869
Albumen silver photograph
Madrid: J. Laurent (firm)
National Gallery of Art Library, Department of Image Collections

 

 

“Sargent swept over America in a cloud of glory, and the dust never settled; it was stirred up even more, eagerly anticipating his return when he left for Spain. He wrote to Mrs. Gardner from Madrid (16 June [1903]), ‘I am leaving Madrid for Portugal and out of the way places and am not likely to be back for three weeks or a month’.” (Stanley Olson, John Singer Sargent: His Portrait, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2001, p. 227)

Architect James Knowles designed this eclectic palace in 1858 for Francis Cook, the 1st Viscount of Monserrate, a wealthy British textile merchant, industrialist, and great art collector. Knowles modified an existing Neo-Gothic mansion built in the late 18th century on the ruins of an ancient chapel and added a curious mixture of Neo-Manueline, Neo-Mudéjar, Neo-Mughal, and Neo-Renaissance design elements. The result is an example of the innovative Romantic architecture that thrived in Sintra. The Portuguese court established a luxurious summer retreat in Sintra with views of the Atlantic from the cool foothills north of Lisbon. In 1809, the poet Byron visited the site of the future palatial villa and published his impressions of its natural beauty in his poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Francis Cook installed a large botanical garden on the property that is still renowned for its diverse and exotic plants and trees. In the Laurent photo, the tops of Araucaria conifers native to Chile rise in the lower left corner.

Juan Laurent, noted French photographer, established a studio in Madrid in 1856. He is recognised for his architectural and landscape scenes of Spain and Portugal as well as his extensive documentation of the collections of the Prado Museum and the Royal Armory in Madrid. By the 1860s he was the proprietor of Laurent y Cia, the largest photographic publishing house in Spain. Laurent’s prints and albums were marketed to a wealthy clientele through his gallery in Paris and distributed in England by Marion & Co. of London. (Hannavy, Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, vol. 2, pp. 829-830).

The collodion glass negative used to print this photograph is in the Ruiz Vernacci photo archive in the Spanish Culture Ministry in Madrid; VN-06923.

Text from the National Gallery of Art Library

 

Juan Laurent (1816-1886, photographer) 'The Fountain of Narcissus, Garden of the Prince, Palace of Aranjuez' c. 1880s

 

Juan Laurent (1816-1886, photographer)
The Fountain of Narcissus, Garden of the Prince, Palace of Aranjuez
c. 1880s
Albumen silver photograph printed from a Gramstorff collodion negative
Boston: Soule later Gramstorff Art Publishing (firm) copying 1863 photograph by J. Laurent
National Gallery of Art Library, Department of Image Collections

 

 

This small nineteenth-century albumen print is from the Gramstorff Collection. The department of image collections also has the collodion glass plate negative used to print it (Gramstorff 5754). The Soule (later Gramstorff) Art Publishing Company of Boston (active 1859 – c. 1906) was a purveyor of art, architecture, and topographical photographs specialising in Europe and the American West. The Soule Company acquired original photos from American and European art publishers and then copied them in their Boston workrooms for distribution in the United States. This small-format photograph is a copy by Soule of a larger albumen photograph by the Juan Laurent company of Madrid and Paris. However, the Madrid company may not have authorised Soule’s copies of original Laurent photographs for sale in the United States.

Photographers during this period followed murky standards, and John Soule appears to have been no exception, publishing images by other American photographers without crediting them. The Laurent company found it necessary to file a legal injunction to remedy a piracy case in Cádiz in 1883. Glass negative 5754, like many others in the Gramstorff Collection, is double printed with the same image.

Juan Laurent, noted French photographer who resided in Spain for 43 years, established a studio in Madrid in 1856. He is recognised for his architectural and landscape scenes of Spain and Portugal as well as his extensive documentation of the collections of the Prado Museum and the Royal Armory in Madrid. By the 1860s he was the proprietor of Laurent y Cia., the largest photographic publishing house in Spain. Laurent’s prints and albums were marketed to a wealthy clientele through his gallery in Paris and distributed in England by Marion & Co. of London. (Hannavy, Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, vol. 2, pp. 829-830).

During Laurent’s 1863 photographic campaign in Aranjuez, he remembered that earlier French travel writers had considered the gardens of the royal palace there particularly lovely. In 1855, author Antoine de Latour described the palace as the ‘Versailles of Madrid’ and its gardens as spring oases. In his photo of the Garden of the Prince, Laurent seems to signal its similarity with French palace gardens.

Text from the National Gallery of Art Library

 

Juan Laurent (1816-1886, photographer) 'Patio of the Acequia in the Generalife, Granada' c. 1881

 

Juan Laurent (1816-1886, photographer)
Patio of the Acequia in the Generalife, Granada
c. 1881
Albumen silver photograph
Madrid: J. Laurent (firm)
National Gallery of Art Library, Department of Image Collections

 

 

The narrow rectangular canal (acequia) with water jets pictured in this photograph was one of the primary conduits for the Alhambra’s water supply. The Nasrids, after diverting water from the Darro River six kilometres away, brought it by aqueduct to the Generalife, the summer palace in the cool woods above the Alhambra. From its entry point in the Generalife, the water fell to the main complex of palaces, buildings, and gardens below. The system was a marvel of Arab hydraulic engineering.

Text from the National Gallery of Art Library

 

Casiano Alguacil Blázquez (1832-1914, photographer) 'Inhabitants of Toledo' c. 1880s

 

Casiano Alguacil Blázquez (1832-1914, photographer)
Inhabitants of Toledo
c. 1880s
in Spain: Toledo, Cordova, Granada, Seville, Valencia, Barcelona (1879/1894?), plate 23 from first of two albums of 189 albumen silver photographs
Madrid: J. Laurent (firm)
National Gallery of Art Library, Department of Image Collections

 

Casiano Alguacil Blázquez (1832-1914, photographer) 'Inhabitants of Toledo' c. 1880s

 

Casiano Alguacil Blázquez (1832-1914, photographer)
Inhabitants of Toledo
c. 1880s
in Spain: Toledo, Cordova, Granada, Seville, Valencia, Barcelona (1879/1894?), plate 24 from first of two albums of 189 albumen silver photographs
Madrid: J. Laurent (firm)
National Gallery of Art Library, Department of Image Collections

 

Casiano Alguacil Blázquez (1832-1914, photographer) 'Inhabitants of Toledo' c. 1880s

 

Casiano Alguacil Blázquez (1832-1914, photographer)
Inhabitants of Toledo
c. 1880s
in Spain: Toledo, Cordova, Granada, Seville, Valencia, Barcelona (1879/1894?), plate 25 from first of two albums of 189 albumen silver photographs
Madrid: J. Laurent (firm)
National Gallery of Art Library, Department of Image Collections

 

Casiano Alguacil Blázquez (1832-1914, photographer) 'Inhabitants of Toledo' c. 1880s

 

Casiano Alguacil Blázquez (1832-1914, photographer)
Inhabitants of Toledo
c. 1880s
in Spain: Toledo, Cordova, Granada, Seville, Valencia, Barcelona (1879/1894?), plate 58 from first of two albums of 189 albumen silver photographs
Madrid: J. Laurent (firm)
National Gallery of Art Library, Department of Image Collections

 

Juan Laurent (1816-1886, photographer) 'Inhabitants of Quero, Toledo Province' 1878

 

Juan Laurent (1816-1886, photographer)
Inhabitants of Quero, Toledo Province
1878
in Burgos, Madrid, Toledo, Escorial, Cordoba y Sevilla (1878/1890), plate 58 from album of 103 albumen silver photographs
Madrid: J. Laurent (firm)
National Gallery of Art Library, Department of Image Collections

 

T. E. Mott (active 1910s - 1920s, photographer) 'John Singer Sargent's "El Jaleo" (1882) in the Spanish Cloister, Fenway Court' c. 1922

 

T. E. Mott (active 1910s – 1920s, photographer)
John Singer Sargent’s “El Jaleo” (1882) in the Spanish Cloister, Fenway Court
c. 1922
Gelatin silver DOP photograph from an album of 55 views of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
Boston: Thomas E. Mott & Son (firm)
National Gallery of Art Library, Department of Image Collections

 

J. E. Purdy (1859-1933, photographer) 'John Singer Sargent' 1903

 

J. E. Purdy (1859-1933, photographer)
John Singer Sargent
1903
Cabinet card-mounted gelatin silver DOP photograph
Boston: J. E. Purdy (firm)
National Gallery of Art Library, Department of Image Collections
Hertzmann Collection of Photographs of American Artists

 

 

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26
Nov
22

Exhibition: ‘Baldwin Lee’ at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California

Exhibition dates: 22nd October – 10th December 2022

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1983

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Vicksburg, Mississippi
1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

“The work of two contemporary photographers, Bill Brandt of England and the American, Walker Evans, have influenced me. When I first looked at Walker Evans’ photographs, I thought of something Malraux wrote: “To transform destiny into awareness.” One is embarrassed to want so much for oneself. But, how else are you going to justify your failure and your effort?”

.
Robert Frank, ‘U.S. Camera Annual’, 1958, p. 115

 

 

In terms of training as a photographer, Baldwin Lee couldn’t have done much better than study with those two photographic greats, Minor White and Walker Evans. His work is suffused with their glow, especially the influence of Walker Evans. Lee’s works continues that wonderful tradition of documenting with frankness, things that are placed before the lens. In his photographs of “Black Americans: at home, at work, and at play, in the street, and among nature”, Lee responds with understanding and a “a sensitive eye for both poverty and dignity” to the plight of the lower echelons of American society, in work that “exposes the violence of poverty inherited from the plantation-economy past.” And though his photographs he tries to transform the destiny (of a race) into awareness (of their plight).

“In 1983, Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) left his home in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his 4 × 5 view camera and set out on the first of a series of road trips to photograph the American South.” Lee received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1984, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1984 and 1987 to continue his project until the end of the decade. The resultant photographs show “attentiveness to the composure of his subjects that is echoed masterfully in the composition of his shots” … “Lee’s graceful pictures from this project perfectly balance the photographer’s presence and the subject’s will, honouring both through the resulting, beautifully printed 16 x 20-inch black-and-white photographs.”

At their best, Lee’s photographs (such as Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1983 above) have an incisive presence which illuminates the human condition through a revelation of spirit, the spirit of a people with the strength to survive and flourish against the forces of tyranny, discrimination and oppression. The proud stare of the child, the placement in of his hands, his large belt buckle, and the attitude of the father make this photograph a masterpiece of observation and composition. Other powerful photographs such as New Orleans, Louisiana (1984, below), Columbia, South Carolina (1984, below), Valdosta, Georgia (1984, below) and Valdosta, Georgia (1986, below) intimately capture the inter-generational strength that courses through generations of survivors – survivors of life, of hardship, of disenfranchisement. And then we must place those portraits in a historical context for their wider import to be understood: Vicksburg, Mississippi and its political and racial unrest after the Civil War; Montgomery, Alabama and the bus boycott that changed a nation; Mobile, Alabama and its race riots during the Second World War and the desegregation of the school system in 1964. And so it still goes…

Other photographs, such as Montgomery, Alabama (1984, below), Lula, Mississippi (1984, below), Natchez, Mississippi (1984, below) and Garnett, South Carolina (1985, below) are an extension of the work of Walker Evans. They really have no signature of the individual artist but continue the tradition, the story, of documentary photography in America. In the camera magazines of the mid- 60s to mid- 70s the photographer who was published would also have a small image check-list in the last pages of the magazine with technical information – aperture / developer / paper etc… Instead, for these pages, Minor White would say: “For technical information, the camera was faithfully used.” And one could imagine this artist saying the same thing, for there are no attempts at obfuscation or anything that would alter the intensity of his vision.

Of the remaining photographs in the posting… I have rather ambivalent feelings about them. All of the photographs possess a calmness and quietness to them, have balanced (perhaps too balanced) composition, but some leave me feeling rather cold. It’s almost as if I am looking at a “scene” from reality, rather than reality itself. Much like Edward S. Curtis and his storytelling of the First Nations peoples, that is, the myth that he wanted to tell of a “vanishing race” – some of Lee’s photographs are too staged, to constructed by the photographer that real life gets put in the deep freeze. A good example of this is the photograph Canton, Mississippi (1985, below). Imagine the time it would have taken Lee to set up his large format camera, to check the light, to focus the ground glass, and then to place the figures in such a deliberate arrangement. Did the subjects have a say in how they wanted to be portrayed? With this arrangement, especially the figure at left with her hand in the air, I suspect not… it’s all just so stilted and unmoving, particularly the spacing between the figures. Certainly, in this one particular photograph, the image does not balance photographer’s presence and the subject’s will. It’s a story that the photographer wants to tell in a particular way.

Other photographs teeter either side of this line, between seemingly spontaneous and obviously staged compositions. I don’t believe Vicksburg, Mississippi (1984, below) whereas I do feel Walls, Mississippi (1984, below), mainly because of the to stiff pose of the standing boy in the former and the languid pose and look of the girl in the latter. I believe in the direct stares of the children in Boyle, Mississippi (1985, below) and yet in the photograph below (Columbia, South Carolina 1984, below), that trust is dissolved. It is so difficult with a large format camera to stop the images becoming a facsimile of real life… something that appeals to the direction of the photographer but is a creation of their imagination, not a portrait of the real life of the subjects. In other words, the images do not go into that world with equal drama (usually the feeling is modified by Walker Evans directness), for there is a range of using this “drama” trope.

Here I am not appealing for something close to Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” for that is almost impossible with a large format camera, but rather something more akin to the work of Minor White than that of Walker Evans – more a revelation of spirit rather than a humanist “family of man”. As with any portrait, whether it is in the objective but slightly surreal portraits by August Sander or the dynamic exposures by Diane Arbus, it is the ability of the photographer to reveal the Self behind the mask that creates memorable portraits.

This is why Lee’s photograph Vicksburg, Mississippi 1983 stands head and shoulders above all the other photographs in this posting. The portrait challenges our preconceptions of what is it to live this life, to be Black in America, and with fierce resolve that echoes down through the generations, it says, we will survive and flourish… for we are whole and free.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
PS. Sometimes we say something about an image which is “after the case” of its place in the world. Knowing the boundaries of when this stops and starts is the big challenge…

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

 

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1983

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Vicksburg, Mississippi
1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Vicksburg, Mississippi
1984
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Vicksburg, Mississippi
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Vicksburg, Mississippi

Civil War

During the American Civil War, the city finally surrendered during the Siege of Vicksburg, after which the Union Army gained control of the entire Mississippi River. The 47-day siege was intended to starve the city into submission. Its location atop a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River proved otherwise impregnable to assault by federal troops. The surrender of Vicksburg by Confederate General John C. Pemberton on July 4, 1863, together with the defeat of General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg the day before, has historically marked the turning point of the Civil War in the Union’s favour.

From the surrender of Vicksburg until the end of the war in 1865, the area was under Union military occupation. The Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, was based at his family plantation at Brierfield, just south of the city.

 

Political and racial unrest after Civil War

In the first few years after the Civil War, white Confederate veterans developed the Ku Klux Klan, beginning in Tennessee; it had chapters throughout the South and attacked freedmen and their supporters. It was suppressed about 1870. By the mid-1870s, new white paramilitary groups had arisen in the Deep South, including the Red Shirts [white supremacist paramilitary terrorist groups that were active in the late 19th century] in Mississippi, as whites struggled to regain political and social power over the black majority. Elections were marked by violence and fraud as white Democrats worked to suppress black Republican voting.

In August 1874, a black sheriff, Peter Crosby, was elected in Vicksburg. Letters by a white planter, Batchelor, detail the preparations of whites for what he described as a “race war,” including acquisition of the newest guns, Winchester 16 mm. On December 7, 1874, white men disrupted a black Republican meeting celebrating Crosby’s victory and held him in custody before running him out of town. He advised blacks from rural areas to return home; along the way, some were attacked by armed whites. During the next several days, armed white mobs swept through black areas, killing other men at home or out in the fields. Sources differ as to total fatalities, with 29-50 blacks and 2 whites reported dead at the time. Twenty-first-century historian Emilye Crosby estimates that 300 blacks were killed in the city and the surrounding area of Claiborne County, Mississippi. The Red Shirts were active in Vicksburg and other Mississippi areas, and black pleas to the federal government for protection were not met.

At the request of Republican Governor Adelbert Ames, who had left the state during the violence, President Ulysses S. Grant sent federal troops to Vicksburg in January 1875. In addition, a congressional committee investigated what was called the “Vicksburg Riot” at the time (and reported as the “Vicksburg Massacre” by northern newspapers.) They took testimony from both black and white residents, as reported by the New York Times, but no one was ever prosecuted for the deaths. The Red Shirts and other white insurgents suppressed Republican voting by both whites and blacks; smaller-scale riots were staged in the state up to the 1875 elections, at which time white Democrats regained control of a majority of seats in the state legislature.

Under new constitutions, amendments and laws passed between 1890 in Mississippi and 1908 in the remaining southern states, white Democrats disenfranchised most blacks and many poor whites by creating barriers to voter registration, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses. They passed laws imposing Jim Crow [laws enforcing racial segregation in the Southern United States] and racial segregation of public facilities.

 

20th century to present

The exclusion of most blacks from the political system lasted for decades until after Congressional passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s. Lynchings of blacks and other forms of white racial terrorism against them continued to occur in Vicksburg after the start of the 20th century. In May 1903, for instance, two black men charged with murdering a planter were taken from jail by a mob of 200 farmers and lynched before they could go to trial. In May 1919, as many as a thousand white men broke down three sets of steel doors to abduct, hang, burn and shoot a black prisoner, Lloyd Clay, who was falsely accused of raping a white woman. From 1877 to 1950 in Warren County, 14 African Americans were lynched by whites, most in the decades near the turn of the century…

Particularly after World War II, in which many blacks served, returning veterans began to be active in the civil rights movement, wanting to have full citizenship after fighting in the war. In Mississippi, activists in the Vicksburg Movement became prominent during the 1960s.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Montgomery, Alabama' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Montgomery, Alabama
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Montgomery, Alabama

In the post-World War II era, returning African-American veterans were among those who became active in pushing to regain their civil rights in the South: to be allowed to vote and participate in politics, to freely use public places, to end segregation. According to the historian David Beito of the University of Alabama, African Americans in Montgomery “nurtured the modern civil rights movement.” African Americans comprised most of the customers on the city buses, but were forced to give up seats and even stand in order to make room for whites. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, sparking the Montgomery bus boycott. Martin Luther King Jr., then the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, and E.D. Nixon, a local civil rights advocate, founded the Montgomery Improvement Association to organise the boycott. In June 1956, the US District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson ruled that Montgomery’s bus racial segregation was unconstitutional. After the US Supreme Court upheld the ruling in November, the city desegregated the bus system, and the boycott was ended.

In separate action, integrated teams of Freedom Riders rode South on interstate buses. In violation of federal law and the constitution, bus companies had for decades acceded to state laws and required passengers to occupy segregated seating in Southern states. Opponents of the push for integration organised mob violence at stops along the Freedom Ride. In Montgomery, there was police collaboration when a white mob attacked Freedom Riders at the Greyhound Bus Station in May 1961. Outraged national reaction resulted in the enforcement of desegregation of interstate public transportation.

Martin Luther King Jr. returned to Montgomery in 1965. Local civil rights leaders in Selma had been protesting Jim Crow laws and practices that raised barriers to blacks registering to vote. Following the shooting of a man after a civil rights rally, the leaders decided to march to Montgomery to petition Governor George Wallace to allow free voter registration. The violence they encountered from county and state highway police outraged the country. The federal government ordered National Guard and troops to protect the marchers. Thousands more joined the marchers on the way to Montgomery, and an estimated 25,000 marchers entered the capital to press for voting rights. These actions contributed to Congressional passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to authorise federal supervision and enforcement of the rights of African Americans and other minorities to vote.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Montgomery bus boycott

The Montgomery bus boycott was a political and social protest campaign against the policy of racial segregation on the public transit system of Montgomery, Alabama. It was a foundational event in the civil rights movement in the United States. The campaign lasted from December 5, 1955 – the Monday after Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, was arrested for her refusal to surrender her seat to a white person – to December 20, 1956, when the federal ruling Browder v. Gayle took effect, and led to a United States Supreme Court decision that declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws that segregated buses were unconstitutional. …

 

Background

Before the bus boycott, Jim Crow laws mandated the racial segregation of the Montgomery Bus Line. As a result of this segregation, African Americans were not hired as drivers, were forced to ride in the back of the bus, and were frequently ordered to surrender their seats to white people even though black passengers made up 75% of the bus system’s riders. Many bus drivers treated their black passengers poorly beyond the law: African-Americans were assaulted, shortchanged, and left stranded after paying their fares.

The year before the bus boycott began, the Supreme Court decided unanimously, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional. The reaction by the white population of the Deep South was “noisy and stubborn”. Many white bus drivers joined the White Citizens’ Council as a result of the decision.

Although it is often framed as the start of the civil rights movement, the boycott occurred at the end of many black communities’ struggles in the South to protect black women, such as Recy Taylor, from racial violence. The boycott also took place within a larger statewide and national movement for civil rights, including court cases such as Morgan v. Virginia, the earlier Baton Rouge bus boycott, and the arrest of Claudette Colvin for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. …

 

History

Under the system of segregation used on Montgomery buses, the ten front seats were reserved for white people at all times. The ten back seats were supposed to be reserved for black people at all times. The middle section of the bus consisted of sixteen unreserved seats for white and black people on a segregated basis.[22] White people filled the middle seats from the front to back, and black people filled seats from the back to front until the bus was full. If other black people boarded the bus, they were required to stand. If another white person boarded the bus, then everyone in the black row nearest the front had to get up and stand so that a new row for white people could be created; it was illegal for white and black people to sit next to each other. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white person, she was sitting in the first row of the middle section.

Often when boarding the buses, black people were required to pay at the front, get off, and reenter the bus through a separate door at the back. Occasionally, bus drivers would drive away before black passengers were able to reboard. National City Lines owned the Montgomery Bus Line at the time of the Montgomery bus boycott. Under the leadership of Walter Reuther, the United Auto Workers donated almost $5,000 (equivalent to $51,000 in 2021) to the boycott’s organising committee.

 

Boycott

See the full details of the bus boycott on the Wikipedia website

 

Aftermath

White backlash against the court victory was quick, brutal, and, in the short term, effective. Two days after the inauguration of desegregated seating, someone fired a shotgun through the front door of Martin Luther King’s home. A day later, on Christmas Eve, white men attacked a black teenager as she exited a bus. Four days after that, two buses were fired upon by snipers. In one sniper incident, a pregnant woman was shot in both legs. On January 10, 1957, bombs destroyed five black churches and the home of Reverend Robert S. Graetz, one of the few white Montgomerians who had publicly sided with the MIA.

The City suspended bus service for several weeks on account of the violence. According to legal historian Randall Kennedy, “When the violence subsided and service was restored, many black Montgomerians enjoyed their newly recognised right only abstractly … In practically every other setting, Montgomery remained overwhelmingly segregated …” On January 23, a group of Klansmen (who would later be charged for the bombings) lynched a black man, Willie Edwards, on the pretext that he was dating a white woman.

The city’s elite moved to strengthen segregation in other areas, and in March 1957 passed an ordinance making it “unlawful for white and colored persons to play together, or, in company with each other … in any game of cards, dice, dominoes, checkers, pool, billiards, softball, basketball, baseball, football, golf, track, and at swimming pools, beaches, lakes or ponds or any other game or games or athletic contests, either indoors or outdoors.”

Later in the year, Montgomery police charged seven Klansmen with the bombings, but all of the defendants were acquitted. About the same time, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled against Martin Luther King’s appeal of his “illegal boycott” conviction. Rosa Parks left Montgomery due to death threats and employment blacklisting. According to Charles Silberman, “by 1963, most Negroes in Montgomery had returned to the old custom of riding in the back of the bus.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Shreveport, Louisiana' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Shreveport, Louisiana
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Walls, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Walls, Mississippi
1984
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Lula, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Lula, Mississippi
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Lula, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Lula, Mississippi
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Helena, Arkansas' 1986

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Helena, Arkansas
1986
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Natchez, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Natchez, Mississippi
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery is pleased to announce its upcoming exhibition, Baldwin Lee. The exhibition will open with a reception for the artist on Saturday, the 22nd of October, from 4 – 6pm, and continue through December 10th. This will be the second solo exhibition of the photographer’s work presented by Joseph Bellows Gallery. The gallery first showcased Lee’s epic project online, from April 18th – June 26, 2020.

The upcoming show will present a remarkable selection of vintage prints from this critically acclaimed and highly celebrated body of work taken within Black communities in the South, that began in 1983, and continued throughout that decade. The resulting collection of images from this seven-year period contains nearly ten thousand black-and-white negatives taken with a 4 x 5-inch view camera. Lee’s graceful pictures from this project perfectly balance the photographer’s presence and the subject’s will, honouring both through the resulting, beautifully printed 16 x 20-inch black-and-white photographs. The esteemed photography curator Joshua Chuang has noted that, “The pictures stand apart, not because they are depictions of Black subjects by a first-generation Chinese-American, but because they were made by a photographer of rare perception and instinct.”

Baldwin Lee studied photography with Minor White at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in 1972. Lee then continued his education at Yale University, where he studied with Walker Evans. He received a Master of Fine Arts in 1975. After school, Lee began teaching photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and then at Yale, while creating his own photographs, which at the time were rooted in the exploration of the contemporary built environment. Lee’s later work from the early to late-1980s entitled, Black Americans in the South (from which this exhibition is drawn), is a compelling and empathic portrait that represents its subjects within their rural environments, expressing the joys of childhood, the gravity of adult life, and the places in between. Images from Lee’s Southern work were featured in Aperture Magazine, Issue 115, ‘New Southern Photography: Between Myth and Reality’ (1989), and now form the newly published monograph, Baldwin Lee (Hunters Point Press, 2022).

Lee’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Chrysler Museum of Art, the Knoxville Museum of Art, the Southeast Center for Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the University of Kentucky Art Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery, The Morgan Library, and the Museum of the City of New York. He has been honoured with fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation (1984) and the National Endowment for the Arts (1984 and 1990).

Text from the Joseph Bellows Gallery website [Online] Cited 28/10/2022

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Boyle, Mississippi' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Boyle, Mississippi
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Columbia, South Carolina' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Columbia, South Carolina
1984
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Rosedale, Mississippi' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Rosedale, Mississippi
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Monroe, Louisiana' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Monroe, Louisiana
1985
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Mobile, Alabama' 1983

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Mobile, Alabama
1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Mobile, Alabama

20th century

The turn of the 20th century brought the Progressive Era to Mobile. The economic structure developed with new industries, generating new jobs and attracting a significant increase in population.[50] The population increased from around 40,000 in 1900 to 60,000 by 1920. During this time the city received $3 million in federal grants for harbour improvements to deepen the shipping channels. During and after World War I, manufacturing became increasingly vital to Mobile’s economic health, with shipbuilding and steel production being two of the most important industries.

During this time, social justice and race relations in Mobile worsened, however. The state passed a new constitution in 1901 that disenfranchised most blacks and many poor whites; and the white Democratic-dominated legislature passed other discriminatory legislation. In 1902, the city government passed Mobile’s first racial segregation ordinance, segregating the city streetcars. It legislated what had been informal practice, enforced by convention. Mobile’s African-American population responded to this with a two-month boycott, but the law was not repealed. After this, Mobile’s de facto segregation was increasingly replaced with legislated segregation as whites imposed Jim Crow laws to maintain supremacy.

In 1911 the city adopted a commission form of government, which had three members elected by at-large voting. Considered to be progressive, as it would reduce the power of ward bosses, this change resulted in the elite white majority strengthening its power, as only the majority could gain election of at-large candidates. In addition, poor whites and blacks had already been disenfranchised. Mobile was one of the last cities to retain this form of government, which prevented smaller groups from electing candidates of their choice. But Alabama’s white yeomanry had historically favoured single-member districts in order to elect candidates of their choice. …

A race riot broke out in May 1943 of whites against blacks. ADDSCO management had long maintained segregated conditions at the shipyards, although the Roosevelt administration had ordered defence contractors to integrate facilities. That year ADDSCO promoted 12 blacks to positions as welders, previously reserved for whites; and whites objected to the change by rioting on May 24. The mayor appealed to the governor to call in the National Guard to restore order, but it was weeks before officials allowed African Americans to return to work, keeping them away for their safety.

In the late 1940s, the transition to the postwar economy was hard for the city, as thousands of jobs were lost at the shipyards with the decline in the defence industry. Eventually the city’s social structure began to become more liberal. Replacing shipbuilding as a primary economic force, the paper and chemical industries began to expand. No longer needed for defence, most of the old military bases were converted to civilian uses. Following the war, in which many African Americans had served, veterans and their supporters stepped up activism to gain enforcement of their constitutional rights and social justice, especially in the Jim Crow South. During the 1950s the City of Mobile integrated its police force and Spring Hill College accepted students of all races. Unlike in the rest of the state, by the early 1960s the city buses and lunch counters voluntarily desegregated. …

In 1963, three African-American students brought a case against the Mobile County School Board for being denied admission to Murphy High School. This was nearly a decade after the United States Supreme Court had ruled in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. The federal district court ordered that the three students be admitted to Murphy for the 1964 school year, leading to the desegregation of Mobile County’s school system.

The civil rights movement gained congressional passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, eventually ending legal segregation and regaining effective suffrage for African Americans. But whites in the state had more than one way to reduce African Americans’ voting power. Maintaining the city commission form of government with at-large voting resulted in all positions being elected by the white majority, as African Americans could not command a majority for their candidates in the informally segregated city. …

Mobile’s city commission form of government was challenged and finally overturned in 1982 in City of Mobile v. Bolden, which was remanded by the United States Supreme Court to the district court. Finding that the city had adopted a commission form of government in 1911 and at-large positions with discriminatory intent, the court proposed that the three members of the city commission should be elected from single-member districts, likely ending their division of executive functions among them. Mobile’s state legislative delegation in 1985 finally enacted a mayor-council form of government, with seven members elected from single-member districts. This was approved by voters. As white conservatives increasingly entered the Republican Party in the late 20th century, African-American residents of the city have elected members of the Democratic Party as their candidates of choice. Since the change to single-member districts, more women and African Americans were elected to the council than under the at-large system.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'New Orleans, Louisiana' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
New Orleans, Louisiana
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Canton, Mississippi' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Canton, Mississippi
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Plain Dealing, Louisiana' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Plain Dealing, Louisiana
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Plain Dealing is a town in Bossier Parish, Louisiana, United States. The population was 893 in 2020.

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Columbia, South Carolina' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Columbia, South Carolina
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Quitman, Georgia' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Quitman, Georgia
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Quitman is a city in and the county seat of Brooks County, Georgia, United States. The population was 3,850 at the 2010 census.

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Valdosta, Georgia' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Valdosta, Georgia
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Valdosta, Georgia

Valdosta is a city in and the county seat of Lowndes County, Georgia, United States. As of 2019, Valdosta had an estimated population of 56,457.

On May 16, 1918, a white planter named Hampton Smith was shot and killed at his house near Morven, Georgia, by a black farm worker named Sidney Johnson who was routinely mistreated by Smith. Johnson also shot Smith’s wife but she later recovered. Johnson hid for several days in Valdosta without discovery. Lynch mobs formed in Valdosta ransacking Lowndes and Brooks counties for a week looking for Johnson and his alleged accomplices. These mobs lynched at least 13 African Americans, among them Mary Turner and her unborn eight-month-old baby who was cut from her body and murdered. Mary Turner’s husband Hazel Turner was also lynched the day before.

Sidney Johnson was turned in by an acquaintance, and on May 22 Police Chief Calvin Dampier led a shootout at the Valdosta house where he was hiding. Following his death, a crowd of more than 700 castrated Johnson’s body, then dragged it behind a vehicle down Patterson Street and all the way to Morven, Georgia, near the site of Smith’s murder. There the body of Johnson was hanged and burned on a tree. That afternoon, Governor Hugh Dorsey ordered the state militia to be dispatched to Valdosta to halt the lynch mobs, but they arrived too late for many victims. Dorsey later denounced the lynchings, but none of the participants were ever prosecuted.

Following the violence, more than 500 African Americans fled from Lowndes and Brooks counties to escape such oppressive conditions and violence. From 1880 to 1930, Brooks County had the highest number of lynchings in the state of Georgia. By 1922 local chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been revived starting in 1915, were holding rallies openly in Valdosta.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Valdosta, Georgia' 1986

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Valdosta, Georgia
1986
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Garnett, South Carolina' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Garnett, South Carolina
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

 

In 1983, Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) left his home in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his 4 × 5 view camera and set out on the first of a series of road trips to photograph the American South. The subject of his pictures were Black Americans: at home, at work, and at play, in the street, and among nature. This project would consume Lee – a first-generation Chinese American – for the remainder of that decade, and it would forever transform his perception of his country, its people, and himself. The resulting archive from this seven-year period contains nearly ten thousand black-and-white negatives. This monograph, Baldwin Lee, presents a selection of eighty-eight images edited by the photographer Barney Kulok, accompanied by an interview with Lee by the curator Jessica Bell Brown and an essay by the writer Casey Gerald. Arriving almost four decades after Lee began his journey, this publication reveals the artist’s unique commitment to picturing life in America and, in turn, one of the most piercing and poignant bodies of work of its time.

“A new book – the first-ever collection of [Baldwin] Lee’s work – and a solo exhibition in New York make the case that he is one of the great overlooked luminaries of American picture-making. It’s not often that a body of photography is hoisted up from obscurity and straight into the canon.”

~ Chris Wiley, The New Yorker

“The warmth and soulfulness of his work is not the result of intellectual effort; it’s grounded in understanding, a combination of intensity and restraint, and, surely, a shared sense of otherness.”

~ Vince Aletti, Photograph Magazine

“… Walker Evans was one of Lee’s teachers. Like Evans, Lee has a sensitive eye for both poverty and dignity. But Lee’s southern exposure wasn’t overwhelmingly white, as it was in Evans’s classic “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.” Quite the contrary, Lee is a witness to those at the bottom of U.S. stratification, and their refusal to swallow that status. … The work is political, because it exposes the violence of poverty inherited from the plantation-economy past. But it is most of all attentiveness to the composure of his subjects that is echoed masterfully in the composition of his shots. …We are a motley assortment of people in the United States. Our relations are not tidy, not in their beauty, nor in their disastrous disaffection and cruelty. ”

~ Imani Perry, The Atlantic

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery
7661 Girrard Avenue
La Jolla, California
Phone: 858 456 5620

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 5pm and by appointment

Joseph Bellows Gallery website

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19
Oct
22

Exhibition: ‘Frank Horvat. 50-65’ at Jeu de Paume, Château de Tours

Exhibition dates: 17th June – 30th October 2022

Curator: Virginia Chardin

 

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Muslim wedding, fiancé discovering his fiancée's face in a mirror, Pakistan' 1952

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Muslim wedding, fiancé discovering his fiancée’s face in a mirror, Pakistan
1952
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

 

Another male photographer, this time one who underlines the commonalities between his work as a photoreporter and his work for fashion. But other than a few transcendent images (the Givenchy Hat duo in particular) I find his work to be very stylised, of the 1950s era, and not particularly memorable.

Can you imagine the artist Susan Meiselas in her work Carnival Strippers (1972-1975) taking an image of a naked female and then naming the work for themselves, “self-portrait”, Self-portrait with stripper, The Sphinx, Paris (1956, below) even as the photographer is obscured with the camera machine up to his face recording with the male gaze and the gaze of the camera the body of a anonymous woman? Just a stripper?

I know Meiselas’ work is from a later generation when feminism was rising but the objectification of the female body in Horvat’s work is unsavoury, even as the press release says he ensured the “complicit, amused and moving participation of the young women.” (To be complicit means to be involved with others in an activity that is unlawful or morally wrong)

From the look on the woman’s face, I don’t think so…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
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.

 

 

“Thus, putting aside the notions of truth or deception in the representation of women, and in leaning instead on this concept that Griselda Pollock called the woman-as-image, it becomes possible to analyze the mechanisms of fetishism, voyeurism and objectification who form and inform the representation of women.”

.
Abigail Solomon-Godeau, “Representing Women: The Politics of representation of the self,” in Chair à canons. Photography, discourse, feminism, Paris, Textual, coll. “Photographic writing,” 2016, p. 234.

 

 

The Jeu de Paume pays tribute to the photographer Frank Horvat, who died on October 21, 2020 at the age of ninety-two, with an exhibition presented at the Château de Tours from June 17 to October 30, 2022. Accompanied by a monograph, it brings a renewed vision of the fiery activity of the photographer during his first fifteen years of career, from 1950 to 1965, a period during which he affirmed an extraordinary personality as author-reporter and fashion photographer.

Made from the archives kept by the author in his home-studio in Boulogne-Billancourt, the exhibition is based on period documents: vintage, publications, writings, in order to follow and explain the photographer’s approach, in the context of the evolution of the illustrated press at the time. He strives to discern the deep driving forces of the work and to bring out its strength and points of tension. He underlines the commonalities between his work as a photoreporter and his work for fashion. Fascination with beauty, the motif of the viewer-voyeur, attention to physical or amorous disorder, are some of the recurring themes of Frank Horvat, who appears above all as a photographer of the body and the intimate. It also reveals the melancholy facet of an independent and sometimes solitary author, living as an outsider despite his success as a fashion photographer.

 

 

 

The Jeu de Paume pays tribute to the photographer Frank Horvat, who died on October 21, 2020 at the age of ninety-two, with an exhibition presented at the Château de Tours from June 17 to October 30, 2022. Accompanied by a monograph, it brings a renewed vision of the fiery activity of the photographer during his first fifteen years of career, from 1950 to 1965, a period during which he asserted an extraordinary personality as author-reporter and fashion photographer.

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Howrah Bridge, Kolkata, India' 1953-1954

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Howrah Bridge, Kolkata, India
1953-1954
vintage contact sheet

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Boxing fight between children, Cockney Borough of Lambeth, London, England' 1955

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Boxing fight between children, Cockney Borough of Lambeth, London, England
1955
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Prostitutes in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris' 1955

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Prostitutes in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris
1955
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

 

1/ The beginnings of a photo-reporter 1928-1954

Francesco Horvat was born on April 28, 1928 in Abbazia, Italy (today Opatija in Croatia). Around 1951, he decided to become photo-reporter, meets Henri Cartier-Bresson, buys a Leica then embarks on a trip to Pakistan and India from 1952 to 1954. His subjects earned him publications in the international press and one of his images is selected for the exhibition “The Family of Man”, presented at Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 1955.

 

2/ London and Realities 1954-1959

In 1954, he moved to London for a few months, where the English inspire him with humorous images, even frankly ironic. Initiating new formal experiences,he crops his images for close-up effects, hardens his prints by accentuating the grain of the image and works his layouts. Settled in Paris at the end of 1955, Francesco, who now signs Frank Horvat, establishes ongoing relationships with the French monthly Réalités, for which he produced a report on pimping, then in 1959 social subjects on the Parisian suburbs, London or the Borinage.

 

3/ Telephoto Paris 1956

His wanderings in Paris led Frank Horvat to acquire a telephoto lens that he tests on the urban landscape. Intrigued by the effects he obtained from it, he experimented with high views, overlooking monuments and crossroads where crowds and vehicles intermingle. He is interested in graphic games drawn by the signs, the urban furniture, the roofs and the ubiquitous typography of the town. These images earned him significant recognition by international photography journals.

 

4/ Shows and spectators 1956-1958

In 1956, the author manages to get behind the scenes the Sphinx striptease cabaret, place Pigalle, and ensures the complicit, amused and moving participation of the young women. This series earned him orders from Jours de France for an “Evenings in Paris” section. The book I like striptease, published in 1962 by Rencontre à Lausanne with an amazing layout by the graphic designer Jacques Plancherel, initiator of the magazine Die Woche, brings together images from these series.

 

5/ Fashion on the street 1957-1961

In 1957, William Klein introduced Frank Horvat to Jacques Moutin, the artistic director of the magazine Jardin desModes, who offers to transpose the style of his views Parisians in fashion images. Taken with a Leica, without artificial light, the freshness of his images is a sensation, and other magazines appeal to him for his free and natural way to pose his models. He becomes the representative of a “reportage style” in fashion.

 

6/ Successful fashion photographer and muses 1960-1964

This room brings together some of the iconic images and sophisticated shots made by the photographer for British Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Most models represented are exceptional women who have experienced an unusual fate. Maggi Eckardt, Judy Dent, Simone d’Aillencourt, Benedetta Barzini, Deborah Dixon, Carol Lobravico, Vera Valdez, Iris Bianchi or China Machado are the heroines of this room. So many portraits of women only fashion images, these photographs demonstrate a collaborative complicity between the photographer and his models.

 

7/ A photographer’s world tour 1962-1963

In 1962, the German magazine Revue asked Frank Horvat to produce a report on large non-European cities. Staring games between men and women, fleeting intimacy between watched and watchers, the melancholy and solitude of bodies make this photographic essay one of the most personal of Frank Horvat. The gist of this report having never been published, the vintage prints presented in this room are therefore largely unpublished. Over there following years, Frank Horvat will hardly carry out any more reporting, apart from a few colour subjects for Réalités. This series thus ends his career as a photo-reporter for the press.

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Telephoto Paris, Strasbourg-Saint-Denis metro station, Paris' 1956

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Telephoto Paris, Strasbourg-Saint-Denis metro station, Paris
1956
Vintage silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Telephoto Paris, traffic in front of Saint-Lazare station, Paris' 1956

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Telephoto Paris, traffic in front of Saint-Lazare station, Paris
1956
Vintage silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Telephoto Paris, bus, Paris' 1956

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Telephoto Paris, bus, Paris
1956
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Telephoto Paris, Christmas at Galeries Lafayette' 1956

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Telephoto Paris, Christmas at Galeries Lafayette
1956
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Telephoto Paris, Christmas at Galeries Lafayette' 1956

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Telephoto Paris, Christmas at Galeries Lafayette
1956
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'The Sphinx, Paris' 1956

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
The Sphinx, Paris
1956
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Self-portrait with stripper, The Sphinx, Paris' 1956

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Self-portrait with stripper, The Sphinx, Paris
1956
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'The Lido, Paris' 1956

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
The Lido, Paris
1956
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

 

“If Horvat is a part, along with a few others, of a generation that has indeed renewed photography of fashion by desecrating the mannequin and mixing systematically life to artifice, he no doubt owes it to his training and his work as a photojournalist. This exhibition and this book, with largely unpublished content, focusing for the first time on its first fifteen years as a professional photographer who saw him go from fashionable reportage, precisely intend to reconcile the two sides of his work. On the one hand, his first works for the post-war European and then American press, in the lineage of its elders, Cartier-Bresson at the head, a time of trips that he himself called “the happiest period of his life”; on the other hand, fashion works and the intrusion of colour, which sometimes left him dissatisfied. However, in one case as in the other, the same attention, made of restraint, of empathy and a certain disenchanted sweetness, is brought to the world and, more particularly, to women and relations between the sexes, which are constants in his work – to which we will add, for fashion, a good dose of distance and humour.”

Quentin Bajac, “Foreword,” in Frank Horvat 50-65, Paris, Jeu de Paume / La Martiniere, 2022, p. 3.

 

The Jeu de Paume and the Château de Tours pay tribute to Frank Horvat who died on October 21, 2020. The exhibition focuses over his first fifteen years of work, during which he affirms an extraordinary personality of author-reporter and of a fashion photographer. Born in Italy in 1928, he started 1951 in Milan a career as a photojournalist which he pursues in Pakistan, India and England in the following years. His first images earned him numerous publications in the international press as well as participation in the famous “The Family of Man” exhibition presented at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 1955.

Settled in Paris in 1955, he was quickly noticed by his telephoto photographs and his subjects on the Paris by night. Managing to capture close-up scenes of a rare intensity, he reveals himself as a photographer of the body and the intimate. This fascination will be found later in his images of fashion for Jardin des Modes, British Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar and in the hallucinatory vibrations of a world tour which he performed in 1962-1963, remained largely unknown. Game of glances, night shows, fragility of masks, complicity with the models, melancholy of the bodies and scintillation love troubles draw an introspective cartography of this photographer moved throughout his life by a inexhaustible quest for new experience.

Produced from the archives left by Horvat in his house-workshop in Boulogne-Billancourt, the exhibition includes over 170 vintage and modern prints. Accompanied publications and original documents, it provides a new light on the work of this major player in French and European photography and present, alongside emblematic images, sets of photographs less known or new. Are thus revealed the wealth and the singularity of a complex and multifaceted work, replaced in the context of the history of photography and the press illustrated post-war.

Exhibition curator: Virginia Chardin

 

“Photography, for me, was photo-reportage. My photos had to tell stories, like those that the editors of the Berliner Illustrierte, refugees in New York during the war, had taught editors to tell of Life, and that now all the magazines were trying to imitate. With a beginning, a middle, an end and a legend under each photo, so that readers still unaccustomed to this visual language can represent the world, whether magazines are sold and that their collaborators are adequately remunerated.”

Frank Horvat, “Autobiography,” undated manuscript, Boulogne-Billancourt, Studio Frank Horvat archives.

 

“When I first set foot there, Paris was for me the capital of the world. From fashion of course, but also those of painting, letters, shows and especially – from my perspective – photojournalism, because it was Magnum headquarters. I remember this month of July 1951 as of a triumphal progression: I attended the first Givenchy collection, at Fath’s ball (Dior’s rival), I was received in the editorial offices of Paris-Match and Réalités (which even kept some of my photos), I made the portrait of Maxime de la Falaise, muse of the Parisian intelligentsia, in her boudoir Île Saint-Louis. I told myself that this escalation could only end up at the office on Place Saint-Philippe du Roule, where Cartier-Bresson, every Wednesday at 10 a.m., received young photographers, and where he would certainly have invited me to join his pleiad.

It was a cold shower. “Do you work in 6 × 6? The good God didn’t put your eyes on your stomach! And use flash? This is an arbitrary intervention! And in colour? I would do, if I could have my own palette, but I will never use the Kodak one!” He turned over the pile of my prints, the top of the photos down, so that the expressions of the faces do not distract him from the analysis of the compositions, examined them one after the other, pointed out their faults and concludes: “You have understood nothing. Go to the Louvre and study the compositions of Poussin”.”

Frank Horvat, “Autobiography,” undated manuscript, Boulogne-Billancourt, Studio Frank Horvat archives.

 

“Following the advice of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Franco Horvat bought a Leica in Munich. He embarked in Trieste on a freighter bound for Karachi in the spring of 1952. This trip to Pakistan, which he will extend to India for two years following, allows him for the first time to give free rein to his imagination by looking for subjects to propose.

Most newspapers and agencies ask photographers to bring them complete reports, that is to say, successions of captioned images telling a story likely to be published on several pages. “The mould of the picture story imposed itself on all those who wanted to work for magazines, they could take advantage of it, a bit like the great filmmakers of Hollywood took advantage of box office constraints, or the Great Century playwrights of the rule of three units”. In Lahore, his intuition or his personal attractions lead him to the “red light district” of Hira Mandi (“market with diamonds”, in Urdu), place of prostitution but also of a annual party where exceptionally unveiled young girls and adorned dance and are exposed to the gaze of men, the latter obtaining at auction the right to converse with the families for a meeting or a marriage – a custom century against which the government is trying to fight. He also photographs opium and hashish smokers, a particular Muslim religious ceremony spectacular, and a wedding during which the fiancé discovers in a mirror the face of his bride. Formally, his images do not deviate from the framework imposed by the codes of the photojournalism of the time, but the choice of subjects reveals a intense fascination for the body and the intimate. The observed woman by men, the viewers themselves captured in their bewilderment, the play of looks between the two are motives that we will find in all of Horvat’s work. […]

Initially, Réalités commissioned a subject from him which going to fascinate him, on pimping in Paris. Remote or hidden behind the wheel of his car, he explores by night or day the streets and cafés of Pigalle, rue Saint-Denis, as well as the alleys of the Bois de Boulogne, in a sort of long tracking shot which is reminiscent of the world of cinema or the novel policeman. The magazine announces on the cover: “A document exceptional. Réalités denounces one of the biggest scandals in our time”. Frank Horvat’s archives keep period prints that he had made by Georges Fèvre, one of of the main printers of the Pictorial Service laboratory (Picto) created by Pierre Gassmann. The latter then has the exclusive Magnum prints and gathers around him many French and international authors. This report, which Anne by Mondenard and Michel Guerrin, authors of a book on this magazine, consider it “one of the most strong of Realities” testifying to the “tragic realism of Horvat”, is amazing. The theme of voyeurism captivates the photographer whom he follows for several weeks the thread of Paris by night: the Folies-Bergère, a premiere of the Lido to which assist Charlie Chaplin, Brigitte Bardot and Jean Cocteau, fairground booths for light shows, several boxes of striptease. In a masterful series on the Sphinx at Pigalle, the photographer manages to ensure, behind the scenes, the participation accomplice and moving strippers while leaving to their pathetic loneliness the spectators-voyeurs.”

Virginie Chardin, “Frank Horvat, the inner journey,” in Frank Horvat 50-65, Paris, Jeu de Paume / La Martinière, 2022, p. 13 and 17.

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Tan Arnold at The Smoking Dog, Paris, for Jardin des Modes' 1957

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Tan Arnold at The Smoking Dog, Paris, for Jardin des Modes
1957
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancour

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Fashion at Les Invalides, Paris, pour Jardin des Modes' 1958

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Fashion at Les Invalides, Paris, pour Jardin des Modes
1958
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Givenchy Hat, Paris, for Jardin des Modes' 1958

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Givenchy Hat, Paris, for Jardin des Modes
1958
Modern inkjet print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat. 'Givenchy Hat For Jardin des Modes' 1958

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Givenchy Hat For Jardin des Modes
1958
Modern inkjet print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Mode à Longchamp, Givenchy hat, Paris For Jardin des Modes' 1958

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Mode à Longchamp, Givenchy hat, Paris For Jardin des Modes
1958
Vintage silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Monique Dutto at the Metro exit, Paris, for Jours de France' 1959

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Monique Dutto at the Metro exit, Paris, for Jours de France
1959
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Commuter train hall, Saint-Lazare station, for Réalités, Femina-Illustration' 1959

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Commuter train hall, Saint-Lazare station, for Réalités, Femina-Illustration
1959
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'City, London, England, for Realities' 1959

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
City, London, England, for Realities
1959
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

 

“As far as I am concerned, I had not yet realized that I lived “in the century of the body” – as it was to be called, forty years later, an exhibition of photographs, where one of the present images was going to be in the right place – and I had no intention of investigating this theme. But I had just moved to Paris, the orders were not legion and it was difficult for me to refuse that of a “men’s magazine” of New York, which offered two hundred dollars for a report on “Parisian life”.

On the sidewalks of Pigalle, the braided doormen addressed me expressions of welcome, quickly transformed into pouts disdainful as soon as I expressed the wish to photograph behind the scenes. At two o’clock in the morning, having wiped the refusals of all the establishments of the square and the alleys neighbours, I decided to go to great lengths. I slipped a five thousand franc note – of the time – in the hand of the doorman of the Sphynx, although the neon lights of this place were a slightly bald and the man’s uniform not brand new. That has been perhaps these imperfections that decided him to pocket the money and to let me enter, without further ceremony, into the sanctuary for strippers.

These young ladies gave me a rather warm welcome, perhaps because that the audience that night was so gloomy that the mere fact that a paparazzo takes care of them gave them a little feeling important. For my part, I machine-gunned hastily, as sensing that my luck would not last. Effectively, at after four or five spools, one of them said to me: “What are you paying for?” The demand was not unjustified, but I I couldn’t satisfy her. I turned a deaf ear and, without waiting for the others to join in, beat a retreat. The next day, while going through the contacts, I realized that “I had a story” […].”

Frank Horvat, Strip-tease, Paris, Galerie Nina Verny, 2001, n. p.

 

“[…] for now, his work is leading him to acquire a telephoto lens, which he tests on the urban landscape. Intrigued by the effects he obtains from it, he then abandons the motif of cabarets and of the night to experience many views taken in height, on foot, and overlooking monuments and crossroads where crowds and vehicles intermingle. He is interested in games graphics drawn by the signs, the signage, the street furniture, rooftops and the ubiquitous typography in the city. Positioning himself in the middle of the crowd, he captures close-ups of faces or bends down to child’s height. The objectives of long focal length put on the market are then the subject of a real infatuation. Frank Horvat shows a selection of his images to Romeo Martinez, the editor-in-chief of Camera magazine who, enthusiastic, decides to devote an important article to them and to exhibit them at the first Biennale of photography in Venice. This recognition will be crucial for the rest of his career, although the technique and use the telephoto lens only interested him for a short time. It earned him interviews and portfolios in magazines international photography exhibitions and to be exhibited alongside authors like Peter Keetman or William Klein. The same moment, as the exhibition “The Family of Man” arrives at Paris and that Frank Horvat surveys the city with his telephoto lens, published by Editions du Seuil, the book on New York by William Klein, who won the Nadar Prize the following year. It’s a real stylistic revolution in the world of photography, which coincides with the end of the golden age of humanist photography and the decline of photojournalism, and which marks the beginning of a new era of the press, in close correlation with the explosion of the society of consumption.”

Virginie Chardin, “Frank Horvat, the inner journey,” in Frank Horvat 50-65, Paris, Jeu de Paume / La Martinière, 2022, p. 18-21.

 

“Models who take stereotypical expressions bore me. I forced them to become what I call naively “real women”. It was a war against a lot of people; I went against the preconceived image of editors, models, makeup artists and hairstylists… and even against the necessity of having to represent a illusion. Certainly, I understand the desire for idealization that exists in fashion photography. But I wanted to realize my ideal and not that of an era. I wish that the models do not look like models. I had at first introduces passers-by, dogs, characters into the street. And then I tried to find the same truth in the studio, using white backgrounds. Sometimes I was wrong. This form of democratization of fashion has been favored by political actions. But I arrived at the right time.”

Frank Horvat, “Photographing the relationship”, interview by Muriel Berthou Crestey, October 19, 2013 (online: https://regard.hypotheses.org/1232)

 

“The greatest models of Horvat possess a beauty nonconformist, and their personality shines through the pages magazines. However, the woman in his photograph most famous remains an enigma. She stares at the lens, one eye visible under one flawless brow bone, the other obscured by the cascade of white silk flowers from her Givenchy hat. Unusually, it is not she who concentrates the attention of the other protagonists: around her, the men in top hats point their binoculars in the distance, to a horse race.”

Susanna Brown, “A beautiful chimera: Frank Horvat and fashion,” in Frank Horvat 50- 65, Paris, Jeu de Paume / La Martinière, 2022, p. 38.

 

“This photo [“Hat Givenchy, Paris, for Jardin des Modes,” 1958] would become my [most] iconic image, that is to say the one most often associated with my name. Maybe that’s why she’s not among the ones I prefer, to the point that I’m almost annoyed when it’s designate as my masterpiece. Another reason for my reluctance is that it was not really my idea, but the one of the artistic director, who even made, before the session, a sketch, which I was supposed to get as close as I could. I have never liked being directed, to the point that the concept of an “artistic direction” seems to me a contradiction in the terms: can we direct art? On the other hand, I have to admit that Jacques Moutin did not lack good ideas, and that this one was excellent. I owe him a big part of the success of this image and the benefits it has earned me.”

Frank Horvat, A look at the 60s, Paris, Loft Publications, Cyel editions, 2012, ill. 37.

 

“Thus, putting aside the notions of truth or deception in the representation of women, and in leaning instead on this concept that Griselda Pollock called the woman-as-image, it becomes possible to analyze the mechanisms of fetishism, voyeurism and objectification who form and inform the representation of women.”

Abigail Solomon-Godeau, “Representing Women: The Politics of representation of the self,” in Chair à canons. Photography, discourse, feminism, Paris, Textual, coll. “Photographic writing,” 2016, p. 234.

 

Life had finally arrived on newsstands, imitated in everything the “free world” by magazines of the same format, such as Match in Paris, Stern in Hamburg and Epoca in Milan. We admired the Magnum photographers – Cartier-Bresson, Capa, Seymour and Bischof – both artists and adventurers. Far from a stopgap measure, photojournalism appeared to me as a way to reach my ideal from a creative activity to my desire to travel the world.”

Frank Horvat, “Pre-history,” in Frank Horvat. Please don’t smile, Berlin, Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2015, p. 232.

 

“If I had to sum up the photogenicity of Paris in a few words, I would would say that it comes from its facets. We can realize that on any street corner, looking in any direction through a viewfinder: details accumulate in the frame and repeat themselves as in a game of mirrors, disparate but always granted between them […]. The effect can be enhanced by a focal length of telephoto lens, which crushes perspectives and tightens distances.”

Frank Horvat, “Cities and Languages,” in Frank Horvat, Paris-Londres, London-Paris, 1952-1962, Paris, Paris Museums, Carnavalet Museum, 1996, p. 6-7.

 

“The spectator is a recurring presence in the work of Frank Horvat, and we could interpret this male figure anonymous as a representation of the photographer himself. In his exploration of the dichotomy between manifest gaze and hidden gaze, he often uses reflective surfaces, exploiting the properties of the mirror which induce a disturbance of three-dimensional space and a fragmentation of the picture plane.”

Susanna Brown, “A beautiful chimera: Frank Horvat and fashion,” in Frank Horvat 50-65, Paris, Jeu de Paume / La Martiniere, p. 33.

 

“For the “continental” that I was, England in the 1950s was as exotic as India – my teenage dreams in less. Immigration and globalization not yet on the agenda, the male population was divided into two classes: those who wore a cap and who in the métro – the tube – read the Daily Mirror, and those who wore the bowler hat and read the Times (whose titles were inside, the first page being reserved for small advertisement). The social class of women was recognized less easily: most looked like faded flowers, wore little hats and knitted. The light of a sky of lead suited me almost better than that of the sheer sun, but I know my London pictures stayed closer caricature than miracle: I had neither the knowledge nor the imagination to superimpose on this universe another grid than that of an ironic look.

In Paris, where I transferred myself the following year, it was all contrary: the references jostled, to the point of seeming sometimes too easy. Montmartre stairs, children brandishing chopsticks, the street lamps in the fog and the fairgrounds inevitably reminded me of the movies of the 1930s, but also the so-called humanist photographers who were inspired by it and of which I did not share some tenderness. Other associations of ideas, however, were irresistible. The gaze of a passer-by as in The Flowers of Evil: “O you whom I had loved, oh you who knew it”. The ghosts of demolished houses, like in Malta Laurids Brigge: “…it wasn’t, so to speak, the first wall of the remaining houses, but the last wall of the old. We saw the inside. We could see on the different floors the walls where hangings had remained pasted, here and there the beginning of a floor or a ceiling…” And of course the Mirabeau d’Apollinaire bridge, the grand boulevards of novels by Balzac, the Quai des Orfèvres by Edgar Poe, coffee Flore de Sartre… To literary memories were added the seductions of shop windows, restaurant menus, posters theater, and of course and above all women, interviews and unapproachable behind car windows or disturbing by their availability on the sidewalks of rue Saint-Denis.

For me, these were not so much reporting themes, as I had found in India and England, only entries in the diary of my wonders, my desires, of my fears and my mistakes. As were, on other registers, the subjects of the images on the run from Cartier-Bresson and Boubat, for whom photojournalism was, in the end, only a pretext for their own quests – or simply a livelihood.”

Frank Horvat, “Autobiography,” undated manuscript, Boulogne-Billancourt, archives from Studio Frank Horvat.

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Simone d'Aillencourt with designer Hardy Friends drinking tea, British high fashion, London, England, for British Vogue' 1961

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Simone d’Aillencourt with designer Hardy Friends drinking tea, British high fashion, London, England, for British Vogue
1961
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Deborah Dixon and Federico Fellini, Italian haute couture, for Harper's Bazaar, Rome, Italy' 1962

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Deborah Dixon and Federico Fellini, Italian haute couture, for Harper’s Bazaar, Rome, Italy
1962
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Iris Bianchi and Agnès Varda, Paris, French haute couture, for Harper's Bazaar' 1962

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Iris Bianchi and Agnès Varda, Paris, French haute couture, for Harper’s Bazaar
1962
Modern inkjet print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Deborah Dixon on the steps of Piazza di Spagna, Italian haute couture, Rome, Italy, for Harper's Bazaar' 1962

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Deborah Dixon on the steps of Piazza di Spagna, Italian haute couture, Rome, Italy, for Harper’s Bazaar
1962
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Deborah Dixon eating spaghetti with writer Antero Piletti, Italian haute couture, Rome, Italy, for Harper's Bazaar' 1962

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Deborah Dixon eating spaghetti with writer Antero Piletti, Italian haute couture, Rome, Italy, for Harper’s Bazaar
1962
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Christmas night, couple dancing in sailor bar, Calcutta, India' 1962

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Christmas night, couple dancing in sailor bar, Calcutta, India
1962
Vintage silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Carol Lobravico au café de Flore, haute couture française, Paris, pour Harper's Bazaar' 1962

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Carol Lobravico au café de Flore, haute couture française, Paris, pour Harper’s Bazaar
1962
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Carol Lobravico et Iris Bianchi au café de Flore, haute couture française, Paris, for Harper's Bazaar' 1962

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Carol Lobravico et Iris Bianchi au café de Flore, haute couture française, Paris, for Harper’s Bazaar
1962
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Department store, Tokyo, Japan' 1963

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Department store, Tokyo, Japan
1963
Vintage silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Couple dancing in a gafeira (popular ball), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil' 1963

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Couple dancing in a gafeira (popular ball), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
1963
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) '15th anniversary celebration, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil' 1963

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
15th anniversary celebration, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
1963
Silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Entrance to Luna Park, Sydney, Australia' 1963

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Entrance to Luna Park, Sydney, Australia
1963
Vintage silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Lovers, Sydney, Australia' 1963

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Lovers, Sydney, Australia
1963
Vintage silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat Photography, 1955

Frank Horvat Photography, 1955

Frank Horvat Photography, 1955

 

Frank Horvat Photography, 1955

 

Frank Horvat Jardin des Modes, France, 1958

Frank Horvat Jardin des Modes, France, 1958

 

Frank Horvat Jardin des Modes, France, 1958

 

 

Jeu de Paume at the Château de Tours
25 avenue André Malraux, 37000 Tours
Phone: 02 47 70 88 46

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 2pm – 6pm
Closed on Monday

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25
Sep
22

Exhibition: ‘American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 29th May – 2nd October 2022

Curator: Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art

 

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Summer, Early Morning, Immigrant Cemetery, North of Bethune, Colorado' 1965

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Summer, Early Morning, Immigrant Cemetery, North of Bethune, Colorado
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image: 10.4 x 15.2 cm (4 1/8 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

The quiet of the great beyond

With gratitude, I admire the photographs of Robert Adams. I admire their perspicuous (“clear, lucid”, able to be seen through) and perspicacious (“keen, astute,” able to see through) nature.

They imbibe (“absorb, assimilate,” ideas or knowledge) in us “the wonder and fragility of the American landscape, its inherent beauty, and the inadequacy of our response to it… [they] capture the sense of peace and harmony that the beauty of nature can instill in us – “the silence of light,” as he calls it… [and they] question our silent complicity in the desecration of that beauty by consumerism, industrialisation, and lack of environmental stewardship… While these photographs lament the ravages that have been inflicted on the land, they also pay homage to what remains.”

Like so many photographers of the American landscape, Adams’ debt to the vision of Walker Evans can be seen in his early work, in images such as Movie Theater, Otis, Colorado (1965, below) and Catholic Church, Summer, Ramah, Colorado (1965, below) – but even in images such as Wheat Stubble, South of Thurman, Colorado (1965, below) we can begin to see the beginnings of Adams personal artistic signature, the quiet of “the great beyond” (both physically and spiritually).

In modernist photographs that step off from Walker Evans’ legacy, Adams quiet, still photographs require of the viewer contemplation and reflection… reflection on the isolation of tract housing seemingly dropped into the vast American landscape. In these photographs (such as the two photographs Newly Occupied Tract Houses, Colorado Springs, 1968 below) Adams’ use of near/far is exemplary, with the nearness of the new excavation, the new scarring of the earth, contrasting with the sublime majesty of the mountains beyond. Other more personal psychological scarring can be seen in the two photographs Colorado Springs (1968-1971, below) where single, isolated, anonymous human beings are occluded in silhouette or shadow, damned by the hot sun.

In other photographs houses become like fossilised dinosaur skeletons, their graves marked by ironic street names such as Darwin Pl. (Frame for a Tract House, Colorado Springs, 1969 below), or multiply across the landscape, breeding like some genetically identical sequence (Pikes Peak Park, Colorado Springs, 1969, below). Even petrol stations blare out the name “Frontier” as though to irrevocably define that here we live on the edge of nowhere. And so it goes in Adams’ work… isolated people living in a barren landscape being colonised and inhabited without much thought for the beauty or the destruction of the landscape.

From the mid-1970s onwards, Adams’ landscape photographs begin to eschew all but the smallest pointers to human habitation, but this makes these human marks on the landscape all the more intrusive because of it. For example, in the photograph of the vast landscape South of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Jefferson County, Colorado (1976, below) the only markings of human activity are the tyre marks in the foreground and the telegraph poles, road and cars at far right… and then the title hits you with a double-whammy, “Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant”, not present in the photograph but present in our consciousness (of the landscape). Even less evidence of human existence is signalled in the photograph Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota (1977, below), but then we notice at bottom left a discarded tin can, just a discarded tin can, but this one tin can says so much about our use and abuse of our only habitable planet, earth.

In image after image, roads scar the landscape, planes fly overhead, industry and housing colonise the sublime, and human beings hug and are alienated amongst concrete jungles and car parks. New development erodes the earth leaving behind the detritus of human existence. Old growth trees are slaughtered in clearcut operations in which every tree has been cut down and removed. A dead albatross rots on an expanse of beach (The Sea Beach, Albatross, 2015 below) while in the distance the photographer picks out 4 ghosts of human beings (The Sea Beach, 2015 below).

Adams’ photographic vision is extra ordinary and I cannot fault his individual photographs. I become engrossed in them. I breathe their atmosphere. He has a resolution, both in terms of large format aesthetic, the aesthetic of beauty and of using materials, light and composition… that seems exactly right. He possesses that superlative skill of few great photographers, and by that I mean: sometimes he has true compassion** / parallel to a religious compassion, but not based on something higher / just perfect human. In some of his photographs (such as East from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado 1975, below) he possesses real forgiveness, in others there is the perfection of cruel, the perfection of de/composition.

** achieved by Arbus, Atget and sometimes by Clift, Gowin.

And then, each image holds small clues vital to the overall conversation that is the accumulation of his work and it is in their collective accumulation of meaning that Adams’ photographs grow and build to shatter not just the American silence on environmental issues, but the deafening silence of the whole industrialised world. In their holistic nature, Adams’ body of work becomes punctum and because of this his work produces other “things”, things as great as anything the French literary theorist, essayist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician Roland Barthes wrote about. As in Barthes’ seminal work Camera Lucida, Adams’ work reminds us that the “photograph is evidence of ‘what has ceased to be’. Instead of making reality solid, it reminds us of the world’s ever changing nature.”1

Human beings can never leave anything as they find it, they always have to possess and change whatever they see in a form of desecration (the action of damaging or showing no respect toward something holy or very much respected). Except human beings do not respect the only place that have to live on, this earth. When will it change?

As Alain de Botton observes on the importance of the sublime places to the human psyche,

“If the world is unfair or beyond our understanding, sublime places suggest it is not surprising things should be thus. We are the playthings of the forces that laid out the oceans and chiselled the mountains. Sublime places acknowledge limitations that we might otherwise encounter with anxiety or anger in the ordinary flow of events. It is not just nature that defies us. Human life is as overwhelming, but it is the vast spaces of nature that perhaps provide us with the finest, the most respectful reminder of all that exceeds us. If we spend time with them, they may help us to accept more graciously the great unfathomable events that molest our lives and will inevitably return us to dust.”2

.
We loose these places at our peril and the peril of the entire human race.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Anonymous. “Roland Barthes,” on the Wikipedia website Nd [Online] Cited 23/09/2022
  2. Alain de Botton. The Art of Travel. London: Penguin, 2002, pp. 178-179.

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

 

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Wheat Stubble, South of Thurman, Colorado' 1965, printed 1988

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Wheat Stubble, South of Thurman, Colorado
1965, printed 1988
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 27.9cm (9 x 11 in.)
Collection of Jeffrey Fraenkel and Alan Mark
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

For 50 years, Robert Adams (b. 1937) has made compelling, provocative, and highly influential photographs that show us the wonder and fragility of the American landscape, its inherent beauty, and the inadequacy of our response to it. This exhibition explores the reverential way he looks at the world around him and the almost palpable silence of his work.

Many of these photographs of the American West capture the sense of peace and harmony that the beauty of nature can instill in us – “the silence of light,” as he calls it, that he sees on the prairie, in the woods, and by the ocean. Other pictures question our silent complicity in the desecration of that beauty by consumerism, industrialisation, and lack of environmental stewardship. Divided into three sections – The Gift, Our Response, and Tenancy – the exhibition features some 175 works from the artist’s most important projects and includes pictures of suburban sprawl, strip malls, highways, homes, and stores, as well as rivers, skies, the prairie, and the ocean.

While these photographs lament the ravages that have been inflicted on the land, they also pay homage to what remains.

 

 

“Robert Adams’s photographs often seem to demand that viewers do a double-take. Seemingly ordinary subjects like tree stumps, tract housing or the moon seen from a parking lot “require very careful looking and careful consideration,” says curator Sarah Greenough, before they reveal the photographer’s deeply personal visions of nature – and, sometimes, his despair at what humans have done with it.”

.
Peter Saenger. “Robert Adams Takes Photos That Face Facts,” on The Wall Street Journal website May 13, 2022 [Online] Cited 23/06/2022

 

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Movie Theater, Otis, Colorado' 1965, printed c. 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Movie Theater, Otis, Colorado
1965, printed c. 1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.3 x 20.3cm (6 7/16 x 8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Catholic Church, Winter, Ramah, Colorado' 1965, printed 1982

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Catholic Church, Winter, Ramah, Colorado
1965, printed 1982
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.3 x 16.4cm (8 3/4 x 6 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Catholic Church, Summer, Ramah, Colorado' 1965, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Catholic Church, Summer, Ramah, Colorado
1965, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.5 x 16.4cm (8 7/16 x 6 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Store, Elizabeth, Colorado' 1965, printed 1988

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Store, Elizabeth, Colorado
1965, printed 1988
Gelatin silver print
Image: 26.9 x 22.8cm (10 9/16 x 9 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Arriba, Colorado' 1966, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Arriba, Colorado
1966, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.4 x 22.7cm (11 3/16 x 8 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Schoolyard, Ramah, Colorado' 1968

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Schoolyard, Ramah, Colorado
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2 cm (6 x 6 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Newly Occupied Tract Houses, Colorado Springs' 1968

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Newly Occupied Tract Houses, Colorado Springs
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 13.3cm (5 x 5 1/4 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'New Tract Housing, Colorado Springs' 1968, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
New Tract Housing, Colorado Springs
1968, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14.4 x 15cm (5 11/16 x 5 7/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Colorado Springs' 1968, printed 1983

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Colorado Springs
1968, printed 1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Colorado Springs' 1968-1971

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Colorado Springs
1968-1971
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Alameda Avenue, Denver' 1968-1971

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Alameda Avenue, Denver
1968-1971
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Northeast of Keota, Colorado' 1969, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Northeast of Keota, Colorado
1969, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 39.2 x 47.8cm (15 7/16 x 18 13/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Frame for a Tract House, Colorado Springs' 1969, printed 1984

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Frame for a Tract House, Colorado Springs
1969, printed 1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 15cm (5 15/16 x 5 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Basement for a Tract House, Colorado Springs' 1969

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Basement for a Tract House, Colorado Springs
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 26.6 x 27.6cm (10 1/2 x 10 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Colorado Springs' 1969

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Colorado Springs
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.6 x 15.2cm (6 1/8 x 6 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Pikes Peak Park, Colorado Springs' 1969

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Pikes Peak Park, Colorado Springs
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 15.2cm (5 15/16 x 6 in.)
Yale University Art Gallery, Purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'New Housing, Colorado Springs' 1969, printed 2005

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
New Housing, Colorado Springs
1969, printed 2005
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.5 x 15.1cm (6 7/8 x 5 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs' 1969

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14 x 14.9cm (5 1/2 x 5 7/8 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

For 50 years, Robert Adams (b. 1937) has made compelling, provocative, and highly influential photographs that show the wonder and fragility of the American landscape, its inherent beauty, and the inadequacy of our response to it. American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams celebrates the art of this seminal American photographer and explores the reverential way he looks at the world around him and the almost palpable silence of his work. Organised in cooperation with the artist, the exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog. American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams is on view from May 29 through October 2, 2022, in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art.

Capturing the sense of peace and harmony created through what Adams calls “the silence of light” that can be seen on the prairie, in the woods, and by the ocean, American Silence features some 175 pictures from 1965 to 2015. Other images on view question our moral silence to the desecration of that beauty by consumerism, industrialisation, and lack of environmental stewardship. Divided into three sections – The Gift, Our Response, and Tenancy – the exhibition includes works from not only the artist’s most important projects but also lesser-known ones that depict suburban sprawl, strip malls, highways, homes, and stores, as well as rivers, skies, the prairie, and the ocean. While these photographs lament the ravages that have been inflicted on the land, they also pay homage to what remains.

“The photographs in this exhibition encourage us to experience the sense of silence that the beauty of nature can inspire while asking us to question our own silent complicity in the face of its desecration,” said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art. “We are deeply grateful to Robert Adams and his wife, Kerstin, for their steadfast commitment to this endeavour and for their many donations to the National Gallery. I would like to extend our thanks to the Trellis Fund, Jane P. Watkins, The Shared Earth Foundation, Randi and Bob Fisher, Wes and Kate Mitchell, Nion McEvoy, Greg and Aline Gooding, and the James D. and Kathryn K. Steele Fund for Photography whose generous support has made this exhibition possible as well as to all our lenders for their willingness to share their treasured works of art with our public.”

 

About the exhibition

The exhibition begins with The Gift, which presents selected works that reveal the silence, beauty, peace, and spiritual harmony found in the landscape itself. Spanning three decades, this section includes photographs from Prairie (1978), Perfect Times, Perfect Places (1988), Listening to the River (1994), Pine Valley (2005), and This Day (2011). These pictures demonstrate the artist’s exceptional ability to find the sublime in the vast vistas and quiet, often overlooked, corners of the sparse and fragile American West, particularly in Colorado and Oregon, two areas of the country that Adams knows intimately. Infused with a deep understanding of the way light articulates forms, these photographs illuminate the natural world and demonstrate how Adams seeks to illustrate, in his own words, “a quiet so absolute that it allows one to begin again, to love the future.”

The largest section of the exhibition, Our Response examines how Americans have dealt with both the potential and the vulnerability of the West. Divided into six thematic subjects arranged chronologically, this section begins with “Early Hispanic and Plains Communities,” including work from some of the artist’s earliest publications: White Churches of the Plains (1970), The Architecture and Art of Early Hispanic Colorado (1974), and Prairie (1978). These pictures portray the respectful nature of older settlements in the West and acknowledge the importance of the gravel roads, farmhouses, furrowed fields, stores, and churches. They also demonstrate how early settlers attempted to achieve a unity with nature, rather than dominate over it.

“Our Imprint on the Land” and “A New West” feature works from seminal early publications by Adams: The New West: Landscapes along the Colorado Front Range (1974), denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area (1977), From the Missouri West (1980), and What We Bought: The New World, Scenes from the Denver Metropolitan Area, 1970-1974 (1995). “Our Imprint on the Land” includes pictures made along the Missouri River around the time of the 1976 bicentennial of the United States, a moment of national reflection on the past and assessment of the present. The photographs in “A New West” address the construction of a new kind of American environment. Dominated by cars, highways, cheaply fabricated homes, and commercial developments, these pictures emphasise the lack of community and the great isolation that grew in these new suburban communities.

“Our Lives and Our Children” depicts the area near Rocky Flats, a nuclear weapons plant northwest of Denver, where Adams photographed the simple dignity of everyday people to illustrate what would be lost in a nuclear disaster. Our Response ends with “Southern California” and “A Mythic Forest,” drawing works from two of his sharpest critiques: Los Angeles Spring (1986), depicting the destruction of the fragile landscape around Los Angeles in the early 1980s, and Turning Back: A Photographic Journal of Re-exploration (2005), illustrating the American timber industry’s exploitation of the North­west forests.

American Silence concludes with a selection of works from one of the artist’s recent books, Tenancy: Between the River and the Sea; The Nehalem Spit, the Coast of Oregon (2017). Divided into three parts, this series of photographs was made between 2013 and 2015 along a two-mile promontory on the Oregon coast, the Nehalem Spit. The first examines the eastern edge of the spit where massive tree stumps washed up on the shore reveal the brutality of the clearcutting done farther up the Nehalem River. The second part looks at the spit itself, a sanctuary of small trees, meadows, and dunes resting near a large geologic fault, and the third depicts the ever-changing beauty and wonder of the ocean to the west, as well as the people who seek “to escape illusion and to be reconciled,” as Adams noted. Tenancy illustrates his belief that we are only temporary occupants of the land that nourishes and sustains us, and it reveals the strength of his convictions, his deep spirituality, and the eloquent power of his vision.

 

Exhibition Catalog

Published by the National Gallery of Art and Aperture, New York, American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams traces the evolution of his work, highlighting the importance of faith to his art and – through his elegant visual reckonings – how “what was” has become “what is.” It is richly illustrated, with over 200 compelling photographs that explore the profound questions of our responsibility to the land and the moral dilemmas of progress. This extensive 332-page monograph includes award-winning curator Sarah Greenough’s in-depth examination of the evolution of his art as well as personal reflections by the celebrated nonfiction author Terry Tempest Williams and writings by Adams himself, along with a timeline of the artist’s life.

Press release from the National Gallery of Art, Washington

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Genoa, Colorado' 1970

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Genoa, Colorado
1970
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.1 x 19.1cm (7 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Boys in a Pickup, Simla, Colorado' 1970, printed 1991

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Boys in a Pickup, Simla, Colorado
1970, printed 1991
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 14.2cm (5 15/16 x 5 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1970, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1970, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 15cm (5 15/16 x 5 7/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Walking to a Shopping Center, North Edge of Denver' 1970-1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Walking to a Shopping Center, North Edge of Denver
1970-1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 19.2cm (5 15/16 x 7 9/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Sandstone Grave Marker, Walsenburg, Colorado' 1972

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Sandstone Grave Marker, Walsenburg, Colorado
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Clarkville, Colorado' 1972

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Clarkville, Colorado
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.4 x 16.5cm (7 1/4 x 6 1/2 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'North of Keota, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
North of Keota, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19cm (6 x 7 1/2 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973, printed 1988

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973, printed 1988
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 19.3cm (5 15/16 x 7 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Tract House, Longmont, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Tract House, Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.6 x 19.4cm (6 1/8 x 7 5/8 in.)
Collection of Frish Brandt and August Fischer
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.4cm (6 x 7 5/8 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1973-1974, printed 2008

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1973-1974, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.1cm (6 x 5 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'From Interstate 25, North Edge of Denver' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
From Interstate 25, North Edge of Denver
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.1cm (6 x 7 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Mobile Home Park, North Edge of Denver' 1973, printed 2005

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Mobile Home Park, North Edge of Denver
1973, printed 2005
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.8cm (6 x 7 13/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'North Edge of Denver' 1973-1974, printed 2008

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
North Edge of Denver
1973-1974, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.2cm (6 x 7 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Next to Interstate 25, Denver' 1973, printed 1991

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Next to Interstate 25, Denver
1973, printed 1991
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.3cm (6 x 7 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Outdoor Theater, North Edge of Denver' 1973-1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Outdoor Theater, North Edge of Denver
1973-1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.6 x 19.7cm (6 1/8 x 7 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Highway, Northeast Denver' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Highway, Northeast Denver
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.1 x 19.1cm (5 15/16 x 7 1/2 in.)
Stephen G. Stein Employee Benefit Trust
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973-1974, printed 2001

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973-1974, printed 2001
gelatin silver print
Image: 16.8 x 17.2cm (6 5/8 x 6 3/4 in.)
Private collection
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14.3 x 15.1cm (5 5/8 x 5 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1973, printed 1979

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1973, printed 1979
gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 15.2cm (6 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.2 x 15.2cm (6 3/4 x 6 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Boulder County, Colorado' 1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Boulder County, Colorado
1974
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 15.2 x 19.2cm (6 x 7 9/16 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Colorado' 1974, printed 1981

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Colorado
1974, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 29.2cm (9 x 11 1/2 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1982
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Arvada, Colorado' 1974

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Arvada, Colorado
1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.7cm (6 x 7 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Ahmanson Foundation and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Shopping Mall and Parking Lot, Denver' 1974, printed 1980s

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Shopping Mall and Parking Lot, Denver
1974, printed 1980s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.4cm (6 x 7 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Northeast from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado' 1975

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Northeast from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.1 x 47.9cm (15 x 18 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'East from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado' 1975

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
East from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Garden of the Gods, El Paso County, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Garden of the Gods, El Paso County, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.3cm (9 x 11 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'South of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Jefferson County, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
South of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Jefferson County, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.4 x 21.8cm (6 7/8 x 8 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Lakewood, Jefferson County, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Lakewood, Jefferson County, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.9 x 28.6cm (9 x 11 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert and Kerstin Adams
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.8 x 17.8cm (7 x 7 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Berthoud, Colorado' 1976

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Berthoud, Colorado
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12.7 x 12.7 cm (5 x 5 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with funds contributed by Marilyn L. Steinbright, 1985
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937) 'Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota' 1977

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
Missouri River, Clay County, South Dakota
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.7 x 28.1cm (8 15/16 x 11 1/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco