Posts Tagged ‘Forest of Fontainebleau

28
Feb
14

Exhibition: ‘Félix Thiollier (1842-1914), photographs’ at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Exhibition dates: 13th November 2013 – 10th March 2014

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“Why is the price of justice so high?”

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Maheude, Germinal

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“Beneath the blazing of the sun, in that morning of new growth, the countryside rang with song, as its belly swelled with a black and avenging army of men, germinating slowly in its furrows, growing upwards in readiness for harvests to come, until one day soon their ripening would burst open the earth itself.”

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Émile Zola. Germinal (1885)

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This is the biggest collection of photographs by the French photographer Félix Thiollier available on the Internet. I spent hours cleaning up the images to a presentable standard (mixing them with appropriate paintings by Corot and Francois-Auguste Ravier), so I hope you enjoy the posting.

While the bucolic photographs of ruins, pastoral landscapes and shepherdess (bucolic – via Latin from Greek boukolikos, from boukolos ‘herdsman’) are relatively straight forward, it is Thiollier’s sensitive portrayal of the “industrial image” – of the mines and factories of Forez – that hold weight here. Thiollier emphasises the theatrical aspects of the landscape (he loved shooting at dusk), finding new subject matter among the photogenic nature of industrial sites “his last images… extolling these new “worthless” locations that included scrapheaps, wasteland and abandoned pitheads, such were the ruins of modern Forez, that met his melancholy and clear-sighted gaze.”

His photographs of the “black city” are atmospheric, vivid and powerful. Post-Romantic lyricism is still present in these images but is now coupled with a unique vision that has more earthy, psychological overtones. The anonymous figures of workers or coal pickers toiling away in oppressive landscapes are never better realised than in the line of figures silhouetted against the dying light in Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne (1895-1910, below); the solitary figure caught in the rising dust on the side of the hill in Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne (1895-1910, below – enlarge the image to see the figure). The desolation of an industrial revolution mining town is also perfectly captured in Mining Landscape, The Chatelus Pit at Saint-Etienne (1907-1912, below).

All three images remind me of the epic film Germinal staring Gerard Depardieu, based on the novel of the same name by Émile Zola. I’m sure that Thiollier would have been familiar with the book, it being a sensation upon original publication (1885). The book may well have appealed to Thiollier because he was a wealthy man, an industrialist who had reinvented himself as a gentleman farmer, who finally leaves the picturesque behind to photograph, “atmospheric phenomena studies, the architectural and mineral landscape created by the hard work of men, and how the human figure related to this.” In all its hope and misery.

Thiollier becomes so much more than an amateur photographer. His impressions of a dark, hidden drama beating at the heart of industrial, fin de siècle France provided him with the opportunity to become a progenitor of modernism, “ten years before the photogenic nature of industrial sites would be elevated into a credo of photographic modernism.” (Fin de siècle has connotations of both the closing and onset of an era, as the end of the 19th century was felt to be a period of degeneration, but at the same time a period of hope for a new beginning).

Finally, despite his willingness to remain on the sidelines, Thiollier may well be getting the approbation he deserves.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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Émile Zola. 'Germinal' Title page of the 1885 edition

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Émile Zola
Germinal
Title page of the 1885 edition

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Emma Thiollier painting on top of one of the towers of Notre Dame, photographed by her father Félix Thiollier' 1907

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Emma Thiollier painting on top of one of the towers of Notre Dame, photographed by her father Félix Thiollier
1907

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Undergrowth in Forez' (Sous-bois en Forez) Nd

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Undergrowth in Forez (Sous-bois en Forez)
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© Félix Thiollier

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Autochrome-EnvironsStEtienne-1907-1912-WEB

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Around Saint-Etienne (Environs Saint-Etienne)
1907-1912
Autochrome

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Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875) 'Forest of Fontainebleau' 1834

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Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875)
Forest of Fontainebleau
1834
Oil on canvas
69 1/8 x 95 1/2 in. (175.6 x 242.6 cm)

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914). 'Figure contemplating the mountains of Menzenc (Emma Thiollier, daughter of the photographer)' 1895-1905

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Figure contemplant les monts du Menzenc (Emma Thiollier, fille du photographe)
Figure contemplating the mountains of Menzenc (Emma Thiollier, daughter of the photographer)

1895-1905
Collection Julien Laferrière
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN) / Patrice Schmidt

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Landscape with Figure, Forez (Loire)' c. 1880-1882

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Landscape with Figure, Forez (Loire)
c. 1880-1882
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 18.5; W. 22 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Gift of Mr and Mrs Noël Sénéclauze, 2007
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Landscape with Figure, Forez (Loire)' (detail) c. 1880-1882

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Landscape with Figure, Forez (Loire) (detail)
c. 1880-1882
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 18.5; W. 22 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Gift of Mr and Mrs Noël Sénéclauze, 2007
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)

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Francois-Auguste Ravier (1814-1895) 'Landscape with Setting Sun' Nd

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Francois-Auguste Ravier (1814-1895)
Landscape with Setting Sun
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Oil on canvas

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne' 1895-1910

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne
1895-1910
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 28; W. 39.5 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)

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Félix Thiollier

“Although the talent of photographer Félix Thiollier was still unrecognised twenty years ago, this is mainly because it never occurred to him to seek recognition as such. When, at the age of 35, he decided to live off his private income, this ribbon manufacturer from Saint-Étienne intended to devote himself to art and archaeology. But feeling restricted in his role as scholar of the local area, Thiollier very quickly started publishing illustrated books. This enterprise, intended to promote both the rich natural environment and cultural heritage of Forez and the work of his artist friends, seemed to take up most of his energy, when he was not otherwise involved with initiatives to protect the local heritage of Saint-Étienne or promote the culture of the area.

It was his activities in these two latter fields that brought him both regional and national recognition, and until recently his reputation was based on these activities alone. Today, his resolute determination to remain on the fringes of the photographic circles of his time seems consistent with Thiollier’s passion for this medium that he would practise continuously for over half a century. In addition to showing the rich variety of subjects that inspired him, this exhibition seeks to give the viewer an appreciation of the originality of an approach based wholly on an inexhaustible passion for the picturesque: guiding his photographical machine, this mechanics of looking would lead him from bucolic landcapes and scenes of rural life to sensitive images of an industrial environment largely ignored by the amateur photographers at the turn of the 20th century.

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“At an age when I deluded myself into believing that it was possible to combine the picturesque and archaeology…”

Thiollier’s intellectual and aesthetic background was typical of that section of the provincial elite in the 19th century who took a keen interest in art and archaeology, and had a great love of books. When, at the end of the 1850s, senior figures encouraged him to take photographs of notable sites and monuments in the Forez area, they already had a project in mind to produce a book about this ancient province which, celebrated by Honoré d’Urfé in L’Astrée (1607-1627), extended right across the department of the Loire into parts of the Haute-Loire and Puy-de-Dôme. They were all steeped in the Romantic tradition of the illustrated picturesque book, a tradition that would flourish in the second half of the century through many regional publications, like many local responses in this search for the identity of the regions of France. Illustrated with his early and more recent photographs, Thiollier’s Le Forez pittoresque et monumental, published in 1889, is one of the last and most outstanding examples of these.

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Perpetuating the rustic ideal

In leaving the town and his activities as an industrialist, Thiollier did not just move closer to the monuments and landscapes he had undertaken to describe. Having acquired two modest country estates - a hunting lodge near the ponds around Précivet, and the former commandery of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem at Verrières – he also reinvented himself as a gentleman farmer in the heart of this arcadian Forez countryside, which, in his view, was under threat. Heavily influenced by the example of the Barbizon artists whose paintings he collected along with those of his naturalist painter friends, he never tired of capturing the disappearing traces of traditional skills and ways of life with the eye of a painter. However, it required a certain poetic detachment for photographs to complete this grief. This was usually achieved with the loyal help of his daughter, who appeared in his photographs whenever he wanted to draw attention to the timeless nature of peasant genre scenes.

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“Stylistic Landscapes”

Although Thiollier had nursed an ambition to become a landscape photographer before he met Ravier in 1873, it is essential to recognise the influence of this painter from Morestel – who had been practising photography since the 1850s – in order to understand why Thiollier moved towards a more committed, if unrevealed, artistic approach to the medium. After many sessions spent “photographicking” together, their shared vision is expressed in the resulting images of autumnal and winter landscapes, which, devoid of any human presence, offer many light-filled variations on the handful of motifs chosen by the painter: still pools or the banks of streams, solitary outlines of dead trees, undergrowth and country paths, it is a complete repertoire of images of the Dauphiné region that stimulated Thiollier’s desire to extol the natural beauty of the Forez. Although he had to include riverscapes and mountain panoramas to reflect the true variety of this beautiful area, he almost always concentrate on the sky and studies of clouds, ideally enhanced by reflections playing on the still water.

The range of effects Thiollier developed, although intended in part to transpose the Post-Romantic lyricism which, in Ravier’s work, was conveyed through blazing colours and highly skilful brush- work, nonetheless indicates that his images of the countryside were produced with a perfect understanding of his medium. In pushing for a rapprochement with contemporary artistic photography, the main feature of his style was thus the expressiveness of the contrasts in values. It is this preference for representing nature in monochrome that partly explains his liking for snowscapes, and also prompted him to undertake almost systematic research into contre-jour, the most appropriate effect for both synthesizing his motifs and revealing the theatrical aspects of the landscape. Indeed, the all-revealing clarity of broad daylight was far less of an inspiration to Thiollier than the atmosphere of solitude and silence that came with the dusk. As he often noted in his descriptions, it was when the shadows were at their most dramatic that the countryside cast its strongest spell over him.

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Territories of intimacy

Alongside the search for effects that so often excited this landscape photographer, Thiollier’s solitary wanderings too were a source of more physical, more earthy themes that reveal a personal shift in the sensitive approach towards the territory. Although the traditional picturesque approach, which he had adopted until the 1880s, had been fuelled by Romanticism, it was also partly because it implied a way of considering the environment as a spectacle and thus relied heavily on the subjectivity of the first viewer that chose to depict it.

It was this look at the landscape that Thiollier now seems to stage, finding that this, far more than the self-portrait, offered him a way to incorporate himself into the landscape that he claimed as his own, and in doing so, into his work. Admittedly, the natural world he shows us is always uninhabited, but this makes it now all the better to fill with the presence of the photographer: the bleaker his selected locations, in relation to the accepted picturesque aesthetic, the more personal these choices turn out to be. Swept along by the rapid improvements in photographic techniques, the snap shot practitioner was freed from the pictorial tradition that restricted him to this side of Alberti’s “window”: his images are those of someone taking a stroll into the heart of the countryside, or more precisely, pausing at some point, seized by the desire to capture forever the emotion that had prompted him to set up his equipment right in the middle of the pathway, or, as often happened, in a quiet corner of his garden.

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The picturesque as developer: the photogeneity of the black city

Forty years after having made the first important choices of his life, learning photography at the same time when he renounced a career as a mine engineer, the former ribbon manufacturer discovered a photographic passion for Saint-Étienne, “a lively and animated city (…) to which the local industries brought a special picturesque character”. It was not easy to break away from a code of aesthetic appreciation, which, at a deeper level, was also a way of recognising the world.

The mines and factories in the cradle of the first French industrial revolution were, moreover, particularly appropriate subjects for what came to absorb him more than ever: atmospheric phenomena studies, the architectural and mineral landscape created by the hard work of men, and how the human figure related to this. It was as if the anonymous figures of workers or coal pickers had come just at the right moment, not only to enhance that “impression (…) of a sort of hidden drama” that best reveals the continuing influence of Ravier in his work, but also to fuel his inexhaustible desire for the picturesque. Besides, how could the poor people of this black town have concealed the exotic charm of their poverty from the lens of this bourgeois citizen who, in spite of himself, was still Thiollier?

Although Thiollier’s interest in photography gradually developed until eventually it became much more than the project to promote the natural and archaeological treasures of the area, it was perhaps because this industrialist turned gentleman farmer had realised intuitively that “machine art” (Delacroix) could be the way to resolve, in images, this tension between two worlds that lived side by side – the rural and traditional on one side and the industrial and contemporary on the other – and he belonged to both. The union of the picturesque and photography was sealed and could not be broken until his project as the editor of Le Forez pittoresque et monumental was completed, and this meant the aesthetic appropriation of the mental and identitarian territory of Forez as he saw it, reconciled with itself in the context of the “industrial image”. The choice of medium, precisely because Thiollier officially refused to give it any artistic legitimacy, would not however be made without consequences.

By admitting the creative superiority of the eye over the hand, the mechanised tool for reproducing images would gradually enable him to establish an independent vision, with a boldness that would burst into colour: ten years before the photogenic nature of industrial sites would be elevated into a credo of photographic modernism, his last images were extolling these new “worthless” locations that included scrapheaps, wasteland and abandoned pitheads, such were the ruins of modern Forez, that met his melancholy and clear-sighted gaze.”

Text from the Musée d’Orsay website

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) '4 am Roche-La-Moliere, Forez' c. 1870

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
4 am Roche-La-Moliere, Forez (4H du matin vers Roche-La-Moliere, Forez)
c. 1870

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne' 1895-1910

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne
1895-1910
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Decor for a fete or fair, Saint-Etienne' (Décor de fête ou de foire, Saint-Etienne) 1890-1910

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Decor for a fete or fair, Saint-Etienne (Décor de fête ou de foire, Saint-Etienne)
1890-1910
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Mining Landscape, The Chatelus Pit at Saint-Etienne' 1907-1912

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Mining Landscape, The Chatelus Pit at Saint-Etienne
1907-1912
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 28; W. 40 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)

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Francois-Auguste Ravier. 'A Marsh at Sunset' Nd

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Francois-Auguste Ravier (1814-1895)
A Marsh at Sunset
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Oil on canvas

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Boats on the Seine, Paris' 1903-1905

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Boats on the Seine, Paris (Bateaux sur la Seine, Paris)
1903-1905
Silver gelatin print
29.7 x 39.4 cm

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Shepherdess and Flock' 1890 - 1910

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Shepherdess and Flock
1890-1910
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 29.2; W. 38.4 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN) / Patrice Schmidt

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'The Verpilleux Coking Plant, near Saint-Etienne' 1895-1910

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
The Verpilleux Coking Plant, near Saint-Etienne
1895-1910
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 39.3; W. 29.9 cm
Paris, Julien-Laferrière collection
© Musée d’Orsay / Patrice Schmidt

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Landscape with Ruin' c. 1870

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Landscape with Ruin
c. 1870

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Biography

1842
Maurice Félix Thiollier is born in Saint-Étienne into a wealthy family of ribbon manufacturers who espouse the values of social Catholicism.

1847
The Thiollier family moves to Paris. A French priest, l’abbé Paul Lacuria, is engaged as a tutor for Félix’s older brothers.

1851-52
The Thiollier family returns to Saint-Étienne. Félix Thiollier goes to school at the Collège Saint-Thomas d’Acquin in Oullins near Lyon.

1858
Eligible to take the competitive entrance test for the École des Mines de Saint-Étienne, Félix Thiollier chooses to train at the ribbon factory. He takes up photography, and possibly receives technical advice at this time from Stéphane Geoffray, a photographer from Roanne.

1867
At the age of 25, he sets up his own ribbon factory in Saint-Étienne.

1869
Through the painter Henri Baron, his father’s cousin, he is offered a place in the studio of the painter Louis Français, which he turns down for family reasons.

1870
Marries Cécile Testenoire-Lafayette, daughter of Claude-Philippe Testenoire-Lafayette, a lawyer and local scholar from Saint-Étienne, and president of La Diana – the Historical and Archaeo-logical Society of Forez (1870-1879).

1873
Meets the Dauphinois painter Auguste Ravier and soon gives up hope of becoming a professional painter.

1879
Decides to live off his private income. Becomes a member of La Diana.

1881
Publication of the first book to be illustrated with his photographs, Le Poème de l’âmeby his friend the painter Louis Janmot.

1885
First exhibition of his photographs, presented in the great hall belonging to La Diana in Montbrison, on the occasion of the 52nd congress of the Société Française d’Archéologie. Becomes a member of this society, which awards him its silver medal.

1886
Publication of Château de la Bastie d’Urfé et ses seigneurs.

1889
Publication of Forez pittoresque et monumental. Receives a silver medal for his illustrated books at the universal exhibition in Paris.

1894
Becomes a non-resident member of the Committee for Historic and Scientific Works at the Ministry for Public Instruction.

1895
Receives the Légion d’Honneur for his work as a photographer.

1897
Receives the title of honorary curator of the Saint-Étienne Museum of Art and Industry.

1900
Receives another silver medal for his illustrated books at the universal exhibition in Paris.

1902
Publication of L’Histoire de Saint-Etienne by Claude-Philippe Testenoire Lafayette, illustrated with photographs by Félix Thiollier.

1914
Death of Félix Thiollier on 12 May at Saint-Étienne.

1917
Publication of his biography by Sébastien Mulsant.

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Musée d’Orsay
62, rue de Lille
75343 Paris Cedex 07
France

Opening hours:
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9.30 am – 9.45 pm on Thursdays
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02
Oct
12

Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Picturing the Landscape’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 22nd May – 7th October 2012

Curator: Brett Abbott

 

 

 

Francis Frith (English, 1822-1898)
The Pyramids of Dahshoor, From the East
1857
Albumen silver print
11.6 x 16.2cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

“Hence the photographer’s most important and likewise most difficult task is not learning to manage his camera, or to develop, or to print. It is learning to see photographically.”

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Edward Weston. The Complete Photographer. January 20, 1943

 

 

Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Sir John Frederick William Herschel (British, 1792-1871) 'Valley of the Saltina near Brieg at Entrance of the Simplon' 1821

 

Sir John Frederick William Herschel (British, 1792-1871)
Valley of the Saltina near Brieg at Entrance of the Simplon
1821
Graphite drawing made with the aid of a camera lucida
19.7 × 29.7cm (7 3/4 × 11 11/16 in.)
Gift of the Graham and Susan Nash Collection
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

John Beasly Greene
 (American, 1832-1856)
Thebes, Village of Ghezireh
1853-1854
Salted paper print from a waxed paper negative
9 1/8 x 12 inches
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

John Greene was an archaeologist, the well-to-do son of a banker from Boston who lived in Paris, and a photographer. By 1853 the twenty-one-year-old Greene had learned to use Le Gray’s waxed-paper process, the technique of choice for traveling Frenchmen. That same year he made the first of two expeditions to Egypt and Nubia, bringing back more than two hundred negatives of monuments and landscapes, some ninety-four of which, printed by Blanquart-Evrard in 1854, comprise the album “Le Nil, monuments, paysages, explorations photographiques par J. B. Greene.” So rare are these albums that we assume that Greene published them at his own expense. On his second trip, in 1854-55, he not only photographed but also excavated, especially at Medinet-Habou. During an archaeological and photographic expedition to Algeria the following winter, this exceptionally talented young man died of an undisclosed illness.

Greene’s Egyptian landscapes are startlingly barren. Coalescing from large, softly nuanced tonal planes, the views seem to shimmer above the page almost to the point of evaporating, like distant desert mirages. Generally, Greene placed the geological or archeological structure of these pictures at a distance, surrounded by sand and sky. This, the most minimal of his visions, sums up the Egyptian landscape. Stretching between the great river and the endless expanse of sky, and between the great river and the desert, is a thin band of fertile earth – the ligament of life that gave rise to a great civilisation. That the picture functions like a diagram may owe to Greene’s knowledge of hieroglyphics; the Egyptian pictograph for “country” is a flat, floating disk, hardly more than a horizontal line.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Dr Samuel A. Bemis (American, 1793-1881) 'View within Crawford Notch, New Hampshire' c. 1840

 

Dr Samuel A. Bemis (American, 1793-1881)
View within Crawford Notch, New Hampshire
c. 1840
Daguerreotype
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Boston dentist Samuel Bemis, one of the first Americans to use a daguerreotype outfit successfully, practiced photography during his summer months in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. His landscape views of the area are the earliest surviving American photographs to depict untamed nature. Here he depicts a scene of rugged beauty.

An innovative amateur, Bemis was not a masterful technician of the complicated daguerreotype process. The dark tone of the sky and the light areas along the slope of the mountain indicate inadequate processing of the daguerreotype plate.

 

Charles Marville (French, 1813-1879) 'Fontainebleau' 1854

 

Charles Marville (French, 1813-1879)
Fontainebleau
1854
Salted paper print
15.9 × 21.3 cm (6 1/4 × 8 3/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Francis Frith (English, 1822-1898) 'The Pyramids of Dashour' 1856-1857

 

Francis Frith (English, 1822-1898)
The Pyramids of Dashour
1856-1857
Albumen silver print
6.8 × 6.5cm (2 11/16 × 2 9/16 in.)
Gift of Weston J. and Mary M. Naef
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Francis Frith (English, 1822-1898) 'The Pyramids of Dahshoor, From the East' 1857

 

Francis Frith (English, 1822-1898)
The Pyramids of Dahshoor, From the East
1857
Albumen silver print
37.6 × 48.4 cm (14 13/16 × 19 1/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Sugar Pine Cones
Negative 1925-1930; print 1931-1932
Gelatin silver print
11.6 x 16.2cm
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Kelp on Tide Pool, Point Lobos
1939
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Rather than depicting a traditionally picturesque vista or capturing accurate perspective, photographers of the 20th century began to explore the various but particularly photographic ways that the natural world could be seen through the camera lens. Often this led to spatial experimentation. Taken at Point Lobos in California, this image by Edward Weston plays with the perception, and misperception, of space. The photographer cropped his photograph of a tide pool to show kelp puncturing the water’s surface in the foreground, while in the upper register an underwater landscape appears simultaneously near and far.

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) [Detroit] 1941

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
[Detroit]
1941
Gelatin silver print
8.1 × 11.4cm (3 3/16 × 4 1/2 in.)
© Estate of Harry Callahan
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Callahan referred to this photograph, made shortly after an inspiring encounter with Ansel Adams, as “my first good picture.” Unlike Adams’s dramatic landscapes, Callahan’s composition focuses on an overlooked pedestrian setting in his native Detroit. Raising the horizon line, the artist achieved a delicate, calligraphic interplay among the reeds and telephone poles and their reflections across the surface of a bog.

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Point Lobos Tide Pool' 1957

 

Wyn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Point Lobos Tide Pool
1957
Gelatin silver print
19.1 × 24.1cm (7 1/2 × 9 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Bullock Family Photography LLC. All rights reserved

 

 

In Focus: Picturing Landscape, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, May 22 – October 7, 2012, offers a rich trove of landscape photography from some of the most innovative photographers in the genre. Drawn exclusively from the Getty Museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition brings together the work of twenty photographers, spanning the medium from the mid-1800s to the current decade, including Ansel Adams, Robert Adams, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Imogen Cunningham, William Garnett, John Beasly Greene, Eliot Porter, Clifford Ross, Toshio Shibata and Edward Weston.

“The range of photographs chosen for this exhibition were selected from hundreds of extraordinary landscape works in the Getty Museum’s photography collection with an eye towards the various ways that photographers have responded to the daunting challenge of depicting the natural landscape photographically,” says Karen Hellman, assistant curator, Department of Photographs, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and curator of the exhibition.

Since the invention of the medium, photographers have turned to the landscape as a source of inspiration. Changing artistic movements and continual technical advancements have provided opportunities for camera artists to approach the subject in diverse and imaginative ways. The Getty originally presented In Focus: The Landscape in June 2008, curated by Brett Abbott. Expanding on the first presentation of photographs, this second exhibition on landscape in the Getty Museum’s In Focus series examines how photographers have sought to capture the breadth and perspective of the landscape through a camera lens. The exhibition is organised around three main themes: nineteenth-century technical developments by photographers such as Francis Frith who captured intriguing views of the Egyptian Pyramids in the 1850s; works that show purely photographic approaches such as those by Edward Weston and Harry Callahan; and more recent ways in which photographers have framed the landscape to make environmental and conceptual statements.

One of the earliest works in the exhibition is actually not a photograph but a drawing made by Sir John Frederick Herschel in 1821 with the aid of a camera lucida, an optical device sometimes used as a drawing aid by artists of the period. The exhibition also includes a very early full-plate daguerreotype of a landscape made by Boston dentist Samuel Bemis in 1840. During the first decades of the 20th century, artistic experimentation flourished and tested the boundaries of the genre. Photographers such as Edward Weston and Harry Callahan sought to explore the landscape as abstraction and pure form. In the second half of the 20th century, photographers began to explore the landscape in more socially conscious ways. Eliot Porter devoted himself to publishing work in concert with conservation efforts. Virginia Beahan has delved into the landscape as a site of human history, rather than simply a subject of aesthetic contemplation.

Contemporary artists continue to be inspired by the rich tradition of landscape photography. Also included in the exhibition is a large-scale photograph by Clifford Ross from his 2006 Mountain series, produced from extremely high-resolution digital files in order to make prints that came as close as possible to replicating reality. Several works will be on view for the first time, including a photograph taken in the forest of Fontainebleau, outside of Paris, by Charles Marville in the 1850s, and a photograph from Point Lobos, California, by Wynn Bullock, as well as a work by the Japanese photographer Toshio Shibata acquired with funds from the Getty Museum Photographs Council.

In Focus: Picturing Landscape is the eleventh installation of the ongoing In Focus series of thematic presentations of photographs from the Getty’s permanent collection, and includes twenty-two works by twenty photographers.

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Toshio Shibata (Japanese, b. 1949) 'Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture' 1989

 

Toshio Shibata (Japanese, b. 1949)
Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture
1989
Gelatin silver print
44.5 × 55.5cm (17 1/2 × 21 7/8 in.)
© Toshio Shibata
Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council

 

Virginia Beahan (American, b. 1946) and Laura McPhee (American, b. 1958) 'Apple Orchard, Manzanar Japanese-American Relocation Camp, Owens Valley, California' 1995

 

Virginia Beahan (American, b. 1946) and Laura McPhee (American, b. 1958)
Apple Orchard, Manzanar Japanese-American Relocation Camp, Owens Valley, California
1995
Chromogenic print
75.3 × 95.3cm (29 5/8 × 37 1/2 in.)
© Virginia Beahan and Laura McPhee
Gift of Nancy and Bruce Berman

 

 

Here Beahan and McPhee delve into the landscape as a site of human history and conflict. With the High Sierra as a backdrop, rusty remnants of the Manzanar relocation camp, used to detain Japanese Americans during World War II, occupy the foreground. In the middle ground stand the desiccated trunks of an orchard, part of an 1860s settlement that was abandoned after the land’s water was diverted in the 1920s to irrigate Los Angeles. The orchard, in turn, had uprooted a community of Paiute Indians, who had lived there for generations.

 

Virginia Beahan (American, born 1946) and Laura McPhee (American, born 1958) 'Mount Rainier, Washington' 2000

 

Virginia Beahan (American, b. 1946) and Laura McPhee (American, b. 1958)
Mount Rainier, Washington
2000
Chromogenic dye coupler print
75.5 x 96.5cm
© Virginia Beahan and Laura McPhee
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Nancy Goliger and Bruce Berman

 

William A. Garnett (American, 1916-2006) 'Sandbars, Cape Cod, Massachusetts' 1966

 

William A. Garnett (American, 1916-2006)
Sandbars, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
1966
Cibachrome print
34.4 x 51cm
© Estate of William A. Garnett
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Nature and photography have been linked since the inception of the medium. Whether driven by the challenge of capturing the expanse and perspective of a vista or by the myriad possibilities of creating a unique artistic experience, the act of depicting the natural landscape has inspired photographers from the 1800s to the present.

To create this image, photographer William Garnett piloted his plane over sand bars in Cape Cod. In addition to the natural beauty of the ocean, the photographer invites us to explore space and perception in a unique way. The undulating forms of the sandbars play with the boundaries between foreground and background. Changing tones of blue challenge us to know if we look at water, sky, or even a view from outer space.

 

Clifford Ross. 'Mountain IV' 2004

 

Clifford Ross
Mountain IV
2004
Chromogenic colour print
63 x 118 in
© Clifford Ross Studio
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

A persistent aspect of picturing a landscape has been the concept of the ideal. Recent photographers have framed nature not only to emphasize its beauty but also to highlight its unattainability in a modern context.

Photographer Clifford Ross was inspired to create this image of Mount Sopris while on a family holiday. In order to, as the photographer put it, “grab as much of the mountain as [he] possibly could in one shot,” Ross invented a camera, the R1, which exposes 9 x 18 inch aerial film. When processed by hand and scanned, the negatives produce files with a hundred times higher resolution than those made with the average professional digital camera. Yet even though he pursues a near replica of reality, Ross also manipulates the digital file to re-create the landscape as he remembers experiencing it. Viewers have the ability to examine the scene in greater detail than they might even in person.

 

Eliot Porter (American, 1901-1990) 'Aspens and Grass, Elk Mountain Road, New Mexico, October 3, 1972' 1972

 

Eliot Porter (American, 1901-1990)
Aspens and Grass, Elk Mountain Road, New Mexico, October 3, 1972
1972
Dye transfer print
26.2 x 20.6cm
© 1990 Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Bequest of the artist
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

 

The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5.30pm
Saturday 10am – 9pm
Sunday 10am – 9pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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