Posts Tagged ‘Girl with mirror

04
Jan
18

Exhibition: ‘Clarence H. White and His World: The Art and Craft of Photography, 1895-1925’ at the Princeton University Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 7th October 2017 – 7th January 2018

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'The Bubble' 1898, printed 1905

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
The Bubble
1898, printed 1905
Platinum print
24.2 x 19.3 cm. (9 1/2 x 7 5/8 in.)
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1933
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

A sense of the beyond

I have waited over nine years to be able to do a posting on this artist. This is the first retrospective of Clarence H. White’s photographs in a generation… and my first posting for 2018. What a beauty the posting is, and what beauty is contained within, his photographs.

White was born in Newark, Ohio (see map below) in 1871. Just to put that into perspective, of the big three Alfred Stieglitz was born in 1871, Edward Steichen in 1879 and Paul Strand in 1890. Soon after marrying his wife in 1893 White took up photography, applying some of his artistic vision, developed earlier through filling sketchbooks with pencil sketches, pen-and-ink drawings and watercolours, to the craft of photography. “He learned how to use light, or the lack of it, to draw attention to his subject. He also learned how to visualise his subjects in his mind.” He was completely self-taught, “in part because he had no money to pay for training or courses at the time when he was developing his own vision in the medium. Many of his friends, students and biographers believe his lack of any formal training was one of his greatest strengths… It is important to note that at that time there were no formal schools of photography in the U.S. or even acknowledged leaders with whom White might have studied.”1

In 1895, he exhibited his first photos in public, at the Camera Club of Fostoria, Ohio, and by 1898 he had met Fred Holland Day and Alfred Stieglitz. His star continued to rise, White having solo exhibitions in 1899 at the Camera Club of New York and at the Boston Camera Club, and he also exhibited in the London Photographic Salon organised by The Linked Ring. In 1900 White was elected to membership in The Linked Ring and in 1901 White and 10 others to become “charter members” of the Photo-Secession, a group founded by Alfred Stieglitz to promote pictorialism and fine art photography. Due to financial constraints during this time, White was only able to create about 8 photographs each month, and he had to photograph either very early in the morning, after he finished work as a bookkeeper, or at the weekend. Some of his most memorable images were created at this time, before his move to New York in 1906. As Cathleen A. Branciaroli and William Inness Homer observe in “The Artistry of Clarence H. White”, “White is most significant in the history of photography because, in his early years, he redefined the nature of picture-making, creating a distinctly modern idiom for his own time…. He reduced his compositions to very simple elements of form, and by experimenting with principles of design derived largely from Whistler and Japanese prints, he created a personal style that was unique for photography.”2

If the photograph consumes light, then Clarence H. White was consumed by photography. Informed by the widespread Japonisme of the period, especially ukiyo-e prints (the term ukiyo-e translates as “picture[s] of the floating world”) with their flat perspective, unmodulated colours and outlined forms – his photographs “sought to capture either the geometry of perceived pattern or the gorgeous effect of shimmering light… qualities of image that the camera, conjoining realism and poetic perception, could render with compelling effect.”3 We now group these kind of photographs under the label “pictorialism,” soft-focus photographs that were more than purely representational, that project “an emotional intent into the viewer’s realm of imagination.”4 Here, an “atmosphere” (formulated, created, conceptualised, captured) is the key to conveying an expressive mood and an emotional response to the viewer “through an emphasis on the atmospheric elements in the picture and by the use of “vague shapes and subdued tonalities … [to convey] a sense of elegiac melancholy.””5

After his move to New York in 1906, White and Stieglitz “jointly created a series of photographs of two models, Mabel Cramer and another known only as Miss Thompson,” in 1907. This was the only time that Stieglitz ever worked with another photographer. “In 1908 Stieglitz continued to show his admiration for White by devoting an entire issue of Camera Work to him and 16 of his photographs. It was only the third time Stieglitz had singled out an individual photographer for this honor (the others were Steichen and Coburn).”6 In 1910, White set up the Seguinland School of Photography, the first independent school of photography in America, while in 1912 he had a terminal falling out with the excessive ego of Stieglitz. “First Käsebier, then White and finally Steichen broke off their relationship with Stieglitz, each citing Stieglitz’s overbearing ego, his refusal to consider other’s viewpoints and his repeated actions on behalf of the Photo-Secession without consulting any of the so-called “members” of the group.”7

Encouraged by his newfound freedom to act outside of the shadow of Stieglitz, White founded the Clarence H. White School of Photography in 1914… an influential school which, over the next decade, “attracted many students who went on to become notable photographers, including Margaret Bourke-White, Anton Bruehl, Dorothea LangePaul OuterbridgeLaura GilpinRalph SteinerKarl StrussMargaret Watkins and Doris Ulmann.”8 In his class “The Art of Photography” White stressed that the primary thing his students had to learn was “the capacity to see.” White became one of the most important teachers of photography of the age. White died suddenly of a heart attack while on a trip to Mexico with students to take his first photographs in years. He was 54 years old.

After Alfred Stieglitz died in 1946 numerous photographs by White were found in his personal collection. Despite their differences, it is obvious that Stieglitz held White in very high regard, “one of the very few who understand what the Photo-Session means & is.”9 “Although White and Stieglitz had tried to reconcile their differences before White died, Stieglitz never forgave White for breaking from him in 1912. Upon hearing about White’s untimely death, Stieglitz wrote to Kuehn, “Poor White. Cares and vexation. When I last saw him he told me he was not able to cope with [life as well as he was] twenty years ago. I reminded him that I warned him to stay in business in Ohio – New York would be too much for him. But the Photo-Session beckoned. Vanity and ambitions. His photography went to the devil.” In spite of these words, Stieglitz had 49 of White’s photographs, including 18 created jointly with Stieglitz, in his personal collection when he died.”10

There is something undeniable in what Stieglitz says. White’s greatest photographs emerge from the Stygian dusk, a dash of melancholy, a lot of beauty, mostly before he moved to New York. It says a lot that Stieglitz still thought that much of him as an artist, a man, and as an emasculated friend, that he kept nearly 50 of his photographs in his personal collection until he died. Stieglitz knew the nature of [his] genius.

 

The value of self-expression and direct engagement with experience

Clarence H. White’s artistic achievements may have been overshadowed by the likes of Stieglitz, Steichen and Strand’s later modernist photographs, but there is no doubt in my mind that he is a colossus, a monster in the history of art photography. Simply put, there is no one else like him in the history of photography, for you can always recognise the “signature” of a White photograph.

Peter Bunnell notes, “[White] celebrated elemental things, the time spent playing in the fields or woods, the simple pleasure of unhurried living, the playing of games in interior spaces…. White, growing up within an extended family, knowing nothing else, had no real sense of other societies and his pictures thus had a kind of fortification against the outside. They were his private epic.”12 His private epic was a personal mythology which expressed his personality and distinctive sentiments through his photographs of imagined worlds. This is the critical thing that makes him so different from other photographers of the period: he was beholden to no movement, no school, teacher or narrative – but only to himself. In his best photographs it was this private world writ large in light that made him famous.

His “masterful reinterpretation of the possibilities of light and the photographic medium done with artistic intent”11 allowed him to develop this personal mythology. White learned how to visualise his subjects in his imagination, before rendering them by drawing in light. His unique prints, made in a variety of processes (platinum, gum-platinum, palladium, gum-palladium, gum, glycerin developed platinum, cyanotype and hand-coated platinum) with the same image sometimes printed using different processes,13 celebrate “pure photography”, a cerebral, ethereal emanation of pure light and form. They seem not of this earth. Indeed, I would argue that White steps outside strict pictorialism into this “other”, private realm.

There may be, as Peter Bunnell suggests, a luminosity of tone in his prints rarely achieved in the history of photography, but there was also a luminosity in his thinking, in the way he approaches the medium itself. I look at the photograph The Deluge (c. 1902-03, below) and I think of William Blake. I look at the three versions of the photograph Spring – A Triptych [Letitia Felix] (1898, below) and observe how each iteration is different (in colour, tone and inflection), but how they are just as valid as each other. There are personal, domestic quotidian scenes (Blindmans’ Bluff, 1898 or Mother was living in the old home alone, 1902); mythic scenes, such as the glorious photograph The Bubble (1898, above) where the figure seems to hover above the ground (“pictures of the floating world”); and early Modernist inclinations such as Drops of Rain (1903, below) and Newport the Maligned (1907, below). But above all, there is the light which shines from within.

Further, his was a whole art aligned perhaps subconsciously, perhaps not, to that German Art Nouveau movement named after the Munich periodical Die Jugend (‘Youth’) – Jugendstijl. “A decorative art with the mid-century idea of the gesamtkunstwerk; the ‘total work of art’ applied in Wagner’s opera and in Dülfer’s architecture, Jugendstil before 1900 favoured floral motifs and ukiyo-e prints of Japanese art.” Evidence of this ‘total work of art’ (an expression of folk legend as universal humanist fable), can be seen in the few Pictorialist works from the late 1890s that survive in their original exhibition frames (see below). The plain dark wood frames with their curved tops serve to further isolate and flatten the pictorial space of the photograph; the dark colour of the wood pushing against the luminosity, line, form and reddish brown colour of the prints. The last version of Spring – A Triptych [Letitia Felix] (1898, below) is particularly illuminating in this respect, the dark wood framing the individual panels fragmenting the field upon which the young woman stands, so that we are no longer in a fairytale landscape (as in the first iteration) but surrounded by writhing tree trunks of sombre hue with a ghost-like presence walking amongst them. And then we see how these photographs were originally exhibited!

In Display of Clarence H. White photographs in Newark Camera Club exhibition, Young Men’s Christian Association building, Newark, Ohio, 1899 (below) we observe, we are witness to, a flow of energy from one side of the wall to the other – none of this staid singular hanging “on the line” – but a dynamic narrative that moves the viewer both physically and mentally. How wondrous is this display! An then in William Herman Rau’s photograph Untitled [Clarence H. White works in Second Philadelphia Photographic Salon installation (1899, below) we see a networked display, almost a cross-like shape, with portraits surrounding what looks like a central landscape image (although it is difficult to make out exactly what the image is). This is an almost contemporary sequencing of photographic work, still used by the likes of Annette Messager today… a perfect example of gesamtkunstwerk, where White has fully understood concept, narrative, form, function, the physicality of the photograph, it’s frame, and the context and environment of the image display.

To me, the early prints of Clarence H. White give the sense that he has found a metaphor, but he is not sure what that metaphor relates to: a cosmology? / man creating something of wonder (when viewed with imagination)?

He is still working it out… and then he goes to New York.
Does it matter that he didn’t find the answer? A thing that is done as a reaction to a situation.
Not at all. It’s the journey that matters.

The sense of ethereal beauty and the beyond that he captured on his glass plates are enough to make him a genius in my eyes. “Images arising from dreams are the well spring of all our efforts to give enduring form and meaning to the urgencies within,” states Douglas Fowler.14 White’s oneiric photographs, and our prior experiences with dreaming and imagination, help to create a sense of oneness with his photographs. Ultimately, his private epic, his personal mythology brought these aspects of art into photography.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Princeton University Art Museum for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the art work for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. Anonymous. “Clarence Hudson White,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2018
  2. Cathleen A. Branciaroli and William Inness Homer. “The Artistry of Clarence H. White,” in Homer, William Innes (ed.). Symbolism of Light: The Photographs of Clarence H. White. Wilmington, DE: Delaware Art Museum, 1977, p. 34
  3. Richard K. Kent. “Early Twentieth-Century Art Photography in China: Adopting, Domesticating, and Embracing the Foreign,” in Local Culture/Global Photography, Trans Asia Photography Review Vol. 3, Issue 2, Spring 2013 [Online] Cited 02/01/2018
  4. Pictorialism is the name given to an international style and aesthetic movement that dominated photography during the later 19th and early 20th centuries. There is no standard definition of the term, but in general it refers to a style in which the photographer has somehow manipulated what would otherwise be a straightforward photograph as a means of “creating” an image rather than simply recording it. Typically, a pictorial photograph appears to lack a sharp focus (some more so than others), is printed in one or more colours other than black-and-white (ranging from warm brown to deep blue) and may have visible brush strokes or other manipulation of the surface. For the pictorialist, a photograph, like a painting, drawing or engraving, was a way of projecting an emotional intent into the viewer’s realm of imagination.”
    Anonymous. “Pictorialism,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2018
  5. Naomi Rosenblum. A World History of Photography. New York: Abbeville Press, 1989, p. 297 quoted in Anonymous. “Pictorialism,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2018
  6. Anonymous. “Clarence Hudson White,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2018
  7. Maynard Pressley White Jr. Clarence H. White: A Personal Portrait. Wilmington, Delaware: University of Delaware, PhD dissertation, 1975 quoted in Anonymous. “Clarence Hudson White,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2018
  8. Lucinda Barnes (ed.) with Constance W. Glenn and Jane L. Bledsoe. A Collective Vision: Clarence H. White and His Students. Long Beach, CA: University Art Museum, 1985 in Anonymous. “Clarence Hudson White,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2018
  9. Maynard Pressley White Jr. Clarence H. White: A Personal Portrait. Wilmington, Delaware: University of Delaware, PhD dissertation, 1975, p. 175 quoted in Anonymous. “Clarence Hudson White,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2018
  10. Weston J. Naef. The Collection of Alfred Stieglitz, Fifty Pioneers of Modern Photography. NY: Viking Press, 1978, pp. 482-493 quoted in Anonymous. “Clarence Hudson White,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2018
  11. Peter Bunnell. Clarence H. White: The Reverence for Beauty. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Gallery of Fine Arts, 1986, p. 17 quoted in Anonymous. “Clarence Hudson White,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2018
  12. Anonymous. “A Reevaluation: Clarence H. White,” on the Photoseed blog [Online] Cited 02/01/2018
  13. “White sometimes printed the same image using different processes, and as a result there are significant variations in how some of his prints appear. His platinum prints have a deep magenta-brown tone, for example, whereas his gum prints have a distinct reddish hue. Photogravures of his images in Camera Work, which he considered to be true prints, were more neutral, tending toward warm black-and-white tones.”
    Maynard Pressley White Jr. Clarence H. White: A Personal Portrait. Wilmington, Delaware: University of Delaware, PhD dissertation, 1975, p. 68 quoted in Anonymous. “Clarence Hudson White,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2018
  14. Douglas Fowler. The Kingdom of Dreams in Literature and Film: Selected Papers from the Tenth Annual Florida State University Conference on Literature and Film. Tallahassee: University Presses of Florida, 1986, p. 10 quoted in Anonymous. “Oneiric (film theory),” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 03/01/2018

 

 

Newark, Ohio

 

Newark, Ohio – where Clarence H. White was born and taught himself photography

 

 

 

Anne McCauley, curator of the exhibition and David Hunter McAlpin Professor of the History of Photography and Modern Art, explores the legacy of one of the early twentieth century’s most gifted photographers and influential teachers. Program took place on Saturday, October 14, 2017.

 

 

 

Collaboration with Yale Reveals Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century Photographic Processes

Preparations for the first retrospective exhibition in a generation of pioneer photographer Clarence Hudson White (1871-1925) have inspired an unexpected collaboration between the Princeton University Art Museum and the Yale Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage. Immersed in the real-life setting of the Princeton University Art Museum, the project drew students, researchers, and curators from across two universities and from numerous disciplines to analyse the experimental techniques that took place during the “Pictorialism” period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

 

Display of Clarence H. White photographs in Newark Camera Club exhibition, Young Men's Christian Association building, Newark, Ohio, 1899

 

Unknown photographer
Display of Clarence H. White photographs in Newark Camera Club exhibition, Young Men’s Christian Association building, Newark, Ohio, 1899
1899

 

Unknown photographer. 'Jury of the Second Philadelphia Photographic Salon' 1899

 

Unknown photographer
Jury of the Second Philadelphia Photographic Salon
1899
Photograph shows, from left: Frances Benjamin Johnston, Clarence H. White, F. Holland Day, Gertrude Käsebier, and Henry Troth

 

William Herman Rau (1855-1920) 'Untitled [Clarence H. White works in Second Philadelphia Photographic Salon installation]' 1899

 

William Herman Rau (1855-1920)
Untitled [Clarence H. White works in Second Philadelphia Photographic Salon installation]
1899

Photograph shows a wall installation of photographs by Clarence H. White at the second exhibition of the Philadelphia Photographic Salon; according to the catalog for the exhibition, the works shown are “Fear”, “Morning”, “A Puritan”, “The Bubble”, “Lady in Black”, “Evening : An Interior”, “On the Old Stair”, “At the Old Canal Lock”, and “Lady with the Venus.” Also includes a portrait, presumably of White, half-length, facing right.

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'A Rift in the Clouds' 1896

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
A Rift in the Clouds
1896
Platinum print
Image (window): 10.3 x 13.9 cm (4 1/16 x 5 1/2 in.)
Frame: 28.6 × 36.2 cm (11 1/4 × 14 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'A Rift in the Clouds' 1896

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
A Rift in the Clouds
1896
Platinum print
Image (window): 10.3 x 13.9 cm (4 1/16 x 5 1/2 in.)
Frame: 28.6 × 36.2 cm (11 1/4 × 14 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

 

White was completely self-taught throughout his career, in part because he had no money to pay for training or courses at the time when he was developing his own vision in the medium. Many of his friends, students and biographers believe his lack of any formal training was one of his greatest strengths. When a one-man exhibition of his work was held in Newark in 1899, fellow Newark photographer Ema Spencer wrote, “He has been remote from artistic influences and is absolutely untrained in the art of the schools. In consequence, traditional lines have unconsciously been ignored and he has followed his own personal bent because he has been impelled by that elusive and inscrutable force commonly known as genius.” It is also important to note that at that time there were no formal schools of photography in the U.S. or even acknowledged leaders with whom White might have studied. The most common way a new photographer learned the trade was by working with an experienced photographer, and, other than a few portraitists, there was no one to learn from in Newark.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'The Girl with the Violin' 1897

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
The Girl with the Violin
1897
Platinum print with gouache in original frame
Image: 14.7 x 14 cm (5 13/16 x 5 1/2 in.)
Frame: 22.9 x 22.4 cm (9 x 8 13/16 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'The Deluge' c. 1902-03 Gum bichro

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
The Deluge
c. 1902-03
Gum bichromate print
Image (arched top): 20.2 x 16.2 cm (7 15/16 x 6 3/8 in.)
Frame: 43.8 × 36.2 × 3.2 cm (17 1/4 × 14 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Just a Line' 1897

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Just a Line
1897
Platinum print in original frame
Image: 19.2 x 13.3 cm (7 9/16 x 5 1/4 in.)
Frame: 28.8 x 22.9 cm (11 5/16 x 9 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Climbing the Hill' 1897

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Climbing the Hill
1897
Platinum print with gouache in original frame
Image: 20 x 16 cm (7 7/8 x 6 5/16 in.)
Frame: 34.5 x 30.5 cm (13 9/16 x 12 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'At the Window' 1896, printed 1897

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
At the Window
1896, printed 1897
Platinum print in original frame
Image: 20.4 x 14.2 cm (8 1/16 x 5 9/16 in.)
Frame: 29.8 x 22.9 cm (11 3/4 x 9 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

 

“These photographs [above] are among the few Pictorialist works from the late 1890s that survive in their original exhibition frames.”

(Wall text from the exhibition)

 

Gertrude L. Brown (approximately 1870-1934) 'Clarence H. White (seated center), Gertrude Käsebier (seated right), and students, Summer School of Photography, Five Islands, Maine' c. 1913

 

Gertrude L. Brown (approximately 1870-1934)
Clarence H. White (seated center), Gertrude Käsebier (seated right), and students, Summer School of Photography, Five Islands, Maine
c. 1913
Clarence H. White School of Photography

 

 

“My photographs were less sharp than others and I do not think it was because of the lens so much as the conditions under which the photographs were made – never in the studio, always in the home or in the open, and when out of doors at a time of day very rarely selected for photography.”

.
Clarence H. White

 

“I think that if I were asked to name the most subtle and refined master photography has produced, that I would name him… To be a true artist in photography one must also be an artist in life, and Clarence H. White was such an artist.”

.
Alvin Langdon Coburn

 

“What he brought to photography was an extraordinary sense of light. ‘The Orchard’ is bathed in light. ‘The Edge of the Woods’ is a tour de force of the absence of light.”

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Beaumont Newhall

 

“Clarence White’s poetic vision and sensitive intuition produced images that insinuate themselves deeply into one’s consciousness.”

.
Edward Steichen

 

“[White] celebrated elemental things, the time spent playing in the fields or woods, the simple pleasure of unhurried living, the playing of games in interior spaces…. White, growing up within an extended family, knowing nothing else, had no real sense of other societies and his pictures thus had a kind of fortification against the outside. They were his private epic.”

“The qualities that make White’s photographs memorable have to do with both form and content. In his finest pictures the disposition of every element, of each line and shape, is elevated to an expressive intensity few photographers managed to attain. … White was able to transform the sensory perception of light into an exposition of the most fundamental aspect of photography – the literal materialisation of form through light itself. His prints, mostly in the platinum medium, display a richness, a subtlety, and a luminosity of tone rarely achieved in the history of photography.”

.
Peter Bunnell

 

 

Innovative American Photographer Clarence H. White Receives First Retrospective in a Generation

The vision and legacy of photographer Clarence H. White (1871-1925), a leader in the early twentieth-century effort to position photography as an art, will be the focus of a major traveling exhibition organised by the Princeton University Art Museum. The first retrospective devoted to the photographer in over a generation, Clarence H. White and His World: The Art and Craft of Photography, 1895-1925 will survey White’s career from his beginnings in 1895 in Ohio to his death in Mexico in 1925.

On view at the Princeton University Art Museum from October 7, 2017, through January 7, 2018, the exhibition will draw on the Clarence H. White Collection at the Museum and the deep holdings at the Library of Congress as well as loans from other public and private collections. Clarence H. White and His World reasserts White’s place in the American canon and, in the process, reshapes and expands our understanding of early twentieth-century American photography.

White’s career spans the radical shifts in photographic styles and status from the Kodak era of the 1890s; the corresponding fight for art photography primarily associated with his friend and fellow photographer Alfred Stieglitz; and the postwar rise of advertising and fashion photography. While living in a small town in Ohio, White received international recognition for his beautiful scenes of quiet domesticity and his sensitivity to harmonious, two-dimensional composition. With his move to New York in 1906, he became renowned as a teacher, first at Teachers College with Arthur Wesley Dow, then in the summer school he established in Maine, and finally with the Clarence H. White School of Photography, founded in 1914. Among his students were some of the most influential artistic and commercial photographers of the early twentieth century: Laura Gilpin, Doris Ulmann, Paul Outerbridge, Ralph Steiner, Margaret Watkins, Dorothea Lange, Karl Struss, Anton Bruehl and hundreds more who did not become professional photographers but were shaped by White’s belief that art could enrich the lives of everyday Americans.

“The goal of the exhibition is to locate White’s own diverse and rich body of work within a period of great social and aesthetic change, from the Gilded Age to the Roaring Twenties,” said Anne McCauley, exhibition curator and David Hunter McAlpin Professor of the History of Photography and Modern Art at Princeton. “Far from staying stuck in the nineteenth century, White embraced new media like cinema and new commercial uses for photography, including fashion and advertising.”

The exhibition will feature photographs by White’s fellow Photo-Secessionists and his students as well as a selection of paintings and prints by other artists whom he knew and admired, and was influenced by or whose work he shaped, including William Merritt Chase, Thomas Dewing, Max Weber, Edmund Tarbell and John Alexander.

Also explored within the exhibition are White’s links to the American Arts and Crafts movement, his embrace of socialism, his radically modern representations of childhood, and his complicated printing and framing processes. Of particular note is his lifelong investment in photographing the nude model, culminating in series that he made with Alfred Stieglitz in 1907 and with Paul Haviland in 1909, brought together here for the first time.

“As an artist and a teacher, White emerges as one of the essential American innovators of the early twentieth century, dedicated to the creation of beauty,” notes James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher – David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director. “Through significant new archival research and bringing together works not seen in one setting since the artist’s lifetime, this exhibition and publication aim to reaffirm White’s astonishing accomplishments.”

After premiering at the Princeton University Art Museum, the exhibition travels to the Davis Museum, Wellesley College (February 7-June 3, 2018), the Portland Museum of Art, Maine (June 30-September 16, 2018) and the Cleveland Museum of Art (October 21, 2018-January 21, 2019). The exhibition is accompanied by a sumptuous 400-page catalogue by Anne McCauley, published by the Princeton University Art Museum and distributed by Yale University Press, with contributions by Peter C. Bunnell, Verna Posever Curtis, Perrin Lathrop, Adrienne Lundgren, Barbara L. Michaels, Ying Sze Pek and Caitlin Ryan.

Press release from the Princeton University Art Museum

 

The Clarence H. White School of Photography

In 1910, to augment his courses in New York City and bring in extra income, White opened a summer school for photography. Named the Seguinland School of Photography, it was housed in a hotel, which was to be part of the new “Seguinland” resort on the mid-coast of Maine near Georgetown and Seguin Island. Pictorialist photographer F. Holland Day, who summered nearby, had earlier invited White and his family to the area for a respite from the city and the opportunity to explore creative photography outdoors. The fellowship between the two photographers and their families was an important factor in White’s decision to start the summer school. Students wore sailor suits, a practice begun by Day and his summer guests, and boarded at the Seguinland Hotel. Day regularly conducted critiques for White’s students, as on occasion did New York photographer Gertrude Käsebier. After 1912, the Pilot House adjacent to the hotel served as the school’s studio and darkroom. Among the students attracted to the idyllic coastal setting was the Pictorialist Anne W. Brigman from Northern California, who made the pilgrimage to Maine during an eight-month visit to the East Coast. White’s summer school in Maine lasted until 1915, when White relocated to northwestern Connecticut’s Berkshire Hills for summers. He reintroduced a summer school there, first in East Canaan, and then in Canaan that lasted until his death.

In the fall of 1914, the Clarence H. White School of Photography opened its doors at 230 E. 11th St. in New York City. This was the first of four locations for the school in the burgeoning art and publishing capital. White’s first instructor for art appreciation and design between 1914 and 1918 was avant-garde painter Max Weber, who often posed for the students. When Weber left, White hired one of his Columbia students, Charles J. Martin.

In 1917 the school occupied the “Washington Irving House” at 122 E. 17th St. at the corner of Irving Place near Union Square and Gramercy Park. Three years later, when that location was no longer available, the Clarence H. White Realty Corp. was formed in order to purchase a building for the school, and the White School resettled again, at 460 W. 144th St., where it remained until 1940. The uptown location provided a meeting place for White’s Columbia classes. From the 1920s on, photographer Edward Steichen was among those who served regularly as guest lecturers. White students paid $150 per semester, a fee that held constant until the school’s closing.

After Clarence White’s unexpected death in 1925, friends urged his widow to carry on despite the fact that his personality had been crucial to the advancement of the school. Though Jane Felix White was not a photographer herself, she took on the challenge and remained the school’s director until her retirement in 1940, when her youngest son, Clarence H. White Jr., took over. Jane and Clarence Jr. recruited more students, raising the enrolment to 106 by 1939. With greater numbers came significant changes: twice as many men as women (a reversal of the previous 2-to-1 ratio of women to men) and new classes. Art integrated with technique – the school’s previous hallmark – was no longer central to the curriculum. Nonetheless, the school continued to prosper, and its reputation surpassed other competitors, such as the New York Institute of Photography, a commercial school established in 1910, and the Studio School of Art Photography, which began in 1920 and continued a strict orientation toward the soft-focus, Pictorialist style. A poorly timed and costly move to larger, more centrally located quarters at 32 West 74th Street in 1940, however, soon helped bring about its closure. The mobilisation for World War II dealt the White School its final blow. After surviving for three decades, it closed its doors in 1942.

Text from the Library of Congress website

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Spring - A Triptych [Letitia Felix]' 1898

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Spring - A Triptych [Letitia Felix]' 1898

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Spring - A Triptych [Letitia Felix]' 1898

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Spring – A Triptych [Letitia Felix]
1898
Gum bichromate prints with graphite
Image (1): 16.8 x 2.7 cm (6 5/8 x 1 1/16 in.)
Image (2): 20.7 x 9.8 cm (8 1/8 x 3 7/8 in.)
Image (3): 16.8 x 2.7 cm (6 5/8 x 1 1/16 in.)
Frame: 34 x 28.5 x .5 cm (13 3/8 x 11 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Arthur Wesley Dow. 'Spring Landscape' 1892

 

Arthur Wesley Dow
Spring Landscape
1892
Oil on canvas
University of Michigan Museum of Art

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'The Orchard' 1902

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
The Orchard
1902
Palladium print
24.3 x 19.1 cm (9 9/16 x 7 1/2 in.)

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'What shall I say?' 1896, printed after 1917

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
What shall I say?
1896, printed after 1917
Palladium print
Image: 14.8 × 17.3 cm (5 13/16 × 6 13/16 in.)
Frame: 43.8 × 36.2 × 3.2 cm (17 1/4 × 14 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Girl with Mirror' 1898

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Girl with Mirror
1898
Varnished palladium print
George Eastman Museum, purchase

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Evening Interior' c. 1899

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Evening Interior
c. 1899
Platinum print

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Untitled [Male academic nude]' c. 1900

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Untitled [Male academic nude]
c. 1900
Waxed platinum print
Image: 22.7 x 14.7 cm (8 15/16 x 5 13/16 in.)
Frame: 51.4 × 41.3 × 3.2 cm (20 1/4 × 16 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'The Ring Toss' 1899

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
The Ring Toss
1899
Palladium print

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Untitled [Portrait of F. Holland Day with Male Nude]' 1902

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Untitled [Portrait of F. Holland Day with Male Nude]
1902
Platinum print
24.2 x 18.8 cm (9 1/2 x 7 3/8 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Harriette and Noel Levine Gift, 2005
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Untitled [F. Holland Day lighting a cigarette]' 1902

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Untitled [F. Holland Day lighting a cigarette]
1902
Cyanotype
Image: 24.2 x 19.2 cm (9 1/2 x 7 9/16 in.)
Frame: 43.8 × 36.2 × 3.2 cm (17 1/4 × 14 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'The Boy with His Wagon [1/3]' 1898

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
The Boy with His Wagon [1/3]
1898
Platinum print
Sheet: 17.7 x 15.5 cm (6 15/16 x 6 1/8 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) "Blindman's Bluff" 1898

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
“Blindman’s Bluff”
1898
Platinum print
Library of Congress

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Drops of Rain' 1903

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Drops of Rain
1903
Platinum print
Image: 21.1 × 16.2 cm (8 5/16 × 6 3/8 in.)
Frame: 51.4 × 41.3 × 3.2 cm (20 1/4 × 16 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Winter Landscape' 1903

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Winter Landscape
1903
Photogravure

 

Léon Dabo (American, born France, 1868-1960) 'Rondout, New York' c. 1907

 

Léon Dabo (American, born France, 1868-1960)
Rondout, New York
c. 1907
Oil on canvas
68.6 x 91.4 cm
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of S. O. Buckner
© Estate of Léon Dabo

 

 

Leon Dabo (July 9, 1864 – November 7, 1960) was an American tonalist landscape artist best known for his paintings of New York, particularly the Hudson Valley. His paintings were known for their feeling of spaciousness, with large areas of the canvas that had little but land, sea, or clouds. During his peak, he was considered a master of his art, earning praise from such luminaries as John Spargo, Bliss Carman, Benjamin De Casseres, Edwin Markham, and Anatole Le Braz. His brother, Scott Dabo, was also a noted painter.

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) "Newport the Maligned" 1907

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Unpublished illustration [Beacon Rock with home of E. D. Morgan III] for Gouverneur Morris, “Newport the Maligned”
1907
Platinum print
Image: 23.9 x 19.2 cm (9 7/16 x 7 9/16 in.)
Frame: 51.4 × 41.3 × 3.2 cm (20 1/4 × 16 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (1871-1925) 'The Sea (Rose Pastor Stokes, Caritas Island, Connecticut)' 1909

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
The Sea (Rose Pastor Stokes, Caritas Island, Connecticut)
1909
Platinum print
The Clarence H. White Collection, Princeton University Art Museum

 

Clarence H. White (1871-1925) "At the Edge of the Woods - Evening" 1901

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
“At the Edge of the Woods – Evening” [Letitia Felix]
1901
Chine-collé photogravure
14.4 x 10.1 cm
28.6 x 19.6 cm uncut
Camera Notes, Vol. IV, April 1901

 

Clarence H. White (1871-1925) 'Untitled [Jean Reynolds in Newark, Ohio]' c. 1905

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Untitled [Jean Reynolds in Newark, Ohio]
c. 1905
Gum bichromate print
Image: 24.1 x 19 cm (9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
Frame: 43.8 × 36.2 cm (17 1/4 × 14 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (1871-1925) 'Mother was living in the old home alone' 1902

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Mother was living in the old home alone
1902
Photogravure
From the book Eben Holden, John Andrew & Son (Boston) 1903

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Untitled [Interior of Weiant house, Newark, Ohio]' 1904

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Untitled [Interior of Weiant house, Newark, Ohio]
1904
Platinum print
Image: 15.6 x 19.6 cm. (6 1/8 x 7 11/16 in.)
Frame: 36.2 × 43.8 × 3.2 cm (14 1/4 × 17 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
Gift of Edmund T. Weiant

 

Clarence H. White (American,  1871-1925) and Paul Burty Haviland (French, 1880-1950) 'Untitled [Florence Peterson]' 1909, printed after 1917

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) and Paul Burty Haviland (French, 1880-1950)
Untitled [Florence Peterson]
1909, printed after 1917
Palladium print
Image: 25.6 x 19.6 cm (10 1/16 x 7 11/16 in.)
Frame: 51.4 × 41.3 × 3.2 cm (20 1/4 × 16 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (1871-1925) 'Morning - The Bathroom' 1906

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Morning – The Bathroom
1906
Platinum print
22.3 x 18.0 cm. (8 3/4 x 7 1/16 in.)
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1933
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) and Clarence H. White (American,  1871-1925) "Experiment 28" 1907

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) and Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
“Experiment 28”
1907
Vintage japanese tissue photogravure
20.6 x 15.9 cm
30.2 x 21.1 cm uncut
Published in Camera Work XXVII, 1909

 

 

In 1907, the year after Clarence White arrived in New York City, he collaborated with Photo-Secession founder Alfred Stieglitz on a series of portraits featuring two models. Shown here holding a glass globe, California model Mabel Cramer poses in a portrait later reproduced as a plate in Camera Work. Said to be a friend of the German American photographer Arnold Genthe and possessing a face worthy of Cleopatra, Cramer and a woman known only as a Miss Thompson, posed for a series of photographs intended to promote photography as an equivalent medium to painting. It was the only time Stieglitz would ever work in tandem with another photographer and shows the extent to which the photographers were allied aesthetically and technically.

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) and Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Untitled [Miss Thompson]' 1907

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) and Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Untitled [Miss Thompson]
1907
Platinum print
Image: 23.7 x 18.4 cm (9 5/16 x 7 1/4 in.)
Frame: 43.8 × 36.2 × 3.2 cm (17 1/4 × 14 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

 

Also in 1910, Stieglitz led an effort to create a major exhibition of the Photo-Secession artists at what was then called the Albright Gallery in Buffalo, New York (now known as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery). While this effort was announced as a group activity of the Photo-Secession, Stieglitz refused to allow any others to have input or make decision about who would be included in the exhibition and how it would be displayed. Stieglitz, who was already known for his domineering ways and dogmatic approach to photography, took his self-assigned, unilateral authority even beyond his past actions; in this case he proved to have gone too far for several people who had been closely aligned with him. First Käsebier, then White and finally Steichen broke off their relationship with Stieglitz, each citing Stieglitz’s overbearing ego, his refusal to consider other’s viewpoints and his repeated actions on behalf of the Photo-Secession without consulting any of the so-called “members” of the group.

Stieglitz reacted to these claims and White’s departure in particular with his usual antagonistic manner. Within a short while, he delivered to White most of the negatives and prints he had jointly produced with White in 1907. The split between the two was so deep that Stieglitz wrote to White “One thing I do demand…is that my name not be mentioned by you in connection with either the prints or the negatives…Unfortunately I cannot wipe out the past….” …

Although White and Stieglitz had tried to reconcile their differences before White died, Stieglitz never forgave White for breaking from him in 1912. Upon hearing about White’s untimely death, Stieglitz wrote to Kuehn, “Poor White. Cares and vexation. When I last saw him he told me he was not able to cope with [life as well as he was] twenty years ago. I reminded him that I warned him to stay in business in Ohio – New York would be too much for him. But the Photo-Session beckoned. Vanity and ambitions. His photography went to the devil.” In spite of these words, Stieglitz had 49 of White’s photographs, including 18 created jointly with Stieglitz, in his personal collection when he died.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) and Clarence H. White (American,  1871-1925) 'Torso' 1907

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) and Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Torso
1907
Platinum print
22.1 x 18.7 cm. (8 11/16 x 7 3/8 in.)
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1933
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

In 1907 White and Stieglitz collaborated on a series of nude studies in which they planned to experiment with various lenses and papers. Stieglitz placed the camera and choreographed the poses, much as he would later do in his extensive portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe, while White focused the camera and developed the negatives. These three photographs illustrate the range of the imagery and its progression from the most formal and demure image in which the draped Miss Thompson assumes a cool classical pose to the second image which is surprisingly intimate and unaffected. Combining the compositional strength and naturalism of the first two photographs, but exchanging props and interior surroundings for tight framing and expressive chiaroscuro, the third and most accomplished photograph is both modern and sensual. (Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

 

Clarence H. White (American,  1871-1925) 'Untitled [Florence Peterson]' c. 1909

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Untitled [Florence Peterson]
c. 1909
Platinum print
Image (arched top): 22.5 x 16.5 cm (8 7/8 x 6 1/2 in.)
Frame: 51.4 × 41.3 × 3.2 cm (20 1/4 × 16 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (American,  1871-1925) 'Morning' 1905

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Morning
1905
Platinum print
From Camera Work (No. 23, July 1908)

 

 

Morning perfectly embodies the tenets of Pictorialism: expressive, rather than narrative or documentary, content; craftsmanship in the execution of the print; and a carefully constructed composition allied to Impressionist and American Tonalist painting and to popular Japanese prints. His photographs from the period before he moved to New York in 1906 signalled a remove from the modern urban world. Neither genre scene nor narrative tableau, this photograph is a retreat into domesticised nature. (Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

 

Clarence H. White (American,  1871-1925) 'Eugene Debs' c. 1906-08

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Eugene Debs
c. 1906-08
Platinum print
Image: 22.2 x 17.8 cm (8 3/4 x 7 in.)
Frame: 51.4 × 41.3 × 3.2 cm (20 1/4 × 16 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

 

Eugene Victor Debs (November 5, 1855 – October 20, 1926) was an American union leader, one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or the Wobblies), and five times the candidate of the Socialist Party of America for President of the United States. Through his presidential candidacies, as well as his work with labor movements, Debs eventually became one of the best-known socialists living in the United States. …

Debs ran as a Socialist candidate for President of the United States five times, including 1900 (earning 0.63% of the popular vote), 1904 (2.98%), 1908 (2.83%), 1912 (5.99%), and 1920 (3.41%), the last time from a prison cell. He was also a candidate for United States Congress from his native state Indiana in 1916.

Debs was noted for his oratory, and his speech denouncing American participation in World War I led to his second arrest in 1918. He was convicted under the Sedition Act of 1918 and sentenced to a term of 10 years. President Warren G. Harding commuted his sentence in December 1921. Debs died in 1926, not long after being admitted to a sanatorium due to cardiovascular problems that developed during his time in prison. He has since been cited as the inspiration for numerous politicians.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Clarence H. White (American,  1871-1925) 'Alfred Stieglitz' 1907

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Alfred Stieglitz
1907
Cyanotype
image: 24.2 x 19.2 cm (9 1/2 x 7 9/16 in.)
frame: 43.8 × 36.2 × 3.2 cm (17 1/4 × 14 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (American,  1871-1925) 'Portrait of Arthur Wesley Dow' 1908

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Portrait of Arthur Wesley Dow
1908
Vintage waxed platinum print
22.1 x 16.6 cm

 

 

“White was hired by Arthur Wesley Dow at Teachers College in 1907 and shared Dow’s philosophy that students of the fine and the applied arts should have the same fundamental training based on design principles (anticipating the approach of the Bauhaus in the 1920s).”

Arthur Wesley Dow (April 6, 1857 – December 13, 1922) was an American painter, printmaker, photographer and influential arts educator.

Dow taught at three major American arts training institutions over the course of his career beginning with the Pratt Institute from 1896-1903 and the New York Art Students League from 1898-1903; then, in 1900, he founded and served as the director of the Ipswich Summer School of Art in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and from 1904 to 1922, he was a professor of fine arts at Columbia University Teachers College.

His ideas were quite revolutionary for the period; he taught that rather than copying nature, art should be created by elements of the composition, like line, mass and colour. He wanted leaders of the public to see art is a living force in everyday life for all, not a sort of traditional ornament for the few. Dow suggested this lack of interest would improve if the way art was presented would permit self-expression and include personal experience in creating art.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Clarence H. White (American,  1871-1925) 'Clarence H. White' c. 1908-1910

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Clarence H. White
c. 1908-1910
Autochrome
17.5 x 12.5 cm
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

 

In the decade after the invention of the Kodak point-and-shoot camera in 1888, thousands of men and women began taking their own amateur photographs. Some of them, generally from educated backgrounds and interested in the fine arts, aspired to make aesthetically pleasing images that rivalled paintings and prints in their compositions and tonal effects. These serious photographers, favouring large-format view cameras on tripods, called themselves pictorialists, which merely meant that they were concerned with making artistic “picture” rather than documents.

One of the most successful and influential of these self-taught amateurs was Clarence H. White (1871-1925), who rose from modest origins in Newark, Ohio, to become an internationally known art photographer and teacher. Clarence H. White and His World: The Art and Craft of Photography, 1895-1925 celebrates the short-lived career of this dedicated visionary, which spans the turbulent era from the Gilded Age through the 1913 Armory Show to the Roaring Twenties.

Drawing primarily on the vast collection of prints and archival material acquired by former curator Peter C. Bunnell for the Princeton University Art Museum and from the Library of Congress’s White Family Collection, the exhibition also includes photographs by White’s friends – such as Alvin Langdon Coburn, F. Holland Day, and Gertrude Käsebier – and works by a sampling of the hundreds of students who White trained at Columbia Teachers College, the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, and the schools he founded in New York, Maine, and Connecticut. Complementing more than 140 rare photographic prints, illustrated books, and albums are paintings and drawings by John White Alexander, Léon Dabo, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Arthur Wesley Dow, Alice Barber Stephens, Edmund Charles Tarbell, Max Weber, and Marius de Zayas that illuminate the artistic milieu in which White’s style evolved.

White’s early career centers on his Midwestern hometown, where he took up the camera in 1894. Squeezing photographic sittings into the spare time he had from his job as a bookkeeper for a wholesale grocer, he dressed his wife, her sisters, and his friends in costumes evocative of the colonial or antebellum era and posed them in penumbral interiors or the twilit hills outside Newark. White’s knack for setting up tableaux that were at once naturalistic and yet formally striking won him prizes in regional exhibitions, followed by his acceptance in 1898 in the exclusive group show of art photographs held at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. His meeting there with Alfred Stieglitz, F. Holland Day, Gertrude Käsebier, and others led to his participation in international exhibitions and his eventual inclusion as a founding member of the group that Stieglitz in 1902 dubbed the “Photo-Secession.” White stood out from his contemporaries for his assimilation of the radical cropping and flattened planes of Japanese prints, his melancholy, introspective women, and his frank, unromanticised portrayals of children.

White’s decision in 1904 to become a full-time photographer and his move in 1906 to New York transformed his life and his subjects. While in Newark, he had already earned extra income from commercial jobs illustrating fiction, primarily stories set in frontier America, such as the bestselling novel by Irving Bacheller, Eben Holden: A Tale of the North Country. A section of the exhibition reveals the extent to which White, like many Photo-Secessionists, sold portraits, landscapes, and narrative illustrations to magazines – a practice that has received little attention as a result of Alfred Stieglitz’s renowned dismissal of commercial photography.

Another discovery explored in the exhibition is the importance of socialism for White’s aesthetic vision. White’s selection of handmade printing techniques – such as gum prints in which a pigmented gum emulsion is hand applied to drawing paper – and his transformation of each platinum print (made in contact with a negative) into a unique object are indebted to the ideals of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, which valued hand labor over standardised machine production. White’s deep friendship with the family of Stephen M. Reynolds, Eugene Debs’s campaign manager and a leading Indiana socialist, resulted in idealised portraits of a family that embraced the simple life, racial and social equality, and the philosophy that every object in the home should be harmonious. White also went on to celebrate Rose Pastor Stokes and her husband, Graham Stokes, a socialist power couple in the years prior to the American entry into World War I.

Consistent with many socialists’ embrace of Morris and Walt Whitman, White also accepted the undressed human form as natural and free of sin. Throughout his career he made photographs of nude figures, primarily his sons outdoors and young women posed in the studio or in secluded glens. Drawing upon his greater experience with indoor lighting, White joined with Stieglitz in 1907 for a series of soft-focus studies of female models. A sampling of these prints is reunited here for the first time since 1912, when Stieglitz split with White and disavowed this collaborative venture.

The latter part of the exhibition is devoted to White’s innovations as a teacher, which form a major part of his legacy. White was hired by Arthur Wesley Dow at Teachers College in 1907 and shared Dow’s philosophy that students of the fine and the applied arts should have the same fundamental training based on design principles (anticipating the approach of the Bauhaus in the 1920s). At a time when the few American schools that existed to teach photography focused solely on processes and technique, White assigned more open-ended compositional and exposure problems followed by group critiques. Later, at the Clarence H. White School that he founded in New York in 1914, he hired a series of artists (starting with Max Weber) to teach art history and composition. White’s students – represented here by Anton Bruehl, Laura Gilpin, Paul Burty Haviland, Paul Outerbridge, Karl Struss, Doris Ulmann, and Margaret Watkins, among others – mastered abstract principles of framing, cropping, and lighting that prepared them for a wide array of professional careers, including the growing arenas of advertising and fashion photography.

White’s late works include portraits of famous, but now forgotten, actresses and silent film stars, such as Alla Nazimova and Mae Murray, as well as the painter Abbott Thayer and the art director for Condé Nast, Heyworth Campbell. White also tried his hand at fashion photography and welcomed filmmaking into the White School in the months before he led a summer class to Mexico City, where he tragically succumbed to a heart attack at the age of fifty-four.

Far from rejecting modern styles, White accommodated them in his school, although he maintained his preference for matte printing papers and a degree of soft focus for his personal salon prints. What unites his career, and allows his work to speak to us today, is his belief in the transformative power of art and the potential of every individual to craft objects of lasting beauty.

Anne McCauley
David Hunter McAlpin Professor of the History of Photography and Modern Art

 

Margaret Watkins (Canadian, 1884-1969) 'Untitled [Kitchen still life]' c. 1919-20

 

Margaret Watkins (Canadian, 1884-1969)
Untitled [Kitchen still life]
c. 1919-20
Gelatin silver print
16 x 18.7 cm
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin
© The Estate of Margaret Watkins, courtesy of Robert Mann Gallery, New York
Digital image © Museum Associates / LACMA

 

 

Margaret Watkins (1884-1969) was a Canadian photographer who is remembered for her innovative contributions to advertising photography. She lived a life of rebellion, rejection of tradition, and individual heroism; she never married, she was a successful career woman in a time when women stayed at home, and she exhibited eroticism and feminism in her art and writing. …

Watkins opened a studio in Greenwich Village, New York City, and in 1920 became editor of the annual publication Pictorial Photography in America. She worked successfully as an advertising photographer for Macy’s and the J. Walter Thompson Company and Fairfax, becoming one of the first women photographers to contribute to advertising agencies. She also produced landscapes, portraits, nudes and still lifes. While teaching at the Clarence White school from 1916 to 1928, her students included Margaret Bourke-White, Laura Gilpin, Paul Outerbridge, Ralph Steiner and Doris Ulmann.

One of the earliest art photographers in advertising, her images of everyday objects set new standards of acceptability. From 1928, when she was based in Glasgow, she embarked on street photography in Russia, Germany and France, specialising in store fronts and displays. Watkins died in Glasgow, Scotland in 1969, largely forgotten as a photographer.

Watkins legacy exists in her exemplary work left behind, but also her example as a single, successful woman. According to Queen’s Quarterly, her life is an inspiration for single women, who are fulfilled by their careers, rather than the traditional gender roles women face of fulfilment through marrying and having children.

Before she died, Watkins handed over a sealed box of all her work to her neighbour and executor of her will, Joseph Mulholland. She gave him strict instructions to not open it until after she died. As a result, several solo exhibitions were subsequently held in Britain and North America. When she died in November 1969, she left most of her estate to music charities.

In October 2012, a retrospective exhibition of Margaret Watkins’ work titled “Domestic Symphonies” opened at the National Gallery of Canada. This exhibition showcased 95 of her photographs dating from 1914 – 1939. Of these photos were portraits and landscapes, modern still life, street scenes, advertising work, and commercial designs. Music was a vital inspiration for Watkins, and that can be seen just from the title of this exhibition.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) Shipbuilding, Bath, Maine 1917

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Shipbuilding, Bath, Maine
1917
Hand-applied platinum print
Image: 12.1 x 9.8 cm (4 3/4 x 3 7/8 in.)
Frame: 43.8 × 36.2 × 3.2 cm (17 1/4 × 14 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Untitled [Dome of the Church of Our Lady of Carmen, San Ángel, Mexico]' 1925

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Printed by Clarence H. White Jr., American, 1907-1978
Untitled [Dome of the Church of Our Lady of Carmen, San Ángel, Mexico]
1925
Palladium print by Clarence H. White Jr.
Image: 21.9 x 17.1 cm (8 5/8 x 6 3/4 in.)
Frame: 43.8 × 36.2 × 3.2 cm (17 1/4 × 14 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Mae Murray' c. 1919-20

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Mae Murray
c. 1919-20
Platinum print with graphite
Image: 24.3 x 14.8 cm (9 9/16 x 5 13/16 in.)
Frame: 43.8 × 36.2 × 3.2 cm (17 1/4 × 14 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

 

Mae Murray (May 10, 1885 – March 23, 1965) was an American actress, dancer, film producer, and screenwriter. Murray rose to fame during the silent film era and was known as “The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips” and “The Gardenia of the Screen”.

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Alla Nazimova' 1919

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Alla Nazimova
1919
Photogravure
Library of Congress

 

 

Alla Nazimova (Russian: Алла Назимова; born Marem-Ides Leventon; June 3 [O.S. May 22], 1879 – July 13, 1945) was a Russian actress who immigrated to the United States in 1905. On Broadway, she was noted for her work in the classic plays of Ibsen, Chekhov and Turgenev. Her efforts at silent film production were less successful, but a few sound-film performances survive as a record of her art. Nazimova openly conducted relationships with women, and her mansion on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard was believed to be the scene of outlandish parties. She is credited with having originated the phrase “sewing circle” as a discreet code for lesbian or bisexual actresses.

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'The Dancers - Barnard Greek Games' 1922

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
The Dancers – Barnard Greek Games
1922
Palladium print
Image: 24.5 x 19.6 cm (9 5/8 x 7 11/16 in.)
Frame: 43.8 × 36.2 × 3.2 cm (17 1/4 × 14 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

 

The Barnard Greek Games were a tradition at Barnard College pitting the freshman and sophomore classes against one another in a series of competitions. They began in 1903 when the Class of 1905 challenged the Class of 1906 to an informal athletic contest. In later years upperclass students would cheer on their juniors, “odds” cheering for “odds” and “evens” for “evens.” Signature events included a chariot race, with chariots pulled by teams of 4 students, and a torch race. The torch race is captured in the “Spirit of the Greek Games” statue outside Barnard Hall that was given by the Class of 1905 as a gift on the 25th anniversary of the games in 1928. The games, a central part of Barnard campus life, were held annually until 1968, when upheaval on campus caused their cancellation, snuffing out this tradition along with such longstanding features of campus life as the Varsity Show.

After a 22 year absence, the Games were revived in 1989 as part of Barnard’s Centennial celebrations. The games were revived again in 2000, and have been held sporadically since.

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Heyworth Campbell' c. 1921

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Heyworth Campbell
c. 1921
Hand-applied platinum print
Image: 24 x 18.9 cm (9 7/16 x 7 7/16 in.)
Frame: 51.4 × 41.3 × 3.2 cm (20 1/4 × 16 1/4 × 1 1/4 in.)
The Clarence H. White Collection, assembled and organized by Professor Clarence H. White Jr., and given in memory of Lewis F. White, Dr. Maynard P. White Sr., and Clarence H. White Jr., the sons of Clarence H. White Sr. and Jane Felix White

 

Gertrude Käsebier (1852 - 1934) 'Portrait of Clarence H. White' c. 1910

 

Gertrude Käsebier (1852 – 1934)
Portrait of Clarence H. White
c. 1910
Silver gelatin print
Library of Congress

Note: Digital clean and print balance by Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Princeton University Art Museum
McCormick Hall, Princeton, NJ ‎
T: (609) 258-3788

The Museum is located on the Princeton University campus, a short walk from Nassau Street in downtown Princeton. Once on campus, simply follow the lamppost Museum banners.

Opening hours:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
Thursday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Sunday 12.00 – 5.00 pm

Princeton University Art Museum website

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12
Jul
16

Review: ‘Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 31st May – 24th July 2016

National Gallery of Australia touring exhibition

Curator: Shaune Lakin

 

 

An independent vision

 

Pictorialism, Surrealism and Modernism: Light, geometry and atmosphere

This is the quintessential hung “on the line” exhibition from the National Gallery of Australia which features the work of two well respected Australian photographers, Max Dupain and Olive Cotton, showing over three gallery spaces at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne. Of its type, it is a superb exhibition which rewards repeated viewing and contemplation of the many superb photographs it contains.

While Dupain may be the more illustrious of the two featured artists – notable for taking the most famous photograph in Australian photographic history (Sunbaker, 1937, below); for being the first Australian photographer to embrace Modernism; and for bringing a distinctly Australian style to photography (sun, sea, sand) – it is the artist Olive Cotton’s work that steals almost every facet of this exhibition through her atmospheric images.

Dupain’s importance in the history of Australian photography cannot be underestimated. He dragged Australian photography from Pictorialism to Modernism in a few short years and met fierce resistance from the conservative camera clubs, stuck in the age of Pictorialism, because of it. He was the first to understand what Modernism meant for the medium in Australia, and how photographers would in future picture the country. He wanted to see the world through ‘modern’ eyes. As he observed, ‘(photography) belongs to the new age … it is part and parcel of the terrific and thrilling panorama opening out before us today – of clean concrete buildings, steel radio masts, and the wings of the air line. But its beauty is only for those who themselves are aware of the ‘zeitgeist’ – who belong consciously and proudly to this age, and have not their eyes forever wistfully fixed on the past.’ Dupain’s awareness of the ‘zeitgeist’ of modernity was coupled with a keen eye for composition, light and form (what Dupain later termed ‘passing movement and changing form’), and an understanding of photography’s expressive potential. Over the next 50 years he captured many memorable images, some of the most famous images ever taken of this sun burnt country.

Dupain started to hit his straps with his early cross-over images which contained elements of both Pictorialism and Modernism. His 1930s series of three photographs of Fire Stairs at Bond Street Studio (one of which is feature in the exhibition), and images such as Design – suburbia (1933, below) and Still life (1935, below) still possess that soft, raking light that was so beloved by Pictorialists, coupled with an implicit understanding of form, geometry and light. As fellow photographer David Moore observes, by the time of photographs such as Pyrmont silos (1935, below) and Through the Windscreen (1935), ‘any return to sentimental Pictorialism was precluded’. That sense of the European avant-garde, the aesthetics of contemporary European photography, the strength of industrial forms, imbues Dupain’s photographs with a crisp, clean decisiveness, that ‘symphony of forms and textures’. Whether it be the monumentalism of silos, or the monumentalism of bodies (such as in the classic Bondi, 1939), Dupain relished the opportunity to merge aesthetics with representation, pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible within the medium, believing that both representation and aesthetics could exist within the same frame. Evidence of this merging of can be seen in photographs such as Untitled [Factory chimney stacks] (1940, below) and Backyard, Forster, New South Wales (1940, below). These images are silent in their formalism… they are very quiet, and still, and rather haunting, beautiful in their tonality (with lots of yellow in the 8 x 10 and perhaps even small prints).

Dupain and Cotton both revel “in photography’s great capacity to make sense of the relations of light, texture and form as they exist in the present,” and evidence “a modernist concern with line, form and space; documentary photography’s interest in realism and ‘the living moment’; and the pictorial and formal attributes of commercial photography.” But as the press release insightfully observes, “Comparisons articulate and make apparent Dupain’s more structured – even abstracted – approach to art and to the world; similarly, comparisons highlight Cotton’s more immersive relationship to place, with a particularly deep and instinctual love of light and its ephemeral effects.” And this is where the photographs of Olive Cotton are so much more engaging, and alive, than those of Max Dupain.

While Dupain was busy running a commercial studio (with Cotton his assistant and for a couple of years his wife), Olive seems to have had more freedom to experiment, to express herself in a less structured way than her erstwhile husband. Walking around this exhibition my initial thoughts were wow, Olive Cotton, you are an absolute star. Photographs such as The way through the trees (1938, below), while not possessing the technical brilliance of a Dupain, possess something inherently more appealing – a sensitivity and feeling for subject that nearly overwhelms the senses. Truly here is a symphony of texture, light and form. The composition is a subtle paean, a song of praise to the natural and modern world – a world of geometry, textures, light and form. The rendition of this image, a performance of interpretation, is simply magnificent in its sensitivity to subject matter. The print is also glorious in its delicacy and colour. For me, this is what is so appealing about the work of Olive Cotton, an innate sensitivity that all of her photographs seem to possess – in composition, in proportion, in printing and in colour. Cotton maintained an independent vision forged out of experimentation, creating spaces for erotic imaginings, spaces for action and spaces for quiet contemplation. Her use of light and shade, of body and shadow, of classical and modernist motifs …. is superlative. While Dupain’s photographs are more structured and more dazzling in a technical sense, Cotton’s photographs possess more “atmosphere”, a complex and insightful way of seeing and imaging the world which has few equals in the annals of Australian photography.

Below is a short transcription of a voice memo I made on my phone as I toured around the exhibition for the third time:

“What a great show this is, the photographs of Max Dupain and Olive Cotton. But it is the photographs of Olive Cotton that are the wonder of this exhibition. Photographs such as Orchestration in light (1937, below), Sky submerged (c. 1937) and especially The way through the trees (1938, below) are just masterpieces of complex seeing. A sort of… mmmm … an intimate previsualisation where there are hints of Pictorialism – dappled light, moss on the trees – and yet there is a geometric form to the composition that marks it as definitively Modernist. As the wall text states, “this exceptional landscape appears at first glance like a classic Pictorialist view of the Australian bush but typical of Cotton’s best pictures, this landscape merges Pictorialism’s stylistic and formal codes  with those of a cosmopolitan modernist sensibility. Cotton pays particular attention to the similarly angled tree trunks, as well as the all over pattern of the spotted gums and the dapples of light, not bound or hemmed in dogma, Cotton created a view of being completely immersed in the landscape.” The colour of the print, there are hints of pinks and greens and beiges. When was it taken and printed, it must have been an early one, 1938 … and then again the beautiful tonality of it. Wow!

As with all of her best work Cotton is constructing her environment – through music, through geometry, through light. Over the city (1940, below), the light over the city, the shadow of the city, the silhouette of the city in outline, followed by Grass at sundown (1939, below) shooting contre jour, into the light. In Max after surfing (1937, below) there is evidence of Cotton’s understanding of the play of form, of light, of shadow and the composition of the pictorial plane into triangles, horizontals and verticals. This creates a sense of mystery within the four walls of the photograph. As art historian Tim Bonyhady observes, it ‘is not just one of the most erotic Australian photographs, but possibly the first sexually charged Australian photograph by a woman of a man’. The sensuality and atmosphere of the Cotton’s are just gorgeous. Olive Cotton just has such a marvellous grasp of the construction of the picture plane using form, texture and shadow… and feeling. If had a choice I would take away most of the Cotton’s (laughs), because I think they are just amazing…”

There are so many great images in this exhibition, from both Cotton and Dupain, that is hard to know where to start. I haven’t even mentioned images such as Dupain’s sensual but commercial Jean with wire mesh (c. 1935, below), his seminal Street at Central (1939, below) with its raking light and abstraction, or Cotton’s most famous image Teacup ballet (1935, below). I could go on and on. The only disappointment with the exhibition is that, for the uninitiated, there is little to place both photographers works in the context of their time and place, other than a few The Home magazines in a couple of display cases and the wall text. There is little sense of what a tumultuous period this was in Australian history – between two world wars, during a depression, with the advent of modernity, freedom of movement through cars, White Australia policy in full swing, meat and four veg on the table, women’s place in the home, the rise of vitalism and the cult of the bronzed Aussie body and the worship of nature and the outdoors, mateship and the beach as a place of socialisation. But that is the nature of such a classic, hung “on the line” exhibition. It would have been great to see some large photographs, floor to ceiling, of the environment from which all these nearly contextless (as in a particular time and place) images emerged but this is a minor quibble. In the end, I restate that this is a stunning exhibition that is a must see for any aficionado of great Australian photography. Go see it before it closes.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,685

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

 

 

“I like few people … to go into a room of strangers is a chore for me … I can effect a relationship, but afterwards, I think: was it worth it?”

.
Max Dupain

 

“Looking at the work of these two great Australian photographers together is enlightening; they were often shooting the same subjects, or pursuing subjects and pictorial effects in similar ways. Rarely do we get to see two great Australian artists working side-by-side in this way. And while Max Dupain’s reputation might now stand well above most other Australian photographers, this exhibition shows that Olive Cotton had a significant role to play in his development as a photographer, and was in many ways his equal.”

.
Shaune Lakin

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Gallery one

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

installation-g

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

At left, Max Dupain’s Bawley Point landscape (1938) and middle, Dupain’s Untitled [Factory chimney stacks], 1940

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s famous Sunbaker (1937) is second from the right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Olive Cotton’s most famous image, Teacup ballet (1935) at left

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s Jean with wire mesh (c. 1935) at right

Gallery two

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Cabinet with view of The Home magazine (April 1st 1933 right) which feature the photographs of Max Dupain

Gallery three

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s Street at Central (1939) left, followed by his Thin man (1936) and Olive Cotton’s Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model) (1937) at right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne
All images © Marcus Bunyan, The National Gallery of Australia and The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

 

Olive Cotton (1911-2003) and Max Dupain OBE (1911-1992) were pioneering modernist photographers. Cotton’s lifelong obsession with photography began at age eleven with the gift of a Kodak Box Brownie. She was a childhood friend of Dupain’s and in 1934 she joined his fledgling photographic studio, where she made her best-known work, Teacup Ballet, in about 1935. Throughout the 1930s, Dupain established his reputation with portraiture and advertising work and gained exposure in the lifestyle magazine The Home. Between 1939 and 1941, Dupain and Cotton were married and she photographed him often; her Max After Surfing is frequently cited as one of the most sensuous Australian portrait photographs. While Dupain was on service during World War II Cotton ran his studio, one of very few professional women photographers in Australia. Cotton remarried in 1944 and moved to her husband’s property near Cowra, New South Wales. Although busy with a farm, a family, and a teaching position at the local high school, Cotton continued to take photographs and opened a studio in Cowra in 1964. In the 1950s, Dupain turned increasingly to architectural photography, collaborating with architects and recording projects such as the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Dupain continued to operate his studio on Sydney’s Lower North Shore until he died at the age of 81. Cotton was in her seventies when her work again became the subject of attention. In 1983, she was awarded a Visual Arts Board grant to reprint negatives that she had taken over a period of forty years or more. The resulting retrospective exhibition in Sydney in 1985 drew critical acclaim and has since assured her reputation.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind' c. 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

 

Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind appears to have been the only print Cotton made of this image. It was found in the late 1990s and has been shown only once, in an exhibition at the AGNSW in 2000 where it was also used on the catalogue cover. It was unusual for Cotton to print so large, yet it is entirely fitting that this monumental head and shoulder shot of a beautiful young woman should be presented in this way. The subject was a model on a fashion shoot at which Cotton was probably assisting. Cotton often took her own photographs while on such shoots and used them for her private portfolio. The photograph transcends portraiture, fashion and time to become a remarkable image of harmony with the elements.

Cotton took the title for this photograph from an 1895 poem by English poet Laurence Binyon, ‘O summer sun’:

O summer sun, O moving trees!
O cheerful human noise, O busy glittering street!
What hour shall Fate in all the future find,
Or what delights, ever to equal these:
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind,
Only to be alive, and feel that life is sweet?1

A photographer whose work straddles pictorialism, modernism and documentary, Cotton maintained an independent vision throughout her working life, based on the close observation of nature. Her understanding of the medium of photography was not to do with capture, but rather ‘drawing with light’.

1. 1915, ‘Poems of today’, English Association, London p 96

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max' c. 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max
c. 1935
gelatin silver photograph
14.8 x 14.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1998

 

 

In this highly abstracted portrait, Cotton seems to present Dupain as an athlete – perhaps, with his strangely extended arms, a hammer thrower, in an image that predates by at least two years Dupain’s own photographs of athletes outdoors. It is likely that Cotton photographed her friend in this way because of the graphic pictorial effect she wished to achieve. Cotton exploits the shape of the Rolleiflex camera’s square-format film: Dupain’s body cuts across the right-hand corner of the picture, from which his overstretched forearms (the shape and tone of which were the result of much dodging and burning in the darkroom) create a diagonal oblique angle that is classically modernist. A similar conflation of diagonal lines, which was common to the ways that modern life in Australia at the time was represented in advertising and architectural photography, can also be seen in pictures such as Surf’s edge and Teacup ballet.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

“Max Dupain put his lack of clannishness down to a temperament which inclined to the stoic and an early life as an only child. He relished the solitude of his darkroom, familiar places and routines and the early morning calm of Sydney Harbour, where he rowed his scull until prevented by ill health in the early 1990s. He was not a joiner or follower of teams; he was republican in politics and agnostic. Philosophically, Dupain mixed rationalism and a less defined alliance with the passionate exhortation to live directly in one’s environment, body and heart. This philosophy was espoused by poets and writers such as D.H Lawrence, from the movement known in the 1920s and 1930s as Vitalism.

Although he acknowledged that he was a bit of a loner by temperament, portraiture was a significant part of Max Dupain’s personal and professional work. He included some dozen or so portraits in his selection for his 1948 monograph, fifty plates showing ‘my best work since 1935’. Dupain’s images, including many portraits especially of the 1930s to 1960s, have stamped the public image of this era of rapid progress and increasing cultural sophistication in Australia. Portraiture was at the top stratum of Dupain’s first three decades of work but volume decreased markedly from the 1960s, when Max Dupain and Associates, his business, began to specialise in architectural and industrial commissions.”

‘Vintage Max’ by Gael Newton, 1 June 2003

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Sunbaker
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
37.7 x 43.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The photographer's shadow (Olive Cotton and Max Dupain)' c. 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The photographer’s shadow (Olive Cotton and Max Dupain)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
16.6 x 15.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The sleeper' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The sleeper
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
29.2 h x 25.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

The sleeper 1939, Olive Cotton’s graceful study of her friend Olga Sharp resting while on a bush picnic, made around the same time as Max Dupain’s Sunbaker, presents a different take upon the enjoyment of life in Australia. The woman is relaxed, nestled within the environment. The mood is one of secluded reverie.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Untitled [Olive Cotton in Wheat Fields]' Nd (probably late 1930s)

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Untitled [Olive Cotton in Wheat Fields]
Nd (probably late 1930s)
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Cotton shot this portrait of fellow Australian photographer, Max Dupain during their brief marriage at their home in Longueville on Sydney’s lower north shore. Dupain is captured affectionately in the portrait, represented as at once casual through pose and, as industrious on account of his rolled up sleeves and the Rolleiflex TLR camera which hangs from his neck. It is indicative of the combination of a working and personal relationship Cotton and Dupain shared during the late 1930s when they operated a commercial studio together. The couple separated in 1941 but Cotton went on to manage the Dupain Studio while Max was away serving as a camouflage officer during the Second World War 1.

1. Ennis H 2005, ‘Olive Cotton: photographer’, National Library of Australia, p. 6

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max after surfing' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max after surfing
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2006

 

 

This intimate study of Dupain, who Cotton was romantically involved with at the time, first appeared in the mid-1990s; Cotton did not include it in her reassessment of her oeuvre in the mid-1980s that involved making prints of her best images. For many commentators, this remains a radical image in the history of Australian photography. For the art historian Tim Bonyhady, it ‘is not just one of the most erotic Australian photographs, but possibly the first sexually charged Australian photograph by a woman of a man’. This is the only known vintage print of the image, which inexplicably carries the signature and a message from the fashion photographer George Hoyningen‑Huene, who visited Sydney in December 1937 and spent time with Dupain. It suggests perhaps that Hoyningen-Huene was present when Cotton made the print.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max after surfing is a portrait of Dupain taken in 1939, around the time of their brief marriage. While the photograph was taken indoors, the sharply delineated contrast and the dramatic interplay between light and shade evoke harsh sunlight. The work is loaded with suggestion and emotional intimacy. As art historian and curator Helen Ennis noted in 2000, the close vantage point and the tension between visible form and dense shadow ‘creates a space for erotic imaginings’.

A photographer whose work straddles pictorialism, modernism and documentary, Cotton maintained an independent vision throughout her working life, based on the close observation of nature. Her understanding of the medium of photography was not to do with capture, but rather ‘drawing with light’.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Jean with wire mesh' c. 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Jean with wire mesh
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
46.0 h x 34.5 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2006

 

 

This portrait of Jean Lorraine, a close friend of Cotton, was one of many taken of her by Cotton and Dupain. This photograph is notable for its technical virtuosity – Dupain’s control of the variegated light across Jean’s body, beautifully lyrical and sensuous, is masterful. It also reflects Dupain’s active interest in the work of Man Ray, whose earlier Shadow patterns on Lee Miller’s torso (1930) was no doubt an influence. Like Man Ray’s image of his lover, Dupain’s portrait of Jean is also notable for its eroticism. While Dupain might have argued that this photograph was a study of light falling on surfaces, the light and shade take particular pleasure in the form of Jean’s naked torso. This eroticism has been underplayed throughout the history of the picture, not surprising given the nature of the relationships involved: when it was published in The Home in February 1936, Jean with wire mesh was known simply as a Photographic study. Dupain printed at least two versions of this shot, another with Jean’s eyes open.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Girl with mirror' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Girl with mirror
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 31.7 h x 29.9 w cm sheet 32.6 h x 30.6 w cm
Purchased 1987

 

 

The photographs Cotton took while attending Dupain’s fashion shoots often focussed on the graphic effects created by light rather than fashion or the dynamics of the shoot itself. Cotton’s role as assistant left her free to explore personal interests, without the imperative of getting a shot for the assignment. This image of a model attending to her make-up, seemingly absorbed in her own image, is primarily concerned with the patterns created by light falling on sand dunes and the way they contrast with the decorative print of her clothing. It is notable that the image we see in the mirror is not the model’s face, but the patterns created by light hitting the sand. As Cotton later remembered, ‘I took it mostly because I really liked the pattern in the sand and the contrasting pattern in the left-hand corner’, which includes a series of diagonal shadows cast by Dupain’s tripod.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'The floater' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
The floater
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia
Purchased 1976

 

 

Two versions of this image of a woman floating in water were printed by Dupain, so like Sunbaker it held particular interest for him. It acknowledges one of the great moments in avant-garde photography, André Kertész’s iconic study of underwater distortion Underwater swimmer (1917). As with Kertész, Dupain’s interest was with the visual effects created by light hitting the water and the impact of this on the contours of the swimmer. In his personal copy of the anthology Modern Photography (1931), Dupain highlighted the writer G.H. Saxon Mills’ claim that photography’s value existed in both its capacity to record the world and the optical effects it found or created – ‘its … symphony of forms and textures.’ (Wall text)

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model)' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model)
1937
Cronulla, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 30.4 h x 38.5 w cm sheet 40.2 h x 48.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1988

 

As the studio assistant, Cotton accompanied Dupain on fashion shoots to attend to models, doing their make-up and helping with costume changes. She often used these opportunities to take her own photographs, including this wonderful image of Dupain photographing the model Noreen Hallard for David Jones. As well as producing a striking image of Dupain and Hallard at work, Cotton was interested in the landscape in which they operated, paying particular attention to the pattern created by their footsteps in the sand.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“Olive Cotton and Max Dupain are key figures in Australian visual culture. They shared a long and close personal and professional relationship. This exhibition looks at their work made between 1934 and 1945, the period of their professional association; this was an exciting period of experimentation and growth in Australian photography, and Cotton and Dupain were at the centre of these developments.

This is the first exhibition to look at the work of these two photographers as they shared their lives, studio and professional practice. Looking at their work together is instructive; they were often shooting the same subjects, or pursuing subjects and pictorial effects in similar ways. Comparisons articulate and make apparent Dupain’s more structured – even abstracted – approach to art and to the world; similarly, comparisons highlight Cotton’s more immersive relationship to place, with a particularly deep and instinctual love of light and its ephemeral effects.

This exhibition focuses on the key period in each of their careers, when they made many of their most memorable images. Keenly aware of international developments in photography, Cotton and Dupain experimented with the forms and strategies of modernist photography, especially Surrealism and the Bauhaus, and drew upon the sophisticated lighting and compositions of contemporary advertising and Hollywood glamour photography.

They brought to these influences their own, close association with the rich context of Australian life and culture during the 1930s and ’40s. Their achievement can be characterised, borrowing terms they used in discussions of their work, as the development of a ‘contemporary Australian photography’: a modern photographic practice that reflected their own, very particular relationships to the world and to each other.

Lives

Cotton and Dupain’s friendship stretched back to childhood summers spent at Newport Beach, NSW, where their families spent summer holidays. They were both given their first cameras – Kodak Box Brownies – by relatives as young teenagers, and spent days together wandering around taking photographs. They shared a similar commitment to photography as teenagers and young adults: both made and published or exhibited photographs while at school, and in 1929 they became members of the Photographic Society of New South Wales. But their approach to achieving the ‘professional life’ of a photographer took different paths: Dupain undertook a formal apprenticeship with the pictorialist master Cecil Bostock between 1930-33, while Cotton studied arts at Sydney University with the idea of becoming a teacher and photographed after hours.

Cotton and Dupain became romantically involved in 1928 and married in 1939; they separated in 1941 and eventually divorced in 1944. In spite of these personal vicissitudes, Cotton and Dupain remained professionally connected. Cotton managed the Dupain studio from late 1941-45, while he worked with the Department of Home Security’s Camouflage Unit during the Second World War. On his return, Cotton left Sydney and spent the rest of her life in relative isolation near Cowra, NSW, where she raised her family of two with husband Ross McInerney and, between 1964 and 1983, operated a small studio. And while Dupain returned from the war to develop his reputation and significance as Australia’s most recognised twentieth-century photographer, his work was deeply affected by his experience of the war and took on a completely different complexion to his work from the previous decade.

Studio

In 1934, Dupain opened a studio in a rented room at 24 Bond Street, Sydney; Cotton joined him as his assistant soon after. By 1936, the Dupain studio’s business had expanded to the extent that it moved into larger premises in the same building, before relocating in early 1941 to a whole floor of a building at 49 Clarence Street.

Their positions at the Dupain studio were clearly defined – he was the photographer, she the studio assistant. Even so, Cotton and Dupain each maintained distinct but in some ways closely aligned practices, both in and out of the studio. Cotton did not tend to take photographs commercially until after she took over the management of the Dupain studio in late 1941, when photographs were circulated in her name. Before then, she made use of the studio’s equipment afterhours, including Dupain’s large Thornton Pickard camera; her work was exhibited and published on occasion, both locally and internationally.

At the same time, Dupain’s photographs became increasingly widely-seen and influential. Sydney Ure Smith’s iconic monthly magazine The Home regularly published Dupain’s portraits, documentary work, social photographs (often actually taken by Cotton), and fashion and product photographs made for clients such as David Jones. When Dupain went to war, the studio continued to operate successfully under Cotton’s management. While some long-standing clients such as David Jones took their business elsewhere, Cotton took some of her most important pictures in the early 1940s, and her increasing confidence at this time can be identified across images of the city, industry and labour.

Dialogue

Cotton and Dupain were active members of Sydney’s network of young artists and photographers, of which the Dupain studio was a centre. Along with their contemporaries, including figures like Geoffrey Powell, Damien Parer and Lawrence Le Guay, they staked a claim for photography as a vital part of contemporary culture, exhibiting photographs alongside other artworks at venues like Sydney’s David Jones Gallery.

Their networks included members of Sydney’s progressive architectural, design, publishing and advertising communities, with whom they often collaborated. The threads of influence within this complex network of making, exhibiting, publishing and commissions were intricate. It is possible, for example, to see Dupain’s strong visual style affect those around him. His interest in surrealist style, which really took hold in 1935, can be identified in work by other, often lesser photographers working at the time, and indeed in the design of The Home, which published his work in editorial and advertisements. There were also times when Cotton indicated certain directions for Dupain. For example, her images of bodies outdoors, which cleverly pulled together classical and modernist motifs, predate similar images by Dupain.

It is clear also that Cotton and Dupain were engaging in dialogue within their own work. Their shared interest in photographing form, texture and shadow is seen across many pictures throughout the mid- to late 1930s. Their pictures also engage critically with photography as a medium, in images that draw attention to the photograph as a double of its subject, and in pictures that seem to play with photograph’s stillness. As Dupain later remembered, together they ‘shared the problems of photography’.

Contemporary Australian Photography

What were ‘the problems of photography’ that Dupain and Cotton sought to settle? In the most straightforward sense, they involved the assumption that Australian photographers were yet to completely embrace or realise the medium’s potential, which rested in careful attention to its aesthetic possibilities, recognition of its mechanical origins, and negotiation of the particular way the medium engaged notions of objectivity and subjectivity. Their solution to these problems involved a progressive photographic practice that intended to release photography from the shackles of history and orthodoxy, and to revel in photography’s great capacity to make sense of the relations of light, texture and form as they exist in the present.

Cotton’s and Dupain’s solution to ‘the problems of photography’ was to make work that made a feature of the medium’s modernity, and the strange way that mechanics, physics and aesthetics come together in modern photography to look at the world and to find beauty in it. They did this in a way that remained firmly footed in their own, very particular place in the world and history. In terms of style, their solution integrated legacies of Pictorialism – especially its interest in the atmospheric effects found in landscape – with a range of other, often competing modes and styles: a modernist concern with line, form and space; documentary photography’s interest in realism and ‘the living moment’; and the pictorial and formal attributes of commercial photography.

It is possible that, for the first time, Australian photography found in the work of Cotton and Dupain a contemporary expression: a photographic practice that emerged from, responded to and expressed the mood, ambitions and sensibility of its time.”

Press release from The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Street at Central' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Street at Central
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
45.6 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Street at Central' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Street at Central
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
45.6 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Two different versions of this photograph. Notice the different cropping and colour of each image, and how it adds emphasis to the light and to the shadows of the people.

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Teacup ballet' 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Teacup ballet
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
37.5 x 29.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

‘This picture evolved after I had bought some inexpensive cups and saucers from Woolworths for our studio coffee breaks to replace our rather worn old mugs. The angular handles reminded me of arms akimbo, and that led to the idea of making a photograph to express a dance theme.

When the day’s work was over I tried several arrangements of the cups and saucers to convey this idea, without success, until I used a spotlight and realised how important the shadows were. Using the studio camera, which had a 6 ½ x 4 ½ inch ground glass focusing screen, I moved the cups about until they and their shadows made a ballet-like composition and then photographed them on a cut film negative. The title of the photograph suggested itself.

This was my first photograph to be shown overseas, being exhibited, to my delight, in the London Salon of Photography in 1935.’ Olive Cotton 1995 1

Olive Cotton and Max Dupain were childhood friends and, although she graduated in English and mathematics from the University of Sydney in 1934, her interest in photography led her to work in Dupain’s studio from this year. Cotton was employed as a photographer’s assistant in the studio, however she worked assiduously on her own work and continued to exhibit in photography salon exhibitions. Tea cup ballet is one of Cotton’s most well-known photographs and yet it is somewhat eccentric to her main practice, being at first glance typically modernist with its dramatic lighting and angular shapes. Her longstanding interest in organic forms provides a deeper reading. The abstraction of form by the lighting and the placement of the cups and saucers enables the relationship to dancers on a stage to become clear.

1. Ennis H 1995, ‘Olive Cotton: photographer’, National Library of Australia, Canberra p. 25

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Among Cotton’s most famous photographs, Teacup ballet has very humble origins. It was taken after hours in the Dupain studio and used a set of cheap cups and saucers Cotton had earlier bought from a Woolworths store for use around the studio. As she later recounted: ‘Their angular handles suggested to me the position of “arms akimbo” and that led to the idea of a dance pattern’. The picture uses a range of formal devices that became common to Cotton’s work, especially the strong backlighting used to create dramatic tonal contrasts and shadows. The picture achieved instant success, and was selected for exhibition in the London Salon of Photography for 1935.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Shasta daisies' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Shasta daisies
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

 

Celebrated Australian photographer Olive Cotton was given her first Box Brownie by her family for her eleventh birthday (1922) and continued to experiment with taking and developing pictures throughout the 1920s. By the early 1930s Cotton had mastered the Pictorialist style so popular at the time and was on her way to establishing her own approach which also incorporated Modernist principles. The recurrent themes of landscape and plant-life are important to the photographer’s approach, which photography scholar Helen Ennis describes as Cotton’s concern for the ‘potential for pattern-making’.

Shasta daisies is an interesting and rare combination of natural form and a highly-constructed scenario, the flowers having been photographed in Cotton’s studio and carefully arranged for the camera. Cotton, in the 1995 book, wrote of the photograph: “I chose to photograph these in the studio because out of doors I would have had less control of the lighting and background. I examined the composition very carefully through the studio camera’s large ground glass focussing screen and – the view from the camera’s position being slightly different to my own – made as many rearrangements to the flowers as seemed necessary. I then used (apart from a background light) one source of light to try and convey a feeling of outdoors.” Shasta daisies is important within Cotton’s oeuvre for uniting her interest in plants in their natural ‘outdoors’ environment with her enquiry into photographic form and space.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Homage to D.H. Lawrence' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Homage to D.H. Lawrence
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
45.8 x 33.9 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

Dupain admired vitalist philosophies, which argued that modern identity had become fragmented and asserted the importance of the integration of body and emotion, of sensual and emotional experience. He was attracted to the work of British writer D.H. Lawrence, especially his insistence on the ‘thingness’ of things as a way of embodying a properly integrated mind and body. This photograph uses surrealist juxtaposition to draw together a copy of Lawrence’s Selected poems, a flywheel (representing the modern world) and a classical bust, recalling the idealised relationship of natural and sensual worlds in ancient Greece and Rome. Other images incorporating classical busts appeared in the pages of the Modern Photography annuals, but Dupain makes them his own, lifted above mere pastiche.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Orchestration in light' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Orchestration in light
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 24.1 h x 27.4 w cm sheet 25.4 h x 28.2 w cm
Purchased with assistance from the Helen Ennis Fund
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Cotton took this landscape early one morning at Wullumbi Gorge in the New England tablelands, during a camping trip with Dupain. It is remarkable for both the way the light transforms the landscape into quivering energy and the way Cotton makes sense of that enigmatic experience in pictorial form. As its title suggests, the photograph recalled for Cotton – who trained as a musician as a girl – a musical composition, particularly ‘the beautiful graduation in tone going from a bass tone to a high treble at the top of the picture’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The patterned road' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The patterned road
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
24.6 h x 28.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Bawley Point landscape' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Bawley Point landscape
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29 x 26.6 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

This landscape, one of many taken by Dupain on the south coast of New South Wales, was made in the same year as Cotton’s similar study of shadow and landscape, The patterned road (above). These two landscapes share an interest in what Dupain later termed ‘passing movement and changing form’. Although Dupain rarely published or circulated his landscapes at this time, pictures such as Bawley Point landscape certainly relate to a broad range of other images, perhaps most notably still lifes and nudes, that articulated an Australian modernist photography through the interplay of light passing through openings. These images find monumental stillness in movement and strong shadows, which quite literally ‘double’ their subject.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Over the city' 1940

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Over the city
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
32.2 h x 30.3 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Grass at sundown' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Grass at sundown
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
Primary Insc: Signed and dated l.l. pencil, “Olive Cotton ’39”. Titled l.r. pencil, “Grass at sundown”.
Printed image 28.9 h x 30.8 w cm sheet 30.0 h x 31.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 - 1992) 'Design - suburbia' 1933

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 – 1992)
Design – suburbia
1933
Gelatin silver photograph
29.4 h x 23.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

This early image proudly displays the influence of the work of pictorialist photographers that Dupain knew well, most notably the Sydney-based photographer, Harold Cazneaux. At the time Dupain made this image, he was serving an apprenticeship in the commercial studio of Cecil Bostock, a Pictorialist and founding member with Cazneaux of the Sydney Camera Circle in 1916. Dupain’s interest in the pictorial effects created by light passing through apertures (here, the posts and beams of a suburban fence) seems to remember similar images of light streaming through blinds and pergolas by Cazneaux, who Dupain called ‘the father of modern Australian photography’. The fascination with capturing light as it passes through openings will stay with Dupain throughout his life, though the focus will sharpen as he moves away from the diffused effects favoured by art photographers in the early decades of the century.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 - 1992) 'Still life' 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 – 1992)
Still life
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 h x 20.8 w cm
Purchased 1982

 

 

While the subject of this photograph seems to be a simple, lidded pail (which featured in a number of Dupain’s still lifes) seen in morning light, it is actually an exercise in abstraction. Of most interest to Dupain is the complex network of diagonal lines created by light, shadow and timber boards. The picture reflects the pleasure Dupain took in the pictorial effects created by light (he was fond of quoting the Belgian photographer Léonard Misonne’s dictum, ‘the subject is nothing, light is everything’), and at the same time expresses the fundamental principle upon which his photographic practice was always based. While the image of light passing through apertures is an analogy for the way the camera operates, the still life also embodies photography’s expressive potential. As Dupain later stated, ‘with still-life you can arrange or rearrange or do what you like, it becomes a very, very personal exercise that you have total control over’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain. 'Pyrmont silos' 1933, printed later

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Pyrmont silos
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
Printed image 25.2 h x 19.2 w cm sheet 31.2 h x 26.2 w cm mount 42.4 h x 32.0 w
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

 

Max Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace Modernism, and took a number of photographs of Pyrmont silos in the 1930s. There were no skyscrapers in Sydney until the late 1930s so the silos, Walter Burley Griffin’s incinerators and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were the major points of reference for those interested in depicting modern expressions of engineering and industrial power. Olive Cotton’s Drainpipes 1937 shows the precisely formed circles and curves of the pipes, interspersed with slivers of light and long shadows.

In almost text-book fashion, this image reflects Dupain’s assimilation of the aesthetics of contemporary European photography, which he encountered in publications such as the Das Deutsche Lichtbild [The German photograph] and Modern Photography annuals, the 1932 edition of which was edited by Man Ray. While Dupain’s relationship to the contemporary world was complicated, he nonetheless advocated for the latest photographic trends out of Europe and America, and for photographing modern, industrial subjects; as he asserted in 1938, ‘great art has always been contemporary in spirit’. Writing in 1975 about this image for Dupain’s retrospective at the Australian Centre for Photography, fellow photographer David Moore, who had worked with Dupain in the late 1940s, saw it as a turning point in Dupain’s career, believing that here ‘his awareness of the strength of industrial forms was confirmed with confident authority … From this moment any return to sentimental Pictorialism was precluded’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Pyrmont silos is one of a number of photographs that Dupain took of these constructions in the 1930s. In all cases Dupain examined the silos from a modernist perspective, emphasising their monumentality from low viewpoints under a bright cloudless sky. Additionally, his use of strong shadows to emphasise the forms of the silos and the lack of human figures celebrates the built structure as well as providing no sense of scale. Another photograph by Dupain in the AGNSW collection was taken through a car windscreen so that the machinery of transport merges explicitly with industrialisation into a complex hard-edge image of views and mirror reflections. There were no skyscrapers in Sydney until the late 1930s so the silos, Walter Burley Griffin’s incinerators and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were the major points of reference for those interested in depicting modern expressions of engineering and industrial power.

Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace modernism. One of his photographs of the silos was roundly criticised when shown to the New South Wales Photographic Society but Dupain forged on regardless with his reading, thinking and experimentation. Some Australian painting and writing had embraced modernist principles in the 1920s, but as late as 1938 Dupain was writing to the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Great art has always been contemporary in spirit. Today we feel the surge of aesthetic exploration along abstract lines, the social economic order impinging itself on art, the repudiation of the ‘truth to nature criterion’ … We sadly need the creative courage of Man Ray, the original thought of Moholy-Nagy, and the dynamic realism of Edouard [sic] Steichen.”1

1. Dupain, M 1938, “Letter to the editor,” in Sydney Morning Herald, 30 March

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Backyard, Forster, New South Wales' 1940

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Backyard, Forster, New South Wales
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
30.5 h x 30.5 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

This highly formal view of the backyard of a hotel in the coastal town of Forster embodies Dupain’s sense of Australian modernist photography. The picture’s frontalism and overriding use of horizontals and verticals acknowledge that the camera faced its subject face-to-face and that the view has been consciously framed. But as the title of the photograph makes clear, it is also a record of a particular place. In his personal copy of G.H. Saxon Mills’ essay ‘Modern photography’, which greatly assisted Dupain to conceptualise his own sense of a contemporary photographic practice, Dupain highlighted and annotated with a question mark the following statement: ‘”modern” photography means photography whose aim is partly or wholly aesthetic, as opposed to photography which is merely documentary or representational.’ Dupain believed that both were possible within the same frame.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) '(Factory chimney stacks)' 1940

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
[Factory chimney stacks]
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
49.0 h x 38.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

Dupain highlighted the writer G.H. Saxon Mills’ claim that photography’s value existed in both its capacity to record the world and the optical effects it found or created – ‘its … symphony of forms and textures.’

These factory chimney stacks are reduced to their most simple and direct form, which is shown free of any distraction. As Dupain noted, borrowing from the great American architectural historian Lewis Mumford, the ‘mission of the photograph is to clarify the subject’. The choice of subject matter was influenced by an essay by the English journalist, G.H. Saxon Mills, written in 1931 and read by Dupain soon after: ‘(photography) belongs to the new age … it is part and parcel of the terrific and thrilling panorama opening out before us today – of clean concrete buildings, steel radio masts, and the wings of the air line. But its beauty is only for those who themselves are aware of the ‘zeitgeist’ – who belong consciously and proudly to this age, and have not their eyes forever wistfully fixed on the past.’

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The way through the trees' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The way through the trees
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29.6 h x 29.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'An old country homestead, Western Australia' 1946

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
An old country homestead, Western Australia
1946
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
Swanston Street (between Elgin and Faraday Streets)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria
Tel: +61 3 8344 5148

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 – 5 pm

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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