Posts Tagged ‘Graflex camera

20
Jul
19

Exhibition: ‘Under the Mexican Sky: A Revolution in Modern Photography’ at the Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University

Exhibition dates: 1st June – 28th July 2019

 

Edward Weston. 'Dr. Federico Marín, Jean Charlot, and Tina Modotti' 1925

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Dr. Federico Marín, Jean Charlot, and Tina Modotti
1925
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ½ x 9 ¼ inches

 

Shown with Modotti are Federico Marín, who was Diego Rivera’s brother-in-law and physician, and Jean Charlot, who is here seen making a sketch on Tina’s back.

 

 

If there is one period and two countries that I love more than anything else in the history of medium, it is the avant-garde photography of the interwar years in France and the photography of Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s.

American, French and Italian photographers were drawn like bees to a honey pot to the blossoming artistic scene in Mexico City and the country in general. They soaked up the unique Mexican culture, its atmosphere of work, religion, beauty, death, poverty, and sensuality – its churches, religious icons, sculptures, festivals, pottery, and people – the land, the mountains and the inhabitants all photographed in this dazzling light. They photographed in an “international modernism” style (the supposed revolution in modern photography named in the title), expatriate photographers in a hospitable but impoverished land. But this was not their land, for this was not their country.

While Strand “modified his 5×7 Graflex camera, adding a special prism extension that enabled him to clandestinely shoot a subject at a 90° angle from the front of his camera”, surreptitiously making portraits as he had done in his New York subway portraits; while Weston documents the murals of Mexican culture at a distance, the clay pots as an abstract composition, and the traditional art and craft Tehuana dress as idealised icon; while Modotti comes closer with her political statements and constructed still life; it is only the Mexican artist Manuel Álvarez Bravo that steals my heart.

His work exudes the spirit of the country through its sensitivity and connection to the earth from which he was born. The light and form in Bravo La Siesta de los Peregrinos; the light and form in Retrato de lo Eterno. I have studied his work quite thoroughly. He is the blessed one. Through his music, he captures the light and life of Mexico, the spirit of the eternal, “the sunlight [as] a discreet veil that turns the shadows into velvet.” His work is the art of the People.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Hands in the Water of the Mind

The water of the mind     has filled with forms.
Come, come closer now,    elusive as
an anemone or a jellyfish     a criminal, a saint;

dip your hand in and pull    from the tormented water
angles and profiles,         an incessant music,

the murmur of the sky,     the mouth of the earth,
the crown of the breeze,     the rings of fire,

the bodies of the lynxes,     the wings of the bat,
the glasses and the pillow,     the brightness of hunger.

David Huerta

.
Many thankx to the Palmer 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.

 

In the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution (1910-20), expatriate photographers flocked to the blossoming artistic scene in Mexico City. Los Angelino Edward Weston reinvented his approach to the medium during three years there in the 1920s. In exploring the development of international modernism into the next decades, this exhibition features rare photographs by Italian Tina Modotti, New Yorkers Helen Levitt and Paul Strand, French master Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Mexico’s own Manuel Álvarez Bravo.

 

 

“For six months I worked at still photographs of Mexico, made about sixty platinum prints, completed and mounted them. Among other things I made a series of photographs in the churches, of the Christs and Madonnas, carved out of wood by the Indians. They are among the most extraordinary sculptures I have seen anywhere, and have apparently gone relatively unnoticed. These figures so alive with the intensity of the faith of those who made them. That is what interested me, the faith, even if it is not mine; a form of faith, to be sure, that is passing, that has to go. But the world needs a faith equally intense in something else, something more realistic, as I see it. Hence my impulse to photograph these things, and I think the photographs are pretty swell.”

.
Paul Strand

 

“At first the brilliance of technique is commented on. Laymen say: What reality! How three-dimensional. Photographers say: What texture! What a scale of values! What print quality! This is a first reaction and the least significant one. All this virtuosity is at the service of what Strand has to express, the felt idea behind the photograph.”

.
Leo Hurwitz

 

“Popular Art is the art of the People. A popular painter is an artisan who, as in the Middle Ages, remains anonymous. His work needs no advertisement, as it is done for the people around him. The more pretentious artist craves to become famous, and it is characteristic of his work that it is bought for the name rather than for the work – a name that is built up by propaganda. Before the Conquest all art was of the people, and popular art has never ceased to exist in Mexico.”

.
Manuel Álvarez Bravo

 

 

Charles Betts Waite. 'The Iguana' 1901

 

Charles Betts Waite (American, 1861-1927)
The Iguana
1901
Vintage gelatin silver print
5 x 7 7/8 inches

 

 

In this playful study, the shadows dominate: the bowl of vittles atop the man’s shadow suggest a sombrero shielding a sleeping man’s face during an afternoon siesta.

[Waite] traveled to Mexico City and in May 1897 established a photography studio there, during the Porfirio Díaz government. He became part of Porfirian society, taking photographs of many in the ruler’s circle. He was among a group of expatriate photographers (such as Winfield Scott and fellow San Diegans Ralph Carmichael and Percy S. Cox) working in Mexico in the first decade of the 20th century. Waite traveled throughout Mexico, exploring archaeological sites and the countryside.

[Waite’s life] corresponds with that of adventurers, brave explorers with romantic spirits and materialistic outlooks, who toured the hitherto unknown world, discovering their riches and inventing paradises.” ~ Francisco Montellano, author of C. B. Waite, fotógrafo

His works were published in books, travel magazines, and on post cards, having contracted with the Sonora News Company. He also worked for several Mexican newspapers, and he documented United States scientific expeditions in Mexico. The images often included scenic Mexican images and the country’s native residents. Many of Waite’s photographs depict railroads, parks, archaeological sites, and business enterprises.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Tina Modotti. 'Experiment in Related Form' 1924

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
Experiment in Related Form
1924
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 3/8 x 9 3/8 inches

 

 

This is one of only two known photomontages by Modotti, in which a single image of six wine glasses is enlarged and cropped and then superimposed onto itself.

 

Edward Weston. 'Ollas de Oaxaca' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Ollas de Oaxaca
1926
Vintage palladium print
8 x 10 inches

 

 

An olla is a clay pot or jar. Weston wrote that his first thought of Oaxaca “is always of the market, – and the market means first of all loza – crockery! I bought and bought – dishes, jars, jugettes, – of the dull black or grey-black ware, and of the deep green glaze ware… Very well do these people reproduce, make use of the essential quality of the material, – splendidly do they observe and utilise to advantage the very essence of a form. A race of born sculptors!”

 

Edward Weston. 'Detail of stone frieze, ruins of Mitla, Oaxaca' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Detail of stone frieze, ruins of Mitla, Oaxaca
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ½ x 9 ½ inches

 

 

“I was fascinated by the stone mosaics at Mitla, for besides a variation on the Greek fret, there was a unique pattern – oblique lines of dynamic force – flashes of stone lightning, which remain my strongest memory.” ~ Edward Weston, The Daybooks, vol. I.

 

Edward Weston. 'Stone lions in relief, Oaxaca' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Stone lions in relief, Oaxaca
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ½ x 9 ½ inches

 

Edward Weston. 'Two clay pitchers' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Two clay pitchers
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ½ x 9 ¼ inches

 

 

These studies of pre-Columbian and folk-art statuary and pottery, done for Anita Brenner’s Idols Behind Altars project, taught Weston the art of the table-top still life. As such, they were the direct precursor to the iconic shells, peppers, and cabbages that occupied him immediately upon his return to Los Angeles in December 1926.

 

Edward Weston. 'Tarascan Pottery, Michoacán' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Tarascan Pottery, Michoacán
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ½ x 8 ¼ inches

 

 

The Tarascan people flourished from 1100 A.D. to 1530 A.D. After the Spanish Conquest, missionaries organised the Tarascan empire into a series of craft-oriented villages. Their artistic traditions survive today in the Lake Pátzcuaro region.

 

Tina Modotti. 'Jean Charlot' 1923

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
Jean Charlot
1923
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 ½ x 7 ½ inches

 

 

Anita Brenner and Tina Modotti remained friendly rivals in Mexico City’s close-knit artistic expatriate community throughout the 1920s. Their intertwined social life revolved around the French-Mexican painter Jean Charlot, who had been a principal assistant to Rivera. Charlot was Weston’s closest friend in Mexico as well as Brenner’s paramour and professional collaborator. In a diary entry in 1927, Brenner made a three-column table captioned “Actively Friends; Actively Enemies; and Actively Both.” Modotti’s name appears in the third column.

This sensitive Modotti portrait is inscribed by Charlot to Brenner, “You are bad tempered / I am worst tempered / Does that explain the sweet / Hours we passed together”

 

Tina Modotti. 'Elisa Kneeling' 1924

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
Elisa Kneeling
1924
Vintage palladium print
8 7/8 x 6 5/8 inches

 

 

The power of Modotti’s portrait of her young chambermaid is due to the contrast between her beatific face and her coiled hands, which suggest a lifetime of hard manual labor.

 

Edward Weston. 'Anita ("Pear-Shaped Nude")' 1925

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Anita (“Pear-Shaped Nude”)
1925
Vintage gelatin silver print
8 5/8 x 7 3/8 inches

 

 

“I was shaving when A[nita] came, hardly expecting her on such a gloomy, drizzling day. I made excuses, having no desire, no ‘inspiration’ to work … but she took no hints, undressing while I reluctantly prepared my camera…. And then appeared to me the most exquisite lines, forms, volumes – and I accepted, – working easily, rapidly, surely…

Reviewing the new prints, I am seldom so happy as I am with the pear-like nude of A[nita]. I turn to it again and again. I could hug the print in sheer joy. It is one of my most perfect photographs.” ~ Edward Weston, The Daybooks, vol. I

 

Edward Weston. 'Excusado' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Excusado
1926
Gelatin silver print, 1930s
10 x 8 inches

 

 

“‘Form follows function.’ Who said this I don’t know, but the writer spoke well! I have been photographing our toilet, that glossy enamelled receptacle of extraordinary beauty. It might be suspicioned that I am in a cynical mood to approach such subject matter… My excitement was absolute aesthetic response to form… I was thrilled! – here was every sensuous curve of the ‘human form divine’ but minus imperfections.” ~ Edward Weston, The Daybooks, vol. I

Weston was particularly amused when his chambermaid placed a bouquet of flowers in the bowl, in a well-meaning effort to create a more fitting subject for her employer’s lens.

 

Edward Weston. 'Casa de Vecindad' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Casa de Vecindad
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 3/8 x 9 ½ inches

 

 

A casa de vecindad or “neighborhood house” was a community home or tenement. This one had once been “a fine old convent,” wrote Weston. “The light was made perfect by the collective noise of cats and dogs, children laughing and crying, women gabbling and vendors calling.”

 

Edward Weston. 'Arches, Oaxaca' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Arches, Oaxaca
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 ½ x 7 ½ inches

 

Edward Weston. 'Guadalajara, Barranca de los Oblatos: Rocky Trail' 1925

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Guadalajara, Barranca de los Oblatos: Rocky Trail
1925
Vintage palladium print
10 x 8 inches

 

 

Mexico City in the 1920s-30s was the scene of one of the great artistic flowerings of the twentieth century. Like Paris in the aftermath of World War I, Mexico City after the decade-long Mexican Revolution served as a magnet for international artists and photographers. Foremost among the expatriate photographers was the Los Angelino, Edward Weston, who embedded himself in the artistic milieu surrounding the muralist painters Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros. Weston reinvented his approach to picture-making during his three years in Mexico, 1923-26. The soft-focus painterliness that had characterised his studio portraiture in the ‘teens melted away under the brilliant Mexican sun, to be replaced by crystalline landscapes as well as evocative still life that prefigured his later shells and peppers. Meanwhile his paramour and protégée, the Italian silent film star Tina Modotti, created photographs that would place her in the pantheon of great photographers of the era. This exhibition features rare vintage Mexican masterworks by both Weston and Modotti from the 1920s, as well as stellar photographs from the 1930s by the New Yorker Paul Strand, the Frenchman Henri Cartier-Bresson, and by Mexico’s own self-taught master of the camera, Manuel Álvarez Bravo.

Already in the first two decades of the 20th century, immigrant photographers had played an outsize role in Mexican photography. German-born Hugo Brehme published picturesque views of Mexican life and landscape in local and international tourist magazines, including National Geographic. Brehme’s fellow German émigré, Carl Wilhelm (Guillermo) Kahlo, meticulously photographed Mexico’s colonial architecture; his daughter Frida would marry Diego Rivera and become a legendary painter and personality. A third talented immigrant photographer was the Californian C.B. Waite, who moved to Mexico City in 1897 and opened a photo studio. At their best, as in The Iguana from 1901, seen here, Waite’s genre studies prefigure by a quarter century the exotic Surrealism that would characterise the work of Modotti, Álvarez Bravo, and Cartier-Bresson.

In 1923, C.B. Waite left Mexico and retired to Glendale, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Coincidentally, within a few months, Glendale’s leading photographer, Edward Weston, would make that same journey in the opposite direction. Weston sought to escape from the personal and professional distractions that he felt were deterring him from an aesthetic breakthrough. His love affair with Tina Modotti made him realise that he would never be a conventional husband. In August, 1923, Weston left the port of Los Angeles and sailed to Mexico on the S.S. Colima, accompanied by Modotti, who agreed to run his studio in exchange for photography lessons.

The Weston-Modotti home in Mexico City became a gathering place for writers, painters and photographers. This was the time of the Mexican Renaissance, a cultural movement that celebrated the country’s modern artists as well as its popular and indigenous arts. Under the presidency of Álvaro Obregón, the education minister José Vasconcelos sponsored an ambitious program of progressive public art, most notably the mural movement which was led by Diego Rivera, who was in all ways a larger-than-life character.

While Weston never second-guessed his decision to give up the steady income from studio portraiture, he and Tina faced constant money problems during their three years together in Mexico. Financial salvation came in the unlikely guise of a brash 19-year-old anthropology student, Anita Brenner. Born to a mercantile family with roots in both Texas and Mexico, Brenner befriended Weston and Modotti in Mexico City and hired them to furnish 400 photographs for her book, Idols Behind Altars. This was to be the first serious art-historical treatise on pre-Columbian art, Spanish Colonial architecture, and contemporary Mexican folk art. Weston and Modotti rose to the task with gusto, criss-crossing southern Mexico from Oaxaca to Guadalajara in search of prime examples of these genres.

Weston was first introduced to pulquerías, or working-class bars, by Diego Rivera, who was writing an article on pulquería mural painting for Mexican Folkways magazine. Weston was impressed by the vitality of these anonymous murals, writing:

“The aspiring young painters of Mexico should study the unaspiring paintings – popular themes – popular art – which adorn the humble pulquería… brave matadores at the kill – white veiled ladies, pensive beside moonlit waters – an exquisitely tender group of Indians … and all the pictured thoughts, nearest and dearest to the heart of the people.”

When Modotti left Mexico in 1930, she gifted her large-format view cameras to her close friend and protégé, Manuel Álvarez Bravo. With a seven-decade career, he is considered Mexico’s greatest photographer. “I was born in the city of Mexico, behind the Cathedral, in the place where the temples of the ancient Mexican gods must have been built, February fourth, 1902,” he wrote, invoking the magical realism that infuses his most iconic photographs. As a teenager he studied painting at the Academia San Carlos, the same art school that Rivera and Orozco had attended. “Interested since always in art, I committed the common error of believing that photography would be the easiest,” he confessed. In addition to Modotti, another important early mentor was the painter Rufino Tamayo, who counselled Álvarez Bravo against the “surface nationalism” of political art, such as that of Rivera, Orozco, or indeed Modotti herself: “Art is a way of expression that has to be understood by everybody, everywhere. It grows out of the earth, the texture of our lives and our experiences.” Tamayo’s words became Álvarez Bravo’s touchstones.

In 1934, Álvarez Bravo befriended the young painter-turned-photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who had come to Mexico to spend the year photographing in the brilliant natural light not often found in his native Paris. At a technical level their approach to photography diverged: Álvarez Bravo, like Weston and Modotti, favoured traditional large-format view cameras, while Cartier-Bresson, the progenitor of the “decisive moment,” was an early proponent of the hand-held 35mm Leica camera. Yet their common interest in capturing the “accidental theater of the street” outweighed these differences. “Cartier-Bresson and I did not photograph together but we walked the same streets and photographed many of the same things,” Álvarez Bravo recalled. They exhibited together in 1935 in a show entitled Documentary and Anti-Graphic Photographs, first at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and then at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. This seminal exhibit was the first time that “street photography” had been placed in a serious fine art setting. Reviewing that show, poet Langston Hughes wrote: “In a photograph by Cartier-Bresson, as in modern music, there is a clash of sunlight and shadow, while in Bravo, the sunlight is a discreet veil that turns the shadows into velvet.”

Text from the Palmer Museum of Art

 

Edward Weston. 'Los Changos Vaciladores (Playful Monkeys), pulquería mural' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Los Changos Vaciladores (Playful Monkeys), pulquería mural
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ½ x 9 ½ inches

 

Edward Weston. 'Charrito, pulquería mural' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Charrito, pulquería mural
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ½ x 9 ½ inches

 

Edward Weston. 'Two children with pulquería mural' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Two children with pulquería mural
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 3/8 x 6 ¾ inches

 

Edward Weston. 'Ceiling of the Church of Santiago, Tupátaro' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Ceiling of the Church of Santiago, Tupátaro
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ½ x 9 ½ inches

 

 

“Few had seen this church of Tupátaro, far from tourist tracks. The ceiling was entirely lacquered, even the beams – a notable achievement in colour, design and craftsmanship. That was a hard day of work. Exposures were prolonged to even fifteen minutes with additional flash light, the while I must remain quite still upon a rickety balcony for fear of jarring the camera, which was real torture with more fleas biting and crawling than I ever knew could jump from a few square feet of space.” ~ Edward Weston, The Daybooks, vol. I

 

Brett Weston. 'Tin roofs, Mexico' 1926

 

Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
Tin roofs, Mexico
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 1/8 x 9 ½ inches

 

 

Edward Weston’s son Brett joined him in his final year in Mexico. Brett was himself a child prodigy photographer, as evidenced by this sensitively balanced and exquisitely printed abstract masterwork, taken when he was fourteen years old.

Theodore Brett Weston (December 16, 1911, Los Angeles – January 22, 1993, Hawaii) was an American photographer. Van Deren Coke described Brett Weston as the “child genius of American photography.” He was the second of the four sons of photographer Edward Weston and Flora Chandler.

Weston began taking photographs in 1925, while living in Mexico with Tina Modotti and his father. He began showing his photographs with Edward Weston in 1927, was featured at the international exhibition at Film und Foto in Germany at age 17, and mounted his first one-man museum retrospective at age 21 at the De Young Museum in San Francisco in January, 1932.

Weston’s earliest images from the 1920s reflect his intuitive sophisticated sense of abstraction. He often flattened the plane, engaging in layered space, an artistic style more commonly seen among the Abstract Expressionists and more modern painters like David Hockney than other photographers. He began photographing the dunes at Oceano, California, in the early 1930s. This eventually became a favourite location of his father Edward and later shared with Brett’s third wife Dody Weston Thompson. Brett preferred the high gloss papers and ensuing sharp clarity of the gelatin silver photographic materials of the f64 Group rather than the platinum matte photographic papers common in the 1920s and encouraged Edward Weston to explore the new silver papers in his own work. Brett Weston was credited by photography historian Beaumont Newhall as the first photographer to make negative space the subject of a photograph. Donald Ross, a photographer close to both Westons, said that Brett never came after anyone. He was a true photographic equal and colleague to his father and “one should not be considered without the other.”

“Brett and I are always seeing the same kinds of things to do – we have the same kind of vision. Brett didn’t like this; naturally enough, he felt that even when he had done the thing first, the public would not know and he would be blamed for imitating me.” Edward Weston – Daybooks – May 24, 1930.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Weston. 'Rosa Covarrubias in Tehuana dress' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Rosa Covarrubias in Tehuana dress
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 3/8 x 7 ½ inches

 

 

Rosa and Miguel Covarrubias were early promoters of traditional Mexican art and craft; their extensive collection now resides at San Francisco’s Mexican Museum. This striking portrait of Rosa in traditional Zapotec dress was appropriated by Diego Rivera for his painting Tehuana Woman, 1929.

Born in Los Angeles, Rosa Rolanda was a dancer with the Marion Morgan dance troupe and the Ziegfeld Follies. She married the Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias, who was the leading caricaturist of the jazz age. While Rosa and Miguel were accompanying Edward and Tina on one of their trips for Anita Brenner, they taught Rosa the basics of photography. Later, Man Ray would teach her his technique of cameraless photograms. With such tutelage, it is no surprise that Rosa became a gifted photographer in her own right.

 

Edward Weston. 'Rosa Covarrubias' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Rosa Covarrubias
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 x 6 3/4 inches

 

Edward Weston. 'Palma Bendita' 1926

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Palma Bendita
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 ½ x 7 3/8 inches

 

 

The branches of the palma bendita, or “blessed palm,” were believed to have been strewn on the road before Christ during his entry into Jerusalem and are blessed on Palm Sunday, an important Mexican holiday.

 

Tina Modotti. 'Campesinos (Workers' Parade)' 1926

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
Campesinos (Workers’ Parade)
1926
Vintage palladium print
8 3/8 x 7 ½ inches

 

 

Modotti’s iconic Campesinos has the same formal structure – circular forms filling the picture frame – as Weston’s Olla Pots of Oaxaca made the same year. But Modotti’s picture adds a political dimension that Weston would by nature recoil from. Modotti’s increasingly fervent politicisation contributed to the dissolution of her relationship with Weston, who was fundamentally apolitical. Weston returned to Los Angeles at the end of 1926; Modotti would remain in Mexico another four years.

 

Tina Modotti. 'Bandolier, Corn, Sickle' 1927

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
Bandolier, Corn, Sickle
1927
Vintage gelatin silver print
8 ¾ x 7 ½ inches

 

 

This politically-charged still life, and its companion piece Bandolier, Corn and Guitar, were made the year Modotti formally joined Mexico’s Communist Party. At the time she was modelling for Diego Rivera, a fellow traveler. Modotti’s likeness appears in several of Rivera’s most famous Revolutionary murals; she would also be blamed for the break-up of his marriage to Lupe Marín.

 

Tina Modotti. 'Bandolier, Corn and Guitar' 1927

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
Bandolier, Corn and Guitar
1927
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 ½ x 7 ½ inches

 

Tina Modotti. 'Women of Tehuantepec' 1929

 

Tina Modotti (Italian, 1896-1942)
Women of Tehuantepec
1929
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 x 7 ¼ inches

 

 

This is one of Modotti’s final masterworks. The following year she would be expelled from Mexico for sedition, due to her work on behalf of the Communist Party. She settled in Russia, giving up photography for relief work with International Red Aid. When the Spanish Civil War erupted in 1936, she joined the fray. She returned to Mexico under a pseudonym in 1939, and died of a heart attack three years later, at age 45, her life the stuff of legend.

 

Manuel Álvarez. 'La Siesta de los Peregrinos' (the siesta of the migrants) 1930s

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
La Siesta de los Peregrinos (the siesta of the migrants)
1930s
Vintage gelatin silver print
6 7/8 x 9 3/8 inches

 

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (February 4, 1902 – October 19, 2002) was a Mexican artistic photographer and one of the most important figures in 20th century Latin American photography. He was born and raised in Mexico City. While he took art classes at the Academy of San Carlos, his photography is self-taught. His career spanned from the late 1920s to the 1990s with its artistic peak between the 1920s and 1950s. His hallmark as a photographer was to capture images of the ordinary but in ironic or Surrealistic ways. His early work was based on European influences, but he was soon influenced by the Mexican muralism movement and the general cultural and political push at the time to redefine Mexican identity. He rejected the picturesque, employing elements to avoid stereotyping. He had numerous exhibitions of his work, worked in the Mexican cinema and established Fondo Editorial de la Plástica Mexicana publishing house. He won numerous awards for his work, mostly after 1970. …

Álvarez Bravo’s photography career spanned from the late 1920s to the 1990s. It formed in the decades after the Mexican Revolution (1920s to 1950s) when there was significant creative output in the country, much of it sponsored by the government wanting to promote a new Mexican identity based on both modernity and the country’s indigenous past.

Although he was photographing in the late 1920s, he became a freelance photographer full-time in 1930, quitting his government job. That same year, Tina Modotti was deported from Mexico for political activities and she left Alvarez Bravo her camera and her job at Mexican Folkways magazine. For this publication, Alvarez Bravo began photographing the work of the Mexican muralists and other painters. During the rest of the 1930s, he established his career. He met photographer Paul Strand in 1933 on the set of the film “Redes”, and worked with him briefly. In 1938, he met French Surrealist artist André Breton, who promoted Alvaréz Bravo’s work in France, exhibiting it there. Later, Breton asked for a photograph for the cover of catalog for an exhibition in Mexico. Alvarez Bravo created “La buena fama durmiendo” (The good reputation sleeping), which Mexican censors rejected due to nudity. The photograph would be reproduced many times after that however.

Alvarez Bravo trained most of the next generation of photographers including Nacho López, Héctor García and Graciela Iturbide. From 1938 to 1939, he taught photography at the Escuela Central de Artes Plásticas, now the National School of Arts (UNAM). In the latter half of the 1960s he taught at the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'Retrato de lo Eterno' (Portrait of the Eternal) 1935

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Retrato de lo Eterno (Portrait of the Eternal)
1935
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 ½ x 7 3/8 inches

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'The Spider of Love, Mexico City' 1934

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
The Spider of Love, Mexico City
1934
Gelatin silver print c. 1960
6 ½ x 9 ¾ inches

 

 

“I was very lucky. I had only to push the door open. It was so voluptuous, so sensual. I couldn’t see their faces. It was miraculous – physical love in all its fullness. Tonio grabbed a lamp, and I took several shots. There was nothing obscene about it. I could never have got them to pose – a matter of decency.” ~ Cartier-Bresson

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Calle Cuauhtemoctzin (two prostitutes), Mexico City' 1934

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Calle Cuauhtemoctzin (two prostitutes), Mexico City
1934
Gelatin silver print c. 1960
9 1/8 x 13 ¾ inches

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'Niña con Leña' (Girl with Firewood) 1930s

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Niña con Leña (Girl with Firewood)
1930s
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 x 9 5/8 inches

 

 

Helen Levitt’s photographs of Mexico City, taken in 1941, are a notable exception to her otherwise exclusive focus on New York City during her long career (1930s through 1970s). But the principal subject matter of Levitt’s work was the same in both metropolises: the lives of children in working-class neighbourhoods. In this evocative image, the children’s play is undeterred by their poverty, which is evidenced by their bare feet, the dirt road, and the dilapidated buildings. Levitt studied with the noted photographer Walker Evans; her work was also influenced by the other artists in the present exhibition: like Cartier-Bresson, she favoured the hand-held Leica camera; like Paul Strand, she used a secret sideways lens that enabled her to photograph surreptitiously.

Levitt printed her Mexican photographs only after returning to New York, where they added to her blossoming reputation. Her first one-woman show at the Museum of Modern Art included sixteen photographs from Mexico, including a variant of this image (below).

 

Helen Levitt. 'Mexico City' 1941

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
Mexico City
1941
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 ¼ x 9 5/8 inches

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Mexico' 1963

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Mexico
1963
Vintage gelatin silver print
9 ¾ x 6 ½ inches

 

 

Paul Strand

Paul Strand achieved early recognition as a protégé of Alfred Stieglitz, the New York photographer and gallerist. In 1917 Stieglitz devoted the final two issues of his Camera Work magazine to Strand’s high modernist photography, which was heavily influenced by avant garde artists such as Paul Cezanne and Pablo Picasso. Stieglitz praised Strand’s work as “brutally direct” and “devoid of all flim-flam.”

By 1932, when Strand drove his Model A Ford from Taos to Mexico, his style had evolved dramatically. Abstraction had given way to humanism, reflecting the influence of his high school photography teacher, the eminent social documentarian Lewis Hine. Strand was now concerned with how people lived, and especially with those aspects of life that “make a place what it is.” Mexico was a logical destination for Strand, whose political concern for the common man intersected with the proletarian goals of the Mexican Revolution.

Over the next several months Strand photographed people and places in rural small towns across southern Mexico, from Michoacán in the West to Oaxaca in the East, unconsciously retracing Edward Weston and Tina Modotti’s footsteps from the 1920s. Strand’s work in Mexico set the tone for the photographic journeys to out-of-the-way destinations in Europe and Africa that would occupy the rest of his long career.

For these Mexican portraits, Strand modified his 5×7 Graflex camera, adding a special prism extension that enabled him to clandestinely shoot a subject at a 90° angle from the front of his camera. The subjects of these portraits, absorbedly watching the Yankee photographer at work, were unaware that he was actually aiming his camera at them. Strand had pioneered this technique as a young photographer on the streets of New York.

Strand originally printed his Mexican photographs as platinum prints. The prints shown here are hand-pulled photogravures created for a 1940 portfolio Photographs of Mexico. In his introduction to the portfolio, Strand describes the prints as “a step forward in the art of reproduction processes,” attributing their quality to the production team’s combined two centuries of experience.

 

Paul Strand. 'Near Saltillo' 1932

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Near Saltillo
1932
Vintage photogravure
5 x 6 3/8 inches

 

 

“When you leave the Texas border for about 70 miles – flat desert, it could still be Texas. Then suddenly appear the mountains of the North around Monterrey and Saltillo – amazing mountains. They are a continuation of the American spur – our Rockies I suppose – but how different – utterly fantastic shapes, like mountains in fairy books. And I never saw the forms within each individual mountain – defined – come right at you as those in the North.” ~ Paul Strand to painter John Marin

 

Paul Strand. 'Gateway - Hidalgo' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Gateway – Hidalgo
1933
Vintage photogravure
10 1/8 x 8 inches

 

 

“What have come to be known as ‘Strand clouds’ – heavy, lowering shapes holding rain and threat of storm – appear in a great many of his photographs. A friend of Strand’s remembers him cursing under his breath whenever fluffy, cottony cloud formations, which he referred to as ‘Johnson & Johnson,’ took over the sky; they never appear in his prints.” ~ Calvin Tomkins

 

Paul Strand. 'Boy - Hidalgo' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Boy – Hidalgo
1933
Vintage photogravure
6 3/8 x 5 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Man with Hoe - Los Remedios' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Man with Hoe – Los Remedios
1933
Vintage photogravure
6 ¼ x 5 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Plaza - State of Puebla' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Plaza – State of Puebla
1933
Vintage photogravure
5 x 6 3/8 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Church, Cuapiaxtla' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Church, Cuapiaxtla
1933
Vintage photogravure
6 3/8 x 5 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Man - Tenancingo' 1933 

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Man – Tenancingo
1933
Vintage photogravure
6 ½ x 5 1/8 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Girl and Child - Toluca' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Girl and Child – Toluca
1933
Vintage photogravure
6 ½ x 5 1/8 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Boy - Uruapan' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Boy – Uruapan
1933
Vintage photogravure
10 1/8 x 8 1/8 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Cristo - Oaxaca' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Cristo – Oaxaca
1933
Vintage photogravure
10 x 8 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Cristo with Thorns - Huexotla' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Cristo with Thorns – Huexotla
1933
Vintage photogravure
10 ¼ x 8 1/8 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Cristo - Tlacochoaya - Oaxaca' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Cristo – Tlacochoaya – Oaxaca
1933
Vintage photogravure
10 ¼ x 8 inches

 

Paul Strand. 'Virgin - San Felipe - Oaxaca' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Virgin – San Felipe – Oaxaca
1933
Vintage photogravure
10 ¼ x 8 1/8 inches

 

 

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25
Jun
16

Exhibition: ‘Brett Weston: Significant Details’ at Pasadena Museum of California Art

Exhibition dates: 17th April – 11th September 2016

Curator: Erin Aitali, PMCA Director of Exhibitions and Registrar

 

 

If your subject is essentially unrecognizable – a defining characteristic of many of Weston’s photographs – devoid of sentimentality, featuring an explosion of geometry as a form of Western expressionism, able to extract the microcosm from the macrocosm through an absence of human presence and apparent narrative – then your previsualisation must be spot on otherwise you loose clear focus as to just what it is you are trying to communicate. It’s all very well being obsessed with capturing the intricacies and rhythms of form, light and shadow, visual poetry in photography, but if that obsession has no ‘feeling’ outcome then you are doomed to failure.

Imagine (if you can) that master of documentary realism Eugène Atget placing his camera in just the wrong position for one of his photographs. The tripod just a little too low, the position a metre to the left of where it should have been. The resulting image would not feel like an Atget, the angles would not feel right, the mixture of objective and subjective would not be present, the magic of his photographs – recognisably his photographs – would be missing. What Atget does so convincingly is to combine the aesthetic with the documentary or representational. As G.H. Saxon Mills observes in his essay ‘Modern photography’ ‘”modern” photography means photography whose aim is partly or wholly aesthetic, as opposed to photography which is merely documentary or representational.’ Atget proves that both were possible within the same frame.

This is not the case with the photographs by Brett Weston in this posting. Although I have commented elsewhere on this website that, “Brett Weston’s pictures are ageing well – the decorative aesthetic seems to have more currency today than previously when the values of his father were predominant,” and admired the reductive minimalism of his photographs … this is not the case with these ‘significant details’. In this instance they are just representation, poor relations to the photographs of Minor White and Aaron Siskind. I think that the best of his work is very fine – a sort of celebration of all that had gone before with a layer of super-fineness added. However he made many images that were a bit like a preacher rather than an artist. In some of his portfolios the choice of images is just plain weird, catering to the market rather than takng the chance to make a powerful statement. And photography aficionados remain unconvinced by his work, shying away from collecting it. Perhaps they know, or feel a lack of something, some spirit or other, or a seeming unevenness in the quality of his artistic production.

Perhaps it is his printing, which is a bit “Kodak meets EW” in the darkroom (even as his father entrusted him with printing some of his negatives). Weston achieved his good results because he was a careful craftsman, not an experimenter. Someone, I forget who, said that you never looked at his work when desperate for sustenance – and I think a lot of “connoisseurs” think that – and in a Brett Weston you can too often argue yourself out of the celebration. There is a certain dourness that is hard to overcome. I challenge you, now, to say one meaningful good thing about any of the images presented here. They take you nowhere. They are either too tightly cropped (that lack of true previsualisation / placing the camera in the wrong position / lack of context) or rely on pattern and representation, and only that, to do the heavy lifting.

My feeling about his work is that he saw and felt many great things that he used in his work – but at the final hurdle, his implementation was always handled a little directly, or not a well as might have been… or is sometimes absent. Perhaps it’s just his viewpoint which seems to be too limited in a psychological sense. If Atget had photographed the city without those magnificent tripod positions and understanding of space, then they would have been dead. That’s how BW’s work sometimes feels. Instead of the space feeling larger than the camera can contain, on occasions his photographs feel enclosed and stilted.

Weston said, “There are a million choices for shot. At its simplest, photography is very complex. So I try to keep it simple and focus on things I can master.”

Sometimes, keeping things simple does not result in preternatural outcomes.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

“My father was driven and so am I. You’re ruthless. You brush off your friends and women. He was much kinder than me. I don’t verbalize well and I don’t socialize much. Too time consuming. And I’m not a good salesman of my work. I love people, but they can be a drain. Some are stimulating; some are leeches. So I seek people on my own terms. Most artists are loners. I guess they have to be.”

.
Brett Weston

 

“Weston isn’t really a nature photographer… He was obsessed with capturing the intricacies and rhythms of form, light and shadow. Weston is as fascinated by close-ups of the exfoliating bark of a bristlecone pine or the spikes of a Joshua Tree as he is with the visual poetry of peeling paint on the side-panel of a rusted out truck.”

.
Jeffrey St. Clair

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brett Weston: Significant Details' at the Pasadena Museum of California Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brett Weston: Significant Details' at the Pasadena Museum of California Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brett Weston: Significant Details' at the Pasadena Museum of California Art

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Brett Weston: Significant Details at the Pasadena Museum of California Art
Photos: © 2016 Don Milici

 

 

“Although Brett Weston (1911-1993) is best known for his striking scenic photographs, the majority of his work ranges from middle-distance scenes to close-up abstractions. These concentrated images share the high-contrast and graphic qualities of Weston’s panoramas while emphasizing his affinity for “significant details” and the unprecedented attention to form, texture, shadow, and light that he explored throughout his nearly-seventy-year career.

Weston took up photography at the age of fourteen. Although he received basic technical instruction from his father, renowned photographer Edward Weston, Brett’s early efforts owed much to his intuition and innate eye. His elemental talent coupled with an unflagging commitment to his photographic vision – often at the expense of personal relationships and fiscal well-being – carried him from early critical acclaim, through difficult periods, to eventual financial success within his own lifetime.

By the age of twenty-five, Weston’s photographs were included in significant exhibitions both nationally and internationally, but despite early recognitition he served as a WPA photographer during the Great Depression and as a Signal Corps photographer during World War II. By neccessity, he also worked intermittently in the first half of his career as an industrial and portrait photographer. However, when he achieved prosperity beginning in the 1970s, he devoted himself exclusively to the photography and intercontinental expeditions that fulfilled him. His initial interest in abstracted details continually revealed itself, especially once he began using a new, smaller camera after health problems in the late 1960s forced him to abandon the bulky equipment he had used for over thirty years.

Early and continuing critical success notwithstanding, following Brett’s death, the comparison to his famed father left the younger Weston on the wrong side of a narrowing modern canon of photography. Reaffirming Weston’s legacy and his exceptional contributions to modernist photography, these uncharted, close-up images – more than half of which are on view for the first time – demonstrate the major themes present in Weston’s work: a focus on natural and urban landscapes and the objects therein, the absence of human presence and apparent narrative, and an extraordinary ability to extract the microcosm from the macrocosm.”

Introduction text from the exhibition

 

Brett Weston. 'Untitled (Worm Wood, California)' c. 1937 (printed c. 1970)

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Worm Wood, California
c. 1937 (printed c. 1970)
Silver gelatin print
10 1/2 x 13 3/4 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

Although Weston’s wife Cicely provided the couple with a steady income, she became pregnant with the pair’s first (and only) child in 1937, providing Weston impetus to generate additional means of support. Hoping to replicate the financial success of Ansel Adams’s portfolio of limited edition original photographs, Weston produced one of his own. His first portfolio San Francisco (1937) consisted of twelve 8 x 10 original prints. Unlike the photograph Staircase, San Francisco (1928) included in this exhibition, the portfolio photos were panoramic vistas. However, without the robust support of a collector like Albert Bender, who both promoted and purchased enough of Adams’s portfolios to assure commercial success, Weston didn’t profit from his portfolio. He lacked not only the promotional skills and collector base but also refused gallery sales owing to his deep distrust and outrage at their commissions.

 

Brett Weston. 'Wood' 1972

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Wood
1972
Silver gelatin print
7 1/2 x 8 5/8 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

“One of the most celebrated and prolific photographers of the twentieth century, Brett Weston (1911-1993) is best known for his striking scenic images, yet the bulk of his work ranges from middle-distance scenes to closeup abstractions. The Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) is proud to present Brett Weston: Significant Details, the first museum exhibition to focus on Weston’s close-up photography. The works – over half of which are on view for the first time – share the high-contrast and graphic qualities of Weston’s panoramic photographs while emphasizing the “significant details,” the tendency toward abstraction and extremes in tonality that Weston explored through his nearly 60-year career. The exhibition further contextualizes Weston within the pivotal Group f/64 and highlights how intuition and a dedication to photography in its purest form guided his practice.

Although the teaching of his father, famed modernist photographer Edward Weston, was invaluable and his influence undeniable, Weston’s practice was largely shaped by instinct and informal training. He took up photography at the age of 14 when, on an extended trip to Mexico with his father, he started photographing the crew of the SS Oaxaca with the elder Weston’s Graflex camera. This trip also coincided with the end of his formal education; he was enrolled at an English-speaking school, but dropped out within two weeks. While in Mexico, Weston became part of the modernist mileu, socializing with and viewing the work of some of the greatest artists of the time, including David Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, and José Clemente Orozco.

Weston’s professional entry into the world of photography occurred during a shift from the East Coast Pictorialists and their accentuation of romantic effects to the West Coast photographic movement, which coalesced with Group f/64 and their sharp images that captured daily life. Like the members of Group f/64, which included Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, Brett Weston focused primarily on two types of images: close-ups and the scenic view. However, Weston’s approach was distinct, tending toward highly graphic images, with intense areas of dark and highlights, rather than midgray tones used by many, including his father.

By the age of 25, Weston’s work had been included in the landmark international photography exhibition Film und Foto and in a solo exhibition at the M. H. de Young Museum in San Francisco. Though he received critical acclaim and  his reputation grew, Weston remained dedicated to art for art’s sake and to creating pure, elemental photographs. He was a simple man and used the same equipment for most of his career. However, when health problems forced him to switch to a smaller camera – the Rollei – in 1968, he further experimented with close-up photographs, and his work became even more intent on exploring specific details and abstract qualities. In Torn Leaf, Hawaii (1978, below), for example, the brittle, curling leaf appears monumental on a black ground. It exists as a singular object, not fully contained within the composition, and the size is indeterminable without context.

The uncharted, close-up images that are the focus of Significant Details demonstrate the major themes present in Weston’s work: a play on scale, the absence of the human presence, and a refrain from imposed order. This exhibition features approximately 40 works taken over a period of 55 years, ranging from 1929 to 1984, and brings to the forefront the unprecedented attention to form, texture, shadow, and light that was the distinctive characteristic of Weston’s oeuvre.”

Press release from the Pasadena Museum of California Art

 

Brett Weston. 'Wall, Europe' 1971

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Wall, Europe
1971
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

In 1971 Brett returned to Europe for the third time. While there, he captured both abstract images, like this one, and panoramas. Notably, this trip resulted in the photograph of Holland Canal, which Weston grew to hate, despite its commercial success or perhaps because of it, “I’m so sick of the thing but people love it. I could retire on sales of this print alone. I’d hate to tell you how many of these I’ve printed.” Although this scenic print wasn’t the legacy Weston desired for himself, it led to an overall increased attention from collectors interested in his work, including his abstractions.

 

Brett Weston. 'Untitled (Cracked Mud, High Sierra, California)' 1960

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Cracked Mud, High Sierra, California
1960
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

Direct evidence of human presence was rare in Weston’s photos. But here, two playful sets of handprints on the mud provide scale, which would otherwise be indeterminable in the image.

 

Brett Weston. 'Electrical Towers, Metal' c. 1975

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Electrical Towers, Metal
c. 1975
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

Brett Weston: Significant Details

Brett Weston, born in 1911 in Tropico, CA (now Glendale), took up photography at the age of fourteen while on an extended trip to Mexico with his father, famed photographer Edward Weston. In Mexico for just over a year, his time there was pivotal in many ways, not only marking the start of his photography career, but also the end of his formal education. His father allowed him to drop out of the international school after two short weeks and provided the younger Weston with basic instructions in photography. Still, Brett relied heavily on his innate sensibilities toward form and tonality, evident in Tin Roof, Mexico, an early photograph from 1926 featuring a cropped view of a jagged roofline with dramatic dark shadows splitting the image. Weston also benefited from a social education of sorts. Through connections of his father’s mistress, photographer Tina Modotti, Weston became a part of the Mexican modernist milieu, socializing with and viewing the work of some of the greatest artists of the time, including Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

During his nearly-seventy-year career, Weston’s talent and unique vision developed into two related types of works, panoramic landscapes and abstracted close-ups. The image most associated with Weston was and probably still is Holland Canal from 1971. The photograph of a tree-lined canal with still water reflecting a flawless image of the surrounding landscape is sensual and magnificently balanced. However, the photographer bemoaned his connection to this particular work and its extreme popularity saying, “I’m so sick of the thing, but people love it.” Although this print and other panoramic images, such as Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska (1973), came to typify his work in the public’s mind, the bulk of Weston’s photographs range from middle-distance scenes to close-ups, which became increasingly abstract beginning in the 1950s. Brett Weston: Significant Details focuses on the close-up works that epitomize his unique and unwavering vision. These images share the high-contrast and graphic qualities of Weston’s well-known scenic photographs while emphasizing what the photography historian Beaumont Newhall characterized as his affinity for “significant details.” Weston applied this penchant for details to natural and urban environments alike. Another early image, Stairway, Grandview Park, San Francisco from 1928, offers a fragmented view of a San Francisco stairwell. Without context, the unpopulated image’s narrative possibilities are limited; instead, the emphasis is on the orderly, graphic form of the staircase.

From the beginning of his career, Weston’s work was celebrated by institutions and peers. The year following Stairway, Weston’s work was included in the landmark 1929 German photography exhibition Film und Foto, and the early 1930s saw his association with Group f/64, a distinctly West Coast movement of “straight” photographers (as opposed to the East Coast Pictorialist tradition, which was waning at this time) that comprised Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, and others. Brett’s work appeared in their 1932 inaugural exhibition at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. The following year, both San Francisco Stairway and Tin Roofs (presumably the same works discussed in this essay) were included with forty-three other photographs in a solo exhibition at the de Young.

Although Weston saw early success with his work included in major exhibitions, this did not translate into a steady income. Like most artists during the Great Depression, the Federal Art Project – a branch of the Works Progress Administration – employed Weston, first as a sculptor and then later as a photographer. He quit the FAP in December of 1936 after about two and half years because he had no passion for the documentary nature of the work and it impinged upon time for his personal projects, something that he could not bear for long. Throughout the thirties and forties, he worked intermittently – and discontentedly – as a portrait and industrial photographer to stave off poverty and support his daughter who was born in 1938. In complete contrast to the realistic, documentary style of his FAP and commissioned works, an untitled photograph from 1937 is an extreme close-up of paint that is almost organic in appearance, with leaf-like veins in the upper portion of the image. The subject is essentially unrecognizable, which is a defining characteristic of many of Weston’s photographs.

The slim Depression years segued into the tumultuousness of World War II, during which Weston served in the US Army before a much-requested transfer to the US Signal Corps stationed him to work as a photographer in New York. At the end of the war, when Brett returned to Carmel, CA, where the Weston family had made their long-time home, he found his father beginning to show marked symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, which would increasingly debilitate the elder Weston in the last decade of his life. Before Edward’s death in 1958, he enlisted his sons Brett and Cole and a small group of trusted assistants to secure his lasting legacy by making thousands of prints under his supervision. In addition to printing work for his father, during this time, Brett also worked on his Guggenheim fellowship project and his second and third portfolios, White Sands (1949) and New York (1954).

Besides photographing the beaches of Carmel, one of which was dubbed “Weston Beach,” Brett also traveled up and down the California coast countless times over the decades. He repeatedly returned to capture the dunes of Oceano, and these images range from sweeping vistas to striking abstractions. An image from 1952, Dune, Oceano, although not technically a detail, falls into the latter category. The dunes appear wave-like and swirling, and a dark, somewhat-menacing shadow at the centre – similar to the roofline image taken in Mexico – provides graphic force. Jellyfish, California, another beach image, taken in 1967, is a close-up of one of the bulbous marine animals washed ashore. In contrast to the ethereal and weightless appearance jellyfish take underwater, it looks monumental and grotesquely beautiful. The curving form expands beyond the picture’s boundaries and in place of luminescence is a gradation of pure white reflections to jet-black striated patterns on the bell.

Although the tendency to work close-up had always been present in Weston’s work, it became much more pronounced and obvious after health issues necessitated a change in camera equipment. For over thirty years, Weston worked with a large format 8 x 10 camera and preferred contact prints (versus enlarging from smaller negatives). However, a heart attack  in 1967 and an ongoing battle with angina forced Weston to switch to a smaller camera because he could no longer manage the bulky equipment. In 1968, he began using the Rollei SL-66 almost exclusively. The camera used roll film that produced small, square negatives and allowed the artist to work close-up with ease. As a result, his work became even more intent on exploring specific elements and abstract qualities. Sand and Kelp from around 1970 is a lyrical example of this. Individual grains of sand are visible and marked by traces of implied movement, both in the dancing shadows of the kelp and the trailing patterns lightly indented into the surface.

While Weston had traveled steadily and as often as he could afford to in his younger years – expeditions that included Europe, Japan, the Pacific Northwest, Baja California, and Mexico – his later years were spent primarily in Hawaii. The tropical climate was beneficial for his health, and the varied terrain provided limitless visual appeal. In 1979, the photographer purchased land there on the slopes of a volcanic mountain. He became especially engrossed with the lava formations and the verdant and spectacular plant life, which he photographed until his death in 1993.

Weston achieved, within his lifetime, the recognition and financial comforts of a highly esteemed photographer. Even so, following his death, Brett’s reputation was eclipsed in favor of his father, due in part to the notion that there wasn’t room for two Westons in the canon of modernist photography. The 2008 exhibition Out of the Shadow (Oklahoma City Museum of Art and The Phillips Collection) and his biography A Restless Eye (2011) have begun to remedy this situation. Significant Details furthers that work by centering on the uncharted, closeup images that characterize Weston’s innate and distinctive eye. These photographs reveal the major themes present in his oeuvre: a focus on natural and urban landscapes and the objects therein, the absence of human presence and apparent narrative, and an extraordinary ability to extract the microcosm from the macrocosm.

Erin Aitali, Director of Exhibitions and Registrar

 

Brett Weston. 'Broken Glass, California' 1954

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Broken Glass, California
1954
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

Brett Weston. 'Torn Leaf, Hawaii' 1978

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Torn Leaf, Hawaii
1978
Silver gelatin print
10 3/4 x 12 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

Brett Weston. 'Jellyfish, California' 1967

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Jellyfish, California
1967
Silver gelatin print
7 5/8 x 9 5/8 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

Brett Weston. 'Cracked Paint' 1937 (printed later)

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Cracked Paint
1937 (printed later)
Silver gelatin print
12 1/2 x 10 1/8 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

Like Broken Glass, California (1954, above), this image of cracked paint is an extreme close-up to the point that the subject is indistinguishable. Instead pure form becomes the focus. This intense focus also characterizes Weston’s approach to life; he prioritized his photography above all else, often at the expense of both financial stability and personal relationships (he was married four times and had countless lovers).

In 1937 Weston was living with his first wife, Cicely, in San Francisco who was employed as a violinist in the WPA symphony. Weston had recently quit the WPA because, as he explained in a letter to his father in December 1936, “It has been a good thing in many ways but after 2 1/2 years I feel that I have had enough experience of this kind. I feared it was beginning to tell on me as well as my work. I would rather divorce, starve, anything, than have this happen. The actual work I’ve been doing for the work program has been child’s play but the sacrifice of one’s priceless days… has become too much.”

 

Brett Weston. 'Snow' 1954

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Snow
1954
Silver gelatin print
9 1/2 x 7 5/8 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

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16
Oct
13

‘The War at Home: Farm Security Administration / Office of War Information Color Photographs’ by Alfred Palmer Part 1

Kodachrome sheets 1941 – 1943

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This is the first of a two-part posting on the large format Kodachrome colour transparency photographs of the American photographer Alfred Palmer taken during 1941-43. I absolutely adore these photographs. While today they might seem overly posed and almost surreal in their depiction of men and women at work in the factories of the home front during the Second World War, these are epic canvases of colour, light and form. While Eugène Atget’s photographs may well have been “Documents for artists”, I believe that Alfred Palmer’s photographs can be seen as “Documents for photographers.” They teach later generations the value of craft, of an understanding of the technical aspects of the medium (both camera and film) coupled with the imaginative use and capture of light, colour and pose. Look at the photograph Noontime rest for an assembly worker at the Long Beach (October 1942, below) – have you ever seen such use of colour in the 1940s: red socks, blue slacks, beige shirt, green lunch box and silver background. Like one of those old films in Technicolor, just so beautiful!

While these photographs are masterpieces of formalism, lighting, tone, texture and control, they also transcend their subject matter. Observe the image P-51 “Mustang” fighter plane in construction, at North American Aviation, Inc., in Los Angeles, California (c. 1942, below) for example, to comprehend how this master photographer saw this image, how he understood the potential of the subject matter to shine (on so many levels) and then was able to capture it and let it speak for itself. Considering the conditions under which he would have been working (in cramped factories) and the fact that he would have had to light everything himself, Palmer has recorded a remarkable body of work. All captured on the wonderful Kodachrome film in large format 4″x5″ sheets. What a loss to photography this film is.

These photographs deserve to be more widely known and appreciated than they are at present. Love em, love em, love them!

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Library of Congress for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. No known copyright restrictions on any of the photographs.

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Alfred Palmer. 'P-51 "Mustang" fighter plane in construction, at North American Aviation, Inc., in Los Angeles, California' c. 1942

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Alfred Palmer
P-51 “Mustang” fighter plane in construction, at North American Aviation, Inc., in Los Angeles, California
c. 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI/LOC

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Alfred Palmer. 'A view of the B-25 final assembly line at North American Aviation's Inglewood, California, plant' Photo published in 1942

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Alfred Palmer
A view of the B-25 final assembly line at North American Aviation’s Inglewood, California, plant
Photo published in 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI/LOC

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Alfred Palmer. 'B-25 bomber plane at North American Aviation being hauled along an outdoor assembly line. Kansas City, Kansas.' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
B-25 bomber plane at North American Aviation being hauled along an outdoor assembly line. Kansas City, Kansas.

October 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Servicing an A-20 bomber, Langley Field, Va.' July 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Servicing an A-20 bomber, Langley Field, Va.
July 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'P-51 "Mustang" fighter in flight' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
P-51 “Mustang” fighter in flight, Inglewood, California, The Mustang, built by North American Aviation, Incorporated, is the only American-built fighter used by the Royal Air Force of Great Britain
October, 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
(Alfred Palmer/OWI/LOC)

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Alfred Palmer. 'Sunset silhouette of a flying fortress, at Langley Field, Virginia, in July, 1942' July 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Sunset silhouette of a flying fortress, at Langley Field, Virginia, in July, 1942
July 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
(Alfred Palmer/OWI/LOC)

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Alfred Palmer. 'Light tank going through water obstacle. Fort Knox, June 1942' June 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Light tank going through water obstacle. Fort Knox, June 1942
June 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Tank crew standing in front of M-4 tank, Ft. Knox, Kentucky, June, 1942' June, 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Tank crew standing in front of M-4 tank, Ft. Knox, Kentucky, June, 1942
June, 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
(Alfred Palmer/OWI/LOC)

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Alfred Palmer. 'Army tank driver at Fort Knox , Kentucky' June 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Army tank driver at Fort Knox, Kentucky
June 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Lieutenant "Mike" Hunter, Army pilot assigned to Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Lieutenant “Mike” Hunter, Army pilot assigned to Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.
October 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
(Alfred Palmer/LOC)

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Alfred Palmer. 'Lieutenant 'Mike' Hunter, Army test pilot assigned to Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, California' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Lieutenant ‘Mike’ Hunter, Army test pilot assigned to Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, California
October 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred T. Palmer 1906 – 1993

“Born in San Jose, California, Palmer was an avid photographer from an early age, meeting the young Ansel Adams in Yosemite in 1916. He was hired on as a cadet on the Dollar Lines President Monroe. He was 19 years old. This would be the first of his 23 trips around the world in the next 32 years. Palmer became the official photographer and worked aboard Dollar Line, Matson and Moore-McCormack Lines ships around the world shooting 100s of images with his Graflex camera. He would trade with other crew members for daytime shifts so he could go ashore and photograph everything he saw.

In 1938, he packed cameras and darkroom equipment into his car and set out across America documenting everything that captured his interest from cows and pigs and corn to towns, cities, people and industry. He would develop the film in the bathrooms of the tourist homes and auto courts every night. He sold the negatives for a dollar each for use in educational books. He made contact prints of each one which are included in his vast portfolio of work.

In 1939 when Hitler attacked Poland the United States ranked twentieth as a world military power. In June of 1940 President Roosevelt and Congress passed a bill for the building of a major two ocean navy. At that time Roosevelt formed the National Defense Advisory Commission of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and Palmer was chosen to head the photography department. To rally and inform citizens about the use of their tax dollars and resources, Palmer was sent out to photograph Americans building what Roosevelt termed the Arsenal of Democracy. Aware of the power of mass media, the OEM wanted to provide images which would vividly convey their story in high contrast photos for magazines and newspapers. At the OEM, Palmer’s boss, Robert Horton, would brainstorm assignments, sending him into restricted industrial and military facilities. Once in the field, Palmer worked independently. He developed a style of quickly seeing the picture and catching the essence. Through this style he was able to convey the gritty texture and geometry of industrial form combined with the strong emotion of men and women attentive to their work. His dramatic tonal ranges and sharp focus approach reflect the early influence of his mentor, Ansel Adams.

In 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Palmer became official photographer for the newly formed Office of War Information (OWI). He also served as technical expert with final say on photographic equipment and processes. Now his images had to illustrate all aspects of the war effort, from industrial workers to conservation of resources and citizen participation. Palmer’s emphasis was on the typical American hard at work on the home front. His photographs were also an integral part of the “women power” campaign to change the public attitude toward women joining the work force. He showed women as patriotic, glamorous and capable, working on fighter planes as well as assembly lines. Palmer also focused on the dedication and dignity of the black labor force and worked with the chief of the News Bureau Negro Press.

In 1942, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) was added as a joint agency with the OWI. Palmer and Roy Stryker shared creativity and conflict during those years in the dissident approaches to portraying America to herself. While Stryker’s unit showed a national self scrutiny of post depression America, Palmer sought to emphasize a moral building role through his photography. Palmer’s deep belief in promoting the spiritual strength of people permeates his entire career as photographer and filmmaker.

During his years with OWI Palmer worked with a number of significant photographers such as Esther Bubbly, Howard Leiberman, Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lang and Edward Steichen. Palmer’s artistic style was recognized by Steichen, who featured his photographs in the historic traveling exhibit “Road to Victory”, which opened at the Museum of Modern Art in 1942. Alfred Palmer generated thousands of photographs that were widely published in the major magazines and newspapers in the United States and abroad. His works were praised for their exceptional symbolic power and striking use of intense contrasts conveying the courage and determination that Roosevelt sought to arouse in the nation. Much of the vast collection of Palmer’s photographs (including rare color transparencies) is housed in the National Archives and the Library of Congress.

Alfred Palmer passed away in 1993, leaving a legacy of life work that is unique in its very essence. This extensive collection of photographs and 16mm color film encompassing five decades of world cultures, World War II history and America’s maritime heritage becomes increasingly significant as a testimony to our humanity.”

Text from the Alfred T. Palmer website

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kodachrome-WEB

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A Kodachrome sheet film box that held 2 x half a dozen sheets of film in 2 sheet packages, from around the time Alfred Palmer would have been using the same film. Notice the ISO/ASA rating of 10. Expiry date of October 1944.

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Alfred Palmer. 'American mothers and sisters, like these women at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Long Beach , California , give important help in producing dependable planes for their men at the front' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
American mothers and sisters, like these women at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Long Beach, California, give important help in producing dependable planes for their men at the front
October 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Assembling switchboxes on the firewalls of B-25 bombers at North American Aviation's Inglewood, California, factory' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Assembling switchboxes on the firewalls of B-25 bombers at North American Aviation’s Inglewood, California, factory
October 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Workers installing fixtures and assemblies in the tail section of a B-17F bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Long Beach , California' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Workers installing fixtures and assemblies in the tail section of a B-17F bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Long Beach, California
October 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Engine inspector for North American Aviation at Long Beach, California' June 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Engine inspector for North American Aviation at Long Beach, California
June 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Punching rivet holes in a frame member for a B-25 bomber at North American Aviation. Inglewood, California' June 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Punching rivet holes in a frame member for a B-25 bomber at North American Aviation. Inglewood, California 
June 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Inglewood, California. Riveting team working on the cockpit shell of a C-47 heavy transport at North American Aviation' 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Inglewood, California. Riveting team working on the cockpit shell of a C-47 heavy transport at North American Aviation.
“The versatile C-47 performs many important tasks for the Army. It ferries men and cargo across the oceans and mountains, tows gliders and brings paratroopers and their equipment to scenes of action.”
1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Noontime rest for an assembly worker at the Long Beach, Calif., plant of Douglas Aircraft Company. Nacelle parts for a heavy bomber form the background' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Noontime rest for an assembly worker at the Long Beach, Calif., plant of Douglas Aircraft Company. Nacelle parts for a heavy bomber form the background
October 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
Alfred Palmer/OWI

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Alfred Palmer. 'Two assembly line workers at the Long Beach, Calif., plant of Douglas Aircraft Company enjoy a well-earned lunch period, Long Beach, Calif. Nacelle parts of a heavy bomber form the background' October 1942

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Alfred Palmer
Two assembly line workers at the Long Beach, Calif., plant of Douglas Aircraft Company enjoy a well-earned lunch period, Long Beach, Calif. Nacelle parts of a heavy bomber form the background
October 1942
4×5 Kodachrome transparency
(LOC)

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Alfred T. Palmer website

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07
Oct
12

Art Blart has a 1,000 likes on Facebook!

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Thank you to everyone for supporting Art Blart
Onwards and upwards!
Marcus

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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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