Posts Tagged ‘Harry Callahan Chicago

21
Apr
17

Exhibition: ‘The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 29th October 2016 – 7th May 2017

 

Photography is … a language for asking questions about the world. The Shape of Things imbues this aphorism with a linear taxonomy in its written material (while the installation “occasionally diverges from a strict chronological progression”), no matter that each “moment” in the history of photography – historical, modern, contemporary – is never self contained or self sufficient, that each overlaps and informs one another, in a nexus of interweaving threads.

Charles Harry Jones’ Peapods (c. 1900) are as modern as Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Cooling Towers (1973); Margaret Watkins’ Design Angles (1919) are as directorial as Jan Groover’s Untitled (1983) or Charles Harry Jones’ Onions (c. 1900). And so it goes…

The ideation “the shape of things” is rather a bald fundamental statement in relation to how we imagine and encounter the marvellous. No matter the era, the country or the person who makes them; no matter the meanings readable in photographs or their specific use value in a particular context – the photograph is still the footprint of an idea and, as John Berger asks, a trace naturally left by something that has past? That flicker of imagination in the mind’s eye which has no time.

As Sartre says in Being and Nothingness, “Temporality is only a tool of vision.”

Marcus

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

 

 

The Shape of Things presents a compact and non-comprehensive history of photography, from its inception to the early twenty-first century, in one hundred images. The exhibition is drawn entirely from the 504 photographs that have entered The Museum of Modern Art’s collection with the support of Robert B. Menschel over the past forty years, including a notable selection of works from his personal collection that were given in 2016 and are being shown here for the first time.

“Photography is less and less a cognitive process, in the traditional sense of the term, or an affirmative one, offering answers, but rather a language for asking questions about the world,” wrote the Italian photographer and critic Luigi Ghirri in 1989. Echoing these words, the exhibition presents the history of the medium in three parts, emphasising the strengths of Menschel’s collection and mirroring his equal interest in historical, modern, and contemporary photography. Each section focuses on a moment in photography’s history and the conceptions of the medium that were dominant then: informational and documentary in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, more formal and subjective in the immediate postwar era, and questioning and self-referential from the 1970s onward. The installation occasionally diverges from a strict chronological progression, fuelled by the conviction that works from different periods, rather than being antagonistic, correspond with and enrich each other.

 

Installation view of 'The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel' at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 - May 7, 2017

Installation view of 'The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel' at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 - May 7, 2017

Installation view of 'The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel' at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 - May 7, 2017

Installation view of 'The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel' at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 - May 7, 2017

Installation view of 'The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel' at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 - May 7, 2017

 

Installation views of The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 29, 2016 – May 7, 2017
© 2016 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

The exhibition The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel presents a compact history of photography, from its inception to the early 21st century, in 100 images. On view from October 29, 2016, through May 7, 2017, the exhibition is drawn entirely from the 504 photographs that have entered The Museum of Modern Art’s collection over the past 40 years with the support of longtime Museum trustee Robert B. Menschel. It includes a notable selection of works from his personal collection that were given in 2016 and are being shown here for the first time. The Shape of Things is organised by Quentin Bajac, the Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, with Katerina Stathopoulou, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, MoMA.

Borrowing its title from the eponymous work by Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953), the exhibition presents the history of the medium in three parts, emphasising the strengths of Menschel’s collection and mirroring his equal interest in historical, modern, and contemporary photography. Each section focuses on a moment in photography’s history and the conceptions of the medium that were dominant then: informational and documentary in the 19th and early 20th centuries, more formal and subjective in the immediate postwar era, and questioning and self-referential from the 1970s onward. The installation occasionally diverges from a strict chronological progression, fuelled by the conviction that works from different periods, rather than being antagonistic, correspond with and enrich each other.

 

Historical

From 1840 to 1900, in photography’s infancy as a medium, artists principally sought to depict truthful representations of their surrounding environments. This primal stage is distinguished by a debate on the artistic-versus-scientific nature of the invention. Photographers engaged with the aesthetic and technical qualities of the medium, experimenting with tone, texture, and printing processes. The exhibition begins with seminal photographs such as William Henry Talbot Fox’s (British, 1800-1877) 1843 picture Rue Basse des Remparts, Paris, taken from the windows of the Hôtel de Douvres. Also on view is the astronomer Jules Janssen’s (French, 1824-1907) masterpiece L’Atlas de photographies solaires (Atlas of solar photographs), published in 1903. Summing up a quarter-century of daily photography at Janssen’s observatory in Meudon, France, the volume on view contains 30 images of the photosphere, demonstrating photography’s instrumental role in advancing the study of science. Other artists included in this section are Louis-August and Auguste-Rosalie Bisson (Bisson brothers), Eugène Cuvelier, Roger Fenton, Hugh W. Diamond, Charles Marville, and Henri Le Secq.

 

Modern

As photographers grappled with war and its aftermath, they began to turn their focus away from documenting the world around them and toward capturing their own personal experiences in a more formal, subjective way. A selection of works from 1940 to 1960 explores this theme, including works by two artists whose images Menschel collected extensively: Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) and Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991). A selection from Callahan’s quintessential photographs of urban environments – from Chicago and New York to Aix-en Provence and Cuzco, Peru – double exposures of city views, and portraits of his wife Eleanor and daughter Barbara, underscore the breadth of his oeuvre. In the summer of 1951, while teaching alongside Callahan at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Siskind began the series of pictures of the surfaces of walls for which he is best known. One of the early works in the series on view, North Carolina 30 (1951), shows the bare legs of a woman framed by the words “IN” and”AND” amid layers of peeling layers of posters. In their planarity and graphic quality, these pictures also have a kinship with paintings by the Abstract Expressionists, alongside whom Siskind began exhibiting in the late 1940s. Other artists in this section include Berenice Abbott, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, John Gossage, André Kertész, Clarence John Laughlin, and Dora Maar.

 

Contemporary

From the 1970s onward, photographers began working in what A. D. Coleman defined as “The Directorial Mode,” wherein the photographer consciously creates events for the sole purpose of making images. John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) took his own body, naked and with the head invisible, as the subject of his work – both carrying on and contradicting the tradition of the self-portrait centered on the face – as seen in Self-Portrait (Back with Arms Above) (1984). Joan Fontcuberta’s (Spanish, b. 1955) series Herbarium appears at first glance to be a collection of botanical studies, depicting plants with new and distinctive contours and rigorously scientific names. However, as revealed by his fictional character Dr. Hortensio Verdeprado (“green pasture” in Spanish), the “plants” are actually carefully composed by the photographer using scrap picked up in industrial areas around Barcelona. Made of bits of paper and plastic, small animal bones, and other detritus, these forms are not only non-vegetal – there is almost nothing natural about them at all. Fontcuberta is interested in the way data assumes meaning through its presentation and in the acceptance of the photographic image as evidence of truth. Other artists in this section include Jan Groover, David Levinthal, An-My Lê, Michael Spano, JoAnn Verburg, and William Wegman.

Press release from the Museum of Modern Art

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869) 'Greek Hero' c. 1857

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869)
Greek Hero
c. 1857
Salted-paper print from a wet-collodion glass negative
13 7/16 × 10 3/16″ (34.2 × 25.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Robert and Joyce Menschel Fund

 

Hugh W. Diamond (British, 1809-1886) 'Untitled' c. 1852-55

 

Hugh W. Diamond (British, 1809-1886)
Untitled
c. 1852-55
Albumen silver print from a glass negative
6 1/2 x 5 5/16″ (16.6 x 13.5 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877) 'Rue Basse des Remparts, Paris' May 1843

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877)
Rue Basse des Remparts, Paris
May 1843
Salted paper print
6 11/16 × 6 3/4″ (17 × 17.2 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879) 'Pont Neuf' 1870s

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879)
Pont Neuf
1870s
Albumen silver print
14 1/8 x 8 1/4″ (36 x 23.5 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879) 'Rue des Prêtres-Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois' c. 1866

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879)
Rue des Prêtres-Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois
c. 1866
Albumen silver print
11 13/16 × 10 1/2″ (30 × 26.6 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879) 'Rue du Cygne' c. 1865

 

Charles Marville (French, 1816-1879)
Rue du Cygne
c. 1865
Albumen silver print from a glass negative
11 3/4 x 10 9/16″ (29.9 x 26.9 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'The Terminal' 1893

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
The Terminal
1893
Photogravure mounted to board
10 × 13 3/16″ (25.4 × 33.5 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

 

Truthful representations, 1840-1930

“One advantage of the discovery of the Photographic Art will be, that it will enable us to introduce into our pictures a multitude of minute details which add to the truth and reality of the representation, but which no artist would take the trouble to copy faithfully from nature.

Contenting himself with a general effect, he would probably deem it beneath his genius to copy every accident of light and shade; nor could he do so indeed, without a disproportionate expenditure of time and trouble, which might be otherwise much better employed.

Nevertheless, it is well to have the means at our disposal of introducing these minutiae without any additional trouble, for they will sometimes be found to give an air of variety beyond expectation to the scene represented.”

William Henry Fox Talbot, The Pencil of Nature, 1844-46

 

“I was interested in a straightforward 19th-century way of photographing an object. To photograph things frontally creates the strongest presence and you can eliminate the possibilities of being too obviously subjective. If you photograph an octopus, you have to work out which approach will show the most typical character of the animal. But first you have to learn about the octopus. Does it have six legs or eight? You have to be able to understand the subject visually, through its visual appearance. You need clarity and not sentimentality.”

Hilla Becher, in “The Music of the Blast Furnaces: Bernhard and Hilla Becher in Conversation with James Lingwood,” Art Press, no. 209 (1996)

 

Charles Harry Jones (British, 1866-1959) 'Peapods' c. 1900

 

Charles Harry Jones (British, 1866-1959)
Peapods
c. 1900
Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print
6 5/16 x 8 1/4″ (16 x 20.9 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Cooling Towers' 1973

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Cooling Towers
1973
Gelatin silver prints
Each 15 3/4 × 11 13/16″ (40 × 30 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel
© 2016 Estate Bernd and Hilla Becher

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'George Washington Bridge, Riverside Drive and West 179th Street, Manhattan' January 17, 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
George Washington Bridge, Riverside Drive and West 179th Street, Manhattan
January 17, 1936
Gelatin silver print
9 9/16 x 7 5/8″ (24.3 x 19.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel
© 2016 Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Gunsmith, 6 Centre Market Place, Manhattan' February 4, 1937

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Gunsmith, 6 Centre Market Place, Manhattan
February 4, 1937
Gelatin silver print 9 5/8 x 7 9/16″ (24.4 x 19.1 cm)
Gift of the Robert and Joyce Menschel Foundation

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Hannover Mine 1/2/5, Bochum-Hordel, Ruhr Region, Germany' 1973

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Hannover Mine 1/2/5, Bochum-Hordel, Ruhr Region, Germany
1973
Gelatin silver print
18 7/16 x 22 11/16″ (46.9 x 57.6 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Duisburg-Bruckhausen, Ruhr Region, Germany' 1999

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007), Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Duisburg-Bruckhausen, Ruhr Region, Germany
1999
Gelatin silver print
19 5/16 x 24″ (49.1 x 60.9 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Louis-Auguste Bisson (French, 1814-1876) 'Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris (detail of facade)' c. 1853

 

Louis-Auguste Bisson (French, 1814-1876)
Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris (detail of facade)
c. 1853
Albumen silver print from a glass negative
14 7/16 x 17 13/16″ (36.6 x 45.3 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Robert B. Menschel

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch, born Germany. 1897-1985) 'Rails' c. 1927

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch, born Germany. 1897-1985)
Rails
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
15 7/16 x 10 3/8″ (39.2 x 26.3 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch, born Germany. 1897-1985) 'Le Metal Inspirateur d'Art (Metal Inspiration of Art)' 1930

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch, born Germany. 1897-1985)
Le Metal Inspirateur d’Art (Metal Inspiration of Art)
1930
Gelatin silver print
6 5/8 x 8 7/16″ (16.8 x 21.5 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

 

Personal experiences, 1940-1960

“As photographers, we must learn to relax our beliefs. Move on objects with your eye straight on, to the left, around on the right. Watch them grow large as you approach, group and regroup themselves as you shift your position. Relationships gradually emerge, and sometimes assert themselves with finality. And that’s your picture.

What I have just described is an emotional experience. It is utterly personal: no one else can ever see quite what you have seen, and the picture that emerges is unique, never made and never to be repeated. The picture – and this is fundamental – has the unity of an organism. Its elements were not put together, with whatever skill or taste or ingenuity. It came into being as an instant act of sight.”

Aaron Siskind, “The Drama of Objects,” Minicam Photography 8, no. 9 (1945)

 

“The business of making a photograph may be said in simple terms to consist of three elements: the objective world (whose permanent condition is change and disorder), the sheet of paper on which the picture will be realized, and the experience which brings them together. First, and emphatically, I accept the flat plane of the picture surface as the primary frame of reference of the picture. The experience itself may be described as one of total absorption in the object. But the object serves only a personal need and the requirements of the picture. Thus rocks are sculptured forms; a section of common decorated ironwork, springing rhythmic shapes; fragments of paper sticking to a wall, a conversation piece. And these forms, totems, masks, figures, shapes, images must finally take their place in the tonal field of the picture and strictly conform to their space environment. The object has entered the picture in a sense; it has been photographed directly. But it is often unrecognizable; for it has been removed from its usual context, disassociated from its customary neighbours and forced into new relationships.”

Aaron Siskind, “Credo,” Spectrum 6, no. 2 (1956)

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, born Austria. 1899-1968) 'The Gay Deceiver' c. 1939

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, born Austria. 1899-1968)
The Gay Deceiver
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
13 x 10 1/4″ (33 x 26 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Chicago' 1951

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Chicago
1951
Dye transfer print
10 5/16 x 15 11/16″ (26.2 x 39.9 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Clarence John Laughlin (American, 1905-1985) 'Spectre of Coca-Cola' 1962

 

Clarence John Laughlin (American, 1905-1985)
Spectre of Coca-Cola
1962
Gelatin silver print, printed 1981
13 1/4 x 10 3/8″ (33.6 x 26.4 cm)
Robert B. Menschel Fund

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Siena' 1968

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Siena
1968
Gelatin silver print
9 × 8 7/8″ (22.9 × 22.5 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Chicago' c. 1952

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Chicago
c. 1952
Dye transfer print
8 3/4 × 13 7/16″ (22.3 × 34.1 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Chicago' c. 1949

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Chicago
c. 1949
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 x 9 9/16″ (19.5 x 24.3 cm)
Gift of Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago' 1953

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago
1953
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 x 9 11/16″ (19.5 x 24.6 cm)
Gift of Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Providence' 1974

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Providence
1974
Gelatin silver print
6 9/16 × 6 7/16″ (16.6 × 16.3 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary. 1894-1985) 'New York' August 10, 1969

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary. 1894-1985)
New York
August 10, 1969
Gelatin silver print
13 11/16 x 9 3/4″ (34.7 x 24.7 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

 

Directorial modes, 1970s and beyond

“Here the photographer consciously and intentionally creates events for the express purpose of making images thereof. This may be achieved by intervening in ongoing ‘real’ events or by staging tableaux – in either case, by causing something to take place which would not have occurred had the photographer not made it happen.

Here the authenticity of the original event is not an issue, nor the photographer’s fidelity to it, and the viewer would be expected to raise those questions only ironically. Such images use photography’s overt veracity by evoking it for events and relationships generated by the photographer’s deliberate structuring of what takes place in front of the lens as well as of the resulting image. There is an inherent ambiguity at work in such images, for even though what they purport to describe as ‘slices of life’ would not have occurred except for the photographer’s instigation, nonetheless those events (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) did actually take place, as the photographs demonstrate.

… This mode I would define as the directorial.”

A. D. Coleman, “The Directorial Mode: Notes Towards a Definition,” Artforum 15, no. 1 (1976)

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'Chicago 30' 1949

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Chicago 30
1949
Gelatin silver print
14 x 17 13/16″ (35.6 x 45.3 cm)
Gift of Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'North Carolina 30' 1951

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
North Carolina 30
1951
Gelatin silver print
13 1/16 × 9 11/16″ (33.2 × 24.6 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Lee Friedlander (American, born 1934) 'Glenwood Springs, Colorado' 1981

 

Lee Friedlander (American, born 1934)
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
1981
Gelatin silver print
8 5/8 x 12 15/16″ (21.9 x 32.8 cm)
Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' 1983

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
1983
Gelatin silver print
10 3/16 x 13 1/2″ (25.9 x 34.3 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Margaret Watkins (Canadian, 1884-1969) 'Design Angles' 1919

 

Margaret Watkins (Canadian, 1884-1969)
Design Angles
1919
Gelatin silver print
8 5/16 x 6 3/8″ (21.1 x 16.2 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Robert B. Menschel

 

Charles Harry Jones (British, 1866-1959) 'Onions' c. 1900

 

Charles Harry Jones (British, 1866-1959)
Onions
c. 1900
Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print
5 7/8 x 8 1/4″ (15 x 21cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'Jalapa 30 (Homage to Franz Kline)' 1973

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Jalapa 30 (Homage to Franz Kline)
1973
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 9 15/16″ (24.1 x 23.6 cm)
Gift of Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'Jalapa 38 (Homage to Franz Kline)' 1973

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Jalapa 38 (Homage to Franz Kline)
1973
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 8 15/16″ (24.1 x 22.8 cm)
Gift of Robert and Joyce Menschel

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'Lima 89 (Homage to Franz Klein)' 1975

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Lima 89 (Homage to Franz Klein)
1975
Gelatin silver print
10 3/16 × 9 5/8″ (25.9 × 24.4 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

John Gossage (American, born 1946) 'Monumentenbricke' 1982

 

John Gossage (American, born 1946)
Monumentenbricke
1982
Gelatin silver print
12 3/16 x 9 11/16″ (30.9 x 24.6 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Val Telberg (American, born Russia. 1910-1995) 'Exhibition of the Witch' c. 1948

 

Val Telberg (American, born Russia. 1910-1995)
Exhibition of the Witch
c. 1948
Gelatin silver print
10 15/16 × 13 3/4″ (27.8 × 35 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel
© 2016 Estate of Val Telberg

 

Frederick Sommer (American, born Italy. 1905-1999) 'I Adore You' 1947

 

Frederick Sommer (American, born Italy. 1905-1999)
I Adore You
1947
Gelatin silver print
7 9/16 × 9 1/2″ (19.2 × 24.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003) 'Self-Portrait (Back with Arms Above)' 1984

 

John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self-Portrait (Back with Arms Above)
1984
Gelatin silver print
19 13/16 × 15″ (50.4 × 38.1 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, born 1955) 'Giliandria Escoliforcia' 1983

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, born 1955)
Giliandria Escoliforcia
1983
Gelatin silver print
10 9/16 x 8 1/2″ (26.8 x 21.5 cm)
Robert and Joyce Menschel Fund

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, born 1955) 'Mullerpolis Plunfis' 1983

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, born 1955)
Mullerpolis Plunfis
1983
Gelatin silver print
10 9/16 x 8 1/2″ (26.8 x 21.5 cm)
Robert and Joyce Menschel Fund

 

An-My Lê (American, born Vietnam 1960) '29 Palms: Mortar Impact' 2003-04

 

An-My Lê (American, born Vietnam 1960)
29 Palms: Mortar Impact
2003-04
Gelatin silver print
26 1/2 × 38 1/16″ (67.3 × 96.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Robert B. Menschel Fund
© 2016 An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (American, born Vietnam 1960) '29 Palms: Infantry Platoon (Machine Gunners)' 2003-04

 

An-My Lê (American, born Vietnam 1960)
29 Palms: Infantry Platoon (Machine Gunners)
2003-04
Gelatin silver print
26 1/2 × 38 1/16″ (67.3 × 96.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Robert B. Menschel Fund
© 2016 An-My Lê

 

David Levinthal and Garry Trudeau. 'Hitler Moves East' 1977

 

David Levinthal (American, born 1949)
Untitled from the series Hitler Moves East
1975
Gelatin silver print
10 9/16 x 13 7/16″ (26.8 x 34.1 cm)
The Fellows of Photography Fund and Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

William Wegman (American, born 1943) 'Contemplating the Bust of Man Ray from the portfolio Man Ray' 1976

 

William Wegman (American, born 1943)
Contemplating the Bust of Man Ray from the portfolio Man Ray
1976
Gelatin silver print
7 5/16 × 6 7/8″ (18.5 × 17.5 cm)
Promised gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

Michael Spano (American, born 1949) 'Photogram-Michael Spano' 1983

 

Michael Spano (American, born 1949)
Photogram-Michael Spano
1983
Gelatin silver print
57 7/8 x 23 15/16″ (145.2 x 60.8 cm) (irregular)
Robert B. Menschel Fund

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, born 1953) 'The Shape of Things' 1993

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, born 1953)
The Shape of Things
1993
Gelatin silver prints
a) 26 7/8 x 26 15/16″ (68.2 x 68.4 cm) b) 26 15/16 x 26 7/8″ (68.5 x 68.3 cm)
Gift of Robert B. Menschel

 

 

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13
Feb
16

Review: ‘Trent Parke: The camera is god’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 26th November 2015 – 21st February 2016

 

Ghost in the machine

This is a disappointing first solo exhibition in Victoria by internationally renowned Australian photojournalist Trent Parke, the main body of the exhibition made up of his internationally celebrated series, consisting of anonymous portraits taken on the streets of Adelaide. Seriously, who writes this stuff? Sure, Parke is Australia’s only member of the Magnum photo agency but I have been commenting on photography for many years now, and have never heard of this series before, neither locally and definitely not internationally.

From the ironic title, The camera is god, critiquing the all seeing eye of the camera, to the work itself – a large grid of black and white digital prints from film negatives, the images taken when Parke, “fixed his camera on a tripod and set it to take multiple shots (up to 30 shots in eight-second bursts) when the pedestrian lights changed.” Parke then extracted, “individual portraits from these photographs of street traffic, Parke allowed motion-blur and film grain to obscure the identity of his subjects” – the series feels like a university photography course exercise into the study of motion. While the installation works better from a distance, the gridded layout forming a holistic whole of ambiguous individuals, the closer you get the more the integrity of the images naturally falls apart with golf ball sized grain. Unfortunately, not all the grain is from the film negative. Some of it is digital noise, and the combination of film grain and digital pixellation does not sit well with the images. If you are going to shoot analogue film, why then destroy its characteristics by printing digitally, and introducing an entirely different element into the equation?

Photographs of anonymous people in the city have a long presence in the history of photography. They disavow what is known as the ‘civil contract of photography’1 that is, a relation between formally equal parties (the photographer and the sitter), whose equality lies in their shared participation in the act of being photographed, in what Ariella Azoulay terms, the community of ‘the governed’.2 As Daniel Palmer and Jessica Whyte note, “Photography is one of the ways in which we are able to establish a distance from power and observe its actions from a position that is not already marked as one of subjection.”3 In other words, the photographer can photograph from a position of freedom and not of surveillance and control (by state power). Of course, this does not negate the power of the photographer to choose what to photograph, who to make subjective to their whim and control… with or without permission (to photograph).

Early examples in this genre are works by Paul Strand taken between 1915-17, close-up portraits of anonymous urban subjects. Next we have portraits of anonymous New York subway commuters taken by Walker Evans with a hidden camera between 1938-41 (see below). Other photographers include Harry Callahan and his Chicago series of 1950 and, in Australia, Bill Henson’s Untitled 1980/82 series of crowds, taken with a telephoto lens to flatten the pictorial plane.

Commenting on the work of Walker Evans, the author Max Kozloff observes in his highly recommended book, The Theatre of the Face: Portrait Photography Since 1900,

“From around 1938 to 1941 this ‘penitent spy and apologetic voyeur’, as he later styled himself, photographed passengers with a hidden camera, a cable release trailing down his coat sleeve to his itchy hand. This had been a devious, unsavoury thing to do, and he knew it; but the result was spectacular in its disclosure of the miscellaneous, anonymous, quotidian texture of metropolitan life, solemn or comic by turns. It was made up of figures whose collective presence he retroactively implied by experimentally sequencing his pictures, cropped and in grids. Evans did not see what his camera saw, and his subjects were oblivious to his design.”4

Sound familiar? sequencing his pictures, cropped and in grids…

The key here is an annunciation, a spiritual exposition, of the quotidian texture of metropolitan life through the photography of anonymous human beings. Human beings who have not given their permission to be photographed but who are captured anyway in the passions of life, the angst of existence, in a slightly devious way. Let’s get this straight: this series is not about the camera being god, it is about the photographer actively choosing to press the shutter release of the camera, the photographer choosing what to crop out of the image, about the photographer choosing what to print and how to arrange and sequence the work. It is about the photographer as (an absent) god … for he neither looks through the lens of the camera, nor is there at the exhibition. But he is an omnipresent, omni-prescient force, forever surveilling the field of view, dominating the subject and presenting his choice. The photograph is framed by the photographer’s (absent, but controlling) eye. It is about his ego, not the cameras, as to what is represented. Commenting on his own work, Walker Evans observes,

“A distinct point, though, is made in the lifting of these objects from their original settings. The point is that this lifting, is, in the raw, exactly what the photographer is doing with his machine, the camera, anyway, always. The photographer, the artist, “takes” a picture: symbolically he lifts an object or a combination of objects, and in so doing he makes a claim for that object or that composition, and a claim for his act of seeing in the first place. The claim is that he has rendered his object in some way transcendent, and that in each instance his vision has penetrating validity”5

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Further, as Annete Kuhn notes, the eye of the camera is neutral, it sees the world as it is:

“Photographs are coded, but usually so as to appear uncoded. The truth/authenticity potential of photography is tied in with the idea that seeing is believing. Photography draws on an ideology of the visible as evidence. The eye of the camera is neutral, it sees the world as it is: we look at a photograph and see a slice of the world. To complete the circuit of recording, visibility and truth set up by the photograph, there has to be someone looking at it …”6 (My italics)

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Caroline Blinder suggests that,

“… transcendental ethos is aligned with the camera’s ability to capture the real and the spiritual, the native and the universal simultaneously. Hence, Evans’s images of vernacular America, of regional architecture, objects, signs, and people become representative of a “moment of seeing” in which a secular vision of America is given sacred implications.

“The idea of reinserting a sacred purpose into the photographic project became part of the era’s [1930-40s] attempts to codify photography as a medium with far-reaching metaphoric, aesthetic, and cultural ramifications. In this context, the combination of a self-effacing aspect with a moment of total vision – “I am nothing; I see all” – in itself suggests a constant oscillation between positions behind and in front of a metaphorical camera; positions which, incidentally, also mimic and reflect the role of the critic vis-à-vis the subject of photography.”7

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There is no penetrating validity to be seen here, for the series seems to have been codified (in absentia) as a form of post-human conceptualisation, undermining the 1930s attempt to codify the medium with a spiritual dimension. Unlike the photographs of Walker Evans, or Bill Henson, where I am fascinated with the object of the photographers attention (what were they thinking, where were they going, what was their life about?), in this case the object of the artist’s attention – “the transience of street life and the photographer’s own experience of being adrift in the world of light and movement” – does not carry me along for the journey, has not become existential, transcendent. It is not the ghost in the machine of the camera (its ability to capture things that humans cannot see) that is present, but the ghost in the machine of the human that becomes apparent in these images… that of an unresolved idea, a floating bit of code.

Personally, I found the rendered object not worth a second glance. The images did not, and will not, reveal themselves to you over weeks and years. Of much more interest was the single, whole image from which the detail is taken. If I had been surrounded by the light and energy of works such as the only complete image shown (see below) – say 15 of them in a darkened room – then I would have been excited, surprised, challenged and enlightened. Go with he source!

These images remain a promise unfulfilled. They could have been so much more “than the closed-off beings of our own mediations, of our own mirrors, our machines.”8

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

 

  1. Azoulay, Ariella (2008), The Civil Contract of Photography (trans. Rela Mazali and Ruvik Danieli), New York: Zone Books.
  2. Palmer, Daniel and Whyte, Jessica. “‘No Credible Photographic Interest’: Photography restrictions and surveillance in a time of terror,” in Philosophy of Photography Volume 1 Number 2, Intellect Limited 2010, p. 178.
  3. Ibid., p. 179.
  4. Kozloff, Max. The Theatre of the Face: Portrait Photography Since 1900. London: Phaidon Press, 2007. P. 149
  5. Walker Evans quoted in Thompson, J. L. (ed.,). Walker Evans at Work. London: Thames and Hudson, 1984, p. 229 in Caroline Blinder. “”The Transparent Eyeball”: On Emerson and Walker Evans,” in Mosaic : a Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. Winnipeg: Dec 2004. Vol. 37, Iss. 4; pg. 149, 15 pgs.
  6. Kuhn, Annette. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, pp. 27-28.
  7. Blinder, Caroline. “”The Transparent Eyeball”: On Emerson and Walker Evans,” in Mosaic : a Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. Winnipeg: Dec 2004. Vol. 37, Iss. 4; pg. 149, 15 pgs.
  8. Kozloff, op. cit. p. 89.

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

 

MGA provides Victorians with their first opportunity to see a significant exhibition of work by Trent Parke, the internationally renowned Australian photojournalist. Over the past two decades Parke has brought his highly poetic sensibility to traditional documentary photography. Alongside a range of Parke’s work recently purchased for the MGA collection this exhibition features his 2013 series, The camera is god (street portrait series), which puts a metaphysical spin on street photography.

 

 

“Walker Evans once wrote a friend: “Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.” Evans’ insistence on staring as the main road to learning included making pictures of subway riders with a hidden camera, but he felt so guilty about being an unobserved observer that he withheld publication for years. This compunction still dogs many photographers but seldom stops them.”

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Goldberg, Vicki. “Voyeurism, Exposed,” on the Artnet website [Online] Cited 06/02/2016.

 

 

 

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013

 

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971)
The camera is god (street portrait series) (installation views)
2013
Pigment prints
Collection of the artist

 

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013

 

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971)
The camera is god (street portrait series)
2013
Pigment prints
Collection of the artist

 

 

“During the late 1990s Trent Parke turned away from his career as a press photographer to concentrate on using the visual language of documentary photography to explore personal interests. Continuing to work in the manner of a photojournalist – venturing into the world with a 35mm film camera hanging from his neck – Parke’s artistic practice is a type of existential journey.

Trent Parke: the camera is god is the first solo exhibition of Parke’s work in Victoria, and provides an opportunity to appreciate the trajectory of his practice over the last 15 years.

At the heart of this exhibition is Parke’s The camera is god (street portrait series) of 2014. This internationally celebrated series consists of anonymous portraits, taken on the streets of Adelaide. To capture these images Parke fixed his camera on a tripod and set it to take multiple shots (up to 30 shots in eight-second bursts) when the pedestrian lights changed. Extracting individual portraits from these photographs of street traffic, Parke allowed motion-blur and film grain to obscure the identity of his subjects. As such, this series is not really about individuals, but about the transience of street life and the photographer’s own experience of being adrift in the world of light and movement.”

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passenger, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Harry Callahan. 'Chicago' 1950

 

Harry Callahan
Chicago
1950
Gelatin silver print
8 1/16 x 12 15/16 in. (20.48 x 32.86 cm)

 

Harry Callahan. 'Chicago' 1950

 

Harry Callahan
Chicago
1950
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 x 12 3/8 in. (21.27 x 31.43 cm)

 

Harry Callahan. 'Chicago' 1950

 

Harry Callahan
Chicago
1950
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 x 12 1/2 in. (21.27 x 31.75 cm)

 

Harry Callahan. 'Chicago' 1950

 

Harry Callahan
Chicago
1950
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 x 12 3/4 in. (20 x 32.39 cm)

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled' 1980/82

 

Bill Henson
Untitled 1980/82
gelatin silver chlorobromide print
from a series of 220
57.5 × 53.4 cm
courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled' 1980/82

 

Bill Henson
Untitled 1980/82
gelatin silver chlorobromide print
from a series of 220
57.5 × 53.4 cm
courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

trent-parke-h-WEB

trent-parke-g-WEB

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

trent-parke-i-WEB

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

 

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971)
The camera is god (street portrait series) (details)
2013
Pigment prints
Collection of the artist

 

 

 

Monash Gallery of Art
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Victoria 3150 Australia
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21
Jun
10

Exhibition: ‘Harry Callahan: American Photographer’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 21st November 2009 – 3rd July 2010

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I admire the use of strong horizontals and verticals in the work of Harry Callahan and the exquisite sense of space he creates within the image plane. A true American master. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Harry Callahan
‘Eleanor, Chicago’
1949

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Harry Callahan
‘Eleanor and Barbara’
1953

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Harry Calllahan
‘Eleanor and Barbara, Lake Michigan’
1953

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Harry Callahan
‘Eleanor and Barbara’
c.1954

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Harry Callahan
‘Eleanor, Chicago’
1953

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Harry Callahan
‘Detroit’
1943

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“The brilliant graphic sensibility of Harry Callahan (1912-1999), a major figure in American photography, is the focus of “Harry Callahan: American Photographer” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). Debuting November 21, the exhibition features approximately 40 photographs that survey the major visual themes of the artist’s career. It celebrates the Museum’s important recent acquisitions – by both purchase and gift – of Callahan’s photographs and showcases significant examples of his artistry from the collections of friends of the MFA. The many sensitive pictures that Callahan made of his wife Eleanor, his depictions of passers-by on the street, his carefully composed landscapes and close-ups from nature, and experimental darkroom abstractions reveal a wide-ranging talent that was enormously influential.

“Harry Callahan was one of the most innovative photographers working in America in the mid 20th-century,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “His elegantly spare, introspective photographs demonstrate his lyricism and the originality of his sense of design.”

The Detroit-born photographer, whose career spanned six decades, became interested in the camera in the late 1930s while working as a Chrysler Corporation shipping clerk. He was largely self-taught, and attracted admiration early on for his originality. By 1946, Callahan was hired as a photography instructor by the Hungarian-born artist László Moholy-Nagy for the Institute of Design, a Bauhaus-inspired school of art and design in Chicago. In 1961, Callahan was invited to head the photography program at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he was based until retiring to Atlanta two decades later.

Harry Callahan’s approach helped shape American photography in the second half of the 20th-century,” said Anne Havinga, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs, who organized the exhibition. “His way of seeing inspired countless followers and continues to feel fresh today.”

Callahan concentrated on a handful of personal subjects in his work, exploring each theme repeatedly throughout his career. These include portraits of his wife Eleanor, depictions of anonymous pedestrians, expressive details of the urban and natural landscape, and experimental darkroom abstractions. The MFA exhibition is organized into five themes: Eleanor, Pedestrians, Architecture, Landscapes, and Darkroom Abstractions …”

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Harry Callahan
‘Eleanor’
1948

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Harry Callahan
‘Chicago’
1950

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Harry Callahan
‘Eleanor, Chicago’
1949

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Harry Callahan
‘Eleanor and Barbara (baby carriage)’
1952

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“In 1936, around the time that Callahan began to explore photography, he married Eleanor Knapp, who served as one of his first and most frequent subjects. Callahan’s portraits of his wife, characterized by their intimate yet detached poetry, have become a landmark in the history of photography. In the photograph “Eleanor” (about 1948, see second photograph above), Callahan portrays his wife in a private interior setting, facing away from the camera. After the birth of their daughter Barbara in 1950, she too entered these family pictures, which capture the intimate moments of daily life as seen in the photograph, “Eleanor and Barbara” (1953, see photograph second from top).

Callahan photographed the natural landscape throughout his career, focusing on its evocative forms and textures. In images such as “Aix-en-Provence”, France (1957), he explored the visual effects that he could create either through high contrast or closely related tonalities. Callahan also utilized a range of different experimental darkroom techniques – from photographing the beam of a flashlight in a darkened room, to developing one print from multiple negatives. Many of his multi-exposure pictures were made by superimposing images from popular culture onto studies of urban life. Callahan’s openness to experimentation was stimulating for the many students who worked with him.

Callahan made many of his best known images during his 15 years in Chicago, where he also began his role as an influential teacher. During the 1950s, the photographer embarked on a series of close-ups of anonymous pedestrians in the streets of Chicago, most of them women. Using a 35mm camera with a pre-focused telephoto lens, he captured passersby unaware of his presence, resulting in snapshot-like images that record unsuspecting subjects absorbed in private thought or action, such as “Chicago” (1950, see photograph above), a close-up of a preoccupied woman’s face. Callahan returned to this theme frequently, working in both black and white and color.

Callahan was repeatedly drawn to architectural and urban subjects. Prior to moving to Chicago, he explored the spaces of Detroit, photographing the formal patterns he discovered there. In “Detroit” (1943 – see photograph above), Callahan depicts a street scene, with the people in transit appearing as a pattern. He experimented with color in these pictures as early as the 1940s, but he worked more extensively in color later in his career, from the 1970s onward.”

Text from the Art Tatler website

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Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Chicago
1961
Photograph, gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Barbara and Gene Polk
© The Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill, NY
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Eleanor
about 1947
Photograph, gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Barbara and Gene Polk
© The Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill, NY
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Harry Callahan (American, 1912–1999)
Cape Cod
1972
Photograph, gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Barbara and Gene Polk
© The Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill, NY
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Cape Cod
1972
Photograph, gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Polaroid Foundation Purchase Fund
© The Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill, NY
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Avenue of the Arts
Boston, Massachusetts 02115-5523
617-267-9300

Opening hours:
Monday and Tuesday
10 am-4:45 pm
Wednesday-Friday
10 am-9:45 pm
Saturday and Sunday
10 am-4:45 pm

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 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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