Posts Tagged ‘Helen Levitt

03
Apr
16

Exhibition: ‘The world is beautiful: photographs from the collection’ at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Exhibition dates: 4th December 2015 – 10th April 2016

 

Despite a focus on the camera’s relationship to the beauty and pure form of the modern world – “the attraction and charm of the surface” – these photographs are more than just being skin deep. In their very straightforwardness the photographs propose a “rigorous sensitivity to form revealed patterns of beauty and order in the natural and man-made alike.” But more than the portrayal of something we would not see if it were not for the eye of the photographer, the lens of the camera, the speed of the film, the sensitivity of the paper, the design of the architect, the genetics of nature … is the mystery of life itself.

Modernist structures and mass-produced objects in plants and animals can never beat a good mystery. Just look at Man Ray’s Woman with closed eyes (c. 1928, below) or the look in the eyes of Robert Frank’s son, Pablo. You can never pin that down. While form may be beauty, mystery will always be beautiful.

Marcus

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Please click on the photographs to view a larger version of the image.

 

 

“German photographer Albert Renger-Patzsch was a pioneering figure in the New Objectivity movement, which sought to engage with the world as clearly and precisely as possible.

Rejecting the sentimentality and idealism of a previous generation, Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) emerged as a tendency in German art, architecture and literature in the 1920s. Applying this attitude to the field of photography, Renger-Patzsch espoused the camera’s ability to produce a faithful recording of the world. ‘There must be an increase in the joy one takes in an object, and the photographer should be fully conscious of the splendid fidelity of reproduction made possible by his technique’, he wrote.

This selection reflects the range of subjects that Renger-Patzsch returned to throughout his career. It includes his early wildlife and botanical studies, images of traditional craftsmen, formal studies of mechanical equipment, commercial still lifes, and landscape and architectural studies. His images of the Ruhr region, where he moved in 1928, document the industrialisation of the area in almost encyclopaedic detail. All of his work demonstrates his sustained interest in the camera’s relationship to the beauty and complexity of the modern world.

In 1928 Renger-Patzsch published The World is Beautiful, a collection of one hundred photographs whose rigorous sensitivity to form revealed patterns of beauty and order in the natural and man-made alike. Embodying a new, distinctly modern way of looking at the world, the book established Renger-Patzsch as one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century.”

Text by Emma Lewis on the Tate website

 

The world is beautiful is an exhibition of photographs taken over the last 100 years from the National Gallery of Australia’s magnificent photography collection, including work by Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Max Dupain, Bill Henson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Man Ray, Cindy Sherman and many more.

It draws its title from one of the twentieth-century’s great photographic moments, the publication of Albert Renger-Patzsch’s book The world is beautiful in 1928. Renger-Patzsch’s approach embodied his belief that ‘one should surely proceed from the essence of the object and attempt to represent it with photographic means alone’.

Inspired by this confidence in the medium, the exhibition looks at the way the camera interacts with things in the world. One of photography’s fundamental attributes is its capacity to adopt a range of relationships with its subject, based on the camera’s physical proximity to it. Indeed, one of the most basic decisions that a photographer makes is simply where he or she places the camera. The pictures in this exhibition literally take you on a photographic trip, from interior worlds and microscopic detail to the cosmic: from near to far away.

Together, these photographs capture some of the delight photographers take in turning their cameras on the world and re-imaging it, making it beautiful through the power of their vision and their capacity to help us see the world in new ways.”

Text from the National Gallery of Australia website

 

Near

Close up, the world can be surprising. There is an undeniable intensity and focus that comes with getting up close to people and objects. It is rude to stare, but photography has no such scruples.

Pioneers of the medium attempted to photograph organic forms through a microscope, making once-hidden worlds accessible. The pleasure photographers take in getting up close to their subject has followed the medium’s progress. This was especially the case during the twentieth century, when advances in photographic technology and profound shifts in our relationship to space brought about by events such as war often turned our attention away from the outside world.

For many photographers, the camera’s capacity to subject people and objects to close scrutiny has provided a way of paring back vision to its essence, to view the world unencumbered by emotion and sentiment. For others, getting up close is not just about physical proximity; it is also about psychological and emotional states that are otherwise difficult to represent. Experiences such as intimacy, love and emotional connection, as well as disquiet, anxiety and hostility, can all be suggested through the use of the close-up. Photographers have also used it literally to turn inwards, escaping into the imagination to create dreamworlds. The camera-eye really can see what the human eye cannot. (Text from the National Gallery of Australia website)

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch. 'Mantelpavian [Hamadryas Baboon]' c. 1925

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch
Mantelpavian [Hamadryas Baboon]
c. 1925
Gelatin silver photograph
23.8 x 16.8 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“In photography one should surely proceed from the essence of the object and attempt to represent it with photographic terms alone.” Albert Renger-Patzsch

Renger-Patzsch’s primary interest was in the object as a document, removed from its usual context and unencumbered with sentiment. Die Welt ist schön [The world is beautiful], published in Munich in 1928, is one of the great photographic books in the history of photography and its influence across the world was profound. It is an astounding study of the world, celebrating beauty wherever the photographer found it – in modernist structures and mass-produced objects or in plants and animals. The connection and continuity of industry to the natural world is conveyed by emphasising underlying structural and formal similarities. The Gallery has a major holding of works by Renger-Patzsch, including a copy of Die Welt ist schön and 121 vintage prints, most of which were reproduced in the book.

Renger-Patzsch was always firmly committed to the principle of the photograph as a document or record of an object. While the title for his most famous contribution to photography came from his publisher, he wanted his now-iconic 1928 book Die Welt ist schön (The world is beautiful) to be titled simply Die Dinge (Things). In 1937 he wrote that the images in his book, ‘consciously portray the attraction and charm of the surface’. Indeed, the power of these pictures resides in their straightforwardness. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Edward Weston (USA 1886-1956) 'Guadalupe de Rivera, Mexico' 1924

 

Edward Weston (United States of America 1886 – 1958)
No title (Guadalupe, Mexico, 1924): from “Edward Weston fiftieth anniversary portfolio 1902-1952”.
1924
Gelatin silver photograph
20.7 h x 17.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1981

 

 

In 1923 Weston travelled from San Francisco to Mexico City with his son, Chandler and his model and lover, Tina Modotti. The photographs he made there represented a startling, revolutionary breakthrough. Everything got stripped down to its essence, with objects isolated against neutral backgrounds. For these heroic head shots, he moved out of the studio, photographing in direct sunlight, from below and with a hand-held camera. They are monumental but still full of life: Weston was excited by the idea of capturing momentary expressions, in people he found ‘intense and dramatic’. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Man Ray (United States of America 1890 - France 1976) 'No title (Woman with closed eyes)' c. 1928

 

Man Ray (United States of America 1890 – France 1976)
No title (Woman with closed eyes)
c. 1928
Gelatin silver photograph
Not signed, not dated. Stamp, verso, l.r., “Man Ray / 81 bis. Rue / Campagne Premiere / Paris / XIV”.
Image 8.9 h x 12.8 w cm sheet 8.9 h x 12.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1984

 

Robert Frank. 'Pablo' 1959

 

Robert Frank (Switzerland born 1924 – emigrated to United States 1947)
Pablo
1959
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 20.8 h x 31.0 w cm sheet 27.0 h x 35.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

Frank set out on a two-year road trip across the States in 1955. The images he made of race and class divisions, poverty, alienated youth and loneliness expose America’s dark soul. Others, such as this haunting image of his son, Pablo, were more personal. A selection appeared in The Americans, published in Paris in 1958 and in the States the following year. Many saw it as a bitter indictment of the American Dream, others saw an evocative, melancholic vision of humanity that is deeply moving. As Jack Kerouac commented in his introduction to the American edition, Frank ‘sucked a sad, sweet, poem out of America’. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Vale Street' 1975

 

Carol Jerrems (Australia 1949 – 1980)
Vale Street
1975
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 20.2 h x 30.3 w cm sheet 40.5 h x 50.4 w cm
Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“I try to reveal something about people, because they are so separate, so isolated, maybe it’s a way of bringing people together I don’t want to exploit people. I care about them.”

Carol Jerrems, 1977

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Carol Jerrems became prominent in the 1970s as part of a new wave of young photographers. Influenced by the counter-culture values of the 1960s, they used art to comment on social issues and engender social change. Jerrems photographed associates, actors and musicians, always collaborating with her subjects, thereby declaring her presence as the photographer. Vale Street raises interesting questions about what is artifice and what is real in photography. She deliberately set up this image, employing her aspiring actress friend and two young men from her art classes at Heidelberg Technical School. Vale Street has achieved an iconic status in Australian photography; the depiction of a confident young woman taking on the world is an unforgettable one. It is an intimate group portrait that is at once bold and vulnerable. In 1975 it was thought to be an affirmation of free love and sexual licence. The image also appears to be about liberation from society’s norms and taboos – ‘we are all three bare-chested, we have tattoos and so what?’

The implication that this scene is perfectly natural is reinforced by locating the figures in a landscape. The young woman is strong and unafraid of the judgement of the viewer. The necklace around her neck is an ankh – a symbol of the new spiritualty of the Age of Aquarius and a re-affirmation of the ancient powers of women.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002

 

Paul Outerbridge. 'Nude lying on a love seat' c. 1936

 

Paul Outerbridge (United States of America 1896 – 1958; Paris 1925-28, Berlin and London 1928)
Nude lying on a love seat
c. 1936
Carbro colour photograph
30.2 h x 41.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

Like the Australian-born Anton Bruehl, Paul Outerbridge studied at the Clarence White School of Photography in New York. White was keen to see photography establish itself as a practical art that could be used in the service of the rapidly expanding picture magazine industry. Within a year of enrolling in the school, Outerbridge’s work was appearing in Vogue and Vanity Fair. During his lifetime, Outerbridge was known for his commercial work, particularly his elegant, stylish still-life compositions which show the influence of earlier studies in painting. He was also admired for the excellence of his pioneering colour work, which was achieved by means of a complicated tri-colour carbro process.

Much of Outerbridge’s fame now rests on work that he made following more private obsessions. His fetishistic nude photographs of women are influenced primarily by eighteenth-century French painters such as Ingres. Although the depiction of nudes was a genre pursued from the inception of photography, Outerbridge’s interest in breaking down taboos resulted in this material, if known at all, being passed over or vilified in his lifetime. Outerbridge sought to express what he described as an ‘inner craving for perfection and beauty’ through these often mysterious, languid and richly toned images. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014)

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #92' 1981

 

Cindy Sherman (United States of America born 1954)
Untitled #92
1981
Type C colour photograph
61.5 h x 123.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1983

 

 

This is one of 12 Centerfolds made by Sherman in 1981. The Centerfolds present Sherman posing in a range of situations, each suggesting heightened emotional states and violent narratives; these associations are augmented by the uncomfortably tight framing and the panoramic format used by Sherman across the series. Initially commissioned for the art magazine Artforum, the Centerfolds were never published because they were deemed, with their apparently voyeuristic points of view, to reaffirm misogynist views of women. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

William Eggleston (American, born 1939) 'Untitled (Greenwood, Mississippi)' 1980

 

William Eggleston (United States of America born 1939)
Greenwood, Mississippi
(1973) prtd 1979
Dye transfer colour photograph
Image 29.5 h x 45.4 w cm sheet 40.2 h x 50.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

With its intense red, Eggleston’s picture of the spare room in a friend’s home is one of the most iconic of all colour photographs. Often called The red room, this photograph was intended to be shocking: Eggleston described the effect of the colour as like ‘red blood that is wet on the wall’. But the radicalness of the picture is not just in its juicy (and impossible to reproduce) redness; it is also found in the strange view it provides of a domestic interior, one that Eggleston has described as a ‘fly’s eye view’. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Imogen Cunningham. 'Magnolia Blossom' 1925

 

Imogen Cunningham (United States of America 1883 – 1976)
Magnolia Blossom
1925
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 17.1 h x 34.6 w cm mount 38.2 h x 50.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1978

 

 

During the 1920s, raising three young sons, Cunningham began to focus on her immediate surroundings. This restricted environment encouraged Cunningham to develop a new way of working, as she began to place her camera closer to the subject: to zebras on a trip to the zoo, to snakes brought to her by her sons, and perhaps most famously to the magnolia blossoms and calla lilies she grew in her garden. Observing what she termed the ‘paradox of expansion via reduction’, the intensity and focus attendant to this way of seeing flooded her work with sensuality and reductive power. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Olive Cotton. 'Skeleton Leaf' 1964

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911 – 2003)
Skeleton leaf
1964
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 50.4 h x 40.8 w cm sheet 57.8 h x 47.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1987

 

 

This leaf skeleton – a leaf that has had its pulp removed with heat and soda – was probably photographed in front of a window in Cotton’s home near Cowra, NSW. Since the 1930s Cotton had been drawn to the close study of nature, and many of her best photographs feature close-ups of flowers, tufts of grass and foliage. This photograph is notable because it was taken in the studio, and reflects the austerity and simplicity that pervaded Cotton’s work in the decades after the Second World War. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Lee Friedlander (United States of America born 1934) 'Nashville, 1963' 1963

 

Lee Friedlander (United States of America born 1934)
Nashville, 1963
1963
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 28.2 h x 18.7 w cm sheet 35.3 h x 27.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1981

 

 

Middle distance

The further away we move from a subject, the more it and its story open up to us. While the close-up or compressed view tends to be very frontal (the camera presses up against the subject), the defining characteristic of much mid-century photography was its highly mobile relationship to space: its extraordinary capacity to survey and to organise the world.

The space between the camera and its subject can suggest impartiality and detachment. Documentary photographers and photojournalists, for example, open their cameras up to their subjects, as if to ‘let them speak’. But the depiction of the space between the camera and its subject, and the way that it is rendered through the camera’s depth of field, can also reflect decision making on the part of the photographer. By adjusting the camera’s settings, and thus choosing to render part of the subject in focus, the photographer can direct our focus and attention to certain parts of an image. In this way, photographers put forward an argument based on their world view. Photography can change the way we think about the world. (Text from the National Gallery of Australia website)

 

Ilse Bing. 'Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1931' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (Germany 1899 – United States of America 1998; France 1930-1941 United States from 1941)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver photograph
Signed and dated recto, l.r., pen and ink “Ilse Bing/ 1931”
Image 22.3 h x 28.2 w cm sheet 22.3 h x 28.2 w cm mount 35.0 h x 41.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1989

 

 

Bing took up photography in 1928 and quickly developed a reputation as a photojournalist and photographer of modernist architecture. Inspired by an exhibition of modern photography and the work of Paris-based photographer Florence Henri, Bing moved to Paris 1930 and quickly became associated with the city’s photographic avant-garde. Bing worked exclusively with the fledgling Leica 35mm-format camera; her interest in the pictorial possibilities of the hand-held Leica can clearly be seen in this striking view of the Eiffel Tower. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Walker Evans (United States of America 1903 - 1975) 'Graveyard and steel mill, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania' 1935

 

Walker Evans (United States of America 1903 – 1975)
Graveyard and steel mill, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
19.1 h x 24.0 w cm sheet 20.2 h x 25.2 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

Gary Winogrand. 'World´s Fair', New York, 1964

 

Garry Winogrand (United States of America 1928 – Mexico 1984)
World’s Fair, New York
1964
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 21.8 h x 32.7 w cm mount 37.4 h x 50.1 w cm
Image rights: © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1978

 

 

Winogrand had a tremendous capacity to photograph people in public spaces completely unawares. This image records a group of visitors to the 1964 World’s Fair; it focuses on three young women – Ann Amy Shea, whispering into the ear of Janet Stanley, while their friend Karen Marcato Kiaer naps on Stanley’s bosom. The figures fill the space between the picture’s fore- and middle-grounds, to the extent of allowing the viewer to examine people’s expressions and interactions in close detail. This in turn allows us to encroach on the personal space of people we don’t know. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Diane Arbus, 'Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962'

 

Diane Arbus (New York, United States of America 1923 – 1971)
Child with toy hand grenade, in Central Park, New York City
1962
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 20.0 h x 17.2 w cm sheet 32.8 h x 27.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

During workshops with Lisette Model, Arbus was encouraged to develop a direct, uncompromising approach to her subjects. She did this using the square configuration of a medium-format camera which Arbus most usually printed full frame with no cropping. Model also convinced Arbus, who had been interested in myth and ritual, that the more specific her approach to her subjects, the more universal the message. In many ways this image of a boy caught hamming it up in Central Park, with his contorted body and grimacing face, captures and prefigures many of the anxieties of America during the sixties, a country caught in an unwinnable war in Vietnam and undergoing seismic social change. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (France 1908 - 2004) 'Rue Mouffetard, Paris' 1954 prtd c. 1980

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (France 1908 – 2004)
Rue Mouffetard, Paris
1954 prtd c. 1980
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 35.9 h x 24.2 w cm sheet 39.4 h x 29.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1982

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' 1972

 

Helen Levitt (United States of America 1913 – 2009)
New York
1972
Dye transfer colour photograph
Image 23.9 h x 36.2 w cm sheet 35.6 h x 42.9 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1984

 

 

“The streets of the poor quarters of the great cities are, above all, a theatre and a battleground.” Helen Levitt

Inspired by seeing work by Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1935, Levitt took to the streets. Children became her most enduring subject. Like Evans, Levitt was famously shy and self-effacing, seeking to shoot unobserved by fitting a prism finder on her Leica. Her approach eschews the sensational; instead she is interested in capturing small, idiosyncratic actions in the everyday. Her images were often shot through with a gentle, lyrical humour though a dark strangeness also surfaces at times. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' c.1972

 

Helen Levitt (United States of America 1913 – 2009)
New York
1972
Dye transfer colour photograph
Image 23.4 h x 35.6 w cm sheet 35.4 h x 42.9 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1984

 

Ernst Haas (1921-1986). 'Route 66, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA' 1969

 

Ernst Haas (Austria 1921 – United States of America 1986; United States from 1951)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
1969
Dye transfer colour photograph
Image 44.9 h x 67.8 w cm sheet 52.3 h x 75.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2000

 

 

For Haas, colour photography represented the end of the grey and bitter war years and he started seriously working in the medium after moving to America in 1951. Work on his photoessay, Land of Enchantment and film stills assignments for The Misfits, The Bible and Little Big Man took Haas to the Southwest. The desert landscape of Albuquerque, located on Route 66, had been totally transformed by progress since the 1920s. Photographing the street after rain, Haas has signified that evolution by way of his distinctive ability to translate the world into shimmering energy. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Faraway

Photography has a long-standing interest in faraway places. In 1840, right in photography’s infancy, astronomical photography was launched when the first photograph of the moon was made. As photographic imaging technology has improved, so has the medium’s capacity to make faraway places accessible to us.

Photography can bring foreign places and people closer to home, or collect together images of places and structures that are located in different places. It can also attempt to give a picture to experiences that are otherwise difficult to grasp or represent, such as complex weather events or transcendental phenomena.

Against the odds, there are photographers who make images that are about what cannot be seen. Faraway is often used as a metaphor for thinking about the ineffable and the inexplicable. Science and spirit go hand-in-hand. ‘The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious’, Albert Einstein believed. Photographers can take us to new worlds. (Text from the National Gallery of Australia website)

 

Ansel Adams. 'Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico' 1941

 

Ansel Adams (San Francisco, California, United States of America 1902 – Carmel, California, United States of America 1984)
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico
1941
Ansel Adams Museum Set
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 38.6 h x 49.0 w cm mount 55.6 h x 71.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1980

 

 

Adams became the most famous landscape photographer in the world on the back of his images of America’s West. While mass tourism was invading these wilderness areas, Adams’s photographs show only untouched natural splendour. His landscapes are remarkable for their deep, clear space, distinguishable by an uncanny stillness and clarity. The story of Moonrise is legendary: driving through the Chama River Valley toward Española, Adams just managed by a few seconds to catch this fleeting moment before the dying sunlight stopped illuminating the crosses in the graveyard. Through hours of darkroom manipulation and wizardry, Adams created an image of almost mystical unworldliness. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Tracey Moffatt (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia born 1960) 'Up in the sky' 1997

 

Tracey Moffatt (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia born 1960)
Up in the sky [Up in the sky – a set of 25 photolithographs]
1997
No. 8 in a series of 25
Photolithograph
Image 61.0 h x 76.0 w cm sheet 72.0 h x 102.0 w cm
KODAK (Australasia) PTY LTD Fund 1997
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Up in the sky is unusual in Moffatt’s oeuvre for being shot out of doors on location. Her photomedia practice is informed by an upbringing watching television, fascinated by film and pop culture. This series takes many of its visual cues from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Accattone of 1961 as well as the Mad Max series – the references, twisted and re-imagined, are like half-forgotten memories. She addresses race and violence, presenting a loose narrative set against the backdrop of an outback town. The sense of unease is palpable: Moffatt here is a masterful manipulator of mood. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

Laurence Aberhart (Aotearoa New Zealand born 1949) 'Taranaki, from Oeo Road, under moonlight, 27-28 September 1999' 1999

 

Laurence Aberhart (Aotearoa New Zealand born 1949)
Taranaki, from Oeo Road, under moonlight, 27-28 September 1999
1999
Gelatin silver photograph
19.4 h x 24.3 w cm
Gift of Peter Fay 2005
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

For four decades, Aberhart has photographed the Taranaki region of New Zealand’s North Island, including its settled landscape and its most distinctive feature, the sacred TeMounga (Mount) Taranaki. Using an 8 x 10-inch view camera, Aberhart has over time built up an important archive documenting the social geography and landscape of the Taranaki. Aberhart describes the conical mountain as a ‘great physical and spiritual entity’ and sees his photographs of it as a counterbalance to the countless images of the mountain that circulate on tea towels and postcards. (Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra)

 

 

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21
Aug
14

Exhibition: ‘Now You See It: Photography and Concealment’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 31st March – 1st September 2014

 

Many thankx to the Metropolitan 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.

 

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899-1968 New York) 'Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces' January 27, 1942, printed c. 1983

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899-1968 New York)
Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces
January 27, 1942, printed c. 1983
Gelatin silver print
31.8 x 41.4 cm. (12 1/2 x 16 5/16 in.)
Gift of Aaron and Jessica Rose, 1983
Rights and Reproduction: © Weegee / International Center of Photography

 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard (American, 1925-1972) 'Occasion for Diriment' 1962

 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard (American, 1925-1972)
Occasion for Diriment
1962
Gelatin silver print
18.0 x 18.7 cm (7 1/16 x 7 3/8 in.)
Rogers Fund, 1967
© The Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard was a photographer and optician who spent the last two decades of his life in Lexington, Kentucky, producing an eccentric body of work at some remove from the photographic mainstream. He often posed his family and friends in enigmatic tableaux with props such as dolls and rubber masks, imbuing his images with a haunting Surrealist sensibility. The curious title of this photograph stems from Meatyard’s passion for odd names, puns, and peculiar words and phrases. Diriment is a made-up word, a Lewis Carroll-like compound of “dire” and “merriment” that suggests a mood of high-spirited fun and hilarity fraught with anxious undertones.

 

Lee Friedlander (American, born Aberdeen, Washington, 1934) 'Shadow, New York City' 1966, printed 1973

 

Lee Friedlander (American, born Aberdeen, Washington, 1934)
Shadow, New York City
1966, printed 1973
Gelatin silver print
16.0 x 24.1 cm. (6 5/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1990

 

Robert Frank (American, born Zurich, 1924) 'Covered Car - Long Beach, California' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Zurich, 1924)
Covered Car – Long Beach, California
1955
Gelatin silver print
21.4 x 32.7 cm (8 7/16 x 12 7/8 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005

 

 

“Photography is a medium prized for its capacity to expose, lay bare, make visible. For many artists, the camera is, above all, a tool for revealing what would otherwise remain unnoticed. As Diane Arbus once said: “I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them.” At the root of this artistic impulse is a keen fascination with that which is hidden, obscure, or hitherto unseen. This exhibition presents a selection of contemporary photographs and video from the permanent collection that variously explores the medium’s dynamic interplay between concealment and revelation.

Some of the artists featured here use the camera to reveal subjects or places ordinarily hidden, as in Vera Lutter’s majestic view of the interior of a Pepsi-Cola bottling plant or Miguel Rio Branco’s lush image of a tapestry’s seamy underside. Others address instances of geopolitical obfuscation: Fazal Sheikh’s aerial photographs of the Negev desert in southern Israel record the traces of Bedouin villages that have been transformed into forests or farmland, while Mishka Henner collects images of stylishly censored high-security sites on Google Earth. In Vault (2011), Thomas Demand takes his inspiration from current events, meticulously re-creating a storeroom in which thirty missing works of art were discovered during a recent police raid.

The tension between publicity and privacy – the simultaneous desire to be looked at and to evade the merciless gaze of the camera – animates the work of artists as diverse as Arbus, Lutz Bacher, Jack Pierson, and Taryn Simon. In her video, The Nightingale (2003), Grace Ndiritu explores the tradition of the veil and its complex poetics of exposure and effacement. Complementing the contemporary works on view is a selection of earlier photographs in which the primary subject is hidden or obscured – a brief anthology of playfulness, shame, and seduction.

 

Fazal Sheikh (American, born 1965) 'Desert Bloom' (various numbers) 2011

 

Fazal Sheikh (American, born 1965)
Desert Bloom (various numbers)
2011
Excerpt from the Erasure Trilogy
Inkjet print
Image: 40 × 60 cm (15 3/4 × 23 5/8 in.) Sheet: 52.1 × 72.1 cm (20 1/2 × 28 3/8 in.) Frame: 73.7 × 53.3 cm (29 × 21 in.)
Purchase, Jane P. Watkins Gift, 2013

 

In 2011 the French photographer Frederic Brenner invited eleven prominent photographers to spend six months in residence in Israel and the Occupied Territories, or West Bank, to explore the area’s complexity and to create bodies of work that might broaden and reframe the conversation about the region. Among those invited was Sheikh, an artist best known for his sensitive black-and-white portraits of people living in displaced and marginalized communities around the world. Sheikh’s project takes the form of a trilogy titled Erasure, of which Desert Bloom is the central part. The images were made during several months of flying above the Negev desert and are intended to articulate the rapid transformation of the region. On the one hand, they invoke the Israeli endeavor to “make the desert bloom,” and on the other, they reveal traces of the Negev’s history: the construction of towns for the Bedouin, the natural erosion of the land, the demolition of local dwellings, the remains of military installations, the afforestation campaigns of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), and the transformation of nomadic desert regions into farmland.

 

demand-vault-WEB

 

Thomas Demand (German, born 1964)
Vault
2012
Chromogenic print
220 x 276.9 cm (86 5/8 x 109 in.)
Purchase, Louis V. Bell Fund; Alfred Stieglitz Society, The Fledgling Fund, through Diana Barrett and Robert Vila, Joseph M. and Barbara Cohen Foundation Inc. and Hideyuki Osawa Gifts, 2013
© Thomas Demand / Artist’s Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Demand’s photographs of the paper constructions he builds in his studio are typically based on photographs related to politically charged real-world events. He begins with an existing image, usually culled from the news media, which he translates into a three-dimensional life-sized model made of colored paper and cardboard. The models are then carefully lit and photographed, after which they are destroyed. Three times removed from the scenes they depict, Demand’s works are masterpieces of pictorial ambiguity that occupy a mesmerizing middle ground between reality and artifice.

Vault is based on a police photograph of a storeroom at the Wildenstein Institute in Paris, where thirty paintings and sculptures that had been missing for decades were discovered during a police raid in 2011. The missing artworks belong to the heirs of a French Jewish family displaced during the Holocaust. In Demand’s picture, as in the photograph on which it is based, the framed paintings – which include works by Degas, Manet, and Morisot – are turned to face the walls and remain tantalizingly hidden from view.

 

Vera Lutter (German, born Kaiserslautern, 1960) 'Pepsi Cola Interior II: July 6-13, 2000' 2000

 

Vera Lutter (German, born Kaiserslautern, 1960)
Pepsi Cola Interior II: July 6-13, 2000
2000
Gelatin silver print
Overall installation: 90 3/4 in. × 14 ft. 3/4 in. (230.5 × 428.6 cm) Sheet (A): 90 in. × 55 3/4 in. (228.6 × 141.6 cm) Sheet (B): 90 in. × 55 3/4 in. (228.6 × 141.6 cm) Sheet (C): 90 in. × 55 3/4 in. (228.6 × 141.6 cm) Frame (each): 90 3/4 × 56 1/4 in. (230.5 × 142.9 cm)
Purchase, Joseph M. and Barbara Cohen Foundation Inc. Gift, 2001
© Vera Lutter

 

While the basis for Lutter’s technique – the camera obscura – is older than photography itself, her images and subject matter are wholly modern. This enormous negative print was made inside a room-sized pinhole camera that Lutter built in a derelict Pepsi-Cola bottling plant on the East River in Hunters Point, Queens. After pinning three huge sheets of photographic paper opposite the camera’s pinhole aperture, she worked inside the camera to monitor and manipulate the light during the weeklong exposure. The bottling plant itself closed in 1999 and was later demolished.

 

Mishka Henner (British, born 1976) 'Staphorst Ammunition Depot, Overijssel' 2011, printed 2014

 

Mishka Henner (British, born 1976)
Staphorst Ammunition Depot, Overijssel
2011, printed 2014
From the series Dutch Landscapes
Inkjet print
31 1/2 × 35 7/16 in. (80 × 90 cm)
Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2014
© Mishka Henner

 

In his “Dutch Landscapes” series, Henner selects and reproduces images of the Netherlands found on Google Earth. The multicolored shapes punctuating these landscapes were created not by the artist but at the behest of the Dutch government. When Google Earth was introduced in 2005, satellite imagery of the entire planet became freely accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. This sudden visibility created concerns among many governments, who required Google – or its image suppliers – to obscure the details of sites deemed vital to national security. While most nations employed standard techniques, such as blurring, pixilation, or digital cloning, the Dutch chose to conceal hundreds of sites – including royal palaces, army barracks, and fuel depots – with bold, multicolored polygons. “There is of course an absurdity to these censored images,” Henner has written, “since their overt, bold and graphic nature only draws attention to the very sites that are meant to be hidden. Yet this contradiction seems perfectly apt for the absurd fear of terror that has come to dominate the cultural landscape of the last decade.”

 

 

Now You See It: Photography and Concealment, an installation of 25 works at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, focuses on the dynamic interplay between concealment and revelation in contemporary photography and video art. The featured works, all from the Museum’s Department of Photographs, range from a late 19th-century photograph by Pierre-Louis Pierson to a recently acquired work by Thomas Demand.

The installation presents works by artists who use the camera to reveal subjects or places ordinarily hidden from view, as well as works that explore broader themes of secrecy and obscured or partial vision. A highlight of Now You See It is Thomas Demand’s photograph Vault (2012). The image is based on a police photograph of a storeroom at the Wildenstein Institute in Paris, where 30 paintings and sculptures that had been missing for decades were discovered during a police raid in 2011. In Demand’s picture, as in the photograph on which it is based, the framed art works are turned to face the walls, remaining tantalizingly hidden from view. Other highlights include Vera Lutter’s haunting view of the seldom seen interior of the Pepsi Cola bottling plant in Queens, New York, Pepsi Cola Interior II: July 6-13 (2000), and Fazal Sheikh’s Desert Bloom (2011), a series of aerial photographs of the Negev desert. In Grace Nditru’s acclaimed video The Nightingale (2003), the artist explores the tradition of the veil and its complex associations of exposure and effacement. Accompanied by a recording of the Senegalese singer Baaba Maal, Ndiritu evokes a rapid-fire series of cultural references as she performs a hypnotic, Scheherazade-like series of gestures and movements with a piece of fabric, swiftly transforming it from turban to blindfold, and do-rag to noose to niqab. The tension between publicity and privacy, inherent in the field of photography, is explored in works by artists as diverse as Diane Arbus, Lutz Bacher, Jack Pierson, and Taryn Simon. The 20th-century photographs on view present the theme of concealment in a literal way and include Weegee’s Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces (January 27, 1942) and Helen Levitt’s Kids in a Box, on the Street, New York City (c. 1942).

Now You See It: Photography and Concealment is organized by Mia Fineman, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009) [Kids in a Box, on the Street, New York City] c. 1942

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
[Kids in a Box, on the Street, New York City]
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
Image approx.: 9 × 6 in. (22.9 × 15.2 cm)
Promised Gift of Mrs. Robert O. Levitt
© Estate of Helen Levitt

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009) [Kids on the Street Playing Hide and Seek, New York City] c. 1942

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
[Kids on the Street Playing Hide and Seek, New York City]
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
9 3/4 × 6 3/4 in. (24.8 × 17.1 cm)
Promised Gift of Mrs. Robert O. Levitt
© Estate of Helen Levitt

 

Attributed to Juliette Alexandre-Bisson (French, 1861-1956) [Birth of Ectoplasm During Séance with the Medium Eva C.] 1919-20

 

Attributed to Juliette Alexandre-Bisson (French, 1861-1956)
[Birth of Ectoplasm During Séance with the Medium Eva C.]
1919-20
Gelatin silver print
11.8 x 8.9 cm (4 5/8 x 3 1/2 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2001

 

Bill Wasilevich (American, active 1940s) 'Jimmy "One Eye" Collins After Arraignment' 1946

 

Bill Wasilevich (American, active 1940s)
Jimmy “One Eye” Collins After Arraignment
1946
Gelatin silver print
18.6 x 14.4 cm (7 5/16 x 5 11/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2008
© Steve Schapiro/Corbis

 

 

Grace Ndiritu (British, born 1976)
The Nightingale
2003
Video
Gift of the artist, 2009
© 2003 Grace Ndiritu, Courtesy Grace Ndiritu and LUX, London

 

Before a camera fixed on her face and neck and accompanied by a recording of the Senegalese singer Baaba Maal, Ndiritu performs a hypnotic, Scheherazade-like series of gestures and movements with a piece of fabric, swiftly transforming it from turban to blindfold, from do-rag to noose to niqab. Both jubilant and unsettling, the video evokes a rapid-fire series of cultural references, counterposing the enforced modesty of the Islamic world with Western fantasies of exoticism. Ndiritu, who studied textiles at the Winchester School of Art, acquired this simple red-and-white scarf while traveling in India and carried it with her as a talisman through years of global exploration.

 

Jack Pierson (American, born 1960) 'The Lonely Life' 1992

 

Jack Pierson (American, born 1960)
The Lonely Life
1992
Chromogenic print
Frame: 76.2 × 101.6 cm (30 × 40 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2000
© Jack Pierson

 

In 1994, Pierson was invited by the Whitney Museum of American Art to show his photographs alongside a group of works by Edward Hopper (1882-1967) that the artist selected from their vast holdings. Like Hopper, Pierson creates works that are inherently cinematic in their scope and effects; both are primarily concerned with mood, atmosphere, and exhibit a particularly urban kind of melancholy. His greatest asset, however, is an almost overwhelmingly lush palette, which he uses to depict objects of desire or scenes that are unabashedly sensual and emotional. An excellent example of the artist’s high-key chromaticism, The Lonely Life describes the unique brand of loneliness shared by the performer and the fan, both of whom (like Pierson) are doomed to experience existence solely through the intoxications of art.

 

Pierre-Louis Pierson (French, 1822-1913) 'Scherzo di Follia' 1861-67, printed c. 1930

 

Pierre-Louis Pierson (French, 1822-1913)
Scherzo di Follia
1861-67, printed c. 1930
Gelatin silver print from glass negative
39.8 x 29.8 cm (15 11/16 x 11 3/4 in.)
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005

 

Virginia Oldoini, Countess Verasis de Castiglione (1837-1899), created a sensation when she appeared on the social scene in Paris in 1855, having been sent by the Italian statesman Cavour to secretly win Napoleon III over to the cause of Italian unity by “any means she chose.” Within months, the statuesque beauty was the mistress of Napoleon III and a much-talked-about ornament of the lavish balls so prevalent during the period. After the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, she led an increasingly secluded existence, which gave rise to fantastic speculation about her affairs. As the years went by, her mental stability declined and she ventured out only at night, shrouded in veils.

The countess’s raging narcissism found in photography the perfect ally; Pierre-Louis Pierson produced over seven hundred different images of her. In a reversal of roles, the sitter would direct every aspect of the picture, from the angle of the shot to the lighting, using the photographer as a mere tool in her pursuit of self-promotion and self-expression.

 

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York, New York 10028-0198
T: 212-535-7710

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Thursday: 9.30 am – 5.30 pm*
Friday and Saturday: 9.30 am – 9.00 pm*
Sunday: 9.30 am – 5.30 pm*
Closed Monday (except Met Holiday Mondays**), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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30
May
14

Exhibition / text: ‘Vivian Maier (1926-2009). A Photographic Revelation’ at Château de Tours

Exhibition dates: 9th November 2013 – 1st June 2014

 

“Maier doesn’t have a partner to dance with. She sees something well enough, whereas Lee Friedlander expects something. If there is an idea out there in the ether she grabs onto it in a slightly derivative way. Maier states that these things happened with this subject matter but with Arbus, for example, she meets something extra/ordinary and alien – and goes beyond, beyond, beyond.”

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Dr Marcus Bunyan May 2014

 

 

The next best thing

The photographs of Vivian Maier. Unknown in her lifetime (nanny as secretive photographer), her negatives discovered at an auction after her death – some developed, all scanned, in some cases cropped, the medium format images then printed. The latest “must have” for any self respecting photography collection, be it private or public. But are they really that good?

To be unequivocal about it, they are good – but, in most cases, they are not “great”. Maier is a very good photographer but she will never be a great photographer. This might come as a surprise to the legions of fans on Facebook (and the thousands of ‘Likes’ for each image), those who think that she is the best thing since sliced bread. But let’s look at the evidence – the work itself.

The photographs can seen on the Vivian Maier Official website and I have spent quite a lot of time looking at them. As with any artist, there are some strong images and some not so strong ones but few reach ‘master’ status. The lighting is good, the use of low depth of field, the location and the presence of the people she photographed are all there, as are the influences that you recite in your mind as to the people her photographs remind you of: Lewis Hine, Berenice Abbott, Lisette Model, Diane Arbus, Helen Levitt, Lee Friedlander et al. Somehow through all this she makes the photographs she takes her own for she has a “rare sense of photographic vision” as Edward Petrosky expressed it on my LinkedIn page, but ultimately they don’t really take you anywhere. It’s like she has an addiction to taking photographs (a la Gary Winogrand), but no way of advancing her art to the next level.

Vivien Maier’s photographs stand out because she hasn’t withheld enough within them. What do I mean by that? Let’s look at some examples to explain what I mean…

Included in the postings are two comparisons: Vivian Maier, June 19, 1961, Chicago IL, 1961 / Lee Friedlander, Stony Point, New York, 1966; and Vivian Maier, New York, Nd 1966 / Berenice Abbott, New York at Night, 1932. As with most of Maier’s photography, she relies on intuition when taking a photograph and a bloody good intuition it is too. This intuition usually stands her in good stead and she almost always gets the shot, but there is an underlying lack of structure to her images. Here I am talking as much about psychological structure as physical structure, for both go hand in hand.

If we compare the Maier with the Friedlander we can say that, if we look at the windows in the Friedlander, every one is a masterpiece! From the mother and son at left with the white-coated marchers, to the central window with the miniature house, dog and tree, to the dark-suited marchers at right. Everything feels compelling, intricate weavings of a narrative that the viewer has to try and make sense of. Each part of the Friedlander image is absolutely necessary for that picture… whereas there are so many things in the Vivien Maier that belong in other pictures ie. a good picture but a lot that doesn’t belong in that picture. Things that should have been held back, by making another image somewhere else. Her narrative is confusing and thus the eye is also confused.

A similar scenario can be observed when comparing the photographs of New York at night by Abbott and Maier. Abbott’s photograph is a tight, orchestrated and muscular rendition of the city which seethes with energy and form. Maier’s interpretation fades off into nothingness, the main arterials of the city leading the eye up to the horizon line and then [nothing]. It is a pleasant but wishy-washy photograph, with all the energy of the city draining away in the mind and in the eye.

One of Maier’s photographs that most resonates with me is September 1953, New York, NY (1953, below). This IS a masterpiece. There is a conciseness of vision here, reminiscent of Weston’s Nude of 1938 with its link to the anamorphic structure of his photographs of peppers. There is nothing auxiliary to the purpose of the photograph, yet there is that indefinable something that takes it out of itself. The dirt of the clothes, under the fingers, the ring on the hand, the shape that no human should be in and its descent onto the pavement, the despair of that descent captured in the angle of the camera looking down on the victim. The photograph has empathy, promotes understanding and empathy in the viewer. Most of us have been there. Other photographs that approach a higher perspective are Maier’s self-portraits, in which there is a conscious exploration of her reflection in/of the world: a slightly dour, serious figure reflected back from the world into the lens of the camera – a refracted identity, the phenomenon of self as light passing obliquely through the interface between one medium and another, between living, the camera and memory.

But too often Maier’s photographs are just so… obvious. Did she wait long enough for the composition to reveal itself to her more, god what’s the word, more ambiguously. Maier doesn’t have a partner to dance with. She sees something well enough, whereas Lee Friedlander expects something. If there is an idea out there in the ether she grabs onto it in a slightly derivative way. Maier states that these things happened with this subject matter but with Arbus, for example, she meets something extra/ordinary and alien – and goes beyond, beyond, beyond.

What we can say is that Maier’s vision is very good, her intuition excellent, but there is, critically, not that indefinable something that takes her images from good to great. This is the key thing – everything is usually thrown at the image, she withholds nothing, and this invariably stops them taking that step to the next level. This is a mighty difficult step for any artist to take, let alone one taking photographs in the shadows. Personally I don’t believe that these images are a “photographic revelation” in the spirit of Minor White. What is a revelation is how eagerly they have been embraced around the world as great images without people really looking deeply at the work; how masterfully they have been promoted through films, books, websites and exhibitions; how Maier’s privacy has been expunged in the quest for dollars; and how we know very little about her vision for the negatives as there are no extant prints of the work.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

 

Vivian Maier. 'Untitled' 1954

 

Vivian Maier
Untitled
1954
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Edward Weston. 'Nude' 1936

 

Edward Weston
Nude
1936

 

Vivian Maier. 'September 1953, New York, NY' 1953

 

Vivian Maier
September 1953, New York, NY
1953
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'June 19, 1961, Chicago IL' 1961

 

Vivian Maier
June 19, 1961, Chicago IL
1961
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Lee Friedlander. 'Stony Point, New York, 1966' 1966

 

Lee Friedlander
Stony Point, New York, 1966
1966
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Vivian Maier. 'New York' Nd

 

Vivian Maier
New York
Nd
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898 - 1991) 'New York at Night' 1932

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898 – 1991)
New York at Night
1932
Gelatin silver print
12 7/8 x 10 9/16″ (32.7 x 26.9 cm)

 

Vivian Maier. 'New York, NY, 18 Octobre 1953' 1953

 

Vivian Maier
New York, NY, 18 Octobre 1953
1953
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian-Maier-New-York-NY-c-1953-WEB

 

Vivian Maier
New York, NY
c. 1953
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'St East nº108, New York , NY, September 28, 1959' 1959

 

Vivian Maier
St East nº108, New York , NY, September 28, 1959
1959
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'New York, NY' 1954

 

Vivian Maier
New York, NY
1954
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

 

“Vivian Maier was the archetypal self-taught photographer with a keen sense of observation and an eye for composition. She was born in New York in 1926, but spent part of her childhood in France before returning to New York in 1951 when she started taking photos. In 1956, she moved to Chicago, where she lived until her death in 2009.

Her talent is comparable with that of the major figures of American street photography such as Lisette Model, Helen Levitt, Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand. The exhibition presented at the Château de Tours by the Jeu de Paume, in partnership with the Municipality of Tours and diChroma photography, is the largest ever exhibition in France devoted to Vivian Maier. It includes 120 black and white and colour gelatin silver prints from the original slides and negatives, as well as extracts from Super 8 films she made in the 60s and 70s. This project, which is sourced from John Maloof’s collection, with the valuable assistance of Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York, reveals a poetic vision that is imbued with humanity.

John Maloof discovered Vivian Maier’s astonishing photos completely by chance in 2007 at an auction in Chicago. At the time, this young collector was looking for historical documentation about a specific neighbourhood of the city and he bought a sizeable lot of prints, negatives and slides (of which a major part had not even been developed) as well as some Super 8 films by an unknown and enigmatic photographer, Vivian Maier. By all accounts, Vivian Maier was a discreet person and somewhat of a loner. She took more than 120,000 photos over a period of thirty years and only showed this consequential body of work to a mere handful of people during her lifetime.

Vivian Maier earned her living as a governess, but all her free time and every day off was spent walking through the streets of New York, then later Chicago, with a camera slung around her neck (first of all box or folding cameras, later a Leica) taking photos. The children she looked after describe her as a cultivated and open-minded woman, generous but not very warm. Her images on the other hand bear witness to her curiosity for everyday life and the attention she paid to those passers – by who caught her eye: facial features, bearing, outfits and fashion accessories for the well-to-do and the telltale signs of poverty for those who were less fortunate.

While some photos are obviously furtively taken snapshots, others bear witness to a real encounter between the photographer and her models, who are photographed face-on and from close up. Her photos of homeless people and people living on the fringe of society demonstrate the depth of her empathy as she painted a somewhat disturbing portrait of an America whose economic boom was leaving many by the wayside.

Vivian Maier remained totally unknown until her death in April 2009. She had been taken in by the Gensburgs, for whom she had worked for almost seventeen years, and many of her possessions as well as her entire photographic output had been placed in storage. It was seized and sold in 2007 to settle unpaid bills.

Her biography has now been reconstructed, at least in part, thanks to a wealth of research and interviews carried out by John Maloof and Jeffrey Goldstein after the death of Vivian Maier. Jeffrey Goldstein is another collector who purchased a large part of her work. According to official documents, Vivian Maier was of Austro-Hungarian and French origin and her various trips to Europe, in particular to France (in the Alpine valley of Champsaur where she spent part of her childhood) have been clearly identified and documented. However, the circumstances that led her to take an interest in photography and her life as an artist remain veiled in mystery.

Photography seemed to be much more than a passion: her photographic activity was the result of a deeply felt need, almost an obsession. Each time she changed employers and had to move house, all her boxes and boxes of films (that she hadn’t had developed for want of money), as well as her archives comprising books and press cuttings about various stories in the news, came along too.

Vivian Maier’s body of work highlights those seemingly insignificant details that she came across during her long walks through the city streets: odd gestures, strange figures and graphic arrangements of figures in space. She also produced a series of captivating self-portraits from her reflection in mirrors and shop windows.”

Press release from the Château de Tours

 

Vivian Maier. 'Self-portrait' Nd

 

Vivian Maier
Self-portrait
Nd
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'Chicago' Nd

 

Vivian Maier
Chicago
Nd
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'Florida, 9 January 1957' 1957

 

Vivian Maier
Florida, 9 January 1957
1957
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Vivian Maier. 'Untitled' 1954

 

Vivian Maier
Untitled
1954
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'Chicago, IL, January, 1956' 1956

 

Vivian Maier
Chicago, IL, January, 1956
1956
© Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'Chicago, August 22, 1956' 1956

 

Vivian Maier
Chicago, August 22, 1956
1956
© Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

 

Château de Tours
25 Avenue André Malraux
37000 Tours

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday: 2 pm – 6 pm
Saturday and Sunday: 3 pm – 6 pm

Vivian Maier Official website

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24
Dec
13

Exhibition: ‘A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’ at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC

Exhibition dates: 28th June 2013 – 5th January 2014
1st floor West, American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, N.W.)

Browse the exhibition and related works on the exhibition website

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The next two weeks sees a lot of exhibitions finish their run on the 5th January 2014.

Here is a bumper posting which contains one of my favourite photographs of all time: Danny Lyon’s Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville (1966, below). From a distance, this looks to be a very interesting exhibition on a large topic, delineated for the viewer into four main sections. The task of the curator cannot have been easy, picking 113 images to represent a “democracy” of images out of a collection of over 7,000 images. Of course there can never be a true “democracy” of images as some will always be more valued within our culture than others. There is a meritocracy in this exhibition which features images by masters of the medium but this is balanced by the inclusion of images by anonymous photographers, little known photographers and vernacular and street photography.

What is most impressive is the specially developed website which includes many images from the different sections of the exhibition. These images are of good quality and, along with relevant text, help the viewer place the images in context. Related content is also suggested from the full photographic collection at The Smithsonian which has been placed online with good image quality. This is a far cry from many exhibitions at state galleries in Australia where there are hardly any dedicated exhibition websites. Most of the photographic collection from these galleries is not available online and if it has been scanned, the image quality is generally poor. How many times have I searched a state gallery or library collection and come up with the answer: “Image not available” ?

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Many thankx to the Smithsonian American Art Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs and text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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“More often, though, the moments, places, people and views that have been collected here feel offhand and stumbled upon, telling a fragmentary, incomplete tale. Sometimes it’s literally a glance, as in “Girl Holding Popsicle,” a 1972 image by Mark Cohen, who rarely even looked through his viewfinder. Other times, it’s more like a long stare, as in William Christenberry’s 1979 “China Grove Church – Hale County, Alabama,” a locale that the Washington-based artist and Alabama native returned to again and again. These 113 pictures are, at the same time, quietly telling, revealing bits of America in oblique, prismatic ways.”

Part of Michael O’Sullivan’s review of the exhibition in The Washington Post.

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American Characters

Photographers have captured the texture of everyday life since the medium’s arrival in the United States in 1839. Photographic portraits have made both the iconic and the commonplace serve as stand-ins for all of us, forging a shared language of political and social understanding. In charting the passing parade of history – the faces of the anonymous and the famous; evolving stories of immigration, disenfranchisement, and assimilation; as well as emblematic objects and celebrated landmarks lodged within our collective memory – photographs reveal the complexities of America.

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Unidentified artist. '[Bird in Basin with Thread Spool and Patterned Cloth]' c. 1855

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Unidentified artist
[Bird in Basin with Thread Spool and Patterned Cloth]
c. 1855
Daguerreotype
Plate: 2 3/4 x 3 1/4 in. (6.9 x 8.2 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.193

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Larry Sultan (born New York City 1946 - died Greenbrae, CA 2009) 'Portrait of My Father with Newspaper' 1988

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Larry Sultan (born New York City 1946 – died Greenbrae, CA 2009)
Portrait of My Father with Newspaper
1988
Chromogenic print
Image: 28 5/8 x 34 5/8 in. (72.7 x 87.9 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Nan Tucker McEvoy, 1989.58
© 1988, Larry Sultan

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In Portrait of My Father with Newspaper, Irving Sultan reads the Los Angeles Times as light pours in behind him. This carefully composed portrait reveals the artist’s father almost entirely through reflections and shadows. Thin newsprint shields his body from the camera, while only a vague profile of his face is discernible on the right half of the spread. Prompted by the discovery of a box of home movies, Larry Sultan embarked on an eight-year enquiry into his parents’ lives. He stayed in their home for weeks at a time, interviewing them about their marriage and photographing their domestic activities.

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Eugene Richards (born Boston, MA 1944) 'First Communion (Dorchester, Mass.)' 1976

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Eugene Richards (born Boston, MA 1944)
First Communion (Dorchester, Mass.)
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 x 12 in. (20.3 x 30.5 cm) sheet: 11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.1168
© 1974, Eugene Richards

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Mark Cohen (born Wilkes-Barre, PA 1943) 'Girl Holding Popsicle' 1972, printed 1983

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Mark Cohen (born Wilkes-Barre, PA 1943)
Girl Holding Popsicle
1972, printed 1983
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 14 x 17 in. (35.5 x 43.2 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dene and Mel Garbow, 1992.73.4
© 1972, Mark Cohen

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In Girl Holding Popsicle a young girl twists shyly as she poses before a graffiti-inscribed brick wall. Mark Cohen took this photograph spontaneously as he passed through a back alley. Cohen does not hesitate to get assertively close to the strangers he meets in his hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Many of his photographs are made without looking through a viewfinder, and so remain a mystery even to Cohen until they are developed.

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Unidentified artist. '[Gold Nugget]' c. 1860s

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Unidentified artist
[Gold Nugget]
c. 1860s
Albumen silver print
Image: 2 1/8 x 3 5/8 in. (5.4 x 9.2 cm) sheet: 2 3/8 x 3 7/8 in. (6.1 x 9.8 cm) irregular
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, 2006.36.1

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Mathew B. Brady (born Lake George, NY 1823 - died New York City 1896) 'Reviewing Stand in Front of the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., May, 1865' 1865, printed early 1880s

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Mathew B. Brady (born Lake George, NY 1823 – died New York City 1896)
Reviewing Stand in Front of the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., May, 1865
1865, printed early 1880s
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 6 1/2 x 9 in. (16.5 x 22.9 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment, 2007.6

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Kevin Bubriski (born North Adams, MA 1954) 'World Trade Center Series, New York City' 2001

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Kevin Bubriski (born North Adams, MA 1954)
World Trade Center Series, New York City
2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18 x 18 in. (45.7 x 45.7 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation, 2003.65.1
© 2001, Kevin Bubriski

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In the weeks and months following the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, Kevin Bubriski photographed people who gathered at Ground Zero. Frozen in awe, struck with disbelief, and overcome with loss, people stood before the destroyed building site to confront the horrible tragedy. More than ten years later, Bubriski’s photographs preserve the emotional impact of this infamous day through images of those who witnessed its aftermath first-hand.

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Deborah Luster (born Bend, OR 1951) '01-26 Location. 1800 Leonidas Street (Carrollton) Date(s). July 14, 2009 7:55 a.m. Name(s). Brian Christopher Smith (22) Notes. Face up with multiple gunshot wounds' 2008-2012

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Deborah Luster (born Bend, OR 1951)
01-26 Location. 1800 Leonidas Street (Carrollton) Date(s). July 14, 2009 7:55 a.m. Name(s). Brian Christopher Smith (22) Notes. Face up with multiple gunshot wounds
2008-2012
Gelatin silver print
55 x 55 in. (139.7 x 139.7 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2013.43, © 2010, Deborah Luster

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This photograph, from a series that documents contemporary and historical homicide sites in New Orleans, presents Deborah Luster’s interpretation of the last view of the crime victim lying face up on the ground. The title is the entry from the New Orleans Police blotter, but the photograph is Luster’s meditation on looking, seeing, and the power of images to haunt our imagination.

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Unidentified artist. '[Two Workmen Polishing a Stove]' c. 1865

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Unidentified artist
[Two Workmen Polishing a Stove]
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 14 1/8 x 11 in. (35.9 x 28.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.220

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Anthony Barboza (born New Bedford, MA 1944) '"Marvelous" Marvin Hagler, boxer' 1981

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Anthony Barboza (born New Bedford, MA 1944)
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, boxer
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 7/8 x 13 7/8 in. (35.2 x 35.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Kenneth B. Pearl, 1997.118.2, © 1981, Anthony Barboza

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Edward S. Curtis (born Whitewater, WI 1868 - died Los Angeles, CA 1952) 'Girl and Jar - San Ildefonso' 1905

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Edward S. Curtis (born Whitewater, WI 1868 – died Los Angeles, CA 1952)
Girl and Jar – San Ildefonso
1905
Photogravure
Sight 16 5/8 x 12 1/4 in. (12.3 x 31.1 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the United States Marshal Service of the U.S. Department of Justice, 1988.5.18

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Between 1900 and 1930, Edward S. Curtis traveled across the continent photographing more than seventy Native American tribes. The photographs, compiled into twenty volumes, presented daily activities, customs, and religions of a people he called “a vanishing race.” Curtis hoped to preserve the legacy of Native peoples in lasting images. To this end, Curtis often costumed his subjects and set up scenes, mixing tribal artifacts and traditions to match his romantic vision of the people he studied. In this intimate portrait, a young Tewa woman named Povi-Tamu (“Flower Morning”) balances a large jug with help from a hidden fiber ring. She is from the San Ildefonso Pueblo of New Mexico, which is famed for its rich tradition of fine pottery. Curtis associated the serpentine design of the vessel with the serpent cult, which he noted was central to Tewa life.

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Oliver H. Willard (died 1875) 'Portrait of a Young Woman' c. 1857

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Oliver H. Willard (died 1875)
Portrait of a Young Woman
c. 1857
Salted paper print
8 7/8 x 6 3/4 in. (22.5 x 17.1 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, 1999.29.1

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Spiritual Frontier

The earliest photographs made in America describe an awesome land blessed with such an abundance of natural beauty that it seemed heaven sent. Images of waterfalls, mountains, and vast open spaces conveyed the beauty, the grandeur, the sublimity, and dynamics of a great spiritual endeavor. In the nineteenth century photographers pictured wilderness landscapes that symbolized American greatness. More recently, photographers have described a landscape no less romantic, but now recalibrated to account for the interaction of nature and culture.

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Eadweard Muybridge (born Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1830 - died Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1904) 'Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point' 1872

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Eadweard Muybridge (born Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1830 – died Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1904)
Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point
1872
Albumen silver print
Sheet: 17 x 21 1/2 in. (43.2 x 54.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles T. Isaacs, 1994.89.1

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Eadweard Muybridge went to great lengths to photograph the best possible views of the West. He chopped down trees if they obstructed his camera, and ventured to “points where his packers refused to follow him.” Muybridge was determined to produce the most comprehensive photographs ever made of Yosemite and the surrounding region. His views were sold widely in both large-format prints and stereograph cards, which are viewed through a device that creates the illusion of three-dimensional space. This allowed Muybridge to transport his audience, if just for a moment, to a faraway place caught on film.

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Robert Frank (born Zurich, Switzerland 1924) 'Butte, Montana' 1956, printed 1973

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Robert Frank (born Zurich, Switzerland 1924)
Butte, Montana
1956, printed 1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/4 x 13 in. (22.2 x 33.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1974.31.2

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Robert Adams (born Orange, NJ 1937) 'New Housing, Longmont, Colorado' 1973

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Robert Adams (born Orange, NJ 1937)
New Housing, Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 6 x 7 5/8 in. (15.1 x 19.3 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.9
© 1973, Robert Adams

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As both a photographer and writer, Robert Adams is committed to describing the western American landscape as both awe-inspiring and scarred by man. In New Housing, Longmont Colorado, Adams contrasted the vast space of the distant landscape view with a foreground image of the wall of a newly constructed suburban tract house. Adams invites a consideration of the balance between myth and reality and the land as home as well as scenic backdrop.

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Charles L. Weed (born New York City 1824 - died Oakland, CA 1903) 'Mirror Lake and Reflections, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California' 1865

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Charles L. Weed (born New York City 1824 – died Oakland, CA 1903)
Mirror Lake and Reflections, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California
1865
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 15 1/2 x 20 1/4 in. (39.4 x 51.4 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles T. Isaacs, 1994.89.5

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Like Carleton Watkins, his better-known competitor, Charles Weed recognized the pictorial dividend to be gained by showing Yosemite’s glorious geological features in duplicate, using the valley’s lakes as reflecting ponds. Weed first traveled to what was then known as “Yo-Semite,” in 1859, but with a relatively small camera; he returned in 1865 with a larger model capable of using what were called mammoth plates. Like Watkins, he sold his prints to buyers eager to own a photograph of majestic natural beauty.

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Ansel Adams (born San Francisco, CA 1902 - died Monterey, CA 1984) 'Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley' 1926-1927, printed 1927

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Ansel Adams (born San Francisco, CA 1902 – died Monterey, CA 1984)
Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley
1926-1927, printed 1927
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 11 7/8 x 9 7/8 in. (30.2 x 25.1 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1992.101.3, © 2013 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

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At just over 4,700 feet above the valley, Half Dome is the most iconic rock formation in Yosemite National Park. Adams squeezed the monolith into the frame to emphasize the majesty of its scale and the drama of its cliff. As it thrusts out of the brilliant white snow, Half Dome stands as a symbol of the unspoiled western landscape. Ansel Adams made his first trip to the Sierra Nevada mountain range when he was fourteen years old, and he returned every year until the end of his life, often for month-long stretches. Throughout his career Adams traveled widely – from Hawaii to Maine – to photograph the most picturesque vistas in America. After his death in 1984, a section of the Sierra Nevada was named the Ansel Adams Wilderness in his honor.

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John Pfahl (born New York City 1939) 'Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York' 1989

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John Pfahl (born New York City 1939)
Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York
1989
Chromogenic print
Sheet: 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation, 1991.27.3, © 1989, John Pfahl

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John Pfahl’s photographs embody the conflict between progress and preservation. Throughout the 1980s he focused on oil refineries and power plants. He chose the sites strategically based on their location in picturesque landscapes, where he observed a “transcendental” connection between industry and nature. In Goodyear #5 a nuclear power plant occupies the horizon. The setting sun provides a romantic color palette as light filters through clouds of billowing steam. The landscape is reduced to an abstract composition that celebrates color and texture. Pfahl’s intention with this series, titled Smoke, was to “make photographs whose very ambiguity provokes thought.” This photograph complicates popular notions of power plants by revealing an uncommonly beautiful view of a controversial structure.

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“A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates the numerous ways in which photography, from early daguerreotypes to contemporary digital works, has captured the American experience. The photographs presented here are selected from the approximately 7,000 images collected since the museum’s photography program began thirty years ago, in 1983. Ranging from daguerreotype to digital, they depict the American experience and are loosely grouped around four ideas: American Characters, Spiritual Frontier, America Inhabited, and Imagination at Work.

The exhibition’s title is inspired by American poet Walt Whitman’s belief that photography provided America with a new, democratic art form that matched the spirit of the young country and his belief that photography was a quintessentially American activity, rooted in everyday people and ordinary things and presented in a straightforward way. Known as the “poet of democracy,” Whitman wrote after visiting a daguerreotype studio in 1846: “You will see more life there – more variety, more human nature, more artistic beauty… than in any spot we know.” At the time of Whitman’s death, in 1892, George Eastman had just introduced mass market photography when he put an affordable box camera into the hands of thousands of Americans. The ability to capture an instant of lasting importance and fundamental truth mesmerized Americans then and continues to inspire photographers working today. Marking the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of the museum’s pioneering photography collection, the exhibition examines photography’s evolution in the United States from a documentary medium to a full-fledged artistic genre and showcases the numerous ways in which it has distilled our evolving idea of “America.”

The exhibition features 113 photographs selected from the museum’s permanent collection, including works by Edward S. Curtis, Timothy H. O’SullivanBerenice AbbottDiane ArbusRoy DeCaravaWalker Evans,Irving PennTrevor Paglen, among others, as well as vernacular works by unknown artists. A number of recent acquisitions are featured, including works by Ellen CareyMitch EpsteinMuriel HasbunAlfredo Jaar, Annie Leibovitz, Deborah Luster, and Sally Mann. Landscapes, portraits, documentary-style works from the New York Photo League and images from surveying expeditions sent westward after the Civil War are among the images on display, and explore how photographs have been used to record and catalogue, to impart knowledge, to project social commentary, and as instruments of self-expression.

Photography’s arrival in the United States in 1840 allowed ordinary people to make and own images in a way that had not been previously possible. Photographers immediately became engaged with the life of the emerging nation, the activity of new urban centers, and the possibilities of unprecedented access to the vast western frontier. From the nineteenth to the twentieth century, photography not only captured the country’s changing cultural and physical landscape, but also developed its own language and layers of meaning.

A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum is organized around four major themes that defined American photography. “American Characters” examines the ways in which photographs of individuals, places, and objects become a catalogue of our collective memory and have contributed to the ever-evolving idea of the American character. “Spiritual Frontier” investigates early ideas of a vast, inexhaustible wilderness that symbolized American greatness. “America Inhabited” traces the nation’s rapid industrialization and urbanization through images of speed, change, progress, immigration, and contemporary rural, urban, and suburban landscapes. “Imagination at Work” demonstrates how photography’s role of spontaneous witness gradually gave way to contrived arrangement and artistic invention. The exhibition is organized by Merry Foresta, guest curator and independent consultant for the arts. She was the museum’s curator of photography from 1983 to 1999.

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Connecting online
A complementary website designed for viewing on tablets includes photographs on view in the exhibition, an expanded selection of works from the museum’s collection and a timeline of American photography. It is available through tablet stations in the exhibition galleries, online, and on mobile devices.”

Press release from the Smithsonian American Art Museum website

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America Inhabited

Photography’s early presence in America coincided with the rise of an industrial economy, the growth of major urban population centers, and the fulfilling of what some saw as the Manifest Destiny of spanning the continent from sea to sea. Images of progress and industry, as well as of city and suburbs, quickly added themselves to photography’s catalogue of places and people. Some of these images reflect idealistically, and at times nostalgically, on the beauty and humanity of our own backyards. Others stand as social documents that can be seen as critical and ironic, inviting outrage as well as compassion about the way we now live our lives.

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Helen Levitt (born New York City 1913 - died New York City 2009) 'New York' c. 1942, printed later

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Helen Levitt (born New York City 1913 – died New York City 2009)
New York
c. 1942, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 1/8 x 10 1/2 in. (18.1 x 26.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1984.16.4, © 1981, Helen Levitt

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Caught before they run off into the streets, three masked youngsters pause on their front stoop. Expressive postures and mysterious disguises give this trio a theatrical quality. Helen Levitt, who found poetry in the uninhibited gestures of children, used a right-angle viewfinder to capture boys and girls roaming freely and playing with found objects. Working in New York City during the years surrounding World War II, her photographs show the drama of life that unfolded on the sidewalks of poor and working-class neighborhoods.

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Louis Faurer (born Philadelphia, PA 1916 - died New York City 2001) 'Broadway, New York, N.Y.' 1949-1950, printed 1980-1981

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Louis Faurer (born Philadelphia, PA 1916 – died New York City 2001)
Broadway, New York, N.Y.
1949-1950, printed 1980-1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/8 x 12 9/16 in. (21.3 x 32 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of David L. Davies and John D. Weeden and museum purchase, 2002.47.6, © Estate of Louis Faurer

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Danny Lyon (born New York City 1942) 'Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville' 1966, printed 1985

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Danny Lyon (born New York City 1942)
Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville
1966, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/4 x 12 7/8 in. (22.2 x 32.7 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Mrs. Marshall Langhorne, 1988.52.8, Photo courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery and Dektol.wordpress.com

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William Eggleston (born Memphis, TN 1939) 'Tricycle (Memphis)' about 1975, printed 1980

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William Eggleston (born Memphis, TN 1939)
Tricycle (Memphis)
about 1975, printed 1980
Dye transfer print
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Amy Loeserman Klein, 1985.87.12

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An ordinary tricycle is made monumental in this playful color photograph. Taken from below, it suggests a child’s perspective – elevating this rusty tricycle to a symbol of innocence and freedom. The quiet Memphis suburb in the background typifies the safe neighborhoods where children could spend hours playing after school. This print was made with the expensive and exacting dye imbibition process, which was typically used for fashion and advertising at the time. Eggleston began experimenting with color photography in the mid-1960s. Inspired by trips to a commercial photography lab, he developed an approach that imitates the random, imperfect style of amateur snapshots to describe his immediate surroundings combined with a keen interest in the effects of color.

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Tina Barney (born New York City 1945) 'Marina's Room' 1987

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Tina Barney (born New York City 1945)
Marina’s Room
1987
Chromogenic print
Sheet: 48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 52.3 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1989.5, © 1987, Tina Barney, Courtesy Janet Borden, Inc.

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Aaron Siskind (born New York City 1903 - died Providence, RI 1991) 'Untitled' 1937, printed later

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Aaron Siskind (born New York City 1903 – died Providence, RI 1991)
Untitled
1937, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 10 x 14 in. (25.4 x 35.5 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Tennyson and Fern Schad, courtesy of Light Gallery, 1990.73.4, © 1940, Aaron Siskind

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In this untitled photograph Aaron Siskind focused on the regular grid of boarded-up windows on a derelict tenement building. Once portals into intimate domestic spaces, the windows represent loss in a community plagued by poverty, unemployment, and racial discrimination. Building upon the traditions of social documentary photographers before him, Siskind used his camera to raise public awareness of Harlem’s struggle, even as he created a modernist work of art.

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Walker Evans (born St. Louis, MO 1903 - died New Haven, CT 1975) 'Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead' 1936, printed 1974

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Walker Evans (born St. Louis, MO 1903 – died New Haven, CT 1975)
Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead
1936, printed 1974
Gelatin silver print
Sheet and image: 9 3/8 x 12 in. (23.9 x 30.5 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Lee and Maria Friedlander, 2006.13.1.8

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During the summer of 1936, Walker Evans joined writer James Agee in rural Alabama to work on a magazine assignment on cotton farming. Evans and Agee met with three tenant farm families and documented every detail of their experiences. The result, which the magazine declined to publish, was released as the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in 1941. It contains some of the most iconic and contentious photographs to document the Great Depression. Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead reads like a modern novel. Every crack in the wood, every speck of paint tells part of the story. Evans drew special attention to the scarcity of cooking tools at the family’s disposal. These everyday utensils illustrate a metaphor for the struggle to meet basic needs.

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Judy Fiskin (born Chicago, IL 1945) 'Long Beach Pike (broken fence)', from the 'Long Beach, California Documentary Survey Project' 1980

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Judy Fiskin (born Chicago, IL 1945)
Long Beach Pike (broken fence), from the Long Beach, California Documentary Survey Project
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 2 1/2 x 2 1/2 in. (6.2 x 6.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.505, © 1980, Judy Fiskin

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For this series, sponsored by the National Endowment of the Art’s Long Beach Documentary Survey Project, Judy Fiskin focused on the Long Beach Pike, an amusement park that was demolished soon after she made the photographs. By printing in high contrast and restricting the scale of her prints, Fiskin reduced form to its bare essentials. Devoid of superfluous detail, these photographs appear more like conjured images than documents of reality. Judy Fiskin systematically catalogues the world of architecture and design in order to study variations of historical styles. Her series carefully investigate esoteric subjects such as military base architecture, “dingbat” style houses in southern California, and the art of flower arranging.

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Berenice Abbott (born Springfield, OH 1898-died Monson, ME 1991) 'Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn' 1936

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Berenice Abbott (born Springfield, OH 1898-died Monson, ME 1991)
Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn
1936
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 18 x 14 3/8 in. (45.7 x 36.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the Evander Childs High School, Bronx, New York through the General Services Administration, 1975.83.10

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Berenice Abbott returned home in 1929 after nearly eight years abroad and found herself fascinated by the rapid growth of New York City. She saw the city as bristling with new buildings and structures which seemed to her as solid and as permanent as a mountain range. Aiming to capture “the past jostling the present,” Abbott spent the next five years on a project she called Changing New York. In Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn, Abbott presented a century of history in a single image. The Brooklyn Bridge, once a marvel of modern engineering, seems dark and heavy compared with the skeletal structure beneath it. The construction site at center suggests the never-ending cycle of death and regeneration. And the Manhattan skyline, veiled and weightless, hangs just out of reach, its shape accommodating the ambitious spirit of American modernism.

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Robert Disraeli (born Cologne, Germany 1905 - died 1987) 'Cold Day on Cherry Street' 1932

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Robert Disraeli (born Cologne, Germany 1905 – died 1987)
Cold Day on Cherry Street
1932
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 14 x 11 in. (35.5 x 28.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Mr. and Mrs. G. Howland Chase, Mrs. James S. Harlan (Adeline M. Noble Collection), Lucie Louise Fery, Berthe Girardet, and Mrs. George M. McClellan, 1990.19.9, © 1932, Robert Disraeli

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Imagination at Work

Nineteenth-century French commentator Alexis de Tocqueville observed that in America, nothing is ever quite what it seems. Yet the idea that “seeing is believing” is deeply ingrained in the American character. By yoking together style and subject under the guise of the real, today’s photographers borrow from photography’s rich past while embracing the conceptual framework of contemporary art. They read reality as something on the surface of a picture or, more complexly, as something located in the mind of its beholder.

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Sonya Noskowiak (born Leipzig, Germany 1900 - died Greenbrae, CA 1975) 'Calla Lily' c. 1930s

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Sonya Noskowiak (born Leipzig, Germany 1900 – died Greenbrae, CA 1975)
Calla Lily
c. 1930s
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 7 3/8 x 9 3/4 in. (18.8 x 24.7 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible through Deaccession Funds, 1986.54

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Ray K. Metzker (born Milwaukee, WI 1931) 'Composites: Philadelphia (Car and Street Lamp)' 1966

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Ray K. Metzker (born Milwaukee, WI 1931)
Composites: Philadelphia (Car and Street Lamp)
1966
Gelatin silver prints
Image: 25 3/8 x 17 3/4 in. (64.5 x 45.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1984.57.1, © 1966, Ray K. Metzker

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Ray Metzker’s Composites series, begun in 1964, connected in a dramatic fashion his interests in contrasts of light and shadow, his strong sense of design, and his earlier explorations of the multiple image. Metzker studied at Chicago’s Institute of Design, where a rigorously formal, problem-solving approach to photography was taught. For this series he assembled grids of individual photographs to create complex image-fields. When viewed from a distance, this work reads as an abstract, rhythmic pattern of light and dark. On closer inspection, however, many crisply descriptive images are revealed. The Composites function somewhat like short filmstrips. The mystery of these brief narratives is exaggerated by the repetitive design and provides a unique opportunity, in Metzker’s words, “to deal with complexity of succession and simultaneity, of collected and related moments.”

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Irving Penn (born Plainfield, NJ 1917 - died New York City 2009) 'Mud Glove - New York' 1975, printed 1976

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Irving Penn (born Plainfield, NJ 1917 – died New York City 2009)
Mud Glove – New York
1975, printed 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Sheet and image: 29 3/4 x 22 1/4 in. (75.5 x 56.5 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the artist, 1988.83.39

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Irving Penn was one of the most important and influential photographers of the twentieth century. In a career that spanned almost seventy years, Penn worked across multiple genres, from celebrity portraits to fashion, from still lives to images of native cultures in remote places of the world. Throughout his career Penn also worked on a series of photographs of discarded objects: things that had been lost, neglected, or misused. Printed in platinum, these detailed photographs of objects such as a lost glove found in the gutter, are Penn’s photographic memento mori, offering beauty compromised by age or disuse.

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Edward Weston (born Highland Park, IL 1886 - died Carmel, CA 1958) 'Pepper no. 30' 1930

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Edward Weston (born Highland Park, IL 1886 – died Carmel, CA 1958)
Pepper no. 30
1930
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. (24.3 x 19.2 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1985.56

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Imogen Cunningham (born Portland, OR 1883 - died San Francisco, CA 1976) 'Auragia' 1953, printed c. 1960s

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Imogen Cunningham (born Portland, OR 1883 – died San Francisco, CA 1976)
Auragia
1953, printed c. 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Sheet and image: 11 1/8 x 8 3/4 in. (28.3 x 22.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, 2007.37.2

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Ellen Carey (born New York City 1952) 'Dings and Shadows' 2012

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Ellen Carey (born New York City 1952)
Dings and Shadows
2012
Chromogenic print
Sheet and image: 40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Linda Cheverton Wick and Walter Wick, 2013.29
© 2012, Ellen Carey

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Ellen Carey created the series she calls Dings and Shadows by exposing photosensitive paper to light projected through primary and complementary color filters. The artist first folds and crushes paper; then after exposing the paper to light from a color enlarger, flattens it out again for processing. In doing so, Carey dissects the process of developing film, and evokes the hand-crafted nature of early photographic techniques.

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Some images from the Timeline on the website

1843

Daguerreotypists Albert S. Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes begin a partnership, establishing Southworth & Hawes as the most highly regarded portrait studio in Boston, Mass. The studio caters to the city’s elite, and is visited by Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, among many other influential people of the time.

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Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes. 'A Bride and Her Bridesmaids' 1851

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Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes
A Bride and Her Bridesmaids
1851
Daguerreotype
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Walter Beck, 2000.110

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1853

The New York Daily Tribune estimates that in the United States, three million daguerreotypes are being produced annually.

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Unidentified artist. 'Mother and Son' c. 1855

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Unidentified artist
Mother and Son
c. 1855
Daguerreotype with applied color
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.192

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1857

Julian Vannerson and Samuel Cohner make the first systematic photographs of Native American delegations to visit Washington, D.C. They photograph ninety delegates representing thirteen tribes who conduct treaty and other negotiations with government officials.

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Julian Vannerson. 'Shining Metal' 1858

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Julian Vannerson
Shining Metal
1858
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

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1861

American Civil War begins with shots fired on Fort Sumter by Confederate troops. Portrait photographer Mathew Brady is given permission by President Abraham Lincoln to photograph the First Battle of Bull Run, but comes so close to the battle that he narrowly avoids capture. Using paid assistants Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, George N. Barnard, and others, Brady’s studio makes thousands of photos of the sites, material, and people of the war. Civilian free-lance photographer Egbert Guy Fowx sells numerous negatives to Brady’s studio, which publishes and copyrights many of them. Many other images are credited to Fowx, including this group of Union officers.

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Egbert Guy Fowx. 'New York 7th Regiment Officers' c. 1863

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Egbert Guy Fowx
New York 7th Regiment Officers
c. 1863
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.53

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1867

Eadweard Muybridge begins trip to photograph in Yosemite Valley. He publishes his photographs under the name “Helios,” which is also the name of his San Francisco studio. An exhibition of more than 300 photographic portraits of Native American delegates to Washington, D.C., opens in the Smithsonian Castle. Clarence R. King begins direction of the U.S. Geological Expedition of the Fortieth Parallel, appointing Timothy O’Sullivan as the official photographer. Photographer Carleton Watkins joins the survey in 1871.

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Timothy H. O'Sullivan. 'Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada' 1867

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Timothy H. O’Sullivan
Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada
1867
Albumen silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.142

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1869

Andrew J. Russell’s album, The Great West Illustrated in a Series of Photographic Views across the Continent; Taken along the Line of the Union Pacific Railroad from Omaha, Nebraska, Volume I, is published. George M. Wheeler begins direction of the United States Geological Surveys West of the 100th Meridian for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Wheeler makes fourteen trips to the West over the next eight years. Photographer Timothy O’Sullivan accompanies him in 1871, 1873, and 1874.

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Andrew Joseph Russell. 'Sphinx of the Valley' 1869

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Andrew Joseph Russell
Sphinx of the Valley
1869
Albumen silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.164

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1967

The Friends of Photography is founded in Carmel, California, by Ansel Adams, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Brett Weston, and others, with the aim of promoting creative photography and supporting its practitioners. It remains in existence until 2001.

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Brett Weston. 'Untitled (Snow Covered Mountains)' 1973

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Brett Weston
Untitled (Snow Covered Mountains)
1973
Gelatin silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.1659
© 1973, Brett Weston

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1975

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape opens at the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, N.Y. It includes photographs by Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, and Henry Wessel Jr.

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Frank Gohlke. 'Grain Elevator, Dumas, Texas, 1973' 1973, printed 1994

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Frank Gohlke
Grain Elevator, Dumas, Texas, 1973
1973, printed 1994
Gelatin silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2010.15.3
© 1973, Frank Gohlke

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Smithsonian American Art Museum
8th and F Streets, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004

Opening hours:
11.30 am – 7.00 pm daily

Smithsonian American Art Museum website

A Democracy of Images website

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21
Apr
13

Exhibition: ‘The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 18th April 2012 – 29th April 2013

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Another fascinating exhibition and a bumper posting to boot (pardon the pun!)

A panoply of famous photographers along with a few I had never heard of before (such as Georges Hugnet) are represented in this posting. As the press blurb states, through “key photographic projects, experimental films, and photobooks, ‘The Shaping of New Visions’ offers a critical reassessment of photography’s role in the avant-garde and neo-avant-garde movements, and in the development of contemporary artistic practices.”

The large exhibition seems to have a finger in every pie, wandering from the birth of the 20th-century modern metropolis, through “New Vision” photography in the 1920s, experimental film, Surrealism, Constructivism and New Objectivity, Dada, Rayographs, photographic avant-gardism, photocollages, photomontages, street photography of the  1960s, colour slide projection performance, through New Topographics, self-published books, and conceptual photography, featuring works that reevaluate the material and contextual definitions of photography. “The final gallery showcases major installations by a younger generation of artists whose works address photography’s role in the construction of contemporary history.”

Without actually going to New York to see the exhibition (I wish!!) – from a distance it does seem a lot of ground to cover within 5 galleries even if there are 250 works. You could say this is a “meta” exhibition, drawing together themes and experiments from different areas of photography with rather a long bow. Have a look at the The Shaping of New Visions exhibition checklist to see the full listing of what’s on show and you be the judge. There are some rare and beautiful images that’s for sure. From the photographs in this posting I would have to say the distorted “eyes” have it…

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

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László Moholy-Nagy
Ein Lichtspiel: schwarz weiss grau (A Lightplay: Black White Gray) (excerpt)
1930

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This short film made by László Moholy-Nagy is based on the shadow patterns created by his Light-Space Modulator, an early kinetic sculpture consisting of a variety of curved objects in a carefully choreographed cycle of movements. Created in 1930, the film was originally planned as the sixth and final part of a much longer work depicting the new space-time.

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Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler
Manhatta
1921
Film
Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive

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In 1920 Paul Strand and artist Charles Sheeler collaborated on Manhatta, a short silent film that presents a day in the life of lower Manhattan. Inspired by Walt Whitman’s book Leaves of Grass, the film includes multiple segments that express the character of New York. The sequences display a similar approach to the still photography of both artists. Attracted by the cityscape and its visual design, Strand and Sheeler favored extreme camera angles to capture New York’s dynamic qualities. Although influenced by Romanticism in its view of the urban environment, Manhatta is considered the first American avant-garde film.

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Dziga Vertov
Chelovek s kinoapparatom (Man with a Movie Camera)
1929
Film
1 hr 6 mins 49 secs

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Excerpt from a camera operators diary
ATTENTION VIEWERS:
This film is an experiment in cinematic communication of real events
Without the help of Intertitles
Without the help of a story
Without the help of theatre
This experimental work aims at creating a truly international language of cinema based on its absolute separation from the language of theatre and literature

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Eleanor Antin. '100 Boots' 1971 - 1973

Eleanor Antin. '100 Boots' 1971 - 1973

Eleanor Antin. '100 Boots' 1971 - 1973

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Eleanor Antin
100 Boots
1971 – 1973
Photographed by Philip Steinmetz
Halftone reproductions on 51 cards
4 ½ x 7 in. each
Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York
© Eleanor Antin

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Josef Albers. 'Marli Heimann, Alle während 1 Stunde (Marli Heimann, All During an Hour)' 1931

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Josef Albers
Marli Heimann, Alle während 1 Stunde (Marli Heimann, All During an Hour)
1931
Twelve gelatin silver prints
Overall 11 11/16 x 16 7/16″ (29.7 x 41.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Josef Albers Foundation, Inc.
© 2012 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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August Sander. 'Das rechte Auge meiner Tochter Sigrid (The Right Eye of My Daughter Sigrid)' 1928

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August Sander
Das rechte Auge meiner Tochter Sigrid (The Right Eye of My Daughter Sigrid)
1928
Gelatin silver print
7 1/16 x 9″ (17.9 x 22.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the photographer
© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

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Dziga Vertov. 'Chelovek s kinoapparatom (Man with a Movie Camera)' (still) 1929

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Dziga Vertov
Chelovek s kinoapparatom (Man with a Movie Camera) (still)
1929
35mm film
65 min ( black and white, silent)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Department of Film

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Man Ray. 'Rayograph' 1922

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Man Ray
Rayograph
1922
Gelatin silver print (photogram)
9 3/8 x 11 3/4″ (23.9 x 29.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of James Thrall Soby
© 2012 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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William Klein (American, born 1928) 'Gun, Gun, Gun, New York'  1955

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William Klein (American, born 1928)
Gun, Gun, Gun, New York 
1955
Gelatin silver print
10 1/4 x 13 5/8″ (26 x 34.6 cm)
Gift of Arthur and Marilyn Penn

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Georges Hugnet (French, 1906-1974) 'Untitled [Surrealist beach collage]' c. 1935

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Georges Hugnet (French, 1906-1974)
Untitled [Surrealist beach collage]
c. 1935
Collage of photogravure, lithograph, chromolithograph and gelatin silver prints on gelatin silver print
11 7/8 x 9 7/16″ (30.2 x 24 cm)
Gift of Timothy Baum in memory of Harry H. Lunn, Jr.

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Martha-Rosler-Red-Stripe-Kitchen-from-the-series-House-Beautiful-Bringing-the-War-Home-1967-1972

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Martha Rosler
Red Stripe Kitchen
1967-1972
From the series Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful 
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2011
23 3/4 x 18 1/8″ (60.3 x 46 cm)
Purchase and The Modern Women’s Fund

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“The Museum of Modern Art draws from its collection to present the exhibition The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook on view from April 18, 2012, to April 29, 2013. Filling the third-floor Edward Steichen Photography Galleries, this installation presents more than 250 works by approximately 90 artists, with a focus on new acquisitions and groundbreaking projects by Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Germaine Krull, Dziga Vertov, Gerhard Rühm, Helen Levitt, Robert Frank, Daido Moriyama, Robert Heinecken, Edward Ruscha, Martha Rosler, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Paul Graham, and The Atlas Group/Walid Raad. The exhibition is organized by Roxana Marcoci, Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art.

Punctuated by key photographic projects, experimental films, and photobooks, The Shaping of New Visions offers a critical reassessment of photography’s role in the avant-garde and neo-avant-garde movements, and in the development of contemporary artistic practices. The shaping of what came to be known as “new vision” photography in the 1920s bore the obvious influence of “lens-based” and “time-based” works. The first gallery begins with photographs capturing the birth of the 20th-century modern metropolis by Berenice Abbott, Edward Steichen, and Alfred Stieglitz, presented next to the avant-garde film Manhatta (1921), a collaboration between Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler.

The 1920s were a period of landmark constructions and scientific discoveries all related to light – from Thomas Edison’s development of incandescent light to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and light speed. Man Ray began experimenting with photograms (pictures made by exposing objects placed on photosensitive paper to light) – which he renamed “rayographs” after himself – in which light was both the subject and medium of his work. This exhibition presents Man Ray’s most exquisite rayographs, alongside his first short experimental film, Le Retour à la raison (Return to Reason, 1923), in which he extended the technique to moving images.

In 1925, two years after he joined the faculty of the Bauhaus school in Weimar Germany, László Moholy-Nagy published his influential book Malerei, Fotografie, Film (Painting, Photography, Film) – part of a series that he coedited with Bauhaus director Walter Gropius – in which he asserted that photography and cinema are heralding a “culture of light” that has overtaken the most innovative aspects of painting. Moholy-Nagy extolled photography and, by extension, film as the quintessential medium of the future. Moholy-Nagy’s interest in the movement of objects and light through space led him to construct Light-Space Modulator, the subject of his only abstract film, Ein Lichtspiel: schwarz weiss grau (A Lightplay: Black White Gray, 1930), which is presented in the exhibition next to his own photographs and those of Florence Henri.

The rise of photographic avant-gardism from the 1920s to the 1940s is traced in the second gallery primarily through the work of European artists. A section on Constructivism and New Objectivity features works by Paul Citroën, Raoul Hausmann, Florence Henri, Germaine Krull, El Lissitzky, Albert Renger-Patzsch, and August Sander. A special focus on Aleksandr Rodchenko underscores his engagement with the illustrated press through collaborations with Vladimir Mayakovsky and Sergei Tretyakov on the covers and layouts of Novyi LEF, the Soviet avant-garde journal of the “Left Front of the Arts,” which popularized the idea of “factography,” or the manufacture of innovative aesthetic facts through photomechanical processes. Alongside Rodchenko, film director Dziga Vertov redefined the medium of still and motion-picture photography with the concept of kino-glaz (cine-eye), according to which the perfectible lens of the camera led to the creation of a novel perception of the world. The exhibition features the final clip of Vertov’s 1929 experimental film Chelovek s kinoapparatom (Man with a Movie Camera), in which the eye is superimposed on the camera lens to form an indivisible apparatus fit to view, process, and convey reality, all at once. This gallery also features a selection of Dada and Surrealist works, including rarely seen photographs, photocollages, and photomontages by Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun, George Hugnet, André Kertész, Jan Lukas, and Grete Stern, alongside such avant-garde publications as Documents and Littérature.

The third gallery features artists exploring the social world of the postwar period. On view for the first time is a group of erotic and political typo-collages by Gerhard Rühm, a founder of the Wiener Gruppe (1959-60), an informal group of Vienna-based writers and artists who engaged in radical visual dialogues between pictures and texts. The rebels of street photography – Robert Frank, William Klein, Daido Moriyama, and Garry Winogrand – are represented with a selection of works that refute the then prevailing rules of photography, offering instead elliptical, off-kilter styles that are as personal and controversial as are their unsparing views of postwar society. A highlight of this section is the pioneering slide show Projects: Helen Levitt in Color (1971-74). Capturing the lively beat, humor, and drama of New York’s street theater, Levitt’s slide projection is shown for the first time at MoMA since its original presentation at the Museum in 1974.

Photography’s tradition in the postwar period continues in the fourth gallery, which is divided into two sections. One section features “new topographic” works by Robert Adams, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Stephen Shore, and Joel Sternfeld, along with a selection of Edward Ruscha’s self-published books, in which the use of photography as mapmaking signals a conceptual thrust. This section introduces notable works from the 1970s by artists who embraced photography not just as a way of describing experience, but as a conceptual tool. Examples include Eleanor Antin’s 100 Boots (1971-73), Mel Bochner’s Misunderstandings (A theory of photography) (1970), VALIE EXPORT’s Einkreisung (Encirclement) (1976), On Kawara’s I Got Up… (1977), and Gordon Matta-Clark’s Splitting (1974), all works that reevaluate the material and contextual definitions of photography. The other section features two major and highly experimental recent acquisitions: Martha Rosler’s political magnum opus Bringing the War Home (1967-72), developed in the context of her anti-war and feminist activism, for which the artist spliced together images of domestic bliss clipped from the pages of House Beautiful with grim pictures of the war in Vietnam taken from Life magazine; and Sigmar Polke’s early 1970s experiments with multiple exposures, reversed tonal values, and under-and-over exposures, which underscore the artist’s idea that “a negative is never finished.” The unmistakably cinematic turn that photography takes in the 1980s and early 1990s is represented with a selection of innovative works ranging from Robert Heinecken’s Recto/Verso (1988) to Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s breakthrough Hustler series (1990-92).

The final gallery showcases major installations by a younger generation of artists whose works address photography’s role in the construction of contemporary history. Tapping into forms of archival reconstitution, The Atlas Group/Walid Raad is represented with My Neck Is Thinner Than a Hair: Engines (1996-2004), an installation of 100 pictures of car-bomb blasts in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) that provokes questions about the factual nature of existing records, the traces of war, and the symptoms of trauma. A selection from Harrell Fletcher’s The American War (2005) brings together bootlegged photojournalistic pictures of the U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia, throwing into sharp focus photography’s role as a documentary and propagandistic medium in the shaping of historical memory. Jules Spinatsch’s Panorama: World Economic Forum, Davos (2003), made of thousands of still images and three surveillance video works, chronicles the preparations for the 2003 World Economic Forum, when the entire Davos valley was temporarily transformed into a high security zone. A selection of Paul Graham’s photographs from his major photobook project a shimmer of possibility (2007), consisting of filmic haikus about everyday life in today’s America, concludes the exhibition.”

Press release from the MOMA website
Online slideshow of images

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On Kawara. 'I Got Up At...' 1974-75

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On Kawara
I Got Up At…
1974-75
(Ninety postcards with printed rubber stamps)
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The semi autobiographical I Got Up At… by On Kawara is a series of postcards sent to John Baldessari. Each card was sent from his location that morning detailing the time he got up. The time marked on each card varies drastically from day to day, the time stamped on each card is the time he left his bed as opposed to actually waking up. Kawara’s work often acts to document his existence in time, giving a material form to which is formally immaterial. The series has been repeated frequently sending the cards to a variety of friends and colleagues.

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Marilyn; 28 Years Old; Las Vegas, Nevada; $30' 1990-92

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Marilyn; 28 Years Old; Las Vegas, Nevada; $30
1990-92
Chromogenic color print
24 x 35 15/16″ (61 x 91.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. E.T. Harmax Foundation Fund
© 2012 Philip-Lorca diCorcia, courtesy David Zwirner, New York

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Helen Levitt. 'Projects: Helen Levitt in Color' (detail) 1971-74

Helen Levitt. 'Projects: Helen Levitt in Color' (detail) 1971-74

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Helen Levitt
Projects: Helen Levitt in Color (detail)
1971-74
40 color slides shown in continuous projection
Originally presented at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, September 26-October 20, 1974

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Atlas Group, Walid Raad. 'My Neck is Thinner Than a Hair: Engines' (detail) 1996-2004

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Atlas Group, Walid Raad
My Neck is Thinner Than a Hair: Engines (detail)
1996-2004
100 pigmented inkjet prints
9 7/16 x 13 3/8″ (24 x 34 cm) each
Fund for the Twenty-First Century

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Daido Moriyama. 'Entertainer on Stage, Shimizu' 1967

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Daido Moriyama
Entertainer on Stage, Shimizu
1967
Gelatin silver print
18 7/8 x 28″ (48.0 x 71.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the photographer
© 2012 Daido Moriyama

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VALIE EXPORT. 'Einkreisung (Encirclement)' 1976

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VALIE EXPORT
Einkreisung (Encirclement)
1976
From the series Körperkonfigurationen (Body Configurations)
Gelatin silver print with red ink
14 x 23 7/16″ (35.5 x 59.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Carl Jacobs Fund
© 2012 VALIE EXPORT / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VBK, Austria

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Grete Stern. No. 1 from the series Sueños (Dreams) 1949

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Grete Stern
No. 1 from the series Sueños (Dreams)
1949
Gelatin silver print
10 1/2 x 9″ (26.6 x 22.9 cm)
Latin American and Caribbean Fund through gift of Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis in honor of Adriana Cisneros de Griffin
© 2012 Horacio Coppola

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Sigmar Polke. 'Untitled (Mariette Althaus)' c. 1975

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Sigmar Polke
Untitled (Mariette Althaus)
c. 1975
Gelatin silver print (red toned)
9 1/4 x 11 13/16″ (23.5 x 30 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Edgar Wachenheim III and Ronald S. Lauder
© 2012 Estate of Sigmar Polke / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany

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Martha Rosler. 'Hands Up / Makeup' 1967-1972

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Martha Rosler
Hands Up / Makeup
1967-1972
From the series Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2011
23 3/4 x 13 15/16″ (60.4 x 35.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase and The Modern Women’s Fund
© 2012 Martha Rosler

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Robert Heinecken. 'Recto/Verso #2' 1988

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Robert Heinecken
Recto/Verso #2
1988
Silver dye bleach print
8 5/8 x 7 7/8″ (21.9 x 20 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mr. and Mrs. Clark Winter Fund
© 2012 The Robert Heinecken Trust

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Berenice Abbott. 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman' Negative c. 1930/Distortion c. 1950

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Berenice Abbott
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman
Negative c. 1930/Distortion c. 1950
Gelatin silver print, 12 3/4 x 10 1/8″ (32.6 x 25.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Frances Keech Fund in honor of Monroe Wheeler
© 2012 Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics

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Raoul Hausmann. 'Untitled' February 1931

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Raoul Hausmann
Untitled
February 1931
Gelatin silver print
5 3/8 x 4 7/16″ (13.6 x 11.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2012 Raoul Hausmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Claude Cahun. 'Untitled' c. 1928

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Claude Cahun
Untitled
c. 1928
Gelatin silver print
4 9/16 x 3 1/2″ (10 x 7.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase and anonymous promised gift
© 2012 Estate of Claude Cahun

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Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Sovetskoe foto (Soviet Photo)' No. 10 October 1927

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Aleksandr Rodchenko
Sovetskoe foto (Soviet Photo) No. 10
October 1927
Letterpress
10 3/8 x 7 1/4″ (26.3 x 18.4 cm)
Publisher: Ogonek, Moscow
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Judith Rothschild Foundation

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The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
T: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
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Friday, 10.30 am – 8.00 pm
Closed Tuesday

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23
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour’ at Somerset House, London

Exhibition dates: 8th November 2012 – 27th January 2013

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They may be channelling the master, but none does it like Cartier-Bresson. There is a spareness and spatial intensity to Cartier-Bresson’s work that is absolutely his own. Look at the photograph directly below (Harlem, New York, 1947). A railing leads the eye in bottom right, echoed by the bottom jamb of the window. The opening is set for the old man to perform complete with curtains, talking stage right. The jamb zig zags above a trilby-wearing, cigarette-smoking man’s head leading to a wire mesh fence that takes the eye out of the frame on the left. The two men, lower than the old man in the framed window, look in a completely different direction to him. Counterpoise. The image pulls in two directions. Above their head a series of cantilevered staircases ascends to the heavens, thought ascending. A masterpiece.

So many of the other photographers in this posting crowd the plane with people looking in all directions, closed off foregrounds or tensionless images. Images that are too complex or too simple. There is an opposition to Cartier-Bresson’s images that is difficult for the viewer to resolve neatly, yet they appear as if in perfect balance. Look at Brooklyn, New York, 1947 towards the bottom of the posting. Nothing in this still life is out of place (from the light to the multiple, overlapping shadows and the out of focus elements of the composition) yet there is humbling agony about the whole thing. It is almost is if he is saying, “cop a load of this, this is what I can see.” And what a fabulous eye it is.

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

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Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Harlem, New York' 1947

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Henri Cartier-Bresson
Harlem, New York, 1947
1947
Gelatin silver print / printed 1970s
Image: 29.1 x 19.6 cm / Paper: 30.4 x 25.4 cm
© Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, Courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

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Alex Webb. 'Tehuantepec, Mexico' 1985

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Alex Webb
Tehuantepec, Mexico
1985
71 x 47 cm
Digital Type C print
© Alex Webb

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Andy Freeberg. 'Sean Kelly, Art Basel Miami' 2010

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Andy Freeberg 
Sean Kelly, Art Basel Miami
2010
Artist: Kehinde Wiley
63 x 43 cm
Pigment ink print
© Andy Freeberg
Courtesy Kopeikin Gallery

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Carolyn Drake. 'New Kashgar. Kashgar, China'  2011

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Carolyn Drake
New Kashgar. Kashgar, China  
2011
30.48 x 20.32 cm
Digital Light Jet print
©Carolyn Drake 2012

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Ernst Haas. 'New Orleans, USA' 1960

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Ernst Haas
New Orleans, USA,
1960
Chromogenic archival print
50 x 35 cm
©Ernst Haas Estate, New York

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Helen Levitt. 'Cat next to red car, New York' 1973

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Helen Levitt
Cat next to red car, New York,
1973
Type C prints
18 x 12 inches
© Estate of Helen Levitt

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Jeff Mermelstein. 'Untitled (Package Pile Up, New York City)' 1995

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Jeff Mermelstein
Untitled (Package Pile Up, New York City)
1995
Chromogenic print
©Jeff Mermelstein
Courtesy Rick Wester Fine Art, New York

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“Positive View Foundation announces its inaugural exhibition Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour, to be held at Somerset House, 8 November 2012 – 27 January 2013. Curated by William A. Ewing, the exhibition will feature 10 Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs never before exhibited in the UK alongside over 75 works by 15 international contemporary photographers, including: Karl Baden (US), Carolyn Drake (US), Melanie Einzig (US), Andy Freeberg (US), Harry Gruyaert (Belgium), Ernst Haas (Austrian), Fred Herzog (Canadian), Saul Leiter (US), Helen Levitt (US), Jeff Mermelstein (US), Joel Meyerowitz (US), Trent Parke (Australian), Boris Savelev (Ukranian), Robert Walker (Canadian), and Alex Webb (US).

The extensive showcase will illustrate how photographers working in Europe and North America adopted and adapted the master’s ethos famously known as  ‘the decisive moment’ to their work in colour. Though they often departed from the concept in significant ways, something of that challenge remained: how to seize something that happens and capture it in the very moment that it takes place.

It is well-known that Cartier-Bresson was disparaging towards colour photography, which in the 1950s was in its early years of development, and his reasoning was based both on the technical and aesthetic limitations of the medium at the time. Curator William E. Ewing has conceived the exhibition in terms of, as he puts it, ‘challenge and response’. “This exhibition will show how Henri Cartier-Bresson, in spite of his skeptical attitude regarding the artistic value of colour photography, nevertheless exerted a powerful influence over photographers who took up the new medium and who were determined to put a personal stamp on it. In effect, his criticisms of colour spurred on a new generation, determined to overcome the obstacles and prove him wrong. A Question of Colour simultaneously pays homage to a master who felt that black and white photography was the ideal medium, and could not be bettered, and to a group of photographers of the 20th and 21st centuries who chose the path of colour and made, and continue to make, great strides.”

Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour will feature a selection of photographers whose commitment to expression in colour was – or is – wholehearted and highly sophisticated, and which measured up to Cartier-Bresson’s essential requirement that content and form were in perfect balance. Some of these artists were Cartier-Bresson’s contemporaries, like Helen Levitt, or even, as with Ernst Haas, his friends; others, such as Fred Herzog in Vancouver, knew the artist’s seminal work across vast distances; others were junior colleagues, such as Harry Gruyaert, who found himself debating colour ferociously with the master; and others still, like Andy Freeberg or Carolyn Drake, never knew the man first-hand, but were deeply influenced by his example.”

Press release from Somerset House website

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Jeff Mermelstein. 'Unitled ($10 bill in mouth) New York City' 1992

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Jeff Mermelstein
Unitled ($10 bill in mouth) New York City, 1992
1992
20 x 16 in.
Chromogenic Print
©Jeff Mermelstein
Courtesy Rick Wester Fine Art, New York

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Joel Meyerowitz. 'Madison Avenue, New York City 1975

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Joel Meyerowitz
Madison Avenue, New York City
1975
Archival Pigment Print
©Joel Meyerowitz 2012
Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC

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Karl Baden. 'Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts' 2009

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Karl Baden
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
2009
40.64 x 54.19 cm
Archival Inkjet
© Karl Baden

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Trent Parke. 'Man Vomiting, Gerald #1' 2006

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Trent Parke
Man Vomiting, Gerald #1
2006
Type C print
© Trent Parke
Courtesy Magnum Photos

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Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Brooklyn, New York' 1947

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Henri Cartier-Bresson
Brooklyn, New York, 1947
1947
Gelatin silver print / printed in 2007
Image: 19.8 x 29.8 cm / Paper: 22.9 x 30.4 cm
© Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, Courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

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Melanie Einzig. 'September 11th, New York' 2001

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Melanie Einzig
September 11th, New York 2001
2001
21 x 33cm
Inkjet print
© Melanie Einzig 2012

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Terrace Rooms & Courtyard Rooms, Somerset House
Strand, London, WC2R 1LA

Opening hours:
10am – 6pm daily

Somerset House website

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18
Mar
11

Exhibition: ‘Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography’ at The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 7th May, 2010 – 4th April 2011

 

I wish there had been at least double the number of photographs in this posting!

Many thankx to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

Cindy Sherman (American, born 1954)
Untitled #92
1981
Chromogenic color print
24 x 47 15/16″ (61 x 121.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Fellows of Photography Fund
© 2010 Cindy Sherman

 

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953)
Nan One Month After Being Battered
1984
Silver dye bleach print (printed 2008)
15 1/2 x 23 1/8″ (39.4 x 58.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
© 2010 Nan Goldin

 

 

Ilse Bing (American, born Germany. 1899-1998)
Self-Portrait in Mirrors
1931
Gelatin silver print
10 1/2 x 12″ (26.8 x 30.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Joseph G. Mayer Fund
© 2010 The Ilse Bing Estate / Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery

 

 

“The Museum of Modern Art draws from its rich collection of photography to present the history of the medium from the dawn of the modern period to the present with the exhibition Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography, from May 7 to August 30, 2010. Filling the entire third-floor Edward Steichen Photography Galleries with photographs made exclusively by women artists, this installation comprises more than 200 works by approximately 120 artists, including a selection of exceptional recent acquisitions and works on view for the first time by such artists as Anna Atkins, Claude Cahun, Rineke Dijkstra, VALIE EXPORT, Nan Goldin, Helen Levitt, and Judith Joy Ross. The exhibition also includes masterworks by such luminaries as Berenice Abbott, Diane Arbus, Gertrude Käsebier, Dorothea Lange, Lisette Model, Tina Modotti, Cindy Sherman, and Carrie Mae Weems, as well as pictures, collages, video, and photography-based installations drawn from other curatorial departments by artists such as Hannah Höch, Barbara Kruger, Annette Messager, Yoko Ono, Lorna Simpson, Kiki Smith, and Hannah Wilke. The exhibition is organized by Roxana Marcoci, Curator; Sarah Meister, Curator; and Eva Respini, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art.

The Edward Steichen Photography Galleries comprise a circuit of six rooms devoted to a rotating selection of photographs from the Museum’s collection. The galleries featuring works from 1850 to the 1980s open on May 7, 2010, and remain on view through March 21, 2011. The most contemporary works in the exhibition are currently on view in The Robert and Joyce Menschel Gallery, and they remain on view through August 30, 2010.

For much of photography’s 170-year history, women have contributed to its development as both an art form and a means of communication, expanding its parameters by experimenting with every aspect of the medium. Self-portraits and representations of women by a variety of women practitioners are a recurring motif, as seen in works by artists ranging from Julia Margaret Cameron to Lucia Moholy, and from Germaine Krull to Katy Grannan. Significant groups of works by individual photographers are highlighted within this chronological survey, including in-depth presentations of the work of Frances Benjamin Johnston, Käsebier, Modotti, Lange, Levitt, Arbus, Goldin, and Ross.

Marking the entrance to The Edward Steichen Photography Galleries is a large-scale photographic wallpaper, Fluxus Wallpaper, realized by Yoko Ono and George Maciunas in the early 1970s. This work depicts the serial repetition of a set of buttocks, an image originating from a provocative Fluxus film made by Ono in 1966.

Pictures by Women opens with a gallery of nineteenth and early twentieth-century work, representing the variety of photography’s applications. The earliest photograph in the installation was made in the 1850s by British photographer Anna Atkins, who used the cyanotype process to record her many plant specimens. Presented side by side are in-depth groupings of work by American photographers Frances Benjamin Johnston and Gertrude Käsebier. In 1899 the Hampton Institute commissioned Johnston to take photographs at the school that were featured in an exhibition about contemporary African American life at the Paris Exposition of 1900. On view is a selection of pictures taken from a larger album of 156, which exemplify Johnston’s talent for balancing pictorial delicacy and classical composition with the demands of working on assignment. Käsebier – another woman who produced photographic works of art while operating a successful commercial studio – is best known for her portraits and symbolic, soft-focus pictures of the mother-and-child theme.

The rise of photographic modernism in the 1920s and 1930s is traced in the second gallery primarily with the work of European women artists. A wall of portraits of women showing the range of artistic expression and experimentation during this period includes Claude Cahun’s radical gender-bending self-portrait in drag (1921); Lucia Moholy’s striking portrait of fellow Bauhaus student Florence Henri (1927); and Hannah Höch’s Indian Dancer: From an Ethnographic Museum (1930), a collage evoking the modern woman. Included here is also a photocollage by the little known Japanese artist Toshiko Okanoue, titled In Love (1953). Cannibalizing images from U.S. magazines such as Life and Vogue, this surreal collage represents a young Japanese woman’s perception of the Western way of life. A group of pictures taken in Mexico in the late 1920s by Italian photographer Tina Modotti possess an aesthetic clarity and beauty that reflect her increasing political involvement within her adopted country. Also included is Ilse Bing’s Self-Portrait in Mirrors (1931), a picture staging a complex mise-en-scène between two reflections – one in the mirror and the other in the camera’s eye – as well as similarly powerful works by Imogen Cunningham, Florence Henri, Germaine Krull, and Lee Miller, who experimented with mobile perspectives of the handheld camera and graphic compositions.

The third gallery features photographers who devoted themselves to the complex challenge of exploring the social world in the interwar and postwar periods. Largely comprising work by American women, this gallery includes comprehensive presentations of two of America’s leading photographers, Dorothea Lange and Helen Levitt. The breadth of Lange’s accomplishments is represented through a selection of approximately 20 photographs, all of women, including her iconic Depression-era picture Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936); the memorable One Nation, Indivisible, San Francisco (1942); and pictures capturing the bustle of postwar life in America, such as Mother and Child, San Francisco (1952). Opposite these works is a wall of color photographs taken by Levitt in the 1970s on the streets of New York City. These lively, spontaneous pictures are full of humor and drama, and continue the rich tradition of the American documentary genre that Levitt helped establish in the 1940s with her black-and-white photographs. The rest of the gallery includes a variety of work made during the period, including Berenice Abbott’s documents of the changing architecture and character of New York City in the 1930s, and Barbara Morgan’s elegant 1940 photograph of dancer Martha Graham performing her dramatic piece “Letter to the World,” based on the love life of American poet Emily Dickinson.

Photography’s documentary tradition in the postwar period continues in the fourth gallery, most notably with a selection of Diane Arbus’s portraits of women, such as A Widow in Her Bedroom, New York City (1963); Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey (1966); and Girl in Her Circus Costume, Maryland (1967). This gallery also includes work by artists of the 1960s and 1970s who embraced photography not just as a way of describing experience, but as a conceptual tool for appropriating and manipulating existing photographs. Examples include Martha Rosler’s collage Cleaning the Drapes (1969 – 72), which juxtaposes images of domestic bliss taken from women’s magazines with news pictures of the war in Vietnam. The gallery also introduces several notable examples of acts performed for the camera, including Adrian Piper’s self-portrait series Food for the Spirit (1971), a meditation on transcendental being through an analysis of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason; and VALIE EXPORT’s provocative Action Pants: Genital Panic (1969). Presented as a set of posters, this work memorialized a performance in which the Austrian artist marched into an experimental art-film house in Munich wearing crotchless trousers, challenging mostly male viewers to “look at the real thing” instead of passively enjoying images of women on the screen.

The emergence of color photography as a major force in the 1970s is seen in the fifth gallery, with large photographs, including Tina Barney’s Sunday New York Times (1982) and a picture from Cindy Sherman’s celebrated Centerfolds (1981) series. This gallery also includes the work of postmodern artists associated with The Pictures Generation, such as Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, and Laurie Simmons, who played with photography’s potential to comment on the increasingly image-saturated world of the late twentieth century. Representing the other end of the photographic spectrum is the diaristic aesthetic of Nan Goldin. A group of Goldin photographs dating from 1978 to 1985 capture the shared experience of an artistic downtown New York community – a generation ravaged by drug abuse and AIDS. These pictures of the artist’s friends, lovers, and Goldin herself explore the highs and the lows of amorous relationships. These are presented opposite work by Gay Block, Sally Mann, and Sheron Rupp, who use the probing vision of straightforward photography to explore the world around us.

Concluding the installation in The Robert and Joyce Menschel Gallery are major groups of works that suggest the diversity of artistic strategies and forms in contemporary photography. A group of Judith Joy Ross portraits of very different women – a graduation guest (1993), a soldier (1990), a congresswoman (1987), and a visitor to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1984) – invite us to reflect upon the relationship between social roles and the unique identities of the individuals who fulfill them. Presented on the same wall is Rineke Dijkstra’s ongoing series Almerisa, comprising 11 photographs made over a period of 14 years. Dijkstra first photographed Almerisa – a six-year-old Bosnian girl whose family had relocated from their war-torn native country to Amsterdam – as part of a project documenting children of refugees. Dijkstra continued to photograph her at one- or two-year intervals, chronicling not only her development from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood but also her cultural assimilation from Eastern to Western Europe. A selection from Carrie Mae Weems’s series From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995) superimpose sand-blasted text over found photographs to dissect photography’s historical role in imposing stereotypes upon African Americans. Rounding out this gallery is a wall dedicated to portraits of women, including work by Valérie Belin, Tanyth Berkeley, Katy Grannan, and Cindy Sherman, suggesting the plasticity of photography and, indeed, of female identity itself.”

Press release from the MOMA website

 

 

Tina Modotti
Workers Parade
1926
Gelatin silver print
8 7/16 x 7 5/16″ (21.5 x 18.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Given anonymously

 

 

Gertrude Käsebier (American, 1852-1934)
The Manger
1899
Platinum print
12 13/16 x 9 5/8″ (32.5 x 24.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mrs. Hermine M. Turner

 

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879)
Untitled
c. 1867
Albumen silver print
13 3/16 x 11″ (33.5 x 27.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Shirley C. Burden

 

 

Lucia Moholy (British, 1894-1989)
Untitled (Florence Henri)
1927
Gelatin silver print
14 5/8 x 11″ (37.1 x 28 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2010 Lucia Moholy Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street, New York
NY 10019
(212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
Wednesday through Monday: 10.30 am – 5.30 pm
Friday: 10.30 am – 8.00 pm
Closed Tuesday

MOMA 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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