Posts Tagged ‘Herb Ritts

02
Nov
15

Exhibition: ‘Herb Ritts’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 14th March – 8th November, 2015

 

Herb Ritts. 'Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood' 1989

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Another artist lost too soon to HIV/AIDS. At least we have these fine classics to remember him by. The portrait of Nelson Mandela is especially powerful – tightly cropped, the photographer portrays a man of immense strength and intensity through the hand and the finger, but above all the single eye which contains ageless wisdom.

Marcus

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

 

 

Herb Ritts. 'Sylvester Stallone and Brigitte Nielsen, Long Island' 1987

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Sylvester Stallone and Brigitte Nielsen, Long Island
1987
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation in honor of Malcolm Rogers
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Ritts. 'Madonna, Tokyo' 1987

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Madonna, Tokyo
1987
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Ritts. 'Versace Veiled Dress, El Mirage' 1990

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Versace Veiled Dress, El Mirage
1990
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Ritts. 'Versace Dress, Back View, El Mirage' 1990

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Versace Dress, Back View, El Mirage
1990
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Ritts. 'Tatjana Veiled Head, Tight View, Joshua Tree' 1988

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Tatjana Veiled Head, Tight View, Joshua Tree
1988
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Ritts. 'Backflip, Paradise Cove' 1987

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Backflip, Paradise Cove
1987
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Ritts. 'Pants (Back View), Los Angeles' 1988

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Pants (Back View), Los Angeles
1988
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Ritts. 'Richard Gere, San Bernardino' 1987

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Richard Gere, San Bernardino
1978
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation in honor of Malcolm Rogers
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), flashes back to the ’90s this spring with an evocative exhibition dedicated to the photography of Herb Ritts (1952-2002). Known for his beautifully printed, formally bold and sensual black-and-white images of celebrities and supermodels such as Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell, his works often blurred the line between art and commerce. Throughout the ’90s, his photography was inescapable in popular culture – appearing everywhere from magazine covers to music videos and commercials. This exhibition revisits the artist, whose groundbreaking 1996 retrospective at the MFA, Herb Ritts: WORK, remains one of the most highly attended exhibitions in Museum history. Nearly 20 years later, the MFA is taking a second look at his career, which was cut short in 2002 with his death from complications related to AIDS. Along with a selection of music videos and commercials, the exhibition features 52 black-and-white photographs that celebrate the sculpted body and the variable beauty of the human face. Ritts’ expert use of natural light results in dramatic images full of high-contrast lights and darks, as well as softer effects, such as light reflecting off water. Of the works on view, 15 are from a recent gift from the Herb Ritts Foundation – acquired by the MFA in December in honor of Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director at the MFA. This, and previous gifts from Ritts and the Foundation dating back to 2000, allow the Museum to tell the full story of Ritts’ career, and comprise the largest museum holdings of Ritts photographs in the world (248 in total). The exhibition is on view in the MFA gallery named in honour of a gift from the Ritts Foundation – the Museum’s first dedicated solely to photography – and the adjacent Clementine Brown Gallery…

The exhibition explores every aspect of the photographer’s career, and is divided into two sections: one dedicated to the human body and one dedicated to his photographs of celebrity personalities. His approach to the nude pushed the confines of convention. Ritts captured not only beautiful bodies, but also the environment and elements surrounding his set: the Pacific Ocean, desert landscapes, and mountains. Whether photographing a Versace dress, a basketball star, or interpreting classical sculpture through dried, cracked clay on skin – as in Tony with Black Face, Profile, Los Angeles (1986) – Ritts and his photography embody the era. The predominant aesthetic in Ritts’s images is one of strong lines, bold contours and striking shadows. Today, his work appears in museum exhibitions around the globe.

Preferring to shoot during the golden hours of the day – when the sun is at a low angle – Ritts created works that demonstrate not only an expert use of natural light, but the ability to immortalise the subjects in front of his camera. In addition to photography, he also directed 13 music videos and more than 50 commercials throughout his career.  Exploration of the human figure in its idealised form is a recurring theme in his video work, a selection of which is also included in the exhibition on three video screens. Lent by the Herb Ritts Foundation are videos of Madonna’s Cherish (1989), Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game (1991) and commercials dating from 1990-2002. A special MFA playlist on Spotify allows visitors to listen to music as they explore the gallery, and a case of archival materials includes a marked-up contact sheet and magazine spread that shed light on Ritts’ process.

During his career, Ritts forged strong connections with his subjects, many of whom became close friends. Throughout the exhibition visitors can find quotes from some of his sitters, including Cindy Crawford, who said of the artist: “There was something magical about when you stepped in front of his camera and what happened then. This give-and-take, and that’s what makes it fun. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Helmut Newton to Avedon to Penn but probably the images that are the most timeless of me, most of them, were shot by Herb and are some of my favourite images of myself.”

Crawford appears in one of Ritts’ most famous images, Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood (1989). Taken at the end of a long day photographing a fashion editorial assignment for Rolling Stone, the image also includes Stephanie Seymour, Tatjana Patitz, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington. Ritts also worked with Turlington on a Gianni Versace advertising campaign, which took them to the dry Mojave Desert lakebed known as El Mirage, where the vast open space gave him a sense of creative freedom. He used the gusts of a rising storm to coax a swath of fabric into an arch over the model’s head in Versace Dress, Back View, El Mirage (1990). Ritts’ photographs of celebrities and models appeared on magazine covers including Vanity Fair, Vogue, Interview, Playboy, TIME, Rolling Stone, and Allure.

Ritts had a particular affinity for photographing actors, musicians and cultural icons. The artist that he collaborated with most frequently was Madonna, whose whimsical Madonna, Tokyo (1987) was taken in her hotel when the Who’s That Girl World Tour opened in Japan. Generally, Ritts preferred to capture his subjects in spontaneous, playful moments such as these. “I think that with her, and with other people as well, the big word is trust,” Ritts said. “A person feels they can trust you because they know your reputation and what you’re about. Or they can feel it because over the years a tight relationship develops, as it did with Madonna. You work together and it clicks; you evolve.

Press release from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston website

 

Herb Ritts. 'Michael Jordan, Chicago' 1993

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Michael Jordan, Chicago
1993
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Ritts. 'Tony with Black Face, Profile, Los Angeles' 1986

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Tony with Black Face, Profile, Los Angeles 
1986
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Ritts. 'Claudia Schiffer, Palmdale' 1992

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Claudia Schiffer, Palmdale
1992
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Ritts. 'Christy Turlington, Hollywood' 1988

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Christy Turlington, Hollywood
1988
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Ritts. 'Mick Jagger, London' 1987

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Mick Jagger, London
1987
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Ritts. 'Wrapped Torso, Los Angeles' 1989

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Wrapped Torso, Los Angeles 
1989
Platinum print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Ritts. 'Naomi Campbell, Face in Hand, Hollywood' 1990

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Naomi Campbell, Face in Hand, Hollywood
1990
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation in honor of Malcolm Rogers
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Ritts. 'Dizzy Gillespie, Paris' 1989

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Dizzy Gillespie, Paris 
1989
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Ritts. 'Nelson Mandela, Johannesburg' 1994

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Nelson Mandela, Johannesburg 
1994
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Ritts. 'Bruce Springsteen (Detail II), New York' 1992

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Bruce Springsteen (Detail II), New York 
1992
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation
© Herb Ritts Foundation
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm

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25
Jul
13

Exhibition: ‘Herb Ritts: Beauty and Celebrity’ at Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City

Exhibition dates: 9th May – 28th July 2013

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Fred with Tires - Bodyshop Series, Hollywood' 1984

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Fred with Tires – Bodyshop Series, Hollywood
1984
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8cm)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

 

I admit that I went through a stage of disliking Herb Ritts photographs – no longer!
In contemplation, his formal aestheticism confirms a serene beauty – spare, refined, erotic.

Marcus

 

Fred with Tires became the archetypal photograph of the male body in the 1980s and made the world-wide reputation of its commercial photographer, Herb Ritts. Gay men flocked to buy it, myself included. I was drawn by the powerful, perfectly sculpted body, the butchness of his job, the dirty trousers, the boots and the body placed within a social context. At the time I realised that the image of this man was a constructed fantasy, ie. not the ‘real’ thing, and this feeling of having been deceived has grown ever since. His hair is teased up and beautifully styled, the grease is applied to his body just so, his body twisted to just the right degree to accentuate the muscles of the stomach and around the pelvis. You can just imagine the stylist standing off camera ready to readjust the hair if necessary, the assistants with their reflectors playing more light onto the body. This/he is the seduction of a marketable homoeroticsm, the selling of an image as sex, almost camp in its overt appeal to gay archetypal stereotypes.

Herb Ritts, whether in his commercial work or in his personal images such as those of the gay bodybuilders Bob Paris and Rod Jackson, has helped increase the acceptance of the openly homoerotic photograph in a wider sphere but this has been possible only with an increased acceptance of homosexual visibility within the general population. 
Openly gay bodies such as that of Australian rugby league star Ian Roberts or American diver Greg Luganis can become heroes and role models to young gay men coming out of the closet for the first time, visible evidence that gay men are everywhere in every walk of life. This is fantastic because young gay men do need gay role models to look up to but the bodies they possess only conform to the one type, that of the muscular mesomorph and this reinforces the ideal of a traditional masculinity. Yes, the guy in the shower next to you might be a poofter, might be queer for heavens sake, but my God what a body he’s got!”

Marcus Bunyan. “Historical Pressings,” from Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male (Phd thesis) 2001

.
Many thankx to Oklahoma City 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.

 

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Djimon with Octopus, Hollywood' 1989

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Djimon with Octopus, Hollywood
1989
Gelatin silver print
44.5 x 38.7cm (17 1/2 x 15 1/4 in.)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Tony with shadow, Los Angeles' 1988

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Tony with shadow, Los Angeles
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Point Dume' 1987

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Point Dume
1987
Gelatin silver print
31.9 x 25.4cm (12 9/16 x 10 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb-Ritts-Versace-Dress,-Back-View,-El-Mirage,-1990-WEB

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Versace Dress, Back View, El Mirage
1990
Gelatin silver print
137.2 x 109.2 cm (54 x 43 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

 

The American photographer Herb Ritts produced a body of work in the 1980s and 1990s that seems to embody the outdoor lifestyle and glamour of the southern California beautiful set. This photograph, taken at El Mirage Dry Lake in California, appeared on the cover of Italian designer Gianni Versace’s September 1990 catalogue and incorporates a formalism and contemporary sensuality characteristic of Ritts’s aesthetic. Ritts’s photograph appeals through its boldly contrasting lights and darks.

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Versace Veiled Dress, El Mirage' 1990

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Versace Veiled Dress, El Mirage
1990
55.8 x 44.6cm (21 15/16 x 17 9/16 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Now and Zen 1, El Mirage' 1999

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Now and Zen 1, El Mirage
1999
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

 

Herb Ritts: Beauty and Celebrity will be on view at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art from May 9 through July 28, 2013. Organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston with the support of the Herb Ritts Foundation and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, this exhibition will feature over eighty large-scale black-and-white photographs by acclaimed photographer, Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002). Ranging in scale from intimate portraits to ten foot murals, the exhibition will highlight the diversity of the artist’s work. Known for his innovative approach to fashion, intimate portraiture of celebrities, and the classical treatment of the nude, Ritts emerged in the 1980s to become one of the most successful celebrity and fashion photographers of the late twentieth century and an important part of the history of American photography.

Herb Ritts grew up in Los Angeles and maintained his studio in Hollywood. A self-taught photographer, Ritts first began taking photographs in the late 1970s after studying economics at Bard College. The intimate publicity images that he made of Richard Gere were among his first serious portraits and helped to launch his career. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Ritts built his reputation as a leading celebrity portraitist and fashion photographer, contributing regularly to publications such as GQMademoiselleVogue, andVanity Fair. From 1988, he also made music videos and commercials for which he won numerous awards.

The photographs included in the exhibition represent some of Herb Ritts’s most iconic works which incorporate the natural light of the California sun while emphasising shapes, unusual juxtapositions, and the beauty of the human form. Ritts celebrates nature and the human body in evoking the tactile appeal of surface textures of grains of sand, veiled fabric, drying mud, and cascading water seen in Waterfall 4 (1988), Backflip (1987), and Woman in Sea (1988). Fashion photographs on view include such asVersace Veiled Dress, El Mirage (1990), Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood (1989), and Djimon with Octopus (1989). Examples of celebrity portraiture include Richard Gere, Jack Nicholson, Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor, Johnny Depp, Bruce Springsteen, Drew Barrymore, David Bowie, Matthew McConaughey, and Mick Jagger. Also included in the exhibition are poetic and eternal images in Ritts’s Africa series, taken in 1993 when he traveled to East Africa, and examples from the rare Corps et Ames (1999) series of photographs, portraying dancers in motion.

This exhibition – drawn from the photography collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Herb Ritts Foundation – present Herb Ritts’ style and the range of his career.

Press release from the Oklahoma City Museum of Art website

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Male Nude with Bubble, Los Angeles' 1987

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Male Nude with Bubble, Los Angeles
1987
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Wrapped Torso, Los Angeles' 1989

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Wrapped Torso, Los Angeles
1989
Platinum print
46.4 x 38.4cm (18 1/4 x 15 1/8 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Backflip, Paradise Cove' 1987

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Backflip, Paradise Cove
1987
Gelatin silver print
90 x 70 in. (228.6 x 177.8cm)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Corp et Âmes - 14, Los Angeles' 1999

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Corp et Âmes – 14, Los Angeles
1999
Gelatin silver print
14 x 11 in. (35.5 x 27.9cm)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Chrissy Turlington, Versace 3, Milan' 1991

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Chrissy Turlington, Versace 3, Milan
1991
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Madonna (True Blue Profile), Hollywood' 1986

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Madonna (True Blue Profile), Hollywood
1986
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8cm)
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Matthew McConaughey, Palmdale' 1996

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Matthew McConaughey, Palmdale
1996
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8cm)
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Loriki with Spear, Africa' 1993

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Loriki with Spear, Africa
1993
Gelatin silver print
45 x 41 in. (114.3 x 104.1cm)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Tony Ward' 1986

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Tony Ward
1986
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Waterfall IV, Hollywood' 1988

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Waterfall IV, Hollywood
1988
Platinum print
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.64cm)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Woman in Sea, Hawaii' 1988

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Woman in Sea, Hawaii
1988
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8cm)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Bill T. Jones VI, Los Angeles' 1995

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Bill T. Jones VI, Los Angeles
1995
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Man with Chain, Los Angeles' 1985

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Man with Chain, Los Angeles
1985
Gelatin silver print
47.8 x 38.4 cm (18 13/16 x 15 1/8 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

 

Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK 73102

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Saturday: 10am – 5pm
Sunday: noon – 5pm
Closed: Mondays, Tuesdays and Major Holidays

Oklahoma City Museum of Art website

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22
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Portraits of Renown: Photography and the Cult of Celebrity’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 3rd April – 26th August 2012

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925) 'Yves Saint Laurent, Paris' 1968

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925)
Yves Saint Laurent, Paris
1968
Dye colour diffusion [Polaroid ®] print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Marie Cosindas

 

 

On the Nature of Photography

 

“To get from the tangible to the intangible (which mature artists in any medium claim as part of their task) a paradox of some kind has frequently been helpful. For the photographer to free himself of the tyranny of the visual facts upon which he is utterly dependent, a paradox is the only possible tool. And the talisman paradox for unique photography is to work “the mirror with a memory” as if it were a mirage, and the camera is a metamorphosing machine, and the photograph as if it were a metaphor… Once freed of the tyranny of surfaces and textures, substance and form [the photographer] can use the same to pursue poetic truth.”

.
Newhall, Beaumont (ed.,). The History of Photography. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1982, p. 281

 

“Carol Jerrems and I taught at the same secondary school in the 1970’s. In a classroom that was unused at that time, I remember having my portrait taken by her. She held her Pentax to her eye. Carols’ portraits all seemed to have been made where the posing of her subjects was balanced by an incisive naturalness (for want of a better description). As a challenge to myself I tried to look “natural”, but kept in my consciousness that I was having my portrait taken. Minutes passed and neither she nor her camera moved at all.

Then the idea slipped from my mind for just a moment, and I was straightaway bought back by the sound of the shutter. What had changed in my face? – probably nothing, or 1 mm of muscle movement. Had she seen it through the shutter? Or something else – I don’t know.”

.
Australian artist Ian Lobb on being photographed by the late Carol Jerrems

 

 

There is always something that you can’t quite put your finger on in an outstanding portrait, some ineffable other that takes the portrait into another space entirely. I still haven’t worked it out but my thoughts are this: forget about the pose of the person. It would seem to me to be both a self conscious awareness by the sitter of the camera and yet at the same time a knowing transcendence of the visibility of the camera itself. In great portrait photography it is almost as though the conversation between the photographer and the person being photographed elides the camera entirely. Minor White, in his three great mantras, the Three Canons, observes:

 

Be still with yourself
Until the object of your attention
Affirms your presence
.

Let the Subject generate its own Composition
.

When the image mirrors the man
And the man mirrors the subject
Something might take over

 

Freed from the tyranny of the visual facts something else emerges.

Celebrities know only too well how to “work” the camera but the most profound portraits, even of celebrities, are in those moments when the photographer sees something else in the person being photographed, some unrecognised other that emerges from the shadows – a look, a twist of the head, the poignancy of the mouth, the vibrancy of the dancer Josephine Baker, the sturdiness of the gaze of Walt Whitman with hands in pockets, the presence of the hands (no, not the gaze!) of Picasso. I remember taking a black and white portrait of my partner Paul holding a wooden finial like a baby among some trees, a most beautiful, revealing photograph. He couldn’t bear to look at it, for it stripped him naked before the lens and showed a side of himself that he had never seen before: vulnerable, youthful, beautiful.

Why do great portrait photographers make so many great portraits? Why can’t this skill be shared or taught? Why can’t Herb Ritts (for example) make a portrait that goes beyond a caricature? Why is it that what can be taught is so banal that it has no value?

In photography, maybe we edit out what is expected and then it seems that photography does something that goes beyond language; it goes beyond function that can be described as a part of speech, metonym or metaphor. When this something else takes over I think it is truly “unrecognised” in the best portraits – and it is fantastic and wonderful.

This is the ultimate understanding of perception and vision – when spirit takes over – the ability to see it in the mind, through the viewfinder and be able to reveal it in the physicality of the print. This, I believe, is the reality of photography itself in its absolute essential form – and here I am deliberately forgetting about post-photography, post-modernism, modernism, pictorialism, ism, ism – and getting down to why I really like photography: the BEYOND the visualisation of a world, the transcendence of time and space that leads, in great photographs, to a recognition of the discontinuous nature of life but in the end, to its ultimate persistence.

This is as close as I have got so far…

Dr Marcus Bunyan
August 2012

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

 

Mariana Cook (American, b. 1955) 'Barack and Michelle Obama, Chicago' May 26, 1996

 

Mariana Cook (American, b. 1955)
Barack and Michelle Obama, Chicago
May 26, 1996
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925) 'Andy Warhol' 1966

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925)
Andy Warhol
1966
Dye colour diffusion [Polaroid ®] print
11.4 x 8.9cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Marie Cosindas

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925) 'Yves St Laurent' 1968

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925)
Yves St Laurent
1968
Dye colour diffusion [Polaroid ®] print
11.4 x 8.9cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Marie Cosindas

 

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) 'Grace Jones' 1984

 

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)
Grace Jones
1984
Polaroid Polacolor print
9.5 x 7.3cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2011 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Edward Weston (American, 1889-1958) 'Igor Stravinsky' 1935

 

Edward Weston (American, 1889-1958)
Igor Stravinsky
1935
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Coy Watson Jr. (American, 1912–2009) 'Joe Louis – “The Brown Bomber”, Los Angeles, February 1935'

 

Coy Watson Jr. (American, 1912–2009)
Joe Louis – “The Brown Bomber”, Los Angeles, February 1935
1935
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Edward Steichen. 'Gloria Swanson' 1924

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Gloria Swanson
1924
Gelatin silver print
27.8 x 21.6 cm (10 15/16 x 8 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Permission Joanna T. Steichen

 

 

Portraits of Renown surveys some of the visual strategies used by photographers to picture famous individuals from the 1840s to the year 2000. “This exhibition offers a brief visual history of famous people in photographs, drawn entirely from the Museum’s rich holdings in this genre,” says Paul Martineau, curator of the exhibition and associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “It also provides a broad historical context for the work in the concurrent exhibition Herb Ritts: L.A. Style, which includes a selection of Ritts’s best celebrity portraits.”

Photography’s remarkable propensity to shape identities has made it the leading vehicle for representing the famous. Soon after photography was invented in the 1830s, it was used to capture the likenesses and accomplishments of great men and women, gradually supplanting other forms of commemoration. In the twentieth century, the proliferation of photography and the transformative power of fame have helped to accelerate the desire for photographs of celebrities in magazines, newspapers, advertisements, and on the Internet. The exhibition is arranged chronologically to help make visible some of the overarching technical and stylistic developments in photography from the first decade of its invention to the end of the twentieth century.

A wide range of historical figures are portrayed in Portraits of Renown. A photograph by Alexander Gardner of President Lincoln documents his visit to the battlefield of Antietam during the Civil War. Captured by Nadar, a portrait of Alexander Dumas, best known for his novels The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, shows the author with an energetic expression, illustrating the lively personality that made his writing so popular. Baron Adolf De Meyer’s portrait of Josephine Baker, an American performer who became an international sensation at the Folies Bergère in Paris, showcases her comedic charm, a trait that proved central to her popularity as a performer. An iconic portrait of the silent screen actress, Gloria Swanson, created by Edward Steichen for Vanity Fair reveals both the intensity of its sitter and the skill of the artist. A picture of Pablo Picasso by his friend Man Ray portrays the master of Cubism with a penetrating gaze.

Yves St. Laurent, Andy Warhol, and Grace Jones are among the contemporary figures included in the exhibition. Fashion designer Yves St. Laurent was photographed by Marie Cosindas using instant color film by Polaroid. The photograph, made the year his first boutique in New York opened, graced the walls of the store for ten years. A Cosindas portrait of Andy Warhol shows the artist wearing dark sunglasses, which partially conceal his face. Warhol, who was fascinated by celebrity, delighted in posing public personalities like Grace Jones for his camera.

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Pablo Picasso' 1934

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Pablo Picasso
1934
Gelatin silver print
25.2 x 20cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'James Joyce' 1928

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
James Joyce
1928
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Baron Adolf De Meyer (American, born France, 1868-1946) 'Portrait of Josephine Baker' 1925

 

Baron Adolf De Meyer (American, born France, 1868-1946)
Portrait of Josephine Baker
1925
Collotype print
39.1 x 39.7cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

In 1925 Josephine Baker, an American dancer from Saint Louis, Missouri, made her debut on the Paris stage in La Revue nègre (The Black Review) at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, wearing nothing more than a skirt of feathers and performing her danse sauvage (savage dance). She was an immediate sensation in Jazz-Age France, which celebrated her perceived exoticism, quite the opposite of the reception she had received dancing in American choruses. American expatriate novelist Ernest Hemingway called Baker “the most sensational woman anybody ever saw – or ever will.”

Baron Adolf de Meyer, a society and fashion photographer, took this playful portrait in the year of Baker’s debut. Given the highly sexual nature of her stage persona, this portrait is charming and almost innocent; Baker’s personality is suggested by her face rather than her famous body.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973) 'John Barrymore as Hamlet' 1922

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
John Barrymore as Hamlet
1922
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1964-1946) 'Georgia O'Keeffe: A Portrait' 1918

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1964-1946)
Georgia O’Keeffe: A Portrait
1918
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Arnold Genthe (American, born Germany, 1869-1942) 'Anna Pavlowa' about 1915

 

Arnold Genthe (American, born Germany, 1869-1942)
Anna Pavlowa
about 1915
Gelatin silver print
33.5 × 25.2cm (13 3/16 × 9 15/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

The Russian ballerina Anna Pavlowa (or Pavlova) so greatly admired Arnold Genthe’s work that she made the unusual decision to visit his studio, rather than have him come to her rehearsals. The resulting portrait of the prolific dancer, leaping in mid-air, is the only photograph to capture Pavlowa in free movement. Genthe regarded this print as one of the best dance photographs he ever made.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (British, born United States, 1882-1966) 'Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)' Negative December 21, 1908; print 1913

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (British, born United States, 1882-1966)
Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
Negative December 21, 1908; print 1913
Photogravure
20.6 × 14.8cm (8 1/8 × 5 13/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) '[Self-Portrait]' Negative 1907; print 1930

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
[Self-Portrait]
Negative 1907; print 1930
Gelatin silver print
24.8 × 18.4cm (9 3/4 × 7 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973) 'Rodin The Thinker' 1902

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Rodin – Le Penseur (The Thinker)
1902
Gelatin-carbon print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Sarah Choate Sears (American, 1858 - 1935) '[Julia Ward Howe]' about 1890

 

Sarah Choate Sears (American, 1858-1935)
[Julia Ward Howe]
about 1890
Platinum print
23.5 × 18.6cm (9 1/4 × 7 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Julia Ward Howe (May 27, 1819 – October 17, 1910) was an American poet and author, known for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the original 1870 pacifist Mother’s Day Proclamation. She was also an advocate for abolitionism and a social activist, particularly for women’s suffrage.

 

Sarah Choate Sears (American, 1858-1935) 'John Singer Sargent' about 1890

 

Sarah Choate Sears (American, 1858-1935)
John Singer Sargent
about 1890
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Although John Singer Sargent was the most famous American portrait painter of his time, he apparently did not like to be photographed. The few photographs that exist show him at work, as he is here, sketching and puffing on a cigar. His friend Sarah Choate Sears, herself a painter of some note, drew many of her sitters for photographs from the same aristocratic milieu as Sargent did for his paintings.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) '[Sarah Bernhardt as the Empress Theodora in Sardou's "Theodora"]' Negative 1884; print and mount about 1889

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910)
[Sarah Bernhardt as the Empress Theodora in Sardou’s “Theodora”]
Negative 1884; print and mount about 1889
Albumen silver print
14.6 × 10.5 cm (5 3/4 × 4 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

J. Wood (American, active New York, New York 1870s-1880s) 'L.P. Federmeyer' 1879

 

J. Wood (American, active New York, New York 1870s-1880s)
L.P. Federmeyer
1879
Albumen silver print
14.8 × 10 cm (5 13/16 × 3 15/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Ellen Terry at Age Sixteen' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879)
Ellen Terry at Age Sixteen
Negative 1864; print about 1875
Carbon print
24.1cm (9 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

This image of Ellen Terry (1847-1928) is one of the few known photographs of a female celebrity by Julia Margaret Cameron. Terry, the popular child actress of the British stage, was sixteen years old when Cameron made this image. This photograph was most likely taken just after she married the eccentric painter, George Frederick Watts (1817-1904), who was thirty years her senior. They spent their honeymoon in the village of Freshwater on the Isle of Wight where Cameron resided.

Cameron’s portrait echoes Watt’s study of Terry titled Choosing (1864, National Portrait Gallery, London). As in the painting, Terry is shown in profile with her eyes closed, an ethereal beauty in a melancholic dream state. In this guise, Terry embodies the Pre-Raphaelite ideal of womanhood rather than appearing as the wild boisterous teenager she was known to be. The round (“tondo”) format of this photograph was popular among Pre-Raphaelite artists.

Cameron titled another print of this image Sadness (see 84.XZ.186.52), which may suggest the realisation of a mismatched marriage. Terry’s anxiety is plainly evident – she leans against an interior wall and tugs nervously at her necklace. The lighting is notably subdued, leaving her face shadowed in doubt. In The Story of My Life (1909), Terry recalls how demanding Watts was, calling upon her to sit for hours as a model and giving her strict orders not to speak in front of distinguished guests in his studio.

This particular version was printed eleven years after Cameron first made the portrait. In order to distribute this image commercially, the Autotype Company of London rephotographed the original negative after the damage had been repaired. The company then made new prints using the durable, non-fading carbon print process. Thus, this version is in reverse compared to Sadness. Terry’s enduring popularity is displayed by the numerous photographs taken of her over the years. Along with the two portraits by Cameron, the Getty owns three more of Terry by other photographers.

Adapted from Julian Cox. Julia Margaret Cameron, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996), 12. ©1996 The J. Paul Getty Museum; with additions by Carolyn Peter, J. Paul Getty Museum, Department of Photographs, 2019.

 

Charles DeForest Fredricks (American, 1823-1894) '[Mlle Pepita]' 1863

 

Charles DeForest Fredricks (American, 1823-1894)
[Mlle Pepita]
1863
Albumen silver print
9 × 5.4 cm (3 9/16 × 2 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (French, 1819-1889) '[Rosa Bonheur]' 1861-1864

 

André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (French, 1819-1889)
[Rosa Bonheur]
1861-1864
Albumen silver print
8.4 × 5.2cm (3 5/16 × 2 1/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Rosa Bonheur, born Marie-Rosalie Bonheur (16 March 1822 – 25 May 1899), was a French artist, mostly a painter of animals (animalière) but also a sculptor, in a realist style. Her best-known paintings are Ploughing in the Nivernais, first exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1848, and now at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and The Horse Fair (in French: Le marché aux chevaux), which was exhibited at the Salon of 1853 (finished in 1855) and is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City. Bonheur was widely considered to be the most famous female painter of the nineteenth century.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Mathew B. Brady (American, about 1823-1896) 'Walt Whitman' about 1870

 

Mathew B. Brady (American, about 1823-1896)
Walt Whitman
about 1870
Albumen silver print
14.6 x 10.3cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Mathew B. Brady (American, about 1823-1896) 'Robert E. Lee' 1865

 

Mathew B. Brady (American, about 1823-1896)
Robert E. Lee
1865
Albumen silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

John Robert Parsons (British, about 1826-1909) '[Portrait of Jane Morris (Mrs. William Morris)]' Negative July 1865; print after 1900

 

John Robert Parsons (British, about 1826-1909)
[Portrait of Jane Morris (Mrs. William Morris)]
Negative July 1865; print after 1900
Gelatin silver print
22.9 × 19.2cm (9 × 7 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) 'George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin), Writer' c. 1865

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910)
George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin)
about 1865
Albumen silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dudevant, née Dupin, took the pseudonym George Sand in 1832. She was a successful Romantic novelist and a close friend of Nadar, and during the 1860s he photographed her frequently. Her writing was celebrated for its frequent depiction of working-class or peasant heroes. She was also a woman as renowned for her romantic liaisons as her writing; here she allowed Nadar to photograph her, devoid of coquettish charms but nevertheless a commanding presence.

This portrait is a riot of textural surfaces. The sumptuous satin of Sand’s gown and silken texture of her hair have a rich tactile presence. Her shimmering skirt melts into the velvet-draped support on which she leans, creating a visual triangle with the careful centre part of her wavy hair. The portrait details the exquisite laces, beads, and buttons of her gown, but her face, the apex of the triangle, is out of focus. Sand was apparently unable to remain perfectly still throughout the exposure, and the slight blurring of her facial features erases the unforgiving details that the years had drawn upon her.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Alexander Gardner (American, born Scotland, 1821-1882) 'President Lincoln, United States Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, October 4, 1862'

 

Alexander Gardner (American, born Scotland, 1821-1882)
President Lincoln, United States Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, October 4, 1862
1862
Albumen silver print
21.9 x 19.7cm (8 5/8 x 7 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Twenty-six thousand soldiers were killed or wounded in the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, after which Confederate General Robert E. Lee was forced to retreat to Virginia. Just two weeks after the victory, President and Commander-in-Chief Abraham Lincoln conferred with General McClernand and Allan Pinkerton, Chief of the nascent Secret Service, who had organised espionage missions behind Confederate lines.

Lincoln stands tall, front and centre in his stovepipe hat, his erect and commanding posture emphasised by the tent pole that seems to be an extension of his spine. The other men stand slightly apart in deference to their leader, in postures of allegiance with their hands covering their hearts. The reclining figure of the man at left and the shirt hanging from the tree are a reminder that, although this is a formally posed picture, Lincoln’s presence did not halt the camp’s activity, and no attempts were made to isolate him from the ordinary circumstances surrounding the continuing military conflict.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Alexander Gardner (American, born Scotland, 1821-1882) 'President Lincoln, United States Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, October 4, 1862' (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, born Scotland, 1821-1882)
President Lincoln, United States Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, October 4, 1862 (detail)
1862
Albumen silver print
21.9 x 19.7cm (8 5/8 x 7 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Pierre Louis Pierson (French, 1822-1913) 'Napoleon III and the Prince Imperial' about 1859

 

Pierre Louis Pierson (French, 1822-1913)
Napoleon III and the Prince Imperial
about 1859
Albumen silver print from a wet collodion glass negative
21 × 16cm (8 1/4 × 6 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

The Prince Imperial, son of Napoleon III, sits strapped securely into a seat on his horse’s back, a model subject for the camera. An attendant at the left steadies the horse so that the little prince remains picture-perfect in the centre of the backdrop erected for the photograph. The horse stands upon a rug that serves as a formalising element, making the scene appear more regal. The Emperor Napoleon III himself stands off to the right in perfect profile, supervising the scene with his dog and forming a framing mirror-image of the horse and attendant on the other side.

Pierre-Louis Pierson placed his camera far enough back from the Prince to capture the entire scene and all the players, but this was not the version sold as a popular carte-de-visite. The carte-de-visite image was cropped so that only the Prince upon his horse was visible.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) 'Alexander Dumas [père] (1802-1870) / Alexandre Dumas' 1855

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910)
Alexander Dumas [père] (1802-1870) / Alexandre Dumas
1855
Salted paper print
Image (rounded corners): 23.5 x 18.7cm (9 1/4 x 7 3/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Public domain

 

 

The writer Alexander Dumas was Nadar’s boyhood idol. Nadar’s father had published Dumas’s first novel and play, and a portrait of Dumas hung in young Nadar’s room. The son of a French revolutionary general and a black mother, Dumas arrived in Paris from the provinces in 1823, poor and barely educated. Working as a clerk, he educated himself in French history and began to write. In 1829 he met with his first success; with credits including The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, published in 1844 and 1845, respectively, his fame and popularity were assured.

Nadar was the first photographer to use photography to enhance the sitter’s reputation. Given Dumas’s popularity, this mounted edition print, signed and dedicated by him, was likely intended for sale.

Dumas is represented as a lively, vibrant man. The self-restraint of his crossed hands, resting on a chair that disappears into the shadows, seems like an attempt to contain an undercurrent of boundless energy that threatened to ruin the necessary stillness of the pose and appears to have found an outlet through Dumas’s hair. Around the time of this sitting, the prolific Dumas and Nadar were planning to collaborate on a theatrical spectacle, which was ultimately never staged.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe' late May - early June 1849

 

Unknown maker (American)
Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe
1849
Daguerreotype
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Public domain

 

 

“A noticeable man clad in black, the fashion of the times, close-buttoned, erect, forward looking, something separate in his bearing …a beautifully poetic face.”
Basil L. Gildersleeve to Mary E. Phillips, 1915 (his childhood recollection of Poe)

.
Many of Edgar Allan Poe’s contemporaries described him as he appears in this portrait: a darkly handsome and intelligent man who possessed an unorthodox personality. Despite being acknowledged as one of America’s greatest writers of poetry and short stories, Poe’s life remains shrouded in mystery, with conflicting accounts about poverty, alcoholism, drug use, and the circumstances of his death in 1849. Like his life, Poe’s poems and short stories are infused with a sense of tragedy and mystery. Among his best-known works are: The RavenAnnabel Lee, and The Fall of the House of Usher.

This daguerreotype was made several months before Poe’s death at age 40. After his wife died two years earlier in 1847, Poe turned to two women for support and companionship. He met Annie Richmond at a poetry lecture that he gave when visiting Lowell, Massachusetts. Although she was married, they developed a deep, mutual affection. Richmond is thought to have arranged and paid for this portrait sitting. Poe is so forcibly portrayed that historians have described his appearance as disheveled, brooding, exhausted, haunted, and melancholic.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, relatively few daguerreotypes of notable poets, novelists, or painters have survived from the 1840s, and some of the best we have are by unknown makers. The art of the daguerreotype was one in which the sitter’s face usually took priority over the maker’s name, and many daguerreotypists failed to sign their works. This is the case with the Getty’s portrait of Poe.

Adapted from getty.edu, Interpretive Content Department, 2009; and Weston Naef, The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Photographs Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995), 35. © 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum.

 

Charles Richard Meade (American, 1826-1858) 'Portrait of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre' 1848

 

Charles Richard Meade (American, 1826-1858)
Portrait of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre
1848
Daguerreotype, hand-coloured
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Public domain

 

 

By New Year’s Day of 1840 – little more than one year after William Henry Fox Talbot had first displayed his photogenic drawings in London and just four to five months after the first daguerreotypes had been exhibited in Paris at the Palais d’Orsay in conjunction with a series of public demonstrations of the process – Daguerre’s instruction manual had been translated into at least four languages and printed in at least twenty-one editions. In this way, his well-kept secret formula and list of materials quickly spread to the Americas and to provincial locations all over Europe. Photography became a gold rush-like phenomenon, with as much fiction attached to it as fact.

Nowhere was the daguerreotype more enthusiastically accepted than in the United States. Charles R. Meade was the proprietor of a prominent New York photographic portrait studio. He made a pilgrimage to France in 1848 to meet the founder of his profession and while there became one of the very few people to use the daguerreotype process to photograph the inventor himself.

A daguerreotype was (and is) created by coating a highly polished silver plated sheet of copper with light sensitive chemicals such as chloride of iodine. The plate is then exposed to light in the back of a camera obscura. When first removed from the camera, the image is not immediately visible. The plate must be exposed to mercury vapours to “bring out” the image. The image is then “fixed” (or “made permanent on the plate”) by washing it in a bath of hyposulfite of soda. Finally it is washed in distilled water. Each daguerreotype is a unique image; multiple prints cannot be made from the metal plate.

Adapted from Weston Naef, The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Photographs Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995), 33, © 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum; with additions by Carolyn Peter, J. Paul Getty Museum, Department of Photographs, 2019.

 

 

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

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

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor 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.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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