Posts Tagged ‘Images à la Sauvette

04
Apr
17

Exhibition: ‘Images à la Sauvette’ at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

Exhibition dates: 11th January – 23rd April 2017

 

No more, decisive moment

Following the relatively unknown photocollages of Josef Albers, a posting on one of the most famous artist books in the world, Images à la Sauvette (Images on the fly, Images on the run) – the American publishers Simon and Schuster choosing the punchier The Decisive Moment as the title of the American version.

While individual images are interesting, it is “the unique narrative form and the emphasis on the photographer’s text” in terms of the image layout and composition of the book that is so groundbreaking an aspect of the work. Cartier-Bresson sought not to capture one reality – the “decisive moment” – but a poetic reality based on the “impulsiveness of a desire, the personal anxiety in face of a moment to preserve.” It was his almost uncanny ability to pre-visualise the desire for a poetic moment (to visualise its emergence), and then translate that desire into images, that makes him such a great artist.

Agnès Sire observes in her text “De l’errance de l’oeil au moment qui s’impose, quelques pistes pour mieux voir,” (From the wandering of the eye to the right moment, a few ways to see better):

“In 1974, Cartier-Bresson would admit: “For me, the Leica is a sketchbook, a psychoanalyst’s couch, a machine gun, a big, hot kiss, an electromagnet, a memory, the mirror of memory.” There is no trace here of any supposed record of a reality, but rather, of memory (and thus the past), the psychoanalyst’s couch (to make the past re-emerge) and the mirror of memory (the image of the past). Clearly, this poetic accident does not lie within everyone’s reach but, through the camera, it presents itself to some, provided they are good at passing it on. And this is something which, according to Walker Evans, left no room for doubt in Cartier-Bresson’s case: “Cartier has always been a kind of spirit medium: poetry sometimes speaks through his camera.””

Thus the past, the image of the past and the transcendence of the past merge in the photography of Cartier-Bresson. In one image, and in the combination of images (much like the photocollages of Josef Albers), he lays out before us, “the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” Instructive to this aim are the page layouts of the book at the bottom of the posting. Pages are divided into three or fours spaces. In the first layout you look down, you are drawn into, you move horizontally across; human figures are isolated, silhouetted with shadow, in shadow, against form.

In the second layout the shapes and emotions form a complex relationship: movement across with thick vibration of energy behind the ecstatic child (top left); a child’s eye view of the world with a constellation of stars behind (top right); a picture frame on a fragmented world (Seville, 1933, bottom left); and the tethered beasts and stick-like children (bottom right). Now squint your eyes and move them from one quadrant to another.

This is complex and thoughtful image making, on both a human and poetic scale. If the photographic lens let Cartier-Bresson “look into the rubble of the unconscious and of chance,” then it took an informed and intelligent mind to understand what the lens was seeing, even before the images were made evident, and to then give those events proper expression.

Marcus

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

 

 

Magazines end up wrapping french fries, while books remain.

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Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

André Breton taught me to let the photographic lens look into the rubble of the unconscious and of chance.

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Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1995

 

“To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

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Extract from the text by Henri Cartier-Bresson, ‘The Decisive Moment’, Simon and Schuster, 1952

 

 

Cover by Henri Matisse of Henri Cartier-Bresson's 'Images à la Sauvette' (Verve, 1952)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952)
Cover by Henri Matisse
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Installation views of the exhibition 'Images à la Sauvette' at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

Installation views of the exhibition 'Images à la Sauvette' at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

 

Installation views of the exhibition Images à la Sauvette at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

 

 

From January 11 to April 23, 2017, the Foundation devotes an exhibition to Cartier-Bresson’s famous publication Images à la Sauvette. Initated by the French publisher Tériade, the project is finally achieved on October 1952 as a French-American co-edition, with the contribution of Matisse and the American publishers Simon and Schuster. The latter chose “The Decisive Moment” as the title of the American version, and unintentionally imposed the motto which would define Cartier-Bresson’s work. Since its publication in 1952, Images à la Sauvette has received an overwhelming success. It is considered as “a Bible for photographers” according to Robert Capa’s words. The innovative design of the publication struck the art world with its refined format, the heliogravure quality and the strength of the image sequences. The publication reveals the inherent duality of Cartier-Bresson’s work; between the photographer’s intimate interpretation and his documentary approach.

Images à la Sauvette is the fruit of joined efforts of a famous art publisher, Tériade, a talented photographer, a painter at the peak of his career, Matisse, and two American publishers, Simon and Schuster. From his beginnings, Cartier‑Bresson considers the book as the outcome of his work. In the thirties, he met the publisher of Verve, Tériade, who he would later likely acknowledge to be his mentor. They plan, at the time, to carry out a book project on large cities rough areas together with Eli Lotar, Bill Brandt and Brassaï, but this ambitious project will never see the light of day.

Twenty years later and after a trip of three years in Asia, the Images à la Sauvette project finally began to materialise. The French title has been thoroughly thought out with his brother-in-law and cinema historian Georges Sadoul and evokes the snatchers or street peddlers. Cartier‑Bresson attested that the meaning of this idiomatic expression, the street vendors ready to run at the first request for a license, is very akin to his way of capturing images. Tériade would then prompt the Cardinal de Retz quote, the epigraph to Henri Cartier‑Bresson’s introductory text: “There is nothing in this world which does not have its decisive moment”. The American publisher hesitated to use a translation of the original French title and opted for something punchier, The Decisive Moment.

Images à la Sauvette established itself as an extremely pioneering work by its wish to claim the images strength as the unique narrative form and the emphasis on the photographer’s text. It proposes a daring purity, allowing the 24 x 36 to spread out on its very large format pages. A model of its kind with the heliogravure printing by the best craftsmen of the era, the Draeger brothers, and the splendid Matisse cover has been called “a Bible for photographers” by Robert Capa. In Spring 1951, Cartier-Bresson explains, “While our prints are beautiful and perfectly composed (as they should be), they are not photographs for salons […] In the end, our final image is the printed one.” This affirmation definitely proclaims Images à la Sauvette as an artist’s book.

Yet paradoxically, the book confirms a turning point in the life of the photographer who has co-founded Magnum Photos a few years earlier, in 1947, and which has contributed to guarantee the photographers authorship. The choice to separated the image portfolio before and after 1947 certifies this shift to the documentary. The significant size of the Reportage chapter in his introduction, as well as the recurrence of the plural pronoun evoking the cooperative, demonstrate this important change. The book structure in two definite parts reveals the inherent duality in Cartier‑Bresson’s work. Images à la Sauvette brings to light the photographer’s vision, which we thought to be torn between a very intimate interpretation of the inner world and, since the creation of Magnum, a more observational approach of the external world. Cartier-Bresson was fully aware of this coexistence and advocated a balance: “there is a reciprocal reaction between both these worlds which in the long run form only one. It would be a most dangerous over-simplification to stress the importance of one at the cost of the other in that constant dialogue.”

The exhibition presents a selection of vintage prints as well as numerous archival documents to recount the history of this publication, until its facsimile reprint by Steidl Verlag, in 2014. This edition comes with an additional booklet containing an essay by Clément Chéroux.

Text from Fondation HCB

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Seville, Spain, 1933' from 'Images à la Sauvette' (Verve, 1952), p. 27-28

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Seville, Spain, 1933
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 27-28
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Tehuantepec, Mexique, 1934'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Tehuantepec, Mexique, 1934
MEXICO. State of Oaxaca. Tehuantepec. 1934

From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 34
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Boston, United States, 1947'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Boston, United States, 1947
USA. Massachusetts. Boston. 1947.

From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 59-60
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Truman Capote, New Orleans, United States, July 1946'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Truman Capote, New Orleans, United States, July 1946
USA. Louisiana. New Orleans. US writer, Truman Capote. 1947.

From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 68
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

 

The great Henri Cartier-Bresson perfectly captured this decisive moment of petulant ingenue, Truman Capote. This photo was taken almost a year before Truman would publish his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms to great acclaim – a beautifully written story which is also partly autobiographical. He is about 22 years of age in this photo.

The unlikely couple met when contracted by Fortune Magazine to embark on a road trip together to the Deep South. Capote remembers Cartier-Bresson as…“dancing along the pavement like an agitated dragonfly, three Leicas winging from straps around his neck, a fourth one hugged to his eye … clicking away with a joyous intensity, a religious absorption.” (Text by John Rendell)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'es derniers jours de Kuomintang, Shanghai, Chine, décembre 1948 - janvier 1949'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
es derniers jours de Kuomintang, Shanghai, Chine, décembre 1948 – janvier 1949
Last days of Kuomintang, Shanghai, China, December 1948 – January 1949
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 127-128
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

CHINA. Shanghai. December 1948-January 1949. As the value of the paper money sank, the Kuomintang decided to distribute 40 grams of gold per person. With the gold rush, in December, thousands came out and waited in line for hours. The police, equipped with the remnants of the armies of the International Concession, made only a gesture toward maintaining order. Ten people were crushed to death.

 

 

Extract from The Decisive Moment

I, like many another boy, burst into the world of photography with a Box Brownie, which I used for taking holiday snapshots. Even as a child, I had a passion for painting, which I  “did” on Thursdays and Sundays, the days when French school children don’t have to go to school. Gradually, I set myself to try to discover the various ways in which I could play with a camera. From the moment that I began to use the camera and to think about it, however, there was an end to holiday snaps and silly pictures of my friends. I became serious. I was on the scent of something, and I was busy smelling it out.

Then there were the movies. From some of the great films, I learned to look, and to see. “Mysteries of New York, with Pearl White; the great films of D. W. Griffith – “Broken Blossoms”; the first films of Stroheim – “Greed”, Eisenstein’s “Potemkin”; and Dreyer’s “Jeanne d’Arc” – there were some of the things that impressed me deeply. Later I met photographers who had some of Atget’s prints. These I considered remarkable and, accordingly, I bought myself a tripod, a black cloth and a polished walnut camera three by four inches. The camera was fitted with – instead of a shutter – a lens-cap, which one took off and then put on to make the exposure. This last detail, of course, confined my challenge to the static world. Other photographic subjects seemed to me to be too complicated, or else to be “amateur stuff.” And by this time I fancied that by disregarding them, I was dedicating myself to Art with a capital “A.” Next I took to developing this Art of mine in my washbasin. I found the business of being a photographic Jack-of-All-Trades quite entertaining. […]

I had just discovered the Leica. It became the extension of my eye, and I have never been separated from it since I found it. I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, determined to “trap” life – we preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes. The idea of making a photographic reportage, that is to say, of telling a story in a sequence of pictures, was something which never entered my head at that time. I began to understand more about it later, as a result of looking at the work of my colleagues and at the illustrated magazines. In fact, it was only in the process of working for them that I eventually learned – bit by bit – how to make a reportage with a camera, how we make a picture-story.

I have travelled a good deal, though I don’t really know how to travel. I like to take my time about it, leaving between one country and the next an interval in which to digest what I’ve seen. Once I have arrived in a new country, I have an almost desire to settle down there, so as to live on proper terms with the country. I could never be a globe-trotter. […]

To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.

I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us which can mould us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between these two worlds – the one inside us and the one outside us. As the result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate.

But this takes care only of the content of the picture. For me, content cannot be separated from form. By form, I mean a rigorous organization of the interplay of surfaces, lines, and values. It is in this organization alone that our conceptions and emotions become concrete and communicable. In photography, visual organization can stem only from a developed instinct.

Extract from the text by Henri Cartier-Bresson, in The Decisive Moment, Simon and Schuster, 1952.

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. '"Chez Gégène", Joinville-le-Pont, France, 1938'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
“Chez Gégène”, Joinville-le-Pont, France, 1938
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 16
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

FRANCE. The Val de Marne ‘departement’. Joinville-le-Pont, near Paris. 1938.
“A newly-wed bride and groom at an outdoor café on the Marne. The couple were here for the entire afternoon with a full wedding party which included uncles, aunts and small children of the family.”

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Henri Matisse and his model Micaela Avogadro, Vence, France, 1944'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Henri Matisse and his model Micaela Avogadro, Vence, France, 1944
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 69
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

FRANCE. Nice. Cimiez district. February 1944. French painter Henri Matisse, with his model Micaela Avogadro.

 

 

The Decisive Moment: Trap or acme?

“There is nothing in this world which does not have its decisive moment.” This phrase, which comes from the memoirs of Cardinal de Retz first published in 1717, appears as the epigraph to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s introductory text for his first major book of photographs, Images à la Sauvette. It was his publisher, Tériade, the creator of the legendary Verve collection, who suggested using the quotation in 1952. At the time, Cartier-Bresson had no idea how important it would become. In fact, the book’s co-publisher in the United States, Richard Simon, from Simon & Schuster, hesitated to use a translation of the original French title – although this would have been quite possible – and sought something more impactful. In the end, Cartier-Bresson accepted The Decisive Moment, which would thus be handwritten by Matisse at the bottom of the paper cut-out the artist had created for the cover.

And so it is why, since that time, the concept of the “decisive moment” has practically always been associated with the name of Henri Cartier-Bresson. The expression gained such a following that it became a kind of definition of the photographic act for certain photographers, and one which would absolutely have to be overthrown afterwards. In the 1980s, the concept of the ‘decisive moment’ was contrasted with that of the “slack time” (temps faible), as brilliantly developed by French critic Alain Bergala in his essay accompanying Raymond Depardon’s Correspondance New-Yorkaise.

The error, the misunderstanding concerning this ‘decisive moment’ attached to the name of Henri Cartier-Bresson is that it has become a kind of standard, as if there were only one right moment, the one where everything falls into place in a geometric way. Many photographers have gone astray by attempting to imitate that balance; what often gets lost is the impulsiveness of a desire, the personal anxiety in face of a moment to preserve. The “decisive moment” has imposed itself and somewhat distorted, or in any case simplified, the way Cartier-Bresson’s work is seen, like a tree hiding the forest.

In 1974, Cartier-Bresson would admit: “For me, the Leica is a sketchbook, a psychoanalyst’s couch, a machine gun, a big, hot kiss, an electromagnet, a memory, the mirror of memory.” There is no trace here of any supposed record of a reality, but rather, of memory (and thus the past), the psychoanalyst’s couch (to make the past re-emerge) and the mirror of memory (the image of the past). Clearly, this poetic accident does not lie within everyone’s reach but, through the camera, it presents itself to some, provided they are good at passing it on. And this is something which, according to Walker Evans, left no room for doubt in Cartier-Bresson’s case: “Cartier has always been a kind of spirit medium: poetry sometimes speaks through his camera.”

Wouldn’t the ‘decisive moment’ be rather an ‘art of poetic accident’, knowing how to capture it in order to avoid the eternally ‘lost moment’: a mirror of memory, a moment saved by the artifice of the film’s light-sensitive surface?”

Extract from “De l’errance de l’oeil au moment qui s’impose, quelques pistes pour mieux voir,” (From the wandering of the eye to the right moment, a few ways to see better) Agnès Sire, Revoir Henri Cartier-Bresson, Textuel, 2009

 

 Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Italy, 1933'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Italy, 1933
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 25-26
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

 Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Italy, 1933' (detail)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Italy, 1933 (detail)
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 25-26
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

 Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Italy, 1933' (detail)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Italy, 1933 (detail)
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 25-26
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Italy, 1933' (detail)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Italy, 1933 (detail)
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 25-26
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Spain and Spanish Morocco, 1933'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Spain and Spanish Morocco, 1933
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 29-30
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Spain and Spanish Morocco, 1933' (detail)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Spain and Spanish Morocco, 1933 (detail)
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 29-30
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Spain and Spanish Morocco, 1933' (detail)

 

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Spain and Spanish Morocco, 1933 (detail)
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 29-30
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Gandhi’s funeral, Delhi, India, 1948'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Gandhi’s funeral, Delhi, India, 1948
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 99-100
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Gandhi’s funeral, Delhi, India, 1948' (detail)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Gandhi’s funeral, Delhi, India, 1948 (detail)
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 99-100
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

 

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
2, impasse Lebouis, 75014 Paris

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 1pm – 6.30 pm
Saturday 11am – 6.45 pm
Late night Wednesdays until 8.30 pm
Closed on Mondays

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20
Jul
14

Exhibition: ‘Emmet Gowin’ at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

Exhibition dates: 14th May – 27th July 2014

 

Emmet Gowin is a superlative photographic artist. His images possess a unique sensuality that no other artist, save Frederick Sommer, dare approach.

His own family was an early significant subject matter, one to which only he had ready access. “I was wondering about in the world looking for an interesting place to be, when I realized that where I was was already interesting.”1 I feel that the photographs of his family are his strongest work for they image an intimate story, and Gowin is nothing if not a magnificent storyteller. Look at the beauty of images such as Nancy, Danville (Virginia) (1969, below) or Ruth, Danville (Virginia) (1968, below) and understand what awareness it takes – first to visualise, then capture on the negative, then print these almost mystical moments of time.

As Gowin observed in his senior thesis, which was predicated upon the necessary co-ingredients of art and spirituality, “Art is the presence of something mysterious that transports you to a place where life takes on a clearness that it ordinarily lacks, a transparency, a vividness, a completeness.”2 He complemented this understanding of art and spirituality with an interest in science. He was in harmony with the physicists and the scientists, finding them to be the most poetic people of the age.3 Inspired by Sommer, Gowin perfected his printing technique through a respect for the medium, respect for the materials and conviction as to what the materials were capable of doing.4

“Sommer freely shared with Gowin his knowledge of photographic equipment, materials, chemicals and printing techniques and Gowin often repeats Sommer’s admonition to him: “Don’t let anyone talk you out of physical splendour.” Over the years Gowin developed methods of printing born from patient experimentation and a love of craft. His background in painting and drawing taught him that there are many solution to making a finished work of art… which he often builds to achieve the most satisfying integration of elements: “The mystery of a beautiful photograph really is revealed when nothing is obscured. We recognize that nothing has been withheld from us, so that we must complete its meaning. We are returned, it seems directly, to the sense and smell of its origin… A complete print is simply a fixed set of relationships, which accommodates its parts as well as our feelings. Clusters of stars in the sky are formed by us into constellations. Perhaps I feel that this constellation has enough stars, and doesn’t need any more. This grouping is complete. It feels right. Feeling, alone, tells us when a print is complete.””5

His later more universal work, such as the landscapes and aerial photographs, are no less emphatic than the earlier personal work but they are a second string to the main bow. The initial impetus of this work can be seen in the book Emmet Gowin Photographs as a development from still life photographs such as Geography Pages, 1974 (p. 62). This second theme took Gowin longer to develop but his photographs are no less powerful for it. His photographs of Petra possess the most amazing serenity of any taken at this famous site; his photographs of Mount St Helens after the volcanic eruption and the aerial photographs of nuclear sites and aeration ponds are among the strongest aerial photographs that I have ever seen. Gowin’s experimentation with the development of the negative, using different times and developers; his experimentation with the development of the print, sometimes using multiple developers and monotones or strong/subtle split toning (as can be seen in the photographs below) is outstanding. His poetic ability rouses the senses and is munificent but for me these photographs do not possess the “personality” or significance of his earlier family photographs. But only just, and we are talking fractions here!

“These photographs of the tracings of human beings reveal mankind not as a nurturer but as a blind and godlike power. Even his latest aerial agricultural landscapes made on route to nuclear sites have a magnificent indifference to human scale. For Gowin, confrontation of man’s part in the creation of ecological problems would seem to require the most transcendental point of view, and as his subjects have become more difficult and frightening, he has created his lushest and most seductive prints.”6

Gowin is an artist centered in a space of sensibility. An understanding of the interrelationships between people and the earth is evidenced through aware and clearly seen images. Gowin digs down into the essence of the earth in order to understand our habituation of it. How we fail to change the course we are on even as we recognise what it is that we are doing to the world. When the stimulus is constantly repeated there is a reduction of psychological or behavioral response and this is what Gowin pokes a big stick at. As he observes,

“We are products of nature. We are nature’s consciousness and awareness, the custodians of this planet… We begin as the intimate person that clings to our mother’s breast, and our conception of the world is that interrelationship. Out safety depends on that mother. And now I’m beginning to see that there’s a mother larger than the human mother and it’s the earth; if we don’t take care of that we will have lost everything.”7

I was luck enough to meet Emmet Gowin when he visited Australia in 1995. He had an exhibition in the small gallery in Building 2 in Bowens Lane at RMIT University, presented a public lecture and held a workshop with about 20 students. I remember I was bowled over by his intensity and star power and I admit, I asked a stupid question and fawned over him like a little lost puppy dog. The impetuousness of youth with stars in their eyes certainly got the better of me. Now when I look at the work again I am still in awe of the works sincerity, spirituality, sensuality and respect for subject matter. No matter what he is photographing.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Only two of the images are from the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson – the rest I sourced from the internet. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“For me, pictures provide a means of holding, intensely, a moment of communication between one human and another.”

 

“There is a profound silence that whines in the ear, a breathless quiet, as if the light or something unheard was breathing. I hold my breath to make certain it’s not me. It must be the earth itself breathing.

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Emmet Gowin

 

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Nancy, Danville (Virginia)' 1969

 

Emmet Gowin
Nancy, Danville (Virginia)
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, cortesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith and Ruth, Danville (Virginia)' 1966

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith and Ruth, Danville (Virginia)
1966
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, cortesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Barry, Dwayne and Turkeys, Danville, Virginia' 1970

 

Emmet Gowin
Barry, Dwayne and Turkeys, Danville, Virginia 
1970
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, cortesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

Emmet Gowin, the catalog accompanying a retrospective now touring in Spain, is a great introduction to the artist’s works and a great keepsake for a fan. The writings by Keith Davis, Carlos Gollonet and Gowin himself identify the photographer’s humanist and spiritual roots and detail his journey from 1960’s-era people pictures focused on his wife, Edith and family in Danville, VA, to aerial photographs of ravaged landscapes, like the nuclear test grounds in Nevada, and his most recent project  archiving tropical, nocturnal-moths.

While his disparate bodies of work may look like geologic shifts in subject matter, Gowin talks in the book about the spiritual quest he’s on, and his realization that humankind inhabits the land, and that the land is a vital part of who we are. To my eye, what holds all the works together is Gowin’s never-ceasing focus on non-conventional beauty. His way of photographing both people and the wasted landscapes plays up the dark sublime. These are not traditional pretty pictures, but they are exquisitely beautiful. All Gowin photos smolder with emotion and feel like they were snapped with a breath held, bated with desire.

Roberta Fallon. “Emmett Gowin – From family of man to mariposas nocturnas at Swarthmore’s List Gallery,” on The Artblog website, March 22, 2012 [Online] Cited 05/07/2014

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Noël, Danville (Virginia)' 1971

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith, Noël, Danville (Virginia)
1971
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Danville (Virginia)' 1971

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith, Danville (Virginia)
1971
Gelatin silver print
7 3/4 x 9 7/8″ (19.7 x 25.1 cm)
Gift of Judith Joy Ross
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Danville (Virginia)' 1970

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith, Danville (Virginia)
1970
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Newtown (Pennsylvania)' 1974

 

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith, Newtown (Pennsylvania)
1974
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, cortesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Ruth, Danville (Virginia)' 1968

 

Emmet Gowin
Ruth, Danville (Virginia)
1968
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, cortesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Chincoteague Island (Virginia)' 1967

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith, Chincoteague Island (Virginia)
1967
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

From May 14th to July 27th 2014, Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson will hold an exhibition of the American photographer Emmet Gowin. This important retrospective is showing 130 prints of one of the most original and influential photographer of these last forty years. This exhibition shows on two floors his entire career: his most famous series from the end of the sixties, the moths’ flights and the aerial photographs. The exhibition organized by Fundación MAPFRE in collaboration with Fondation HCB is accompanied by a catalogue published by Xavier Barral edition.

Born in Danville (Virginia) in 1941, Emmet Gowin grows up in Chincoteague Island, in a religious family. His father, a Methodist minister gives him a righteous discipline and a strict education, while his mother, musician, was a gentle, nurturing presence. During his spare time, Emmet encounters the surrounding landscape and begins drawing.

He completes his high school education and enrolls in a local business school in 1951 and works at the same time at the design department of Sears, the multinational department store chain. In 1961, Gowin enters in the Commercial Art Department at Richmond Professional Institute, where he studies drawing, painting, graphic design, and history of Art. After a few months, he realizes that photography is the best mean of expression and gives him the possibility to seize the Fate and the Unexpected.

Gowin’s early photographic influences came in the form of books and catalogues such as Images à la Sauvette by Henri Cartier-Bresson, History of Photography by Beaumont Newhall or Walker Evans’s American Photographs. Emmet Gowin acquires his first Leica 35mm in 1962 and after two years spent observing the Masters of photography, he finally feels ready to affirm his own photographic style. In 1963, he goes for the first time in New York and meets Robert Franck who encouraged him.

The first Gowin’s portfolios realized in 1965, is technically simple in approach. While the subjects vary considerably, all are drawn from everyday life: kids playing outdoors, Edith’s family, adults in the streets or squares, cars and early pictures of Edith. They get married in 1964. Edith Morris and Emmet Gowin are born in the same city but they grew up in totally different families. Edith’s one, was more exuberant and emotionally close than Emmet’s. As we can discover in the first floor of the exhibition, Edith and her family are the heart of the photograph’s creative universe. As mentioned by Carlos Gollonet, curator of the exhibition, Gowin’s work, seen cumulatively, is a portrait of the artist.

In 1965, they move to Providence, and Emmet begins his studies with Harry Callahan at Rhode Island School of Design. He begins to consistently use a 4 x 5 inch view camera from this time on. This bigger negative produced prints with beautiful transparent details and correspondingly finer and smoother tonal scale.

Just before his first son’s birth, Elijah, in 1967, Emmet and Edith moved to Ohio, where he begins teaching at the Dayton Art Institute. This marks the start of a teaching career that spans more than four decades. He concentrates his work on Edith and let us going through his private life and proposes a very personal artistic vision of this work: I do not feel that I can make picture impersonally, but that I am affected by and involved with the situations which lead to, or beyond, the making of the pictures. In these years, he met Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Frederik Sommer, who would become his close friend and mentor.

At the end of the 1960’s, Gowin begins making circular images of Edith, her family, and their own household, both indoors and out. The Gowin’s second son, Isaac, born in 1974, was the subject – both before and after birth – of many of these circular 8×10 inch photographs, which give the impression of looking through a keyhole. At the beginning of the 1970’s, the exhibitions at the Light Gallery and MoMA mark a significant step toward his American success. In 1973, he’s appointed Lecturer at Princeton University. He is later appointed Full Professor, a position he will hold until his retirement in 2009. He inspired a new generation of photographers such as Fazal Sheikh, David Maisel or Andrew Moore.

From 1973, Gowin goes back to sources, nature and landscape and introduces the idea of Working Landscapes in which the contributions of many generations, overtime, shape the use and care of the land. He travels in Europe, Ireland and Italy, where he discovered the ancient Etruscan city of Matera. His first monograph, Emmet Gowin: photographs, is published in 1976. In 1982, the Queen Noor of Jordan, one of Gowin’s students at Princeton, invites him to photograph the archeological site of Petra. Some of these photos are exhibited on the second floor of the foundation. Later, he continues making views of nature and traveled overseas, reverting to a traditional rectangular format. His interest in gardens and the historical balance between nature and human culture stimulates a dedication to a larger landscape, recorded first from the ground and then from the air. He photographs the incredible destruction of the Mount St. Helens volcano, Washington, and spent years recording the inhabited – and often scarred – face of the American West. Gowin is not an environmental activist. Nonetheless, once he comes to know and experience these landscapes his acute moral and intellectual sense is also conveyed in his images. He wants to show the conflict that exists in our relationship with nature. “It is not a call for an action … It’s a call for reflection, meditation and consideration to be on a more intimate basis with the world.”

Over the past few years, Gowin has constantly photographed nocturnal moths. His scientific interest has led him to catalog thousands of species working alongside with biologists in tropical jungles. By chance, he traveled with a cutout silhouette of Edith in his wallet or luggage and produced a series of photographs in which Edith is once again the principal subject, in this case through her silhouette. They recall the instrument known as the physionotrace, a forerunner of the earliest photographs which was used to male silhouette reproducing the images of loved ones. Those images, printed on handmade paper with the silver image gold toned confirm that Emmet Gowin is one of the finest photographers of any period.”

Press release from the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson website

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Old Handford City Site and the Columbia River, Handford Nuclear Reservation, near Richland (Washington)' 1986

 

Emmet Gowin
Old Handford City Site and the Columbia River, Handford Nuclear Reservation, near Richland (Washington)
1986
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

The aerial photos, taken while flying over bomb test sites and waste water cachement basins and other scenes of industrial/military destruction are almost abstract to the eye. They are also very beautiful. Getting nose to nose with these works and reading the title card, however, allows the slowly-dawning realization that you are looking at a full blown horror. This suite of works dates from 1980 when Gowin took to the air to view the aftermath of the Mt. St. Helens volcanic eruption in Washington state and was taken with the way things not visible from “human” space below revealed themselves from above. In 1986 he started exploring man-made industrial inroads into the land from the air, flying over Hanford Reservation, for one, where nuclear reactors and chemical separation plants made scars on the land like nothing nature had done. These are truly devastating pictures, and what makes them more so is the thought that this is the tip of the iceberg and that many other sites on earth bear the scars of man-made intrusion.

Roberta Fallon. “Emmett Gowin – From family of man to mariposas nocturnas at Swarthmore’s List Gallery,” on The Artblog website, March 22, 2012 [Online] Cited 05/07/2014

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Aeration Pond, Toxic Water Treatment Facility, Pine Bluff, AK (Arkansas)' 1989

 

Emmet Gowin
Aeration Pond, Toxic Water Treatment Facility, Pine Bluff, AK (Arkansas)
1989
Toned gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Golf Course under Construction (Arizona)' 1993

 

Emmet Gowin
Golf Course under Construction (Arizona)
1993
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Aerial view: Mt. St. Helens rim, crater and lava dome' 1982

 

Emmet Gowin
Aerial view: Mt. St. Helens rim, crater and lava dome
1982
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

Every Time less than the pulsation of the artery

Is equal in its period & value to Six Thousand Years.

.
For in this Period the Poet’s Work is Done, and all the

                 Great

Events of Time start forth & are conceiv’d in such a

                Period

Within an Moment, a Pulsation of the Artery . . . . 

.
For every Space larger than a red Globule of Man’s

              blood

Is visionary, and is created by the Hammer of Los :

And every Space smaller than a red Globule of Man’s blood

            opens

Into Eternity of which this vegetable Earth is but a

           shadow.

.
William Blake. From “Milton”

 

Emmet Gowin. 'The Khazneh from the Sîq, Petra (Jordan)' 1985

 

Emmet Gowin
The Khazneh from the Sîq, Petra (Jordan)
1985
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Newtown (Pennsylvania)' 1994

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith, Newtown (Pennsylvania)
1994
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith, Danville (Virginia)' 1963

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith, Danville (Virginia)
1963
Gelatin silver print
© Emmet Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Emmet Gowin. 'Edith and Moth Flight' 2002

 

Emmet Gowin
Edith and Moth Flight
2002
Digital ink jet print 19 x 19 cm (7 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Charina Endowment Fund
© Emmet and Edith Gowin, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

1. Gowin, Emmet quoted in Chahroudi, Martha. “Introduction,” in Emmet Gowin Photographs. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1990, p. 10.
2. Ibid., p. 9.
3. Ibid., p. 11.
4. Ibid., p. 11.
5. Gowin quoted in Kelly, Jain (ed.,). Darkroom 2. New York, 1978, p. 43 quoted in Chahroudi, Martha. “Introduction,” in Emmet Gowin Photographs. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1990, p. 11.
6. Chahroudi, Op. cit., p. 15.
7. Ibid., p. 15.

 

 

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
2, impasse Lebouis, 75014 Paris

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 1pm – 6.30 pm
Saturday 11am – 6.45 pm
Late night Wednesdays until 8.30 pm
Closed on Mondays and between the exhibitions

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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