Posts Tagged ‘industrial landscape

09
Dec
18

Photographs: Germaine Krull ‘MÉTAL’ 1928

December 2018

 

Germaine Krull (photographer) Cover design by M. Tchimoukow. 'MÉTAL' cover 1928

 

Germaine Krull (photographer)
Cover design by M. Tchimoukow (Louis Bonin)
MÉTAL cover
1928
Librairie des Arts décoratifs
A. Calavas, Editeur

Portfolio comprising a title page, a preface by Florent Fels and sixty four (64) loose photogravures, each mentioning the photographer’s name, titled ‘MÉTAL’, plate number and publisher’s name. Original dust jacket.

folio 30 x 23.5 cm; 11 ¾ x 9 ¼ in.
plate 29.2 x 22,5 cm; 11 ½ x 8 ¾ in.
image 23.6 x 17.1 cm; 9 ¼ x 6 ½ in.

 

 

“Dans toute sa force” (In full force)

For my new body of work I have been researching the concept of The Oblique Function which was first developed in the 1960’s by Architecture Principe (Claude Parent and Paul Virilio). “The idea was to tilt the ground in order to revolutionise the old paradigm of the vertical wall. In fact, being inclined, the wall becomes experiencable and so are the cities imagined by the two French architects. The oblique is fundamentally interested in how a body physically experiences a space. The slope implies an effort to climb up and a speed to climb down; this way the body cannot abstract itself from the space and feel the degrees of inclination.”1

The key to the concept is: The oblique is fundamentally interested in how a body physically experiences a space.

Perhaps we can transfer this concept to the portfolio MÉTAL by Germaine Krull, one of the most important photobooks every produced … and ask how does Krull, her camera, and by extension the viewer, inhabit the spaces she creates.

In this portfolio Krull, through “extreme angles, producing dizzying compositions of overlapping and intersecting details”, one upside down image and two multiple exposures, “one showing two overlapped power generators and the other several layered bicycle parts printed at right angles to one another to create an effect of circular motion”2 – produces and directs (Krull was also an avant-garde filmmaker) the creation of a molecular structure – both grand and intimate, macro and micro at one and the same time. Probing further, we can link her filmic structure, this oblique mass of machines and images, to Eisenstein’s dynamic comprehension of a work of art, that is, “The logic of organic form vs. the logic of rational form [which] yields, in collision, the dialectic of the art-form.”3

This dialectic (the tension that exists between two conflicting or interacting forces, elements, or ideas; and, the process, in Hegelian and Marxist thought, in which two apparently opposed ideas, the thesis and antithesis, become combined in a unified whole, the synthesis) rests on Eisenstein’s definition of the organic form as “the passive principle of being”, defining its limit to be nature, and his definition of the rational form as “the active principle of production”, defining its limit to be industry, with art falling where nature and industry intersects.4 How these two forces interact “produces and determines Dynamism”, in which:

The spatial form of this dynamism is expression.
The phases of its tension: rhythm.5

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These new concepts and viewpoints are the result of a constantly dynamic evolution from old perceptions to new perceptions which produce contradictions within the spectator’s mind. Eisenstein observes, “That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible appeal; from which it follows that irregularity – that is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment, are an essential part and characteristic of beauty.”6 “And Baudelaire wrote in his journal: That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible appeal; from which it follows that irregularity-that is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment, are an essential part and characteristic of beauty. Upon closer examination of the particular beauty of irregularity as employed in painting, whether by Grünewald or by Renoir, it will be seen that it is a disproportion in the relation of a detail in one dimension to another detail in a different dimension. The spatial development of the relative size of one detail in correspondence with another, and the consequent collision between the proportions designed by the artist for that purpose, result in a characterization – a definition of the represented matter.”7

What could me appropriate for Krull’s multi-layered, distorted, scaled, twisted representations of the new temples of industry than this definition of represented matter – a symbiosis between nature and industry, acknowledging, through emotion, beauty in the nature of industry, and landscapes of plenty in a people-less world?

An anonymous author on the Cinema Confessions blog comments, “Any art form ought to be understood as a communicative medium in which the thing being communicated is not an idea, but an emotion. Language communicates intellect, whereas art communicates sensation. The two are certainly compatible, as in poetry, but also just as certainly inimitably unique. And as communication requires the process of a message being sent and received, we must acknowledge that distinct communication is impossible without the process of time. Thus, as words in a sentence are given meaning through context of contiguous words in the same sentence, and sentences are given sub-textual meaning through context of other sentences within a conversation, given shots within a scene will conform to an over-tonal meaning intrinsically contextualized by other shots within the same scene, and in a broader sense, other scenes throughout the film.”

They continue: “In the essay The Filmic Fourth Dimension, Eisenstein compares film to music thusly, “There, along with the vibration of a basic dominant tone, comes a whole series of similar vibrations … Their impacts against each other … envelop the basic tone in a whole host of secondary vibrations … We find the same thing in optics, as well. All sorts of aberrations, distortions, and other defects, which can be remedied by systems of lenses, can also be taken into account compositionally, providing a whole series of definite compositional effects.” To simplify, he is describing the methods by which musicians and filmmakers are capable of manipulating audience emotion.”8

Thus, through Krull’s definitive compositional effects, her tonal montages capture more than just linear time, construct more than the spectator’s eye directed along the lines of some immobile object … for her holistic movement of the piece is perceived in a wider sense: where the “montage is based on the characteristic emotional sound of the piece – of its dominant. The general tone of the piece… I do not mean to say that the emotional sound of the piece is to be measured “impressionistically.” The piece’s characteristics in this respect can be measured with as much exactitude as in the most elementary case of “by the ruler” measurement in metrical montage. But the units of measurement differ. And the amounts to be measured are different.”9

This is the key to the effective nature of Krull’s portfolio, the power of the emotional sound of the piece: her understanding of the compositional effects of tonal montage as a piece of theatre measured in a different unit – through rhythm, through the interruption of sequences, through the distortion of spaces – to create a single unit of sensory and emotional experience. As Eisenstein notes, “In the Kabuki … a single monistic sensation of theatrical “provocation” takes place. The Japanese regards each theatrical element, not as an incommensurable unit among the various categories of affect (on the various sense-organs), but as a single unit of theatre . . .. Directing himself to the various organs of sensation, he builds his summation [of individual “pieces”] to a grand total provocation of the human brain, without taking any notice which of these several paths he is following.”10

Pace Krull. Her holistic compositions are intertextual and multi-faceted at a time when “straight” photography and even avant-garde photography could not string an adequate sentence together, let alone a multi-dimensional visual, sensual and emotional narrative. This is why Krull’s portfolio is so revolutionary for its time. And just to reinforce this shock of the new, of surprise and astonishment, Krull gets the writer Florent Fels – a traditionalist who by this time (1928) did not like contemporary art – to write a romantic eulogy of an introduction to the new gods of the sky, an introduction which gives the reader a sense of the soaring romanticism which is ascribed to these machinic megaliths. Citing Dostoyevsky, Rousseau and Cocteau, Fels’ florid fornications are, just like Krull’s stunning images, a joy for the senses:

“The trains break the horizon with a deafening roar. They leave the ground and glide there on the ether into the inevitable advance of progress, dragging the living with wonder towards the astral stations.

The strong and soft movement of the hammer softens the ingots like lead elephants. And see the Eiffel Tower, now a bell tower of acoustic waves, its improper monstrosity has provided for surprise and confusion. Now lovers are treated there, three hundred metres above the ground, to a rendezvous with the birds. And the poets, from the old Douanier Rousseau to Jean Cocteau, claim that on beautiful spring evenings fairies ride tobogan on its wing.

This giant was missing a heavenly glow: One has been given to it. The luminous progress of industry is evident in every majestic metre of its height.

Aeroplane, elevator and wheel, with which some humans soar up to the kingdom of the birds, are suddenly transformed into elements of our nature.”11

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,438

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All of the photographs in this posting are published under “fair use” conditions for the purpose of educational research and academic comment. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. “# Great Speculations /// The Oblique Functon by Claude Parent and Pau Virilio” on The Funambulist website [Online] Cited 09/12/2018
  2. Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 09/12/2018
  3. Sergei Eisenstein. Film Form: Essay in Film Theory. Edited and translated by Jay Leyda. New York and London: A Harvest/HBJ Book, 1949, p. 46
  4. Ibid.,
  5. Ibid., p. 47
  6. Charles Baudelaire, Intimate Journals (13 May 1 856), translated by Christopher Isherwood. New York, Random House, 1930, quoted in Sergei Eisenstein. Film Form: Essay in Film Theory. Edited and translated by Jay Leyda. New York and London: A Harvest/HBJ Book, 1949, p. 51
  7. Anonymous. “Film as Language: The Method and Form of Sergei Eisenstein,” on the Cinema Confessions blog 05/05/2011 [Online] Cited 09/12/2018
  8. Eisenstein op. cit., p. 51
  9. Ibid., p. 75
  10. Ibid., p. 64
  11. Extract of the Preface from Florent Fels to the first edition of MÉTAL. Librairie des Arts décoratifs, A. Calavas, Editeur, 68, Rue la Fayette, Paris, 1928

 

 

I did not have a special intention or design when I took the Iron photographs. I wanted to show what I see, exactly as the eye sees it.
‘MÉTAL’ is a collection of photographs from the time. ‘MÉTAL’ initiated a new visual era and open the way or a new concept of photography.
‘MÉTAL’ was the starting point which allowed photography to become an artisanal trade and which made an artist of the photographer, because it was part of this new movement, of this new era which touched all art.

.
Germaine Krull. Extract from the Preface to the 1976 edition of ‘MÉTAL’

 

Roland Barthes was skeptical of Krull’s experimental photographs. In his famous 1980 meditation on photography, ‘Camera Lucida’, he wrote: “There are moments when I detest Photographs: what have I to do with Atget’s old tree trunks, with Pierre Boucher’s nudes, with Germaine Krull’s double exposures (to cite only the old names).”3 Barthes discounts what he calls photographic “contortions of technique: superimpressions, anamorphoses, deliberate exploitation of certain defects (blurring, deceptive perspectives, trick framing),” and comments that “great photographers (Germaine Krull, Kertész, William Klein) have played on these surprises, without convincing me, if I understand their subversive bearing.”4 But while such photographs are sometimes subversive, to be sure, they are often celebratory in tone. Krull and her colleagues carried out their “contortions of technique” to produce metaphors for the swirling, confusing, exhilarating urban life in their post-World War I decade.

.
Roland Barthes. Camera Lucida, p. 33 quoted in Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 25/11/2018

 

Krull’s most renowned photographs are not street scenes but abstracted views of the Eiffel Tower, and three of these images, accompanied by a short text by Florent Fels and laid out in overlapping fashion, appeared in a ‘Vu’ article titled “Dans toute sa force” (In full force) published in May 1928, just before the tower’s fortieth birthday (fig. 8).19 According to Krull’s memoirs, Vogel told her, “Go and photograph the Eiffel Tower, Germaine. Photograph it as you really see it, and make sure that you don’t bring me a postcard view.”20 As Krull wrote, she did not see much in the “dead old form” until she began climbing the staircases and experiencing the tower from various vantage points. Some of the resultant images  – vertiginous views of the wrought iron structure - appeared in the German magazine UHU and Philippe Lamour’s journal ‘Grand’route’ as well as in ‘Vu’, and others (eleven in all) grace the pages of ‘Métal’.21

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“Protest gegen ein unmögliches Bauwerk,” ‘UHU’ 4 (December 1927): 106-11; Eric Hurel, “La Confusion des arts,” ‘Grand’route’ 1, no. 3 (May 1930): 71-74; and Krull, ‘Métal’, cover and pls. 2, 11, 19, 26, 28, 33, 37, 50, 54, 57. Footnote 21 in Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 25/11/2018

 

 

Although a portfolio, rather than a book, MÉTAL is widely considered to be among the most important photographic publications of the 1920s. Not only was Krull able to create work that stood the test of time, but she managed it in a profession dominated by men. It is interesting that with MÉTAL, she embraces a clearly masculine theme.

Krull’s photographs, whether of bridges, cranes, or the Eiffel Tower, tend towards the unconventional. It seems as if her initial approach is quite conservative, but then she questions common rules of composition, avoiding the more obvious ways her subjects would have been photographed at the time. Krull consequently avoids implementing a strict visual language. Instead of striving for a “realistic” documentation of her subject in her photographs she chooses her angles instinctively, cropping the images tightly, or even reversing them. It is exactly this unexpected approach that makes MÉTAL stand out. …

The photographs were taken in Paris, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Marseille and Saint-Malo.

Curiously the cover image of the portfolio (also plate 37) is actually presented upside down. This decision was presumably taken by M. Tchimoukow (real name Louis Bonin), the designer of the portfolio’s cover. There appear to have been at least two versions of the portfolio. One with a black spine and band, and one with a brown spine and band. The brown cloth version (shown below) seems to be the rarer of the two. The portfolio consists of 64 plates with images printed on one side, and two folded sheets unbound resulting in 8 pages which include a two and a half page text by Florent Fels in French and a short explanatory text by Germaine Krull.

Text from the achtung.photography website

 

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
In the port of Amsterdam
1924
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Museum of Technology, Paris
1925
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Antwerp
1924
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

 

Preface from Florent Fels to the first edition of MÉTAL

The industrial activity of our times spreads a spectacle before our eyes, to which they have not yet become accustomed. Its newness captures and frightens us like that of a large natural phenomenon. In turn it expresses an attitude of mind, to which painters and poets are among those who devote themselves.

Europe’s cities appear to us as outdated and anachronistic. The provincial towns with their promenades, pleasant fountains and music pavilion suddenly become somewhat old fashioned, whilst the lyricism of our time succeeds in writing itself in concrete and steel cathedrals. Yet we are witness to the paradoxical fact, that the largest enterprises serve as forms of progress with exception of those who can contribute to an improvement in human dwellings. Except for a privileged few the accommodation of our contemporaries shows a similarity with that of our forebears at the time of Richelieu and Cromwell. The people of the cities succumb to the push of commercial practises. We demand houses with windows, which give a free view of the garden. Modern housing for modern people in which the sun and the fresh air find an unhindered inlet. Concrete and steel are their most important constituents: Ten years after the end of the war steel will at last serve a noble purpose, it will perhaps be rehabilitated.

Steel changes our landscape. Forests of masts replacing trees centuries old. Blast furnaces replacing hills.

From this new expression of the world some aspects have no been captured by beautiful photographs representative of a new romanticism.

Germaine Krull is the Marceline Desbores-Valmore of this lyricism and her photographs are sonnets of shining, piercing verse. Like an orchid is the driving force of Farcot and like frightening insects are the cogs.

Double exposure lends to the finest mechanisms a fantastic appearance and in considering a milling machine covered in muddy oil and detritus and from water dripping, one thinks of Dostoyevsky. In the halo that surrounds them the powerful, noiseless and quietly working dynamos seem to radiate luminous vibrations, and whose chimneys ring out whose fanfare tones to the heavens, these new godly concepts laid out before us. The bridges penetrate into the space. The trains break the horizon with a deafening roar. They leave the ground and glide there on the ether into the inevitable advance of progress, dragging the living with wonder towards the astral stations.

The strong and soft movement of the hammer softens the ingots like lead elephants. And see the Eiffel Tower, now a bell tower of acoustic waves, its improper monstrosity has provided for surprise and confusion. Now lovers are treated there, three hundred metres above the ground, to a rendezvous with the birds. And the poets, from the old Douanier Rousseau to Jean Cocteau, claim that on beautiful spring evenings fairies ride tobogan on its wing.

This giant was missing a heavenly glow: One has been given to it. The luminous progress of industry is evident in every majestic metre of its height.

Aeroplane, elevator and wheel, with which some humans soar up to the kingdom of the birds, are suddenly transformed into elements of our nature.

The Tower is and remains the highest symbol of the modern age. As he left New York and its vapour crowned palaces it was the Eiffel Tower, this beacon of the air, which Lindbergh envisaged, in order to reach Paris in the sentimental heart of the modern world.

Florent Fels.

 

The Eiffel Tower, the cranes and bridges of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Marseille and Saint-Malo provided me with the material for a number of plates which form this album. I am indebted to others for the extreme kindness with which I was welcomed, by the Director of the Conservatoire des Arts-et-Métiers to his museum, by the Director of the CPDE at the Saint-Quen Power Station, and by M. André Citroën in his factories.
The cover of the book is a composition by M. Tchimoukow.

Germaine Krull
Cover design by M. Tchimoukow

Librairie des Arts décoratifs,
A. Calavas, Editeur, 68, Rue la Fayette, Paris, 1928
Portfolio

23.5 x 29.9cm (Portfolio)
22.5 x 29cm (Plates)

64 plates and 2 leaves

 

Marceline Desbores-Valmore

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (20 June 1786 – 23 July 1859) was a French poet and novelist…

She published Élégies et Romances, her first poetic work, in 1819. Her melancholy, elegiacal poems are admired for their grace and profound emotion. In 1821 she published the narrative work Veillées des Antilles. It includes the novella Sarah, an important contribution to the genre of slave stories in France…

The publication of her innovative volume of elegies in 1819 marks her as one of the founders of French romantic poetry. Her poetry is also known for taking on dark and depressing themes, which reflects her troubled life. She is the only female writer included in the famous Les Poètes maudits anthology published by Paul Verlaine in 1884. A volume of her poetry was among the books in Friedrich Nietzsche’s library. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Eiffel Tower
1927
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Railway lifting bridge, Rotterdam
1923-24
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Factory in Rotterdam
1923
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

 

Florent Fels

Ferdinand Florent Fels (1891-1977) was a French journalist, publisher and author prominent in discussing art in France. He often used the pseudonym Felsenberg. Fels launched the art magazine Action: Cahiers individualistes de philosophie et d’art in 1919. Here he expressed his individualist anarchist philosophy. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

Fels as an art critic before 1925

I now feel the need to make a step back on Fels. Born in 1891, he was recruited as a soldier-interpreter in the First World War thanks to his knowledge of English, and here became an anti-militaristic minded person. His experience at the front was quite parallel to that of Georg Grosz, the only German artist in his anthology, whose sad pages on the role of artists and critics during World War I corresponded largely to the thoughts of the French author. The experience of war convinced the young Fels of the need to overcome the traditional aesthetic models, linked to symbolism, but also of the emptiness of contemporary art, which had propagated or somehow supported the war effort. It is no coincidence that his friend de Vlaminck – in the Propos dedicated to him – used disdainful words on the role of Cubism in the years leading up to the war. According to Fels, the only art that, after the slaughter at the front, could still be trusted was the Dada movement, born in Zurich in 1916 and spread rapidly in Europe (it is also what can be read in the pages of Grosz, an artist about whom Fels published – in addition to the pages in the anthology – several other articles in the French world [14]).

Returning from the war front, in 1919, the twenty-eighty year old Fels launched with Robert Mortier (painter and poet) and Marcel Sauvage (poet) the journal Action. Cahiers individualistes de philosophie et d’art (Action. Individualist Notebooks on Philosophy and Art), which would have a short life (the last issue was 1922). The editors were young ex-soldiers who invested the money they had got from the state at the time they left the army, to launch the new journal. The founders of Action attempted to both awake and open the French culture. In the field of literature, Action hosted a series of poets, writers and literary critics such as Andre Malraux, Max Jacob, Jean Cocteau and Antonin Artaud; in the area of art, the journal liaised with all contemporary avant-garde movements (dada, fauves, cubists), discussed and exalted the production of the greatest artists (Claude Monet, Picasso, Matisse, Henri Rousseau Le Douanier) and gave great emphasis to African art. Looking at the journal’s issues, all available on the Internet [15], it is also easy to find that Action also housed reproductions of paintings and prints by many of the painters who later on were included in Propos d’Artistes: Derain, Kisling, Léger, Lhote, Pascin, Utrillo, Vlaminck. There were also art criticism articles of Duret and poems by Vlaminck.

Within Dadaism, Action preached a ‘subjectivist’, or individualist, version of vanguard aesthetics. It did not propagate revolutions, but proclaimed the need for the absolute freedom of the artists. Fels’ points of reference were in fact the individualistic anarchist movements inspired by Rousseau and Proudhon; in March 1920, he held a conference on “Les Classiques de l’Esprit nouveau” and published the text in the journal L’un [16]: he rejected the traditional Dadaist attitude of total destruction of the past and identified the new classics (Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, Van Gogh) that were due to be the basis of the new art. Fels took distance from the anti-social attitudes typical of Dadaism, and animated a controversy over the direction of new art movements: for him, everyone should make his personal revolution, without destroying any social foundations. At the root of Fels’s aesthetic theory there was “the enhancement of individual psychologies, the free but orderly expression of the heart, the sense of art, inspiration, and individuality” [17].

In 1922, Action‘s experience ended: money was over and the attempt to counter the revolutionary drift within Dadaism had failed. Starting with 1924, André Breton imposed surrealism, inspired by a much more corrosive aesthetic and social criticism. Fels condemned it.

 

Florent Fels between 1923 and 1925

Once the experience of Action was concluded in 1922, Fels joined in 1923 the editorial staff of Les Nouvelles Littéraires. There he dealt not only with contemporary art, but with reviews of exhibitions of all kinds (from Renaissance to Art of Polynesia). Often, his articles updated the public on the developments of decorative arts (in those years, he published his already mentioned essay on French tapestries and carpets).

I already mentioned that Fels stated in the postscript of the anthology: “I wanted to produce a document dated 1925” [18]. The idea was therefore to offer the reader almost an instant book. In fact, as we have already said, the book gave readers a real-time image of the art discussion in 1923-1924. 1925 was however a very important year for Fels. In addition to the anthology, he published a monograph on Claude Monet with Gallimard and became chief editor of the new art journal “L’Art Vivant“, founded by Jacques Guenne (1896-1945) and Maurice Martin du Gard (1896-1970), i.e. the two directors of “Les Nouvelles Littéraires“. The new publication was in fact presented as the artistic attachment (complément artistique) to the literary weekly. Art Vivant. It was published by the house Larousse since January 1925.

As previously mentioned, Fels’s aesthetic taste (think again that only a few years before he had been forced to finance his own publication with the liquidation of the time spent in war as a simple soldier) was becoming closer to those of the great French progressive publishing companies (Gallimard, Larousse). In other words, he was taking on more and more classic aesthetic orientations. The Art Vivant magazine (which will have long life: Fels was his chief editor until 1939, when the magazine closed its doors in the wake of the war) became therefore one of the favourite targets of the communist intellectual and surrealist leader Louis Aragon (1897-1982), who called Fels “Paysan de Paris“, the peasant of Paris. From Aragon’s perspective, the only veritable surrealist anthology of art literature with a Marxist orientation will be published twenty years later by Paul Éluard.

Extract from Review by Francesco Mazzaferro of Florent Fels, Propos d’Artistes [The Propositions of the Artists], 1925. Part One 22 May 2017 [Online] Cited 30/11/2018

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Electricity France, Paris
1925
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Negative collotype print

 

Detail of a centrifugal speed governor?

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Technical Museum, Paris
1926
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Motor industry Citreon, Paris
1926-27
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Technical Museum, Paris
1926
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Her book MÉTAL contains only two multiple exposures, one showing two overlapped power generators and the other several layered bicycle parts printed at right angles to one another to create an effect of circular motion.

 

 

Germaine Krull

Germaine Luise Krull (20 November 1897 – 31 July 1985) was a photographer, political activist, and hotel owner. Her nationality has been categorized as German, French, and Dutch, but she spent years in Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand, and India. Described as “an especially outspoken example” of a group of early 20th-century female photographers who “could lead lives free from convention”, she is best known for photographically-illustrated books such as her 1928 portfolio MÉTAL.

Krull was born in Posen-Wilda, a district of Posen (then in Germany; now Poznań, Poland), of an affluent German family. In her early years, the family moved around Europe frequently; she did not receive a formal education, but instead received homeschooling from her father, an accomplished engineer and a free thinker (whom some characterised as a “ne’er-do-well”). Her father let her dress as a boy when she was young, which may have contributed to her ideas about women’s roles later in her life.[6] In addition, her father’s views on social justice “seem to have predisposed her to involvement with radical politics.”

Between 1915 and 1917 or 1918 she attended the Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt für Photographie, a photography school in Munich, Germany, at which Frank Eugene’s teaching of pictorialism in 1907-1913 had been influential. She opened a studio in Munich in approximately 1918, took portraits of Kurt Eisner and others, and befriended prominent people such as Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Pollock, and Max Horkheimer.

Krull was politically active between 1918 and 1921. In 1919 she switched from the Independent Socialist Party of Bavaria to the Communist Party of Germany, and was arrested and imprisoned for assisting a Bolshevik emissary’s attempted escape to Austria. She was expelled from Bavaria in 1920 for her Communist activities, and traveled to Russia with lover Samuel Levit. After Levit abandoned her in 1921, Krull was imprisoned as an “anti-Bolshevik” and expelled from Russia.

She lived in Berlin between 1922 and 1925 where she resumed her photographic career. She and Kurt Hübschmann (later to be known as Kurt Hutton) worked together in a Berlin studio between 1922 and 1924. Among other photographs Krull produced in Berlin were a series of nudes (recently disparaged by an unimpressed 21st-century critic as “almost like satires of lesbian pornography”).

Having met Dutch filmmaker and communist Joris Ivens in 1923, she moved to Amsterdam in 1925. After Krull returned to Paris in 1926, Ivens and Krull entered into a marriage of convenience between 1927 and 1943 so that Krull could hold a Dutch passport and could have a “veneer of married respectability without sacrificing her autonomy.”

In Paris between 1926 and 1928, Krull became friends with Sonia Delaunay, Robert Delaunay, Eli Lotar, André Malraux, Colette, Jean Cocteau, André Gide and others; her commercial work consisted of fashion photography, nudes, and portraits. During this period she published the portfolio MÉTAL (1928) which concerned “the essentially masculine subject of the industrial landscape.” Krull shot the portfolio’s 64 black-and-white photographs in Paris, Marseille, and Holland during approximately the same period as Ivens was creating his film De Brug (“The Bridge”) in Rotterdam, and the two artists may have influenced each other. The portfolio’s subjects range from bridges, buildings (e.g., the Eiffel Tower), and ships to bicycle wheels; it can be read as either a celebration of machines or a criticism of them. Many of the photographs were taken from dramatic angles, and overall the work has been compared to that of László Moholy-Nagy and Alexander Rodchenko. In 1999-2004 the portfolio was selected as one of the most important photobooks in history.

By 1928 Krull was considered one of the best photographers in Paris, along with André Kertész and Man Ray. Between 1928 and 1933, her photographic work consisted primarily of photojournalism, such as her photographs for Vu, a French magazine. Also in the early 1930s, she also made a pioneering study of employment black spots in Britain for Weekly Illustrated (most of her ground-breaking reportage work from this period remains immured in press archives and she has never received the credit which is her due for this work). Her book Études de Nu (“Studies of Nudes”) published in 1930 is still well-known today. Between 1930 and 1935 she contributed photographs for a number of travel and detective fiction books.

In 1935-1940, Krull lived in Monte Carlo where she had a photographic studio. Among her subjects during this period were buildings (such as casinos and palaces), automobiles, celebrities, and common people. She may have been a member of the Black Star photojournalism agency which had been founded in 1935, but “no trace of her work appears in the press with that label.”

In World War II, she became disenchanted with the Vichy France government, and sought to join the Free French Forces in Africa. Due to her Dutch passport and her need to obtain proper visas, her journey to Africa included over a year (1941-1942) in Brazil where she photographed the city of Ouro Preto. Between 1942 and 1944 she was in Brazzaville in French Equatorial Africa, after which she spent several months in Algiers and then returned to France.

After World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia as a war correspondent, but by 1946 had become a co-owner of the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, a role that she undertook until 1966. She published three books with photographs during this period, and also collaborated with Malraux on a project concerning the sculpture and architecture of Southeast Asia.

After retiring from the hotel business in 1966, she briefly lived near Paris, then moved to Northern India and converted to the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. Her final major photographic project was the publication of a 1968 book Tibetans in India that included a portrait of the Dalai Lama. After a stroke, she moved to a nursing home in Wetzlar, Germany, where she died in 1985.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1927
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Railway lifting bridge, Rotterdam
1923-24
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1927
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1927
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Curiously the cover image of the portfolio (also plate 37) is actually presented upside down. This decision was presumably taken by M. Tchimoukow (real name Louis Bonin), the designer of the portfolio’s cover.

 

 

Germaine Krull

Germaine Krull was a pioneer in the fields of avant-garde photomontage, the photographic book, and photojournalism, and she embraced both commercial and artistic loyalties. Born in Wilda-Poznań, East Prussia, in 1897, Krull lived an extraordinary life lasting nine decades on four continents – she was the prototype of the edgy, sexually liberated Neue Frau (New Woman), considered an icon of modernity and a close cousin of the French garçonne and the American flapper. She had a peripatetic childhood before her family settled in Munich in 1912. She studied photography from 1916 to 1918 at Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Lichtbildwesen (Instructional and Research Institute for Photography), and in 1919 opened her own portrait studio. Her early engagement with left-wing political activism led to her expulsion from Munich. Then, on a visit to Russia in 1921, she was incarcerated for her counterrevolutionary support of the Free French cause against Hitler. In 1926, she settled in Paris, where she became friends with artists Sonia and Robert Delaunay and intellectuals André Malraux, Jean Cocteau, Colette, and André Gide, who were also subjects of her photographic portraits.

Krull’s artistic breakthrough began in 1928, when she was hired by the nascent VU magazine,the first major French illustrated weekly. Along with photographers André Kertész and Éli Lotar, she developed a new form of reportage rooted in a freedom of expression and closeness to her subjects that resulted in intimate close-ups, all facilitated by her small-format Icarette, a portable, folding bed camera. During this period, she published the portfolio, Metal (MÉTAL)(1928), a collection of 64 pictures of modernist iron giants, including cranes, railways, power generators, the Rotterdam transporter bridge, and the Eiffel Tower, shot in muscular close-ups and from vertiginous angles. Krull participated in the influential Film und Foto, or Fifo, exhibition (1929-30), which was accompanied by two books, Franz Roh’s and Jan Tschichold’s Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) and Werner Gräff’s Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!)Fifo marked the emergence of a new critical theory of photography that placed Krull at the forefront of Neues Sehen or Neue Optik (New Vision) photography, a new direction rooted in exploring fully the technical possibilities of the photographic medium through a profusion of unconventional lens-based and darkroom techniques. After the end of World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia, and then moved to India, where, after a lifetime dedicated to recording some of the major upheavals of the twentieth century, she decided to live as a recluse among Tibetan monks.

Introduction by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, 2016 on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 25/11/2018

 

Métal and Filmic Montage

For Krull, metal was the most powerful metaphor for the modern world, and her book Métal includes many of the industrial forms she saw in Europe. It features both multiple exposures and straight images, and the entire volume is structured according to the principles of film montage. As noted earlier, Krull was a member of the Dutch avant-garde film collective Filmliga, which was cofounded by Joris Ivens, who in 1927 became her husband. Both of them published work in Arthur Lehning’s related avant-garde journal i10.

They saw screenings of Soviet avant-garde films by Vsevolod Pudovkin and Sergei Eisenstein, and Krull made a portrait of Eisenstein when he visited Paris in 1930. Eisenstein’s theories of montage were particularly important to the couple, and Krull’s Métal serves to demonstrate them. She actively adopted the Soviet filmmaker’s ideas of rupture and “visual counterpoint,” involving graphic, planar, volumetric, and spatial conflicts.26

The book is technically an album, with sixty-four numbered but unbound collotype reproductions that can ostensibly be rearranged at will. There are no captions and no identifying markers, and the images include both vertical and horizontal compositions. In a brief note beneath an introductory text by Florent Fels, Krull tells us that these photographs include a lifting bridge over the Meuse River in Rotterdam (also the subject of Ivens’s renowned avant-garde montage film, The Bridge [De Brug], from that same year); the cranes in the Amsterdam port; the Eiffel Tower; Marseille’s transporter bridge; and other industrial forms she found.27 But it would be difficult to decipher these subjects from the photographs themselves. Although there are eleven Eiffel Tower images in the book, for example, they are often so abstracted that the subject is unidentifiable, and none are on contiguous pages. …

Scholars have often read Métal as a purely formal experiment, but Krull used it as a commentary on contemporary life, producing the kind of montage that her friend Walter Benjamin championed, in which “the superimposed element disrupts the context in which it is inserted. … The discovery is accomplished by means of the interruption of sequences. Only interruption here has not the character of a stimulant but an energizing function.”29 The quality of interruption, according to Benjamin, differentiates truly revolutionary work from the mere aping of the modern world, an approach that he scornfully attributes to the work of Albert Renger-Patzsch.30 For Krull, interruption could occur in a multiple exposure, as in the aforementioned Métal image depicting overlapping views of bicycle parts. Or interruption can be found while turning a book’s pages, moving from a drive-belt detail to ominously large-scale cargo cranes, or from the Rotterdam Bridge over the Meuse to a detail of a centrifugal speed governor. Whether portraying a roller coaster, documenting the Eiffel Tower, or creating her book of industrial fragments, Krull engaged the decade’s cacophony and used provocative experimental techniques to capture its allure.

Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” p. 7 on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 25/11/2018.

Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” in Mitra Abbaspour, Lee Ann Daffner, and Maria Morris Hambourg, eds. Object: Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949. An Online Project of The Museum of Modern Art. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2014.

27. Sergei Eisenstein, “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form” (1929), in Jay Leyda, ed., Film Form: Essays in Film Theory (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949), pp. 52-54
29. Walter Benjamin, “The Author as Producer” (1934), in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (New York: Schocken Books, 1986), pp. 234-35
30. Benjamin, “The Author as Producer,” p. 230

 

 

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06
Jun
16

Exhibition: ‘Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th March – 12th June 2016

 

You only have five days left to catch what I consider to be one of the best exhibitions I have seen this year in Melbourne.

If ever there was a man deserving of a large retrospective, it is Jan Senbergs. This wondrous, intelligent, immersive exhibition by this iconic Australian artist is a joy. Particularly so as you witness the gestation of the artist, the journey from very first exhibition to latest work.

Witness is a particularly apt metaphor for Senbergs – he is a witness to the world who uses his imagination to create, as he says, “maybe something architectonic or machine-like, but not quite: and ambiguous … I was trying to create something irrational, something out of the imagination but belonging to the world.” He belongs to the world but creates things not of the world as we know it. It is a twisted world n/visioned in multiple forms. Twisted labyrinthine structures – mechanistic, naturalistic, humanistic – swirling around in his head, put down as marks on paper, synthetic polymer paint on canvas.

Mark making is important to this man. He maps mechanistic and biomorphic elements, always intelligently informed by sources as diverse as “literature, history, architecture and non-Western art, and finds imagery within obscure technical journals, ancient mythology and illustrated encyclopedias.” His influences are various – German Expressionism, Max Beckmann, Neo-Expressionist painting of the early 1980s, Brutalism, Eduardo Paolozzi, Pop Art and the writing of American postmodernist author Donald Bartheme – to name but a few. And his perspective is unique, as John Olsen insightfully observes, “not often on the vanishing point, but … more related to the spatial  orientation in Chinese or Islamic art. This kind of perspective gives weight to an object; the sensation is abrupt and very blunt, ideally related to his vision.”

Standing in front of the huge six painting wall of Senbergs’ Antarctic paintings you feel the power of that (topographical? analytical? cut-away) vision. I dare you not to.

There are downsides. When they do appear in his paintings, his literal figures and landscapes (such as people, boats and bays), are weak. But that’s not what this artist is about. His screen print work of the mid to late 1970s lead him into a formally stylistic dead end. But he was an intelligent enough artist to recognise it as such and returned to mark making: “But it was a period when I was getting too confident. It was time to leave it alone, go back to the mark.” And his popularist map paintings of Sydney and Melbourne, painted in a brighter colour palette, don’t have the depth of feeling and response to the world that other works possess.

His limited colour palette – all blacks and subdued colours in the early enamel work; green and browns in the 1970s work; greys, blacks and beiges in the early 1980s; blues and greens with splashes of colour for the Antarctic and mining paintings; through to the more colourful map paintings of the 1990s and the recent oranges of the bushfire paintings – has always given weight to the object, weight to his constructed upside-down world, weight to his vision of a place where anything might happen. And frequently does.

Irrational, perhaps (but the irrational can only exist if there is the rational).
Something out of the imagination but belonging to the world, indubitably.
A world that is neither dysfunctional in vision nor balance.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

This is the first comprehensive retrospective of renowned Melbourne artist Jan Senbergs. Throughout his long career, Senbergs’ work has been characterised by a fundamental humanist vision, a finely-honed sense of the absurd, and a rigorous studio practice spanning printmaking, drawing and painting. He is considered to be amongst Australia’s leading painters and his large-scale expressive drawings are highly regarded. More recently Senbergs has created labyrinthine views of cities, employing aerial perspectives to present a bird’s eye view of humankind’s endeavours. The exhibition includes paintings, drawings and prints from his first exhibition in 1960 until the present day, borrowed from public and private collections around Australia.

Jan Senbergs is one of Australia’s most distinctive artists. He is both an acute observer and a creator of fantastical imagery. Since his first exhibition in 1960, Senbergs’s work has undergone many transformations of style, technique and subject, yet there have also been recurring themes and motifs. Elements from his very first works have reappeared, reworked and reinterpreted, throughout his career.

Senbergs’s artistic imagination has been fed by many sources, including his love of literature and poetry; his interest in no-Western artistic traditions and the work of outsider artists; journeys to distant locales as well as familiar places close to home. The artist has often referred to himself as a ‘visual scavenger’ of images – photographs, scientific diagrams, maps – which he transforms and incorporates into his own work. Above all, Senbergs’s art reflects his essential humanism, humour and wide-ranging curiosity.

 

 

“I was always interested in painting buildings and things and I tried to make them half human, trying to put figures into them, in the end they blended together as one, the figures, the buildings and the people.”

.
Jan Senbergs, 1965

 

“I was always trying to invent new forms, different forms, shapes which were recognisable – maybe something architectonic or machine-like, but not quite: and ambiguous … I was trying to create something irrational, something out of the imagination but belonging to the world.”

.
Jan Senbergs, 2008

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of the opening room of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Alan Kilner. 'Jan Senbergs, Melbourne' c. 1959

 

Alan Kilner
Jan Senbergs, Melbourne
c. 1959
Image courtesy Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The whipper' 1961

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
The whipper
1961
Enamel paint on composition board
183.0 x 122.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Literature has always been an important source of imagery for Senbergs. This work, one of his earliest, is based upon an episode in The Trial (1925) by Czech writer Franz Kafka. In the painting two figures cower beneath ‘the whipper’, who metes out a brutal punishment to them. This work was included in Senbergs’s second solo exhibition at the Argus Gallery, Melbourne, in 1962.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Two heads' 1961

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Two heads
1961
Enamel paint on composition board
Private collection, Melbourne

 

“I was always interested in painting buildings and things and I tried to make them half-human, trying to put the figures into them; in the end they blended together as one, the figures and the buildings and the people.” – Jan Senbergs, 1965

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Head' 1963

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Head
1963
Colour screenprint on paper, artist’s proof, edition of 10
42.4 x 35.2 cm (image and sheet)
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The night parade' 1966

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The night parade' 1966

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
The night parade
1966
Enamel paint on composition board
Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery
Gift of the artist, 1977

 

At the time of its creation, this was Senbergs’s largest and most ambitious painting to date, and it formed the centrepiece of his 1966 exhibition at Georges Gallery in Melbourne. The triptych format recalls the work of German Expressionist painter Max Beckmann, one of Senbergs’s earliest and ongoing artistic heroes. In his review of the exhibition, critic Allan McCulloch wrote: “Instead of simply looking at abstract pictures we have the feeling of standing on the perimeter of a vast industrial landscape in which hills and slagheaps, factories and cities are relentlessly pushed and jostled by an omni-present parade of silent watchers. The huge triptych “The night parade’ … illustrates the point.”

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Observation post 2' 1968

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Observation post 2
1968
Synthetic polymer paint, oil screenprint on canvas
246.0 x 185.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1971
© Jan Senbergs

 

On his return to Melbourne in late 1967, Senbergs’ work changed dramatically. He ceased painting with enamel on Masonite composition boards, and instead started working with oil or acrylic on canvas and began to incorporate screenprinted elements into his paintings. Of his year in Europe he later recalled, “I got a lot out of it, it completely made me revise and rethink a whole lot of things regarding my painting, my work, my attitudes and so on … I felt very refreshed and confident when I came back.”

By the mid 1960s Senbergs’ imagery was becoming increasingly sculptural, merging mechanistic and biomorphic elements, in part stimulated by his interest in the work of Scottish Pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi. Senbergs entered what he refers to as his ‘axle-grease’ period, when his colours became darker and more sombre, which he considered would enhance form in his work.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with, at right, Column and still objects 1 (1968)

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Column and still objects 1' (detail) 1968

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Column and still objects 1 (detail)
1968
The Edith Cowan University Art Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Mr Timothy James Bernadt

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Black garden' (detail) 1972

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Black garden (detail)
1972
Synthetic polymer paint, oil screenprint on canvas plywood
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1973

 

In 1972 Senbergs exhibition sixteen new paintings at Melbourne’s Gallery A, including Black garden, in which he created ambiguous cityscapes from surrealistic combinations of screen printed fragments of images. With their absurdist sensibility and disjointed fragmentary images, these paintings emulate the writing of American postmodernist author Donald Bartheme, whose short stories Senbergs admired greatly and whom he credits with being a major influence upon him.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Fort 2' 1973

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Fort 2
1973
Synthetic polymer paint, oil screenprint on canvas
243.7 x 197.8 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1974
© Jan Senbergs

 

The paintings Senbergs created in 1973 in response to his selection to represent Australia at the 12th São Paolo Biennial in Brazil were larger and more imposing than his 1972 paintings, and often incorporated an image of a ramp to suggest entry into the foms. With their realistic modelling of architectural forms set against a horizon line, these works evoke the real world, yet remain defiantly resistant to interpretation.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Structure, cloud' 1975

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Structure, cloud
1975
Colour screenprint, ed. 19/25
55.6 x 81.2 cm (image), 71.0 x 100.2 cm (sheet)
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

 

“The printing technique was very important to me because I was a kind of scavenger of odd sorts of images. I mean a lot of those sort of shapes and forms were things that one saw perhaps in an old engraving book, a little detail of a section of some background somewhere and I’d look into it and see certain sorts of forms there … I was a collector, a scavenger. I used to go to libraries and collect these images and I’d buy a lot of books.” – Jan Senbergs

“When I was doing these prints and as I was coming to a conclusion to them, I also realised I was handling it in a more sophisticated way. The prints were becoming more refined, more in control … But it was a period when I was getting too confident. It was time to leave it alone, go back to the mark.” – Jan Senbergs 2008

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The flyer' 1975

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
The flyer
1975
Synthetic polymer paint, oil silkscreen on canvas
167.0 x 244.0 cm
Collection of Paul Guest, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Altered Parliament House 1' 1976

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Altered Parliament House 1
1976
Synthetic polymer paint, oil silkscreen on canvas
182.5 x 243.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by Mrs Adrian Gibson as the winner of the 1976 Sir William Angliss Memorial Art Prize, 1977
© Jan Senbergs

 

While living in Canberra, on his walk home Senbergs would see Parliament House: “I’d see this white glowing dreadnought in the distance … that’s the way it appeared, sort of floating, just this whiteness because it was lit up … This form fascinated me. But also, and on another level, I was there in ’75 when all the political things happened and [after that] it didn’t have that sort of purity and whiteness that it appeared to have beforehand. In a way that gave me more liberty to change the imagery of the building.”

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Observatory of hard edges' (detail) 1976

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Observatory of hard edges (detail)
1976
Synthetic polymer paint, oil screenprint on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

This is one of Senbergs’ most architectonic images; its massing of asymmetrical forms, pronounced geometry and pale colours bring to mind the contemporaneous style of Brutalist architecture.

 

Jan Senbergs drawings late 1970s - early 1980s

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)

Port piers and overpass (top left)
1979
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

Port structure (bottom left)
1979
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

Station Pier (top right)
1980
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

Port signals (bottom right)
1980
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

“Yesterday I visited Jan Senbergs at his studio in Port Melbourne … I was greatly impressed by what I saw: he has moved away from a photo image to observation, perhaps with [Max] Beckmann as his distant father. His line is slow and sullen and he creates a feeling of junk-heap menace … His perspective is not often on the vanishing point, but is more related to the spatial  orientation in Chinese or Islamic art. This kind of perspective gives weight to an object; the sensation is abrupt and very blunt, ideally related to his vision.” – John Olsen 1980

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Port Liardet' 2 1981

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Port Liardet 2
1981
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
183.0 x 244.0 cm
Latrobe Regional Gallery Collection.
Acquired with assistance from the Caltex Victorian Government Art Fund and the Shire of Morwell
© Jan Senbergs

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with Sticht’s view to the smelters 1 at right

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Sticht's view to the smelters 1' 1982

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Sticht’s view to the smelters 1
1982
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Purchase with funds presented by Renison Goldfields Consolidated, 1983

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Sticht's view to the smelters 1' (detail) 1982

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Sticht’s view to the smelters 1 (detail)
1982
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Purchase with funds presented by Renison Goldfields Consolidated, 1983

 

 

Robert Carl Sticht was an American metallurgist who in 1897 became general manager of the copper mine at Mount Lyell on the remote and rugged west coast of Tasmania. There he introduced a new technique of smelting which released large amounts of deadly sulphur into the air, one of the principal agents of destruction of the natural environment of the region.

In the Copperopolis – Mt Lyell series, Senbergs moved away from the smooth surfaces and clearly articulated forms of his Port Liardet paintings to a more gestural, painterly mode, in accord with the style of Neo-Expressionist painting of the early 1980s.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Broadening the mind in Italy' 1986, 1991

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Broadening the mind in Italy
1986, 1991
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas 167.0 x 243.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Broadening the mind in Italy' (detail) 1986, 1991

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Broadening the mind in Italy (detail)
1986, 1991
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas 167.0 x 243.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Predrag Cancar/NGV Photographic Services. 'Jan Senbergs in his studio' 2015

 

Predrag Cancar/NGV Photographic Services
Jan Senbergs in his studio
2015

 

 

“From the vast expanses of Antarctica to labyrinthine Melbourne cityscapes, more than five decades of artist Jan Senbergs’ prolific oeuvre will be revealed in the major retrospective Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination.

The exhibition, Senbergs’ first-ever comprehensive survey, will feature over 120 works including large-scale paintings, drawings and prints which depict sprawling aerial views of Australian cities, dystopic industrial landscapes, raging bushfires in the Victorian Otways, the remote deserts of north-Western Australia and more. The exhibition spans Senbergs’ first exhibition in 1960 through to the present day, representing all periods of his career. Recognised for his sheer visual inventiveness and sitting outside any defined artistic trend, Senbergs draws inspiration from a remarkably diverse range of influences; literature, history, architecture and non-Western art, and finds imagery within obscure technical journals, ancient mythology and illustrated encyclopedias.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, said, “As one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists, Jan Senbergs is an extraordinary inventor of his own visual language, at once simple and bold. From lush landscapes to barren urban spaces, his body of work signifies an artist who has continually experimented with shape, form and motif, and one who to this day continues to push his art in new and unexpected directions. The NGV is pleased to present the first major retrospective of Jan Senbergs’ work and offer visitors the opportunity to experience the full spectrum and constant evolution of his career.”

Senbergs, born in 1939 in Latvia, moved to Melbourne in 1950 following the end of World War II. Among other honours, he represented Australia at the prestigious 12th São Paolo Biennial in 1973 and was appointed to the Visiting Chair in Australian Studies at Harvard University in 1989, the first artist to hold this illustrious post. Observation – Imagination will include key works from Senbergs’ most important and critically acclaimed series including his 1973 São Paolo Biennial paintings, the Copperopolis – Mt Lyell mining landscape series, 1983, and his immense multi-panelled studio drawings of 1993-95.

Senbergs’ Antarctica series is considered one of the most significant artistic responses to the continent. In 1987, Senbergs spent six weeks with the Australian Antarctic Division, travelling with fellow artists Bea Maddock and John Caldwell, on an annual resupply mission. Observation – Imagination will include key works such as his epic landscapes Mawson and Davis. The exhibition will also present Senbergs’ epic, 4.6 metre long Pulaski Skyway painting, which reflects the post-industrial landscape of the five and a half kilometre freeway that crosses the wasteland of western New Jersey from Newark to Jersey City. In this, Senbergs found a metaphor for the American experience and its splendour and decay.

More recently Senbergs has produced intricate labyrinthine views of cities, combining memory and imagination, and the exhibition will include map-like images of Melbourne, Sydney, Geelong, Wollongong and Port KemblaThe exhibition will also feature works from Senbergs’ recent 2014 Victorian bushfire series, which burst with visual drama and chromatic brilliance. Senbergs often refers to himself as a scavenger and collector of imagery taken from a wide variety of sources, and Observation – Imagination will include an enormous showcase, created by the artist, filled with cut-outs, photographs and personal artefacts that reference the people, places and artworks which have fuelled his visual imagination.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with Blue angel of Wittenoom (top left) and Otway night (bottom right)

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Blue angel of Wittenoom' 1988

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Blue angel of Wittenoom
1988
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
197.5 x 305.0 cm
State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Purchased 1989
© Jan Senbergs
Photo: Eva Fernandez

 

 

The blue angel in the painting refers to the dangers of asbestos in the mining town of Wittenoom.

Wittenoom is a ghost town 1,106 kilometres (687 mi) north-north-east of Perth in the Hamersley Range in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The area around Wittenoom was mainly pastoral until the 1930s when mining began in the area. By 1939, major mining had begun in Yampire Gorge, which was subsequently closed in 1943 when mining began in Wittenoom Gorge. In 1947 a company town was built, and by the 1950s it was Pilbara’s largest town. During the 1950s and early 1960s Wittenoom was Australia’s only supplier of blue asbestos. The town was shut down in 1966 due to unprofitability and growing health concerns from asbestos mining in the area.

Today, six residents still live in the town, which receives no government services. In December 2006, the Government of Western Australia announced that the town’s official status would be removed, and in June 2007, Jon Ford, the Minister for Regional Development, announced that the townsite had officially been degazetted. The town’s name was removed from official maps and road signs and the Shire of Ashburton is able to close roads that lead to contaminated areas.

The Wittenoom steering committee met in April 2013 to finalise closure of the town, limit access to the area and raise awareness of the risks. Details of how that would be achieved were to be determined but it would likely necessitate removing the town’s remaining residents, converting freehold land to crown land, demolishing houses and closing or rerouting roads. by 2015 six residents remained.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Otway night' (detail) 1994

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Otway night (detail)
1994
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchase with assistance from Ruth Komon, 1994

 

After purchasing a holiday house at Aireys Inlet, Senbergs became interested in the history of Victoria’s west coast and the story of escaped convict William Buckley, ‘the wild white man’ who lived with the local Wathaurung people from 1803 until 1835 before being integrated back into colonial society.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Mawson' (detail) 1987

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Mawson (detail)
1987
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Private collection, Melbourne

 

“As in previous settlements in history, in Antarctica we are again squatting on the edge of yet another continent and bringing our cultural baggage with us. Already there is a sense of history there: architectural, social and visual.” – Jan Senbergs, 2002

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with Bea Maddock being lifted onto the Icebird – Heard Island (top left), Antarctic night (top middle), Mawson (bottom left), and Platcha (bottom middle)

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Bea Maddock being lifted onto the Icebird - Heard Island' 1987

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Bea Maddock being lifted onto the Icebird – Heard Island
1987
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
197.2 x 274.1cm
State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Purchased 1987
© Jan Senbergs

 

Senbergs was one of three artists invited by the Australian Antractic Division to take part in the resupply Voyage Six to Antarctica as observers. Leaving Hobart in early January 1987, during their six‐week journey the artists visited Heard Island, Scullin Monolith, Law Base, Davis, Mawson and the Russian base at Mirny. This painting depicts fellow artist Bea Maddock who broke her leg while disembarking at Heard Island and needed to be winched back on board. Unfortunately, she was incapacitated for the remainder of the trip.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Antarctic night' 1989

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Antarctic night
1989
Synthetic polymer paint and collage on canvas
202.0 x 292.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1990
© Jan Senbergs

 

“In a “cut-away” view, [Antarctic night] shows the interior of a winterer’s hut with its wall covered in a “tapestry” of pin-up images – from the earliest “pin‐up”, the Venus of Willendorf, to the Playboy centrefolds of the 1950s and 1960s … The more you saw of it, the more it seemed like an Antarctic Pop Art movement.”

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Platcha' 1987

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Platcha
1987
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
224.0 x 355.0 cm
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Trust Collection
© Jan Senbergs

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Jan Senbergs. Installation view of 'New Guinea sheilas triptych' (centre row) and 'New Guinea male triptych' (bottom row) both 1993

 

Installation view of New Guinea sheilas triptych (centre row) and New Guinea male triptych (bottom row) both 1993
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

Jan Senbergs. Detail view of 'New Guinea sheilas triptych' (centre row) and 'New Guinea male triptych' (bottom row) both 1993

 

Detail view of New Guinea sheilas triptych (centre row) and New Guinea male triptych (bottom row) both 1993
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'New Guinea male triptych' (detail) 1993

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
New Guinea male triptych (detail) 
1993
pastel on paper
(a-c) 160.0 x 366.0 cm (overall)
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

 

“I enjoy the freedom of drawing, the directness of what I call my “Long Arm Drawing” with a black pastel or an oil stick, where there’s no room for corrections or embellishments – dancing in front of a sheet of paper, keeping a spontaneous line, and if you hesitate, it shows. It’s “unforgiving” drawing and if you’re out of form you lose, and sheets of paper end up in the bin. Like an athlete or a dancer, you’ve got to put in the hours to make the confident mark.”

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Jan Senbergs, 2016

 

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Melbourne' 1998-99

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Melbourne
1998-99
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
183.0 x 274.0 cm
State Library of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the Gualtiero Vaccari Foundation in recognition of services provided by the State Library to the Italian Community, 1999
© Jan Senbergs

 

 

“[The] map-like images of the city that I’ve developed – of Melbourne, Sydney, Wollongong, Barcelona – they come out of a fascination with map-making, particularly early map-making … I started to look for an imagined way of painting and drawing actual places like Melbourne or Sydney: not exactly what you see in front of you but what you know to be there … It’s like those early maps, imaginary maps where people were drawing what they knew, not what they saw or measured.”

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Jan Senbergs, 2006

 

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Sydney' 1998

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Sydney
1998
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
174.0 x 344.0 (framed)
Collection of McDonald’s Australia Limited
© Jan Senbergs
Photo: Felicity Jenkins

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The elated city' 2009

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
The elated city
2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
239.0 x 196.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Figures and heads made from mechanistic and architectural elements was one of Senbergs’s earliest subjects. He returned to this motif recently in several monumental paintings, including Paolozzi’s city, 2010, and The elated city, 2009.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Coastal settlement' 2009

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Coastal settlement
2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
169.0 x 216.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Melbourne capriccio 3' 2009

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Melbourne capriccio 3
2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
195.2 x 184.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by The Hugh D. T. Williamson Foundation, 2009
© Jan Senbergs

 

In the history of painting, a capriccio refers to an architectural fantasy where buildings and other architectural elements and places come together in imaginary settings. Senbergs’ Melbourne capriccio offers the viewer the pleasure of a bird’s-eye view of familiar landmarks, seen through a rich blend of memory and imagination.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Paolozzi's city' 2010

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Paolozzi’s city
2010
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
200.5 x 193.2 cm
TarraWarra Museum of Art Collection
Acquired 2011
© Jan Senbergs

 

As a young artist in the 1960s, Senbergs greatly admired Scottish Pop artist Edouardo Paolozzi’s strange fusions of machine and organic forms, and explored similar ideas in his own paintings and screenprints. In Paolozzi’s city Senbergs has created a fantastical head out of buildings and roads, and pays homage to one of his first artistic heroes.

 

senbergs-paolozzi-detail

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Paolozzi’s city (detail)
2010
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
200.5 x 193.2 cm
TarraWarra Museum of Art Collection
Acquired 2011
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Geelong capriccio (if Geelong were settled instead of Melbourne)' 2010

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Geelong capriccio (if Geelong were settled instead of Melbourne)
2010
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
197.0 x 255.0 cm
Deakin University Art Collection
© Jan Senbergs
Image courtesy Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

“One of the rarest qualities in contemporary painting is wit … Jan Senberg’s ‘Geelong capriccio’ is in every way a painting of wit, its single and absurd proposition as to what the world would look like if Geelong had become the capital and the site of Melbourne remained open paddocks … It seems to be a very Antipodean painting: the upside-down world, which Europe imagined Australia to be, a place where anything might happen.”

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Patrick McCaughey, 2010

 

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Extended Melbourne labyrinth' 2013

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Extended Melbourne labyrinth
2013
Oil stick, synthetic polymer paint wash
(a-d) 162.5 x 497.4 cm (framed) (overall)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Jan Senbergs

 

Installation view of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of the opening room of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with, at top, Extended Melbourne labyrinth and, at left, Geelong capriccio (if Geelong were settled instead of Melbourne); at right Melbourne capriccio 3

 

installation-r

installation-s

 

Installation views of the opening room of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with, at left, The elated city followed by Paolozzi’s city

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Fire and smoke' 1 2014

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Fire and smoke 1
2014
Synthetic polymer paint on paper
48.0 x 70.0 cm (sheet)
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs
Image courtesy Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

In contrast to the enclosed, almost claustrophobic spaces of the studio interiors, by the end of the 1990s Senbergs had embarked upon a new series of map-like paintings, sprawling bird’s-eye view of cities, which continue to occupy him to the present day. Initially inspired by seeing Melbourne from a high-rise building, these works reflect the artist’s long fascination with early and non-Western map-making traditions. Like these maps, Senbergs’ views are not scientifically measured recordings; rather they are imaginative constructions of place based on observation and memory.

At the same time Senbergs began his most extensive group of landscapes, painting the rugged terrain of the Victorian west coast, an area that he knew well. While some of these works depict untouched wilderness, others include roads and townships and employ multiple perspectives to convey the experience of travelling through the landscape. Senbergs’ recent Heat – Fire – Smoke series is a response to the 2014 bushfires in Victoria, a new subject for the artist, in which he reflects on the cycle of destruction and regeneration. (Wall text from the exhibition)

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)' Code Red day 1' 2014

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Code Red day 1
2014
Synthetic polymer paint on paper
119.0 x 145.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

 

“In January 2014 in Melbourne we had four days of forty-plus degrees of intense heat – with bushfires raging in the countryside casting a pall of acrid smoke over the extended city and all around ominous skies that seemed to portend an inferno that would be all engulfing. That oppressive atmosphere and that sense of threat at the edges of the extended city seemed as if an overwhelming and merciless force was at the gates and ready to break down the barricades.”

Jan Senbergs, 2015

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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05
Jul
15

Exhibition: ‘In Light of the Past’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 3rd May – 26th July 2015

Curators: The curators of In Light of the Past: Celebrating 25 Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art are Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs, and Diane Waggoner, associate curator, department of photographs, National Gallery of Art.

 

 

What a great title for an exhibition. Photography always evidences light of the past, we live in light of the past (the light of the Sun takes just over 8 minutes to reach Earth) and, for whatever reason, human beings never seem to learn from mistakes, in light of the past history of the human race.

My favourites in this postings are the 19th century photographs, to which I am becoming further attuned the more I look at them. There is almost a point when you become psychologically enmeshed with their light, with the serenity of the images, a quality that most contemporary photographs seem to have lost. There is a quietness to their presence, a contemplation on the nature of the world through the pencil of nature that is captivating. You only have to look at Gustave Le Gray’s The Pont du Carrousel, Paris: View to the West from the Pont des Arts (1856-1858, below) to understand the everlasting, transcendent charisma of these images. Light, space, time, eternity.

Marcus

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

The Collection of Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Washington (110kb Word doc)

 

 

William Henry Fox Talbot. 'A Scene in York: York Minster from Lop Lane' 1845

 

William Henry Fox Talbot
A Scene in York: York Minster from Lop Lane
1845
Salted paper print
16.2 x 20.4 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Edward J. Lenkin Fund, Melvin and Thelma Lenkin Fund and Stephen G. Stein Fund, 2011

 

A British polymath equally adept in astronomy, chemistry, Egyptology, physics, and philosophy, Talbot spent years inventing a photographic process that created paper negatives, which were then used to make positive prints – the conceptual basis of nearly all photography until the digital age. Calotypes, as he came to call them, are softer in effect than daguerreotypes, the other process announced in 1839. Though steeped in the sciences, Talbot understood the ability of his invention to make striking works of art. Here the partially obstructed view of the cathedral rising from the confines of the city gives a sense of discovery, of having just turned the corner and encountered this scene.

 

Carleton E. Watkins. 'Piwac, Vernal Falls, 300 feet, Yosemite' 1861

 

Carleton E. Watkins
Piwac, Vernal Falls, 300 feet, Yosemite
1861
Albumen print
39.9 x 52.3 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson, 1995

 

The westward expansion of America opened up new opportunities for photographers such as Watkins and William Bell. Joining government survey expeditions, hired by railroad companies, or catering to tourists and the growing demand for grand views of nature, they created photographic landscapes that reached a broad audience of scientists, businessmen, and engineers, as well as curious members of the middle class. Watkins’s photographs of the sublime Yosemite Valley, which often recall landscape paintings of similar majestic subjects, helped convince Congress to pass a bill in 1864 protecting the area from development and commercial exploitation.

 

Charles Nègre. 'Market Scene at the Port of the Hotel de Ville, Paris' before February 1852

 

Charles Nègre
Market Scene at the Port of the Hotel de Ville, Paris
before February 1852
Salted paper print
14.7 x 19.9 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2003

 

Eugène Cuvelier. 'Belle-Croix' 1860s

 

Eugène Cuvelier
Belle-Croix
1860s
Albumen print
Image: 25.4 x 34.3 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gail and Benjamin Jacobs for the Millennium Fund, 2007

 

In the second half of the nineteenth century, some photographers in France, hired by governmental agencies to make photographic inventories or simply catering to the growing demand for pictures of Paris, drew on the medium’s documentary abilities to record the nation’s architectural patrimony and the modernization of Paris. Others explored the camera’s artistic potential by capturing the ephemeral moods of nature in the French countryside. Though photographers faced difficulties in carting around heavy equipment and operating in the field, they learned how to master the elements that directly affected their pictures, from securing the right vantage point to dealing with movement, light, and changing atmospheric conditions during long exposure times.

 

Gustave Le Gray. 'The Pont du Carrousel, Paris: View to the West from the Pont des Arts' 1856-1858

 

Gustave Le Gray
The Pont du Carrousel, Paris: View to the West from the Pont des Arts
1856-1858
Albumen print
37.8 x 48.8 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1995

 

Édouard-Denis Baldus. 'Toulon, Train Station' c. 1861

 

Édouard-Denis Baldus
Toulon, Train Station
c. 1861
Albumen print
27.4 x 43.1 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1995

 

 

In Light of the Past: Celebrating 25 Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art, on view in the West Building from May 3 through July 26, 2015, will commemorate more than two decades of the Gallery’s robust photography program. Some 175 of the collection’s most exemplary holdings will reveal the evolution of the art of photography, from its birth in 1839 to the late 1970s. In Light of the Past is one of three stellar exhibitions that will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the National Gallery of Art’s commitment to photography acquisitions, exhibitions, scholarly catalogues, and programs.

In Light of the Past includes some of the rarest and most compelling photographs ever created,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art, Washington. “It also honors the generous support of our donors who have enabled us to achieve this new place of prominence for photography at the Gallery.”
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About the exhibition

In Light of the Past begins with exceptional 19th-century salted paper prints, daguerreotypes, and albumen prints by acclaimed early practitioners such as William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884), Roger Fenton (1819-1869), Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), Albert Sands Southworth (1811-1894, and Josiah Johnson Hawes (1808-1901). It also displays works by American expeditionary photographers, including William Bell (1830-1910) and Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916).

The exhibition continues with late 19th- and early 20th-century American pictorialist photographs by Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), Clarence H. White (1871-1925), Gertrude Käsebier (1852-1934), and Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966), among others, as well as European masters such as Eugène Atget (1857-1927). The exhibition also examines the international photographic modernism of artists such as Paul Strand (1890-1976), André Kertész (1894-1985), Marianne Brandt (1893-1983), László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), and Ilse Bing (1899-1998) before turning to the mid-20th century, where exceptional work by Walker Evans (1903-1975), Robert Frank (b. 1924), Harry Callahan (1912-1999), Irving Penn (1917-2009), Lee Friedlander (b. 1934), and Diane Arbus (1923-1971) will be on view.

The exhibition concludes with pictures from the 1960s and 1970s, showcasing works by photographers such as Robert Adams (b. 1937), Lewis Baltz (1945-2014), and William Eggleston (b. 1939), as well as Mel Bochner (b. 1940) and Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), which demonstrate the diverse practices that invigorated photography during these decades.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Art

 

Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes. 'The Letter' c. 1850

 

Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes
The Letter
c. 1850
Daguerreotype
Plate: 20.3 x 15.2 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1999

 

Working together in Boston, the portrait photographers Southworth and Hawes aimed to capture the character of their subjects using the daguerreotype process. Invented in France and one of the two photographic processes introduced to the public in early 1839, the daguerreotype is made by exposing a silver-coated copper plate to light and then treating it with chemicals to bring out the image. The heyday of the technique was the 1840s and 1850s, when it was used primarily for making portraits. The daguerreotype’s long exposure time usually resulted in frontal, frozen postures and stern facial expressions; this picture’s pyramidal composition and strong sentiments of friendship and companionship are characteristic of Southworth and Hawes’s innovative approach.

 

Clarence H. White. 'The Hillside' c. 1898

 

Clarence H. White
The Hillside
c. 1898
Gum dichromate print
20.8 x 15.88 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2008

 

The Photo-Secession

At the turn of the century in America, Alfred Stieglitz and his colleague Edward Steichen led the movement to establish photography’s status as a fine art. In 1902 Stieglitz founded an organization called the Photo-Secession, consisting of young artists who shared his belief in the creative potential of the medium. Many of the photographers featured here were members of the group, including Gertrude Käsebier, Clarence White, and Alvin Langdon Coburn. Through the exhibitions Stieglitz organized in his New York gallery, called 291, and the essays he published in his influential quarterly, Camera Work, he and the Photo-Secession promoted the pictorialist aesethetic of softly textured, painterly pictures that elicit emotion and appeal to the imagination. Occasionally the photographers’ compositions refer to other works of art, such as Steichen’s portrait of his friend Auguste Rodin, whose pose recalls one of the sculptor’s most famous works, The Thinker. Influenced by the modern European and American painting, sculpture, and drawing he exhibited at 291, Stieglitz lost interest in the Photo-Secession in the early 1910s and began to explore a more straightforward expression.

 

Eugène Atget. 'Saint-Cloud' 1926

 

Eugène Atget
Saint-Cloud
1926
Albumen print
22.2 x 18.1 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2006

 

Using a cumbersome camera mounted on a tripod, Atget recorded the myriad facets of Paris and its environs at the turn of the century. Transforming ordinary scenes into poetic evocations, he created a visual compendium of the objects, architecture, and landscapes that were expressive of French culture and its history. He sold his photographs to artists, architects, and craftsmen, as well as to libraries and museums interested in the vanishing old city. Throughout his career he returned repeatedly to certain subjects and discovered that the variations caused by changing light, atmosphere, and season provided inexhaustible subjects for the perceptive photographer.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'The Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty' June 1866

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
The Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty
June 1866
Albumen print
36.1 x 26.7 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, New Century Fund, 1997

 

Ensconced in the intellectual and artistic circles of midcentury England, Cameron manipulated focus and light to create poetic pictures rich in references to literature, mythology, and history. Her monumental views of life-sized heads were unprecedented, and with them she hoped to define a new mode of photography that would rival the expressive power of painting and sculpture. The title of this work alludes to John Milton’s mid-seventeenth-century poem L’Allegro. Describing the happy life of one who finds pleasure and beauty in the countryside, the poem includes the lines:

Come, and trip it as ye go
On the light fantastic toe;
And in thy right hand lead with thee,
The mountain nymph, sweet Liberty.

 

Dr Guillaume-Benjamin-Amant Duchenne (de Boulogne). 'Figure 63, "Fright" from "Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine (Mechanism of human physiognomy)" (1862)' 1854-1855

 

Dr Guillaume-Benjamin-Amant Duchenne (de Boulogne)
Figure 63, “Fright” from “Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine (Mechanism of human physiognomy)” (1862)
1854-1855
Albumen print
21.5 × 16 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2015

 

A neurologist, physiologist, and photographer, Duchenne de Boulogne conducted a series of experiments in the mid-1850s in which he applied electrical currents to various facial muscles to study how they produce expressions of emotion. Convinced that these electrically-induced expressions accurately rendered internal feelings, he then photographed his subjects to establish a precise visual lexicon of human emotions, such as pain, surprise, fear, and sadness. In 1862 he included this photograph representing fright in a treatise on physiognomy (a pseudoscience that assumes a relationship between external appearance and internal character), which enjoyed broad popularity among artists and scientists.

 

Lewis Hine. 'An Anaemic Little Spinner in a New England Cotton Mill (North Pownal, Vermont)' 1910

 

Lewis Hine
An Anaemic Little Spinner in a New England Cotton Mill (North Pownal, Vermont)
1910
Gelatin silver print
24.1 × 19.2 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2015

 

Trained as a sociologist and initially employed as a teacher, Hine used the camera both as a research tool and an instrument of social reform. One of the earliest and most influential social documentary photographers of his time, he made many pictures under the auspices of the National Child Labor Committee, an organization formed in 1904 to promote better working conditions for children. Hine’s focus on the thin, frail body of this barefoot twelve-year-old spinner, who stands before rows of bobbins in the mill where she worked, was meant to illustrate the unhealthy effects of her employment. Photographs like this one were crucial to the campaign to change American child labor laws in the early twentieth century.

 

 

In Light of the Past: Twenty-Five Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art

Georgia O’Keeffe and the Alfred Stieglitz Estate laid the foundation of the photography collection of the National Gallery of Art in 1949 with their donation of 1,650 Stieglitz photographs, an unparalleled group known as the Key Set. Yet the Gallery did not start actively acquiring photographs until 1990, when it launched an initiative to build a collection of works by European and American photographers from throughout the history of the medium and mount major exhibitions with scholarly publications. Now including nearly fifteen thousand prints, the collection encompasses the rich diversity of photographic practice from fine art to scientific and amateur photography, as well as photojournalism. It is distinguished by its large holdings of works by many of the medium’s most acclaimed masters, such as Paul Strand, Walker Evans, André Kertész, Ilse Bing, Robert Frank, Harry Callahan, Lee Friedlander, Gordon Parks, Irving Penn, and Robert Adams, among others.

In Light of the Past celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1990 initiative by presenting some of the Gallery’s finest photographs made from the early 1840s to the late 1970s. It is divided into four sections arranged chronologically. The first traces the evolution of the art of photography during its first decades in the work of early British, French, and American practitioners. The second looks at the contributions of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century photographers, from Stieglitz and the American pictorialists to European masters such as Eugène Atget. The third section examines the international photographic modernism of the 1920s and 1930s, and the fourth features seminal mid-twentieth-century photographers. The exhibition concludes with pictures representing the varied practices of those working in the late 1960s and 1970s.
.

The Nineteenth Century: The Invention of Photography

In 1839 a new means of visual representation was announced to a startled world: photography. Although the medium was immediately and enthusiastically embraced by the public at large, photographers themselves spent the ensuing decades experimenting with techniques and debating the nature of this new invention. The works in this section suggest the range of questions addressed by these earliest practitioners. Was photography best understood as an art or a science? What subjects should photographs depict, what purpose should they serve, and what should they look like? Should photographers work within the aesthetics established in other arts, such as painting, or explore characteristics that seemed unique to the medium? This first generation of photographers became part scientists as they mastered a baffling array of new processes and learned how to handle their equipment and material. Yet they also grappled with aesthetic issues, such as how to convey the tone, texture, and detail of multicolored reality in a monochrome medium. They often explored the same subjects that had fascinated artists for centuries – portraits, landscapes, genre scenes, and still lifes – but they also discovered and exploited the distinctive ways in which the camera frames and presents the world.
.

Photography at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

In the late nineteenth century, improvements in technology and processing, along with the invention of small handheld cameras such as the Kodak, suddenly made it possible for anyone of middle-class means to take photographs. Many amateurs took up the camera to commemorate family, friends, and special events. Others, such as the sociologist Lewis Hine, used it as a tool for social and political change. Partially in response to the new ease of photography, more serious practitioners in America and Europe banded together to assert the artistic merit of the medium. Called pictorialists, they sought to prove that photography was just as capable of poetic, subjective expression as painting. They freely manipulated their prints to reveal their authorial control, often resulting in painterly effects, and consciously separated themselves from amateur photographers and mechanized processes.
.

Photography Between the Wars

In the aftermath of World War I – the first modern, mechanized conflict – sweeping changes transformed photography. Avant-garde painters, graphic designers, and journalists turned to the medium, seeing it as the most effective tool to express the fractured, fast-paced nature of modernity and the new technological culture of the twentieth century. A wide variety of new approaches and techniques flourished during these years, especially in Europe. Photographers adopted radical cropping, unusual angles, disorienting vantage points, abstraction, collage, and darkroom alchemy to achieve what the influential Hungarian teacher László Moholy-Nagy celebrated as the “new vision.” Other photographers, such as the German August Sander or the Americans Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, and Walker Evans, sought a more rigorous objectivity grounded in a precise examination of the world.
.

Postwar Photography

Photography thrived in the decades after World War II, invigorated by new ideas, practices, and expanding venues for circulating and displaying pictures. Immediately after the war, many photographers sought to publish their pictures in illustrated magazines, which prospered during these years. Some, such as Gordon Parks, made photographs highlighting racial, economic, and social disparities. Others, such as Louis Faurer, Sid Grossman, and Robert Frank, turned to the street to address the conditions of modern life in pictures that expose both its beauty and brutality. Using handheld cameras and available light, they focused on the random choreography of sidewalks, making pictures that are often blurred, out of focus, or off-kilter.

In the later 1950s and 1960s a number of photographers pushed these ideas further, mining the intricate social interactions of urban environments. Unlike photographers from the 1930s, these practitioners, such as Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, and Diane Arbus, sought not to reform American society but to record it in all its complexity, absurdity, and chaos. By the late 1960s and 1970s, other photographers, such as Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz, looked beyond conventional notions of natural beauty to explore the despoliation of the urban and suburban landscape. Their pictures of tract houses, highways, and motels are stripped of any artistic frills, yet they are exquisitely rendered and replete with telling details. Also starting in the 1960s, many conceptual or performance artists working in a variety of media embraced what they perceived to be photography’s neutrality and turned to it as an essential part of their experiments to expand traditional notions of art. In the late 1960s, improvements in color printing techniques led others, such as William Eggleston, to explore the artistic potential of color photography.

 

Edward Steichen. 'An Apple, A Boulder, A Mountain' 1921

 

Edward Steichen
An Apple, A Boulder, A Mountain
1921
Platinum print
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2014

 

After World War I, Steichen became disillusioned with the painterly aesthetic of his earlier work and embarked on a series of experiments to study light, form, and texture. Inverting an apple, he demonstrated how a small object, when seen in a new way, can assume the monumentality and significance of a much larger one. His close-up scrutiny of a natural form closely links this photograph with works by other American modernists of the 1920s, such as Edward Weston, Paul Strand, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

 

Paul Strand. 'People, Streets of New York, 83rd and West End Avenue' 1916

 

Paul Strand
People, Streets of New York, 83rd and West End Avenue
1916
Platinum print
Image: 24.2 x 33 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1990

 

Strand was introduced to photography in high school by his teacher Lewis Hine, who instilled in him a strong interest in social issues. In 1907, Hine took his pupil to Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 gallery in New York, which launched Strand’s desire to become a fine art photographer. By the early 1910s, influenced by Stieglitz, he began to make clearly delineated portraits, pictures of New York, and nearly abstract still lifes. Strand came to believe that photography was a gift of science to the arts, that it was an art of selection, not translation, and that objectivity was its very essence.

 

American 20th Century. 'Untitled' c. 1930

 

American 20th Century
Untitled
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
Image: 5.7 x 10 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert E. Jackson, 2007

 

Snapshots

After World War I, a parade of technological improvements transformed the practice of photography. With smaller cameras, faster shutter speeds, and more sensitive film emulsions, both amateurs and more serious practitioners could now easily record motion, investigate unexpected angles and points of view, and work in dim light and inclement weather. The amateur’s less staid, more casual approach began to play an important role in the work of modernist photographers as they explored spontaneity and instantaneity, seeking to capture the cacophony and energy of modern life. Blurriness, distorted perspectives, and seemingly haphazard cropping-once considered typical amateur mistakes-were increasingly embraced as part of the modern, vibrant way of picturing the world.

 

Robert Frank. 'City of London' 1951

 

Robert Frank
City of London
1951
Gelatin silver print
23 x 33.6 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert Frank Collection, Purchased as a Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, 1991

 

Robert Frank. 'Woman/Paris' 1952

 

Robert Frank
Woman/Paris
1952
Gelatin silver print in bound volume
Image: 35.1 x 25.4 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert Frank Collection, Gift (Partial and Promised) of Robert Frank, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, 1990

 

 

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Frank made several handbound volumes of photographs, exploring different ways to link his pictures through non-narrative sequences. While in Zurich in October 1952, he assembled pictures taken in Europe, South America, and the United States in a book called Black White and Things. With a brief introductory quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” – the photographs are arranged in a sophisticated sequence that uses formal repetition, conceptual contrasts, and, as here, witty juxtapositions to evoke a range of ideas …

While in Zurich in October of 1952, Frank assembled photographs taken in Europe, South America, and the United States in the preceding years into a bound book called Black White and Things. Designed by Frank’s friend Werner Zryd, and with only a brief introductory statement describing the three sections, the photographs appear in a sophisticated sequence that relies on subtle, witty juxtapositions and powerful visual formal arrangements to evoke a wide range of emotions.

Frank made three copies of this book, all identical in size, construction, and sequence. He gave one copy to his father, gave one to Edward Steichen, and kept one. The book that belonged to his father is now in a private collection; Steichen’s copy resides at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and in 1990 Frank gave his copy to the Robert Frank Collection at the National Gallery of Art.

 

Robert Frank. 'Trolley - New Orleans' 1955

 

Robert Frank
Trolley – New Orleans
1955
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 21 x 31.6 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Maria and Lee Friedlander, 2001

 

Roy DeCarava. 'Mississippi Freedom Marcher, Washington, D.C.' 1963

 

Roy DeCarava
Mississippi Freedom Marcher, Washington, D.C.
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.5 x 33 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel, 1999

 

Lee Friedlander. 'New York City' 1966

 

Lee Friedlander
New York City
1966
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13.3 x 20.6 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Trellis Fund, 2001

 

Heir to the tradition of documentary photography established by Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, and Robert Frank, Friedlander focuses on the American social landscape in photographs that can seem absurd, comical, and even bleak. In dense, complex compositions, he frequently depicts surprising juxtapositions that make the viewer look twice. He has made numerous self-portraits, yet he appears in these pictures in oblique and unexpected ways, for example reflected in a mirror or window. The startling intrusion of Friedlander’s shadow onto the back of a pedestrian’s coat, at once threatening and humorous, slyly exposes the predatory nature of street photography.

 

Giovanni Anselmo. 'Entering the Work' 1971

 

Giovanni Anselmo
Entering the Work
1971
Photographic emulsion on canvas
Image: 49 x 63.5 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Glenstone in honor of Eileen and Michael Cohen, 2008

 

 

Conceptual Photography

In the 1960s, many painters and sculptors questioned the traditional emphasis on aesthetics and turned to creating art driven by ideas. Photography’s association with mechanical reproduction appealed to them as they sought to downplay the hand of the artist while promoting his or her role as idea maker. Some conceptual artists, such as Sol Lewitt and Mel Bochner, used photographs to explore an interest in perspective, scale, and mathematics. Others turned to photography as a tool to record performances and artistic undertakings, the resulting pictures acting as an integral part of those projects.

Anselmo was a member of the Italian Arte Povera group, which sought to break down the separation of art and life through experimental performances and the use of natural materials such as trees and leaves. To make this work, Anselmo set his camera up with a timed shutter release, and raced into view so that his running figure creates a modest yet heroic impression on the landscape.

 

Robert Adams. 'Colorado Springs, Colorado' 1974

 

Robert Adams
Colorado Springs, Colorado
1974
Gelatin silver print, printed 1983
Image: 15.2 x 15.2 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2006

 

For more than forty years, Adams has recorded the changing American landscape, especially the ongoing settlement of the West. Although he has photographed roads, tract houses, and strip malls that have utterly transformed the landscape, he has also captured the beauty that remains and indeed, that refuses to die, as in his poetic picture of morning fog over California hills. He is convinced, as he wrote in 1974, that “all land, no matter what has happened to it, has over it a grace, an absolutely persistent beauty.”

 

Margaret Bourke-White. 'Fort Peck Dam, Montana' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke-White
Fort Peck Dam, Montana
1936
Gelatin silver print
Image: 33.02 × 27.31 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2014

 

One of the most iconic photographs by the pioneering photojournalist Bourke-White, Fort Peck Dam, Montana was published on the cover of the inaugural issue of Life magazine on November 23, 1936. A striking representation of the machine age, the photograph depicts the stark, massive piers for an elevated highway over the spillway near the dam. The two men at the bottom of the print indicate the piers’ massive scale while revealing the vulnerable position of the worker in the modern industrial landscape.

 

György Kepes. 'Juliet with Peacock Feather and Red Leaf' 1937-1938

 

György Kepes
Juliet with Peacock Feather and Red Leaf
1937-1938
Gelatin silver print with gouache
15.7 × 11.6 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2014

 

Trained as a painter at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, Kepes was an influential designer, educator, aesthetic theorist, and photographer. In 1930 he moved to Berlin, where he worked with László Moholy-Nagy, but eventually settled in Chicago and later Cambridge, Massachusetts. Created soon after his arrival in America, this startling photograph is both an intimate depiction of Kepes’s wife and a study of visual perception. Like the red leaf that seems to float above the image, the peacock feather – its eye carefully lined up with Juliet’s – obscures not only her vision but also the viewer’s ability to see her clearly.

 

Irving Penn. 'Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in Lafaurie Dress), Paris' 1950

 

Irving Penn
Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in Lafaurie Dress), Paris
1950
Platinum/palladium print, 1977
Overall: 55.1 x 37 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Irving Penn, 2002

 

One of the most influential fashion and portrait photographers of his time, Penn made pictures marked by refinement, elegance, and clarity. Trained as a painter and designer, he began to photograph in the early 1940s while working at Vogue; more than 150 of his photographs appeared on the cover of the magazine during his long career. A perfectionist, Penn explored earlier printing techniques, such as a late nineteenth-century process that used paper coated with solutions of platinum or palladium rather than silver, to achieve the subtle tonal range he desired.

 

 

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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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