Posts Tagged ‘Josef Sudek

18
Sep
16

Exhibition: ‘The Intimate World of Josef Sudek’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 7th June – 25th September 2016

 

A poetry of the everyday

Josef Sudek, a one-armed man lugging around a large format camera, is one of my top ten photographers of all time.

His photographs, sometimes surreal, always sensitive, have a profound sensibility that affect the soul. Melancholy and mysterious by turns, they investigate the inner life of objects which stand as metaphors for the inner life of the artist. A form of healing after his horrific injuries and the loss of his arm during the First World War, the photographs purportedly look outwards upon the world but are actually interior meditations on life, death and the nature of being. Light emerges from the darkness; understanding from tribulation; and Sudek, in Jungian terms, integrates his ego into his soul through the process of (photographic) individuation – whereby the personal and collective unconscious (his hurt and damage) are brought into consciousness (eg. by means of dreams, active imagination, or free association) to be assimilated into the whole personality. It is a completely natural process necessary for the integration of the psyche and, in Sudek’s life, was integral to his healing from the vicissitudes of war.

Using Pictorialism as the starting point for his exploration of the world, Sudek never abandons the creation of “atmosphere” in his photographs, even as the images become modernist, surrealist and offer a new way of seeing the world. Having myself photographed extensively at night, and from the interior of my flat, I can understand Sudek’s fascination with both locations: the quiet of night, the stillness, the clarity of vision and thought; the interior as exterior, the projection of interior thoughts onto an external surface reflected back into the camera lens. “Nature, architecture, streets and objects are magnified by his sensitivity and mastery of the effects of light, contrasting with the impenetrable cloak of darkness.” Except the cloak of darkness is not impenetrable, as light cannot exist without darkness.

Pace, his photographs are breath / taking. They are exhalations of the spirit.

Sudek’s ability to transcend the literal, his ability to transform the objectal quality of photography ranks him as one of the top photographers of all time. He synthesises  a poetry of objects, a poetry of the everyday, and projects the folds of his mind onto the visual field (through “tears” of condensation on the window, through labyrinths of paper and glass, such as in Labyrinth on my table, 1967, below). As a form of self-actualisation – the desire to become everything that one is capable of becoming – Sudek’s photographs interrogate that chthonic darkness that lurks in the heart of everyone of us, our dark night of the soul. In that process of discovery (who am I, what kind of human being am I, how can I heal myself), he finds redemption.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

If you would like to read more about the life and work of Josef Sudek, please read the excellent article by Ashley Booth Klein, “Josef Sudek and The Life of Objects,” Obelisk Vol. 2 Issue 1, Winter 2015 [Online] Cited 18/09/2016

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

 

 

“… [Sudek] referred to photography as meteorology to describe the significance of the atmosphere, and how a photographer must predict the right conditions for photographing and enlarging prints. His work became sharper with richer tones, and his compositions became more illusive. The foregrounds and backgrounds of his photographs, particularly in his “Window” series began to oscillate. These achievements were perhaps made more attainable by his focus on inanimate objects over which he had more control than living things. Most of his cityscapes became deserted, as he directed his camera at statues or replaced what would have been a living subject with such emulative sculptures.

In effect, Sudek’s substitution of the inanimate for the animate brought the objects he photographed to life in his mind. He called the enormous decaying trees in the woods of Bohemia “sleeping giants” and would take portraits of masks and statuary heads, transforming them into frozen, worn grotesqueries. His personification of objects is even more vivid in his studio photography, particularly after 1939, the oncoming of World War II and the Nazi occupation of Prague. As the city was oppressed by German troops, the artist retreated into his studio and insulated himself sentimentally with still lifes. To an interviewer, he explained, “I love the life of objects. When the children go to bed, the objects come to life. I like to tell stories about the life of inanimate objects.” He devoted endless hours to arranging and photographing the everyday – apples, eggs, bread, and shells – and special objects given to him by friends, such as feathers, spectacles, and watches, which he called “remembrances” of that person. A photograph from his series “Remembrances of Architect Rothmayer, Mr. Magician,” for example, portrays objects respectfully placed in a row on a desk, as if artifacts from an archeological site, from which the history of a life or character of a man could be divined.

“Everything around us, dead or alive, in the eyes of a crazy photographer mysteriously takes on many variations,” Sudek said, “so that a seemingly dead object comes to life through light or by its surroundings.” This statement is perhaps telling of Sudek’s relationship to death and life, as a result of the loss of his arm and the manner in which he suffered the loss. In the 1963 film, “Zit Svuj Zivot” (Living Your Life), a documentary portrait of Sudek by Evald Strom, we see a sensitive man describing his efforts to photograph the reality of the objects around him, not as if he were bringing the objects to life, but as if it was his purpose to represent the lives of objects as they truly are. Of the image of a vase of wildflowers, he says “This is a photograph of wildflowers, my attempt to photograph wildflowers,” and of an old lamp, “This is a celebrated lamp; it holds a lot of memories.””

Ashley Booth Klein, “Josef Sudek and The Life of Objects,” Obelisk Vol. 2 Issue 1, Winter 2015 [Online] Cited 18/09/2016

 

 

“I like to tell stories about the life of inanimate objects, to relate something mysterious: the seventh side of a dice,” mused Josef Sudek. “Everything around us, dead or alive, in the eyes of a crazy photographer mysteriously takes on many variations,” he explained, “so that a seemingly dead object comes to life through light or by its surroundings.”

 

 

 

 

“On display are works that are the result of Sudek’s photographic experiments carried out within the privacy of his own studio, images of the garden seen from his window, and photographs of adventures further afield. The artist enjoyed meandering through the streets of Prague and its surrounding suburbs, and made frequent excursions to the nearby countryside. Sudek’s enduring fascination with light, and its absence, is at the root of some of the most haunting photographs of the twentieth century. Nature, architecture, streets and objects are magnified by his sensitivity and mastery of the effects of light, contrasting with the impenetrable cloak of darkness.

As a photographer, Sudek was particularly concerned with the quality of the photographic print, an essential component in terms of the expressive potential of an image. His mastery of the pigment printing process enabled him to produce highly atmospheric and evocative images, thereby reaping all of the reflective and descriptive power of the gelatin silver print. The exhibition presents work from Sudek’s early career, but also features photographs from a pivotal period of experimentation and innovation, beginning in the 1940s. Focusing on the technical and formal aspects of the medium of photography, Sudek created pigment prints, halftone prints, puridlos (photographs between two windows) and veteše (photographs inserted into old frames), techniques which allowed him to transform the objectal quality of photography.

The loss of his right arm during the First World War and the difficulties he now encountered in transporting his view camera did not dampen his passion for photography. Sudek’s studio window became an object of abiding fascination – rather like the surface of a canvas – reflecting moments of exquisite tenderness and hope when a flowering branch brushed against its pane, or of poignant melancholy when he observed the world beyond his window transformed by the playful infinity of mist. His room with a view allowed him to capture, on film, his love of Prague. His photographs demonstrate both a precision and a depth of feeling, fitting odes to the rich history and architectural complexity of the Czech capital.

Like many artists of his generation marked by their experience of war, Sudek expresses a particularly acute awareness of the dark and tormented aspects of human existence – feelings that would inspire some of his most melancholy and most moving pictures. A photograph taken at night, through the glass pane of his window, shows a city plunged into darkness during the Occupation of the Second World War, and communicates a sentiment of unspeakable despair – a dramatic illustration of Sudek’s technical ability to transcend the literal.

The first part of the exhibition features images that herald the photographer’s later work, showing his early landscapes, portraits of fellow patients at Invalidovna, the Prague hospice for war invalids like Sudek, his hesitant foray into modernism, and his interior shots of St. Vitus Cathedral. Through images that recount the narrative of his life, the viewer gains access to Sudek’s inner world, and an insight into his immediate environment, the views and objects he loved, his studio and garden. His endless walks in Prague found expression in the views of the city and its surroundings, as well as in photographs of its more sordid “suburbs”, a subject explored by other Prague artists. The eastern and northern areas of Bohemia, the Beskid Mountains and the Mionší forest were other destinations close to the photographer’s heart. The exhibition “The Intimate World of Josef Sudek” provides a fascinating panorama of the work of this unique artist.”

Text from the Jeu de Paume website

 

Beginnings

Sudek’s first photographic prints – small and largely assembled in albums – were mainly views of the countryside taken along the Elbe River when he travelled from Prague to Kolín to visit his mother between 1916 and 1922.

Using processes such as gelatin silver and bromoil he showed a talent for printing his pictures in a style that favoured soft edges and broad swathes of tone. Here Sudek was not so much studying the effects of light as he was observing the conventions of Pictorialism, a photography movement that straddled the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, and was based on a strong Romantic ethos. Pictorialist photographers enhanced atmospheric effects with such processes as carbon and gum bichromate. Sudek began using the carbon process regularly and in a personally expressive manner in the late 1940s.

His Invalidovna and St. Vitus Cathedral series in Prague, begun in the first half of the 1920s, show him exploring interior spaces where light emphasizes both the profane and the sacred. The play of bands of sunlight and darkness is a central feature of the composition and, indeed, of the life of the photograph.

 

Josef Sudek. 'St. Vitus cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic' c. 1926

 

Josef Sudek
St. Vitus cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic
c. 1926
Silver gelatin print

 

Josef Sudek. 'Dimanche après-midi à l’île Kolín' c. 1922–1926

 

Josef Sudek
Dimanche après-midi à l’île Kolín [Sunday afternoon at Kolín island]
c. 1922–1926
Gelatin silver print
28.4 × 28.7 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Achat, 2000
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Rue de Prague' 1924

 

Josef Sudek
Rue de Prague
1924
Gelatin silver print
8.3 × 8.2 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Portrait de mon ami Funke' 1924

 

Josef Sudek
Portrait de mon ami Funke [Portrait of my friend Funke]
1924
Gelatin silver print
28.5 × 22.6 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Achat, 1985
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

 

“”Josef Sudek: The World at My Window” is the first exhibition in France since 1988 to cover Sudek’s entire career and spotlight the different phases of his work. Coming in the wake of several exhibitions at the Jeu de Paume devoted to Eastern European photographers of the early twentieth century, among them André Kertész and Francois Kollar, this one comprises some 130 vintage prints by the Czech artist. Bringing to bear a vision at once subjective and timeless, Sudek captures the ongoing changes in Prague’s natural world and landscapes.

His early profession as a bookbinder came to an abrupt halt when he was conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army in Bohemia and sent to the Italian front. After the First World War he came back to Prague wounded; the loss of his right arm meant abandoning bookbinding, and he turned to photography. After revisiting the battlefield in Italy once more he returned, in despair, to Prague: “I found the place,” he recounted, “but my arm wasn’t there. Since then I’ve never gone anywhere. I didn’t find what I was looking for.”

A study grant enabled him to train at the state-run school of graphic arts in Prague, where he mixed with practitioners of Pictorialism, a photographic movement aiming at achieving colour and texture effects similar to those of painting. He started concentrating on architectural details, always waiting until the light was absolutely perfect. Little by little he gave up the Pictorialist ambiences of his views of St Vitus’s cathedral, opting for a pure, straightforward approach which the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz summed up as “maximum detail for maximum simplification”.

During the Second World War Sudek began photographing the window giving onto his garden, the result being the celebrated Window of My Studio series. He then shifted his focus to the accumulated jumble of objects in the studio, producing a further series titled Labyrinths. Light was an inexhaustible theme in his work, orchestrating the seasons, making the invisible visible and transporting us into another world. As if to escape the leaden context of the War and then of Communism, Sudek took refuge in music, especially that of his compatriot Leoš Janáček. A true music lover, he gradually built up a substantial collection of recordings which he played to his friends during improvised concerts in his studio.

The second half of his career saw Sudek abandon photography’s traditional subjects as he explored the outskirts of Prague with his black view camera on his shoulder. Known as “the poet of Prague”, he became an emblematic figure in the Czech capital. Discreet and solitary, he gradually withdrew from the city’s art scene, leaving his studio only to prowl the streets at night with his imagination as his guide.

Sudek’s photographs rarely include people; his focus was more on empty urban and rural spaces. Fascinated by the streets of Prague, the city’s deserted parks and public gardens, and the wooded Bohemian landscapes his mastery of light rendered sublime, he preferred the un-enlarged contact print as a means of preserving all the detail and authenticity of the places he roamed through.  His work moved towards experiments with light. In photographs shot through with simplicity and sensitivity, Sudek foregrounds a kind of poetry of the everyday, using the interplay of light and shade to achieve a kind of fluctuation between interior and exterior.”

Text from Jeu de Paume

 

Josef Sudek. 'La Fenêtre de mon atelier' c. 1940–1948

 

Josef Sudek
La Fenêtre de mon atelier [The window of my studio]
c. 1940-1948
Gelatin silver print
17 × 11.2 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek, 'La Fenêtre de mon atelier' c. 1940–1954

 

Josef Sudek
La Fenêtre de mon atelier [The window of my studio]
c. 1940-1954
Gelatin silver print
22.9 × 16.8 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'La Fenêtre de mon atelier' c. 1940–1950

 

Josef Sudek
La Fenêtre de mon atelier [The window of my studio]
c. 1940-1950
Gelatin silver print
28.1 × 22.9 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

 

The world from my window

Sudek was not content with making single, unrelated images. He generally worked in projects or series, creating extended visual explorations of the phenomena and scenes he viewed – often from the closed window of his studio, which separated his private studio-home from the exterior world. In the serie From My Window it was the endlessly varying states of transformation of droplets of water that he watched streaming down his windowpane. His images invite us to contemplate, with great fascination, the physical cycles of water and the phenomenon of rivulets coursing down a surface – like human tears. Reminding us even of [Paul] Verlaine’s “There is weeping in my heart like the rain upon the city…” Sometimes the melancholy mood of these images is leavened by a rose in a vase on the windowsill or tendrils of leaves announcing the arrival of spring.

 

There is weeping in my heart
like the rain falling on the town.
What is this languor
that pervades my heart?

Oh the patter of the rain
on the ground and the roofs!
For a heart growing weary
oh the song of the rain!

There is weeping without cause
in this disheartened heart.
What! No betrayal?
There’s no reason for this grief.

Truly the worst pain
is not knowing why,
without love or hatred,
my heart feels so much pain.

Paul Verlaine. “Il pleure dans mon coeur”

 

Josef Sudek. 'Quatre saisons: l’été' c. 1940-1954

 

Josef Sudek
Quatre saisons: l’été [Four seasons: summer]
c. 1940-1954
From the series “La Fenêtre de mon atelier” [The window of my studio]
Gelatin silver print
22.6 × 17.1 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'La Dernière Rose' 1956

 

Josef Sudek
La Dernière Rose [The Last Rose]
1956
Gelatin silver print
28.2 x 23.2 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession Josef Sudek

 

 

Night walks

Sudek’s preoccupation with darkness dates to the Nazi Occupation of Prague from March 1939 until the end of the war. Experiencing his city plunged into nights of enforced darkness Sudek explored the absence of light in his pictures. We know that this was more than a technical exercise, for he wrote “Memories” and “Restless Night” on the verso of one nocturnal photograph dated 1943.

The curfews imposed on citizens at the time made it unlikely that Sudek ventured out into the city after dark during wartime. Neither agile nor inconspicuous with his large-format camera slung over his increasingly hunched back, Sudek would have risked his life had he done so. The small courtyard of his studio on Ujezd street was hidden from the road, however, and one or two lights in neighbouring apartments served as beacons. Well after sundown he would photograph the syncopated play of blurs of light against the wall of impenetrable blackness.

 

The spirit of place

Sudek visited and photographed places that held either personal or spiritual significance for him: the landscape along the Elbe River, Invalidovna, St. Vitus Cathedral, his studio, Prague’s complex streets and open squares, the majestic Prague Castle, the city’s surrounds, and Frenštát pod Radhoštĕm where he spent summers with friends. Hukvaldy, home of Leoš Janaček, the composer whose music he loved, was a particularly favoured haunt. This was true also of the ancient Mionší Forest where he navigated his way through dense brush and forests by way of shortcuts that he created and playfully named. The Beskid Mountains also served as spiritual retreat. Although he was an urbanite in many respects, Sudek’s love of nature and sense of despair for its desecration is strongly expressed in Sad Landscapes, his series of images made in the Most region where industrialization ravaged the countryside in the 1950s.

 

The life of objects

Sudek collected everything. Today he would be known as a hoarder. But his obsession served him well, for out of the chaos of his small studio and living spaces he carefully selected a variety of these objects to photograph. From delicate feathers to crumpled paper and tinfoil, multi-faceted drinking glasses, flowers, fruit, seashells, envelopes, flasks, frames, prisms, candelabras, string and shoe moulds, the subjects ranged from the mundane to the exotic. Once chosen, the set-up was lovingly composed – often in subtly changed configurations with other objects – and carefully lit before being memorialized in either pigment or gelatin silver prints.

 

Josef Sudek. 'Le Jardin Royal' c. 1940–1946

 

Josef Sudek
Le Jardin Royal [The Royal Garden]
c. 1940-1946
Procédé pigmentaire au papier charbon [Carbon pigment on paper]
16.1 × 11.7 cm.
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Prague pendant la nuit [Prague at night]' 1950

 

Josef Sudek
Prague pendant la nuit [Prague at night]
1950
Gelatin silver print
22.8 × 29 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Prague pendant la nuit' c. 1950-1959

 

Josef Sudek
Prague pendant la nuit [Prague at night]
c. 1950-1959
Gelatin silver print
12 × 16.7 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Prague pendant la nuit' c. 1950-1959

 

Josef Sudek
Prague pendant la nuit [Prague at night]
c. 1950-1959
Gelatin silver print
12.2 × 17.3 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Le Jardin de Rothmayer' 1954-1959

 

Josef Sudek
Le Jardin de Rothmayer [The Rothmayer Garden]
1954-1959
Gelatin silver print
16.9 × 22.9 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

 

“Entitled “The Intimate World of Josef Sudek”, this exhibition is the first of this scale to revisit the life and work of Josef Sudek (Kolín, 1896 – Prague, 1976) within its sociogeographical and historical context: Prague during the first half of the twentieth century, at a time when the Czech capital was a veritable hub of artistic activity. The exhibition features a selection of 130 works spanning the totality of Sudek’s career, from 1920 to 1976, and allows the public to examine the extent to which his photography was a reflection of his personal relationship to the surrounding world. On display are works that are the result of Sudek’s photographic experiments carried out within the privacy of his own studio, images of the garden seen from his window, and photographs of adventures further afield. The artist enjoyed meandering through the streets of Prague and its surrounding suburbs, and made frequent excursions to the nearby countryside. Sudek’s enduring fascination with light, and its absence, is at the root of some of the most haunting photographs of the twentieth century. Nature, architecture, streets and objects are magnified by his sensitivity and mastery of the effects of light, contrasting with the impenetrable cloak of darkness.

As a photographer, Sudek was particularly concerned with the quality of the photographic print, an essential component in terms of the expressive potential of an image. His mastery of the pigment printing process enabled him to produce highly atmospheric and evocative images, thereby reaping all of the reflective and descriptive power of the gelatin silver print.

The exhibition presents work from Sudek’s early career, but also features photographs from a pivotal period of experimentation and innovation, beginning in the 1940s. Focusing on the technical and formal aspects of the medium of photography, Sudek created pigment prints, halftone prints, puridlos (photographs between two windows) and veteše (photographs inserted into old frames), techniques which allowed him to transform the objectal quality of photography. The loss of his right arm during the First World War and the difficulties he now encountered in transporting his view camera did not dampen his passion for photography.

Sudek’s studio window became an object of abiding fascination – rather like the surface of a canvas – reflecting moments of exquisite tenderness and hope when a flowering branch brushed against its pane, or of poignant melancholy when he observed the world beyond his window transformed by the playful infinity of mist. His room with a view allowed him to capture, on film, his love of Prague. His photographs demonstrate both a precision and a depth of feeling, fitting odes to the rich history and architectural complexity of the Czech capital.

Like many artists of his generation marked by their experience of war, Sudek expresses a particularly acute awareness of the dark and tormented aspects of human existence—feelings that would inspire some of his most melancholy and most moving pictures. A photograph taken at night, through the glass pane of his window, shows a city plunged into darkness during the Occupation of the Second World War, and communicates a sentiment of unspeakable despair – a dramatic illustration of Sudek’s technical ability to transcend the literal.

Through images that recount the narrative of his life, the viewer gains access to Sudek’s inner world, and an insight into his immediate environment, the views and objects he loved, his studio and garden. His endless walks in Prague found expression in the views of the city and its surroundings, as well as in photographs of its more sordid “suburbs”, a subject explored by other Prague artists. The eastern and northern areas of Bohemia, the Beskid Mountains and the Mionší forest were other destinations close to the photographer’s heart.”

Text from Jeu de Paume

 

New ways of seeing

Although more influenced by prevailing photographic conventions in the beginning, Sudek came to show an openness to experimenting with new ways of composing and printing his images. In the late 1920s, Sudek photographed objects designed by modernist Ladislav Sutnar, thus creating angled views of furniture with reflective surfaces and ceramics of pure form.

Sudek’s most successful foray into modernism is his experimentation with grotesque (surreal) subjects such as mannequins, decaying sculptures and the accoutrements of the architect Otto Rothmayer’s garden. There is little doubt that in the fragmented figurative sculptures Sudek was recalling some of the human devastation that he witnessed on the battlefields of the First World War.

 

Josef Sudek. 'Statue' c. 1948-1964

 

Josef Sudek
Statue
c. 1948-1964
Gelatin silver print
9 × 14 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Dans le jardin' 1954-1959

 

Josef Sudek
Dans le jardin [In the garden]
1954-1959
Gelatin silver print
17 × 23.3 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Labyrinthe sur ma table' 1967

 

Josef Sudek
Labyrinthe sur ma table [Labyrinth on my table]
1967
Épreuve gélatino-argentique
39 × 22.9 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Labyrinthe de verre' c. 1968-1972

 

Josef Sudek
Labyrinthe de verre [Glass Maze]
vers 1968-1972
Gelatin silver print
39 × 22.9 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

Josef Sudek. 'Sans titre (Nature morte sur le rebord de la fenêtre)' 1951

 

Josef Sudek
Sans titre (Nature morte sur le rebord de la fenêtre) [Untitled (Still life on the windowsill)]
1951
Montage par le photographe c. 1960.
Two silver gelatin prints, glass plate, lead
48.2 × 39.2 cm.
Musée des arts décoratifs, Prague.
© Succession de Josef Sudek

 

 

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22
Jun
16

Exhibition: ‘RealSurreal. Masterpieces of Avant-Garde Photography’ at Museum Bellerive, Zurich

Exhibition dates: 1st April 2016 – 24th July 2016

 

I loved putting the Florence Henri and the skull together. Too exhausted after a long day at work to say much else!

Marcus

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

 

 

“I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak.”

.
André Breton

 

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch. 'Self portrait' 1926/27

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch
Self portrait
1926/27
Gelatin silver paper
16.9 x 22.8 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© Albert Renger Patzsch Archiv / Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Köln / 2015, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

František Drtikol. 'Circular segment (arch)' 1928

 

František Drtikol
Kreissegment [Bogen] / Circular segment (arch)
1928
Pigment print
21.3 x 28.7 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© František Drtikol – heirs, 2015

 

Brassaï. 'Occasional magic (Germinating potato)' 1931

 

Brassaï
Gelegenheitsmagie (Keimende Kartoffel) / Occasional magic (Germinating potato)
1931
Foto: © ESTATE BRASSAÏ – RMN

 

Grete Stern. 'The Eternal eye / Das Ewige Auge' c. 1950

 

Grete Stern
The Eternal eye / Das Ewige Auge
c. 1950
Photomontage
Gelatin silver paper
39.5 x 39.5 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© Estate of Grete Stern Courtesy Galeria Jorge Mara – La Ruche, Buenos Aires, 2015

 

Hans Bellmer. 'The Doll / Die Puppe' 1935

 

Hans Bellmer
The Doll / Die Puppe
1935
Gelatin silver paper
17.4 x 17.9 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© 2015, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

 

Avant-garde photographs seem like pictures from a dream world. From new kinds of compositions and perspectives to photomontage, technical experiments, and staged scenes, Real Surreal offers a chance to rediscover the range and multifacetedness of photography between the real and the surreal. The exhibition leads the visitor through the Neues Sehen (New Vision) movement in Germany, Surrealism in France, and the avant-garde in Prague. Thanks to rare original prints from renowned photographers between 1920 and 1950, this exhibition offers a chance to see these works in a new light. In addition to some 220 photographs, a selection of historical photography books and magazines as well as rare artists’ books allow visitors to immerse themselves in this new view of the world. Furthermore, examples of films attest to the fruitful exchanges between avant-garde photography and cinema during this time.

An exhibition in cooperation with the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg.

 

Florence Henri. 'Porträtkomposition (Erica Brausen)' 1931

 

Florence Henri
Porträtkomposition (Erica Brausen)
1931
Foto: © Galleria Martini and Ronchetti, Genova, Italy

 

Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Totenschädel / Skull' 1932/33

 

Erwin Blumenfeld
Totenschädel / Skull
1932/33
Foto: © The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

 

Man Ray. 'Electricity' 1931

 

Man Ray
Electricity
1931
Photoengraving
26 x 20.6 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© Man Ray Trust / 2015, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Man Ray. 'Rayograph (spiral)' 1923

 

Man Ray
Rayograph (spiral)
1923
Photogram
Gelatin silver paper
26.6 x 21.4 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© Man Ray Trust / 2015, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Josef Sudek. 'Gipskopf / Plaster head' c. 1947

 

Josef Sudek
Gipskopf / Plaster head
c. 1947
Foto: © Estate of Josef Sudek

 

Herbert Bayer. 'Einsamer Grossstädter / Lonely city slickers' 1932/1969

 

Herbert Bayer
Einsamer Grossstädter / Lonely city slickers
1932/1969
Photomontage
Gelatin silver paper
35.3 x 28 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© 2015, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Herbert Bayer. 'Self portrait' 1932

 

Herbert Bayer
Self portrait
1932
Photomontage
Gelatin silver paper
35.3 x 27.9 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© 2015, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Genia Rubin. 'Lisa Fonssagrives. Robe : Alix (Madame Grès)' 1937

 

Genia Rubin
Lisa Fonssagrives. Robe : Alix (Madame Grès)
1937
Gelatin silver paper
30.3 x 21.5 cm
Foto: Christian P. Schmieder / Sammlung Siegert, München
© Sheherazade Ter-Abramoff, Paris

 

Atelier Manassé. 'Mein Vogerl / My bird' c. 1928

 

Atelier Manassé
Mein Vogerl / My bird
c. 1928
Foto: © IMAGNO/Austrian Archives

 

 

Museum Bellerive
Höschgasse 3, CH-8008 Zürich
Phone: +41 43 446 44 69

Opening hours:
Tue – Sun 10am – 5pm
Thu 10am – 8pm

Museum Bellerive website

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04
Dec
14

Exhibition: ‘RealSurreal. Masterpieces of Avant-Garde Photography Das Neue Sehen 1920-1950. Siegert Collection’ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg

Exhibition dates: 15th November 2014 – 6th April 2015

The artists
Eugène Atget – Herbert Bayer – Hans Bellmer – Aenne Biermann – Brassaï – František Drtikol – Jaromír Funke – Florence Henri – André Kertész – Germaine Krull – Herbert List – Man Ray – László Moholy-Nagy – Albert Renger-Patzsch – August Sander – Josef Sudek – Maurice Tabard – Raoul Ubac – Umbo – Wols – and others

 

Thought photography

Here are some names to conjure with (above). And what an appropriate word “conjure” is to illuminate these images:

: to charge or entreat earnestly or solemnly

: to summon by or as if by invocation or incantation

: to affect or effect by or as if by magic

: to practice magical arts

: to use a conjurer’s tricks

: to make you think of (something)

: to create or imagine (something)

 

For what is photography, if not magic?

These images are conjured from both the imagination of the artist… and reality itself. One cannot live, be magical, without the other. “Beneath the surface of visible things the irrational, the magical, and the contradictory could be discovered and explored.”

Still waters run deep.

 

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Watch a 6 minute video about the exhibition on Vimeo (in German).

 

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch. 'Self-Portrait' 1926/27

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch
Self-Portrait
1926/27
Gelatin silver paper, 16.9 x 22.8 cm
photo: Christian P. Schmider, Munich
© Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Ann and Jürgen Wilde / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Brassaï. 'Occasional Magic (Sprouting Potato)' 1931

 

Brassaï
Occasional Magic (Sprouting Potato)
1931
Gelatin silver paper
28.8 x 23 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmider, Munich
© ESTATE BRASSAÏ – RMN

 

František Drtikol. 'Circular Segment (Arc)' 1928

 

František Drtikol
Circular Segment (Arc)
1928
Carbon print
21.3 x 28.7 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© František Drtikol – heirs, 2014

 

Hans Bellmer. 'The Doll' 1935

 

Hans Bellmer
The Doll
1935
Gelatin silver paper
17.4 x 17.9 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Grete Stern. 'The Eternal Eye' c. 1950

 

Grete Stern
The Eternal Eye
c. 1950
Photomontage on gelatin silver paper
39.5 x 39.5 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© Estate of Grete Stern courtesy Galería Jorge Mara – La Ruche, Buenos Aires, 2014

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'RealSurreal' at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'RealSurreal' at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'RealSurreal' at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'RealSurreal' at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg

 

Installation views of the exhibition RealSurreal at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg

 

 

“Is a photograph a true-to-life reproduction of reality, or is it merely a staged image? This year – the 175th anniversary of the invention of photography – the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg responds to this question with a comprehensive survey of avant-garde photography between 1920 and 1950. The exhibition RealSurreal presents around 200 masterpieces from the eminent Siegert Collection in Munich. This collection, which has never been shown in its entirety, contains photographs from the Neues Sehen (New Vision) movement, covering everything from New Objectivity to Surrealism in Germany, France, and Czechoslovakia.

Das Neue Sehen (New Vision)

Notions about photography’s visual veracity are as old as the art itself. As early as the nineteenth century there were arguments as to whether or not photography – with its mechanical ability to record ‘reality’ – was better suited to portray life more comprehensively and truthfully than other visual arts of the period. An inevitable reaction to what were considered photography’s shortcomings was Pictorialism, which approached photography according to the conventions of painting, in an attempt to lend it more artistic credibility. But around 1920 a new generation of international photographers began reconsidering the specific characteristics of photography as tools for developing it into a more modern method of appropriating reality. Rapid progress in technologising modern society affected the adoption of and attitudes toward photography: convenient cameras that used rolls of film came onto the market in greater numbers, making it easy for even the greenest of amateurs to take photographs. Photographs were increasingly used as illustrations in mass media, and in advertising, leading to a rising demand for accomplished images and professional image makers. These developments also changed the public’s visual habits, so that the New Vision arose as an expression of the perception of this new media-fabricated reality. Positions ranged from the precise recordings of what was seen in portrait and industrial photography, via the use of new framings and perspectives at the Bauhaus, all the way to the photomontage and technical experiments such as the photogram and solarisation, as well as Surrealism’s staged images.

The Mechanical Eye

Photographers of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement wanted to show the world as it was. For Albert Renger-Patzsch, photography was the “most dependable tool” for objectively reproducing the visible things of this world, especially the results of modern technology, and in this respect, it was superior to the subjective perception of the human eye. László Moholy-Nagy went a step further, with his famous verdict that “the illiterate of the future will be the person ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen.” To the camera he attributed the crucial function of technically expanding human perception. Whilst adequately depicting machines, mass society, and modern metropolitan life: “the photographic apparatus can perfect or supplement our Photographs were increasingly used as illustrations in mass media.” Unusual aspects and viewpoints led to striking images. From a bird’s-eye perspective, buildings and streets became compositions made up of lines and planes, while a low-angle shot could create an unforeseen dynamic and greatly enlarging an object resulted in magical dissociations.

The Real and the Surreal

Ultimately, the Surrealists identified in the “realistic” recording tool of photography yet another artistic means of “écriture automatique,” which André Breton also described as “thought photography.” Beneath the surface of visible things the irrational, the magical, and the contradictory could be discovered and explored. Documentary photographers such as Eugène Atget and Karl Blossfeldt became inspirational figures in this movement. Their work was printed in the Surrealist magazines, because a plant, staged and isolated in a photograph, could trigger all kinds of magical associations beyond its botanical context. Meanwhile manipulated and staged photographs benefitted from the truthfulness of “this is the way it was,” since they could only reinforce their mysterious statements. One of Surrealism’s most important artistic means – the combinatory creation (including, of course, the photomontage) – was particularly effective because heterogeneous visual elements were joined to form new, surprising contexts of meaning. Like Brassaï’s photographs of a nocturnal Paris, Karel Teige’s collages have a surreal quality which can also be found in a different form in Man Ray’s dreamlike photograms. Both staged photography and – with many experiments with photographic techniques, such as multiple exposures, negative printing, and solarisation – strove to achieve the melding of dream and reality, a goal postulated by Breton in his first Surrealist manifesto. In New Vision photography this could generally result in images that could “go either way,” depending on the viewpoint of the real/surreal photographer and observer; they could be seen as sober, objective reproductions of the visible world, or as imaginary, subjective reflections of reality.

The exhibition RealSurreal leads the visitor through Neues Sehen in Germany, Surrealism in Paris, and the avant-garde in Prague, alongside themes such as portraits, nudes, objects, architecture, and experimental. Opening with a prologue of exemplary nineteenth-century photographs which are compared and contrasted with Neues Sehen, one can literally experience the Neues Sehen in the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg via rare original prints by notable photographers, while rediscovering the broad spectrum and complexity of photographs from real to surreal. Besides approximately 200 photographs, the exhibition contains historical photography books and magazines, as well as rare artists’ books and examples of avant-garde cover design, making it possible to experience this new view of the world.

RealSurreal also features several famous clips from key films by Luis Buñuel, László Moholy-Nagy, Hans Richter, and others, shown continuously in a 45-minute loop, which highlight the fruitful interplay between avant-garde photography and the-then contemporary cinema. Important photographs and photo installations by Nobuyoshi Araki, Gilbert & George, Paul Graham, Andreas Gursky, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, and James Welling, from the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg’s collection, will also demonstrate that the artistic questions posed by Neues Sehen are still relevant today.”

Press release from the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg website

 

Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Skull' 1932/33

 

Erwin Blumenfeld
Skull
1932/33
Solarisation on gelatin silver paper
29.6 x 24 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

 

Josef Sudek. 'Plaster Head' c. 1947

 

Josef Sudek
Plaster Head
c. 1947
Gelatin silver paper
23.5 x 17.5 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© Estate of Josef Sudek

 

Herbert Bayer. 'Lonely Metropolitan' 1932/1969

 

Herbert Bayer
Lonely Metropolitan
1932/1969
Photomontage on gelatin silver paper
35.3 x 28 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Herbert Bayer. 'Self-Portrait' 1932

 

Herbert Bayer
Self-Portrait
1932
Photomontage on gelatin silver paper
35.3 x 27.9 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2014

 

Man Ray. 'Electricity' 1931

 

Man Ray
Electricity
1931
Photogravure
26 x 20.6 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© Man Ray Trust, Paris/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

May Ray. 'Rayography (spiral)'1923

 

May Ray
Rayography (spiral)
1923
Photogram on gelatin silver paper
26.6. x 21.4 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© Man Ray Trust, Paris/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Florence Henri. 'Portrait Composition (Erica Brausen)' 1931

 

Florence Henri
Portrait Composition (Erica Brausen)
1931
Gelatin silver paper
39.9 x 29 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© Galleria Martini & Ronchetti, Genova, Italy

 

Atelier Manassé. 'My Little Bird' c. 1928

 

Atelier Manassé
My Little Bird
c. 1928
Gelatin silver paper
21 x 16 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© IMAGNO/Austrian Archives

 

Genia Rubin. 'Lisa Fonssagives. Gown: Alix (Madame Grès)' 1937

 

Genia Rubin
Lisa Fonssagives. Gown: Alix (Madame Grès)
1937
Gelatin silver paper
30.3 x 21.5 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder / Siegert Collection, Munich
© Sheherazade Ter-Abramoff, Paris

 

 

Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg
Abteilung Kommunikation
Hollerplatz 1 38440
Wolfsburg
T: +49 (0)5361 2669 69

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Tuesday 11 am – 8 pm
Monday closed

Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg website

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03
Feb
13

Review: ‘Terraria’ by Darron Davies at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 16th January – 9th February 2013

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This is the first “magical” exhibition of photography that I have seen in Melbourne this year. Comprising just seven moderately large Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag images mounted in white frames, this exhibition swept me off my feet. The photographs are beautiful, subtle, nuanced evocations to the fragility and enduring nature of life. The photographs move (shimmer almost) one to another, with slight changes in the colour green balanced with abstract splashes of light and pigment reminiscent of an abstract expressionist painting (I particularly like the splash of red in The Red Shard, 2102, below). These are beautifully seen works, that require 1) a good idea, 2) an aware and enquiring mind, 3) an understanding and receptive eye, and 4) a relationship to the ineffable that allows visions such as these to be breathed into existence. As Minor White would say,

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Three Canons

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

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Let the Subject generate its own Composition

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

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A sense of day/dreaming is possible when looking at these images. Interior/exterior, size/scale, ego/self are not fixed but fluid, like the condensation that runs down the inside of these environments (much like blood circulates our body). This allows the viewer’s mind to roam at will, to ponder the mysteries of our short, improbable, joyous life. The poetic titles add to this introspective reflection. I came away from viewing these magical, self sustaining vessels with an incredibly happy glow, more aware of my own body and its relationship to the world than before I had entered Darron Davies enveloping, terrarium world.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

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Darron Davies. 'Atmosphere' 2012

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Darron Davies
Atmosphere
2012
Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag
80 x 80 cm / edition of 6

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Darron Davies. 'Day’s Reach' 2012

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Darron Davies
Day’s Reach
2012
Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag
80 x 80 cm / edition of 6

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Darron Davies. 'Encased' 2012

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Darron Davies
Encased
2012
Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag
80 x 80 cm / edition of 6

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Terraria

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I step into your small world
Your secret world
Each a planet of green

Fragile edges holding
the lived
and living

Peering into your glass
your mirror
I see the shards of light
Drawing in
and
Stretching out

You are another
In atmosphere
In moss
In fear

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Terraria is a photographic project exploring the magical, abstract and metaphoric world of terrariums – an increasingly popular form of enclosed and small scale eco-system designed for showcasing plants.

Ultimately, Terraria is also about the fragility of life – terrariums as self contained vessels, enduring, magical – like the human body or our planet – yet somewhat mysterious. These vessels are self sustaining with no watering needed. They are independent and endure quietly. This project would not have been possible without support from Lisa Rothwell from Lu Lu Blooms.”

Artist statement

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Darron Davies. 'Heaven’s Door' 2012

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Darron Davies
Heaven’s Door
2012
Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag
80 x 80 cm / edition of 6

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Darron Davies. 'The Second Dream' 2012

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Darron Davies
The Second Dream
2012
Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag
80 x 80 cm / edition of 6

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Darron Davies. 'The Light Play' 2012

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Darron Davies
The Light Play
2012
Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag
80 x 80 cm / edition of 6

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Darron Davies. 'The Red Shard' 2012

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Darron Davies
The Red Shard
2012
Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag
80 x 80 cm / edition of 6

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Josef Sudek. 'From the Window of My Atelier' 1940

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Josef Sudek Czechoslovakian, 1896-1976
From the Window of My Atelier
1940
Gelatin silver print

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Edmund Pearce Gallery
Level 2, Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street (corner Flinders Lane)
Melbourne Victoria 3000

Opening hours:
Wed – Sat 11 am – 5 pm

Edmund Pearce Gallery website

Darron Davies website

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26
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘Flatlands: photography and everyday space’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 13th September 2012 – 3rd February 2013

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This posting contains one of my favourite early works by Fiona Hall, Leura, New South Wales (1974, below) which is redolent of all the themes that would be expressed in the later work – an alien landscape that examines “the relationship between humankind and nature and the symbolic role of the [fecund] garden in western iconography.” In her work the “nature” of things (plants, money, videotape, plumbing fittings, birds nests, etc…) are re/classified, re/ordered and re/labelled.

Another stunning photograph in this posting is Minor White’s Windowsill daydreaming (1958, below). It is one of my favourite images of all time: because of the power of observation (to be able to recognise, capture and present such a manifestation!); because of the images formal beauty; and because of its metaphysical nature – a poetry full of esoteric allusions, one that addresses a very profound subject matter that is usually beyond ordinary knowledge or understanding. This alien presence, like the structure of an atom, is something that lives beyond the edges of our consciousness, some presence that hovers there, that we can feel and know yet can never see. Is it our shadow, our anima or animus? This is one of those rare photographs that will always haunt me.

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Many thankx to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All text accompanying photographs © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007.

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Cecil Bostock (Australia 1884–1939) 'Phenomena' c. 1938

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Cecil Bostock Australia 1884-1939
Phenomena
c. 1938
gelatin silver photograph
26.3 x 30.5cm
Gift of Max Dupain 1980

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Bostock remains an enigmatic personality in Australian pictorial and early modernist photography. This is at least in part due to his body of work being scattered on his death in 1939 as it was auctioned to cover his debts. Fortunately Phenomena was left to his former assistant Max Dupain who had worked with him from 1930 to 1933.

Phenomena was one of 11 photographs Bostock exhibited with the Contemporary Camera Groupe and it was placed in the window at David Jones along with other photographs such as Plum blossom 1937 by Olive Cotton and Mechanisation of art by Laurence Le Guay. Phenomena is a wonderful modernist work with its plays of light and dark and disorienting shapes and curving lines. It is impossible to tell exactly how the shapes are made or where the light is coming from, nor what the objects are. It could easily be exhibited upside down where the viewer could be looking down on objects arranged on a flat surface. Phenomena is a tribute to Bostock’s restless, inventive and exacting abilities.

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Fiona Hall. 'Leura, New South Wales' 1974

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Fiona Hall Australia b.1953
Leura, New South Wales
1974
Gelatin silver photograph
27.8cm x 27.8cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney purchased 1981
© Fiona Hall

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The rich tones and fine detail of Leura, New South Wales were made possible by Hall’s use of a large-format nineteenth-century view camera. The antiquated technology, once used by colonial photographers to document nature and the taming of the Australian landscape, here records instead the verdant foliage of a floral-patterned couch and carpet. Made at the beginning of Hall’s career, it demonstrates her burgeoning interest in the representation of nature. The relationship between humankind and nature and the symbolic role of the garden in western iconography has since been a recurrent theme in her work, which ranges across photography, sculpture and installation. Leura… differs from Hall’s other photographs in that it documents a “found” object. Hall’s later works, such as The Antipodean suite 1981 and her large-format polaroids of 1985, are of her own constructions and sculptures. Her Paradisus terrestris series 1989-90, 1996, 1999, of aluminium repousse sculptures takes the garden of Eden as its subject and treats it as an Enlightenment florilegium, wherein nature is classified, ordered and labelled. This kind of botanical transcription, like photography, was the process through which the alien Australian landscape was ‘naturalised’ by its colonists – a process which Hall wryly comments on in this acutely observed encounter within a domestic interior.

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David Moore. 'Light pattern, camera in motion' c. 1948, printed 1997

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David Moore Australia 1927 – 2003
Light pattern, camera in motion
c. 1948, printed 1997
Gelatin silver photograph
50.7cm x 40.3cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Gift of Karen, Lisa, Michael and Matthew Moore, 2004

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Simryn Gill. From 'A long time between drinks' 2005

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Simryn Gill Singapore/Malaysia/Australia b.1959
From A long time between drinks
2005
Portfolio of 13 offset prints
29.8cm x 29.7cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
© Simryn Gill

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Among Simryn Gill’s multi-disciplinary explorations of identity and belonging, investigations of suburban locations carry a particular resonance due to their often autobiographical nature. A long time between drinks 2009 is an intensely focused look at suburban Adelaide which was the artist’s first experience of Australia when she arrived in 1987 from Kuala Lumpur, and the city where she first exhibited. Gill returned to Adelaide in 2005 to revisit this early point of contact, producing an evocative series of 13 images.

The photographs impart an ostensible sense of alienation and isolation that corresponds to the artist’s position as an outsider looking in. Gill’s viewpoint of these empty streets that seem to lead nowhere is forensic and detached. But surprisingly, as repetitious compositions and details culminate across the photographs, the prosaic subject matter becomes increasingly surreal, abstract and even poetic.

As Sambrani Chaitanya has stated, “Gill’s work is an investigation of the limits of categorisation,”1 and this group of works, just as in Gill’s examination of Marrickville (where she now lives) in May 2006, emphasises the difficulty of defining an idea of place through mere description. Memory, time and pure invention are required to fill in the gaps. The eerie, yet evocative environment in these photographic prints is further enhanced by their presentation in a square box emulating those of sets of vinyl LP recordings.

1. Sambrani, C “Other realties, someone else’s fictions: the tangled art of Simryn Gill,” [Online], Art and Australia Vol.42, No.2, Summer 2004, p.220/

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David Stephenson USA/Australia b1955 'Sant’ivo alla Sapienza 1645-50 Rome, Italy' 1997

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David Stephenson USA/Australia b.1955
Sant’ivo alla Sapienza 1645-50 Rome, Italy
1997
From the series Domes 1993-2005
Type C photograph
55 × 55 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney purchased with funds provided by Joanna Capon and the Photography Collection Benefactors Program 2002
© David Stephenson

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With poetic symmetry the Domes series considers analogous ideas. It is a body of work which has been ongoing since 1993 and now numbers several hundred images of domes in countries including Italy, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, England, Germany and Russia. The typological character of the series reveals the shifting history in architectural design, geometry and space across cultures and time, demonstrating how humankind has continually sought meaning by building ornate structures which reference a sacred realm.2 Stephenson photographs the oculus – the eye in the centre of each cupola. Regardless of religion, time or place, this entry to the heavens – each with unique architectural and decorative surround – is presented as an immaculate and enduring image. Placed together, the photographs impart the infinite variations of a single obsession, while also charting the passage of history, and time immemorial.

2. Hammond V 2005, “The dome in European architecture,” in Stephenson D 2005, Visions of heaven: the dome in European architecture, Princeton Architectural Press, New York p.190

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“A new exhibition, Flatlands: photography and everyday space, examines photography’s role in transforming the way we perceive, organise and imagine the world. The 39 works by 23 Australian and international artists included in the exhibition have been drawn from the Gallery’s permanent collection of 20th century and contemporary photography.

Definitions of space have always depended on the scientific, social and cultural aspects of the human experience. At its birth in the 19th century, photography’s monocular vision was seen as the ultimate tool for representation and classification. Elusive phenomena such as distance, depth and emptiness seemed within grasp. Yet, limited to freezing single moments or viewpoints in time, the photograph’s ability to objectively represent the world was under question by the turn of the 20th century. Technological advancements, such as faster exposure times transformed the potential of the medium to not only show things that escaped the eye but new ways of seeing them as well.

Embracing partiality and ambivalence, modernist photography sought to capture the fragments, details and blurred boundaries in the expanses we call personal space. What the photograph began to reveal were dimensions which German cultural theorist Walter Benjamin described in 1931 as the ‘optical unconscious’ of reality. The works of photographers such as Melvin Vaniman, Frederick Evans, Harold Cazneaux, William Buckle, Franz Roh, Olive Cotton, David Moore, Josef Sudek, Minor White and Robert Rauschenberg explore the intangible in spaces which define our physical and spiritual relationship with reality. Windows, doorways, ceilings, staircases – these mundane and ordinary passageways suddenly acquire a centrality and metaphysical depth normally denied to them.

The edges between sacred and profane, public and private, natural and artificial, real and dreamed environments became further entangled in the subjective visions of late 20th century and contemporary photographic work. For Daido Moriyama, Fiona Hall, Pat Brassington, Simryn Gill, Christine Godden, Geoff Kleem, Leonie Reisberg, Ingeborg Tyssen, David Stephenson and Justine Varga, space is seen to be a product of the perception of the individual. Photographs are able to reveal realms outside of the scientific – that is those created by emotion, memory and desire.

As Fiona Hall commented in 1996, our belief might be maintained, for at least as long as the image can hold our attention, in the possibility of inhabiting a world as illusory as the two-dimensional one of the photograph.” Collectively, these images destabilise naturalised certainties while activating the imaginary dimension and the unsettling, albeit poetic potential of photography to impact and alter our view of the world.”

Press release from the AGNSW website

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Olive Cotton Australia 1911-2003 'By my window' 1930

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Olive Cotton Australia 1911-2003
By my window
1930
Gelatin silver photograph
20.3 x 15.1cm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2006

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Olive Cotton. 'Skeleton Leaf' 1964

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Olive Cotton Australia 1911-2003
Skeleton Leaf
1964
Gelatin silver photograph
24.7 × 19.6 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2006
© artist’s estate

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Minor White America 1908-1976 'Christmas ornament, Batavia, New York, January 1958' 1958

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Minor White America 1908-1976
Christmas ornament, Batavia, New York, January 1958
1958
From the portfolio Sound of one hand 1960-1965
Gelatin silver photograph mounted on card
Gift of Patsy Asch 2005
Reproduction with permission of the Minor White Archive
© Princeton University Art Museum

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Minor White. 'Windowsill daydreaming' 1958

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Minor White American 1908-1976
Windowsill daydreaming
Rochester, New York, July 1958
From the portfolio Sound of one hand 1960-1965
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Reproduction with permission of the Minor White Archive
© Princeton University Museum of Art

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Informed by the esoteric arts, eastern religion and philosophy, Minor White’s belief in the spiritual qualities of photography made him an intensely personal and enigmatic teacher, editor and curator. White’s initial experience with photography was through his botanical studies at the University of Minnesota where he learned to develop and print photomicrography images, a view of life that he saw as akin to modern art forms. White advocated Stieglitz’s concept of ‘Equivalence’ in which form directly communicated mood and meaning, that ‘darkness and light, objects and spaces, carry spiritual as well as material meanings’.1 White disseminated his photographic theories through the influential quarterly journal ‘Aperture’, which he edited and co-founded with his contemporaries Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Beaumont Newhall and others.

Like Stieglitz, White also worked in sequences that through abstraction, expression and metaphor emphasised his mystical interpretation of the visual world. The sequences allow for a dialogue to continue through and in-between the images, engaging the viewer in a visual poem rather than any strict or formal narrative. The series, Sound of one hand, exemplifies White’s study of Zen and esoteric philosophies, reflecting his meditation of the Zen koan from which he saw rather than heard any sound. The first of the series, Metal ornament, Pultneyville, New York, October 1957 presents an abstracted form that is both sensual and elusive, slipping in and out of ocular register. The ambiguous graduated tones and reflected light pull the eye into the centre of the image before vicariously dragging it back. This broken semi-elliptical shape is mirrored in Windowsill daydreaming, Rochester, New York, July 1958 as the gently moving curtains play with the light and shadows of White’s flat, creating abstracted organic forms. Abstracted forms of nature were of great interest to White as can be seen in the rest of the series that capture the frosted window of his flat with its crystallised ice, condensation and glimpses of the outside world.

1. Rice S 1998, “Beyond reality,” in A new history of photography, ed M Frizot, Könemann, Cologne pp.669-73

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Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Opening hours:
Open every day 10am – 5pm
except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Art Gallery of New South Wales website

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14
Apr
09

Josef Sudek: Master of Photography

 

Further to the last post I have collected some images from the Czech photographer Josef Sudek (1896 – 1976), one of my favourite photographers. The images of this master photographer are a delight. Like the photographs of Eugene Atget they evince generosity in the understanding of light, space and humanity. Insightful writing on Josef Sudek by Charles Sawyer is included in the post.

 

Josef Sudek. 'A Summer Shower in the Magic Garden' 1954-59

 

Josef Sudek
‘A Summer Shower in the Magic Garden’
1954 – 59

 

Joseph Sudek. From the series 'Remembances' 1954

 

Joseph Sudek
From the series ‘Remembances’
1954

 

Joseph Sudek. 'Untitled' 1967

 

Joseph Sudek
‘Untitled’
1967

 

“The systematic approach, and the dogged aesthetic experimentation of Sudek are akin to the working habits of Cezanne. But these alone are insufficient to make great art or even good art. On the contrary, if these are all one sees in a work, then the cumulative burdern of so much plain labor would be unbearable. Sudek’s devotion to work may have integrated his shattered life but it could not have offered him the spiritual redemption he was seeking; only his aesthetic quest could bring this. It is the struggle for spiritual redemption through his aesthectic quest that gives Sudek’s best photographs their true power. Two qualities characterize his best work: a rich diversity of light values in the low end of the tonal scale, and the representation of light as a substance occupying its own space. The former, the diversity of light values, requires very delicate treatment of the materials, especially the negative, but also the paper (Sudek used silver halide papers in the main). The latter, the portrayal of light as substance, is a more original trait than his tonal palette, which one sees in occasional prints of other photographers. Flaubert once expressed an ambition to write a book which would have no subject, “a book dependent on nothing external … held together by the strength of its style.” Photographers have sometimes expressed parallel aspirations to make light itself the subject of their photographs, leaving the banal, material world behind. Both ideals are, of course, unobtainable, but nonetheless they may be worth pursuing. (Artists, in their pursuit of the unobtainable, are not so likely to be called pathological as others, of us, though recent developments in ihe philosophy of science tend to view the scientist’s quest for truth as equally quixotic).

 

Josef Sudek. From the series 'Vanished Statues in Mionsi' 1969

 

Josef Sudek
From the series ‘Vanished Statues in Mionsi’
1969

 

Josef Sudek. 'The Window of My Atelier' 1969

 

Josef Sudek
‘The Window of My Atelier’
1969

 

Sudek has come closer than any other photographer to catching this illusive goal. His devices for this effect are simple and highly poetic: the dust he raised in a frenzy when the light was just right, a gossamer curtain draped over a chair back, the mist from a garden sprinkler, even the ambient moisture in the atmosphere when the air is near dew point. The eye is usually accustomed to seeing not light but the surfaces it defines; when light is reflected from amorphous materials, however, perception of materiality shifts to light itself. Sudek looked for such materials everywhere. And then he usually balanced the ethereal luminescence with the contra-bass of his deep shadow tonalities. The effect is enchanting, and strongly conveys the human element which is the true content of his photographs. For, throughout all his photography, there is one dominant mood, one consistent viewpoint, and one overriding philosophy. The mood is melancholy and the point of view is romanticism. And overriding all this is a philosphic detachment, an attitude he shares with Spinoza. The attitude of detachment that characterizes Sudek’s art accounts for both its strength and weakness: the strength which lies in the ideal of utter tranquility and the weakness which is found in the paucity of human intimacy. Some commentators find Sudek’s photos mysterious but I think this is a mistake: the air of mystery vanishes once we see in Sudek’s photography a person’s private salvation from despair.”

Charles Sawyer 1

 

Josef Sudek. 'Still-life after Caravaggio, Variation No 2 (or a night-time Variation)' 1956

 

Josef Sudek
‘Still-life after Caravaggio, Variation No 2 (or a night-time Variation)’
1956

 

Josef Sudek. 'Stille (Still Life According to Caravaggio)' 1956

 

Josef Sudek
‘Stille (Still Life According to Caravaggio)’
1956

 

Josef Sudek. 'Remembrance of Mr. Magician (the garden of architect Rothmayer)' 1959

 

Josef Sudek
‘Remembrance of Mr. Magician (the garden of architect Rothmayer)’
1959

 

Josef Sudek. 'Labyrinths' 1969

 

Josef Sudek
‘Labyrinths’
1969

 

 

A good collection of Josef Sudek photographs can be found on the Museum of Fine Arts Boston website. Go to the site and enter ‘Josef Sudek’ in the Collection Search box to the right and then click on the arrow.

 

1. Sawyer, Charles. “Josef Sudek” in Creative Camera, April 1980, Number 190 [Online] Cited 14/04/2009 at
www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~sawyer/Sudek.htm

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14
Apr
09

Exhibition: ‘Czech Photography of the 20th Century’ at the Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bonn

Exhibition dates: 13th March – 26th July 2009

 

Looks like an interesting exhibition but it just scratches the surface of what is a large and very interesting subject matter. The photographs I have gathered are in the exhibition.

 

Arnoltice. From the 'Village Life' series 1985

 

Arnoltice
From the ‘Village Life’ series
1985

 

“Czech photography produced and produces leading figures in all areas of photography – from classical documentary photojournalism to surrealism, realism or avant-garde works. From 13 March 2009 on, the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany is presenting over 400 photographic works, a historical mosaic of Czech photography from 1900 until the late 20th century that underlines the international reputation enjoyed by Czech photography today. That reputation is not only apparent in the outstanding contributions by such renowned artists as Josef Sudek, Karel Hájek, Václav Jírů, Vilém Reichmann, Jan Reich, Jindřich Štreit, Frantisek Drtikol, Jaromír Funke, Jaroslav Rossler, Josef Koudelka and Jan Saudek, but also in works from a host of younger photographers. The exhibition does not only showcase famous names but also less well-known photographers, providing an overall impression of the variation and innovation in Czech photography.

 

Eugen Wiskovsky. 'Lunar Landscape or Collars' 1929

 

Eugen Wiskovsky
‘Lunar Landscape or Collars’
1929

 

Josef Sudek. 'The Last Rose' from the Rose series. 1956

 

Josef Sudek
‘The Last Rose’ from the Rose series
1956

 

Frantisek Drtikol. 'Nude' 1927

 

Frantisek Drtikol
‘Nude’
1927

 

Jan Saudek. 'Life' 1966

 

Jan Saudek
‘Life’
1966

 

From Surrealism and other avant-garde experimentation to realism and classic photo reportage, Czech photographers have long played a key role in all areas of photography and continue to do so to this day.

This exhibition is the first in Germany to present the history and development of Czech photography from 1900 to the turn of the millennium. Beginning with Art Nouveau-inspired pictorialism, the comprehensive survey traces the rise of avant-garde photography and the development of photo montage in the 1920s to the 1940s. It examines the influence of ideological pressure on photography during the Second World War, the Stalinist 1950s and the period of Communist ‘normalisation’ after the occupation in 1968 and introduces the visitor to the multifaceted range of contemporary trends.”

Text from the Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany website

 

Jaroslav Rossler. 'Untitled' 1931

 

Jaroslav Rossler
‘Untitled’
1931

 

Eugen Wiskovsky. 'Disaster' 1939

 

Eugen Wiskovsky
‘Disaster’
1939

 

Frantisek Drtikol. 'Wave' 1925

 

Frantisek Drtikol
‘Wave’
1925

 

Josef Koudelka. France 1987

 

Josef Koudelka
France 1987

 

 

Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany

Museumsmeile Bonn
Friedrich-Ebert-Allee 4 • 53113 Bonn
Postfach 12 05 40 • 53047 Bonn
Germany
Telephone: +49-(0)228-9171-0

Opening hours: Tues – Wed 10 – 9pm, Thurs – Sun 10 – 7pm

Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘England’ 1993

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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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