Posts Tagged ‘landscape photographer

27
Oct
12

Exhibition: ‘Edouard Baldus and the Modern Landscape. Important Salt Prints of Paris from the 1850s’ at James Hyman Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 12th October – 9th November 2012

 

Edouard Baldus. 'Vue generale de Paris pont neuf' c. 1855

 

Edouard Baldus (French, 1813-1889)
Vue generale de Paris pont neuf
c. 1855
Salt print mounted on card
33.6 x 43.9 cms (13.20 x 17.25 ins)
Negative: Lower left inscribed in negative: no 82 Mount: Lower right beneath negative: stamped E. Baldus Lower left bottom: Vue generales des Paris pont neuf

 

 

 

A beautiful, complimentary post to the last one on the exhibition Eugène Atget: Old ParisIt is interesting to compare the styles of the two photographers and the change in photography that takes place between the 1850s and the 1890s. Baldus’ photographs are eloquent in their grandeur and frontality, tonality and texture. Atget’s photographs on the other hand are slightly claustrophobic in their intensity, the camera obliquely placed to capture old buildings, narrow cobbled streets and distant vanishing points. Both, in their own way, are very modern photographers. Baldus’ legacy, as Dr James Hyman correctly notes, was his influence on his German compatriots such as the Bechers, Thomas Struth and, to a lesser extent, Andreas Gursky. His rigorous frontality (the photographing of the thing itself) gives his photographs the simplicity of diagrams and emphasises their topographical state, while their density of detail offers encyclopaedic richness. This straightforward “objective” point of view was most notably used by Bernd and Hilla Becher in contemporary photography. Atget’s photographs, on the other hand, aroused an immediate interest “among the Surrealists because of the composition, ghosting, reflections, and its very mundanity.”

Conversely, it is the subjective signature of both artists that make their work truly great – not the mundanity, not the topographic objectivity but their intimate vision of this city, Paris. As I noted in an earlier posting on the Bechers,

“These are subjective images for all their objective desire. The paradox is the more a photographer strives for objectivity, the more ego drops away, the more the work becomes their own: subjective, beautiful, emotive… What makes great photographers, such as Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, August Sander and the Bechers, is the idiosyncratic “nature” of their vision: how Atget places his large view camera – at that particular height and angle to the subject – leaves an indelible feeling that only he could have made that image, to reveal the magic of that space in a photograph. It is their personal, unique thumbprint, recognisable in an instant.”

The same can be said of Baldus and these magnificent, ethereal photographs.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

Edouard Baldus. 'Le Nouveau Louvre' c. 1857

 

Edouard Baldus (French, 1813-1889)
Le Nouveau Louvre
c. 1857
Salt print mounted on card
31.6 x 44.3 cms (12.42 x 17.41 ins)
Le Nouveau Louvre series: 1855-7 Negative: Lower left inscribed in negative: no 107 Mount: Lower right beneath negative: stamped E. Baldus Lower left bottom: Le Nouveau Louvre

 

 

Mid-nineteenth century Paris was a city in the midst of modernisation, and as such, was ripe for documentation of its changing landscape. Counted as one of the premier photographers of his day, Edouard Baldus captured the aesthetic of the Second Empire’s ideology in his monumental views of both old and new Parisian landmarks. In 1855, Baldus received his largest commission, to document the construction of the Musee du Louvre. This rich salt print is a survey of the project as it nears almost full completion. Baldus produced over two thousand images of each part of the new Louvre, from large pavilions to small decorative statue. This photograph, however, takes a step back from the individual pieces of the lengthy project, and allows the viewer to appreciate the endeavour as a whole.

 

Edouard Baldus. 'Le Pantheon' 1853

 

Edouard Baldus (French, 1813-1889)
Le Pantheon
1853
Salt print mounted on card
33.8 x 43.5 cms (13.28 x 17.10 ins)
Negative: Lower left inscribed in negative: Le Pantheon Lower right inscribed in negative: Baldus Mount: Lower right beneath negative: stamped E. Baldus Lower left bottom: Le Pantheon

 

 

Due to the strength of his architectural imagery and work with the Mission Heliographique, Baldus would go on to gain the support of a government commission, Les Villes de France Photographies, which focused on the landmarks of Paris in particular, such as the Pantheon. Similar in style to the frontal views of the Louvre pavilions, this image is a precursor to that project, and also includes Saint Etienne du Mont in its background. The Pantheon is one of Paris’ best-known landmarks, and was originally built as a church dedicated to Saint Genevieve. Looking out over the whole of the city, it is now a mausoleum that houses the remains of distinguished French citizens.

 

Edouard Baldus. 'Arc de Caroussel' c. 1853

 

Edouard Baldus (French, 1813-1889)
Arc de Caroussel
c. 1853
Salt print mounted on card
34.1 x 44.3 cms (13.40 x 17.41 ins)
Negative: Lower left inscribed in negative: signature of E.Baldus Lower right inscribed in negative: no.81 Mount: Lower right beneath negative: stamped E.Baldus Lower left bottom: Arc de Caroussel
Dimensions: Mount: 43.9 x 61 cms Image: 34.1 x 44.3 cms

 

 

One of Baldus’ greatest projects was to provide a photographic inventory of the New Louvre and adjoing Tuilleries. A number of these works are of particular interest, expecially those of the Tuilleries Palace, which would be burnt down in 1870-1. All that remains today is the central triumphal arch, the Caroussel, which is depicted here, still with the palace visible in the background. Built between 1806 and 1808, the Arc de Caroussel is a monument commemorating Napolean’s military victories, with Peace riding a triumphal chariot atop the central archway. Two guards flank the sides of the arch, each atop their own horse, which not only provide for a sense of scale, but, being slightly blurred, also hint at the length of Baldus’ exposure. This enhances the effects of the delicately carved sculptures that adorn the archway, presented here with a clarity that defined the standard Baldus set with his architectural images.

 

 

James Hyman is proud to present a loan exhibition of one of the greatest photographers of the nineteenth century, Edouard Baldus. Remarkably, this is the first major exhibition of Edouard Baldus ever to be staged in London. Baldus was famed for his monumental photographs of the buildings of Paris at a time of massive transition under Napoleon III, Baron Haussman and Viollet Le Duc, as well as the depiction of the contemporary landscape of France. Acclaimed as the greatest architectural photographer of the nineteenth century, Baldus’s prints were some of the largest photographs in existence and pioneered an aesthetic of presenting modernity and the modern city that would have a profound influence on later photographers from the Bechers to John Davies.

Baldus was one of the great calotypists of the 1850s, producing works of an unprecedented range and scale. He moved to Paris in 1838 to study painting alongside other future photographers such as Le Gray, Le Secq, and Negre. He frequently retouched his paper negatives, adding pencil and ink, to add clouds or clarify details, then printing his own large-scale negatives. He was also adept at stitching several negatives together to re-create architectural views, most famously in his views of the cloisters of Saint Trophime.

Famed especially for his depiction of architecture, Baldus not only documented the modernisation of Paris but also travelled widely through France recording modernity and new construction – including new railways and aqueducts, as well as the building of the new Louvre. In 1851 the Commission des Monuments Historiques cited Baldus as one of the five best architectural photographers and he was commissioned to record the monuments of France for what became known as the Mission heliographic. His beginnings in photography are not well documented before his participation in the Mission heliographique, although it is known that he took photographs of Montmajour in 1849.

In 1852 he began Villes de France photographies to which the minister of Beaux-Arts subscribed until 1860. In 1854 he travelled with his student Petiot-Groffier in Auvergne and in 1855 the Baron James de Rothschild commissioned him to photograph the new Northern train line from Paris to Boulogne as a gift, in the form of a commemorative album, for Queen Victoria before her visit to the Exposition Universelle. Later, in his commission to document the reconstruction of the Louvre, Baldus took more than two thousand views in a period of three years. His last big commission was from 1861-1863 documenting the Paris-Lyon-Mediterranean train line illustrating seventy views of the train’s track. After this, Baldus tried to provide more commercial alternatives to his large-format works, creating smaller prints and heliogravures of his earlier work. Unfortunately, the effort was unsuccessful and Baldus passed away in bankruptcy and relative obscurity.

Press release from the James Hyman website

 

Edouard Baldus. 'Pavillon Colbert, Nouveau Louvre, Paris' c.1855

 

Edouard Baldus (French, 1813-1889)
Pavillon Colbert, Nouveau Louvre, Paris
c. 1855
Salt print mounted on card
43.2 x 34.1 cms (16.98 x 13.40 ins)
Stamped ‘E. Baldus’ on the lower right of the mount and titled lower left ‘Pavillon Colbert Nouveau Louvre’

 

 

Of the many photographs Baldus took of the Louvre during the period 1855-57, it is his large-format photographs of the main pavilions that best demonstrate the stretch of his artistic achievements. Commissioned by the French government once again, Baldus was charged with documenting every aspect of the new Palace’s construction, which was to be the Second Empire’s largest building project. Consequently, over the course of two years, it also evolved into the largest photographic commission to date, and Baldus took over two thousand photographs ranging in subject matter from individual statuary to the grand frontal views of each completed pavilion, such as this example of the Pavillon Colbert.

This particular photograph is an astounding example of the precision and clarity wet plate negatives afforded Baldus in capturing the texture of New Louvre’s stonework. Each part of the façade, from the temple relief statuary to the columns flanking the entryway, is bathed in a bright light that emphasises the three-dimensionality of the new pavilion. The sense of crisp stonework evident in this image is only heightened by the blurred tree in the bottom left corner, as well as the trace of a ghostly figure in the foreground – a horse and cart that paused long enough to be captured, just barely, in Baldus’ long exposure.

The subject of this picture brings to bear the importance of the symbolism of the architecture of the Nouveau Louvre for the reign of Napoleon III. The relief and figures on the façade of the Pavillon Colbert highlight France’s greatest realms of achievement, from the conquering of nature through to industry. The upmost relief represents Earth and Water, while the figures to either side personify Science and Industry. Baldus has also ensured that a human figure on the right-hand side of the central entrance has stood still long enough to provide the viewer with a sense of the imposing scale of the statuary, as well as the entire façade. The result is a striking image that is sharper than any contemporary enlargement, exemplary of Baldus’ ability to isolate and capture architecture while giving a slight hint to the life that continued to move around it.

 

Edouard Baldus. 'Pavillon de la Bibliotheque, Rue de Rivoli, Paris' c. 1855

 

Edouard Baldus (French, 1813-1889)
Pavillon de la Bibliotheque, Rue de Rivoli, Paris
c. 1855
Salt print mounted on card
43.2 x 34.3 cms (16.98 x 13.48 ins)
Inscribed ‘no 103’ in the negative, lower left. Stamped E. Baldus on the lower right of the mount and titled lower left ‘Nouveau Louvre Rue Rivoli’

 

Edouard Baldus. 'Pavillon Richelieu, Nouveau Louvre, Paris' c. 1855

 

Edouard Baldus (French, 1813-1889)
Pavillon Richelieu, Nouveau Louvre, Paris
c. 1855
Salt print mounted on card
45 x 34.5 cms (17.69 x 13.56 ins)
Inscribed ‘no 79’ in the negative, lower left and signed in the negative lower right ‘E. Baldus’ Stamped E. Baldus on the lower right of the mount and titled lower left ‘Pavillon Richelieu Nouveau Louvre’

 

 

An image that the Metropolitan Museum of Art describes as “among the most spectacular of all Baldus photographs,” it is clear that Baldus took full advantage of the opportunity to use larger equipment, which was necessary to capture his tremendous subject. The technical advantages afforded by glass plate negatives allowed him to create equally large contact prints without joining separate negatives, as was his practice with many of his earlier images. Here, the resulting photograph depicts the Pavillon Richelieu in a striking range of tonality, from the crisp texture of the street to the glowing reflection of the pavilion’s new tiled roof.

 

Edouard Baldus. 'Pavillon Sully, Nouveau Louvre, Paris' c. 1857

 

Edouard Baldus (French, 1813-1889)
Pavillon Sully, Nouveau Louvre, Paris
c. 1857
Salt print mounted on card
44.5 x 34.5 cms (17.49 x 13.56 ins)
Inscribed ‘no 92’ in the negative, lower left. Stamped E. Baldus on the lower right of the mount and titled lower left ‘Pavillon Sully Nouveau Louvre’

 

 

Baldus returned to this particular pavilion numerous times, his earliest images of the structure produced while he was photographing for the Mission Heliographique. The Pavillon Sully was originally built during the Classical Period of Louis XIV in 1625, and served as a model for the Second Empire additions. One of the grandest of all the completed facades, the Pavillon Sully acquired many sculptural additions during the reconstruction, but the central clock from which the pavilion derived its original name (Pavillon de l’Horloge) remained central.

Taking an elevated view, Baldus depicted the Pavillon Sully with exemplary precision that is sharper than any contemporary enlargement. The result is one of the most imposing images of the Nouveau Louvre pavilions, giving the entire façade a commanding sense of presence as it rises above trees in the foreground, which are just blurred enough to reveal Baldus’ long exposure.

 

Dr James Hyman text

 

Edouard Baldus. 'Saint Etienne du Mont, Paris' c. 1858

 

Edouard Baldus (French, 1813-1889)
Saint Etienne du Mont, Paris
c. 1858
Salt print mounted on card
44.1 x 34.2 cms (17.33 x 13.44 ins)
Stamped E Baldus on the lower right of the mount and titled lower left ‘St Etienne du Mont’ Dimensions Mount: 61 x 43.9 cms Image: 44.1 x 34.2 cms

 

Edouard Baldus. 'Notre Dame, Facade Principale, Paris' 1857

 

Edouard Baldus (French, 1813-1889)
Notre Dame, Facade Principale, Paris
1857
Salt print mounted on card
44.5 x 34.2 cms (17.49 x 13.44 ins)
Inscribed ‘no 34’ in the negative, lower right. Stamped E. Baldus on the lower right of the mount and titled lower left ‘Notre Dame Facade Principal’
Dimensions Mount: 61 x 44 cms Image: 44.5 x 34.2 cms

 

 

This iconic image of Notre Dame embodies the direct and frontal style that came to define Baldus’ architectural images. Here, he has captured the majesty of one of Paris’ most notable landmarks by elevating his vantage point and placing the viewer at eye level with its magnificent rose window. This print is a carefully executed example of the type of balance and symmetry Baldus aimed to capture while working on this commission.

 

 

James Hyman Gallery
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Telephone 020 7494 3857

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27
May
12

Exhibition: ‘Robert Adams: The Place We Live, a retrospective selection of photographs’ at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

 Exhibition dates: 11th March – 3rd June 2012

 

Robert Adams. 'Interstate 25, Eden Colorado' 1968

 

 

Four more photographs from this fabulous retrospective, different images from the two previous postings. Many thankx to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. More images from the retrospective can be found in these postings, when the exhibition appeared at the Denver Art Museum (DAM), September 2011 – Jan 2012 and the Vancouver Art Gallery, September 2010 – January 2011.

Marcus

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

 

 

Southern California was, by the reports of those who lived there at the turn of the century, beautiful; there were live oaks on the hills, orchards across the valleys, and ornamental cypress, palms, and eucalyptus lining the roads. Even now we can almost extrapolate an Eden from what has lasted – from the architecture of old eucalyptus trunks, for example, and from the astringent perfume of the trees’ flowers as it blends with the sweetness of orange blossoms.

What citrus remain today, however, are mostly abandoned, scheduled for removal, and large eucalyptus have often been vandalized, like the hundreds west of Fontana that have been struck head high with shotgun fire. Whether those trees that stand are reassuring is a question for a lifetime. All that is clear is the perfection of what we were given, the unworthiness of our response, and the certainty, in view of our current deprivation, that we are judged.

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Robert Adams 1986

 

 

Robert Adams. 'Edge of Timoteo Canyon, looking toward Los Angeles, Redlands, California' 1978

 

 

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents Robert Adams: The Place We Live, A Retrospective Selection of Photographs, an exhibition that showcases the artistic legacy of American photographer Robert Adams (b. 1937) and his longstanding engagement with the contemporary Western landscape. Featuring nearly three hundred photographs and a key selection of the artist’s publications, the retrospective weaves together four decades of Adams’s work into an epic narrative of American experience in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. Adams’s work reflects his dedication to describing the changing Western landscape – the growth of its built environment and the lives of its inhabitants – contemplating the presence of trees, the open plains, the Pacific Ocean, and the deforestation of the Pacific Northwest. At LACMA, the exhibition highlights Adams’s extraordinary portrayal of the terrain of the Los Angeles region.

“It is hard to envision the American West without the extraordinary achievements of Robert Adams. Adams conveys the often sharp luminosity and inky shadows of western geography like no other. Yet it is in his reckoning with man’s fraught presence that Adams’s spare and terribly beautiful photographs continue to challenge us,” said Edward Robinson, associate curator of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department, who organised LACMA’s presentation.

 

Exhibition overview

With nearly three hundred gelatin silver prints, the exhibition features the photographer’s major projects, from early pictures of quiet buildings and monuments erected by settlers of his native Colorado, to his most recent images of oceans and migratory birds in the Pacific Northwest. Accompanying the photographs in the exhibition are texts drawn from

Adams’s own published writings that total more than forty books to date. The reach of Adams’s work has been felt equally through his publications, which are an indispensable element of the artist’s creative practice. A selection of these books will be displayed; copies will also be available in a reading area and digitally on iPads in the exhibition, enabling visitors to experience Adams’s masterly use of the photographic book as a poetic medium in its own right.

Press release from the LACMA website

 

Robert Adams. 'Abandoned windbreak, West of Fontana, California' 1982

 

Robert Adams. 'New development on a former citrus-growing estate, Highland, California' 1983

 

 

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Los Angeles, CA, 90036
Phone: 323 857-6000

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28
Feb
11

Review: ‘Stormy Weather: Contemporary Landscape Photography’ at NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 24th September 2010 – 20th March 2011

 

Nici Cumpston. 'Nookamka - Lake Bonney' 2007

 

Nici Cumpston (Barkindji Australian, b. 1963)
Nookamka – Lake Bonney
2007
watercolour and coloured pencils on ink on canvas
74.2 x 203.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2008
© Nici Cumpston

 

 

“It is this irreversibly modified world, from the polar caps to the equatorial forests, that is all the nature we have.”

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Simon Schama. Landscape and Memory 1

 

“The term “landscape” can be ambiguous and is often used to describe a creative interpretation of the land by an artist and the terrain itself. But there is a clear distinction: the land is shaped by natural forces while the artist’s act of framing a piece of external reality involves exerting creative control. The terms of this ‘control’ have be theorised since the Renaissance and, while representations of nature have changed over the centuries, a landscape is essentially a mediated view of nature.”

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Dr Isobel Crombie 2

 

“And, finally, what of the vexed, interrelated matter of non-Aboriginal Australians’ sense of belonging? While the Australian historian Manning Clark speculated that European settlers were eternal outsiders who could never know ‘heart’s ease in a foreign land, because … there live foreign ancestral spirits’, it now seems plausible that non-Aboriginal Australians are developing their own form of attachment, not to land as such, but to place. Indeed, it has recently been argued that for contemporary non-Aboriginal Australians, belonging may have no connection with land at all. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why art photographs of the natural landscape have lost their currency and are now far outnumbered by photographs of urban and suburban environments – after all, it is ‘here’ that most Australians live and ‘there’ that the tourist industry beckons them to escape.”

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Helen Ennis. Photography and Australia 3

 

 

This review took a lot of research, reading, thinking and writing, all good stuff – I hope you enjoy it!

 

Heavy Weather: Photography and the Australian Land(e)scape

There is nothing fresh about the work in this exhibition. If feels like all the oxygen has been sucked out of the term ‘landscape’, the land itself gasping for air, for life. What the exhibition does evince is an “undercurrent of disruption and contradiction that suggests that all is not as it may appear” (wall text) – and on this evidence the process of photographing the Australian landscape seems to have become an escape from the land, a fragmented and dislocated scoping, mapping and photographing of mental aspects of the land that have little to do with the landscape itself. Landscape as a site of psychological performance. In this sense, the title Stormy Weather should perhaps have been Heavy Weather for contemporary photographic artists seem to make heavy going of photographing our sense of belonging to land, to place.

Is it the artists or the curators that seek to name this work ‘landscape photography’ for it is about everything but the landscape – an escape from the land, perhaps even a denial of it’s very existence. I believe it is the framing of landscape and its imaging in terms of another subject matter. While I am not going to critique individual works in the exhibition, what I am interested in is this framing of the work as ‘landscape photography’.

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Since colonial settlement there has been a rich history of photographing the Australian landscape. In the early colonial period the emphasis was on documenting the building of new cities and communities through realist photography and later more picturesque and panoramic vistas of the Australian land as settlers sought comfort in familiar surroundings and a sense of ‘belonging’ to the land (for example day trippers and photographers travelling to the Blue Mountains). Photographers rarely accompanied expeditions into the interior, unlike the exploration and mapping of the land from the East Coast to the West Coast in the United States. Unlike America there has been little tradition of photographing sublime places in Australia because they are not of the same scale as in the USA. It is very difficult to photograph the vast horizon line of the Australian outback and make it sublime. Photographing the landscape then ventured through Pictorialism in the interwar years, Modernism after WWII through to the emergence of art photography in the 1970s (for example see my posting on Dr John Cato), wilderness and tourist photography. An excellent book to begin to understand the history of photography in Australia is Photography and Australia by Helen Ennis (London: Reaktion Books, 2007) that contains the chapter “Land and Landscape.” As Ennis comments in this chapter, “… landscape photography has been the practice of settler Australians and the expression of a settler-colonial culture … The viewpoint in landscape photography has therefore been almost exclusively European”4 although this culture has been changing in recent years with the emergence of Indigenous photographers.

Ennis observes that contemporary landscape photographers embrace internationalist styles, showing a distaste for totalising nationalist narratives and a rejection of essentialist or absolutist viewpoints, noting that an overarching framework like multiculturalism has lost its currency in favour of transnationalism (which is a social movement grown out of the heightened interconnectivity between people and the loosening of boundaries between countries) that does not disavow colonial inequalities and asymmetrical relations between countries and continents.5 Photographers have developed a “photographic language that allows for the expression of the contradictions inherent in contemporary settler Australians’ relations with the land,”6 whilst offering visual artists a “non-linear, non-didactic way of dealing with the complexities of Australia history and experience, and the relationship between past and present.”7

This much then is a given. Let us now look at the framing of the work in the exhibition as ‘landscape photography’.

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Simon Schama in his erudite book Landscape and Memory (New York: Vintage, 1996) believes that there can never be a natural or neutral landscape (even the brilliant meadow-floor [at Yosemite] which suggested to its first eulogists a pristine Eden was in fact the result of regular fire-clearances by its Ahwahneechee Indian occupants) and that it is our shaping perception that makes the difference between raw matter and landscape. There was also a recognition that ‘nature’ was neither neutral nor beyond ideology during the 1970s – 1980s. Hence there is a double mediation – by both nature and the artist.

Despite the rejection of essentialist or absolutist viewpoints by contemporary photographers and an acknowledgment of the mediated view by/of nature one can say that there is not a single photograph in this exhibition that is just a ‘landscape’. Even the most sublime photographs in the exhibition, David Stephenson’s (Self-portrait), Reflected moon, Tasmania (1985) is cut up into a grid, or Murray Fredericks Salt photographs (2005, see below) where the photographer has waited agonisingly for weeks for just the right weather conditions to take his photographs which the general public, when visiting Lake Eyre, would have no chance of ever seeing. Through this mediation there seems to have emerged an abrogation or denial of landscape by the artists and curators conceptualisation of it, as though they are performing a particular condition, a style; working out a plan of what to do and say. Is it just a denial or is it an artistic strategy?

I believe that these are strategies that limit artists, not strategies that enable them. The curators are equally implicated in these strategies by their naming of these works ‘landscapes’. What purpose does this naming serve, in terms of the development of a sense of place, not nation, that people living in Australia seek to have? We can ask the question: Where do you stand in relationship to the landscape both philosophically and geographically?

After Butler, we can also ask: What forms of cultural myth making are “embedded” in the framing of landscape by the curators, the naming of such work as ‘landscape photography’?

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Rarely is the framing recognised for what it is, when it is the viewer interpreting the interpretation that has been imposed upon us, that limits the visual discourse, producing a view of Australian landscape as fragmented norms enacted through visual narrative frames – that in this case efface the representation of land and place. This conceptual framing of what the work is about limits the grounds for discourse for a frame excludes as much as it corrals. The curators form an interpretative matrix of what is seen (or not seen, or withheld), reinforcing notions of landscape photography, the ‘landscape photography’ “that requires a certain kind of subject that actually institutes that conceptual requirement as part of its description and diagnosis.”8 In other words the description ‘landscape photography’ established by the curators becomes a limiting, self-fulfilling prophecy.

Personally, I think the problem with a landscape exhibition is that this is virtually an inane topic. Somehow “documentary” works as a topic because it is about a mental discipline. But “landscape” is no longer really a topic – it used to be a topic when landscape painters wanted to show the landscape (!) but does anyone really want to show this today? Even when the landscape painters wanted to show the sublime, the landscape was always treated with deference. No-one thinks of Minor White as a landscape photographer for he was a metaphysical photographer. And that’s what this exhibition needs – another word to give sense to a photographers efforts.

This is difficult subject matter. While artists may reject essentialist or absolutist viewpoints what has been substituted in their place is a framing, a definition that is post-nature, that undermines any sense of belonging to land, to place. The dissolutive pendulum has swung too far the other way; we look to theory to be inclusive and sometimes stand on our heads to achieve this to our detriment.

As of this moment we are not at the point where we can look back with some certainty and see that we have reached the beginning of the path of understanding. What I would propose to any artist is a photography that is broadly based, cumulative, offering a layered body of work that builds and refers back to an original body of work, much like the photographs of Robert Adams – photographs that do not make claims but ask questions and hint at a more responsive engagement with the landscape.

My hope is that a more broadly based view of place and our sense of belonging to the land emerges, one that challenges our contemporary understanding of the landscape, a viewpoint and line of sight that calm our troubled sense of reality. Robert Adams has written eloquently about photography and the art of seeing. Here is a quote from his seminal book Why People Photograph (Aperture Foundation, 1994) that aptly concludes this review.

“At our best and most fortunate we make pictures because of what stands in front of the camera, to honor what is greater and more interesting than we are. We never accomplish this perfectly, though in return we are given something perfect – a sense of inclusion. Our subject thus redefines us, and is part of the biography by which we want to be known.”9

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

Addendum

Further to my argument above there is a session ‘Australian Identity: Australian Bio-diversity and the Landscape of the Imagination’ at the Festival of Ideas, Friday June 17th 2011 at the University of Melbourne where, in the details of the upcoming session, Ian Burn has been quoted about the loss of the landscape:

Details of the session: ‘The connection between landscape and national identity figures prominently in discussions of Australian experience. Recently the pairing of the two has taken a melancholic turn; artist Ian Burn has remarked that ‘A commitment to representing the landscape has come to be about the “loss” of the landscape’. Has the landscape that once supported the Australian legend disappeared? The landscape is represented not only in art but also through science, law and commerce. Are new landscapes and new identities now being imagined and discovered?’

Quotation: “The idea of landscape does not just invoke rival institutional discourses, but today attracts wider and more urgent reflections. A commitment to representing the landscape has become about the ‘loss’ of landscape in the twentieth century … that is about its necessity and impossibility at the same time. Seeing a landscape means focusing on a picture, implicating language in our seeing of the landscape.”

Burn, Ian quoted in Stephen, Ann (ed.,). Artists think: the late works of Ian Burn. Sydney: Power Publications in association with Monash University Gallery, Melbourne, 1996, p. 8.

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Other sessions on Saturday June 18th 2011 include ‘The Pull of the Landscape’ and ‘Contemporary Visions and Critiques of the Landscape’.

 

Footnotes

  1. Schama, Simon. Landscape and Memory. New York: Vintage, 1996, p. 7
  2. Crombie, Isobel. Stormy Weather. Contemporary Landscape Photography (exhibition catalogue). Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2010, p. 15
  3. Clark, Manning quoted by Peter Read in “A Haunted Land No Longer? Changing Relationships to a Spiritualised Australia,” in Australian Book Review CCLXV (October 2004) pp. 28-33 in Ennis, Helen. “Land and Landscape,” in Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, pp. 71-72
  4. Ennis, Helen. “Land and Landscape,” in Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, pp. 51-52
  5. Ennis, Helen. “Land and Landscape,” in Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, p. 123, p. 133
  6. Ibid., “Land and Landscape,” pp. 71-72
  7. Ibid., “Localism and Internationalism,” p. 128
  8. Butler, Judith. Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? London: Verso, 2010, p. 161
  9. Adams, Robert. Why People Photograph. New York: Aperture Foundation, 1994, p. 179

 

 

Harry Nankin. 'Of Great Western tears / Duet 2' 2006

 

Harry Nankin (Australian, b. 1953)
Of Great Western tears / Duet 2
2006
From The rain series 2006-07
Gelatin silver photographs
(a-b) 107.1 x 214.3 cm (overall)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2007
© Harry Nankin

 

Stephanie Valentin. 'Rainbook' 2009

 

Stephanie Valentin (Australia, b. 1962)
Rainbook
2009
From the earthbound series 2009
Colour inkjet print
69.9 x 86.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Philip Ross and Sophia Pavlovski-Ross, 2009
© Stephanie Valentin

 

Murray Fredericks. 'Salt 154' 2005

 

Murray Fredericks (Australia, b. 1970)
Salt 154
2005
From the Salt series 2003-
Colour inkjet print
119.3 x 149.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2009
© Murray Fredericks

 

Siri Hayes. 'Plein air explorers' 2008

 

Siri Hayes (Australia, b. 1977)
Plein air explorers
2008
Type C photograph
104.3 x 134.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2009
© Siri Hayes

 

 

The work of the contemporary Australian photographers highlighted in this exhibition comes from a profound engagement with the lived landscape around them. The quiet intensity of their work comes from their close and sustained relationship to particular environments. These photographers may use that lived observation to reveal the layers of history in a landscape; to provoke ecological concerns; as the place for site specific performances; or to use the specific poetics of light to reveal the beauty of a place.  However for all of them, the real world is the starting point for images of particularity.

Photographers’ interest in the landscape has increased in the last few years. Perhaps as a result of heightened environmental awareness, or an evolution in our engagement with Australian history, practitioners are again turning to the natural world as a site for critical practice and inspiration.

Drawn from the permanent collection the National Gallery of Victoria, the selected photographers in this exhibition have a particular focus that comes from their active relationship to various environments. The artists displayed here reveal history in a landscape; provoke ecological concerns; use the landscape as a site of performance; or reveal the distinctive beauty of a place.

Frequently underpinning these works of quiet intensity and considerable beauty is an undercurrent of disruption and contradiction that suggests all is not as it may first appear.

Text from the National Gallery of Victoria website [Online] Cited 26/02/2011 no longer available online

 

Rosemary Laing. 'weather #9' 2006

 

Rosemary Laing (Australia, b. 1959)
weather #9
2006
From the weather series 2006
Type C photograph
109.9 x 184.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2007
© Rosemary Laing and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Jill Orr. 'Southern Cross to bear and behold - Burning' 2007)

 

Jill Orr (Australia , b. 1952, lived in the Netherlands 1980-84)
Southern Cross to bear and behold – Burning
2007
Colour inkjet print
65.5 x 134.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2010
Photographer: Naomi Herzog for Jill Orr
© Jill Orr

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square

Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
Open daily 10am – 5pm

National Gallery of Victoria website

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06
Aug
09

Exhibition: ‘Edward Burtynsky: Australian Minescapes’ at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 17th July – 22nd August 2009

 

Edward Burtynsky. 'Jubilee Operations #1, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia' 2007

 

Edward Burtynsky (Canadian, b. 1955)
Jubilee Operations #1, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia
2007
Digital chromogenic colour photographic print
1560mm x 1260mm
Western Australian Museum

 

 

All of these incredible, environmental aerial photographs – beauty, texture, pattern, fabric, scars, desecration, destruction, de/construction –  are works in the exhibition. The effects of the Anthropocene era in full swing. I will be glad when I am not here to see the fateful outcome of all of this: the death of most of the animals, and the sickness of the planet.

A travelling exhibition from the Western Australian Museum.

Marcus

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

 

 

Edward Burtynsky. 'Otter Juan Coronet Mine #1 Kalgoorlie, Western Australia' 2007

 

Edward Burtynsky (Canadian, b. 1955)
Otter Juan Coronet Mine #1, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia
2007
Digital chromogenic colour photographic print
1560mm x 1260mm
Western Australian Museum

 

Edward Burtynsky. 'Silver Lake Operations #1, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia' 2007

 

Edward Burtynsky (Canadian, b. 1955)
Silver Lake Operations #1, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia
2007
Digital chromogenic colour photographic print
1560mm x 1260mm
Western Australian Museum

 

Edward Burtynsky. 'Silver Lake Operations #2, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia' 2007

 

Edward Burtynsky (Canadian, b. 1955)
Silver Lake Operations #2, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia
2007
Digital chromogenic colour photographic print
1560mm x 1260mm
Western Australian Museum

 

Edward Burtynsky. 'Silver Lake Operations #3, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia' 2007

 

Edward Burtynsky (Canadian, b. 1955)
Silver Lake Operations #3, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia
2007
Digital chromogenic colour photographic print
1560mm x 1260mm
Western Australian Museum

 

Edward Burtynsky. 'Silver Lake Operations #5, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia' 2007

 

Edward Burtynsky (Canadian, b. 1955)
Silver Lake Operations #5, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia
2007
Digital chromogenic colour photographic print
1560mm x 1260mm
Western Australian Museum

 

Edward Burtynsky. 'Silver Lake Operations #11, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia' 2007

 

Edward Burtynsky (Canadian, b. 1955)
Silver Lake Operations #11, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia
2007
Digital chromogenic colour photographic print
1560mm x 1260mm
Western Australian Museum

 

Edward Burtynsky. 'Silver Lake Operations #12, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia' 2007

 

Edward Burtynsky (Canadian, b. 1955)
Silver Lake Operations #12, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia
2007
Digital chromogenic colour photographic print
1560mm x 1260mm
Western Australian Museum

 

Edward Burtynsky. 'Silver Lake Operations #14, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia' 2007

 

Edward Burtynsky (Canadian, b. 1955)
Silver Lake Operations #14, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia
2007
Digital chromogenic colour photographic print
1560mm x 1260mm
Western Australian Museum

 

Edward Burtynsky. 'Silver Lake Operations #15 Lake Lefroy, Western Australia' 2007

 

Edward Burtynsky (Canadian, b. 1955)
Silver Lake Operations #15, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia
2007
Digital chromogenic colour photographic print
1560mm x 1260mm
Western Australian Museum

 

Edward Burtynsky. 'Silver Lake Operations #16, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia' 2007

 

Edward Burtynsky (Canadian, b. 1955)
Silver Lake Operations #16, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia
2007
Digital chromogenic colour photographic print
1560mm x 1260mm
Western Australian Museum

 

 

Edward Burtynsky is one of the world’s leading contemporary landscape photographers. His ‘manufactured landscapes’ have included stark images of recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries. This series of images, taken in the eastern goldfields and the Pilbara of Western Australia, continues Edward Burtynsky’s examination of natural landscapes modified by mankind in the pursuit of the raw materials required for our modern society.

“Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.”

Edward Burtynsky

Australian Minescapes is a new body of work by Burtynsky, commissioned for the FotoFreo 2008 Festival. For this exhibition a selection of images from his Shipyard images from China and Ship Breaking images from Bangladesh will be presented alongside his Australian Minescapes images.

Text from the Australian Centre for Photography website [Online] Cited 01/08/2009 no longer available online

 

Edward Burtynsky. 'Super Pit #1, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia' 2007

 

Edward Burtynsky (Canadian, b. 1955)
Super Pit #1, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia
2007
Digital chromogenic colour photographic print
1560mm x 1260mm
Western Australian Museum

 

Edward Burtynsky. 'Super Pit #4 Kalgoorlie, Western Australia' 2007

 

Edward Burtynsky (Canadian, b. 1955)
Super Pit #4, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia
2007
Digital chromogenic colour photographic print
1560mm x 1260mm
Western Australian Museum

 

Edward Burtynsky. 'Tailings #1 Kalgoorlie, Western Australia' 2007

 

Edward Burtynsky (Canadian, b. 1955)
Tailings #1 Kalgoorlie, Western Australia
2007
Digital chromogenic colour photographic print
1560mm x 1260mm
Western Australian Museum

 

 

Australian Centre for Photography
21 Foley Street
Darlinghurst, NSW, 2010

Gallery Hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday 11am – 4pm

Edward Burtynsky website

Australian Centre for Photography website

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10
Jul
09

Exhibition: ‘Ricky Maynard: Portrait of a Distant Land’ at Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 4th June – 23rd August 2009

 

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
Coming Home
2005
From the series Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned
37.4 × 54.1 cm
© Ricky Maynard

 

 

I can remember coming here as a boy in old wooden boats to be taught by my grandparents and my parents. I’ll be 57 this year and I have missed only one year when my daughter Leanne was born. Mutton birding is my life. To me it’s a gathering of our fellas where we sit and yarn, we remember and we honour all of those birders who have gone before us. Sometimes I just stand and look out across these beautiful islands remembering my people and I know I’m home. It makes me proud to be a strong Tasmanian black man. This is something that they can never take away from me.

Murray Mansell, Big Dog Island, Bass Strait, 2005

 

Ricky Maynard. 'The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania' 2005

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania
2005
From the series Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned
34.0 x 52.0 cm
© Ricky Maynard

 

 

This winter the Museum of Contemporary Art presents a major survey of photographic works by documentary photographer Ricky Maynard, encompassing more than two decades of the artist’s practice.

Portrait of a Distant Land features more than 60 evocative and captivating photographic works, drawn from six bodies of work, which document the lives and culture of Maynard’s people, the Ben Lomond and Cape Portland peoples of Tasmania.

The exhibition is curated by MCA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs Keith Munro and is presented at the MCA from 4 June until 23 August 2009. Born in Launceston, Tasmania in 1953 Maynard is a self taught documentary photographer now based on Flinders Island in the Bass Strait between Tasmania and mainland Australia.

Maynard first came to prominence in the late 1980s with a photographic essay about Aboriginal mutton bird farmers and he has continued to document physical and social landscapes which form a visual record and representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.

“For me, photographs have always been personal and I hope to convey the intimacy of a diary. Photography has the ability to tell stories about the world and how the photograph has power to frame a culture,” said Maynard, describing his practice.

The works presented in Portrait of a Distant Land survey a broad range of themes and issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today. It includes photographs which document sites significant to Maynard’s people: ranging from serenely beautiful landscapes which follow the song lines, tribal movements and historical displacement routes of his ancestors, to the confrontational and emotionally-charged images of Indigenous people incarcerated in the South Australian prison system.

The six photographic series by Maynard which are featured in the exhibition are The Moonbird People (1985-88), No More Than What You See (1993), Urban Diary (1997), In The Footsteps of Others (2003), Returning To Places That Name Us (2000) and Portrait of a Distant Land (2005- ). Together these works create a form of visual diary of multiple landscapes derived from collective oral histories of Maynard’s people.”

Press release from the MCA website [Online] Cited 05/07/2009 no longer available online

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

 

Ricky Maynard. ‘Arthur, Wik elder’ from the series ‘Returning to places that name us’ 2000

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
Arthur, Wik Elder
2000
From the series Returning to Places that Name Us
Gelatin silver photograph
96.1 x 121.4 cm
© Ricky Maynard

 

 

The owner of an enviable collection of antique cameras, Maynard is a lifelong student of the history of photography, particularly of the great American social reformers Jacob Riis, Lewis Hines, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. He is interested in the power of the uninflected image – of sheer veracity – as an agent of record and change. Maynard’s images cut through the layers of rhetoric and ideology that inevitably couch black history (particularly Tasmanian history) to present images of experience itself. ‘To know the meaning of a culture you must recognise the limits and meaning of your own,’ the artist explains. ‘You can see its facts but not its meaning. We share meaning by living it.’ Maynard’s photographs are, he says, about ‘leaving proof’ – about ‘… life in passing and in complicated times’.

The word ‘Wik’ has come to denote a historic decision of the High Court of Australia rather than the name of the Indigenous peoples from the western Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland. In his intimate portraits of elders from these communities, Maynard aims to unpick this abstraction. Etched on each face is the complexity of an unspoken life story, delineated, one imagines, by hardship, perseverance and the burden – and wealth – of an extraordinary living memory. As he wrote in his artist’s statement for the exhibition Returning to Places that Name Us in 2001, ‘… I wanted a presence and portraits that spoke, and through this process to present an idea, rather than preach messages’. In this series, Maynard achieves his aim of capturing meanings that no other medium could convey.

Hannah Fink in ‘Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia’, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004

© Art Gallery of New South Wales. Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 14/03/2019

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953) 'Gladys Tybingoomba' 2001

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
Gladys Tybingoomba
2001
From the series Returning To Places That Name Us
Gelatin silver photograph
© Ricky Maynard

 

 

Ricky Maynard. 'Custodians' from the series 'Portrait of a Distant Land' 2005

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
Custodians
2005
From the series Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned
43.0 x 41.2 cm
© Ricky Maynard

 

Ricky Maynard. 'Vansittart Island' from the series 'Portrait of a Distant Land' 2007

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
Vansittart Island
2007
From the series Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned
33.9 x 52.1 cm
© Ricky Maynard

 

Ricky Maynard. 'The Spit' from the series 'Portrait of a Distant Land' 2007

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
The Spit
2007
From the series Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned
41.8 x 50.4 cm
© Ricky Maynard

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953) 'The Mission' 2005 From the series 'Portrait of a Distant Land'

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
The Mission
2005
From the series Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned
43.0 x 41.2 cm
© Ricky Maynard

 

 

Maynard is a lifelong student of the history of photography, particularly of the great American social reformers Jacob Riis, Lewis Hines, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. Maynard’s images cut through the layers of rhetoric and ideology that inevitably couch black history (particularly Tasmanian history) to present images of experience itself. His visual histories question ownership; he claims that ‘the contest remains over who will image and own this history… we must define history, define whose history it is, and define its purpose as well as the tools used for the telling it’.

In Portrait of a distant land Maynard addresses the emotional connection between history and place. He uses documentary style landscapes to illustrate group portraits of Aboriginal peoples’ experiences throughout Tasmania. Each work combines several specific historical events, creating a narrative of shared experience – for example The Mission relies on historical records of a small boy whom Europeans christened after both his parents died in the Risdon massacre. This work highlights the disparity between written, oral and visual histories, as Maynard attempts to create ‘a combination of a very specific oral history as well as an attempt to show a different way of looking at history in general’.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 14/03/2019

 

 

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)
140 George Street
The Rocks, Sydney, Australia

Opening hours: 10am – 5pm daily

MCA website

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15
Jun
09

Exhibition: ‘Downstream: Colorado River Photographs of Karen Halverson’ at The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Exhibition dates: 30th May – 28th September 2009

 

As clear as a bell!

Marcus

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

 

 

Karen Halverson. 'Hite Crossing, Lake Powell, Utah' from the 'Downstream' series 1994-95

 

Karen Halverson (American, b. 1941)
Hite Crossing, Lake Powell, Utah from the Downstream series
1994-95

 

Karen Halverson. 'Lodore Canyon, Dinosaur National Monument' 1994-95

 

Karen Halverson (American, b. 1941)
Lodore Canyon, Dinosaur National Monument from the Downstream series
1994-95

 

Karen Halverson. 'Boulder Beach, Lake Mead, Nevada' from the 'Downstream' series 1994-95

 

Karen Halverson (American, b. 1941)
Boulder Beach, Lake Mead, Nevada from the Downstream series
1994-95

 

Karen Halverson (American, b. 1941) 'Wahweap Pool, Lake Powell, Arizona' 1994-95

 

Karen Halverson (American, b. 1941)
Wahweap Pool, Lake Powell, Arizona from the Downstream series
1994-95

 

 

To celebrate the expansion and reinstallation of the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens presents an exhibition of works from American photographer Karen Halverson’s Colorado River series, on view May 30 through Sept. 28, 2009. Downstream: Colorado River Photographs of Karen Halverson will be on display in the Scott Galleries’ Susan and Stephen Chandler Wing, inaugurating a new changing exhibition space that will highlight photography and works on paper that, because of the fragile nature of the medium, cannot be placed on permanent display.

The exhibition will feature 26 works from Halverson’s Downstream series as well as a sampling of images from The Huntington’s historic holdings related to the Colorado River region, including photographs from John Wesley Powell’s pioneering expedition down the Colorado in 1871 and a snapshot album compiled in 1940 by Mildred Baker, one of the first women to successfully navigate the river from Green River, Wyo., to Boulder (now Hoover) Dam.

Halverson (b. 1941) says she woke one wintry morning in 1994 convinced that she needed to photograph the Colorado River. An accomplished landscape photographer who had already spent 20 years exploring the American West, she embarked on a two-year encounter with the vast terrain along the river’s serpentine route.

The desire to explain, understand, and experience the 1,700-mile river – which originates in Wyoming and Colorado before converging in Utah toward its terminus in Mexico – has exerted a powerful influence on a long line of explorers, scientists, thrill seekers, writers, artists, and photographers. Once largely wild, the modern river has been tamed by dams built to slake the American West’s thirst for water and power. Today the river’s reservoirs supply 30 million people.

“In her resonant imagery, Halverson speaks both to this immutable, rugged past while confronting the river’s complicated and often contested present,” says Jennifer Watts, curator of photographs at The Huntington.

Lush green riverbanks frame a seemingly remote Colorado River in Shafer Trail, Near Moab, Utah – a dramatic departure from the river-turned-lake in Wahweap Marina, Lake Powell, Arizona, in which the setting sun illuminates a satellite dish, a trio of passersby, and a jumble of houseboats set against distant rock outcroppings. Davis Gulch, Lake Powell, Utah captures Halverson’s voice especially succinctly: the power of nature in the form of a gigantic sandstone wall dwarfing a tiny group of plastic lawn chairs, lined up along the river bank, with not a soul in sight.

“In my travels along the Colorado,” says Halverson, “sometimes I find beauty, sometimes desecration, often a perplexing and absurd combination.”

Halverson’s large-format colour photography references the 19th-century era of exploration when the United States, still reeling from the Civil War, saw photographers fan across the West to make pictures for scientific and commercial ends. Many of these iconic views by William H. Bell, John K. Hillers, Timothy O’Sullivan and others form the core of The Huntington’s superlative photography collection. Halverson consulted these works in preparation for her own trips.

The two years Halverson spent hiking, driving, and rafting along the Colorado brought her to a more profound understanding of the river and her relationship to it. During her travels, Halverson wrote, “I feel my place, small and finite in relation to space and time: I feel my self, expansive and trusting.”

Text from The Huntington Library website [Online] Cited 12/06/2009 no longer available online

 

Karen Halverson (American, b. 1941) 'Big River, California' 1994-95

 

Karen Halverson (American, b. 1941)
Big River, California from the Downstream series
1994-95

 

Karen Halverson (American, b. 1941) 'Davis Gulch, Lake Powell' 1994-95

 

Karen Halverson (American, b. 1941)
Davis Gulch, Lake Powell from the Downstream series
1994-95

 

 

“In my travels along the Colorado, sometimes I find beauty, sometimes desecration, often a perplexing and absurd combination.”

.
Karen Halverson

 

 

One wintry morning in1994, Karen Halverson (b. 1941) awoke convinced she needed to photograph the Colorado River. An accomplished artist who had already spent 20 years exploring the American West, she set off on a two-year encounter with the vast, breathtaking terrain along the river’s serpentine route. “The impulse to photograph the Colorado River came to me out of the blue,” she writes, “but I acted on it as if it were my destiny.” Personal destiny and the Colorado River have long been linked in the lives of the explorers, scientists, writers, artists, and thrill seekers who have sought to understand and experience this remarkable river.

“Nature appears to have been partial to this stream,” noted “Captain” Samuel Adams, who described the river in 1869. The Colorado and its major tributary, the Green River, run 1,700 miles from headwaters in the Rocky Mountains and Wyoming’s Wind River Range to a terminus in Mexico. Sheer size helps explain the river’s enduring allure; the Colorado’s gargantuan watershed covers a quarter of a million miles and runs through seven states. The Colorado is the riparian centre and symbol of the American West. Once wild, the river has been tamed by dams built to slake the arid West’s demand for water and power; 30 million people are dependent on it today.

Halverson’s large-format colour photography alludes to a 19th-century era of exploration when photographers fanned out across the West to make pictures for scientific and commercial ends. Iconic views by William H. Bell (1830-1910), John K. Hillers (1843-1925), Timothy O’Sullivan (ca. 1840-1882), and others captured timeless landscapes of fierce, often forbidding, beauty. Halverson looked at these works in preparation for her trips, viewing them as documentary and visual points of departure for her own image making. Beyond the debt she owes these photographic pioneers, Halverson is firmly rooted in a late 20th-century aesthetic that comments on humanity’s use, and misuse, of the environment.

Beginning in the 1970s, a group of photographers, almost all of them men – who are now sometimes called the “New Topographers” – used their cameras to criticise the effects of rampant urban and suburban growth on western lands. Sprawling cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las Vegas owe their existence almost entirely to the importation of water from the Colorado River. As Halverson rightly claims, today the river is a “water delivery system,” with its dozens of reservoirs, dams, and diversions ensuring the allocation of virtually every drop for human needs.

Yet Downstream is no visual jeremiad railing against environmental abuse. Nor is it a dispassionate travelogue of the two years Halverson spent hiking, driving, and rafting along the Colorado. The wild terrain that flabbergasted early explorers is still here in the Paleozoic strata of gigantic rock outcroppings, the ancient calm of ghostly canyons, the dizzying heights overlooking a ribbon of water far below. And the colours – ochre, cerulean blue, deep red, electric green – are all intensified against the palette of a dammed river running colder and deeper than if it flowed freely. A modern-day beauty even finds itself inscribed in steel and concrete, whether in the sleek form of a pipeline or the still surface of an irrigation canal.

But it is in the bizarre, sometimes humorous, intersections of past and present that Downstream gains its potency. Cheap plastic lawn chairs, sitting vacant, look puny and ridiculous against a looming canyon wall. Weekend revellers pump fists skyward on the shores of Lake Mead, a giant reservoir held in place by Hoover Dam. A garden hose waters a scrawny palm tree in a desert oasis populated by rows of RVs.

What is gained and what is lost by controlling the Colorado River? And what are the river’s limits? Halverson’s Downstream series asks the viewer to contemplate these questions in a time when the arid West’s thirsty population threatens to overwhelm technological as well as natural resources, and when our well-watered urban lives remain utterly disconnected from riparian realities. Through her resonant imagery, Halverson speaks to the immutability of the river’s past while confronting its complex, contested present and future.

Jennifer A. Watts, Curator of Photographs from The Huntington Library Halverson Gallery guide [Online] Cited 28/02/2019

 

Karen Halverson. 'Near Palo Verde, California' 1994-95

 

Karen Halverson (American, b. 1941)
Near Palo Verde, California from the Downstream series
1994-95

 

Karen Halverson (American, b. 1941) 'Imperial Dam, near Yuma, Arizona' 1994-95

 

Karen Halverson (American, b. 1941)
Imperial Dam, near Yuma, Arizona from the Downstream series
1994-95

 

Karen Halverson (American, b. 1941) 'Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Wyoming' 1994-95

 

Karen Halverson (American, b. 1941)
Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Wyoming from the Downstream series
1994-95

 

Karen Halverson (American, b. 1941) 'Shafer Trail, Near Moab, Utah' 1994-95

 

Karen Halverson (American, b. 1941)
Shafer Trail, Near Moab, Utah from the Downstream series
1994-95

 

 

The Huntington Library
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, CA  91108

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm
Closed Tuesdays

The Huntington Library website

Karen Halverson Photographs website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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

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