Posts Tagged ‘large format camera

08
Aug
21

Review: ‘An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain’ at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Exhibition dates: 18th April – 8th August 2021

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Untitled, Hanoi' 1995

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Untitled, Hanoi
1995
From the series Viêt Nam (1994-98)
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, and London
© An-My Lê

 

 

“In their essential nature men do not change. The great and noble, the Masters of Life, will be great and noble to the end of time, and to contemplate them and their deeds inspires us to endeavour to emulate them. Learn whom a man venerates, and you can come to judge his character. Like is assimilated unto like. The mind approaches that which it continually contemplates, and kindred inevitably follow.”

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Alvin Langdon

 

 

Disguising power as virtue or, the Inner Landscape of Beauty

One of the great assets of VR, especially in times of lockdown, is that you can view an exhibition from a distance. Such is the case with this strong exhibition by Vietnamese-American photographer An-My Lê at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. It gives the viewer the ability to come to grips with an artists work displayed as a whole, to contemplate the myriad threads that run through the five bodies of work that are presented in the exhibition.

While there are no remarkable “hero” shots contained within the body of Lê’s work, collectively the photographs from each series build a serious interrogation into the contested terrains of colonialism, war, the military, racism and protest. As we know with life nothing is ever black and white, and through her classically inspired photographs Lê probes the interweaving of existence, desire, possession and control in the landscape, in the landscape of life. As assistant curator Kirsten Gaylord observes, “Her photographs consider questions that we are all thinking about now: What does it mean to be an American citizen? How does our country’s history shape our contemporary lives? What should be the role of the U.S. in the world?” These are complex issues which Lê addresses with intelligence and rigorous conceptualisation, fully aware of the paradoxes that exist within her inquiry.

My favourite series are the more personal and engaging, the more empathetic and feeling of the works – the first and the last, Viêt Nam (1994-98) and Silent General (2015-ongoing). In Viêt Nam, Lê returns to her homeland of Vietnam after almost 20 years with her large format camera. The resulting meditation on homeland evidenced in beautiful, perfectly formed photographs are moving and touching, poetic reveries on lost innocence, regained? In Silent General, Lê again again puts more of her self on the line, her photographs confronting the “issues of our time that are rooted in our history, from the fate of Confederate monuments to immigration debates around agricultural labourers.”

I am ambivalent about the other series in the exhibition, which while beautiful have a slightly chilly aura.

In the series Small Wars (1999-2002), Lê photographs Vietnam War reenactors in North Carolina and Virginia with the utmost sense of “authenticity” creating images that “explore the legacy and mythology of the Vietnam War for contemporary Americans.” In 29 Palms (2003-04) she photographs troops training in an American landscape similar to the one they would soon be deployed to in Iraq. In Events Ashore (2005-14) the artist photographs the crews of U.S. naval vessels around the world exploring the global reach of the American military, its diplomatic, humanitarian, military, and political activities.

In Small Wars and 29 Palms, Lê pictures a simulacra of war, simulations of a war already past (and lost), and a war yet to run its course, which would ultimately lead to the withdrawal of US forces. Her work blurs the boundaries between photojournalism and reality / fiction.

The photograph Ambush I (1999-2002, below) from Small Wars is eerily similar to Henri Huet’s photograph of Life magazine photographer Larry Burrows struggling through elephant grass in 1970 (below) with the difference that Burrows is helping to evacuate a wounded soldier, and that Huet, Burrows and two other photojournalists would be killed when their helicopter was shot down over Laos later in February 1971. Similarly, Lê’s photographs Mechanized Assault (2003-4) shows a pristine landscape foregrounded with immaculate tanks and personnel carriers in the American landscape… when in reality, American Marines photograph the burnt remains of Iraqi T-55 Main Battle Tanks amongst a non-descript landscape of shell holes and mundane buildings (16 April 2003, below). Further, while not a simulation, the very stillness and chillness of Events Ashore – the physical and metaphorical distance of the photographer from the subject, from the reason of the existence of the military – make the photographs in that series seem almost an apologia for the military.

In a quotation, Lê states that, “… I am not categorically against war. I was more interested in drawing people into my work, to think about the issues that envelop war – representations of war, landscape and terrain in war. When I’m working with the military, I still think of myself as a landscape photographer. My main goal is to try to photograph landscape in such a way that it suggests a universal history, a personal history, a history of culture.”

I understand what the photographer is attempting, but in one sense I remain unconvinced about the success of the mission.

Simply put, the raison d’etre for the military – despite all protestations to the contrary, despite all the good works they otherwise undertake – is “to engage in combat, should it be required to do so by the national defence policy, and to win. This represents an organisational goal of any military, and the primary focus for military thought through military history.” (Wikipedia) In terms of military doctrine,1 we note that in the history of the United States of America, the country has been at war 225 out of 243 years since 1776. America is a militarised society where the military prosecutes war on its own terms, disguising power as virtue. In terms of the prosecution of war, the country seems to be manifestly belligerent.

The outcome of any war is death. Sure, the soldiers might be there for economic or social reasons, they may experience fear and exhilaration, boredom and dreams, brotherhood and purpose, travel and education… but ultimately the military is a fighting and killing machine. “Young soldiers in combat inevitably confront killing. They take life away from others, and in so doing breach one of the most fundamental moral values of their society, often with long-term consequences.” Listening to an American veteran from the battle of Caens after the D-Day landings in 1944 recently in a documentary, he observed that all war is, is death – dead German soldiers, dead American soldiers, dead civilians. The reality (not a simulation or a reenactment) of Henri Huet’s photograph of dead soldiers, Bodies of US paratroopers lie near a command post during the battle of An Ninh (1965, below) is shocking and unimpeachable.

Soldiers kill. Human beings, civilian and military, die.

And then the military doesn’t want you to know about that. They cover it up. In World War 1, the British stopped posting lists of the missing and dead in the newspapers because there were so many of them. And in the Iraq war, the American military didn’t want photographs of American coffins in the back of a transport plane published because it would upset the families and the public. Even the metadata (hidden text data) written by the military contained in a public domain image of destroyed Iraqi tanks (see below) in 2003 states, “Operation IRAQI FREEDOM is the multinational coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and end the regime of Saddam Hussein.” Outright lies and deception … the invasion was illegal under international law as it violated the UN Charter, there were no weapons of mass destruction found, and no link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. The Iraq War caused at least one hundred thousand civilian deaths, as well as tens of thousands of military deaths.

Everyone is involved in the construction of the world. You can be informed or not. You have choices. Human beings have a choice to go into the military, or not. The problem is that human beings in power, in control (at the top of the military for example) inspire others to endeavour to emulate them. As Alvin Langdon observes, “Like is assimilated unto like. The mind approaches that which it continually contemplates, and kindred inevitably follow.”

Now, in another sense I believe that Lê achieves her aim, to suggest a universal history, a personal history, and a history of culture embodied in the landscape, suggestions that possibly sweep away landscapes of control.

As the Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue observed, “Even in landscapes of control you can be swept off your feet by sheer beauty.” Landscapes of control cannot stand before the power of beauty embodied in the landscape and in Lê’s photographs the memory of the landscape, its music, embeds itself in the photograph. Through the power of beauty, the Inner Landscape of Beauty (one that is metaphorical as much as physical, in the mind as much as it is externally verbalised), the photographs of An-My Lê subversively undermine the control of the military over the land: its occupation and colonisation of it, its wars to control it, and its very “uniform” presence in it. Look again at the photograph Mechanized Assault (2003-4, below) and now it is the distance of the photographer from the subject – the infinite sublime as I call it – that upends the punitive intentions of the military and overwhelms their puny vehicles. It’s an earth, spirit and mind thing.

In the viewers recognition of the beauty of this land(e)scape, we acknowledge our own virtue and assert our desire to be free. Free from restrictive control. Free from oppression. Free from war. The military, police “force” and government are and always will be, afraid of the infinite within us…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,540

 

Footnotes

  1. “Development of military doctrine is perhaps the more important of all capability development activities, because it determines how military forces are used in conflicts, the concepts and methods used by the command to employ appropriately military skilled, armed and equipped personnel in achievement of the tangible goals and objectives of the war, campaign, battle, engagement, and action.” (Wikipedia)

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Many thankx to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Henri Huet (French, 1927-1971)/AP 'Bodies of US paratroopers lie near a command post during the battle of An Ninh' 18 September 1965

 

Henri Huet (French, 1927-1971)/AP
Bodies of US paratroopers lie near a command post during the battle of An Ninh
18 September 1965

 

 

The paratroopers, of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, were hit by heavy fire from guerrillas that began as soon as the first elements of the unit landed. The dead and wounded were later evacuated to An Khe, where the 101st was based. The battle was one of the first of the war between major units of US forces and the Vietcong.

 

An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain is the first comprehensive survey of the work of Vietnamese-American photographer An-My Lê. Featuring photographs from a selection of the artist’s five major bodies of work, the nationally touring exhibition considers the celebrated photographer’s nearly 25-year career exploring the edges of war and recording these landscapes of conflict in beautiful, classically composed photographs.

Born in Saigon in the midst of the Vietnam War, Lê was evacuated with her family by the U.S. military. She has spent decades considering the complexity of American history and conflict, from war reenactments to the removal of Confederate monuments. This timely exhibition explores politically-charged topics through Lê’s subtle, evocative images that avoid the sensationalism often seen in newspapers and movies. Sweeping views that emphasise the size and breadth of the theatre of war display the artist’s technical strengths in the classical landscape tradition, which she uses to compose beautiful images that draw the viewer into deeper consideration of complex themes of history and power.

 

 

” …as a photographer, I’m interested in looking at and representing the real world, and interpreting it in ways that allow me to learn from it and enlighten the issues I am trying to understand. I feel entirely comfortable using photographs with simple titles and explanatory texts. And I feel comfortable with the fact that some people may interpret a photograph differently from others. My photographs are visually complicated and carry complex messages because of the way I pack the information into the frame and structure the picture. People need to spend time with the work in order to piece together all the information. But of course the reading is subjective. I like that. I like that it could be contradictory, that it could be full of surprises, that it could be confusing. I see a fragile construct between the objective and subjective.

Ultimately, the picture is there to incite someone to think about the issues at stake, rather than say explicitly how I myself feel about the American military. Some of my work could be understood as being supportive of the military. You could look at some pictures and think: wow, those young Americans are so heroic! Or you could see in the same image a reflection of American imperialism: look at the American guy standing there, trying to teach the locals how to do it the American way! There are so many possible interpretations. Sometimes the US military comes in and does help people. For example, after the earthquake in Haiti, the military was able to accomplish what no one else could. It was there with supplies in a matter of hours. But there’s a fine line between coming to help and invading, and it has to do with physical and economic presence and the ways in which Americans occupy the land. So the work is about those tensions.

I think it goes back to my own conflicted perceptions of the US military and what it did to Vietnam. At the end of the war, it was the Americans who could help us escape from the approach of communism. Everyone tried to scale the walls of the American Embassy, not the French Embassy. So it’s about all those conflicted things.”

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An-My Lê quoted in Andrew Maerkle. “Fires on the Plain,” on the ART-iT website 28/07/2015 [Online] Cited 26/07/2021.

 

“Living through the Vietnam War as a child and immigrating to the United States as a teenager, An-My Lê’s life has been indelibly marked by international conflict. For over two decades, her work as a photographer has engaged the unseen facets within the theater of war. With her large-format camera in tow, she has immersed herself in the Appalachian forest with Vietnam War reenactors, and traveled aboard U.S. aircraft carriers around the globe. Lê identifies as a landscape photographer, a perspective that grounds her subtle, impactful images of American interventionism within a larger history of violence.”

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Sara Christoph. “An-My Lê with Sara Christoph,” on the Brooklyn Rail website February 2015 [Online] Cited 26/07/2021.

 

 

 

Photographer An-My Lê: 2012 MacArthur Fellow | MacArthur Foundation | October 2012

Meet An-My Lê and learn about how she came to photography, her work with the U.S. military, and her 19th-century-style camera.

Photographer An-My Lê was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2012. The Fellowship is a $500,000, no-strings-attached grant for individuals who have shown exceptional creativity in their work and the promise to do more.

 

 

 

An-My Lê: Landscapes of war | July 2018

Find out more about An-My Lê’s series Small Wars (1992-2002), and Lê’s experiences photographing Vietnam war reenactors.

Photographer An-My Lê, who grew up in Saigon during the Vietnam War, describes her series Small Wars (1999-2002) and 29 Palms (2003-2004). She discusses how contemporary landscape photography can be used to present more than just scenery; it can illuminate culture, architecture, and social and political issues that citizens are concerned with today.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain' at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Untitled, Mekong Delta' 1994

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Untitled, Mekong Delta
1994
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

 

Viêt Nam (1994-98)

In 1994, Lê returned to her home country for the first time since being evacuated as a teenager in 1975, arriving shortly after relations between the U.S. and Vietnam were normalised. She brought her camera with her, hoping to untangle the reality of her childhood memories from what she had seen over the years in movies and the news. She started the project in her mother’s birthplace, Hanoi, which she had never visited before, and returned to Vietnam three more times, spending about a month there on each trip. Using a large-format camera and shooting from an elevated perspective, Lê portrayed the landscape as a backdrop for human activity – particularly war and conflict – throughout history and into the present. Her series began with images of traditional, rural landscape she recalled from her childhood but eventually evolved into a photographic meditation on the fog of war and its tendency to scramble perceptions. Other images include scenes from urban and modern-day Vietnam unlike anything she had seen represented in the U.S. In this series Lê refined her working methods and began engaging with themes that remain cornerstones of her practice today.

Wall text

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Untitled, Mekong Delta' 1994

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Untitled, Mekong Delta
1994
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

 

This was the first photograph Lê made in Vietnam after almost twenty years away. It reflects her directorial style: Unlike a photojournalist, who strives to record events without intervening, Lê instructed the members of this farming family to stand still and look at the camera. The movement of their livestock and the surrounding foliage in the wind creates blur – perhaps a nod to the quickening pace of modern life in Vietnam.

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Untitled, Ho Chi Minh City' 1995

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Untitled, Ho Chi Minh City
1995
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Untitled, Thanh Hoa' 1998

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Untitled, Thanh Hoa
1998
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

 

Linnaeus Tripe (British, 1822-1902)
Between Chittumputty and Teramboor: Elephant Rock, End View, January-February 1858
1858

 

 

Linnaeus Tripe (British, 1822-1902)

Linnaeus Tripe (1822-1902) was a British pioneer of photography, best known for his photographs of India and Burma taken in the 1850s.

Linnaeus Tripe was born in Plymouth Dock (now Devonport), Devon, to Mary (1786-1842) and Cornelius (1785-1860). He was the ninth of twelve children. He joined the East India Company army in 1838, and in 1840, became a lieutenant based in the south of India. He returned to England in 1850, on a leave that was extended due to ill health until 1854. During this time he began to experiment with photography, and joined the Photographic Society of London in 1853. He returned to Bangalore, India, as a captain in June 1854. In December of that year he made his first photographs of India. In February of the following year he took part in the Madras Exhibition of Raw Products, Arts, and Manufactures of Southern India, displaying 68 photographs of previously unphotographed temples. The jury declared these photographs the “Best series of photographic views on paper.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Hippolyte Arnoux (French, (active c. 1860 - c. 1890) and Emile Gsell (French, 1838-1879) 'Pagoda des Supplices, Hanoi' 1880

 

Hippolyte Arnoux (French, (active c. 1860 – c. 1890) and Emile Gsell (French, 1838-1879)
Pagoda des Supplices, Hanoi
1880
From “The trip from Egypt to Indochina” (Voyage de l’ Egypte à l’ Indochine)

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Untitled, But Thap' 1996

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Untitled, But Thap
1996
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

 

“In graduate school, I was nudged to draw from my personal experience. This was in 1992, before Bill Clinton lifted the economic embargo against Vietnam, so it was not easy to travel there. Having escaped Vietnam in 1975 without our family albums, I pored through the photography catalogs in the libraries at Yale for references to Vietnam. I was shocked to find devastating images of war, and also patronising ethnographic photographs taken by European photographers during the colonial period, but nothing else. When I was finally able to travel there a few years later, I made a series of black-and-white photographs, mostly landscapes, that were intended to fill in the gaps that existed between the war documentation and the ethnographic archive.”

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An-My Lê, 2021. Conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen, The New York Review of Books

 

“For me, the landscape has always been the constant in my work. I work with scale as a way to give context to human endeavours, military endeavours, and the history of power. In the end, Vietnam has endured many battles and gone through so many changes. The Chinese invasion, the Japanese occupation, the colonialism of the French, the Indochina War, the Americans – the constancy was always the landscape. And people change, cultures change over time, but there is something about the land. Even as our world modernises, there is a certain consistency, a certain authenticity.”

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An-My Lê quoted in Sara Christoph. “An-My Lê with Sara Christoph,” on the Brooklyn Rail website February 2015 [Online] Cited 26/07/2021.

 

“When I first made the pictures in Vietnam, I was not ready to deal with the war. Being able to go back to Vietnam was a way to reconnect with a homeland, or with the idea of what a homeland is and with the idea of going home. When you live in exile, things like smells and memories and stories from childhood all take on such importance. So, this was an opportunity to reconnect with the real thing, and to be confronted with contemporary Vietnam. It’s not the way it was twenty years ago, or the way it’s described in folktales my grandmother and mother used to tell me, or even in stories from my mother’s own childhood in the North. So, I really looked for things that suggested a certain way of life – agrarian life – things that connect you to the land. Unfortunately, pictures don’t smell; but if I could do that, they would be about smells as well.”

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An-My Lê quoted in “Vietnam: An-My Lê,” on the Art21 website Nd [Online] Cited 26/07/2021

 

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Untitled, Son Tay' 1998

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Untitled, Son Tay
1998
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

 

“People always say that it is so bizarre how these men reenact the Vietnam War, and go to so much trouble to do so! But then, you think about Steven Spielberg or even Kathryn Bigelow, and in a way, their work is a kind of reenactment pushed to the extreme. And no one has any issues with that! Just because it is a movie and there are millions of dollars involved, it is entertainment. And then you look to the military. All the training, practice drills, etc. They use the same language of reenactment. ‘Today, our scenario is…'”

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An-My Lê, 2015

Read the poem “A Brief History of Reënactment” by Vietnamese-American poet Hai-Dang Phan that was inspired by Lê’s series ‘Small Wars’.

 

“I feared for my safety on my first trip to Virginia, because I didn’t know the reenactors or their motivations. They called themselves ‘living historians.’ They grew up collecting badges and they knew everything about war histories, and this was a way for them to live out some of these fantasies. […]

It was so interesting to see the way who played what was economically replicated in real life. The kids who had more money would play the Americans because the American gear was more expensive, and they also tended to be less fit. They were always up on the hill sleeping on air mattresses and eating C-rations. And then us, the North Vietnamese Army or Viet Cong, we were down sleeping on the ground or in hammocks. We were always hiking up and ambushing them.”

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An-My Lê, 2019 conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen in the catalogue for “An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain.”

 

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Viet Cong Camp' 1999-2002

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Viet Cong Camp
1999-2002
From the series Small Wars (1999-2002)
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

 

Small Wars (1999-2002)

While researching the Vietnam War for her work, Lê discovered small groups of Vietnam War reenactors based in Virginia and North Carolina who were primarily civilians with little or no military experience. The organisers agreed to let her photograph if she also participated, and over the course of three summers she attended and photographed four or five reenactments, which became her series Small Wars. Even though Lê is from South Vietnam and had little firsthand knowledge of the North, she was often enlisted to play the role of North Vietnamese soldier or Viet Cong rebel. The other reenactors appreciated the “authenticity” she brought to the scenes, in part because it made their own experience feel more realistic. Lê’s participation became a way for her to understand personal histories and associations the reenactors brought with them to their performances, and it helped her better imagine what it might have been like for the North Vietnamese soldiers who fought in the war. Matching the reenactors’ commitment to authenticity, and underscoring her control of the scenes occurring in front of her camera, Lê consulted a military expert to restage certain moments and ensure that every detail, from the uniforms to the equipment, was as historically accurate as possible.

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Stars and Stripes' 1999-2002

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Stars and Stripes
1999-2002
From the series Small Wars (1999-2002)
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Sniper I' 1999-2002

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Sniper I
1999-2002
From the series Small Wars (1999-2002)
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

Henri Huet (French, 1927-1971)/AP ''Life' magazine photographer Larry Burrows (far left) struggles through elephant grass and the rotor wash of an American evacuation helicopter as he helps GIs carry a wounded soldier on a stretcher from the jungle to the chopper in Mimot, Cambodia' 4 May 1970

 

Henri Huet (French, 1927-1971)/AP
‘Life’ magazine photographer Larry Burrows (far left) struggles through elephant grass and the rotor wash of an American evacuation helicopter as he helps GIs carry a wounded soldier on a stretcher from the jungle to the chopper in Mimot, Cambodia
4 May 1970

 

 

Life magazine photographer Larry Burrows (far left) struggles through elephant grass and the rotor wash of an American evacuation helicopter as he helps GIs carry a wounded soldier on a stretcher from the jungle to the chopper in Mimot, Cambodia on 4 May 1970. The evacuation came during the US incursion into Cambodia. Burrows was killed on 10 February 1971, along with the photographer who took this picture, Henri Huet, and two other photojournalists – Kent Potter of UPI and Keisaburo Shimamoto of Newsweek – when their helicopter was shot down over Laos.

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Ambush I' 1999-2002

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Ambush I
1999-2002
From the series Small Wars (1999-2002)
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Rescue' 1999-2002

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Rescue
1999-2002
From the series Small Wars (1999-2002)
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, and London
© An-My Lê

 

 

The Vietnam War reenactors Lê photographed were committed to creating “authentic” scenarios. This meant that every element, from their uniforms to their weapons and even their encampments, was meticulously researched and either purchased from approved sources or carefully fabricated. To further heighten the realism of their scenes, the reenactors gained access to Fort Story, a Joint Expeditionary Base in Virginia Beach that has been used as a training site for amphibious combat exercises since the end of World War II. A Vietnam-era jet that is grounded there became the site of a crash reenactment.

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Colonel Greenwood' 2003-2004

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Colonel Greenwood
2003-2004
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, Chicago, Gift of Lannan Foundation, Santa Fe, NM
Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, and London
© An-My Lê

 

 

“I came to understand a lot about life in the military through conversations with the marines. At that point, I had never quite understood why someone would join the military. I thought people join because they want to fight, because they want to shoot guns, because they want to combat evil forces. But I realised that some join for economic reasons: just to get a job. Some want to travel. Some see it as a way to get out of difficult circumstances: Some were orphans who grew up in tough foster homes and felt the military gave them an opportunity to escape. So I gradually came to understand the human component, the redemptive aspect of this complicated equation.”

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An-My Lê in Andrew Maerkle. “Fires on the Plain,” on the ART-iT website 28/07/2015 [Online] Cited 26/07/2021.

 

 

From War Reenactors to the Removal of Confederate Monuments, An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain Spotlights Politically Charged Work that Resonates Today

The Amon Carter Museum of American Art (the Carter) will present the first comprehensive survey of the work of Vietnamese-American photographer An-My Lê (b. 1960), on view April 18 through August 8, 2021. Featuring photographs from a selection of the artist’s five major bodies of work, the nationally touring An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain draws connections across Lê’s career and provides unprecedented insight into her subtle, evocative images that draw on the classical landscape tradition to explore the complexity of American history and conflict.

Celebrated photographer Lê has spent nearly 25 years exploring the edges of war and recording these landscapes of conflict in beautiful, classically composed photographs. Born in Saigon in the midst of the Vietnam War, Lê vividly remembers the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up in a war zone. She and her family were eventually evacuated by the U.S. military in 1975. It would take another 20 years for Lê to return to her homeland, this time with a large-format camera in tow.

“We are proud to bring An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain to our North Texas community,” said Andrew J. Walker, Executive Director. “Lê’s photographs bring history into conversation with the present, confronting head-on, complicated questions that remain relevant today. It feels especially important that we are spotlighting her work during our anniversary year, as it draws on the traditions reflected in our historical photography collection and underlines our 60-year commitment to exhibiting the best American photographers at the Carter.”

Lê follows in the tradition of nineteenth-century photographers like Timothy O’Sullivan and Mathew Brady, whose images of the Civil War brought the realities of combat to everyday Americans. Crafting sweeping views that emphasise the size and breadth of the theatre of war, Lê captures the complexity of conflict and the full scope of military life, avoiding the sensationalism often seen in newspapers and movies. On Contested Terrain highlights the artist’s technical strengths, used to compose beautiful images that draw the viewer into deeper consideration of complex themes of history and power.

The exhibition presents selections from five of Lê’s major series:

 

Viêt Nam (1994-98)

Almost 20 years after her family was evacuated, Lê returned to Vietnam with her large-format camera. The resulting series is a meditation on her homeland, addressing both her memories of it and the country’s reality decades later. It depicts the landscape as a backdrop for human history, a theme Lê would return to again and again.

 

Small Wars (1999-2002)

Back in the United States, Lê photographed Vietnam War reenactors in North Carolina and Virginia, often participating as a North Vietnamese soldier or Viet Cong rebel. Working with the reenactors, many of whom had not fought in the war, to achieve “authenticity” whenever possible, Lê made images that explore the legacy and mythology of the Vietnam War for contemporary Americans.

 

29 Palms (2003-04)

Unable to secure credentials to embed on the front lines of the Iraq War, Lê traveled to a California military base to photograph troops training in a landscape similar to the environment in which they would soon be deployed. In addition to the desert training exercises, Lê photographed the debriefings and downtime that filled the soldiers’ days.

 

Events Ashore (2005-14)

This series, the artist’s first foray into colour photography, was created over nine years that Lê spent photographing the crews of U.S. naval vessels around the world. An extensive exploration of the global reach of the American military, Events Ashore includes scenes of everyday life on an aircraft carrier alongside diplomatic, humanitarian, military, and political activities.

 

Silent General (2015-ongoing)

In her current series, Lê grapples with the legacy of America’s Civil War and responds to the complexities of the current socio-political moment. Her poetic photographs of polarised landscapes confront issues of our time that are rooted in our history, from the fate of Confederate monuments to immigration debates around agricultural labourers.

 

“An-My Lê has spent decades investigating conflicted terrains, both physical and metaphorical” stated Kristen Gaylord, Assistant Curator of Photographs. “Her photographs consider questions that we are all thinking about now: What does it mean to be an American citizen? How does our country’s history shape our contemporary lives? What should be the role of the U.S. in the world? These questions are especially salient for the City of Fort Worth, which includes a major defence contractor, the first Joint Reserve Base in the country, and residents and refugees from around the world, including Vietnam, Somalia, Guatemala, and Afghanistan. The generosity and incisiveness of Lê’s vision are a model for how we can navigate these complexities together.”

An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain is organised by Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Major support for this exhibition is provided by Lannan Foundation and the William Talbott Hillman Foundation. Additional support is generously provided by the Virginia Kaufman Fund, the Henry John Simonds Foundation, the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Jennifer and Karl Salatka, and the Virginia S. Warner Foundation. Generous support for the exhibition catalogue has been provided by Marian Goodman Gallery. The exhibition debuted at Carnegie Museum of Art in March 2020 and is on view there through January 18, 2021. Following the presentation at the Carter, the exhibition will travel to the Milwaukee Art Museum in fall 2021. An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain is included in the museum’s free admission. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring many images never-before-published.

 

About An-My Lê

An-My Lê was born in Saigon in 1960. She and her family fled Vietnam in 1975, living for a short period of time in Paris, France, before settling in the United States as a political refugee. Lê received her BAS (1981) and MS (1985) degrees in biology from Stanford University and an MFA from Yale University in 1993. While Lê is represented in many major museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Dallas Museum of Art – An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain is the first survey of her work in an American museum. Currently, a professor of photography at Bard, Lê has received many awards, including the MacArthur Foundation Fellow (2012), the Tiffany Comfort Foundation Fellowship (2010), the National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists and Writers Program Award (2007), and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1997). Her work has been exhibited at museums and galleries across the world, including the Baltimore Museum of Art; Dia Beacon, Beacon, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; MoMA PS1, New York; and more, and her photography was featured in the 2017 Whitney Biennial.

Press release from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Night Operations VII' 2003-2004

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Night Operations VII
2003-2004
From the series 29 Palms (2003-2004)
Gelatin silver print, 2018
Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago
© An-My Lê

 

 

“Twentynine Palms was the first extended period of time I spent in an unpopulated landscape. That was where I first started to think about this idea of the sublime. You see this extraordinary, open land, and you understand how insignificant we are. The most powerful experience I had happened during a night exercise in the middle of the desert. It was completely dark. We were at least a two-hour drive from the camp, and then the whole sky lit up. It was the most extraordinary fireworks I have ever seen – 20 minutes of jets dropping bombs, howitzers firing, and tracers in the air. […] You could feel the tremors in your heart. It was a rush of life power, but at the same time, it was devastating. The kind of destruction that this exercise entails is a destruction that is all our own doing.”

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An-My Lê, 2015

 

 

29 Palms (2003-04)

For her series 29 Palms, Lê turned to real soldiers acting out possible scenarios for a war that was still developing. Unable to secure credentials to embed on the front lines of the Iraq War (2003-2011), she instead sought access to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, also known as Twentynine Palms, outside Joshua Tree National Park in California – a base that was also used by Marines preparing for the Vietnam War decades earlier. Military command had determined that the arid, mountainous landscape was a good approximation to parts of Afghanistan and Iraq, where these soldiers would eventually de deployed. At Twentynine Palms, Lê focused her camera on field exercises, from special ops tactical training to sweeping views of tanks rolling across the desert. Some of the photographs are indistinguishable from images of actual war, while in others the artificiality of the scenario is obvious. She also captured moments that don’t appear in military promotional materials: troops whose attention is drifting during debriefings, huddled together to avoid the hot sun, and smoking and chatting during downtime.

At Twentynine Palms, entire buildings were given over to re-creations of Iraqi towns for security and stabilisation exercises, and cadets were conscripted to role play as Iraqi police. Three images in this gallery show the exercises as well as the facilities, which have been sprayed with anti-USA and pro-Saddam graffiti meant to impart a sense of realism. Simplistic phrases like “Good Saddam” and “Down USA” could never encapsulate an Iraqi’s complicated feelings about the war. Those sentiments, coupled with fake Arabic graffiti, leave a viewer wondering how well the military is preparing these troops who are about to be dropped into a completely foreign country on the other side of the globe.

 

 

 

An-My Lê: “29 Palms” | Art21 “Extended Play” | February 2011

“I just wanted to approach the idea of war in a more complicated and more challenging way” says artist An-My Lê, whose photographic series and film “29 Palms” (2003-04) explore the training exercises and desert landscape near Joshua Tree National Park as a staging ground for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An-My Lê’s photographs and films examine the impact, consequences, and representation of war, framing a tension between the natural landscape and its violent transformation into battlefields. Suspended between the formal traditions of documentary and staged photography, Lê’s work explores the disjunction between wars as historical events and the ubiquitous representation of war in contemporary entertainment, politics, and collective consciousness.

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Security and Stabilization Operations, Iraqi Police' 2003-2004

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Security and Stabilization Operations, Iraqi Police
2003-2004
From the series 29 Palms (2003-2004)
Gelatin silver print, 2018
Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago, Museum Purchase
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Security and Stabilization Operations, Graffiti' 2003-4

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Security and Stabilization Operations, Graffiti
2003-4
From the series 29 Palms (2003-2004)
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

MSGT Howard J. Farrell, US Marine Corps. 'T-54s, T-55s, Type 59s or Type 69s at Diwaniyah, Iraq' 16 April 2003

 

MSGT Howard J. Farrell, US Marine Corps
T-54s, T-55s, Type 59s or Type 69s at Diwaniyah, Iraq
16 April 2003
Public domain

 

 

The destroyed remains of Iraqi T-55 Main Battle Tanks (MBT) litter an Iraqi military complex West of Diwaniyah, near Al Qadisiyah, Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Visible on the picture are also two ARVs (the upper one is a Chinese-made Type 653 while the lower one is a Polish-made WZT-2). The tank in the bottom of the picture is a Type 69 as evidenced by the fender-mounted headlights.

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Mechanized Assault' 2003-4

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Mechanized Assault
2003-4
Gelatin silver print
© An-My Lê

 

 

“The kind of work that I make is not the standard political work. It’s not agitprop. You would think, because I’ve seen so much devastation and lived through a war, that I should make something that’s outwardly antiwar. But I am not categorically against war. I was more interested in drawing people into my work, to think about the issues that envelop war – representations of war, landscape and terrain in war. When I’m working with the military, I still think of myself as a landscape photographer. My main goal is to try to photograph landscape in such a way that it suggests a universal history, a personal history, a history of culture.”

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An-My Lê quoted in “War and Aesthetics: An-My Lê,” on the Art21 website Nd [Online] Cited 26/07/2021

 

“I love the way things are drawn in black and white but it was evident to me Events Ashore needed to be in color. It was at first a technical issue. I found the [black-and-white] palette restrictive. I was frustrated not being able to distinguish colder from warmer gray. [Black and white] is about a removal of the information provided by color, which is interesting in itself. Only the essential is retained, and this forces the imagination to go into overdrive to compensate. As I was exploring this huge global enterprise that is the U.S. Navy, I wanted to describe my experience in details and overwhelm the viewer with information. Bringing color back was crucial.”

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An-My Lê quoted in Jon Feinstein. “An-My Lê: The Landscape of Conflict,” on the Daylight website 10th February 2017 [Online] Cited 26/07/2021

 

 

Events Ashore (2005-2014)

Lê’s time at Twentynine Palms let to friendships with military personnel that facilitated her next series, titled Events Ashore. She was invited to join a Marine Expeditionary Unit on an aircraft carrier and over the next nine years spent weeks at a time visiting twenty different countries aboard U.S. naval vessels travelling the world, from Antartica to Greenland. Events Ashore was Lê’s first foray into colour photography, made in part because her standard black-and-white film could not capture the subtle differences in the tonalities of ships, sky and water that filled the views from aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships, and nuclear-powered submarines.

In this series intimate scenes of life aboard an aircraft carrier are interspersed with coverage of less-known military outreach efforts, like tutoring individuals for an English proficiency exam, and landmark geopolitical moments including the first U.S. naval exchange with Vietnam since the Vietnam War (1955-75). Lê attempts to fathom the full scope fo the navy’s activities around the world. The result is an extensive exploration of the environmental, financial, human, and political costs of military intervention.

 

 

“I [am] interested in many aspects of the military endeavour, from humanitarian missions in Africa and Asia and strategic trainings and engagements in the North Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean to scientific missions in the Arctic and Antarctic. This work is as much about my perspective and personal history as a political refugee from Vietnam as it is about the vast geopolitical forces and conflicts that shape these landscapes. It is also about how the U.S. military is seen around the world, and how it represents our country. A polarising subject in popular imagination, the U.S. military has inspired fear, patriotism, debate, and suspicion. My goal has been to give a visual analog to that complex topic, to address issues of power and fragility. […] My intention is to stir up thought but not dictate a message. It is not a call to action so much as a call for perspective.”

.
An-My Lê, 2014 from the exhibition catalogue

 

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Earthquake Relief, Marine Corps Weapons Company Beach Landing Site, Haiti' 2010

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Earthquake Relief, Marine Corps Weapons Company Beach Landing Site, Haiti
2010
From the series Events Ashore
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Portrait Studio, USS Ronald Reagan, North Arabian Gulf' 2009

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Portrait Studio, USS Ronald Reagan, North Arabian Gulf
2009
From the series Events Ashore
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'US Naval Hospital Ship Mercy, Vietnam' 2009

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
US Naval Hospital Ship Mercy, Vietnam
2009
From the series Events Ashore
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

 

Lê has said that her ultimate subject in Events Ashore was scale, and the ocean is one of the only environments vast enough to dwarf the massive ships of the U.S. Navy. USNS Mercy is the lead ship of a class of hospital ships that are the third largest ship class in the navy, although in this image it seems small. Hospital ships carry only defensive weapons, and it is a war crime to attack them. Last spring, Mercy was sent to Los Angeles to provide relief to local hospitals dealing with COVID-19 cases. A train engineer deliberately ran a train off the tracks in an attempt to crash into it, saying he was suspicious of Mercy and did not believe “the ship is what they say it’s for.”

Wall text

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Manning the rail, the U.S.S. Tortuga, Java Sea' 2010

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Manning the rail, the U.S.S. Tortuga, Java Sea
2010
From the series Events Ashore
Inkjet print
Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, and London
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Fresh Water Wash-Down of Super Structure, USS Ronald Reagan, North Arabian Gulf' 2009

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Fresh Water Wash-Down of Super Structure, USS Ronald Reagan, North Arabian Gulf
2009
From the series Events Ashore
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Damage Control Training, USS Nashville, Dakar, Senegal' 2009

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Damage Control Training, USS Nashville, Dakar, Senegal
2009
From the series Events Ashore
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Ship Divers, USS New Hampshire, Arctic Seas' 2011

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Ship Divers, USS New Hampshire, Arctic Seas
2011
Inkjet print
Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, and London
© An-My Lê

 

 

“[Walt] Whitman epitomises the acknowledgment that art offers the most inclusive and accurate method for addressing an experience. Whitman’s work resisted easy categorisation – it was neither journalism nor poetry. It allowed him to explore his curiosity about himself and the world in a way that always inspired complex responses. In a way, a photographer’s independence is what defines their identity as an artist. If your work doesn’t serve a story, document an event, or promote a product, then it must be art. But, in another sense, a photography artist is usually excited by the risk of their work not being considered art at all. When you decide to look at a polarising subject that plenty of non-artists are also working with – like a newsworthy event – then you are begging a question: ‘Are you doing anything better as an artist? Might you be doing something worse?'”

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An-My Lê quoted in Tom Seymour. “An-My Lê: Landscape is not a narrow category – it is a source of surprise,” on The Art Newspaper website 13th August 2020 [Online] Cited 26/07/2021

 

 

Silent General (2015-ongoing)

Lê’s current project examines the contemporary state of affairs in the united States through the lens of history. It takes its title from Walt Whitman’s tribute to Ulysses S. Grant in Specimen Days (1882), an autobiographical account of Whitman’s time tending to wounded Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War (1861-65), another fractured moment in the countries history. Her arrangement of these photographs in groups, or what she calls “fragments,” is an homage to the literary structure of Specimen Days and a poetic way of sequencing the pictures.

Lê made her first photographs for the series in 2015, when the news was dominated by Donald Trump’s candidacy for president and public controversy over monuments commemorating the Confederacy. Since then, Lê has photographed politically polarised landscapes from Louisiana to New York, California to Texas, and down into Mexico. The images in Silent General address much-debated issues including citizenship, immigration, labour rights, land access, and racism, and often trace them back to their historical roots.

Wall text

 

 

 

Confederate Memorials in Texas

The photographs in this gallery address significant and contested issues facing our country, including the presence of Confederate monuments and markers throughout the United States.

Should these memorials remain, or should they be removed? While some believe that removing them erases history, others think that they were created to assert dominance over Black people.

There are over 150 Confederate memorials in Texas, most of which were created in two eras: first, the 1900 to the mid-1930s, as Jim Crow laws were passed and the Ku Klux Klan resurged; and second, the 1950s and 1960s, during the civil rights movement and coinciding with the centennial of the Civil War.

What, if anything, surprises you about Confederate monuments and markers in Texas?

Information on this map was gathered from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Texas Historical Commission, “The Texas Tribune,” and various private databases.

Wall text

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Fragment I: General P. G. T. Beauregard Monument, New Orleans' 2016

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Fragment I: General P. G. T. Beauregard Monument, New Orleans
2016
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

 

Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard was a well-known Confederate general who conveyed racist views about Black people before, during, and immediately after the Civil War. But he was adamantly against the federalist Reconstruction policies of the postwar period and became part of a group that advocated for Black suffrage and equal rights as a way of uniting Southern interests against them. A statue of him as a Confederate general was unveiled at the main entrance of New Orleans’ City Park in 1915. One hundred years later, it was one of four memorials related to the Confederacy that the New Orleans City Council voted to remove, although the removal took over a year and a half.

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Fragment VI: General Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard Monuments, Homeland Security Storage, New Orleans' 2017

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Fragment VI: General Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard Monuments, Homeland Security Storage, New Orleans
2017
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

 

“We should start with the paradoxical ideas about photography and truth, journalism, and the issue that a photograph is an evidence of something. In film for example, if you talk about documentary films, or feature films, or fictional films, there is never any issue with which is which, but somehow for photography when people see a photograph, they think it is showing the truth. But we know that all photographs are fictional. This creates a kind of dichotomy, but I think artists such as myself like to take advantage of this misunderstanding. I do straddle that, but my pictures are not photojournalism. They do not attest to anything except perhaps of my interest in the world, and what I bring in terms of my baggage and personal biography to it.”

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An-My Lê quoted in Cleo Roberts. “Complicated Truths: Interview with An-My Lê,” on the ArtAsiaPacific website Feb 24, 2020 [Online] Cited 26/07/2021

 

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Fragment VII: Film Set (Free State of Jones), Firing Lesson, Chicot State Park, Louisiana' 2016

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Fragment VII: Film Set (Free State of Jones), Firing Lesson, Chicot State Park, Louisiana
2016
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

 

“Protest is a commitment to clarity, urgency, and spontaneity. The slogans and chants only work if they can be shared and invested with belief. I used to shy away from explicit language, political or otherwise, as a subject for my work because I feared I would neither document nor reveal anything that wasn’t already there or already stated. Recently I’ve come to the conclusion that the language of protest and resistance is not complete without a response… It invites and demands a response. So, with these photographs, I’ve tried to present protest and public address as intimate and integral gestures, within time and place, that hopefully push back at the more predictable images and commentaries we expect.”

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An-My Lê quoted in Fi Churchman. “‘We Will Dance Again’: Photographer An-My Lê on Reconnecting with New York in Lockdown,” on the ArtReview website 23 September 2020 [Online] Cited 26/07/2021

 

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'Fragment VII: High School Students Protesting Gun Violence, Washington Square Park, New York' 2018

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
Fragment VII: High School Students Protesting Gun Violence, Washington Square Park, New York
2018
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'November 5, Sugar Cane Field, Houma, Louisiana' 2016

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
November 5, Sugar Cane Field, Houma, Louisiana
2016
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960) 'November 10, Workers, Venice, Louisiana' 2016

 

An-My Lê (Vietnamese-American, b. 1960)
November 10, Workers, Venice, Louisiana
2016
Inkjet print
© An-My Lê

 

 

 

Monsen Photography Lecture: An-My Lê | March 2021

The annual Monsen Photography Lecture brings key makers and thinkers in photographic practice to the Henry Art Gallery. Named after Drs. Elaine & Joseph Monsen, the series is designed to further knowledge about and appreciation for the art of photography.

The Henry welcomed An-My Lê as the 2018 Monsen Photography Lecture speaker. Lê is renowned for creating images that raise questions about the representations and effects of war, and for leveraging photographic techniques to challenge understandings of what is fictional or historical. Her work “Small Wars (Ambush I)”, (1999-2002) was included in the Henry’s exhibition, “The Time. The Place: Contemporary Art from the Collection.”

 

 

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07
Mar
21

Exhibition: ‘Dawoud Bey: An American Project’ at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Exhibition dates: 7th November 2020 – 14th March 2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976' 1976

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Early in his career, Bey realised the importance of collaborating with his subjects to make a picture that would also serve as a dialogue between artist and subject: “I wanted to photograph this man in the bowler hat who was talking to a group of three friends and I had no idea how to interrupt their conversation in order to do so. This is when I first realised that it wasn’t just about the photograph; it was also about establishing a relationship out of which comes the photograph.”

 

 

I have always admired artists who have a social conscience, who investigate their subject matter with intelligence, empathy and insight.

I have always admired artist who examine their subject matter from different perspectives, turning the diamond of the world in light, to probe the moral and existential questions of existence.

I have always admired artists who develop their practice, never repeating for the sake of it the same constructs over and over – from a lack of imagination, to be successful, or to follow the money trail.

One such artist is Dawoud Bey.

From formal to informal portraiture, through conceptual “bodies”, Bey’s work visualises Black American history in the present moment, not by using the trope of reusing colonial photographs or memorabilia, but by presenting afresh the history of injustice enacted on a people and a culture, picturing their ongoing pain and disenfranchisement – in the here and now – through powerful and deeply political photographs. As the press release observes, Bey “has used his camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, race, place, and American history.”

“His art is grounded in the concept of citizenship, community and belonging, and especially in centring the experiences and histories of Black Americans at the forefront of our culture. His photographs actively work to provide space, voice and visibility for communities who have long been excluded from dominant narratives, especially in institutions like museums.”

From his early street photographs through the later large format Polaroid work and on to the conceptual series, Bey’s photographs have an engaging directness and candour to them. There are no photographic or subjective histrionics here, just immensely rich social documentary photographs that speak truth to subject. The subjects stare directly at the camera and reveal themselves with a poignant honesty.

The series that affected me most deeply was The Birmingham Project.

“On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, murdering four African American girls inside. Two Black boys were also killed later that same day in the violence that ensued. Bey’s series The Birmingham Project commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of this horrific event, rendering it painfully immediate. Bey made formal portraits of Birmingham children the same ages as the victims and adults fifty years older – the ages the victims would have been had they lived. He then paired the photographs in diptychs that both honour the community’s unthinkable loss and make tangible the continued impact of racism, violence, and trauma in the present.”

All the suffering, all the ongoing pain and misery of an unfair world was, to me, wrapped up in these unforgettable images. The violence against other human beings, against people of difference 50 years ago brought into the present. Thinking about what these people could have achieved in the world, what life they would have led, what they would have looked like. Photography transcending time and space, Bey intelligently bringing past into present future. As Bey says, “I wanted to give those young people a more tangible, less-mythic, palpable presence… I wanted to figure out how to show the passage of time and the tragic loss of possibility.”

In my imagination I try to construct this tragic loss of possibility through the agency of Bey’s photographs. They produce sadness, anger, and empathy in me. They bring the possibility of change to the forefront of my mind, and an acknowledgment that we can all do better, that the world must do better. And that experience is a powerful thing.

Dr Marcus Bunyan.

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

 

 

“I’ve come to believe that the best works tend to result not from the imposition of an idea on a situation, but to be responsive to what’s going on once you get there.”

“How can one visualise African American history and make that history resonate in the contemporary moment?”

.
Dawoud Bey

 

“Dreams are spaces that do not yet exist, except by escape through an unknown night.”

.
Anna Mirzayan

 

“I Never Had White Folks That Was Good To Me, EVER… We all worked jest like dogs and had about half enough to eat and got whupped for everything. Our days was a constant misery to us… My old Master was Dave Giles, the meanest man that ever lived. He didn’t have many slaves, my mammy, and me, and my sister, Uncle Bill, and Truman. He had owned my grandma but he give her a bad whupping and she never did git over it and died. We all done as much work as a dozen niggers – we knowed we had to. I seen old Master git mad at Truman and he buckled him down across a barrel and whupped him till he cut the blood out of him and then he rubbed salt and pepper in the raw places. It looked like Truman would die it hurt so bad. I know that don’t sound reasonable that a white man in a Christian community would do such a thing but you can’t realise how heartless he was. People didn’t know about it and we dassent tell for we knowed he’d kill us if we did. You must remember he owned us body and soul and they wasn’t anything we could do about it. Old Mistress and her three girls was mean to us too. One time me and my sister was spinning and old Mistress went to the well-house and she found a chicken snake and killed it. She brought it back and she throwed it around my sister’s neck. She jest laughed and laughed about it. She thought it was a big joke. Old Master stayed drunk all the time. I reckon that is the reason he was so fetched mean. My, how we hated him! He finally killed hisself drinking and I remember Old Mistress called us in to look at him in his coffin. We all marched by him slow like and I jest happened to look up and caught my sister’s eye and we both jest natchelly laughed – Why shouldn’t we? We was glad he was dead. It’s a good thing we had our laugh fer old Mistress took us out and whupped us with a broomstick. She didn’t make us sorry though.”

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Annie Hawkins, formerly enslaved Afrikan who was sold from Georgia to Texas. This interview was done in Colbert, Oklahoma where her and her family moved after emancipation. Interview, conducted Spring, 1937 with a date stamp of August 16, 1937. Ms. Hawkins was 90 years old at the time of the interview and what she relates occurred in Texas. Source: Library of Congress

 

 

Since the beginning of his career in the 1970s, Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) has used his camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, race, place, and American history. From early street portraits made in Harlem to a recent series imagining an escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad, Bey explores photography’s potential to reveal communities and stories that have been underrepresented or even unseen. Both a form of personal expression and an act of political responsibility, Bey’s art insists on the power of photography to transform stereotypes, convene communities, and create dialogue.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project traces these through lines across the forty-five years of Bey’s career and his profound engagement with the young Black subject and African American history. The title intentionally inserts his photographs into a long-running conversation about what it means to represent America with a camera. The questions of who is considered an American photographer, or simply an American, and whose story is an American story are particularly urgent today. Bey’s work offers a potent corrective to the gaps in our picture of American society and history – and an emphatic reminder of the ongoing impact of those omissions.

 

 

Dawoud Bey on visualising history

Photographer Dawoud Bey’s work grapples with history. The artist asks, “How can one visualise African American history and make that history resonate in the contemporary moment?” Here he discusses several series, sited from Harlem to Birmingham to the Underground Railroad routes of northeastern Ohio, each of which works to make histories visible.

 

 

Dawoud Bey: An American Project – Part 1

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Boy in Front of the Loew's 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976' 1976

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Boy in Front of the Loew’s 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

The Street

Bey’s landmark black-and-white 1975-78 series “Harlem, USA” documents portraits and street scenes with locals of the historic neighbourhood in New York. As a young man growing up in Queens, Bey was intrigued by his family’s history in Harlem, where his parents met and where he visited family and friends throughout childhood. The series premiered at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979, when Bey was just 26.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman at Convent Avenue Baptist Church, Harlem, NY, 1977' 1977

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman at Convent Avenue Baptist Church, Harlem, NY, 1977
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches
Image courtesy of the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

In his hands, portraiture conveys contradiction – diffident joy, resistant sorrow – and tells the truth.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, 1978' 1978

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, 1978
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“His art is grounded in the concept of citizenship, community and belonging, and especially in centring the experiences and histories of Black Americans at the forefront of our culture. His photographs actively work to provide space, voice and visibility for communities who have long been excluded from dominant narratives, especially in institutions like museums.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Two Boys at a Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985' 1985

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Two Boys at a Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985
1985
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Throughout the 1980s, Bey continued to use a handheld 35 mm camera. This lightweight apparatus allowed him to respond intuitively and quickly to whatever captivated his eye, and his photographs during this time reflect his knowledge of contemporary street photography and his growing interest in capturing flux, movement, and the play of light and shadow. Although he continued to photograph people, he moved away from formal portraiture, instead endeavouring to capture individuals in more spontaneous ways.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985' 1985

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985
1985
Gelatin silver print
20 x 24 inches
Image courtesy of the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986' 1986

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986
1986
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

In 1985, during a residency at Light Work, a photography nonprofit affiliated with Syracuse University, New York, Bey photographed the city’s African American community. For him, it was both a political and aesthetic choice: “By then I felt that was part of my agenda: to make the African American subject a visible and resonant presence through my photographs […] it was as much about making a certain kind of photograph, and operating within a certain tradition, as it was a deliberate choice to foreground the black subject […] giving them a place … on the wall of galleries and museums.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman at Fulton Street and Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman at Fulton Street and Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

By the end of the 1980s, Bey had thoroughly digested the lessons of working spontaneously with a small camera and desired to work in a way that would allow him to engage more directly with his subjects. He began to make formal “street portraits” with a large-format (4- × 5-inch) camera and Polaroid Type 55 film, which produced both instant pictures that he gave to the sitters and negatives that he used to make large-scale, highly detailed prints that could be enlarged to create monumental portraits. Bey was increasingly ambivalent about the ethics of traditional documentary photography and sought more equitable, reciprocal relationships with his sitters. He began to approach the strangers he wished to portray openly and deliberately, giving, as he writes, “the black subjects [a space] to assert themselves and their presence in the world, with their gaze meeting the viewer’s on equal footing.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Girl Striking A Pose, Brooklyn, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Girl Striking A Pose, Brooklyn, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man with Buttons Brooklyn NY 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man with Buttons Brooklyn NY 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Woman Coming from the Store, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Woman Coming from the Store, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man with His Hair Brush, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man with His Hair Brush, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Alfonso, Washington, DC, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Alfonso, Washington, DC, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman Wearing Denim, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman Wearing Denim, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Man with a Towel, Brooklyn, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Man with a Towel, Brooklyn, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Poppy Brooklyn, NY, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Poppy, Brooklyn, NY, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Girl Holding a Hotdog and Gum, Brooklyn, NY, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Girl Holding a Hotdog and Gum, Brooklyn, NY, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Couple in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, 1990' 1990

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Couple in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, 1990
1990
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Few images of tenderness have such resounding power as this lush portrait of a young, stylish couple embracing in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Note how perfectly their bodies fit together as he relaxes his shoulders, allowing her to easily wrap her arms around him protectively, declaring with the upward tilt of her chin and her direct gaze at us that they are together, united in love. Pictures as openly intimate as this one emerged from Bey’s deep and abiding interest in “wanting to describe the Black subject in a way that’s as complex as the experiences of anyone else.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Two Girls from a Marching Band, Harlem, NY, 1990' 1990

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Two Girls from a Marching Band, Harlem, NY, 1990
1990
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist, Sean Kelly Gallery, Stephen Daiter Gallery, and Rena Bransten Gallery
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

For more than four decades, renowned photographer Dawoud Bey has created powerful and tender photographs that portray underrepresented communities and explore African American history. From portraits in Harlem and classic street photography to nocturnal landscapes and large-scale studio portraits, his works combine an ethical imperative with an unparalleled mastery of his medium. The High Museum of Art celebrates his important contributions to photography as the exclusive Southeast venue for Dawoud Bey: An American Project, the artist’s first full career retrospective in 25 years.

Co-organised by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the exhibition features approximately 80 works that span the breadth of Bey’s career, from his earliest street portraits made in Harlem in the 1970s to his most recent series reimagining sites of the Underground Railroad (2017).

The High has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with Bey, who was commissioned in 1996 for the Museum’s inaugural “Picturing the South” series, which asks noted photographers to turn their lens toward the American South. For his project, Bey collaborated with Atlanta high school students to create empathetic, larger-than-life portraits. Made with the monumental 20-by-24-inch Polaroid camera, these photographs explore the complexity of adolescence as a time of critical identity formation and expand the concept of portraiture. The High now holds more than 50 photographs by Bey, one of the most significant museum collections of his work.

“Bey’s portraits are remarkable for their keen sensitivity and for how they elicit and honour their subjects’ sense of self, which is partly an outcome of the artist’s collaborative practice,” remarked Sarah Kennel, the High’s Donald and Marilyn Keough Family curator of photography. “Given the museum’s long relationship with Bey and the strength of our holdings, we are thrilled to present this important retrospective. We look forward to sharing the artist’s photographs and his powerful and moving reflections on African American history and identity in their country with our visitors.”

Bey, born in 1953 in Queens, New York, began to develop an interest in photography as a teenager. He received his first camera as a gift from his godmother in 1968, and the next year, he saw the exhibition “Harlem on My Mind” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Widely criticised for its failure to include significant numbers of artworks by African Americans, the exhibition’s representation of Black subjects nonetheless made an impression on Bey and inspired him to develop his own documentary project about Harlem in 1975. Since that time, he has worked primarily in portraiture, making tender, psychologically rich and direct portrayals, often in collaboration with his subjects. More recently, he has explored seminal moments in African American history through both portraiture and landscape.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project includes work from the artist’s eight major series and is organised to reflect the development of Bey’s vision throughout his career and to highlight his enduring engagement with portraiture, place and history.

Press release from The High Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dawoud Bey: An American Project at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
Images courtesy of the artist and High Museum. Photos by Mike Jensen.

 

Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey
Photo: Sean Kelly Gallery

 

 

About Dawoud Bey

Dawoud Bey was born in Queens, New York, and began his career as a photographer in 1975 with a series of photographs, Harlem, USA, that were later exhibited in his first solo exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979.

Since then his work has been featured in exhibitions at numerous institutions worldwide, including the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Brooklyn Museum; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Fogg Museum, Harvard University; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP), Chicago; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, among many others.

His photographs are represented in collections worldwide, and his critical writings on photography have appeared in numerous publications and exhibition catalogues. Bey received the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” fellowship in 2017 and is also the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University and is currently Professor of Art and a Distinguished College Artist at Columbia College Chicago, where he has taught since 1998.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Gerard, Edgewater High School, Orlando, FL, 2003' 2003

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Gerard, Edgewater High School, Orlando, FL, 2003
2003
Inkjet print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Behind his Class Pictures series:

“It was a sort of snapshot of America through its young people at that particular moment. I started working in Chicago, then to New York, California and Florida. I wanted it to be geographically representative of the country. I’ve always been acutely aware that photographs tell you a lot less than what they do tell you. There’s certain things you would never know just from looking at them. You wouldn’t know from a portrait if someone is an only child, whether they have siblings, who their parents are. There’s a lot of information outside of a photograph. For Class Pictures, I thought that was important to bring that information into the construct of work and to create a space of self-representation. The young people who I photographed could give a sense of who they were.”

Summer Evans. “Photographer Dawoud Bey Shines A Light On America’s Underrepresented Communities,” on the WABE website Nov 18, 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Usha, Gateway High School, San Francisco, CA, 2006' 2006

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Usha, Gateway High School, San Francisco, CA, 2006
2006
Inkjet print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Bey has long understood that the act of representation – as well as the corollary act of being seen – is both powerful and deeply political. In this series, he once again turned his attention to teenagers, a population he felt was underrepresented and misjudged, seen either as “socially problematic or as engines for a certain consumerism.” Class Pictures (2001-2006) originated during a residency at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago, where Bey began working with local high school students. He later expanded it to capture a geographically and socioeconomically diverse slice of American adolescence.

Working in empty classrooms between class periods, Bey made formal colour portraits of teens that attend, carefully and tenderly, to their gestures and expressions. He also invited them to write brief autobiographical statements, giving his subjects visibility as well as voice. Class Pictures can also be understood as a play on words, for in several cases, Bey chose to photograph students at elite private schools as well as teens from nearby, poorer neighbourhoods, bringing together these subjects in a single space.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Don Sledge and Moses Austin' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Don Sledge and Moses Austin
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Inkjet prints
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, murdering four African American girls inside. Two Black boys were also killed later that same day in the violence that ensued. Bey’s series The Birmingham Project commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of this horrific event, rendering it painfully immediate. Bey made formal portraits of Birmingham children the same ages as the victims and adults fifty years older – the ages the victims would have been had they lived. He then paired the photographs in diptychs that both honour the community’s unthinkable loss and make tangible the continued impact of racism, violence, and trauma in the present.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Mary Parker and Caela Cowan' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Mary Parker and Caela Cowan
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Inkjet prints
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“Together the sitters for The Birmingham Project are simultaneously surrogates, mourners, witnesses, community, and agents of their own narratives. These subjects, then are not symbols but flesh and bone.”

 

In 2012, the project was created as a commission from the Birmingham Museum of Art. It memorialises the victims of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Four African-American girls were killed in the bombing, and two boys were later killed in riots that followed.

“I decided to make portraits of young African-Americans in Birmingham who were the exact same ages as those six young people who had been killed that day. I wanted to give those young people a more tangible, less-mythic, palpable presence.” Bey continues, “It still felt somewhat complete. I wanted to figure out how to show the passage of time and the tragic loss of possibility. Then, I started thinking about making portraits of African-Americans in Birmingham who were the ages of the six young people would have been their age today. I begun pairing those portraits with those young people, which embodied 50 years.”

Summer Evans. “Photographer Dawoud Bey Shines A Light On America’s Underrepresented Communities,” on the WABE website Nov 18, 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

Night Coming Tenderly, Black

Dawoud Bey’s large-scale photographs dive into art and literary history while trying to re-create the experience of slaves fleeing on the Underground Railroad.

“I consider myself to be making photographs both in conversation with the history of photography and also the history of Black representation within photography. I wanted to use what I learned early on from looking at photographs by Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Walker Evans and Mike Disfarmer – along with what I learned from Roy DeCarava, who was African American – and apply all of that to my own African American subjects as I began to build my vocabulary of picture-making. Because I’m African American myself, and because so few representations of African Americans are made from inside that experience, I set out to make that my space, to make work that operated at the level of those other photographs but with Black subjects, since those were the people I knew best. I also wanted to add something to the history of Black expressive culture. …

Night Coming Tenderly, Black continues my interest in visualising African American history by visualising the past in the contemporary moment. It takes as its conceptual touchstones the photographs of DeCarava, which are about the Black subject and often printed very darkly, some almost black. The blackness of his prints is a very beautiful and materially lush blackness. And the Black subjects inhabit this wonderful material darkness in a way that is not foreboding but is beautiful.” ~ Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey. ‘Untitled #1 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse)’ 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #1 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

The photographs in this series are some of the most sensual and layered. These are sights that are at first confining then liberating when you understand them through the lens of history.

In their grandeur and mystery, they transform houses masked in darkness, bodies of water, and fields into an emblematic hope. A pristine fencepost and a homestead visible through the haze of the darkness; a wetland glistening in nightfall; a jungle thick with small trees; an image of Lake Erie, with the expansive sky and horizon forewarning the freedom that lies beyond.

 

The Underground Railroad

Night Coming Tenderly, Black contains 25 large-scale images of homesteads with wooded or grassy grounds that are believed to have formed the part of the said Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad is an actual invisible web of routes and safe houses believed to have made the final way station for more than 100,000 fugitive slaves escaping to Canada. But according to the artist himself, some of the images may be of actual Underground Railroad.

 

The meaning of the title

This series is also a tribute to poet Langston Hughes (1901-1967) and photographer Roy DeCarava (1919-2009), who each played significant roles in addressing the experience of African Americans by representing what DeCarava described as a world shaped by blackness. Bey was inspired by DeCarava’s incredible ability to print a spectrum of dark hues, making him picture landscapes of twilight uncertainty.

On the other hand, Hughes Langston wrote a poem titled Dream Variations in 1926, in which he yearned for a time when the black American worker, extremely tired by the daily hustle of hard labor and prejudice, might be truly free. However, this freedom, he imagined, would not be obtained in the glare of daylight, but instead under the ominous, protective cover of the night.

Upending a dominant literary conceit, blackness, rather than whiteness, functioned as an allegory for hope and transcendence. A night coming tenderly, black like me, (Hughes poem), helped the fight for racial equality and justice. The metaphor in the poem is central to Dawoud Bey’s series Night Coming Tenderly, Black.

 

Influenced by Roy DeCarava

Bey has never stopped waxing lyrical on the influence of the two figures that inspired his artistic career, especially Roy DeCarava, who was one of the most prominent photographers of his generation. The images he took were visually rich and redolent, and they pushed the aesthetic limits of photography…

Dawoud Bey noted that DeCarava’s images were characteristically printed in dark and rich colour range. In this context, the dark prints served as a symbol for black subjects and experience. Bey says:

“DeCarava used blackness as an affirmative value, as a kind of beautiful blackness through which his subjects both moved and emerged. His work was formative to my own thinking early on, and these dark landscapes are a kind of material conversation with his work, using the darkness of the landscape and the photographic print as an evocative space of blackness through which the unseen and imaginary black fugitive subject is moving.” …

The artist printed these images in a large size to encase the viewer and deliberately dark to reveal his subject matter: He took the photos of the sites in and near Cleveland associated with the Underground Railroad that guided the slaves to liberation.

Anonymous. “Dawoud Bey’s somber ‘Night Coming Tenderly, Black’ project,” on the Public Delivery website  January 30, 2021 website [Online] Cited 02/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #11 (Bent Branches)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #11 (Bent Branches)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #12 (The Marsh)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #12 (The Marsh)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“I ranged far and wideout there since there were expansive rural landscapes that looked as they might have in the 18th and 19th centuries. The landscape and the history there have not been built over…

Some of the photographs, to the extent that we know, are actual Underground Railroad sites, and the majority of them are placed in the landscape that I identified in proximity to some of those locations, where I could make work that suggested the movement of fugitive slaves through the landscape…

I wanted the photographs to almost involuntarily pull you back to the experience of the landscape through which those fugitive black bodies were moving in the 19th century to escape slavery. So I had to learn, for the first time, how to make photographs in the kind of space…

It is a tender one, through which one moves. That is the space I imagined the fugitive black subjects moving through as they sought their self-liberation, moving through the dark landscape of America and Ohio toward freedom under cover of a munificent and blessed blackness.” ~ Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #14 (Site of John Brown's Tannery)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #14 (Site of John Brown’s Tannery)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #17 (Forest)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #17 (Forest)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Bey’s most recent work imagines the flight of enslaved Black Americans along the leg of the Underground Railroad that operated in Ohio – the last fifty or so miles before they reached the vast expanse of Lake Erie, on the other side of which lay Canada, and freedom.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #19 (Creek and Trees)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #19 (Creek and Trees)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Behind his Night Coming Tenderly, Black series:

“The photographs are meant to imagine or reimagine the path of self-liberation in Northeastern Ohio along what is called the ‘Underground Railroad’. Formerly slaved Africans, and then African-Americans moved towards freedom by way of Lake Eerie in Ohio. I began to think about the fugitive moving through this tender space of blackness.”

Anonymous. “Dawoud Bey’s somber ‘Night Coming Tenderly, Black’ project,” on the Public Delivery website  January 30, 2021 website [Online] Cited 02/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #20 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse I)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #20 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse I)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

The gelatin silver prints in Night Coming Tenderly, Black are moody and dim, overlaid with a sheen that is almost gritty in texture thanks to the coated paper they are printed on. The trees, fences, lakes, and buildings in the photos are initially obscured, purposefully made more difficult to see through Bey’s printing methods (which take advantage of the light sensitivity of silver particles as well as their ability to be chemically “toned” through the introduction of other substances). These images resist both reproduction and easy interpretation. That one also has to wait for one’s eyes to adjust to the darkness, before slowly traveling over the terrain of each picture, reminds the viewer that the formerly enslaved people who traversed these sites often did so under cover of darkness. Darkness here is multivalent: its obscuring power, which prevents viewers from immediately processing the whole of Bey’s photographs, aided formerly enslaved people in their escape. The Underground Railroad, as the artist has noted, occupies a semi-mythological place in American history, and some of the places Bey photographs are only cannot be confirmed to have been stops on the Railroad. Like the experience of slavery, these places are unrepresentable. They are half-shrouded locales that evade being captured on a map or in a photo.

Though these photographs are dark, they are shot in the daylight and processed in such a way as to make them initially appear to be taken at night. They bring to mind Hiroshi Sugimoto’s eerily beautiful “Seascapes” series (1980- ongoing), which are shot at night, the film exposed for different lengths of time in order to reveal how light plays even after dark. Yet there is no analogous method for bringing night to the day. Bey may make his photos dark, but this is achieved through processing and glazing the finish image, which occurs after the initial act of taking the photograph. How can we account for Bey’s artificial night?

The philosopher François Laruelle’s 2011 book The Concept of Non-Photography suggests one answer to this question. In essence, Laruelle starts with the premise that works of art cannot and do not represent anything, be it objects, thoughts, concepts, or movements. He posits art as an entirely self-sufficient engagement with the world (which he calls the Real), independent even of viewer and creator. Art is a machine; the medium, processes, and even the artist are its materials. What art “shows,” Laurelle argues, is only the world according to itself – which he terms the world-in-painting, the world-in-photo, and so on. He turns to photography in part because of its connection to modern scientific advancement and its attempts literally to illuminate the world “objectively.” Non-photography aims to re-conceptualise the photographic flash, which Laruelle associates with the flash of logos or reason, as a form of potential insurrection against its traditional association with illumination, and against photography’s constant reproduction of the asymmetrical dichotomy between light and dark.

Anna Mirzayan. “”Artificial night”: on Dawoud Bey’s America,” on the Art Agenda website December 15 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #23 (Near Lake Erie)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #23 (Near Lake Erie)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“I was thinking about this narrative of the Black subject — the unseen Black subject, in this case — a fugitive slave moving through the darkness of night,” Bey explains. “And that darkness of night being the kind of Black space that would lead to liberation.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

As a covert network of safe houses and churches, the sites of the Underground Railroad were by necessity secret, and Bey’s landscapes suggest, rather than document, the experience. Photographed by day but printed in shades of grey and black so deep they resemble nocturnes, the sensuous prints conjure a darkness at once ominous and lush. The series title, which is drawn from the last couplet of Langston Hughes’s poem “Dream Variations” (1926), suggests a black night that envelops the fugitives in a darkness that serves as a protective embrace: “Night coming tenderly / Black like me.”

 

 

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28
Aug
20

Photographs: ‘Early French aviator glass slides’ c. 1913-14

August 2020

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviators]' c. 1913-14 (detail)

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviators] (detail)
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

 

Those daring young men in their war machines

I have always been fascinated with flight, and aeroplanes. When I was seventeen, I tried to enrol in the RAF as a fighter pilot, hence my own interest in the subject artistically over the last 10 years.

These fabulous and rare French large format glass slides were for sale on Ebay many moons ago, illustrated as negative images only. They fetched an enormous sum of money, far beyond the humble means I had at my disposal to purchase them. But I kept the negative jpg images, inverted them into positives, and I have cleaned them up as best I can. Not the best outcome, not the best quality, but better than nothing … and it means that other people can get to see them.

Taken in 1913, or possibly in 1914 the first year of the Great War – there are no guns present on the bomber, but this is not unusual for the early part of the war as can be seen in the photograph of Captain Maurice Happe in his bomber of 1915 below – I have spent a long time researching the make of the bomber and, with the help of the knowledgeable Jacques Crouille (thank you!), ascertaining the period uniforms that the men are wearing. The photographs seem to have been shot in one sitting, for the images contain the same wooden sheds, picket fence, and two bomber aircraft (one with wire wheels, one with solid wheels) of the “pusher” type, possibly a Farman MF.11 Shorthorn bomber. This means that the propellor is at the back of the aircraft pushing the plane along, instead of being placed in the front.

What I find fascinating are the attitudes of the men toward the camera, and the wonderful details present in the images. With their nonchalantly relaxed pose, arm on wing, clad in thick, buttoned flight suits trimmed at leg and neck with real fur to keep them warm up in the beyond, these daring young men stare straight at the camera. Their early leather helmets or “bone domes”, used in motor-racing and adopted by pilots as head protection, rest on the wing beside them. Some wear thick bezelled, large crowned aviation (a term coined in 1863) watches, which in the Great War were to be used to make coordinated attacks possible at a precise moment. As the men pose in front of their aircraft, what is also notable is the fragility of the machine: lashings of wood and canvas, wire wheels, and a huge amount of wire bracing, so much so it seems that the pilots are caught in a spiders web of the stuff as they stand there staring down the camera.

It must be winter, for snow and mud is on the ground, caking their short boots, knee length boots, and the wheels of the bombers. With slicked down hair, sometimes parted in the middle, sometimes paired with a moustache, the men’s waists are cinched with thick belts, their hands sheathed in leather gloves. Or. Clutching their gloves in bare hands. One handsome young man – possibly a mechanic wearing the dark blue uniform of the Chasseurs Alpins, his large beret carrying the yellow (daffodil) hunting horn insignia – is encased in the wonderfully titled “bandes molletières” (or puttees in English terminology), attire more regularly seen on infantry troops, and wears a ring on the fifth finger of his right hand. What is most amusing is the small doll attached to the front of bomber in the first photograph in the posting, like a carved figurehead on the bow of a ship (see above). A good luck charm?

These men would have needed it. Because of their slow speed (106km/h), bombers were particularly susceptible to German fighters (over 160km/h) and ground fire. No parachutes were issued to the crews of Allied “heavier-than-air” aircraft in World War 1, since it was thought that if a pilot had a parachute he would jump from the plane when hit rather than trying to save the aircraft (Wikipedia). The average life expectancy of a British Royal Flying Corp (RFC) pilot was just 18 airborne hours.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
These photographs are used under “fair use” conditions for the purpose of research and education. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviators]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviators]
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Captain Maurice Happe, rear seat, commander of French squadron MF 29, seated in his Farman MF.11 Shorthorn bomber with a Captain Berthaut

 

Unknown photographer
Captain Maurice Happe, rear seat, commander of French squadron MF 29, seated in his Farman MF.11 Shorthorn bomber with a Captain Berthaut. The plane bears the insignia of the first unit, a Croix de Guerre
c. 1915
Gelatin silver print
Library of Congress

 

Italian Army Photographers 1915-1918. 'World War 1 - Italian Army: Second Battle of the Isonzo - Farman MF.11 Shorthorn light bomber of the Italian air force' between 18 July - 3 August 1915

 

Italian Army Photographers 1915-1918
World War 1 – Italian Army: Second Battle of the Isonzo – Farman MF.11 Shorthorn light bomber of the Italian air force
between 18 July – 3 August 1915
Gelatin silver print
Italian Army Historic Photogallery
CC By 2.5

 

 

Farman MF.11 Shorthorn bomber

The Maurice Farman MF.11 Shorthorn is a French aircraft developed before World War I by the Farman Aviation Works. It was used as a reconnaissance and light bomber during the early part of World War I, later being relegated to training duties. …

A pusher configuration unequal-span biplane like the earlier Farman MF.7, the MF.11 differed in lacking the forward-mounted elevator, the replacement of the biplane horizontal tail surfaces with a single surface with a pair of rudders mounted above it, and the mounting of the nacelle containing crew and engine in the gap between the two wings. The aircraft was also fitted with a machine gun for the observer, whose position was changed from the rear seat to the front in order to give a clear field of fire. …

The MF.11 served in both the British and French air services on the Western Front in the early stages of the war. As a light bomber it flew the first bombing raid of the war when on 21 December 1914 an MF.11 of the Royal Naval Air Service attacked German artillery positions around Ostend, Belgium.

The MF.11 was withdrawn from front-line service on the Western Front in 1915, but continued to be used by the French in Macedonia and the Middle East, while the British also used it in the Dardanelles, and Africa. The Australian Flying Corps (AFC), provided with the MF.11 by the British Indian Army, operated it during the Mesopotamian campaign of 1915-16.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Farman MF 11, photo reconaissance

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator]
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator]
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator] (details)
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator] (detail)
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator] (details)
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator]
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

 

The winged badge worn on the vaseure, probably blue, indicates that this man is WW1 French aviation. French pilots wore kepi. This is not the case here. This man wore a beret with a badge, a horn, from the “Chasseurs Alpins”. At least in the beginning, a member of French aviation wore equipment from their first assignment. Here, probably Chasseurs Alpins. He’s not a pilot nor an officer, maybe a mechanic? Chasseurs Alpins were, and still are, elite mountain troops based in The Alps.

Jacques Crouille

 

Chasseur

Chasseur, a French term for “hunter”, is the designation given to certain regiments of French and Belgian light infantry (chasseurs à pied) or light cavalry (chasseurs à cheval) to denote troops trained for rapid action.

 

Chasseurs Alpins

The Chasseurs Alpins (English: Alpine Hunters) are the elite mountain infantry of the French Army. They are trained to operate in mountainous terrain and in urban warfare. …

France created its own mountain corps in the late 19th century in order to oppose any Italian invasion through the Alps. In 1859-70 Italy became unified, forming a powerful state. The French army saw this geopolitical change as a potential threat to their Alpine border, especially as the Italian army was already creating troops specialised in mountain warfare (the Alpini). On December 24, 1888, the first troupes de montagne (“mountain troops”) corps were created from 12 of the 31 existing Chasseurs à pied (“Hunters on Foot'”/”Foot Rifles'”) battalions.

Initially these units were named bataillons alpins de chasseurs à pied (“Alpine Battalions of Hunters on Foot”/”Alpine Foot Rifle Battalions”). Later this was shortened to bataillons de chasseurs alpins (“Battalions of Alpine Hunters”). From their establishment the chasseurs Alpins wore a plain and practical uniform designed to be suitable for mountain service. This comprised a loose-fitting dark blue jacket and blue-grey breeches, together with a large beret carrying the yellow (daffodil) hunting horn insignia of the Chasseur branch. They are believed to have been the first regular military unit to have worn this form of headdress.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator] (details)
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

 

Bandes molletières

The bottom photograph shows his “bandes molletières” (literally “bandages”, in English leggings or more usually puttees).

Bandes molletières is a ribbon of cloth that encloses the calves from the ankle to the knee, and which was worn by the military. It protects the leg and replaces high boots, avoiding the entry of dirt or mud when crawling, without aggravating the shortage of leather, the main raw material necessary for the manufacture of boots.

They are fast to set up (30 seconds for cross-mounting with a little training) and, when properly adjusted, their compression effect allows men to withstand long periods of standing. Nevertheless, they become sodden with water in wet ground and when it rains.

 

Puttees

Puttee, also spelled puttie, is the name, adapted from the Hindi paṭṭī, bandage (Skt. paṭṭa, strip of cloth), for a covering for the lower part of the leg from the ankle to the knee, alternatively known as: legwraps, leg bindings, winingas, or wickelbander. They consist of a long narrow piece of cloth wound tightly, and spirally round the leg, and serving to provide both support and protection. They were worn by both mounted and dismounted soldiers, generally taking the place of the leather or cloth gaiter.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator] (details)
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator]
c. 1913-14

 

 

The winged badge worn on the vaseure, probably sand colour, says that this man is WW1 French aviation. He may be an observer / gunner as he is wearing a kepi, but not a good one. He has no wings on the collar, so he’s not an officer. The gloves and the watch may indicate he is member of the flight crew. Observer? Gunner? It’s hard to be precise as the French air force was at its beginning and uniforms came from different army corps. Aviation at that time was part of the Land Force.

Jacques Crouille

 

Kepi

The kepi is a cap with a flat circular top and a peak, or visor. Etymologically, the term is a loanword of the French képi, itself a re-spelled version of the Alemannic Käppi: a diminutive form of Kappe, meaning “cap”. In Europe, this headgear is most commonly associated with French military and police uniforms, though versions of it were widely worn by other armies during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator] (details)
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Kepi, French Air Service, Kiffin Rockwell, Lafayette Escadrille

 

Kepi, French Air Service, Kiffin Rockwell, Lafayette Escadrille

 

 

This kepi is an example of the type worn by Foreign Legion in the French Army during the First World War. This kepi was worn by Kiffin Rockwell in the French Air Service. It was not unusual for individuals that transferred to the air service to continue to use the uniform of their original service branch.

Kiffin Rockwell flew with the Lafayette Escadrille during World War I. Kiffin and his brother Paul went to France in August 1914 and joined the French Foreign Legion. Kiffin entered combat in the winter of 1915 and was severely wounded at Neuville-Saint-Vaast later that May. Following a lengthy convalescence, Kiffin obtained a transfer to the French Air Service and was one of the original members of the Escadrille Lafayette, a squadron of American pilots flying for France. Rockwell shot down his first of four German aircraft on May 18, 1916, in Alsace. On September 23, 1916, he was shot down over Verdun and buried at Luxiul. For his services to France, Rockwell was awarded the Medaille Miliataire and the Croix de Guerre with two palms.

Text and image from the National Air and Space Museum website [Online] Cited 12/03/2019

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator] (details)
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator]
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French?)
Untitled [Early French aviator]
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator] (detail)
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

German pilot helmet of World War I. Dated to 1910s

 

German pilot helmet of World War I
Dated to 1910s
Hat size 57
Made of Leather, wool, cotton/linen and metal
Height: 150 mm (5.9 in); Width: 210 mm (8.2 in); Depth: 225 mm (8.8 in)
Hamburg Museum
CC3.0

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator]
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator] (details)
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator] (details)
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator]
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator] (details)
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator]
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Early French aviator]' c. 1913-14

 

Unknown photographer (French)
Untitled [Early French aviator] (details)
c. 1913-14
Glass plate

 

 

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22
Jul
20

Exhibition: ‘2020 Vision: Photographs, 1840s-1860s’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 3rd December 2019 – 13th December 2020

 

Antoine-François-Jean Claudet. ‘The Chess Players’ c. 1845 (detail)

 

Likely by Antoine-François-Jean Claudet (French, Lyon 1797 – 1867 London)
Possibly by Nicolaas Henneman (Dutch, Heemskerk 1813 – 1898 London)
The Chess Players (detail)
c. 1845
Salted paper print from paper negative
Sheet: 9 5/8 × 7 11/16 in. (24.5 × 19.6cm)
Image: 7 13/16 × 5 13/16 in. (19.8 × 14.7cm)
Bequest of Maurice B. Sendak, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

An excellent selection of photographs in this posting. I particularly like the gender-bending, shape-shifting, age-distorting 1850s-60s Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits by an unknown artist. I’ve never seen anything like it before, especially from such an early date. Someone obviously took a lot of care, had a great sense of humour and definitely had a great deal of fun making the album.

Other fascinating details include the waiting horses and carriages in Fox Talbot’s View of the Boulevards of Paris (1843); the mannequin perched above the awning of the photographic studio in Dowe’s Photograph Rooms, Sycamore, Illinois (1860s); and the chthonic underworld erupting from the tilting ground in Carleton E. Watkins’ California Oak, Santa Clara Valley (c. 1863).

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

When The Met first opened its doors in 1870, photography was still relatively new. Yet over the preceding three decades it had already developed into a complex pictorial language of documentation, social and scientific inquiry, self-expression, and artistic endeavour.

These initial years of photography’s history are the focus of this exhibition, which features new and recent gifts to the Museum, many offered in celebration of The Met’s 150th anniversary and presented here for the first time. The works on view, from examples of candid portraiture and picturesque landscape to pioneering travel photography and photojournalism, chart the varied interests and innovations of early practitioners.

The exhibition, which reveals photography as a dynamic medium through which to view the world, is the first of a two-part presentation that plays on the association of “2020” with clarity of vision while at the same time honouring farsighted and generous collectors and patrons. The second part will move forward a century, bringing together works from the 1940s through the 1960s.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

 

Antoine-François-Jean Claudet. ‘The Chess Players’ c. 1845

 

Likely by Antoine-François-Jean Claudet (French, Lyon 1797 – 1867 London)
Possibly by Nicolaas Henneman (Dutch, Heemskerk 1813 – 1898 London)
The Chess Players
c. 1845
Salted paper print from paper negative
Sheet: 9 5/8 × 7 11/16 in. (24.5 × 19.6cm)
Image: 7 13/16 × 5 13/16 in. (19.8 × 14.7cm)
Bequest of Maurice B. Sendak, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Lewis Carroll (British, Daresbury, Cheshire 1832 - 1898 Guildford) '[Alice Liddell]' June 25, 1870

 

Lewis Carroll (British, Daresbury, Cheshire 1832 – 1898 Guildford)
[Alice Liddell]
June 25, 1870
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Sheet: 6 1/4 × 5 9/16 in. (15.9 × 14.1cm)
Image: 5 7/8 × 4 15/16 in. (15 × 12.6cm)
Bequest of Maurice B. Sendak, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

Eighteen-year-old Alice Liddell’s slumped pose, clasped hands, and sullen expression invite interpretation. A favoured model of Lewis Carroll, and the namesake of his novel Alice in Wonderland, Liddell had not seen the writer and photographer for seven years when this picture was made; her mother had abruptly ended all contact in 1863. The young woman poses with apparent unease in this portrait intended to announce her eligibility for marriage. The session closed a long and now controversial history with Carroll, whose portraits of children continue to provoke speculation. In what was to be her last sitting with the photographer, Liddell embodies the passing of childhood innocence that Carroll romanticised through the fictional Alice.

 

Unknown photographer (American) '[Surveyor]' c. 1854

 

Unknown photographer (American)
[Surveyor]
c. 1854
Daguerreotype
Case: 1.6 × 9.2 × 7.9cm (5/8 × 3 5/8 × 3 1/8 in.)
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary, 2019
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

This portrait of a surveyor from an unknown daguerreotype studio was made during the heyday of the Daguerreian era in the United States, a time that coincided with an increased need for survey data and maps for the construction of railways, bridges, and roads. The unidentified surveyor, seated in a chair, grasps one leg of the tripod supporting his transit, a type of theodolite or surveying instrument that comprised a compass and rotating telescope. The carefully composed scene, in which the angle of the man’s skyward gaze is aligned with the telescope and echoed by one leg of the tripod, conflates its surveyor subject with an astronomer. As a result, the lands of young America are compared to the vast reaches of space, with both territories full of potential discovery.

 

Unknown photographer (American) '[Surveyor]' c. 1854

 

Unknown photographer (American)
[Surveyor]
c. 1854
Daguerreotype
Case: 1.6 × 9.2 × 7.9cm (5/8 × 3 5/8 × 3 1/8 in.)
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary, 2019
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Alphonse Delaunay (French, 1827-1906) 'Patio de los Arrayanes, Alhambra, Granada, Spain' 1854

 

Alphonse Delaunay (French, 1827-1906)
Patio de los Arrayanes, Alhambra, Granada, Spain
1854
Albumen silver print from paper negative
10 in. × 13 5/8 in. (25.4 × 34.6cm)
Gift of W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg, 2017
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

One of the most talented students of famed French photographer Gustave Le Gray, Delaunay was virtually unknown before a group of his photographs appeared at auction in 2007. Subsequent research led to the identification of several bodies of work, including the documentation of contemporary events through instantaneous views captured on glass negatives. Delaunay also was a particular devotee of the calotype (or paper negative) process, with which he created his best pictures – including this view of the Alhambra. Among a group of pictures he made between 1851 and 1854 in Spain and Algeria, this view of the Patio de los Arrayanes reveals the extent to which Delaunay was able to manipulate the peculiarities of the paper negative. He revels in the graininess of the image, purposefully not masking out the sky before printing the negative, so that the marble tower appears somehow carved out of the very atmosphere that surrounds it. In contrast, the reflecting pool remains almost impossibly limpid, its dark surface offering a cool counterpart to the harsh Spanish sky.

 

Hippolyte Bayard (French, 1801-1887) '[Classical Head]' probably 1839

 

Hippolyte Bayard (French, 1801-1887)
[Classical Head]
probably 1839
Salted paper print
6 1/2 × 5 7/8 in. (16.5 × 15cm)
Purchase, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, 2019
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

This luminous head seems to materialise before our very eyes, as if we are observing the moment in which the latent photographic image becomes visible. Nineteenth-century eyewitnesses to Hippolyte Bayard’s earliest photographs (direct positives on paper) described a similarly enchanting effect, in which hazy outlines coalesced with light and tone to form charmingly faithful, if indistinct, images. These works, which Bayard referred to as essais (tests or trials), often included statues and busts, which he frequently arranged in elaborate tableaux. In this case, he photographed the lone subject (an idealised classical head) from the front and side, as if it were a scientific specimen. The singular object emerges as a relic from photography’s origins and now distant past.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, Dorset 1800 - 1877 Lacock) 'Group Taking Tea at Lacock Abbey' August 17, 1843

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, Dorset 1800 – 1877 Lacock)
Group Taking Tea at Lacock Abbey
August 17, 1843
Salted paper print from paper negative
Mount: 9 15/16 in. × 13 in. (25.3 × 33cm)
Sheet: 7 3/8 × 8 15/16 in. (18.7 × 22.7cm)
Image: 5 in. × 7 1/2 in. (12.7 × 19 cm)
Bequest of Maurice B. Sendak, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

Although Talbot’s groundbreaking calotype (paper negative) process allowed for more instantaneous image making, works such as this one nevertheless reflect the technical limitations of early photography. Here, he adapts painterly conventions to the new medium, staging a genre scene on his family estate. The stilted arrangement of figures – rigidly posed to produce a clear image – belies Talbot’s attempt to show action in progress. To achieve sufficient light exposure, he photographed the domestic tableau outdoors, arranging his subjects before a blank backdrop to create the illusion of interior space.

 

Unknown artist. '[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]' 1850s-60s

Unknown artist. '[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]' 1850s-60s

Unknown artist. '[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]' 1850s-60s

Unknown artist. '[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]' 1850s-60s

Unknown artist. '[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]' 1850s-60s

Unknown artist. '[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]' 1850s-60s

Unknown artist. '[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]' 1850s-60s

Unknown artist. '[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]' 1850s-60s

 

Unknown artist (American or Canadian)
[Carte-de-visite Album of Collaged Portraits]
1850s-60s
Albumen silver prints
5 15/16 × 5 1/8 × 2 1/16 in. (15.1 × 13 × 5.3cm)
Bequest of Herbert Mitchell, 2008
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

Beginning in the late 1850s, cartes de visite, or small photographic portrait cards, were produced on a scale that put photography in the hands of the masses. This unusual collection of collages is ahead of its time in spoofing the rigidity of the format. The images play with scale and gender by juxtaposing cutout heads and mismatched sitters, thereby highlighting the difference between social identity – which was communicated in part through the exchange of calling cards – and individuality.

 

Unknown artist (American) '[Studio Photographer at Work]' c. 1855

 

Unknown artist (American)
[Studio Photographer at Work]
c. 1855
Salted paper print
Image: 5 1/8 × 3 13/16 in. (13 × 9.7cm)
Sheet: 9 1/2 × 5 5/8 in. (24.1 × 14.3cm)
William L. Schaeffer Collection, Promised Gift of Jennifer and Philip Maritz, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

In this evocative image, picture making takes centre stage. Underneath a canopy of dark cloth, the photographer poses as if to adjust the bellows of a large format camera. The view reflected on its ground glass would appear reversed and upside down. Viewers’ expectations are similarly overturned, because the photographer’s subject remains unseen.

 

Unknown artist (American) '[Boy Holding a Daguerreotype]' 1850s

 

Unknown artist (American)
[Boy Holding a Daguerreotype]
1850s
Daguerreotype with applied colour
Image: 3 1/4 × 2 3/4 in. (8.3 × 7cm)
William L. Schaeffer Collection, Promised Gift of Jennifer and Philip Maritz, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

The boy in this picture clutches a cased image to his chest, as if to illustrate his affection for the subject depicted within. Daguerreotypes were a novel form of handheld picture, portable enough to slip into a pocket or palm. Portraits exchanged between friends and family could be kept close – a practice often mimed by sitters, who would pose for one daguerreotype while holding another.

 

James Fitzallen Ryder (American, 1826-1904) 'Locomotive James McHenry (58), Atlantic and Great Western Railway' 1862

 

James Fitzallen Ryder (American, 1826-1904)
Locomotive James McHenry (58), Atlantic and Great Western Railway
1862
Albumen silver print
Image: 7 3/8 × 9 1/4 in. (18.7 × 23.5cm)
Mount: 10 × 13 in. (25.4 × 33cm)
William L. Schaeffer Collection, Promised Gift of Jennifer and Philip Maritz, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

In spring 1862, the chief engineer in charge of building the Atlantic and Great Western Railway – which ran from Salamanca, New York, to Akron, Ohio, and from Meadville to Oil City, Pennsylvania – engaged James Ryder to make photographs that would convince shareholders of the worthiness of the project. Ryder’s assignment was “to photograph all the important points of the work, such as excavations, cuts, bridges, trestles, stations, buildings and general character of the country through which the road ran, the rugged and the picturesque.” In a converted railroad car kitted out with a darkroom, water tank, and developing sink, he processed photographs that make up one of the earliest rail surveys.

 

Attributed to Josiah Johnson Hawes (American, Wayland, Massachusetts 1808 - 1901 Crawford Notch, New Hampshire) Winter on the Common, Boston' 1850s

 

Attributed to Josiah Johnson Hawes (American, Wayland, Massachusetts 1808 – 1901 Crawford Notch, New Hampshire)
Winter on the Common, Boston
1850s
Salted paper print
Window: 6 15/16 × 8 15/16 in. (17.6 × 22.7cm)
Mat: 16 × 20 in. (40.6 × 50.8cm)
William L. Schaeffer Collection, Promised Gift of Jennifer and Philip Maritz, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Having originally set his sights on a career as a painter, Josiah Hawes gave up his brushes for a camera upon first seeing a daguerreotype in 1841. Two years later, he joined Albert Sands Southworth in Boston to form the celebrated photographic studio Southworth & Hawes. Turning to paper-based photography in the early 1850s, Hawes frequently depicted local scenery. This surprising picture, which presents Boston Common through a veil of snow-laden branches, shows that Hawes brought his creative ambitions to the nascent art of photography.

 

 

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
[California Oak, Santa Clara Valley]
c. 1863
Albumen silver print
Image: 12 in. × 9 5/8 in. (30.5 × 24.5cm)
Mount: 21 1/4 in. × 17 5/8 in. (54 × 44.8cm)
William L. Schaeffer Collection, Promised Gift of Jennifer and Philip Maritz, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

For viewers today, the crown of this majestic oak tree, with its complex network of branches, might evoke the allover paintings of Abstract Expressionism with their layers of dripped paint. As photographed by Carleton Watkins, the dark, flattened silhouette of the tree feathers out across the camera’s field of view. The sloped horizon line, uncommon in Watkins’s output, both echoes the ridge in the distance and grounds the energy of the tree canopy, ably demonstrating his masterful command of pictorial composition.

 

George Wilson Bridges (British, 1788-1864) 'Garden of Selvia, Syracuse, Sicily' 1846

 

George Wilson Bridges (British, 1788-1864)
Garden of Selvia, Syracuse, Sicily
1846
Salted paper print from paper negative
Image: 6 15/16 × 8 9/16 in. (17.7 × 21.7cm)
Sheet: 7 5/16 × 8 13/16 in. (18.5 × 22.4cm)
Bequest of Maurice B. Sendak, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

The monk’s gesture of prayer in this image by George Wilson Bridges is a touchstone of stillness against the impressive landscape and vegetation that rise up behind him. Bridges was an Anglican reverend and friend of William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of the calotype (paper negative), who instructed him on the method before it was patented. Bridges was also one of the earliest photographers to embark upon a tour of the Mediterranean region; he wrote to Talbot that he conceived of the excursion both as a technical mission to advance photography and as a pilgrimage to collect imagery of religious sites.

 

Pietro Dovizielli (Italian, 1804-1885) '[Spanish Steps, Rome]' c. 1855

 

Pietro Dovizielli (Italian, 1804-1885)
[Spanish Steps, Rome]
c. 1855
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Image: 14 11/16 × 11 5/16 in. (37.3 × 28.8cm)
Sheet: 24 7/16 × 18 7/8 in. (62 × 48cm)
Gift of W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary, 2019
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

Made in late afternoon light, Pietro Dovizielli’s picture shows a long shadow cast onto Rome’s Piazza di Spagna that almost obscures one of the market stalls flanking the base of the famed Spanish Steps. Rising above the sea of stairs is the church of Trinità dei Monti, its facade neatly bisected by the Sallustiano obelisk. In the piazza, a lone figure – the only visible inhabitant of this eerily empty public square – rests against the railing of the Barcaccia fountain. Keenly composed pictures like this led reviewers of Dovizielli’s photographs to proclaim them “the very paragons of architectural photography.”

 

Edouard Baldus (French (born Prussia), 1813-1889) '[Amphitheater, Nîmes]' c. 1853

 

Edouard Baldus (French (born Prussia), 1813-1889)
[Amphitheater, Nîmes]
c. 1853
Salted paper print from paper negative
Overall: 12 3/8 × 15 3/16 in. (31.5 × 38.5cm)
Gift of Joyce F. Menschel, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary, 2019
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Instead of photographing the entire arena in Nîmes, as he had two years earlier, Baldus focusses here on a section of the façade, playing the superimposed arches against the vertical, shadowed pylons in the foreground. The resulting composition manages to isolate and monumentalise the architecture, while creating a rhythmic play of light and dark that energises the picture. The photograph was part of a massive, four-year project, Villes de France photographiées, in which the views from the south of France were said to surpass all of the photographer’s previous work in the region.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, Dorset 1800-1877 Lacock) 'View of the Boulevards of Paris' 1843

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, Dorset 1800 – 1877 Lacock)
View of the Boulevards of Paris
1843
Salted paper print from paper negative
Mount: 9 in. × 10 1/16 in. (22.8 × 25.6cm)
Sheet: 7 3/8 × 10 1/8 in. (18.7 × 25.7cm)
Image: 6 5/16 × 8 1/2 in. (16.1 × 21.6cm)
Bequest of Maurice B. Sendak, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

In May 1843 Talbot traveled to Paris to negotiate a licensing agreement for the French rights to his patented calotype process. His invention used a negative-positive system and a paper base – not a copper support as in a daguerreotype. Although his negotiations were not fruitful, Talbot’s views of the elegant new boulevards of the French capital were highly successful.

Filled with the incidental details of urban life, architectural ornamentation, and the play of spring light, this photograph appears as the second plate in Talbot’s groundbreaking publication The Pencil of Nature (1844). The chimney posts on the roofline of the rue de la Paix, the waiting horses and carriages, and the characteristically French shuttered windows evoke as vivid a notion of mid-nineteenth-century Paris now as they must have 170 years ago.

 

Lewis Dowe (American, active 1860s-1880s) '[Dowe's Photograph Rooms, Sycamore, Illinois]' 1860s

 

Lewis Dowe (American, active 1860s-1880s)
[Dowe’s Photograph Rooms, Sycamore, Illinois]
1860s
Albumen silver print
Image: 5 7/8 × 7 5/8 in. (14.9 × 19.3cm)
Mount: 8 × 10 in. (20.3 × 25.4cm)
William L. Schaeffer Collection, Promised Gift of Jennifer and Philip Maritz, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Above a bustling thoroughfare in Sycamore, Illinois, boldface lettering advertises the services of photographer Lewis Dowe, a portraitist who also published postcards and stereoviews. Easier to miss in the image is a mannequin perched above the awning to promote the studio. The flurry of activity below Dowe’s storefront and the prime location of the outfit, poised between a tailor and a saloon, speak to the important role of photography in town life.

 

E. & H. T. Anthony (American) '[Specimens of New York Bill Posting]' 1863

 

E. & H. T. Anthony (American)
[Specimens of New York Bill Posting]
1863
Albumen silver prints
Mount: 3 1/4 in. × 6 3/4 in. (8.3 × 17.1cm)
Image: 2 15/16 in. × 6 in. (7.5 × 15.3cm)
William L. Schaeffer Collection, Promised Gift of Jennifer and Philip Maritz, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Benefit concerts, minstrel shows, lectures, and horse races all clamour for attention in this graphic field of broadsides posted in the Bowery neighbourhood of Manhattan. The stereograph format lends added depth and dimensionality to the layered fragments of text, transporting viewers to a hectic city sidewalk. Published for a national market, the scene indexes a precise moment in the summer of 1863, offering armchair tourists an inadvertent trend report on downtown cultural life.

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869) 'The Diamond and Wasp, Balaklava Harbour' March, 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869)
The Diamond and Wasp, Balaklava Harbour
March, 1855
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Image: 8 in. × 10 1/8 in. (20.3 × 25.7 cm)
Mount: 19 5/16 × 24 3/4 in. (49 × 62.9 cm)
Gift of Thomas Walther Collection, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary, 2019
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Fenton’s view of the Black Sea port of Balaklava, which the British used as a landing point for their siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War, shows a busy but orderly operation. The British naval ships, HMS Diamond and HMS Wasp, oversaw the management of transports into and out of the harbour, which explains the presence of ships and rowboats, as well as the large stack of crates near the rail track in the foreground. Against claims of “rough-and-tumble” mismanagement of Balaklava in the British press, Fenton (commissioned by a Manchester publisher to record the theatre of war) offers documentation of a well-functioning port.

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869) 'The Mamelon and Malakoff from front of Mortar Battery' April, 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869)
The Mamelon and Malakoff from front of Mortar Battery
April, 1855
Salted paper print from glass negative
Image: 9 1/8 × 13 1/2 in. (23.1 × 34.3cm)
Sheet: 14 3/4 × 17 13/16 in. (37.5 × 45.3cm)
Gift of Joyce F. Menschel, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary, 2019
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Fenton’s extensive documentation of the Crimean War – the first use of photography for that purpose – was a commercial endeavour that did not include pictures of battle, the wounded, or the dead. His unprepossessing view of a vast rocky valley instead discloses, in the distance, a site of crucial strategic importance. Fort Malakoff, the general designation of Russian fortifications on two hills (Mamelon and Malakoff) is just perceptible at the horizon line. Malakoff’s capture by the French in September 1855, five months after Fenton made this photograph, ended the eleven-month siege of Sevastopol and was the final episode of the war.

 

Felice Beato (British (born Italy), Venice 1832-1909 Luxor) and James Robertson (British, 1813-1881) [Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem] 1856-57

 

Felice Beato (British (born Italy), Venice 1832-1909 Luxor) and James Robertson (British, 1813-1881)
[Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem]
1856-57
Albumen silver print
Image: 9 in. × 11 1/4 in. (22.9 × 28.6cm)
Mount: 17 5/8 in. × 22 1/2 in. (44.8 × 57.2cm)
Gift of Joyce F. Menschel, 2013
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

This detailed print showing the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem provides a sense of the structure’s natural and architectural surroundings. Felice Beato depicted the religious site from a pilgrim’s point of view – walls and roads are given visual priority and stand between the viewer and the shrine. Holy sites such as this were the earliest and most common subjects of travel photography. Beato made multiple journeys to the Mediterranean and North Africa, and he is perhaps best known for photographing East Asia in the 1880s.

 

R.C. Montgomery (American, active 1850s) '[Self-Portrait (?)]' 1850s

 

R.C. Montgomery (American, active 1850s)
[Self-Portrait (?)]
1850s
Daguerreotype with applied colour
Image: 3 1/4 × 4 1/4 in. (8.3 × 10.8 cm)
William L. Schaeffer Collection, Promised Gift of Jennifer and Philip Maritz, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

The insouciant subject here may be the daguerreotypist himself, posing in bed for a promotional picture or a private joke. His rumpled suit and haphazard hairstyle affect intimacy, perhaps in an effort to showcase an informal portrait style. Because they required long exposure times, daguerreotypes often captured sitters at their most stilted. With this surprising picture, the maker might have hoped to attract clients who were in search of a more novel or natural likeness.

 

 

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05
Jun
20

Text: ‘Prospect/us, protect us: plague and resumption in fin de siècle Sydney’ on John Degotardi Jr.’s ‘The Plague Albums’, Sydney, 1900

June 2020

Views taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900, under the supervision of Mr George McCredie, F.I.A., N.S.W. photographed by John Degotardi Jr. also known as The Plague Albums.

6 albums containing 379 photoprints

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '264. Professional Ratcatchers' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
264. Professional Ratcatchers
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

Abstract

This text examines the photographs of John Degotardi Jr., photographer for the New South Wales Department of Public Works, who produced 6 photographic albums containing 379 photoprints of the plague in The Rocks, Sydney, 1900, also known as The Plague Albums.

It proposes alternate interpretations of the photographs, readings that both confirm the original purpose for their existence on the one hand, and subvert that purpose, and their formal legacy, on the other. In so doing we can begin to understand what an incredibly sophisticated photographer John Degotardi Jr. was, and how he deserves much more recognition than has been accorded him at present in the history of Australian photography.

 

Keywords

John Degotardi Jr., The Plague Albums, Sydney, Australia, bubonic plague, plague in Sydney, photography, art, urban landscape, the Prospect, prospectus, infection, rats, disease, plague, resumption, slum, community, The Rocks, Millers Point, Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Download Prospect/us, protect us (1.6Mb pdf)

 

 

Prospect/us, protect us: plague and resumption in fin de siècle Sydney

On John Degotardi Jr.’s The Plague Albums, Sydney, 1900

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During this time of pestilence, I came across several online articles about the outbreak of bubonic plague that occurred in Sydney in 1900 (in particular “Purging Pestilence – Plague!”1), the infection more virulent – don’t you love that word – in the harbour side slums around Darling Harbour, Millers Point and The Rocks but covering “the whole of the quarantine area, which stretched from Millers Point east to George Street, along Argyle, Upper Fort, and Essex Streets thence south to Chippendale, covering the area between Darling Harbour and Kent Streets, west to Cowper Street, Glebe, along City Road to the area bounded by Abercrombie, Ivy, Cleveland Streets, and the railway. The area east from George Street enclosed by Riley, Liverpool, Elizabeth and Goulburn Streets; Gipps, Campbell and George Streets were also quarantined, as were certain areas in Woolloomooloo, Paddington, Redfern and Manly.”2

Under the supervision of architect and consulting engineer Mr George McCredie, who was appointed by the Government to take charge of all quarantine activities in the Sydney area, work began on March 23, 1900 to cleanse the infected areas, and through compulsory purchase, or resumption (Australian law: the action, on the part of the Crown or other authority, of reassuming possession of lands, rights, etc., previously granted to another), to demolish slum properties. The buildings selected for demolition because of the health risks they supposedly raised, were recorded by photography,3 through the auspices of John Degotardi Jr., photographer for the New South Wales Department of Public Works, who produced 6 photographic albums containing 379 photoprints of the plague in The Rocks, Sydney, 1900, also known as The Plague Albums.

Degotardi Jr.’s photographs, commissioned as result of the outbreak, “are largely of buildings requiring to be demolished, and include the interior and exterior of houses, stores, warehouses and wharves, and surrounding streets, lanes and yards, thus providing a fairly clear indication of the state of the city during and immediately after the plague.” They document property and living conditions before, during and after the outbreak of plague. “George McCredie noted in a letter to Sir William Lyne that ‘Where it was found necessary to pull down premises or destroy outbuildings photographs were taken of them before their demolition, and in order to prepare in case of future litigation, each inspector was instructed to take careful notes of any property that might be destroyed.'”4

Probably taken on a large format glass plate camera (although no details are given), the resultant album photographs, now scanned, are available at high resolution (600dpi) and 130Mb file size images on the New South Wales State Archives and Records website copyright free, in the public domain. While it is admirable to have these photographs online, the scans have been left in their original condition, as is an archives want, in order to protect the presumed integrity of the original artefact. In other words, over 100 years after the taking of the photograph, this is the current physical state of the object and this is how the images should be seen today. You can see a couple of iterations of the original scans below, replete with their sickly yellow hue, which does not allow the viewer to really appreciate the scene, the photograph as a complete composition, or the skill of the photographer when observing and capturing the urban terrain. This is not how these photographs would have appeared when originally produced and their deterioration is akin to a layer of yellowing varnish that obscures the colours and details of some Old Master painting, which has discoloured with age. Conservators do not leave this layer of yellow in place, they remove it. The same can be said of discoloured photographs.

In this case, I spent many hours restoring these photographs to their pristine condition, removing colour and dust spots, so that I may study the scene intimately, zooming into the image (because of their high quality) to observe everyday nuances of Sydney life in 1900. In so doing we can begin to understand what an incredibly sophisticated photographer John Degotardi Jr. was, and how he deserves much more recognition than has been accorded him at present in the history of Australian photography. Let us set the stage, then, for the taking of these photographs.

We note that for the photographer this was a job, working as he did for the New South Wales Department of Public Works. He was to document the quarantine area to provide a clear indication of the state of the city during and immediately after the plague, those photographs of interiors and exteriors, of buildings and boundaries (streets) – things that “exist to insure order and security and continuity and to give citizens a visible status”5 – also needed in case of future litigation (presumably by aggrieved landowners) after they were compulsorily purchased. Here we begin to understand that the aesthetic of urban landscape photography is always contextual and political. In his photographs Degotardi Jr. maps out the boundaries of his, the governments, and the camera’s authority – one’s position (and that of his all seeing, ambivalent ‘mechanical eye’), “not just a matter of where one stands, but that it is more comprehensively spatial, social and economic.”6

Often in these photographs (not necessarily in this posting, but more generally in the images found online), Degotardi Jr.’s camera occupies and draws on “the seventeenth century device of the ‘prospect’, an oblique landscape viewpoint located between ground and aerial perspectives… The viewpoint of the prospect hovers in mid air between the aerial image and the landscape view, oblique to the terrain it is depicting. It provides an order that would otherwise be illegible to the grounded eye.”7 In other words, Degotardi Jr. positions his camera to best bring order to the urban chaos, picturing through the ritual of taking photographs, a surveyed and regulated order (both economic and legislative) that determines the urban grid – in this case, of the quarantine areas / remediated areas, dis-ease areas / proposed redevelopment, business areas – in some of the oldest suburbs of Sydney. Following Goldswain’s commentary on the photographs of John Joseph Dwyer and his mapping of the gold mining city of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, we might concur that, “It is not unreasonable to suggest that Dwyer’s [Degotardi Jr.’s] camera is literally prospecting, combining both senses of the word, mapping the city and its suburbs to find an economic potential in its ordered state…”8

In his “views”, Degotardi Jr.’s camera often portrays people (in)congruously in doorways or on streets, used to document scale or to bare witness to their surroundings. People, mainly men, go about their work often demolishing buildings or cleaning rubbish in the streets, stopping as the photograph is taken, or deliberately posed by the photographer. In some images the photographer sets up a scene that has no logic at all. For example, the photograph of Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street (below) evidence a shoeless lad, a group of young men, a painter, and two firemen who hold a deflated fire hose which leads out of shot in one direction and terminates under the eves of a row of shops in the other direction, seemingly connected to nothing. Their surroundings are declamatory and, for today’s reader, insightful. In a building erected by P.R. Larkin in 1866, the row of shops includes a “Johnny All Sorts” – a business that bought and sold all sorts of things. To the right of the group are pasted billboards, much as today, two of which advertise a plague remedy and disinfectant soap (sound familiar in 2020?):

Avoid the
PLAGUE!
Purchase at Once!!
Prof. VON ELSEBERG’S
‘KALTHA’
Just Arrived

Notice to householders
BLACK DEATH
or Bubonic Plague
SANITOL
Disinfectant soap
3d Double tablets 3d

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In other photographs, men stand in doorways, hidden in the shadows (No. 20 Upton Street). Many are images of workers, homeowners, citizens and families who live a hand to mouth existence. The intimacy of these photographs portrays, betrays, the place where societies rejects are housed, the setting (the place or type of surroundings where something is positioned or where an event takes place) of human lives; the “setting”, or settling, of human lives, as in the solidification of space and place, the environment of existence. As a group of photographs the series is an extraordinary social document of poverty and squalor, of the desperation of people just getting by.

To the photographer, and to the people and buildings he was photographing, the familiar serves as a point of departure. Firstly, Degotardi Jr. documents what was there – this diseased land, a landscape not only as a composition of spaces but also a composition of a web of boundaries. Secondly, he photographs to map out what was to be “resumed” through the Resumption Act 1900, the city “fathers” using the outbreak of bubonic plague as a convenient excuse to compulsorily purchase land in the loosely defined quarantine area, offering the residents compensation “estimated without reference to any alteration in the value of such land arising from any purchase or any appropriation or resumption for any purpose mentioned in this Act or the establishing of any public works on any land the subject of any such purchase, appropriation, or resumption.” These albums, then, become a prospectus, a prospect/us, an authentic record of the terms, the conditions and the contexts for the reformist attitude in the minds of these city fathers: not to protect us (the populace) but to prospect us, using land resumption as the tool to get rid of the old and bring in the new. The plan was to demolish the existing structures and rebuild to a grand design.

Factored into the design of the Resumption Plans was the need to keep Dawes Point free for the construction of a possible bridge across the harbour. “While public health was a convenient excuse for resumptions, the need for a harbour bridge may also have motivated the authorities.”9

“Plans were underway even at these early stages and a good 23 years before construction of the bridge commenced. Even at the turn of the nineteenth century, it was clear that there would need to be a widened thoroughfare to accommodate traffic entering and exiting the bridge, and many buildings would need to be sacrificed to achieve this. The bubonic plague outbreak offered the ideal opportunity to highlight the inadequacies in a lot of buildings, and the chance to condemn the area as slum, whose only chance of redemption was through mass demolition.”10

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But as an article by Gillian McNally in The Daily Telegraph insightfully observes, “
The reshaping of the city … provided a convenient “public health” excuse for resumption of private property. The NSW Government took back ownership of virtually the entire headland from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour and demolished hundreds of slum houses and businesses in what are now prime real estate precincts such as George St, Sussex St, Kent St and Martin Place. There was little attempt to define a slum area and there was no recognition of the rights of tenants as resumptions took out a house here, a street there and great swathes of properties in some suburbs to improve crooked roads and thoroughfares.”11

If we define a landscape as an environment modified by the permanent presence of a group of people,12 then what these photographs do, in one sense, is document the death throes of the communities that created this urban landscape. As J.B. Jackson notes, “No group sets out to create a landscape, of course. What it sets out to do is to create a community, and the landscape as its visible manifestation is simply the by-product of people working and living, sometimes coming together, sometimes staying apart, but always recognising their interdependence.”13

But, as Denis Cosgrove observes, the concept of landscape (and thus of community) is always powerful and political.

“Landscape was a ‘way of seeing’ that was bourgeois, individualist and related to the exercise of power over space. The basic theory and technique of the landscape way of seeing was linear perspective … and is closely related by [Alberti] to social class and spatial hierarchy. It employs the same geometry as merchant trading and accounting, navigation, land survey, mapping and artillery. Perspective is first applied in the city and then to a country subjugated to urban control and viewed as landscape. … The visual power given by the landscape way of seeing complements the real power humans exert over land as property.”14

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The photographs in these albums, then, evidence the real power of the city fathers over land as property, their property and not that of the citizens or the communities that had grown up in these unregulated buildings and shantytowns. They, the city fathers, ordered these pictures into existence. The landscape thus portrayed, is “a way of seeing, a composition and structuring of the world so that it may be appropriated by a detached, individual spectator to whom an illusion of order and control is offered through the composition of space according to the certainties of geometry.”15 Residents, armed with lime, carbolic acid and sulfuric acid, were then enlisted to cleanse, disinfect and even burn and demolish their own houses in infected areas.16

But in another and far more important sense, what these photographs document are the lives of ordinary people, people who form a community of souls, for whom a sense of community was of vital, life giving importance. The photographs record their existence as traces and energies from the past that impinge on our consciousness in the present. Here are the ratcatchers, modest men with their traps and cages, bowties and pipes, all adorned bar one in the obligatory hat; here are two Chinese gentlemen surrounded by squalor and chopped wood, one sitting on a pile of rocks, both portrayed with a touching dignity; here in a rubble strewn Wexford street men resignedly sit on the ground or stare pensively at the camera, pondering we know not what, while on the other side of the street children stare inquisitively at the camera; and there smoke arises from amongst the demolished Exeter Place as labourers, persons doing unskilled manual work for wages, dance a ballet of destruction amongst the rubble. Children on a veranda, pails in a dirt back yard, chickens, and children, roaming free… and a rock tied on a piece of string guards the entrance to a door.

Pails and tins and rocks and wood and chickens and children and rats and butchers and dirt and sugar… and a rock tied on a piece of string, like the great pendulum of time, marking all their existences. And yet… and yet, what that most excellent photographer John Degotardi Jr. does (in this second sense), is not just to record as instructed, their quarantine, their dispossession – but through his photographs, he empathises with the people, with their community of existence. While his photographs are not sentimental about humankind, traces of humanity are ever-present in his pictures. Unlike the Parisian Eugène Atget, who established a beneficial “distance between man and his environment” here, Degotardi Jr. engages in a conversation with the people and the city. And in so doing, in so immersing himself in (t)his project, he lifts his photographs out of the ordinary, out of (t)his world.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn has so eloquently observed,

“Effortless activity happens at moments in dance and in sports at the highest levels of performance; when it does, it takes everybody’s breath away. But it also happens in every area of human activity, from painting to car repair to parenting. Years of practice and experience combine on some occasions, giving rise to a new capacity to let execution unfold beyond technique, beyond exertion, beyond thinking. Action then becomes a pure expression of art, of being, of letting go of all doing – a merging of mind and body in motion.”17

.
It would seem to me that this is the great achievement of a Department of Public Works photographer who was hired to do a job: that he transcended his subject matter by letting execution unfold beyond technique, by immersing himself in the derivation of composition, perspective, light and form, place and context, feeling and emotion. So while these photographs in the obvious obey the command of the city fathers, of the planners, of patriarchy and the capital of industry, in the immersive and subversive they undermine the prospectus that first proposed them. Unable to protect the people, to protect us, from the demolition of community (to the benefit of commerce hidden under the “public health” excuse), John Degotardi Jr. leaves, through his photographs, a lasting legacy of lives that matter, not bureaucracy that doesn’t. He imagines streets and buildings and lives, pictured for eternity through the psychogeography of the city. And if we think of the long queues of unemployed in our current pandemic, here are also lives that matter – the lives of the dead and the destitute, each one a valuable, sentient, human being.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 2,809

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Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Many thanks to the brains trust on the Lost Sydney Facebook web page for helping in my research in locating exact positions of some of the photographs and the location of the resumption maps online. Apologies if I have got anything incorrect. All photographs are in the public domain. More photographs can be found on the State Library of New South Wales website, New South Wales State Archives and Records website and the John Degotardi Flickr stream.

 

Footnotes

  1. Anonymous. “Purging Pestilence – Plague!” on the New South Wales State Archives and Records website [Online] Cited 25 May 2020
  2. NRS-12487 | Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney. Text from the State Archives of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 11/04/2020.
  3. Alan Davies. “Photography in Australia,” in Celebrating 100 years of the Mitchell Library. Sydney: State Library of NSW, 2000. p. 86.
  4. Footnote 1. NSW Parliamentary Debates, 1900, vol. CIII, p. 111 quoted in Max Kelly. Plague Sydney. Marrickville, NSW: Doak Press, 1981 in NRS-12487 | Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney. Text from the State Archives of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 11/04/2020.
  5. J.B. Jackson. Discovering the Vernacular Landscape. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984, p. 12.
  6. Philip Goldswain. “Surveying the Field, Picturing the Grid: John Joseph Dwyer’s Urban and Industrial Landscapes,” in Phillip Goldswain and William Taylor (eds.,). An Everyday Transience: The Urban Imaginary of Goldfields Photographer John Joseph Dwyer. UWA Publishing, 2010, p. 65-66.
  7. Ibid., p. 63.
  8. Ibid., p. 66.
  9. Anonymous. “Purging Pestilence – Plague!” on the State Archives of New South Wales website (archived) [Online] Cited 10 April 2020.
  10. Anonymous. “Bubonic Plague outbreak in Sydney in the 1900s helps Politicians to clear the way for transport progress & landmark,” on The Digger website 13th August 2016 [Online] Cited 10/40/2020.
  11. Gillian McNally. “Bubonic plague Sydney: How a city survived the black death in 1900,” in The Daily Telegraph September 3, 2015 [Online] Cited 16 May 2020.
  12. J.B. Jackson. Discovering the Vernacular Landscape. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984, p. 12.
  13. Ibid.,
  14. Abstract in Denis Cosgrove. “Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea,” in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1985, pp. 45-62.
  15. Ibid., p. 55.
  16. McNally, op.cit.,
  17. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Wherever You Go There You Are. New York: Hachette Books, 1994, p. 44.

 

 

 

The political landscape

“I am enumerating some of the simplest and most visible elements in what can be called the political landscape: the landscape which evolved partly out of experience, partly from design, to meet some of the needs of men and women in their political [ie. social] guise. The political elements I have in mind are such things as walls and boundaries and highways and monuments and public places; these have a definite role to play in the landscape. They exist to insure order and security and continuity and to give citizens a visible status. They serve to remind us of our rights and obligations and of our history.”

.
J.B. Jackson. ‘Discovering the Vernacular Landscape’. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1984, p. 12.

 

Boundaries

“The most basic political element in any landscape is the boundary. Politically speaking what matters first is the formation of a community of responsible citizens, a well-defined territory composed of small holdings and a number of public spaces; so the first step toward organizing space is the defining of that territory, after which we divide it for the individual members. Boundaries, therefore, unmistakable, permanent, inviolate boundaries, are essential.”

.
J.B. Jackson. ‘Discovering the Vernacular Landscape’. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1984, p. 13.

 

“If we return to the notion that photography is an extension of pre-existing pictorial conventions, then it could be argued that the common feature of all the preceding images is the photographer’s reliance on the ‘prospect’ as the compositional device. The viewpoint of the prospect hovers in mid air between the aerial image and the landscape view, oblique to the terrain it is depicting. It provides an order that would otherwise be illegible to the grounded eye. John Macarthur suggests that the difference between the grounded landscape views and the prospect was not simply that different kinds of views required different kinds of representations. For theorists of the picturesque, a prospect was kind of view that could not be a picture.16 Macarthur distinguishes between the prospect and the landscape view as the difference between the cadastral [(of a map or survey) showing the extent, value, and ownership of land, especially for taxation] and the pictorial. Geographer Denis Cosgrove argues that the prospect was first used to ‘denote a view outward, a looking forward in time as well as space’ and that by the end of the sixteenth century it carried the ‘sense of an extensive or commanding sight or view, a view of the landscape as affected by one’s position.’17. The inference is that ‘one’s position’ is not just a matter of where one stands, but that it is more comprehensively spatial, social and economic. Cosgrove’s analysis of the prospect suggests an economic imperative behind its use and he cites its importance in Tudor England, where in combination with the ‘Malicious craft’ of surveying, it reflected a command over developed and commercially run farming estates of Tudor enclosures and the new landowners of monastic estates.18 Cosgrove notes the emergence of the verb ‘to prospect’ in the nineteenth century as a result of the speculative activities of gold mining.19.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that Dwyer’s camera is literally prospecting, combining both senses of the word, mapping the city and its suburbs to find an economic potential in its ordered state… Dwyer produces what could be considered Cosgrove’s spatial, chronological and commercial narrative compressed into the frame of the photograph…”

.
Philip Goldswain. “Surveying the Field, Picturing the Grid: John Joseph Dwyer’s Urban and Industrial Landscapes,” in Phillip Goldswain and William Taylor (eds.,). ‘An Everyday Transience: The Urban Imaginary of Goldfields Photographer John Joseph Dwyer’. UWA Publishing, 2010, p. 65-66.

16. J. Macarthur. ‘The Picturesque: Architecture, Disgust and Other Irregularities’. Routledge, London, 2007, p. 190.
17. ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ as cited by D. Cosgrove, “Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the landscape Idea”, in ‘Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers’, New Series, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1985, p. 55.
18. Cosgrove, “Prospect,” p. 55.
19. Ibid., p. 61, note 64.

 

 

The Bubonic Plague hit Sydney in January 1900. Spreading from the waterfront, the rats carried the plague throughout the city. Within eight months 303 cases were reported and 103 people were dead.

When bubonic plague struck Sydney in 1900, George McCredie (1859-1903) was appointed by the Government to take charge of all quarantine activities in the Sydney area, beginning work on March 23, 1900. At the time of his appointment, McCredie was an architect and consulting engineer with offices in the Mutual Life of New York Building in Martin Place. McCredie’s appointment was much criticised in Parliament, though it was agreed later that his work was successful.

The infected areas, and buildings selected for demolition because of the health risks they supposedly raised, were recorded by photography. Most of the buildings demolished were considered slum buildings. John Degotardi Junior (1860-1937) worked at the NSW Government Printing Office and was photographer with the NSW Department of Public Works from 6 January 1897-1919.

 

John Degotardi Junior (Australian, 1860-1937)

MR. JOHN DEGOTARDI.

The death occurred yesterday at Lewisham private hospital of Mr John Degotardi formerly Government photographer. He was bom at Peacock’s Point Balmain on February 21 1860 and was a son of Mr John Degotardi one of the first professional photographers in New South Wales. Mr Degotardi, junior, was well known as an interstate oarsman. In recent years he was associated with Judge Backhouse as judge and starter at regattas. He has left a widow three sons (Messrs John, Albert, and Frederick) and three daughters Mrs. Delves, Mrs. Allen, of Nana Glen, and Mrs H R Brown.

Anonymous. “Mr. John Degotardi,” in The Sydney Morning Herald, Mon 15 Feb 1937 on the Trove website [Online] Cited 10/03/2020

A full biography of John Degotardi Jr.’s father can be found on the Design & Art Australia Online website.

Uncredited photographs by John Degotardi Jr. that appear in this posting can be found in “The Bubonic Plague,” By Lana in The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, Sat 7 Apr 1900, on the Trove website. Download the full text with the newspaper images (6.7Mb pdf)

Grateful thanks to Associate Professor James McArdle for this information.

 

Darling Harbour Wharves Resumption Act 1900 No 10

Mode of estimating compensation

The amount of compensation in respect of any land resumed, as mentioned in sections two and three of this Act, shall be estimated without reference to any alteration in the value of such land arising from any purchase or any appropriation or resumption for any purpose mentioned in this Act or the establishing of any public works on any land the subject of any such purchase, appropriation, or resumption.

Provided also that the amount of compensation in respect of any land so resumed shall be estimated without reference to any alteration in the value of such land arising from any proclamation declaring any place comprising such land to be a station for the performance of quarantine within the meaning of the Quarantine Act 1897, or arising from any things done in pursuance of any such proclamation.

 

 

Cover of from Vol. IV of 'Views taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900, Vol. IV / under the supervision of Mr George McCredie, F.I.A., N.S.W.'

 

Cover of from Vol. IV of Views taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900, Vol. IV / under the supervision of Mr George McCredie, F.I.A., N.S.W.
1900
66 silver gelatin photoprints
28 x 49 cm
6 albums containing 379 photoprints also known as The Plague Albums
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales 413017
Public domain

 

Index of from Vol. IV of 'Views taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900, Vol. IV / under the supervision of Mr George McCredie, F.I.A., N.S.W.'

 

Index from Vol. IV of Views taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900, Vol. IV / under the supervision of Mr George McCredie, F.I.A., N.S.W. including number 264 Professional Ratcatchers (above)
1900
66 silver gelatin photoprints
28 x 49 cm
6 albums containing 379 photoprints also known as The Plague Albums
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales 413017
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '8. Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
8. Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street
1900
From Vol. I of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

Intersection of Margaret Street and Sussex Street looking south, with the Edinburgh Arms Hotel at the end of the first block on the left

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) NSW Department of Public Works photographer 'John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '8. Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street' 1900Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
8. Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street (original scan)
1900
From Vol. I of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

Margaret Street and Sussex Street, Sydney

 

Intersection of Margaret Street and Sussex Street looking south, with the Edinburgh Arms Hotel at the end of the first block on the left

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '8. Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '8. Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '8. Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
8. Sussex Street, looking South from Margaret Street (details)
1900
From Vol. I of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas     , Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '15. No. 27 Sussex Street, Barangaroo, Sydney' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
15. No. 27 Sussex Street, Barangaroo (rear of)
1900
From Vol. I of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '16. No. 11 Margaret Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
16. No. 11 Margaret Street, Barangaroo
1900
From Vol. I of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

Views 28 and 29 are diametrically opposite views of the same scene on Kent Street, Sydney

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) NSW Department of Public Works photographer '28. Cleansing the streets (Kent St. looking south across Margaret St. Union Hotel at 206 Kent St., Lazarus Rosenfeld at 208 Kent Street and Imperial Manufacturing Co. at 210-212 Kent St.)' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
28. Cleansing the streets (Kent St. looking south across Margaret St. Union Hotel at 206 Kent St., Lazarus Rosenfeld at 208 Kent Street and Imperial Manufacturing Co. at 210-212 Kent St.) (original scan)
1900
From Vol. I of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '28. Cleansing the streets' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
28. Cleansing the streets (Kent St. looking north across Margaret St., Sydney to 202 & 204 Kent Street)
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

This view is of St Phillip’s Anglican church in the distance, standing on Kent St. looking north across Margaret St., Sydney

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '28. Cleansing the streets' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
28. Cleansing the streets (Kent St. looking north across Margaret St., Sydney to 202 & 204 Kent Street) (detail)
1900
From Vol. I of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '29. Cleansing the streets' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
29. Cleansing the streets (Kent St. looking south across Margaret St. Union Hotel at 206 Kent St., Lazarus Rosenfeld at 208 Kent Street and Imperial Manufacturing Co. at 210-212 Kent St.)
1900
From Vol. I of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

Views 28 and 29 are diametrically opposite views of the same scene on Kent Street, Sydney. Notice the angle of the fire appliance wheels in both photographs. The fire appliance is a 1891 Shand Mason Steamer. The Union Hotel is at 206 Kent St., Lazarus Rosenfeld is at 208 Kent Street and the Imperial Manufacturing Co. is at 210-212 Kent St.

 

Kent Street, Sydney map

 

Kent Street, Sydney map showing the position from which both of the above photographs were taken (in red), and the position of the Union Hotel on the corner of Kent Street and Margaret Street, with St Phillip’s Anglican church in the distance.

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '69. Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street, Sydney' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
69. Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '69. Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street, Sydney' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '69. Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street, Sydney' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '69. Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street, Sydney' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '69. Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street, Sydney' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '69. Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street, Sydney' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
69. Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street, Sydney (details)
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

The details of Nos. 223, 225 Sussex Street show a shoeless lad, a group of young men, a painter, and two firemen holding a firehouse… that leads nowhere. Behind, in a building erected by P.R. Larkin in 1866, is a row of shops which includes a “Johnny All Sorts” – a business that bought and sold all sorts of things. To the right of the group are pasted billboards, much as today, two of which advertise a plague remedy and disinfectant soap (sound familiar in 2020?):

Avoid the
PLAGUE!
Purchase at Once!!
Prof. VON ELSEBERG’S
‘KALTHA’
Just Arrived

Notice to householders
BLACK DEATH
or Bubonic Plague
SANITOL
Disinfectant soap
3d Double tablets 3d

 

 

“The Destruction of Rats,” in The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842-1954) Mon 24 Feb 1902 Page 8 from the Trove website mentioning the steamer Octopus (see below) and Sussex Street (above)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '70. [Octopus] Cleansing the Wharves' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
70. [Octopus] Cleansing the Wharves
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

Housing and other buildings

The photos were taken by Mr. John Degotardi, Jr., photographer from the Department of Public Works and depict the state of the houses, ‘slum’ buildings and streets at the time of the outbreak – interior and exterior of houses, stores, warehouses and wharves, and lanes and yards – and the cleansing and disinfecting operations which followed.

The photos provide a fairly clear indication of the state of the city during and immediately after the plague.

 

Streetscapes

Quarantine areas were established. These stretched from Millers Point east to George Street, along Argyle, Upper Fort, and Essex Streets then south to Chippendale, covering the area between Darling Harbour and Kent Streets, west to Cowper Street, Glebe, along City Road to the area bounded by Abercrombie, Ivy, Cleveland Streets, and the railway. The area east from George Street enclosed by Riley, Liverpool, Elizabeth and Goulburn Streets, Gipps, Campbell and George Streets were also quarantined, as were certain areas in Woolloomooloo, Paddington, Redfern and Manly.

 

Cleansing

Cleansing and disinfecting operations in the quarantine areas lasted from 24 March – 17 July and included the demolition of ‘slum’ buildings. Local residents were employed to undertake the cleansing, disinfecting, burning and demolition of the infected areas, including their own homes. Shovels, brooms, mattocks, hoses, buckets, and watering cans, were tools used to clear, clean, lime wash and disinfect. Not only buildings and dwellings were subjected to the cleansing operations but also wharves and docks were cleared of silt and sewerage.

Cleansing agents used during the cleansing operations included: solid disinfectant (chloride of lime); liquid disinfectant (carbolic water: miscible carbolic, 3/4 pint water, 1 gallon); sulphuric acid water (sulphuric acid, 1/2 pint water, 1 gallon); carbolic lime white (miscible carbolic 1/2 pint to the gallon).

Rat catchers were employed and the rats burned in a special rat incinerator. Over 44,000 rats were officially killed in the cleansing operations.

 

Sydney Harbour Trust

In 1901 the Sydney Harbour Trust resumed hundreds of properties in The Rocks and Millers Point. While public health was a convenient excuse for resumptions,1 the need for a harbour bridge may also have motivated the authorities. Green Bans in the 1970s on the redevelopment of The Rocks helped preserve this historic area which is now a major tourist attraction. The Rocks area has been under the control of the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority since 1970 and the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority since 1999.

Anonymous. “Purging Pestilence – Plague!” on the State Archives of New South Wales website (archived) [Online] Cited 10 April 2020

 

  1. The dawn of a new century combined with the Federation of the Australian states to form the Commonwealth of Australia brought a new sense of expectancy, hope and vision for the future to the towns, cites and rural areas of Australia. The outbreak of the Bubonic plague in The Rocks area of Sydney in 1900 was just the catalyst needed to engender a reformist attitude in the minds of the city fathers. Land resumption was the tool used by the city council to get rid of the old and bring in the new. Large sections of The Rocks and Surry Hills were razed and rebuilt. The commercial waterfront areas of Darling Harbour were resumed en masse and redeveloped to better handle the vast amount of goods now passing through the port of Sydney, the existing facilities having become totally inadequate.
    Anonymous. “The History of Sydney: Federation Sydney 1902-1917,” on the Visit Sydney Australia website [Online] Cited 10/04/2020
    See also Darling Harbour Resumption Maps, 1900-1902 on the NSW State Archives website (archived) [Online] Cited 10/04/2020

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '80. No. 50 Wexford Street (rear), Chinese bedroom' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
80. No. 50 Wexford Street (rear), Chinese bedroom
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

Wexford Street crops up repeatedly in the Cleansing photos … it was roughly where Wentworth Avenue now is. The whole area was demolished in slum clearance schemes and rebuilt. (Thank you beachcomber australia for the information)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '82. Wexford Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
82. Wexford Street
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

Wexford Street, before it was cleared for the construction of Wentworth Avenue.

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '95. Rear of No. 16 Exeter Place' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
95. Rear of No. 16 Exeter Place
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '97. Rubbish tip in Campbell Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
97. Rubbish tip in Campbell Street
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '97. Rubbish tip in Campbell Street' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
97. Rubbish tip in Campbell Street (detail)
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '105. Exeter Place demolished' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
105. Exeter Place demolished
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '105. Exeter Place demolished' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '105. Exeter Place demolished' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
105. Exeter Place demolished (details)
1900
From Vol. II of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

NRS-12487 | Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney

These are photographs of quarantine areas in Sydney, following the outbreak of bubonic plague in 1900. The photographs were commissioned as result of the outbreak. Mr. George McCredie was in charge of cleansing and disinfecting operations in the quarantine areas. He commenced work on 23 March 1900. He was one of 28 temporary sanitary inspectors appointed by the Board of Health in conjunction with the Department of Public Works which was made responsible for the cleansing operations.

George McCredie noted in a letter to Sir William Lyne that ‘Where it was found necessary to pull down premises or destroy outbuildings photographs were taken of them before their demolition, and in order to prepare in case of future litigation, each inspector was instructed to take careful notes of any property that might be destroyed.'(1)

The photographs were taken by Mr. John Degotardi, Jr., photographer from the Department of Public Works. The photographs are largely of buildings requiring to be demolished, and include the interior and exterior of houses, stores, warehouses and wharves, and surrounding streets, lanes and yards, thus providing a fairly clear indication of the state of the city during and immediately after the plague.

The views cover the whole of the quarantine area, which stretched from Millers Point east to George Street, along Argyle, Upper Fort, and Essex Streets thence south to Chippendale, covering the area between Darling Harbour and Kent Streets, west to Cowper Street, Glebe, along City Road to the area bounded by Abercrombie, Ivy, Cleveland Streets, and the railway. The area east from George Street enclosed by Riley, Liverpool, Elizabeth and Goulburn Streets; Gipps, Campbell and George Streets were also quarantined, as were certain areas in Woolloomooloo, Paddington, Redfern and Manly.

They provide a visual report of the conditions in the area at the turn of the century. The bubonic plague was epidemic from 19 January to 9 August 1900. 303 people were stricken and 103 people died.

The President of the Board of Health and Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. John Ashburton Thompson, investigated the spread of the disease. In the 1890s it was recognised that there was a connection between rats and the plague. In 1900 the Department of Health believed the first defence against the disease was the extermination of rats. They employed 3000 men at the height of the epidemic to catch and kill rats.

The Government cleansed large areas of the city. Contacts with the disease were isolated, actual cases hospitalised and people living in the infected areas were inoculated. By carefully plotting reported cases on large scale maps the course of the plague was traced and it became evident that rats preceded outbreaks of the disease.

Each volume is labelled: ‘Views taken during cleansing operations, quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900, under supervision of Mr. George McCredie, F.I.A., N.S.W.’ There is a numerical list of photographs [labelled as ‘index’] inside the front cover of each volume. The volumes are incomplete, volume VI lacking almost half the views listed in the ‘index’, the great majority of which are of the Manly area. Sundry pages are also missing from all but volume IV.

Text from the State Archives of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 11/04/2020

Endnote

(1) NSW Parliamentary Debates, 1900, vol. CIII, p.111 quoted in Max Kelly, Plague Sydney, Marrickville, NSW, Doak Press, 1981.

 

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '154. No. 1 Victoria Place' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
154. No. 1 Victoria Place
1900
From Vol. III of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '154. No. 1 Victoria Place' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
154. No. 1 Victoria Place (detail)
1900
From Vol. III of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '177. Nos. 1, 3, 5 Blackburn Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
177. Nos. 1, 3, 5 Blackburn Street
1900
From Vol. III of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

Amazed to find that this terrace (1, 3, and 5 Blackburn Street) survived the slum clearance and road widening in this area of Surry Hills. The houses are STILL THERE albeit much altered. See Google Maps Street View – goo.gl/maps/nLFbY – (Thank you beachcomber australia for the information)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '179. Clearing the rubbish at Smith’s Wharf' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
179. Clearing the rubbish at Smith’s Wharf
1900
From Vol. III of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

“Smith’s Wharf” was on the western edge of Millers Point – we are looking south up Darling Harbour. The wharf was redeveloped shortly after and was then known as “Dalgety’s Wharf”. The amazing thing is that John Degotardi Jnr the photographer managed to make a routine photo of a barge clearing rubbish from a wharf into an interesting study in composition, perspectives, light and shapes. (Thank you beachcomber australia for the information)

I couldn’t have put it better about the photographer – he certainly knew his stuff!

 

Plan E of the Darling Harbour Resumptions

 

Plan E of the Darling Harbour Resumptions noting the position of Smith’s Wharf

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '179. Clearing the rubbish at Smith’s Wharf' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '179. Clearing the rubbish at Smith’s Wharf' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '179. Clearing the rubbish at Smith’s Wharf' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
179. Clearing the rubbish at Smith’s Wharf (details)
1900
From Vol. III of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '211. No. 20 Upton Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
211. No. 20 Upton Street
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '211. No. 20 Upton Street' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '211. No. 20 Upton Street' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '211. No. 20 Upton Street' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
211. No. 20 Upton Street (details)
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

La Peste (The Plague)

Albert Camus

What does plague mean for humanity – in his philosophy… we are all, unbeknownst to us, already living through a plague. That is, a widespread, silent invisible disease that may kill any of us at any time and destroy the lives we assumed were solid [death].

The actual historical incidents we call plagues are merely concentrations of a universal precondition, they are dramatic instances of a perpetual rule: that we are vulnerable to being randomly exterminated, by a bacillus, an accident or the actions of our fellow humans. Our exposure to plague is at the heart of Camus’s view that our lives are fundamentally on the edge of what he termed ‘the absurd’.

For Camus, when it comes to dying, there is no progress in history, there is no escape from our frailty; being alive always was and will always remain an emergency, as one might put it, truly an inescapable ‘underlying condition’.

Plague or no plague, there is always – as it were – the plague, if what we mean by this is a susceptibility to sudden death, an event that can render our lives instantaneously meaningless. 

Life is a hospice, never a hospital.

Camus writes: ‘Pestilence is so common, there have been as many plagues in the world as there have been wars, yet plagues and wars always find people equally unprepared.’

In one of the most central lines of the book, Camus writes: ‘This whole thing is not about heroism. It’s about decency. It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency.’

In the words of one of his characters, Camus knew, as we do not, that ‘everyone has inside it himself this plague, because no one in the world, no one, can ever be immune.’

Anonymous. “Camus and The Plague,” on the School of Life website [Online] Cited 16/05/2020

 

 

 

Albert Camus – The Plague

There is no more important book to understand our times than Albert Camus’s The Plague, a novel about a virus that spreads uncontrollably from animals to humans and ends up destroying half the population of a representative modern town. Camus speaks to us now not because he was a magical seer, but because he correctly sized up human nature. As he wrote: ‘Everyone has inside it himself this plague, because no one in the world, no one, can ever be immune.’

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '224. No. 841 George Street (kitchen)' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
224. No. 841 George Street (kitchen)
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

841 George Street was on the site of the TAFE Marcus Clarke Building (1910).

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '224. No. 841 George Street (kitchen)' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
224. No. 841 George Street (kitchen) (detail)
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '227. Newtown Garbage Tip and Punt, Blackwattle Bay' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
227. Newtown Garbage Tip and Punt, Blackwattle Bay
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '236. Johnstone's Lane' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
236. Johnstone’s Lane
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '239. No. 36 Owen Street (rear)' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
239. No. 36 Owen Street (rear)
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '239. No. 36 Owen Street (rear)' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
239. No. 36 Owen Street (rear) (detail)
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '244. Sutton Forest Butchery, No. 761 George Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
244. Sutton Forest Butchery, No. 761 George Street
1900
From Vol. IV of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

 

A Sydney butcher’s, 1900. Taken by Mr. John Degotardi, Jr., photographer from the Department of Public Works, the images depict the state of the houses and ‘slum’ buildings at the time of the outbreak and the cleansing and disinfecting operations which followed. Sutton Forest Butchery, No.761 George Street, Sydney Dated: c. 17/07/1900

 

 

Bubonic Plague outbreak in Sydney in the 1900s helps Politicians to clear the way for transport progress & landmark

By the end of August 1900, the outbreak had concluded, and whilst there was only a reported 103 deaths (significantly low when compared to mortality rates from other infectious diseases of the time), the effect that it had on the reputation of The Rocks and Millers Point, as well as its inhabitants, was damaging. The state resumption and its demolition programs left behind a series of questions regarding the motives behind the government’s orchestration of this movement.

The geographical structure of The Rocks, as well as Sydney’s unique historical beginnings as a penal colony credited the often rugged housing conditions. Eleven decades of unregulated building development, as well as uneven and irregular land surfaces meant that often housing was unstructured and haphazardly built. Dwellings sprouted from rocks and other buildings in an “oyster-like” fashion, and the practice of “land sweating” (the construction of multiple structures on one piece of land) was commonplace. The City of Sydney Improvement Act of 1879 highlighted these issues and encouraged demolition of any existing substandard housing.

This set the precedent for the destruction programs that were to follow after the bubonic plague outbreak.

 

Health Board Acts

On the afternoon of 20th January 1900, van-driver Arthur Payne, a resident of 10 Ferry Lane, The Rocks, became Sydney’s first reported victim of bubonic plague. This was somewhat unremarkably in itself, the arrival of the plague had been duly anticipated by authorities for months prior as it raced through Hong Kong and New Caledonia. What was notably, however, was the wave of public panic that the outbreak prompted, and how it was responsible for community disruption and mass demolition of one of Sydney’s oldest precincts, The Rocks and Millers Point. The outbreak bred panic and brought emphasised authoritative attention to the living conditions of the area, and much time and effort was devoted to surveying conditions and proposing subsequent remedies of improvement. State resumption of the precinct followed swiftly after the outbreak, coming into effect on 3rd May 1900, and forced quarantining of the site swiftly followed, with areas surrounding the wharves being sectioned off, and mass disinfection and demolition processes commencing soon thereafter.

Over the next decade, more than 3,800 properties were inspected, hundreds were pulled down, and hundreds of families and individuals were dispossessed.

 

Land Resumption

Another motivating factor for the resumption of the area was to lay the groundwork of the proposed bridge link between Sydney city and the North Shore. Plans were underway even at these early stages and a good 23 years before construction of the bridge commenced. Even at the turn of the nineteenth century, it was clear that there would need to be a widened thoroughfare to accommodate traffic entering and exiting the bridge, and many buildings would need to be sacrificed to achieve this. The bubonic plague outbreak offered the ideal opportunity to highlight the inadequacies in a lot of buildings, and the chance to condemn the area as slum, whose only chance of redemption was through mass demolition.

 

The middle class mentality and its effect on The Rocks inhabitants

From the 1860s to the early 1900s the middle and upper classes began deserting the area and relocating to the suburbs, divorcing themselves physically from the working and lower classes, who tended to remain in the city and close to the waterfront areas and their place of employment.

Naturally as a point of import and export, and a site that saw a high exchange of people, livestock and products on a global level, the harbour foreshore was more susceptible to the outbreak of disease.

When bubonic plague erupted along the waterfront precinct, the area became heavily associated with disease and unsanitary conditions, and consequently its inhabitants were assumed to be unwashed and living in a state of constant filth. This has helped to create an historical consensus that waterside housing and urban living conditions were universally appalling.

The middle and upper classes were able to dissociate themselves with the presence of the plague, given their geographical distance from the harbour foreshore and the point of outbreak.

The resulting effect was a longstanding assumption that The Rocks was in such dire state that there was no alternative option but for mass slum clearance. Whilst there is no doubt that many properties were definitely substandard, and many families lived in abject poverty and poor conditions, not all the buildings that were demolished were of such a shocking standard, and many were in fact still of a solid and serviceable condition.

Following the plague outbreak the NSW Government carried out cleansing and disinfecting operations on the waterfront, and quarantined the residential suburbs of The Rocks and Millers Point. Under the Darling Harbour Resumption Act 1900, the newly created Sydney Harbour Trust oversaw the compulsory resumption of wharves, houses, shops, laneways and pubs in these harbour-side suburbs. The plan was to demolish the existing structures and rebuild to a grand design. The need to keep Dawes Point free for the construction of a possible bridge across the harbour was factored into the design.

Between 1900 and 1910, wharfage was acquired and demolished, along with buildings associated with the Dawes Point Battery. The c. 1870 public bathhouse on the west of Dawes Point was demolished in c. 1910. Works by the Public Works Department and Sydney Harbour Trust, under the presidency of R R P Hickson, included Pier 1 on the bathhouse site (1910-14), Hickson Road and the widening of Lower Fort Street (1906-22), and the four Walsh Bay finger wharves (1912-21).

Works by the Housing Board in The Rocks were also part of the resumption and rebuilding program, and included the realignment of George and Cumberland Streets and the construction of an associated retaining wall between 1913 and 1916. A fountain and garden, and public toilet facilities completed the structure, built in 1916-20.

These works also anticipated the construction of the approaches for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Anonymous. “Bubonic Plague outbreak in Sydney in the 1900s helps Politicians to clear the way for transport progress & landmark,” on The Digger website 13th August 2016 [Online] Cited 10/40/2020

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '266. Rat Incinerator' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
266. Rat Incinerator
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '266. Rat Incinerator' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
266. Rat Incinerator (detail)
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

Lewis Hine. 'Powerhouse mechanic working on steam pump' 1920

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Powerhouse mechanic working on steam pump
1920
Gelatin silver print

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '275. Rear of 129 Gloucester Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
275. Rear of 129 Gloucester Street
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '275. Rear of 129 Gloucester Street' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
275. Rear of 129 Gloucester Street (detail)
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

115 Gloucester Street looking down towards 129 Gloucester Street

 

115 Gloucester Street looking down towards 129 Gloucester Street

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '289. From 207 Elizabeth Street' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
289. From 207 Elizabeth Street
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

St George’s Presbyterian church steeple, Castlereagh Street on the far right.

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '289. From 207 Elizabeth Street' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '289. From 207 Elizabeth Street' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
289. From 207 Elizabeth Street (detail)
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '290. No. 7 West Street off Oxford Street (rear)' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
290. No. 7 West Street off Oxford Street (rear)
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '290. No. 7 West Street off Oxford Street (rear)' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '290. No. 7 West Street off Oxford Street (rear)' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
290. No. 7 West Street off Oxford Street (rear) (details)
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

No. 7 West Street (on the left) looking up towards Oxford Street, Surry Hills

 

No. 7 West Street (on the left) looking up towards Oxford Street, Surry Hills

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '309. Rear of No. 12 Robinson Lane' 1900

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
309. Rear of No. 12 Robinson Lane
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '309. Rear of No. 12 Robinson Lane' 1900 (detail)

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937) '309. Rear of No. 12 Robinson Lane' 1900 (detail)

 

John Degotardi Jr. (Australian, 1860-1937)
NSW Department of Public Works photographer
309. Rear of no. 12 Robinson Lane (details)
1900
From Vol. V of Views taken during cleansing operations. Quarantine areas, Sydney, 1900
Gelatin silver print
New South Wales State Archives & Records NRS-12487 Photographs taken during cleansing operations in quarantine areas, Sydney
Public domain

 

John Degotardi jr pay card

 

9 – 7-11491 John Degotardi jr PWD card 001
NRS 12535 Staff record cards, c. 1890-1953 [Department of (Secretary of) Public Works]; [7/11491]

 

 

What strikes me about this card is the pay drop he took to become a photographer for Public Works and the fact that it took him 10 years to get back to where he was on the salary scale. A dedicated craftsman. (Thank you to ArchivesOutside for the information)

 

John Degotardi jr pay card

 

9 – 7-11491 John Degotardi jr PWD card 002
NRS 12535 Staff record cards, c. 1890-1953 [Department of (Secretary of) Public Works]; [7/11491]

 

James Cantlie. 'How To Recognise, Prevent and Treat Plague' 1900

James Cantlie. 'How To Recognise, Prevent and Treat Plague' 1900 p. 5

James Cantlie. 'How To Recognise, Prevent and Treat Plague' 1900 p. 8

 

James Cantlie
How To Recognise, Prevent and Treat Plague (Title page, p. 5, p. 8)
1900
Cassell and Company, Limited

 

 

New South Wales State Archives website

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04
Aug
19

Exhibition: ‘Shea Kirk: Vantages’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 15 June - 11 August 2019

 

Shea Kirk. 'Dale Robertson (left and right view)' 2019

 

Shea Kirk
Dale Robertson (left and right view)
2019
Courtesy the artist

 

 

Another impressive exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, this time by artist Shea Kirk in their first solo exhibition.

Photographed in a home-studio with plain backdrops (which remind me of photo-booth images and the white backgrounds of Richard Avedon) on dual large format cameras, I love the split screen vision of these stereoscopic portraits. The schism between left and right, as when you close and open your left and right eye to see something from a different point of view. I couldn’t get the stereoscopic viewer provided to work for me when looking through it… which is probably a good thing because I like the split between the images, those different vantage points, instead of the image being combined into a statuesque edifice.

(The definition of “vantage” is a point of view or position that is more superior or advantageous than another. Personally I don’t think any point of view, in terms of identity construction, should be superior to another.)

Where I think the exhibition is less successful is in the pose of some of the subjects. The press release states that the subjects “stare at us with a disarming self-awareness … presenting as though conscious of their own vulnerabilities – they are aware of what it means to represent themselves”, but all to often I get no sense of who these people really are, what their personality is, in their stillness and statuesqueness, in the time freeze snap of the camera shutter.

I am no great fan of dead pan photography, and here the subjects too often stare off into the distance, supposedly immersed in their own reverie, allowing the viewers eye to rove over their outer appearance, as though the edifice tells us all about who they are. This works well in the image of the nude women covered in tattoos, a magnificent image of strength and beauty but the technique falls flat in the image of Christiane D’Arc (2018, below) for example. I just don’t buy this vacant stare, or to put it another way, photography as mere representation.

The sitter might be aware of their own vulnerabilities and aware of what it means to represent themselves, but it’s not they who are engaged in deciphering the enigma. The best images give you more, for example the photographs of Dale Robertson (2019, above). Here, in the right hand side image, the subject stares straight at the camera engaging me directly, while the mystery of this human being is enhanced by the left hand portrait where he is staring away. What is he thinking, feeling? I get it, it works.

This is a fantastic exhibition for a first solo effort. What is going to be really interesting is to see how Kirk develops this work further. What direction will the work take, which pathways will the artist uncover on their journey of discovery. I would suggest reading the Robert Johnson books He, She and We if not already read. For any artist, these are exciting times!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Shea Kirk: Vantages' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Shea Kirk: Vantages' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Shea Kirk: Vantages' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Shea Kirk: Vantages' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Shea Kirk: Vantages' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Shea Kirk: Vantages at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photographs: J. Forsyth

 

 

Vantages is an ongoing series of stereoscopic portraits by Melbourne-based artist Shea Kirk. Working with dual large-format cameras to simultaneously capture two images from different perspectives, Kirk invites subjects to be photographed in his humble home-studio. Each portrait is exposed onto black and white sheet film through a slow and methodical process, enabling an intimate exchange that highlights the agency between photographer and subject. When viewed through a stereoscope, these dual-portraits can be seen three-dimensionally, rendering the subject hauntingly statuesque.

Often in states of undress and portrayed standing or sitting in front of simple backdrops, the subjects in Vantages stare at us with a disarming self-awareness, perhaps only possible in the selfie-obsessed, smart-phone age. Subjects present as though conscious of their own vulnerabilities – they are aware of what it means to represent themselves – and through the very nature of this dual imaging process, they resist being reduced to a single vantage point.

Vantages references a rich history of photographic portraiture, with a freshness that is distinctly contemporary. Vantages considers the significance of portraiture now, through Kirk’s powerfully contemplative, and beautifully realised dual images.

 

Biography

Shea Kirk is a Melbourne-based visual artist working with traditional photographic methods and techniques. Shea Kirk has been a finalist in the Olive Cotton Award (2019); National Photographic Portrait Prize (2019) and the Head On Portrait Prize (2018), and has participated in a number of group exhibitions across Victoria.

Press release from the Centre for Contemporary Photography 21/09/2019

 

Shea Kirk. 'Mohini Hillyer (left and right view)' 2017

 

Shea Kirk
Mohini Hillyer (left and right view)
2017
Courtesy the artist

 

Shea Kirk. 'Christiane D'Arc (left and right view)' 2018

 

Shea Kirk
Christiane D’Arc (left and right view)
2018
Courtesy the artist

 

Shea Kirk. 'Jacob Coppedge (left and right view)' 2019

 

Shea Kirk
Jacob Coppedge (left and right view)
2019
Courtesy the artist

 

Shea Kirk. 'Paul Stillen (left and right view)' 2019

 

Shea Kirk
Paul Stillen (left and right view)
2019
Courtesy the artist

 

Shea Kirk. 'Joao Quintao Marcolla (left and right view)' 2019

 

Shea Kirk
Joao Quintao Marcolla (left and right view)
2019
Courtesy the artist

 

 

Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
Phone: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Sunday, 1pm – 5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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16
Feb
19

Exhibition: ‘Ansel Adams in Our Time’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 13th December 2018 – 24th February 2019

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'The Golden Gate Before the Bridge, San Francisco' 1932

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
The Golden Gate Before the Bridge, San Francisco
1932
Gelatin silver print
49.5 x 69.9 cm (19 1/2 x 27 1/2 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Ansel Adams is a wonderful classical, (clinical?), formal photographer… but a photographer of people, Native Indians, Indian dances and the urban landscape, he ain’t. Simply put, he’s not much good at these subjects. In this posting, best stick with what he’s really good at – beautifully balanced art and environmental activist photographs. Oh, the light and form! Images that teeter towards the sublime held in check by F64, perspective and objectivity.

Interesting to have the historical work to riff off, and “contemporary artists whose modern-day concerns centred on the environment, land rights, and the use and misuse of natural resources point directly to Adams’ legacy” … but as with so many exhibitions that try to place an artist within a historical and contemporary context, their work is not necessary. In fact, it probably diminishes the utopian vision of one of the world’s best known photographers.

Marcus

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

 

Ansel Adams in Our Time traces the iconic visual legacy of Ansel Adams (1902-1984), presenting some of his most celebrated prints, from a symphonic view of snow-dusted peaks in The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (1942) to an aerial shot of a knotted roadway in Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles (1967). The exhibition looks both backward and forward in time: his black-and-white photographs are displayed alongside prints by several of the 19th-century government survey photographers who greatly influenced Adams, as well as work by contemporary artists whose modern-day concerns centred on the environment, land rights, and the use and misuse of natural resources point directly to Adams’ legacy.

While crafting his own modernist vision, Adams was inspired by precursors in government survey and expedition photography such as Carleton Watkins (1829-1916), Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), Timothy O’Sullivan (1840-1882) and Frank Jay Haynes (1853-1921), who worked with large bulky cameras and glass-plate negatives and set off into the wilderness carrying their equipment on mules. In some cases, Adams replicated their exact views of the Yosemite Valley, Canyon de Chelly, and Yellowstone, producing images that would become emblematic of the country’s national parks. In Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park (about 1937), the granite crags of the Yosemite Valley are wreathed in clouds after a sudden storm. Executed with unrivalled sensitivity and rigorous exactitude, the artist’s photographs popularised the notion that the American West was a pristine, and largely uninhabited, wilderness.

Ansel Adams in Our Time also brings Adams forward in time, juxtaposing his work with that of contemporary artists such as Mark Klett (born 1962), Trevor Paglen (born 1974), Catherine Opie (born 1961), Abelardo Morell (born 1948), Victoria Sambunaris (born 1964), and Binh Danh (born 1977). The more than 20 present-day photographers in the exhibition have not only been drawn to some of the same locations, but also engaged with many of the themes central to Adams’ legacy: desert and wilderness spaces, Native Americans and the Southwest, and broader issues affecting the environment: logging, mining, drought and fire, booms and busts, development, and urban sprawl.

Adams’ stunning images were last on view at the MFA in a major exhibition in 2005; this new, even larger presentation places his work in the context of the 21st century, with all that implies about the role photography has played – and continues to play – in our changing perceptions of the land. The Adams photographs in the exhibition are drawn from the Lane Collection, one of the largest and most significant gifts in MFA history.

Text from the MFA website

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Lone Pine Peak, Sierra Nevada, California' 1948

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Lone Pine Peak, Sierra Nevada, California
1948
Gelatin silver print
38.8 x 49.1 cm (15 1/4 x 19 5/16 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Marion Lake, Kings River Canyon, California' c. 1925

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Marion Lake, Kings River Canyon, California (from Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras)
c. 1925; print date: 1927
Gelatin silver print
14.6 x 19.8 cm (5 3/4 x 7 13/16 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Early Morning, Merced River Canyon, Yosemite National Park' c. 1950

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Early Morning, Merced River Canyon, Yosemite National Park
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 39.4 x 49.7 cm (15 1/2 x 19 9/16 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado' 1941

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
1941
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 19.1 x 23.8 cm (7 1/2 x 9 3/8 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Thunderstorm, Ghost Ranch, Chama River Valley, Northern New Mexico' 1937

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Thunderstorm, Ghost Ranch, Chama River Valley, Northern New Mexico
1937; print date: about 1948
Gelatin silver print
16.6 x 22.9 cm (6 9/16 x 9 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park' c. 1937

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles' 1967

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles
1967
Gelatin silver print
37.2 x 34.8 cm (14 5/8 x 13 11/16 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Self‑Portrait, Monument Valley, Utah' 1958

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
SelfPortrait, Monument Valley, Utah
1958
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

 

Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is the rare artist whose works have helped to define a genre. Over the last half-century, his black-and-white photographs have become, for many viewers, visual embodiments of the sites he captured: Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks, the Sierra Nevada, the American Southwest and more. These images constitute an iconic visual legacy – one that continues to inspire and provoke. Organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), Ansel Adams in Our Time offers a new perspective on one of the best-known and most beloved American photographers by placing him into a dual conversation with his predecessors and contemporary artists. While crafting his own modernist vision, Adams followed in the footsteps of 19th-century forerunners in government survey and expedition photography such as Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, Timothy O’Sullivan and Frank Jay Haynes. Today, photographers including Mark Klett, Trevor Paglen, Catherine Opie, Abelardo Morell, Victoria Sambunaris and Binh Danh are engaging anew with the sites and subjects that occupied Adams, as well as broader environmental issues such as drought and fire, mining and energy, economic booms and busts, protected places and urban sprawl. Approximately half of the nearly 200 works in the exhibition are photographs by Adams, drawn from the Lane Collection – one of the largest and most significant gifts in the MFA’s history, which made the Museum one of the major holders of the artist’s work. The photographs by 19th-century and contemporary artists are on loan from public institutions, galleries and private collectors. Ansel Adams in Our Time is on view in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery from December 13, 2018 through February 24, 2019. Visitors are encouraged to use #AnselAdamsInOurTime to share their exhibition experiences on social media, as well as submit Adams-inspired landscape photos on Instagram for a chance to win an MFA membership, Ansel Adams publication and a private curatorial tour. Ansel Adams in Our Time is presented with proud recognition of The Wilderness Society and the League of Conservation Voters, made possible by Scott Nathan and Laura DeBonis. Sponsored by Northern Trust. Additional support from the Robert and Jane Burke Fund for Exhibitions, and Peter and Catherine Creighton. With gratitude to the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust for its generous support of Photography at the MFA.

“Ansel Adams is a larger-than-life figure in the field of photography, and the generous gift of more than 450 of his prints from the Lane Collection has inspired me to revisit his work. With this exhibition, I hope to open up new conversations around this seminal artist, by looking both backward and forward in time,” said Karen Haas, Lane Curator of Photographs. “I invite our visitors to explore the role that photography has historically played in our changing perceptions of the American West, as well as to consider Adams’ legacy of environmental activism – one that still speaks to us today.”

 

Exhibition overview

Capturing the View

Organised both thematically and chronologically into eight sections, the exhibition begins where Adams’ own photographic life began. Perhaps no place had a more lasting influence on him than Yosemite National Park, in his native California. Adams first visited Yosemite at age 14, bringing along a Kodak Box Brownie camera given to him by his father, and returned almost every year for the rest of his life. It was not only where he honed his skills, but also where he came to recognise the power of photographs to express emotion and meaning. Showcasing its spectacular granite peaks, lakes, rivers and waterfalls, Adams’ photographs of Yosemite have become virtually synonymous with the park itself. Adams, however, was not the first to take a camera into the mountains of California. He acknowledged his debt to the earliest photographers to arrive in the Yosemite Valley, including Carleton Watkins, who in the 1860s began to record scenic views with a cumbersome large-format camera and fragile glass plate negatives processed in the field. Watkins’ 19th-century photographs helped to introduce Americans “back east” to the nation’s dramatic western landscapes, while Adams’ 20th-century images made famous the notion of their “untouched wilderness.” Today, photographers such as Mark Klett are grappling with these legacies. Klett and his longtime collaborator Byron Wolfe have studied canonical views of Yosemite Valley by Adams and Watkins, using the latest technology to produce composite panoramas that document changes made to the landscape over more than a century, as well as the ever-growing presence of human activity.

 

Marketing the View

As a member of the Sierra Club, which he joined in 1919 at age 17, Adams regularly embarked on the environmental organisation’s annual, month-long “High Trips” to the Sierra Nevada mountains. He produced albums of photographs from these treks, inviting club members to select and order prints. This precocious ingenuity ultimately led to the Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras (1927) – one of the earliest experiments in custom printing, sequencing and distributing fine photographs. Sixteen of the 18 prints from the portfolio, including the iconic Monolith – The Face of Half Dome, are on view in the second gallery of the exhibition, which connects Adams’ innovations in marketing his views of the western U.S. to those of his predecessors. In the 19th century, an entire industry of mass-marketing and distributing images of “the frontier” emerged, catering to a burgeoning tourist trade. In addition to engravings and halftones published in books, magazines and newspapers, photographs such as Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point, No. 33 (1872) by Eadweard Muybridge were circulated through stereo cards, which allowed armchair travellers to experience remote places in three dimensions when viewed through a stereoscope. Today, photography remains closely linked with scenic vistas of the American West. Creating works in extended series or grids, artists including Matthew Brandt, Sharon Harper and Mark Rudewel seem to be responding to the earlier tradition of mass-marketing western views, using photography as a medium to call attention to the passage of time and the changing nature of landscapes.

 

San Francisco – Becoming a Modernist

The third section of the exhibition focuses on Adams’ hometown of San Francisco, which has long captured photographers’ imaginations with its rolling hills and dramatic orientation toward the water. The city’s transformation over more than a century – including changes made to the urban landscape following the devastating earthquake and fire in 1906 and the rise of skyscrapers in the later 20th century – can be observed in the juxtaposition of panoramas by Eadweard Muybridge and Mark Klett, taken from the same spot 113 years apart. Adams’ images of San Francisco from the 1920s and 1930s trace his development into a modernist photographer, as he experimented with a large-format camera to produce maximum depth of field and extremely sharp-focused images. During the Great Depression, Adams also took on a wider range of subjects, including the challenging reality of urban life in his hometown. He photographed the demolition of abandoned buildings, toppled cemetery headstones, political signs and the patina of a city struggling during difficult times. One sign of hope for the future at the time was the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, which began in 1933. Adams’ The Golden Gate before the Bridge (1932), taken near his family home five years before the bridge’s opening in 1937, is displayed alongside four contemporary prints from the Golden Gate Bridge project (Private Collection, Cambridge) by Richard Misrach, taken from his own porch in Berkeley Hills. Placing his large-format camera in exactly the same position on each occasion, Misrach recorded hundreds of views of the distant span, at different times of the day and in every season. The series, photographed over three years from 1997 to 2000, was reissued in 2012 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate’s landmark opening. The vast expanses of sky in Misrach’s works echo the focus on the massive cumulus cloud in the earlier photograph by Adams, who was fascinated with changing weather and landscapes with seemingly infinite space.

 

Adams in the American Southwest

Adams produced some of his most memorable images – among them, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941; print date: 1965-75) – during his frequent travels to the American Southwest. He was intrigued by the region’s distinctive landscape, brilliant sunlight and sudden dramatic storms, as well as its rich mix of cultures. Shortly after his first trip to New Mexico in 1927, Adams collaborated with author Mary Hunter Austin on the illustrated book Taos Pueblo (1930, Harvard Art Museums), for which he contributed 12 photographs that reflect his interest in Taos Pueblo’s architecture and activities. Adams shared Austin’s concern that the artistic and religious traditions of the Pueblo peoples were under threat from the increasing numbers of people traveling through or settling in the region. In contrast to the indigenous peoples of Yosemite, who had been forced out of their native lands many years earlier, Pueblo peoples were still living in their ancestral villages. On his return visits to the American Southwest, Adams often photographed the native communities, their dwellings and their ancient ruins. He also photographed Indian dances, which had become popular among tourists who came by train and automobile to be entertained and to buy pottery, jewellery and other souvenirs. Adams’ images of dancers, which emphasise their costumes, postures and expressions, therefore have a complex legacy, as he was one of the onlookers – though he carefully cropped out any evidence of the gathered crowds. Today, indigenous artists including Diné photographer Will Wilson, are creating work that responds to and confronts past depictions of Native Americans by white artists who travelled west to “document” the people who were viewed as a “vanishing race” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

 

Picturing the National Parks

The largest section of the exhibition examines the critical role that photography has played in the history of the national parks. In the 19th century, dramatic views captured by Carleton Watkins and other photographers ultimately helped convince government officials to take action to protect Yosemite and Yellowstone from private development. Adams, too, was aware of the power of the image to sway opinions on land preservation. In 1941 Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, hired Adams to make a series of mural-sized photographs of the national parks for the capital’s new Interior Building. Although his government funding was cut short by America’s entry into World War II and the murals were never realised, Adams felt so strongly about the value of the project that he sought financial assistance on his own. He secured Guggenheim Foundation grants in 1946 and 1948, which allowed him to travel to national parks from Alaska to Texas, Hawaii to Maine. Marked by a potent combination of art and environmental activism, the photographs he made spread his belief in the transformative power of the parks to a wide audience. Many contemporary artists working in the national parks acknowledge, as Adams did, the work of the photographers who came before them. But the complicated legacies of these protected lands have led some – including Catherine Opie, Arno Rafael Minkkinen, Binh Danh and Abelardo Morell – to take more personal and political approaches to the work they are making in these spaces.

 

The Other Side of the Mountains

Adams made his reputation mainly through spectacular images of “unspoiled” nature. Less well known are the photographs he produced of the more forbidding, arid landscapes in California’s Death Valley and Owens Valley, just southeast of Yosemite. Here, on the other side of the Sierra Nevada, Adams’ work took a dramatic detour. Fellow photographer Edward Weston introduced Adams to Death Valley, where he captured images of sand dunes, salt flats and sandstones canyons. Owens Valley, located to the west, was once verdant farmland, but was suffering by the 1940s, its water siphoned off to supply the growing city of Los Angeles. In 1943, Adams also traveled to nearby Manzanar, where he photographed Japanese Americans forcibly relocated to internment camps shortly after the U.S. entered World War II. Trevor Paglen, Stephen Tourlentes and David Benjamin Sherry are among the contemporary photographers who continue to find compelling subjects in these remote landscapes. Some are drawn to them as “blank slates” upon which to leave their mark, while others explore the raw beauty of the desolate terrain and the many, sometimes unsettling ways it used today – including as a site for maximum-security prisons and clandestine military projects.

 

The Changing Landscape

Adams’ photographs are appreciated for their imagery and formal qualities, but they also carry a message of advocacy. The last two sections of the exhibition examine the continually changing landscapes of the sites once captured by Adams. In his own time, the photographer was well aware of the environmental concerns facing California and the nation – thanks, in part, to his involvement with the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society. As his career progressed, Adams began to move away from symphonic and pristine wilderness landscapes in favour of images that showed a more nuanced vision. He photographed urban sprawl, freeways, graffiti, oil drilling, ghost towns, rural cemeteries and mining towns, as well as quieter, less romantic views of nature, such as the aftermath of forest fires – subjects that resonate in new ways today. For contemporary photographers working in the American West, the spirit of advocacy takes on an ever-increasing urgency, as they confront a terrain continually altered by human activity and global warming. Works by artists including Laura McPhee, Victoria Sambunaris, Mitch Epstein, Meghann Riepenhoff, Bryan Schutmaat and Lucas Foglia bear witness to these changes, countering notions that natural resources are somehow limitless and not in need of attention and protection.

Press release from the MFA

 

Carelton E. Watkins. 'The Yosemite Falls' 1861

 

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Printed by Taber & Co. (American, active in 1850-1860)
The Yosemite Falls
1861, printed 1880-1890
Albumen print
Image/Sheet: 39.8 x 51.2 cm (15 11/16 x 20 3/16 in.)
A. Shuman Collection – Abraham Shuman Fund

 

Catherine Opie (American, born in 1961) 'Untitled #1 (Yosemite Valley)' 2015

 

Catherine Opie (American, born in 1961)
Untitled #1 (Yosemite Valley)
2015
Pigment print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul
© Catherine Opie

 

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916) 'Mount Starr King and Glacier Point, Yosemite, No. 69' 1865-66

 

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Mount Starr King and Glacier Point, Yosemite, No. 69
1865-66
Mammoth albumen print from wet collodion negative
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow Fund
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Eadweard J. Muybridge (American, 1830-1904) 'Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point, No. 33' 1872

 

Eadweard J. Muybridge (American, 1830-1904)
Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point, No. 33
1872
Albumen print
Image/Sheet: 42.5 x 54.2 cm (16 3/4 x 21 5/16 in.)
Gift of Charles T. and Alma A. Isaacs
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Frank Jay Haynes (American, 1853-1921) 'Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Falls' c. 1887

 

Frank Jay Haynes (American, 1853-1921)
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Falls
c. 1887
Albumen print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Sophie M. Friedman Fund
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming' 1942

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
1942
Gelatin silver print
47.1 x 61.2 cm (18 9/16 x 24 1/8 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Abelardo Morell (American (born in Cuba, 1948)) 'Tent‑Camera Image on Ground: View of Mount Moran and the Snake River from Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming' 2011

 

Abelardo Morell (American (born in Cuba, 1948))
TentCamera Image on Ground: View of Mount Moran and the Snake River from Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
2011
Inkjet print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Adam Clark Vroman. 'Four of Hearts (Bashful)' c. 1894

 

Adam Clark Vroman (American, 1856-1916)
Publisher Lazarus and Melzer (American)
Four of Hearts (Bashful)
c. 1894
Playing card with halftone print
8.9 x 6.4 cm (3 1/2 x 2 1/2 in.)
Gift of Lewis A. Shepard
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

John K. Hillers (American (born in Germany), 1843-1925) 'Big Navajo' c. 1879-80

 

John K. Hillers (American (born in Germany), 1843-1925)
Big Navajo
c. 1879-80
Albumen print
22.9 x 19.1 cm (9 x 7 1/2 in.)
Gift of Jessie H. Wilkinson – Jessie H. Wilkinson Fund
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

John K. Hillers. 'Heaipu, Navaho Woman' c. 1879

 

John K. Hillers (American (born in Germany), 1843-1925)
Heaipu, Navaho Woman
c. 1879
Albumen print
Gift of Jessie H. Wilkinson – Jessie H. Wilkinson Fund
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Will Wilson (Diné (Navajo), born in 1969) 'How the West is One' 2014

 

Will Wilson (Diné (Navajo), born in 1969)
How the West is One
2014
Inkjet print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Will Wilson

 

Trevor Paglen (American, born in 1974) 'Untitled (Reaper Drone)' 2015

 

Trevor Paglen (American, born in 1974)
Untitled (Reaper Drone)
2015
Pigment print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Monolith - The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park' 1927

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Monolith – The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
1927; print date: 1950-60
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Bryan Schutmaat (American, born in 1983) 'Cemetery, Tonopah, NV' 2012

 

Bryan Schutmaat (American, born in 1983)
Cemetery, Tonopah, NV
2012
Archival inkjet print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico' 1941

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico
1941; print date: 1965-75
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico' 1941 (detail)

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (detail)
1941; print date: 1965-75
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Pine Forest in Snow, Yosemite National Park' c. 1932

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Pine Forest in Snow, Yosemite National Park
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Laura McPhee (American, born in 1958) 'Midsummer (Lupine and Fireweed)' 2008

 

Laura McPhee (American, born in 1958)
Midsummer (Lupine and Fireweed)
2008
Archival pigment print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Laura McPhee

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Grass and Burned Stump, Sierra Nevada, California' 1935

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Grass and Burned Stump, Sierra Nevada, California
1935
Gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Cemetery Statue and Oil Derricks, Long Beach, California' 1939

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Cemetery Statue and Oil Derricks, Long Beach, California
1939
Gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Mitch Epstein (American, born in 1952) 'Altamont Pass Wind Farm, California' 2007

 

Mitch Epstein (American, born in 1952)
Altamont Pass Wind Farm, California
2007
Chromogenic print
Reproduced with permission
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

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20
May
18

Exhibition: ‘Stephen Shore’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 19th November, 2017 – 28th May, 2018

Stephen Shore is organised by Quentin Bajac, The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, with Kristen Gaylord, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography, MoMA.

 

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'West 9th Avenue, Amarillo, Texas, October 2, 1974'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
West 9th Avenue, Amarillo, Texas, October 2, 1974
1974
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2013
17 × 21 3/4″ (43.2 × 55.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

 

The truth in the detail of day-to-day life

1970s colour photography is the key period in the work of Stephen Shore. These classical, formal colour photographs capture “mundane aspects of American popular culture in straightforward, unglamorous images.” They are what made him famous. They are, historically, conceptually and emotionally, his most effective means of communication as an artist.

American Surfaces and Uncommon Places made Shore “one of the most prominent figures of the American New Color movement,” showing colour just as colour.

I know that is a strange thing to say, but Shore was showing the world in a different light… and he was using an aesthetic based on the straight forward use of colour. Colour is just there, part of the form of the image. Of course there are insightful subjective judgements about what to photograph in American surburbia, but this subjectivity and the use of colour within it is subsumed into the song that Shore was composing. It all comes back to music. Here’s a Mozart tune, this is his aesthetic, for eternity.

I remember seeing two vintage Stephen Shore chromogenic colour prints from 1976 where the colours were still true and had not faded in the exhibition American Dreams: 20th century photography from George Eastman House at Bendigo Art Gallery. This was incredible experience – seeing vintage prints from one of the masters of colour photography; noticing that they are not full of contrast like a lot of today’s colour photographs – more like a subtle Panavision or Technicolor film from the early 1960s. Rich, subtle, beautiful hues with the photograph containing this amazing presence, projected through the construction of the image and the physicality of the print.

Shore has a fantastic eye and his colour photographs are beautifully resolved. The subjectivity is not pushed, because his song was in tune, and he just sang it. Like his contemporaries, Wiliam EgglestonRichard Misrach and Joel Meyerwitz, there are some artists who just know how to play the tune.

Marcus

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

 

Stephen Shore encompasses the entirety of the artist’s work of the last five decades, during which he has conducted a continual, restless interrogation of image making, from the gelatin silver prints he made as a teenager to his current engagement with digital platforms. One of the most significant photographers of our time, Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) has often been considered alongside other artists who rose to prominence in the 1970s by capturing the mundane aspects of American popular culture in straightforward, unglamorous images. But Shore has worked with many forms of photography, switching from cheap automatic cameras to large-format cameras in the 1970s, pioneering the use of colour before returning to black and white in the 1990s, and in the 2000s taking up the opportunities of digital photography, digital printing, and social media.

The artist’s first survey in New York to include his entire career, this exhibition will both allow for a fuller understanding of Shore’s work, and demonstrate his singular vision – defined by an interest in daily life, a taste for serial and often systematic approaches, a strong intellectual underpinning, a restrained style, sly humour, and visual casualness – and uncompromising pursuit of photography’s possibilities.

 

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'New York, New York' 1964

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
New York, New York
1964
Gelatin silver print
9 1/8 × 13 1/2″ (23.2 × 34.3 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) '1:35 a.m., in Chinatown Restaurant, New York, New York' 1965-67

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
1:35 a.m., in Chinatown Restaurant, New York, New York
1965-67
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1995
9 × 13 1/2″ (22.9 × 34.3 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Kanab, Utah, June 1972'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Kanab, Utah, June 1972
1972
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2017
3 1/16 × 4 5/8″ (7.8 × 11.7 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Amarillo, Texas, July 1972'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Amarillo, Texas, July 1972
1972
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2017
3 1/16 × 4 5/8″ (7.8 × 11.7 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Washington, D.C., November 1972'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Washington, D.C., November 1972
1972
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2017
3 1/16 × 4 5/8″ (7.8 × 11.7 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Second Street, Ashland, Wisconsin, July 9, 1973'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Second Street, Ashland, Wisconsin, July 9, 1973
1973. Chromogenic colour print, printed 2017
17 × 21 3/4″ (43.2 × 55.2 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'U.S. 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, July 21, 1973'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
U.S. 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, July 21, 1973
1973
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2002
17 3/4 x 21 15/16″ (45.1 x 55.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Photography Council Fund
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Breakfast, Trail's End Restaurant, Kanab, Utah, August 10, 1973'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Breakfast, Trail’s End Restaurant, Kanab, Utah, August 10, 1973
1973
Chromogenic colour print
16 7/8 × 21 1/4″ (42.8 × 54 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'West Third Street, Parkersburg, West Virginia, May 16, 1974'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
West Third Street, Parkersburg, West Virginia, May 16, 1974
1974
Chromogenic colour print
8 × 10 1/2″ (20.3 × 26.7 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Lookout Hotel, Ogunquit, Maine, July 16, 1974'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Lookout Hotel, Ogunquit, Maine, July 16, 1974
1974
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2013
17 × 21 3/4″ (43.2 × 55.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents the most comprehensive exhibition ever organised of photographer Stephen Shore’s work, on view from November 19, 2017, until May 28, 2018. The exhibition tracks the artist’s work chronologically, from the gelatin silver prints he made as a teenager to his current work with digital platforms. Stephen Shore establishes the artist’s full oeuvre in the context of his time – from his days at Andy Warhol’s Factory through the rise of American colour photography and the transition to large-scale digital photography – and argues for his singular vision and uncompromising pursuit of photography’s possibilities. The exhibition will include hundreds of photographic works along with additional materials including books, ephemera, and objects. Stephen Shore is organised by Quentin Bajac, The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, with Kristen Gaylord, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography, MoMA.

Born in 1947, Shore spearheaded the New Color Photography movement in the United States in the 1970s, and became a major catalyst in the renewal of documentary photography in the late 1990s, both in the US and Europe, blending the tradition of American photographers such as Walker Evans with influences from various artistic movements, including Pop, Conceptualism, and even Photo-Realism. Shore’s images seem to achieve perfect neutrality, in both subject matter and approach. His approach cannot be reduced to a style but is best summed up with a few principles from which he has seldom deviated: the search for maximum clarity, the absence of retouching and reframing, and respect for natural light. Above all, he exercises discipline, limiting his shots as much as possible – one shot of a subject, and very little editing afterward.

Shore started developing negatives from his parents when he was only six, received his first camera when he was nine, and sold prints to Edward Steichen, then director of MoMA’s Department of Photography, at the age of 14. In the early 1960s Shore became interested in film, both narrative and experimental, and he showed his short film Elevator in 1965 at the Film-Makers’ Cinematheque, where he first met Andy Warhol. That spring, he dropped out of high school and started photographing at Warhol’s studio, The Factory, initially on an almost daily basis, then more sporadically, until 1967. Elevator has been restored by conservators and will be screened in the exhibition for the first time since the 1960s.

In 1969, Shore used serial black-and-white projects to deconstruct the medium and rebuild it on a more detached, intellectual foundation. In these works, many shot in Amarillo, Texas, with his friend Michael Marsh as his main model, Shore was striving to free himself from certain photographic conventions: the concept of photography as the art of creating isolated and “significant” images, and the related cult of the “decisive moment”; perfect framing; and the expressive subjectivity of the photographer. The principle of multiplicity prevails in Shore’s work of that period – series, suites, and sequences that resist all narrative temptation. In their attempt to eliminate subjectivity, these series are related to a number of Conceptual photographic works by other artists of the same period.

In November 1971 Shore curated an exhibition called All the Meat You Can Eat at the 98 Greene Street Loft. Embracing a century of photography, the show was composed largely of found images collected by Shore and two friends, Weston Naef, then a curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Michael Marsh. It also included images by Shore, such as shots taken with a Mick-a-Matic camera and colour photos that would serve as the basis for the postcards in his series Greetings from Amarillo, “Tall in Texas.” Stephen Shore will include a reconstructed version of this display, using material from Shore’s archives – some that was originally in the exhibition and some that has been selected by Shore for this installation.

In the early 1970s Shore turned to colour photography, a format that at that time was still largely overlooked by art photographers. In March 1972, he started taking snapshots of his daily life, embarking in June and July of the same year on a road trip to the southern US. For two months he photographed his everyday life in an almost systematic way – unremarkable buildings, main streets, highway intersections, hotel rooms, television screens, people’s faces, toilet seats, unmade beds, a variety of ornamental details, plates of food, shop windows, inscriptions, and commercial signs. In September and October 1972, images from the series were shown at Light Gallery in New York under the title American Surfaces. The MoMA display of this work echoes that initial presentation, in which the small Kodacolor prints were attached directly to the wall, unframed, in a grid of three rows.

Begun in 1973 and completed almost 10 years later, Shore’s next project, Uncommon Places, inhabits the same world and deals with the same themes as American Surfaces. Yet because of Shore’s move from a handheld 35mm camera to a large-format one, Uncommon Places features fewer details and close-ups and a more detached approach. Appearing in the context of accelerated change in the national landscape, especially in areas of suburban sprawl, it betrays a more contemplative reading of individual images. Before being published as a book in 1982, the series was exhibited both in the US and abroad, especially in Germany, making Shore one of the most prominent figures of the American New Color movement. Though he is best known for his large-format work of this period, Shore was at the same time experimenting with other photographic formats. The exhibition will include a selection of stereo images he made in 1974 that were never published, and have not been exhibited since 1975.

While working on what would become Uncommon Places, Shore began to accept photographic commissions, not only for editorial work but also for institutions and companies. If some of these commissions seem quite distant from Uncommon Places, most of them still show some affinity with the series in their attention to architecture and exploration of “Americanness.” He took photographs focusing on contemporary vernacular architecture that the architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown used in their 1976 exhibition Signs of Life: Symbols in the American City. This exhibition will feature some of the original, gridded transparencies from Signs of Life that incorporate images by Shore and other photographers, not seen since 1976. Finally, some commissions he did for magazines alternate between urban landscapes, portraits, and architectural details in a direct extension of Uncommon Places. Shore would include a number of commissioned photographs in his personal body of work, showing how porous the borders were between the two groups of images, and Stephen Shore will include examples both of the photographs in context in books and periodicals, and of others that were not subsequently published.

Starting in the late 1970s, Shore gradually abandoned urban and suburban areas and turned to the natural landscape, a subject he would concentrate on almost exclusively during the next decade. These included the landscapes of Montana (1982-83), where he settled with his wife in 1980, Texas (1983-88), and the Hudson Valley (1984-86), where he moved in 1982, but also more international locations: the Highlands of Scotland (1988); Yucatán, in Mexico (1990); and finally the Po Valley, with a series in Luzzara, Italy (1993). This period corresponds also to a reduced public visibility of his photographic work, marked by fewer exhibitions, publications, and commissions.

In the early 2000s Shore began experimenting with digital tools and technologies that had only recently become available. Between 2003 and 2010, he made dozens of print-on-demand books, which were each printed in limited editions of 20 copies, making them similar to artist’s books. But the ease of production, speed of execution, democratic nature of the technique used, and modesty of the finished product are in direct line with the snapshots of American Surfaces and the immediacy of Polaroid images. In the choice of subjects and approaches, the series of books seems both literally and figuratively to be a mini-version of Shore’s entire oeuvre, blending and reworking the themes that have always been important to him – an exhaustive exploration of a particular subject or place, a penchant for the vernacular, an interest in sequence, a tendency toward autobiography, a search for a kind of immediacy, and a dry sense of humour – while still retaining its autonomy and specificity. A few years later he created Winslow, Arizona in a single day in 2013. The precise temporal duration of the series – one day from sunrise to sunset – links it to some of Shore’s print-on-demand books, but it takes on a new performance-based dimension. Over 180 of the pictures Shore took that day were presented, unedited and in the order in which they were shot, in a slide show, projected on a drive-in screen in Barstow, California, a few days after he took them.

In 1996 and 1997 Shore, who had always been fascinated by archaeology, undertook photographic projec